Jul 182019
 

[Text by Debbie Abrahams MP, via Taxpayers Against Poverty, with thanks to both ]

APPG INQUIRY: 3 Years On: Assessing the Impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Act (2016) on Children and Disabled Adults.

In 2015, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Health in All Policies undertook an assessment of the prospective impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on child poverty and health. The approach taken was to establish perceptions of the relationship between poverty, inequality and health, and then to drill down into the potential impacts that the different measures of the Bill would have specifically on child poverty and subsequently child health, and health inequalities. You can read the Inquiry’s report here.

Three years on, the APPG for Health in All Policies is conducting a follow-up review of the actual impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Act (WR&WA) (2016), particularly on children and disabled adults.  The APPG has received written evidence and will be holding an oral inquiry session on Monday 22nd July, 3-6pm, Committee Room 19, House of Commons.

There will be two panels, the first of academics between 3-4.30pm and the second of key stakeholder groups between 4.30-6pm.  Those giving evidence will include, Prof David Taylor-Robinson, University of Liverpool; Prof Peter Dwyer, University of York; Dr Heather Brown, Newcastle University; Dr Aaron Reeves, University of Oxford; Dr Danny Taggart, University of Essex; Dr Max Davie, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; Martin Taulbut, Scottish Health Observatory; Tom Pollard, Mind; Maeve McGoldrick, Crisis; Helen Barnard, Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Ellen Clifford, Disabled People Against Cuts; Annie Howard, Disabled People Against Cuts; Michael Griffin, Parkinson’s UK representing Disability Benefits Consortium.

The inquiry session will be open to the public – any attendees need to use the Cromwell Green entrance to Parliament and allow up to 30 minutes to go through security and make it to the Upper Committee Corridor of the House of Commons.

 Posted by at 21:38
Jul 182019
 

DWP ‘lies again’ about impact of benefits freeze on disabled people

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of a “brazen repetition of a known lie” about the impact on disabled people of one of the government’s major spending cuts, following the publication of a damning new report.

The report by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) found that social security reforms over the last decade – mostly under successive Tory-led governments – had hit disabled adults four times harder than non-disabled adults.

It found that disabled people had lost out by an average of about £1,200 a year, compared to an average of about £300 for non-disabled people.

The report, Has Welfare Become Unfair?, shows that the higher a person’s support needs, the more they have lost out, with someone with six or more impairments losing over £2,100 a year on average, compared to someone with one impairment losing about £700 each year.

But when DWP was asked to comment on the report’s conclusions, it claimed that “disability benefits are exempt from the benefit freeze”.

This is not true, which has been repeatedly pointed out to ministers and DWP press officers over the last three years.

In March, the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, failed to apologise after telling the Commons work and pensions committee that “disability benefits were exempt from the benefits freeze”.

In June 2018, his predecessor, Sarah Newton, made the same claim in a Commons debate.

This apparently deliberate attempt to mislead the public about the working-age benefits freeze dates to its introduction in 2016 by the then chancellor, George Osborne.

Disability living allowance, personal independence payment and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are all exempt from the benefits freeze, which has frozen most working-age benefits at the level they were at in 2015.

But there is no exemption for the main component of ESA or the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), which continue to be frozen.

This means that every disabled person receiving ESA, the main out-of-work disability benefit – and its equivalent under universal credit – has been and will continue to be hit financially by the freeze, including by its impact on non-disability-related benefits.

Although DWP could argue that the main ESA component is set at the same level as the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance, the WRAG top-up is only available to people with impairments that affect their ability to work.

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The DWP’s brazen repetition of a known lie shows they believe they are immune from being held to account.

I urge everyone reading this to sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition for an independent inquiry into the DWP, not just for the people who have died but for all who have suffered hardship and distress in dealing with the DWP. Let’s hold them to account.”

The petition* calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants, and was launched following the death in February 2017 of Jodey Whiting, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.

The DBC report says the benefit freeze “has been a major factor in reducing the incomes of disabled people and pushing them into poverty”.

And comments this week by both contenders for the Tory party leadership, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, suggest the freeze might not end next year as previously planned.

Asked to comment on the department’s comment about the benefits freeze, a DWP spokesperson said: “On the DBC report, you have our statement and of course you are free to write up the story as you see fit.”

The government has previously suggested that the main ESA element and the WRAG top-up** are included in the benefits freeze because they are “a work-related benefit”, rather than a disability benefit, even though they are benefits paid to disabled people.

There was further misleading information in the DWP response to the DBC report, with the department claiming that “in many cases our reforms mean people will receive more money on average, with one million households gaining an average of £100 more on Universal Credit”.

The department’s own equality impact assessment and the Office for Budget Responsibility have both made it clear that there would be both winners and losers from universal credit.

But the DWP spokesperson claimed that – even though it had provided figures for those gaining from UC – the department did not publish figures showing how many million households would lose out through UC and by how much on average.

The report by DBC – whose members include Inclusion London, Disability Rights UK and Transport for All – warns that when disabled people move onto universal credit there will be “dramatic increases in the levels of poverty among people who are already at a crisis point”.

The report says this is a “disaster waiting to happen”.

The report, funded by The Three Guineas Trust, concludes that changes to the social security system since 2010 have had a “devastating impact” on disabled people’s wellbeing and right to independent living.

The report, which makes 22 recommendations for government action, concludes that people claiming disability benefits “are leading precarious lives characterised by financial insecurity, with immediate and enduring worries over money, bills and what the future may hold”.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**New claimants placed in the WRAG after starting their claim from April 2017 onwards no longer receive the top-up

18 July 2019

 

 

Rail regulator’s access recommendations welcomed, ‘but do not go far enough’

Accessible transport campaigners have broadly welcomed a series of recommendations for improvements to the accessibility of the rail system.

Among the 17 recommendations made by the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), is a call for a drastic reduction in the notice that disabled passengers need to provide to book assistance for a rail journey.

If ORR’s recommendations are accepted, the current maximum of 24 hours’ notice will be cut by April next year to 10pm the day before travel, with further reductions introduced until only two hours’ notice will be needed by April 2022.

ORR also wants to see the government review funding for accessibility improvements, currently delivered through the Access for All fund, warning that current levels of investment “may fall short of the improvements to accessibility in rail aspired to in the government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy”.

And it wants to see, within the next six years, a review of the standards for accessibility of rail vehicles.

ORR is also calling for significant improvements to the reliability of assistance, and to staff training, as well as a requirement that compensation is paid to disabled passengers when their booked assistance fails because of a train or station operator’s actions.

Only last week, Disability News Service reported that two-thirds of disabled passengers experience at least one problem when travelling by rail, according to research commissioned by the government.

The ORR report says that only three-quarters (76 per cent) of users received all the assistance they booked in advance in 2018-19, while one in 10 (11 per cent) received none of it.

ORR also wants to see the same branding for assistance introduced across the network of rail companies, and improvements to the quality of access information provided to disabled passengers.

In the longer term, ORR wants to see a new system that will allow passengers to buy tickets and book assistance at the same time, and a “coherent national strategy” to promote assisted travel.

ORR made the recommendations as part of its submission to the Williams Rail Review, a “root and branch review” of Britain’s railway system.

The review’s findings and recommendations will be published in a government white paper in the autumn.

Alan Benson, chair of Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, “broadly” welcomed the ORR’s recommendations.

He said: “Everyone, including government and the industry, agrees that the current situation on Britain’s railway is simply not good enough.

For decades, disabled people have been pushing for change. This response to the Williams review shows that the ORR has been listening and it should be broadly welcomed.

There are many common-sense steps, such as compensation for failed assistance and better training, which could really overhaul the service that we receive.

Being able to buy tickets and arrange assistance at the same time has the potential to really make a difference, providing the process is easy and convenient.”

But Benson said TfA believed the recommendations did not go far enough.

He said: “Putting consistent branding on an assistance service won’t prevent the let downs that are all too common and the ORR is still not advocating our right to turn up and travel just like everyone else.

Even the reduction in notice from 24 hours to two hours is not proposed until 2022. This is simply not good enough.

The direction of travel in this report is good, but the industry needs to show even more aspiration.

We hope that the Williams review will be bold in its recommendations and lead to disabled people having truly equal access when using the UK rail network.”

Accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley also broadly welcomed ORR’s recommendations.

He said he particularly welcomed ORR’s “new” and “important” challenge to the government’s “miserly and woefully inadequate funding” for improving access.

But he said he did not believe that the shortened timescales for pre-booking assistance would have much impact because making such bookings often failed to produce the assistance requested, while it “misses the point that we should be able to ‘turn up and go’ like anybody else”.

He said much of the ORR report was “rehashed” from what the industry or ORR had already made clear, adding: “We know access information is lamentably inaccurate and the database for administering it is utterly broken.

We know that assisted travel reliability is poor and must be improved.

We know that a national framework for promoting Passenger Assist should be in place, but only once they’ve got a reliable system that works, otherwise they’re setting new disabled travellers up for a fall.”

Paulley said ORR’s recommendations for the review were important, but its delayed new guidance for train operating companies, expected in the autumn following a consultation, “will have a much more direct impact on disabled passengers’ experience than their input into the Williams review, though of course it is positive that they have responded to the review as well”.

The ORR proposals were welcomed by Keith Williams, the review’s chair and a former chief executive of British Airways.

18 July 2019

 

 

DWP decision to block DNS jobcentre invite is ‘extension of hostile environment’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of an “appalling” attack on press freedom and disabled people’s rights after blocking a request by Disability News Service (DNS) to interview staff in one of its jobcentres.

A leaked memo in May revealed that DWP was inviting journalists from across the country into jobcentres to try to persuade them to paint a more positive picture of its new universal credit (UC) benefit system.

The memo revealed the department’s “frustration” at the negative media portrayal of its work, particularly around coverage of UC, as well as its plans to run a series of misleading adverts in the Metro free newspaper that would “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”.

The memo spoke of “negativity and scaremongering” by journalists and said that work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd had written to “a wide range of journalists at regional and national publications, asking them to come and see for themselves the great work we do”.

Many of the articles that resulted, particularly those that have appeared in local newspapers owned by Reach, the largest national and regional news publisher in the UK, were criticised by disabled activists for allowing jobcentre staff to praise the local impact of universal credit and to either dismiss or ignore its well-publicised flaws.

Following the release of the memo, and the string of positive articles that followed, DNS asked DWP’s press office to arrange a visit to a local jobcentre.

This would have allowed DNS to interview frontline civil servants about UC, as well as the much-criticised work capability assessment, links between DWP failings and the deaths of benefit claimants*, and efforts by jobcentre staff to support disabled people into work.

But now, more than a month after the request was submitted, DWP has turned down the DNS request.

A spokesperson said: “Unfortunately we won’t be able to accommodate your request for a jobcentre visit at this stage.

Visits from journalists are time intensive for our jobcentre staff and we’ve therefore focused on hosting visits for newspapers only at this time.

We hope to open up jobcentre visits to online only outlets** in the future.”

Natasha Hirst, the disabled members’ representative on the national executive council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ)***, said DWP’s decision risked “compounding the lack of trust in their ‘mythbuster’ PR campaign if they obstruct access to journalists who have been critical of their policies in the past.

NUJ members abide by a code of conduct to report ethically and accurately and it is vital to a well-functioning democracy that journalists are able to scrutinise the workings of government institutions.”

She added: “If the DWP are confident enough that their policies and practices are improving people’s lives, then providing access to DNS would lend an opportunity to showcase good work and reach directly to their target audience.

Otherwise, this looks like an effort to impede press freedom.”

A spokesperson for Sheffield Disabled People Against Cuts, the grassroots group which obtained the leaked memo, said: “Once again the DWP are moving the goalposts in order to spin their lies and keep disabled people in the dark about what is happening with universal credit; this time it’s journalists on the receiving end.

Disabled people very often have difficulty getting access to print editions of newspapers so rely on online news sources such as DNS for reports about universal credit that we have a right to access.

We think that the DWP may once again be breaching the rights of disabled people by denying DNS and other similar platforms access to jobcentres.

This is quite simply an extension of the hostile environment towards disabled people.”

A spokesperson for Disabled People Against Cuts added: “To say that we were shocked that DNS were denied access would be a lie – it’s exactly what we would expect from an organisation that distorts the truth so routinely that they were never likely to allow a disabled journalist anywhere where they might ask inconvenient questions of jobcentre staff.”

One well-known disabled activist, who tweets as @imajsaclaimant, said it was an “appalling” decision from DWP, which clearly only wanted to allow journalists to visit its jobcentres if they were “from publications that will give them an article that paints DWP in a positive light”.

He said DWP was “attempting to very tightly control the narrative” and the refusal to allow DNS to question jobcentre staff “reinforces what we’ve always known about DWP, that they are a terrible organisation that treats everyone with contempt.

By denying journalists who are critical they are preventing accountability, which is what this government has avoided again and again.”

DWP is already facing an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority into what critics say are the misleading adverts about UC that are appearing in the Metro.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned about the impact on disabled people of UC – which combines six income-related benefits into one – and say it is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of foodbank use.

Earlier this month, DNS revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how UC would affect different groups of disabled people.

Meanwhile, the DWP spokesperson also appeared to admit this week that its press office had been making a deliberate decision not to send press releases to DNS.

When asked why DWP had stopped sending its releases to DNS, she said the press office usually sends them to journalists “on a case-by-case basis”.

She said DWP press releases can also be found on the government website, but she added: “I have noted your request to receive our press releases, and I will send on those that we think you will find of interest.”

**Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here if you would like to see a debate in the House of Commons on calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**DNS is a news agency, not an “online only outlet”

***John Pring, editor of DNS, is an NUJ member

18 July 2019

 

 

More than half of disabled passengers still find air travel difficult, says regulator

More than half of passengers who describe themselves as having an impairment that limits their day-today activity find travelling by air difficult, according to a regulator’s annual report on access at the UK’s major airports.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) annual report on disability access contains mixed findings on provision for disabled travellers at the UK’s largest 31 airports.

Although no airports were rated as “poor” in the regulator’s fourth annual report – the first time this has happened – the number of those rated as “very good” on access fell from 16 last year to 14 in 2018-19.

Of the 31 airports assessed by CAA, 16 were categorized as “good”, an increase of six on 2017-18, and only one was said to need improvement.

During 2018-19, there were 3.7 million requests for assistance at UK airports, a rise of over 80 per cent since 2010. 

But CAA’s latest aviation consumer survey found nearly a quarter of respondents who requested assistance said they did so because the airport environment was becoming more difficult to get around.

And more than half of disabled people surveyed said they found travelling by air difficult, with concerns about poor customer service, long waiting times and a lack of awareness of disabled people’s needs.

It is the second report this month to highlight the continuing barriers faced by disabled travellers.

Last week, Disability News Service reported research commissioned by the government which found two-thirds of disabled passengers said they experienced at least one problem when travelling by rail.

Disabled passengers are entitled to free assistance when travelling by air under European Union regulations, and CAA is the regulatory body that monitors the quality of this assistance.

A key CAA concern is that airports are not increasing staffing levels enough at peak times, causing increased delays for those disabled passengers who need assistance.

The report also says that only two airports with more than nine million passengers a year – Glasgow and Edinburgh – have been rated as “very good” on access.

The others – London Stansted, London Luton, London Heathrow and London Gatwick – are all rated as “good”.

But the report warns that Heathrow could be at risk of losing its “good” rating, if it does not do more to increase staffing levels, particularly for assistance for passengers on flights arriving at the airport.

The report also stresses the importance of ongoing consultation with local disabled people’s groups, and it warns that new CAA guidance “will require airports to hold regular disability forums” and that airports “who do not have these in place may receive a poor rating in future reports”.

This new guidance will mean airports will now be assessed using stricter targets

The report also says CAA has continuing concerns over the services and facilities provided by Manchester Airport, which is nearly two-thirds owned by Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities.

Although the airport improved on its rating of “poor” last year, the CAA report says it still “needs improvement” and warns that events since the end of 2018-19 have “stalled” its progress.

In April, Manchester Airport began using a new provider of assistance services, and the report says: “Data from April, May and June 2019 has shown performance was poor, with high numbers of passengers waiting for unacceptable lengths of time to receive assistance when arriving on inbound flights.”

Meanwhile, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has launched a consultation on new plans that it hopes will help people with long-term conditions who struggle to find affordable travel insurance.

It wants to introduce a new “signposting” rule, which would force insurance firms in certain circumstances to provide consumers with a pre-existing medical condition (PEMC) details of travel insurance firms that “have the appetite and capability” to provide them with cover. 

FCA said that “nearly all consumers with a PEMC can get cover if they are able to find the right provider”.

An estimated 14 million travellers with a PEMC try to find travel insurance every year.

Of these, about 0.7 per cent are declined cover and 11 per cent buy a policy that excludes cover for their condition.

Christopher Woolard, FCA’s executive director of strategy and competition, said: “We want to reduce the numbers of consumers who are currently faced with a choice of not travelling or travelling without insurance, and running the risk of incurring significant costs, including medical bills abroad.

The changes proposed today will be an important step in helping people to navigate the market more easily and also in reducing the number of customers who are over-paying significantly for travel insurance.”

18 July 2019

 

Second charity backs Justice for Jodey following snub by 12 disability organisations

A second national disability charity has joined Mind in backing a petition that calls for an independent inquiry into links between Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) and Mind are the only two major charities to have supported the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, in contrast with others such as RNIB, Leonard Cheshire, Sense and Scope, which have refused to back its demands.

The petition calls for an inquiry and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to police.

It also calls on MPs to brand DWP institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for the department to take urgent steps to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority.

Earlier this month, 12 disability charities – none of which are led and controlled by disabled people – rejected a request from Disability News Service (DNS) to back the petition.

Only Mind agreed to back the petition and its four demands.

But now DR UK, which is run and controlled by disabled people and works with many of the charities as a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium, has said it supports the petition and all its demands.

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said DWP’s failure to follow its own procedures in the case of Jodey Whiting “highlights the need of a root and branch change to our system of social protection for disabled people in this country”.

He said this system should “meet the needs of disabled people and provide safety and support in the way it is administrated”.

Mallick said an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions “would create the opportunity to gather robust evidence on the way the benefits system is administrated and how it impacts on people who need to use it”.

He said: “It could also be used to make recommendations for structural changes to the way the system operates now.”

And he said that any evidence of misconduct that led to serious harm or death “should be examined by the police to see if a criminal prosecution is appropriate”.

He added: “There’s a growing evidence base that the DWP is struggling to provide the services required.

It’s been the subject of a series of very critical reports from select committees, for example, as well as other independent organisations such as Demos.

There have been well documented problems with employment and support allowance, the changeover from disability living allowance to personal independence payments and of course universal credit.

Transferring current responsibilities to different organisations, whether statutory or otherwise, could help solve the problem.

But we must make sure there is a fundamental change in approach – without that, disabled people’s experiences are unlikely to improve much.”  

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

18 July 2019

 

 

New ‘radical history’ of disabled people’s movement ‘has lessons for today’

A new “radical history” of the disabled people’s movement is set to throw new light on the contribution made by one of its most influential figures.

The launch of No Limits: The Disabled People’s Movement, A Radical History, took place last Friday (12 July), and was attended by its author, Judy Hunt, on the 40th anniversary of the death of her husband, Paul.

It was Paul Hunt’s letter to the Guardian in 1972 which led to the formation of the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), which itself was to play a crucial role in the development of the movement and what was later known as the social model of disability.

Hunt had originally lived in the Leonard Cheshire residential home Le Court, in Hampshire, where he and other residents rebelled repeatedly against the regime, before he left to marry Judy in 1970.

In the Guardian letter, he wrote of how disabled people with high support needs were forced into “isolated unsuitable institutions where their views are ignored and they are subject to authoritarian and often cruel regimes”.

He proposed a new “consumer group” that would “put forward nationally the views of actual and potential residents of these successors to the Workhouse”.

No Limits tells how a series of “historic conflicts” between disabled people – including Paul Hunt – and service-providers in the 1960s laid “important groundwork for the emergence of a widespread social movement to end the segregation and second class citizenship of disabled people”.

It describes how the development of a social model of disability – including the key roles played by Hunt and fellow UPIAS founder Vic Finkelstein – led to a “heightened determination by disabled people to achieve emancipation from the oppressive social conditions in the UK”.

The book also describes how institutions began to be replaced with independent living settings, and it follows the evolution of the disabled people’s movement from the 1950s to the present day.

It also aims to “contribute to the ongoing struggle disabled people now face to maintain some control of their lives” after years of austerity have “battered many of the gains made through past campaigns”.

At the launch event in London last week, Judy Hunt said: “I hope the book will show how in the beginning when people were very oppressed, very cut off from society, that despite that, some people managed to find a way to struggle back, and they developed something powerful through the power of collective action which was terribly important.

I’m hoping that by drawing on the lessons of before it may still provide some hope for people, some ideas they can build on.”

She said that her husband had been “an amazing and a lovely person” who was “looked to by many for his very caring support and his guidance” and had “worked tirelessly and like there was no tomorrow, literally”.

She said: “He had been given a very short life expectancy when he was young. He lived that life of urgency all his life.”

She spoke of how her husband edited a book of essays by disabled people – Stigma: The Experience Of Disability – which was published in 1966, but is now out of print.

In his contribution to Stigma, he wrote about how disabled people were an oppressed minority, which she said was “the first time really that that word was used in the context of disability”.

She said: “It was like he lobbed a very weighty stone into the pond and it set off ripples which kept getting bigger and bigger.”

An archive of UPIAS material has been deposited by Judy Hunt in Manchester Central Library, alongside other historic documents that cast light on the birth, growth and impact of the movement, which have been collated by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).

Sian Vasey, a member of UPIAS in the 1970s, told the launch event that Judy Hunt’s book was “very important”, with its discussion of the “extraordinary revolution” of viewing disabled people as an oppressed minority.

She said that disabled people were still oppressed today, for example through the “really scary” dismantling of support systems, such as the cuts to care packages.

The disabled crossbench peer and independent living campaigner Baroness [Jane] Campbell told the launch that disabled people still faced oppression today, nearly 50 years after the formation of UPIAS.

Asked whether disabled people were still oppressed, she said: “Yes, I think we are, as women are, as black people are. I don’t see any difference.”

She spoke of how reading Paul Hunt’s letter to the Guardian, years later, as a young disabled woman, led her to contact the Spinal Injuries Association and then to attend the second annual meeting of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP).

It was at this conference in the early 1980s that she heard disabled activists Mike Oliver and Ken Davis talk about the social model of disability and the concept of independent living.

She remembers “feeling goose bumps all over my body” as “suddenly everything just fell into place”.

She told last week’s launch event: “If I hadn’t read that letter and I hadn’t phoned the Spinal Injuries Association, I would probably not have gone down the road that I did.

That is why today is so, so important to me.

Paul, even though I never knew him, was probably one of the most important men in my life, which is a very strange thing to say about someone you never knew.”

She told DNS afterwards that disabled people are still an oppressed group, but that she “would never say we are more oppressed than other groups that have had very similar struggles to stay alive and be treated equally”.

She said: “Becoming liberated through understanding the nature of their oppression is one of the most important things a disabled person can do.”

She said she had struggled more trying to be “normal” and fit in to a “normal world” than she ever did after she was liberated.

She added: “It is a huge relief to understand the true nature of my oppression and to understand the way to fight against it, and eventually abandon it.”

Free copies of the book in pdf format are available through the GMCDP website, with other formats available soon. To order a paperback version at £19.99, email: huntlimits40@gmail.com

18 July 2019

 

 

Hancock confronted over hospital parking charges for disabled patients

The health secretary has been confronted by a campaigner after government figures revealed the number of hospitals charging disabled people to use their carparks rose by 12 per cent in just a year.

Kush Kanodia, a disabled ambassador for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said NHS trusts that charged disabled patients to use their carparks were guilty of direct discrimination under the Equality Act.

He asked Hancock: “What are we to do when the people we trust to deliver our healthcare fail to show compassion or inclusion?”

But he said neither Hancock nor NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens responded to his request for support for his campaign to end the charges at hospitals in England, which he launched last week with support from DR UK.

Devolved governments in both Scotland and Wales have scrapped all hospital parking charges, not just those for disabled patients.

Kanodia raised his concerns at The King’s Fund’s annual leadership and management summit.

He launched the campaign last week after accusing executives of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – where he is a patient governor – of “disgraceful” behaviour by deciding to introduce parking charges for patients with blue badges at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) this week declined to condemn those trusts that have introduced charges, saying only that it believed NHS trusts should offer “concessions” to disabled people using their carparks.

NHS Digital figures show that the number of hospitals that charge disabled people to park rose from 132 in 2014-15 to 155 in 2017-18, an increase of 17 per cent in just three years.

The largest increase came in the last year, with an increase of 12 per cent from 139 hospitals in 2016-17 to 155 in 2017-18.

Hancock’s predecessor, Tory leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt, had pledged to tackle the problem in August 2014.

Hunt said then that concessions should be available for disabled people.

But in a post on his own website, Hunt says the government is “firmly committed to reducing central interference in matters that can only be understood locally, and setting car parking charges falls into this category”.

A DHSC spokesperson declined to say if the department was in favour of scrapping all parking charges for disabled people, or if Hancock was concerned about the rising number of trusts that impose such charges.

But he said in a statement: “Patients and their families should not have to deal with the extra stress of complex or unfair parking charges.

Our guidelines make clear that concessions should be offered, including for disabled parking, and we expect trusts to be following these. 

We will continue to work with the NHS to ensure these principles are applied consistently to end variation and put the interests of patients first.”

A spokesperson for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital said its charges would be capped at £3 per vehicle and no decision had yet been made on when they would be introduced.

She said: “This still represents a significant concession compared to all other users of the car park. Where there is evidence of poverty then there will be no charge.

This was a very difficult decision to make in a challenging financial climate.

We intend to use the income generated to reinvest in facilities and clinical resources for our disabled patients, including plans to increase the number of disabled parking spaces.

If we don’t make any charge for disabled parking we will have to find an additional £200,000 every year.”

She denied that the trust would be breaching the Equality Act by introducing the new charge.

18 July 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:14
Jul 172019
 

Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Health in All Policies

Evidence session open to the public to observe

In 2015, the APPG for Health in All Policies undertook an assessment of the prospective impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on child poverty and health. The approach taken was to establish perceptions of the relationship between poverty, inequality and health, and then to drill down into the potential impacts that the different measures of the Bill would have specifically on child poverty and subsequently child health, and health inequalities. You can read the Inquiry’s report here.

Three years on, the APPG for Health in All Policies is conducting a follow-up review of the actual impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Act (WR&WA) (2016), particularly on children and disabled adults. The APPG has received written evidence and will be holding an oral inquiry session on Monday 22nd July, 3-6pm, Committee Room 19, House of Commons.

There will be two panels, the first of academics between 3-4.30pm and the second of key stakeholder groups between 4.30-6pm. Those giving evidence will include, Prof David Taylor-Robinson, University of Liverpool; Prof Peter Dwyer, University of York; Dr Heather Brown, Newcastle University; Dr Aaron Reeves, University of Oxford; Dr Danny Taggart, University of Essex; Dr Max Davie, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; Martin Taulbut, Scottish Health Observatory; Tom Pollard, Mind; Maeve McGoldrick, Crisis; Helen Barnard, Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Ellen Clifford, Disabled People Against Cuts; Annie Howard, Disabled People Against Cuts; Michael Griffin, Parkinson’s UK representing Disability Benefits Consortium.

The inquiry session will be open to the public – any attendees need to use the Cromwell Green entrance to Parliament and allow up to 30 minutes to go through security and make it to the Upper Committee Corridor of the House of Commons.

 Posted by at 15:09
Jul 112019
 

 

Secret PIP files show one in three assessments by Capita had significant flaws

More than a third of disability assessment reports completed by a government contractor have been found to be significantly flawed, according to secret government files.

The proportion of substandard personal independence payment (PIP) reports completed by outsourcing giant Capita has risen to 37 per cent in the two years since 2016, when nearly 33 per cent of reports were found to be defective.

The figures, secured from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater, are likely to add fuel to concerns about Capita’s performance in delivering the contract.

And they are also likely to strengthen calls for DWP to be declared “not fit for purpose” and institutionally disablist, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition*.

The figures show the results of government audits of nearly 6,000 assessment reports carried out by Capita during 2018.

They show that nearly four per cent of the reports (3.92 per cent) were of such poor quality that they were categorised as “unacceptable”.

With another 17 per cent of assessments, DWP concluded the report was so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, although the report was of an “acceptable” standard.

And in a further 16 per cent of cases, the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws, although again the report was still said to be of an “acceptable” standard.

In all, nearly 37 per cent of assessment reports audited during 2018 were found to be of an unacceptable standard, to need changes, or demonstrated that the assessor had failed to carry out their role properly.

The newly-released data provides details of the “management information” (MI) that Capita and fellow outsourcing giant Atos are contractually obliged to provide every month to DWP, so it can check on their performance and take action when they need to improve.

It was obtained as part of Slater’s continuing efforts to secure information from DWP that he believes will expose the widespread failings of Capita and Atos, and DWP’s failure to manage the contracts properly.

He is still appealing against DWP’s failure to release data showing the results of audits of Atos assessment reports.

The data that was released raises continuing and multiple concerns about the way the two private sector companies are carrying out their contractual duties.

It also shows that the many reports of dishonest and distressing assessment experiences by individual disabled people are not isolated occurrences.

One of the concerns highlighted by the data is the proportion of assessments cleared by Capita within 40 days, which nearly fell as low as 50 per cent at one stage during 2018.

Another concern is over the number of Atos and Capita healthcare professionals who have been the subject of multiple complaints within a three-month period.

Last year, DNS revealed that 161 assessors working for Atos and 19 Capita assessors had had at least four complaints made against them in a three-month period in 2016.

But the figures for 2018 show that, although the number of Atos assessors who faced multiple complaints fell from 161 to 129, the number of Capita assessors who were subjected to at least four complaints in just three months leapt from 19 to 84 between 2016 and 2018.

Capita carried out about 220,000 face-to-face assessments in 2018, compared with more than 730,000 by Atos.

Another key concern is that Capita is still requesting vital further evidence from GPs and social workers in less than 30 per cent of assessments.

This is an improvement on the figures from 2016, when at one stage, in June and July 2016, Capita was seeking further information from GPs, consultants or social workers in fewer than one in every 50 PIP claims (less than two per cent of cases).

But DWP documents drawn up in May 2012, before the award of the contracts to deliver PIP assessments, show the department expected its contractors would need to request further evidence (also known as further medical evidence) in about half of all cases (50 per cent).

A Capita spokesperson refused to say if the data obtained by Slater showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and that this was deteriorating.

She also refused to comment on the audit results, or explain why they had worsened in the last two years.

And she refused to explain why so many assessors had been subjected to multiple complaints within a three-month period, and why that number had increased so sharply in the last two years.

But she said in a statement: “Capita is the first PIP provider to consistently meet the ambitious quality targets set by the DWP and we are committed to continually delivering against this target. On average, cases are completed within 38 days.

We are focused on delivering the best service to individuals coming through the assessment process.

This is evidenced in our independent monthly satisfaction rating from customers, which in 2018 was more than 95 per cent.”

An Atos** spokesperson refused to comment on the number of its assessors subject to multiple complaints.

But he said in a statement: “As part of our commitment to provide a high quality service we have invested in our continuous professional development training for all health professionals.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the figures showed there were still serious concerns about its management of the PIP contracts and the performance of the two companies.

She also refused to say if DWP was concerned by the Capita audit results and the number of Atos and Capita assessors subjected to multiple complaints within three-month periods.

She refused to say why DWP had not released the Atos audit results to John Slater.

And she refused to say if DWP had taken any action to address these concerns.

But she said in a statement: “We are committed to ensuring that the PIP assessment providers give our claimants the highest quality service.

That’s why we set the providers challenging targets and monitor their performance closely, and the latest figures show that complaints make up just one per cent of all the assessments carried out.”

Meanwhile, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd today (Thursday) announced an in-depth review of how terminally-ill people and those with “severe conditions” are treated by the benefits system.

The announcement came days after a report compiled by the charity Marie Curie and published by the all party parliamentary group for terminal illness saw people with terminal illness calling on ministers to end the “arbitrary and outdated” rules that force many of them through a “demeaning” and “insensitive” benefit assessment process.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK

11 July 2019

 

 

New EU figures demolish government claims of ‘world-leading generosity’ on disability

New figures obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) have demolished ministerial claims that the UK is one of the most generous countries in the world in its support for disabled people.

Rather than being one of the most generous, the UK’s spending on disability is actually below average for the 28 member states in the European Union (EU).

The figures also show that the proportion of the UK’s economic activity (GDP) spent by the UK government on disabled people fell from 2.6 per cent in 2015 to 2.5 per cent in 2016 and 2017.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its ministers have repeatedly defended themselves against criticisms of government cuts to disabled people’s support over the last decade by attempting to argue that the UK’s spending levels compare favourably with other countries.

When the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government in 2017 that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” – and recommended more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affected disability rights – it responded by stressing how much it spent supporting disabled people and how well that compared with other major economies.

But the new figures show the UK is only the 12th most generous country in the EU, when its disability spending is taken as a proportion of GDP.

Last month, DNS reported figures for 2015 which showed the UK’s spending was only 23rd highest of the 36 major world economies in the OECD* as a proportion of GDP.

But DNS has now obtained figures for 2016 and 2017 from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, which bases its statistics on data provided by the UK and other EU governments, and which is the organisation that OECD uses to produce its figures for EU countries.

The Eurostat figures show the UK was only the 12th most generous spender in the EU in 2015, 2016 and 2017, behind Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, Luxembourg and even Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary, if disability spending is taken as a proportion of a country’s GDP.

The figures show spending on sickness and disability, which for the UK includes benefits like personal independence payment and employment and support allowance, as well as spending on social care and other social protection for disabled people.

The claim that the UK is one of the world’s most generous countries when it comes to disability has been used repeatedly by work and pensions ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith, who claimed in 2014 that “[we] probably spend more than almost any other country in the developed world” and “nearly double what Germany spends”.

Esther McVey made similar claims when she was minister for disabled people, and again last month when she was running – unsuccessfully – to be the next prime minister.

Ministers have also repeatedly claimed that the UK spends more on disability than France, one of the seven major economies that make up the G7, and DWP repeated that claim yesterday (Wednesday).

The Eurostat figures also demolish those claims, as they show that Frances spends about 2.9 per cent of its GDP on sickness and disability, compared to 2.5 per cent in the UK.

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the minister for disabled people now accepted that the UK spends below the average for the 28 EU countries on disability and is not even one of the most generous countries in the EU, let alone the world.

Instead she said in a statement: “We’re spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions, more than ever before.

And as a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.”**

*OECD is an organisation of 36 countries, all of which are major world economies

**The Eurostat figures show the UK also spends less than France

11 July 2019

 

 

Ministerial group on disability met just three times in a year, DWP admits

A cross-government group of ministers set up to drive forward action to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people has met just three times in more than a year, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted.

The group of 11 ministers, chaired by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, was set up in May 2018.

It was set up following a period of nearly four years when there was no cross-departmental group of ministers working to improve the lives of disabled people.

But now a response from DWP to a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS) has revealed that the new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society met just three times between May 2018 and June 2019.

The group of ministers met first on 7 July 2018, and again on 31 October 2018, and then did not meet again until 25 March this year, nearly five months later.

Only last month, prime minister Theresa May – supported by non-user-led charities like Scope and Sense – announced what she said were “new measures to break down barriers faced by disabled people, whether in employment, housing or elsewhere”.

Rudd said at the time that disabled people “encounter too many challenges in life” and the government wanted to “change the landscape for disabled people and to make sure there is always a level playing field for them”.

But many user-led organisations questioned why May had left it until the last days of her time in office to launch what she said was a “new drive to tackle barriers faced by disabled people”.

The admission that the inter-ministerial group set up by May’s government last year, under Rudd’s leadership, has met just three times in more than a year will cast further doubt on what the prime minister claimed was her “determination to identify and tackle injustices”.

DWP has so far refused to say which ministers attended each meeting, even though similar information was eventually released following a complaint to the information commissioner about the actions of the previous inter-ministerial group, which met just three times in 2014 before it was scrapped.

A DWP spokesperson declined to say why the inter-ministerial group had only met three times in more than a year.

But she said in a statement: “Empowering disabled people in all aspects of their lives has always been and will continue to be a priority for this government.

That is why the Office for Disability Issues continues to drive forward work to increase disabled people’s participation in society, including through the Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society, which is just one of the many ways in which we’re driving progress on the issues that matter to disabled people.”

11 July 2019

 

 

DWP’s ‘universal credit Metro lies’ backfire by sparking new campaign network

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertising campaign that is now being investigated by a watchdog has backfired by helping to create a national network of campaigners opposed to its new universal credit benefit system, say disabled activists.

The advertising watchdog this week launched an investigation into what critics say are “misleading” DWP adverts that have attempted to “whitewash” the truth about universal credit (UC).

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of foodbank use, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

The Sheffield branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said it was “encouraged” to hear that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had confirmed it was investigating concerns about the DWP adverts, which appear every week in the Metro free newspaper.

But Sheffield DPAC said there were now hundreds of activists around the country who were “actively dumping the Metro newspaper”, and praised a Labour city councillor in Sheffield, Francyne Johnson, who supported the campaign yesterday (Wednesday).

Sheffield DPAC claimed that hundreds of thousands of copies of the free newspaper have been removed from distribution points around the country and sent for recycling.

It was Sheffield DPAC which first raised the alarm about DWP’s plans to launch a nine-week series of advertising features in the Metro.

Senior DWP civil servants had said in an internal memo, first leaked to the Guardian and then to Disability News Service (DNS), that the adverts would “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” and “explain what UC is and how it works in reality”.

A Sheffield DPAC spokesperson said transport workers were now alerting activists to let them know when and where Metros were being delivered so they could be removed and recycled.

She said: “The campaign has grown from a small protest in Sheffield to a well coordinated and incredibly effective national campaign that has seen hundreds of thousands of copies of the Metro now removed from stands and sent for recycling in just a matter of weeks. 

Initially we were removing them by hand, which was exhausting. Now we’ve got hired vans and large numbers of people removing huge amounts relatively effortlessly. 

Although we’re obviously very angry and upset that these ads are still appearing (they were in Metro today) we’re confident that we can now achieve more and reach farther than ever before as we have such excellent communication between a huge number of unions and groups now, thanks to this campaign. 

The DWP, through releasing this propaganda, have unwittingly created a huge national anti universal credit campaign network. That backfired a bit, didn’t it!”

The latest advertorials appeared in the Metro yesterday, even though ASA announced this week that it has launched a formal investigation into the DWP adverts.

ASA said it has received more than 40 complaints about the adverts.

One of the concerns it will investigate is whether some of the adverts were “obviously identifiable as ads”, rather than being disguised as an investigation carried out by the Metro.

Last month, DNS sent ASA an image of the Metro website’s home page which showed a series of images and claims about universal credit which failed to state that they were actually DWP adverts.

The leaked DWP documents revealed that these adverts were always designed to be misleading and not to “look or feel like DWP or UC”.

ASA will also investigate whether three key claims made in the adverts were misleading and if they could be substantiated by DWP.

These claims relate to criticisms of UC that have been made by welfare rights experts, claimants and activists, based on years of evidence, but which DWP has branded as “myths” in its adverts.

A DWP spokesperson claimed that all the advertising contains the words “Advertising Feature from the Department for Work and Pensions”, even though DNS pointed out that the adverts on the Metro website home page had not done so.

She confirmed that ASA had been in touch with the department and that DWP was “working with them to respond to the points raised”.

She said: “It is important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise universal credit.”

She added: “We have consulted the Advertising Standards Authority throughout the partnership and our advertorials reflect their advice.”

11 July 2019

 

 

Protests force council climbdown over inaccessible Peterloo memorial

Disabled activists and their allies have forced a council into a significant climbdown over its “discriminatory” plans for a memorial to victims of the Peterloo massacre.

Manchester City Council (MCC) said this week that it had asked artist Jeremy Deller to examine how the memorial he designed can now be made “fully accessible”.

The council-funded memorial was set to be completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though Deller wanted it to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.

The council had previously told Disability News Service (DNS) that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the memorial, which is due to be unveiled to the public on 16 August, the 200th anniversary of the massacre.

But there has now been an apparent climbdown following weeks of protests led by disabled activists.

The council’s announcement follows a meeting between city councillors Luthfur Rahman (executive member for skills, culture and leisure) and Tracey Rawlins (lead member for disabled people), and representatives of disabled people’s groups.

Mark Todd, a disabled access expert who started a Facebook page to protest at the design of the memorial – and has called it “a monument to discrimination” – said he was “really pleased” at the council’s apparent change of approach.

He said that the “breadth and determination” of the campaign and the willingness to work with the council appeared to have paid off.

And he said the campaign had built an “amazing coalition” that included disabled people, artists, celebrities, and citizens of Manchester “who all want a Peterloo Memorial that is accessible to everyone”.

Among those who have supported the campaign are the musician and activist Billy Bragg, who said: “Surely something that symbolises the struggle for universal rights should be accessible to all.”

Disabled comedian and activist Francesca Martinez said it was “extraordinary” that the memorial design had not been inclusive, while there has also been criticism from disabled actor-campaigners Cherylee Houston and Ali Briggs.

Briggs said: “We all want a memorial, yes that’s true. We just don’t want one like this, that we can’t be proud of.”

Todd said this week that he was “cautiously optimistic” following the council’s statement, but until there was a “fitting and accessible Peterloo Memorial”, the campaign and a weekly vigil near the site would continue.

He said: “We are not ready to put away our placards just yet.”

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), which has played a key role in the protests, also welcomed the announcement.

But it warned that the council had not yet met its three demands – to stop work on the memorial while it was still low enough to include a ramp; to ensure the memorial was accessible; and to make sure there was no repeat of the council’s failure with future projects – and pointed out that building work on the inaccessible memorial was now nearly finished.

Campaigners will meet next week with the council, Deller and the architect working on the project, and will then decide whether to review their demands.

A GMCDP spokesperson said: “MCC’s decision to build the memorial to its full height and then explore access solutions afterwards, limits considerably what can be done to make it a platform everyone can use.

We do not know what MCC have in mind, if anything, and we acknowledge that a perfect solution may not be arrived at immediately. 

What is needed most at this stage is the commitment to find a genuine accessible long-term solution, properly considered, fully consulted on and backed up with some teeth and a budget.”

The council has faced weeks of anger from disabled people and allies that a memorial designed to remember those who marched for liberty and equality in the 19th century should apparently have been “designed and built with discrimination and inequality at its heart”.

Now the council has said that it regrets that the design of the memorial “did not give enough consideration to access issues”.

Cllr Rahman said: “Manchester City Council has a long and proud record around access issues, something which disabled access campaigners have acknowledged. 

However, we recognise that the interpretation of the brief for the Peterloo Memorial, with an imaginative design involving a more interactive element than originally envisaged for a public artwork, did not give enough consideration to access issues and we regret this.

We recently met with representatives of disabled people’s groups to further discuss this issue and we have asked the artist and architect to look at how the monument in its current form can be modified to make it fully accessible.

We will share more details about where we are up to and the proposed way forward as soon as we are in a position to do so.

We are listening and doing all we can to resolve this satisfactorily.”

Deller told DNS last night (Wednesday) that he was optimistic that a solution could be found to make the memorial accessible.

*On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful, pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre

11 July 2019

 

 

UN rapporteur hears of disabled asylum-seekers evicted by social services

A UN human rights expert has been told that disabled asylum-seekers in Bristol have been evicted by social services, and have even been told that being made “street homeless” will make them more independent.

Professor Felipe González, the UN’s special rapporteur for the human rights of migrants, was told that disabled asylum-seekers are routinely denied access to services and support in the UK.

He was in Bristol last week for an unofficial visit organised by the University of Bristol’s Migration Mobilities Bristol research centre.

The centre wanted to tell him about the challenges faced by the UK and Bristol – such as the government’s “hostile environment” for immigrants and the impact of Brexit – and about the centre’s research, and to hear about his UN role.

Among those presenting González with evidence was Rebecca Yeo, a disabled academic, and herself the daughter of a refugee.

She was speaking on behalf of Janet Karanja, a disabled asylum-seeker, who had explained that she was too “pressed down” by the system to give evidence herself.

Yeo told González: “She had planned to talk about her struggle to survive, how at times she’s relied on friends for basic food, how her operation was cancelled just before entering the operating theatre when the hospital had a call from the Home Office.

How she can make no plans because she doesn’t know when or whether, as she puts it, ‘the Home Office will come for you’.

These struggles are common to asylum seekers and have a heavy toll on people’s physical and mental health.”

Karanja had told Yeo that the asylum system “makes you feel you are worthless… like garbage”, she said.

Yeo told the rapporteur that there was now greater recognition of the existence of disabled people in the asylum system, but the “systematic denial” of the rights and needs of all asylum-seekers has increased, which means “the asylum system itself is disabling”.

Yeo also told González that local and national government were breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in their treatment of disabled asylum-seekers, in Bristol and across the country.

She said: “I’m aware of disabled asylum seekers being evicted by social services, made street homeless, with no support, being told that this would make them more independent.”

She also told González that Bristol City Council had excluded disabled people from a task group set up to examine the barriers to accessing social care faced by asylum-seekers, with one councillor explaining: “People with lived experience know about their own lives, but don’t know about how the system works.”

The task group’s members are instead from the council and council-funded organisations.

The group was only set up by the council after a meeting organised by disabled people, including disabled asylum-seekers.

They had called for the meeting with the council and local charities and MPs following protests held last year in the wake of the deaths of two disabled refugees, and showed them a film in which disabled asylum-seekers spoke of the barriers they faced in accessing social care.

Yeo told González that excluding disabled people and their organisations from the task group breached the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and “cuts out a source of expertise”.

The rapporteur was visiting Bristol almost exactly a year after disabled asylum-seekers and activists came together to seek fundamental changes to systems and agencies after the brutal murders of the two disabled refugees.

Both Kamil Ahmad (in July 2016) and Bijan Ebrahimi (in July 2013) were murdered by racist neighbours after being failed by official agencies in the city.

The council was warned there would be a third death in the city unless there was urgent action to address the breaches of disabled asylum-seekers’ rights.

The council has failed so far to provide disabled activists with any information about what the task group has achieved or any minutes from its meetings, despite promising to do so by January this year.

A brief update on the task group’s progress was finally provided to Yeo yesterday (Wednesday), 24 hours after DNS had asked the council to comment on her evidence to the special rapporteur.

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said this morning in a statement: “As a City of Sanctuary our priority is to make Bristol a safe place for all people seeking sanctuary and to create an environment in which they can feel welcomed.

Following the meeting with campaigners last year, a task group of key stakeholders that work with disabled asylum seekers was established to look at how their experience can be improved.

The group is looking at a number of areas including a full audit of asylum related cases, improving education about completing a Care Act Assessment and arranging training sessions for operational staff to hear from disabled asylum seekers about their lived experiences.”

11 July 2019

 

 

Two-thirds of disabled passengers face at least one problem when travelling by rail

Two-thirds of disabled passengers experience at least one problem when travelling by rail, according to research commissioned by the government.

The research was carried out in 2017 but was only published this week when the Department for Transport (DfT) marked a year since the launch of its Inclusive Transport Strategy.

The research, commissioned for DfT by the Transport Focus watchdog, also showed that more than one in five disabled passengers find rail travel difficult.

Many of the more than 1,500 disabled passengers interviewed for the research said they had to plan their journeys in “meticulous detail” to ensure a successful trip.

And not one of the 50 disabled people who took part in in-depth interviews for the research said they were aware that they could use passenger assistance services without booking in advance – if staff are available – through the so-called “turn up and go” service.

Those who used the “passenger assist” service reported frequent failures, including being left on a train at a terminal; not being met at a station when they needed to exit the train; not being met at their departure station; and experiencing “rude and discriminatory” behaviour from staff.

Nearly a third of those surveyed (31 per cent) said they had experienced anti-social or discriminatory behaviour from other passengers.

This week, DfT invited the rail industry to nominate stations across Britain to benefit from a £20 million fund that will pay for small-scale access improvements such as tactile paving, handrails and Harrington Humps, which increase platform heights so passengers with mobility impairments can board trains more easily.

The £20 million was first announced by DfT in April and is part of the £300 million government funding to be spent on access improvements under the Access for All programme between 2019-20 and the end of March 2024.

Nusrat Ghani, the accessibility minister, said: “While many take for granted the ability to travel easily from A to B, access for the fifth of people who identify as disabled can be far from straightforward.

We want disabled people to travel easily, confidently and without extra cost, which is why it is fantastic to be opening this fund today.

I look forward to seeing what ideas the industry has for accessibility improvements as we work towards a more inclusive rail network.”

John Welsman, a guide dog owner and policy lead for travel and mobility at the charity Guide Dogs, said: “Guide Dogs welcomes the additional funding as independent train travel is a real challenge for people living with sight loss.

Elements like tactile paving on platform edges and steps, better signage, improved lighting and colour contrast, will make stations easier to negotiate confidently and more safely.

However, train travel is still a very complex environment for people with sight loss and we will continue to work to find solutions so that no one with sight loss is left out of life.”

The announcement in July 2018 that the government would spend £300 million over five years followed years of funding cuts to Access for All, originally introduced by the last Labour government in 2006.

Disability News Service secured figures last July through a freedom of information request that showed that spending on Access for All had fallen from as much as £81.1 million in 2013-14 to just £14.6 million in 2017-18.

Spending in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, was £53.9 million, with £41.2 million in 2010-11, £50.7 million in 2011-12, £39.7 million in 2012-13, and £81.1 million in 2013-14.

But spending then plunged over the next four years – in the first five-year planning period to begin under the coalition – with just £22.9 million in 2014-15, £24.6 million in 2015-16, £32.1 million in 2016-17 and only £14.6 million in 2017-18.

Although it is not yet clear how much was spent in 2018-19, the government is planning to spend £300 million over the next five years on Access for All, including £50 million that had been deferred from the last five years.

11 July 2019

 

 

Disabled governor’s anger over hospital’s parking charges sparks new campaign

A disabled governor of a leading London hospital has accused its executives of arrogance and a “disgraceful” lack of compassion after they decided to start charging holders of blue badges to use their carpark.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust agreed at a meeting last week that holders of blue badges would no longer be allowed free parking at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

Kush Kanodia, a patient governor of the trust, has been trying to persuade the trust for the last year not to introduce parking charges for patients with blue badges.

He is so frustrated at the decision that he is now planning to lead a campaign, alongside Disability Rights UK, to scrap all such charges at hospitals across England.

Kanodia, a social entrepreneur who advises organisations such as the Global Disability Innovation Hub and the Museum of Happiness on disability issues, and who was this week appointed as a DR UK ambassador, said it was a “disgraceful decision”.

He persuaded the trust’s council of governors last year to “strongly oppose” charging disabled patients to use the hospital’s carpark – arguing that there was a close correlation between disability and poverty – and he managed to fend off the plans until last week.

He said: “It’s a disgraceful decision. I’m shocked. It shows a complete lack of compassion.

The truth is, they can’t be trusted to show compassion.”

He said it was accepted that 10 years of austerity had had a disproportionate impact on disabled people.

He added: “The rights of disabled people have been ebbing away for the last 10 years. If we don’t make a stand and say enough is enough it’s just going to go on and on.”

He said the trust’s take-over in 2015 of West Middlesex University Hospital Trust – which already charged disabled patients to use its carparks – may have had an impact on the decision to introduce charging at Chelsea and Westminster.

Kanodia said that denying disabled people access to basic healthcare would affect their access to employment and education and their ability to be full participants in society.

He said the trust’s decision had persuaded him to campaign for all hospitals in England to be banned from charging disabled patients to use their carparks.

He said: “We want to abolish all parking charges for disabled people for all NHS hospitals in England.”

He believes the trust should be making reasonable adjustments for disabled patients under the Equality Act.

And he pointed out that devolved governments in both Scotland and Wales have scrapped all hospital parking charges, not just those for disabled patients.

Kanodia also questioned whether the trust had carried out an assessment of the impact of the introduction of the charges on disabled people, which would have provided evidence on whether it was breaching its public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

The trust had failed to comment by 11am today (Thursday).

11 July 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:37
Jul 092019
 

Have you (or someone you care for) had 3rd party deductions taken directly from your/their Benefit?  (eg For Gas, Water, Electric, Rent or Council Tax)

Has it caused financial hardship?

Was it taken without consent?

Did you try to fight against it?

Not only could the amount taken have been wrong – but the amount taken for arrears is often many times higher than a court would impose.  

The scheme that allows these deductions is currently not fit for purpose and a team of solicitors agree that the scheme could be unlawful in a number of ways.

I am looking for some co-claimants to join me in having the scheme ‘taken to court’ – This could not only result in many thousands of people across the country being better off financially – but it would also hold the Government and the DWP to account and give benefit claimants back some power, rights and dignity.

If you qualify for Benefits you should qualify for Legal Aid but if you don’t we would not ask you to continue.

If you would like to be part of fighting back and helping others – Please send a message to mail@dpac.uk.net  giving your name and phone number – I will then call you to take further details and answer any questions you have.

I look forward to hearing from you – Helen

 Posted by at 14:04
Jul 052019
 

Last week the DWP advertorials returned to the Metro.

Until we can be sure they have stopped we are calling on supporters to make every day a #DumpMetroDWPLies day and ramp up the pressure to stop this waste of public money on misleading propaganda.

Please do what you can and encourage others to get involved.

Thanks to all unions who he campaign or taking their own action against Universal Credit including BFAWU, the NUJ, PCS and Unite Community.

Jul 042019
 

 

Tomlinson misleads Abrahams over cover-up as MPs debate DWP deaths cover-up

The minister for disabled people is today (Thursday) facing questions over why he misled a senior Labour MP about his department’s cover-up of links between its “fitness for work” test and the deaths of disabled people.

The failure by Justin Tomlinson to provide the truth about information his department failed to provide to five independent reviews comes as he and other work and pensions ministers face mounting pressure over the cover-up, revealed by a lengthy Disability News Service (DNS) investigation.

This morning (watch from 10.57am), Labour’s Debbie Abrahams was granted an urgent question in the Commons to ask work and pensions minister Will Quince why the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed to pass crucial evidence about the deaths to the two independent experts commissioned by ministers to carry out five reviews of the work capability assessment (WCA) between 2010 and 2014.

DNS revealed in May that DWP had finally admitted that two letters written by coroners to warn that the WCA had been linked to suicides, and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants who had gone through the WCA process, were not passed to the second reviewer, Dr Paul Litchfield, in 2013 and 2014.

This morning, Abrahams told Quince: “A government’s first duty is to protect its people. All its people. But they are failing the sick and disabled. And this reveals the enormity of this failure.”

She asked Quince to confirm that the documents were not passed to Litchfield, and she called for an investigation.

She said the information commissioner had heard from members of DWP staff who were part of Litchfield’s team, and she asked whether the department had asked Litchfield and Professor Malcolm Harrington – who carried out the first three reviews of the WCA – whether they had received the documents, and “if not, why not”.

Abrahams said: “Given their remit was to examine the WCA and many of these reviews and coroner’s letters contained grave concerns about the assessment process, why did the department not provide them?”

She also asked Quince to promise to publish redacted versions of the 84 secret reviews carried out by DWP since 2015 – most of which will have involved the deaths of claimants – and the six still underway.

Quince told Abrahams that recorded information to show what documents were shared with Litchfield “no longer exists, in line with the department’s document retention policy”.

But he failed to tell MPs about the DWP’s admission to the information commissioner that members of Litchfield’s team who still work for DWP have said in statements – following a freedom of information complaint by DNS – that the coroner’s letters and peers reviews were never shared with Litchfield.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “Surely it should have been the department’s responsibility to ensure that the reviewer had all the relevant information.

There is a systemic problem at DWP when it comes to meeting the needs of disabled people and the facts speak for themselves.”

She called on the government to agree to an independent inquiry into links between DWP’s actions and the deaths of disabled claimants, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*.

Quince said that DWP would have shared relevant documents with Litchfield and Harrington, but “they were not requested”.

But Abrahams pointed out: “If they were unaware of the existence of these documents, how could they request them?”

Frank Field, the independent MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, said it was the duty of government departments to produce information and it was “not for the chair of an inquiry to fish for information which would be crucial to the proper consideration of events that lead to someone’s death”.

Carol Monaghan, for the SNP, also backed the calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to the government’s social security reforms.

Christine Jardine, for the Liberal Democrats, said DWP had “given us a number of reasons for why these documents and information were not available.

But to the public and those affected, it will seem that there can be only two acceptable or reasonable reasons, which are either that it was deliberately withheld, covered up, or it was incompetence.

In order to get to the bottom of this, and to reassure the public, will the minister give those of us who are asking today for that inquiry, the assurance that it will do everything it possibly can to get to the bottom of this?”

There are also serious concerns over a letter that Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, wrote this week to Abrahams about her concerns.

Tomlinson told Abrahams that because of the length of time since the last of the reviews was published – more than four years – “factors such as document retention policies, organisational changes and staff turnover, means that information that might help answer these queries is no longer available”.

But that statement is not true.

The DNS complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office led earlier this year to a confirmation by DWP that neither the peer reviews nor the coroner’s letters were sent to Litchfield.

But this fact was withheld by Tomlinson in his letter to Abrahams.

Abrahams, herself a former shadow work and pensions secretary, also raised the letter and the failure to pass the information to Litchfield in a point of order in the House of Commons yesterday, which led to today’s urgent question.

Abrahams, one of the few MPs so far to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* publicly, repeated her call on Wednesday for an independent inquiry into deaths links to DWP actions, one of the petition’s key demands.

She said she wanted to raise her “grave concerns” about DWP’s investigations into claimant deaths linked to its actions.

She said: “We are talking about the circumstances of people’s deaths about five years ago.

To tell me that these documents can’t be found smacks at least of incompetence and at worst of a cover-up.”

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

4 July 2019

 

 

Reckless or negligent?’ DWP’s decade-long failure to assess universal credit impact

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit will affect different groups of disabled people.

DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.

But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how universal credit (UC) is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been trying for nearly 18 months to obtain calculations showing exactly DWP believes different groups of disabled people will be financially affected by the introduction of UC.

When DWP failed to provide these figures, following a freedom of information request, DNS lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Now DWP has been forced to admit to the information commissioner that throughout the nine years since it announced its plans to replace six income-related benefits with the new UC, it has not once carried out and recorded any calculations to show how different groups of disabled people would be affected financially.

DWP told ICO: “We do not hold this information because the variables involved are too numerous to enable us to conduct an analysis with case comparisons.

In addition, as the calculations and methodologies are different, no meaningful direct comparisons can be made between Universal Credit awards and awards of benefit from a legacy system.”

A spokesperson for the Benefits and Work website, which provides advice and information on benefits, said: “It seems extraordinary that such basic calculations weren’t carried out and shared with representative organisations before such a fundamental change in benefits for disabled people was imposed.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said DWP’s failure to make the calculations was either “callous and reckless or negligent”.

And Disability Rights UK said it was “disingenuous for the DWP to say that it could not provide case comparisons”.

Instead of providing DNS with the examples it requested, DWP sent ICO links to equality impact assessments it carried out in 2011, which include some figures showing the overall, generalised, predicted impact of UC.

An equality impact assessment in November 2011 (PDF, page 13) suggested that 27 per cent of “disabled households” would gain by an average of about £33 a week under UC, while 27 per cent would lose by about £37 a week, although it claimed that DWP intended to “reinvest all savings from the disability reforms back into support for the most severely disabled”.

Seven years later, in a report from January 2018, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) noted that “there will be winners and losers from changes in the way UC supports disabled people”.

OBR also noted (main report, page 135) that the net cost to disabled people on incapacity benefits such as employment and support allowance in the transition to UC would reach £0.8 billion by 2020-21.

In its decision notice on the complaint, ICO pointed out that DNS had argued that it would be “logical… that before embarking on such a major change [as the introduction of universal credit], the DWP would wish to have some understanding of how individuals and families might be affected”.

DNS had also said it was “implausible that the DWP had not carried out any indicative case studies to see how a ‘typical’ claimant might be affected”, said ICO.

DNS first asked DWP for information nearly 18 months ago, after its press office said the government had “simplified and rationalised the various, complex disability premiums that exist in the legacy system”, but was unable to say how this “rationalisation” would work and how disabled people would be impacted financially by the change to UC.

DNS asked DWP to describe the exact financial impact universal credit would have on disabled people who would previously have received these premiums.

DWP was asked to provide comparisons both for those making a new UC claim and for disabled people transferring across from legacy benefits such as employment and support allowance.

But after DNS complained that DWP was refusing to release this information, ICO has now ruled that, “on the balance of probabilities”, DWP “holds no further information within the scope of the request”, although it said it had breached the Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to the DNS request within 20 working days.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, added: “It is not the role of the Commissioner to determine what type of information a public authority should (or should not) hold within the scope of an information request – only what information is as a matter of fact, held.

The Commissioner recognises that the DWP has put out, into the public domain, a great deal of information about its methodology for modelling the impacts of UC and that this has been highlighted to the complainant.

Having pressed the DWP on this point, the Commissioner is satisfied that the data being used in the Model is not of the level of granularity that the complainant is seeking.”

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Either the DWP did do these calculations and they are hiding it, or they didn’t do them at all.

In the first instance, the results must be bad, or they would have published them.

In which case the DWP have been negligent pressing ahead with a system they know will cause harm to disabled people

In the second instance, pressing ahead without knowing what the effects would be is sheer callous recklessness.

Callous and reckless or negligent. Take your pick. 

What is certain is that we need an independent public inquiry into what has been going on at the DWP all the way through welfare reform.

We need people to sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* which asks for that independent inquiry.”

The Benefits and Work spokesperson said: “Welfare benefit advisers up and down the country use widely available benefit check software every day to provide ‘better-off’ calculations to clients.

You can input a set of circumstances to model a person’s entitlement to legacy benefits and then hit a single button to do a better-off calculation to look at the effect of universal credit.

The DWP could very easily have done this before universal credit was introduced.

It’s true that UC covers a myriad of individual circumstances too numerous to model in their entirety, but it would have been entirely possible and reasonable for an organisation with the data and resources of the DWP to broadly model some common scenarios using legacy benefits such as income-related ESA as a baseline, and then look at the same situation under UC.”

DNS has been reporting concerns about the impact of UC on disabled people for nearly nine years.

Inclusion London warned in October 2010 of “considerable concern” that UC would be a “means of reducing the amount people receive in benefits”, and said the following month that it could be used as a cover for cutting disability benefits.

DPAC believes UC has now reached a point where it is “unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger”. 

It has called for UC to be scrapped because it has become a social security system “which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life”.

A DPAC report released last month contained “harrowing stories of people forced into debt, rent arrears, homelessness, crime, prostitution, hunger, people unable to afford fares to get to food banks, parents unable to get essentials for their babies, child poverty, worsening mental health, ex-service people considering suicide and even cases of actual suicide”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

A DWP spokesperson declined to answer a series of questions about its past statements on universal credit because, he said, they “appear to be about clarifying aspects of [the DNS] Freedom of Information request to the Department”.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

4 July 2019

 

 

Silence from Hunt’s former department over sexual abuse inquiry evidence

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has refused to say if it kept its promise to pass evidence about a former senior civil servant – twice arrested over unconnected rape allegations – to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

The promise was made in 2014 after concerns were raised that the civil servant, Brian McGinnis, who has also been linked publicly to the Jimmy Savile scandal, may have helped stop MPs tightening laws protecting disabled people from sexual abuse in the 1980s.

DHSC’s failure to say whether it kept its promise to investigate the concerns and pass them to the inquiry will raise concerns of a cover-up, at a time when Jeremy Hunt, who was health secretary in 2014, is fighting to become the next Tory leader and prime minister.

McGinnis has always claimed to be innocent of the rape allegations and insists that he is a lifelong “celibate”.

Five years ago, Disability News Service approached what was then the Department of Health (DH) to ask it to look into concerns that McGinnis may have played a key role in dismissing calls in the mid-1980s for a review of the law on sexuality and people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions.

McGinnis had been named weeks earlier in 2014 in a report into the activities of the disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile at Broadmoor hospital, as he was the senior civil servant in charge of mental health in the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) in 1986, shortly before Savile was appointed to a new board to run the hospital.

The report mentioned that McGinnis had “since been the subject of two allegations that have been made public”, which “arose in the course of his voluntary sector work with disturbed and abused children, and both cases were dropped without charge”.

Those allegations, always denied by McGinnis, were made public in a news story written by DNS editor John Pring in Disability Now magazine in 2006.

In 1985, the year before McGinnis left DHSS, MPs on the Commons social services committee had called for an “independent expert review of law and practice on sexuality and contraception in relation to mentally disabled people”.

But DHSS dismissed the idea in its response to the committee’s report, warning that “a major review might simply attract unwelcome, unhealthy and wholly disproportionate media interest without achieving any helpful consensus”.

It is believed that this statement could have come from McGinnis.

The review never took place, and law reform that would make it easier to secure convictions for rape and indecent assault of people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions was delayed until 2003, when a new act introduced fresh offences and tougher sentences.

DNS was led to believe five years ago by DH that any material it held on McGinnis that related to the DHSS response to the social services committee would be passed to the child abuse inquiry that had recently been launched by the Home Office, and that DH was examining its archives to check whether McGinnis influenced the DHSS response.

It later confirmed that it was investigating whether McGinnis may have helped to block tougher sexual abuse legislation.

A DH spokesperson said in August 2014: “We are taking this issue very seriously and investigating whether there is any relevant material held on file.”

Last month, on 6 June, DNS attempted to confirm whether DHSC did indeed pass any material to the independent inquiry, which is being led by Professor Alexis Jay.

A DHSC press officer originally said that it was “taking a bit more time than anticipated” to produce a response, before apologising again for the delay six days later, and then finally advising DNS to submit a freedom of information request instead.

DHSC has declined to comment further on the delay.

A spokesperson for the inquiry said yesterday (Wednesday): “The inquiry cannot comment on whether it has or has not received evidence from a particular individual or organisation outside its public hearings.”

Jeremy Hunt’s campaign team has also failed to respond to a request to comment.

McGinnis, who became a special advisor for Mencap after leaving the civil service, has never been convicted, or even charged, with any offence.

But he has been arrested twice over unconnected rape allegations, one of which involved a child with learning difficulties at the notorious Betts Way respite home in Bromley, Kent, in the mid-1990s.

The arrests came in March 2001 and August 2005 and both resulted in McGinnis, who is now in his early 80s and is believed to live in Shirley, Croydon, being released without charge.

He has always denied the allegations.

Until the allegations about his behaviour were publicised in 2006, he was an influential figure in the disability world, with links to a string of charities, learning difficulty organisations and his local church in Shirley.

Following his first arrest, Bromley council advised its staff to “disassociate” McGinnis “with anything related to children with learning difficulties and council services”.

Croydon council later told church authorities that McGinnis “should be suspended from duties that involved him working with children”, after being informed by Bromley council about the 2005 arrest. He had at the time been working with a children’s church group.

4 July 2019

 

 

Disability charities reject request to back Jodey Whiting deaths petition

Many of the country’s biggest disability charities have refused to back a petition that calls for an inquiry into the links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

The charities – none of which are led and controlled by disabled people – are refusing to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, with many of them rejecting its calls for any evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to police.

And many of them are also rejecting the petition’s demand for DWP to be branded institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for it to take urgent steps to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority.

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

But her death was only the latest avoidable tragedy linked to DWP’s actions, stretching back nearly a decade.

The lukewarm response to the petition is likely to highlight concerns among grassroots groups that many of the disability charities that are run by non-disabled people are too close to the government, and particularly to DWP.

Only last week, Scope and Sense were included in a government press release, praising the prime minister for a much-criticised series of announcements on disability.

Only one of the 13 charities approached this week by Disability News Service (DNS) – Mind – has agreed to back the petition and its four demands.

None of the others have been willing to support the petition or issue a public statement supporting its aims.

At least two of these charities – RNIB and Leonard Cheshire – have signed Work and Health Programme contracts that include clauses preventing them bringing DWP and work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd into disrepute.

RNIB refused to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition this week, or to answer questions about its demands**.

Leonard Cheshire has also refused to back the petition, or answer questions about it, saying instead that it had “very real concerns about some of the ways the welfare system impacts disabled people”, and adding: “Clearly there needs to be further investigation into deaths connected to changes in benefits.”

Scope refused to back the petition and answer questions, calling instead for “urgent reform” to the benefits system and action to prevent further deaths like Jodey Whiting’s.

Sense, the other charity that supported the government last week, had refused by noon today (Thursday) to back the petition or answer questions about it.

Parkinson’s UK refused to back the petition or answer questions about its demands, saying instead that it continued to work with DWP to improve the system.

The National Autistic Society refused to support the petition or answer any questions about its demands.

Instead, it praised DWP for apologising for its failings in the Jodey Whiting case.

It said that “for any public body, any evidence of misconduct, criminal or otherwise, should be addressed by the appropriate authority”, and that “if there’s evidence of any criminal misconduct, then this of course must be investigated by the police”.

NAS said there was “a clear and urgent need to improve benefits assessments for autistic people”.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, one of the grassroots, disabled-led organisations supporting the petition, said: “By their failure to oppose and condemn these systems and policies and join us in calling for an independent judicial inquiry they have blatantly betrayed all those for whom they were set up to support and defend.

They are not on the side of disabled people.”

Mind is the only one of the 13 non-user-led disability charities approached by DNS this week to support the petition.

Vicki Nash, Mind’s head of policy and campaigns, said: “We support the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition.

Jodey’s story is tragic and it’s also too common. We hear every week from people with mental health problems who have struggled to cope with the impact of sanctions and other changes to their benefits.

While the causes of suicide are many and complex, the Department for Work and Pensions has a particular responsibility to make sure that its processes and policies do not cause avoidable harm.

We believe an independent inquiry could hold the DWP accountable, shine a light on these issues and bring about changes to the system.

An inquiry would need to establish what changes to the structure and culture of the DWP are needed to make it capable of providing safe and compassionate support to all disabled people navigating the benefits system.

However, we also know that these inquiries are often slow-moving. An independent inquiry cannot be a substitute for immediate action to make the benefits system safer for people going through it.”

She added: “We are not aware of any evidence of criminal misconduct in these cases and so we have not been calling for such an investigation.

But of course if any inquiry were to find evidence of criminal misconduct, it should be investigated appropriately.”

Other large disability charities have been far less supportive of the petition.

The MS Society has refused to back the petition or respond to questions about it, as have Action on Hearing Loss and Turning Point.

The mental health charity Rethink refused to support the petition or to answer questions about its demands.

It said instead that “changes in welfare policy have had a devasting impact on disabled people” and that the “most vulnerable are being left with the least support and the process of claiming is known to worsen health, including the mental health of claimants – including our supporters and members”.

Two of the charities did offer some support to some of the petition’s demands.

Mencap, while refusing to support the petition, said that the deaths of claimants such as Jodey Whiting should form the basis of an “independent examination” into DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”.

A spokesperson said: “As part of this, the department must commit to act on recommendations to prevent future deaths.

Should any evidence of criminal misconduct emerge though an independent review, this must, as part of a standard procedure, be passed to the police for investigation.

We would also expect an independent investigator to consider allegations of institutional disabilism and draw conclusions on this from the evidence they have gathered.”

Epilepsy Action also gave some support to the petition’s demands, without backing the petition itself, saying: “We would support an inquiry into any links between DWP failings and the deaths of benefit claimants.

We are not aware of any evidence of criminal misconduct by senior civil servants or ministers in relation to this issue, but would of course be in favour of any such evidence being passed to police.

Any conclusion as to whether the DWP is institutionally disablist – or not – should be a function of any inquiry.

While we are aware of many problems experienced by disabled people in their dealings with the DWP, we believe that whether this extends to institutional disablism needs to be evidenced by a thorough inquiry.

As such, while we support the aims of an inquiry, including the conclusive statement makes it difficult for us to actively support the petition.”

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**RNIB claims that relevant clauses in its Work and Health Programme contracts have now been changed or deleted “so there was no ambiguity whatsoever that RNIB still maintains the right to campaign on issues that matter to blind and partially sighted people”, but it had refused to show these new clauses to DNS by 1pm today (Thursday)

4 July 2019

 

 

Breakthrough’ Lords report gives boost to campaign for free care

A new parliamentary report that calls on the government to introduce free personal care has been branded a “major breakthrough” for campaigns led by disabled people and their grassroots organisations for a national independent living service.

The report, by the House of Lords economic affairs committee, has called for the government to inject an immediate £8 billion into social care in England.

But the committee’s report, Social Care Funding: Time to End a National Scandal, also says the government should move over the next five years towards the introduction of free personal care, funded mostly by general taxation.

It is only calling for those with substantial and critical needs to receive free care, and it says this should only be offered for support with washing, dressing and cooking (personal care), but not for areas such as housework and shopping and other areas of independent living.

But it is still a clear move in the direction of calls from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (RoFA), which wants to see a new national independent living service, built on “what was most successful” about the former Independent Living Fund.

RoFA says this should be funded through general taxation, and should be free, non-means-tested and “provided on the basis of need, not profit”.

The Independent Living Strategy Group, led by Baroness [Jane] Campbell, has made similar demands, calling for a legal right to independent living and an end to charging for social care.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, who has himself written widely on the need for a national independent living service, free of charge, and paid for from direct taxation, said the new report was “a major breakthrough”.

He said: “The Lords report is the first real formal sign that the powers that be are beginning to recognize that service users and our organisations have got it right about social care, and only radical reform which puts it on the same terms as the NHS – funded by general taxation and personal care essentially free at the point of delivery – will work. 

Only this will end the social care crisis, make prevention possible for rapidly growing numbers of people in need and make it possible to unify health and care.”

He added: “Neither of the Tory leadership candidates will of course really sign up to this because it goes against their market principles and short-term cost cutting approach.

If they don’t, social care failure will still be making headlines long after they have been forgotten.”

The new Lords report says publicly-funded social care support is £700 million per year lower in real terms than 2010-11, when the Tory-led coalition came to power, despite continuing increases in the number of people needing support.

Inclusion London, a RoFA member, had told the committee’s inquiry: “Disabled people are receiving an extremely basic ‘clean and feed’ model of care.

The most basic choices such as when to get up, go to bed or use the toilet, when and what to eat, and the choice to leave the house are no longer in the hands of disabled people but subject to local authority budget allocations which are becoming ever more restricted.”

Lord Forsyth, the committee’s chair and a former Tory cabinet minister, said the system was “riddled with unfairness”.

He said: “Someone with dementia can pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for their care, while someone with cancer receives it for free.

Local authorities are increasingly expected to fund social care themselves, despite differences in local care demands and budgets.

The reduction in social care funding has been greatest in the most deprived areas.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have given local authorities access to up to £3.9 billion more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410 million is available for adults and children’s services.

We will set out our plans to reform the social care system at the earliest opportunity to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”

These plans, to be published in a green paper, have been repeatedly delayed since the government first announced that they would be presented by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, a report by the Local Government Association says almost one third of councils in England and Wales fear they will run out of funding to meet their legal duties by 2022-23, in areas such as adult social care.

Lord Porter, the LGA’s Tory chair, said: “As this survey shows, if the government fails to adequately fund local government there is a real risk to the future financial viability of some services and councils.”

4 July 2019

 

 

Failures on reasonable adjustments by trio of councils ‘are tiny tip of iceberg’

Rulings by an ombudsman that show how three London councils discriminated against disabled people with invisible impairments by failing to make their services accessible are just “a tiny tip of an iceberg”, according to a disabled people’s organisation.

Inclusion London spoke out after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman published reports on investigations into three local authorities in the capital.

All three of the councils – the London boroughs of Hillingdon, Lambeth and Wandsworth –failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were trying to use its services.

Svetlana Kotova, Disability Justice Project co-ordinator for Inclusion London, welcomed the ombudsman’s rulings, but she said that the three cases were “just a tiny tip of an iceberg”.

She said: “Despite it being a legal requirement, we often come across failures to provide information in accessible formats, refusals to change standard procedures and practices or provide support for people to engage in the processes.

We’ve seen people losing their homes or money or not getting information or support they are entitled to as a result.

Unfortunately, many of us got used to this discrimination, but we believe it is time we started to challenge it.”

She said Inclusion London had developed interactive guides that can help disabled people to challenge these practices*.

In the first of the cases dealt with by the ombudsman, Hillingdon council failed to suspend an autistic and dyslexic woman’s housing benefit payments after she told the local authority she had returned to work.

When Ms X received an overpayment of more than £1,000, the council then failed to help her find her way around its complicated system after demanding she repay the money.

It refused to provide her with a named officer she could email and often insisted she telephone the council with her queries, even though she explained she struggled with phone calls.

The ombudsman concluded that the council “failed to consider any reasonable adjustments for Ms X, although she told it many times what her problems are and how she struggled”.

He also concluded that the council had no policies on providing reasonable adjustments.

Hillingdon council has agreed to take a series of measures, including apologising to Ms X, paying her £1,000 compensation, and providing an equality refresher course for frontline staff.

In the second case, Mr X, who is dyslexic, complained that Lambeth council failed to make reasonable adjustments when he tried to challenge a parking penalty charge notice (PCN), forcing him to do so in writing rather than verbally.

And when the council sent enforcement agents to his home to recover the money he owed, those agents also refused to make reasonable adjustments for him.

Lambeth council has agreed to pay Mr X compensation of £750 and apologise to him.

It has also been asked to take other measures, such as arranging Equality Act training for customer service staff and other steps to ensure it meets its obligations under the act.

In the third ombudsman case, Wandsworth council failed to make similar reasonable adjustments for the same man when he tried to apply for a residents’ parking permit and challenge the PCNs he later received because he did not have a permit.

The council has agreed to pay Mr X £300 compensation, apologise and allow him to appeal the PCNs on the telephone, while the ombudsman has also asked the council to take other measures, such as arranging Equality Act training for customer service staff, and reviewing its systems and procedures relating to reasonable adjustments.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The Equality Act 2010 requires councils to anticipate the needs of people who may need to access their services.

This means when councils are alerted to the fact someone might need to be treated in a different way, they should ask that person what adjustments are needed, and consider whether these are reasonable.

It can be difficult for people to navigate complex council procedures, yet in all three cases, the councils were made aware that these people needed additional help, but none was given.

We recognise the significant challenges faced by public service providers in adapting their processes to the needs of people who may require adjustments, particularly where the services have been automated.

But this is a duty councils must meet and needs they must anticipate.

I welcome Wandsworth and Hillingdon councils’ commitment to improve their wider processes for people who need help accessing services.

I urge Lambeth council to reflect on the lessons it can learn from my investigation and make the changes I have recommended.”

*https://www.disabilityjustice.org.uk/learn-more-and-take-action/

4 July 2019

 

 

WOW questionnaire responses ‘show assessors are still lying’

Detailed evidence from disabled people has shown that disability benefit assessment reports are still riddled with distortions, twisted facts and ignorance, say grassroots campaigners.

WOWCampaign launched its Assessing the Assessors campaign earlier this year to highlight the continued flaws within the assessment regimes for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).

But WOW also wanted to give disabled people a chance to express their “pent up anger and frustration” with the ordeals they were being forced to undergo at the hands of government contractors Atos, Capita and Maximus.

It designed a questionnaire that disabled people could fill in to describe their assessment experiences.

WOW has already received about 50 questionnaires and is hoping for even more responses.

They will eventually be turned into a report, which will be sent to MPs.

The questionnaire includes questions such as whether the assessor had taken account of information provided by the claimant’s healthcare professionals; whether the assessment report was accurate; and how the process had affected their physical and mental health.

WOW said the responses they have received have proved the assessment processes were still deeply flawed.

Many of the responses have mentioned similar flaws: assessors dismissing the reports of experienced doctors; a failure to follow government guidelines; a lack of understanding of impairments and health conditions; and a tendency to jump to conclusions and “disregard and twist the facts”.

Many of those filling in the questionnaires also spoke of the impact of the assessment system on their physical and mental health.

One respondent, TB, said the assessment was “more like an interrogation”, saying: “The assessor bombarded my husband with questions he struggled to answer, he has a brain injury and processes things slowly, gets anxious, the assessors was a physiotherapist with no qualification to assess brain injury.”

TB said the impact of the assessment left her husband in bed for two days.

Another respondent, Lynda, said that when the assessor carried out a physical examination, she failed to mention that she was performing the actions with the aid of a walking-stick.

She added: “She stated I could carry, grasp, handle, lift, manage, pick up and reach clothing and papers – I wore my coat the whole time, did not have a bag and my companion carried my papers.”

The assessor had described Lynda as having “no difficulty expressing or understanding verbal communication” and said her speech was “normal in content, rate and volume”.

In reality, Lynda had had to ask the assessor or her companion to clarify or repeat some questions and her companion had had to prompt her with some of her answers because of her cognitive difficulties, while her speech had been “slow and hesitant and quiet”.

She said the assessment had been “very distressing”.

A third respondent told WOW: “I took a mountain of paperwork every time and every assessor refused to read any of it. I felt violated at each assessment.”

Knowing that an assessor can distort answers and facts increases the anxiety and feeling of powerlessness among those assessed, said WOWCampaign’s Laura Stringhetti.

She said the responses showed the assessment system was “extremely damaging, very expensive and not fit for purpose”.

WOW’s Michelle Maher said the questionnaires repeatedly described both the “horrific impact” of the process and the “unbelievable lies” included by assessors in their reports.

She said: “Many couldn’t believe these lies, the omissions and the total ignorance of disabilities and sickness and how they ignored the advice of experts.”

She said the responses showed yet again how successive Conservative-led governments had created a “hostile environment for disabled people”.

And she said the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice showed that 74 per cent of PIP and ESA appeals taken to tribunal are overturned.

Maher said: “The results speak for themselves, with 74 per cent now winning their appeal.

The government know how flawed their approach is but they keep awarding contracts to the same companies to humiliate and hound disabled people.” 

WOW wants to see all face-to-face assessments recorded, either on audio or video, and the system eventually replaced with a far more person-centred approach.

WOW said the responses showed that the Department for Work and Pensions was not fit for purpose, and needs to make urgent changes to ensure that the safety of all claimants is a priority, two of the demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which WOW supports.

Disability News Service spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

4 July 2019

 

 

Terminally-ill claimants tell DWP: Change your demeaning rules

People with terminal illness have explained why ministers must end the “arbitrary and outdated” rules that force many of them through a “demeaning” and “insensitive” benefit assessment process.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rules define a terminal illness as being when a person’s death can be “reasonably expected” within six months.

This means that many people who are terminally ill but cannot prove they probably only have six months or less to live cannot claim benefits under DWP’s special rules for terminal illness, says a new report.

If they did qualify, this would entitle them to fast-track access to the benefit and automatic receipt of the highest rates of payment.

Instead, those that do not qualify are forced through a “burdensome and time-consuming” process, and sometimes are even forced to attend inappropriate work-focused interviews under the new universal credit benefit system, while many see their claims rejected or awarded at the lower rate.

Now the new report, Six Months to Live?, compiled by the charity Marie Curie and published by the all party parliamentary group for terminal illness, says the DWP rules are “unfit for purpose… outdated, arbitrary and not based on clinical reality”.

One claimant, Mark Hughes, who has terminal bone cancer, describes in the report the repeated DWP harassment he has received, with repeated letters asking the same questions “over and over again”, DWP incompetence, false allegations that he was claiming fraudulently, a refusal to contact his GP, and even being asked if he was using his benefits in a “responsible way”.

He said: “Since 2014, only one person at the DWP has ever tried to help me. Every time I get a letter from them, I’m worried.”

The report also describes how a single mother from London received a terminal diagnosis when her cancer returned after four cycles of chemotherapy, and how she was then forced to claim universal credit through the normal process.

She has fallen into nearly £3,000 of rent arrears and has had to rely on friends and family to survive financially.

Another terminally-ill woman, Lorraine Cox, from Enniskillen, who was diagnosed last year with motor neurone disease, had her personal independence payment (PIP) claim rejected.

She says in the report: “I’m a very determined person and I’m not going to give up. It has become a matter of principle, even above the money.

I shouldn’t have to spend my time fighting for support. It’s exhausting.

I felt I had to speak out about my situation as I don’t want others to have to face the same struggles at such a difficult time.

The process needs to change and that’s why I think Marie Curie’s campaign to change the six-month rule is so important.

I’m hoping that, in the future, things are made much easier for people and they can spend time with the people they love most, instead of fighting against an unfair system.”

The government’s six-month definition was originally introduced for attendance allowance (AA) in 1990 but now also applies to universal credit, employment and support allowance (ESA) and PIP.

Members of the all-party group want DWP to alter the rules – in a similar way to changes brought in for AA and PIP by the Scottish government – so a claimant can be said to have a terminal illness if a medical expert says they have a progressive condition that can reasonably be expected to cause their death.

And they want such claimants to have their benefits reviewed only after 10 years, not the current three, with DWP simply contacting the claimant’s GP to confirm that their situation remains the same.

They also want DWP to stop its own assessors overturning the evidence of health experts who have stated that a claimant has a terminal illness.

Drew Hendry, chair of the all party group, said: “Forcing somebody living with terminal illness to go through an intrusive face-to-face assessment process is unfair and undignified – unbelievably, this can even include asking people with months to live to attend work capability assessments.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Terminal illness is devastating and our priority is dealing with people’s claims quickly and compassionately.

That’s why terminally ill people can get their claims fast-tracked and access benefits without a face-to-face assessment.

We’re looking at how we can improve our processes and in the meantime we continue to work with charities to help terminally ill people access the support they need.”

4 July 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:35
Jul 032019
 

[This piece was originally published in Labour Briefing and copied with permission of the author, Mark Harrison]

WHEN I WROTE ON UNIVERSAL CREDIT (UC) in the November 2017 issue of Labour Briefing with Julie Kemmy, the early effects of this radical change to benefits were only just beginning to be felt by claimants and disabled people. Twenty months on the picture is becoming clearer.

What has been revealed is that UC is at least as big a threat to those in work as it is to claimants. We can see the much larger and scarier implications of the restructuring of the economy as well as the benefits system under the Tories. Trade unions need to wise up quickly as it is their members who will be hardest hit as UC goes mainstream.

UC is an attack on the organised trade union movement as it is designed to control and sanction millions of workers and claimants. It is designed to facilitate low pay and insecure work and to leave people indebted and fearful. They will then be forced to work on zero-hours contracts for a minimum or below minimum wage for employers who are often the same companies avoiding paying their taxes.

Blair and Brown set up the system of working tax credits to support those in work but in low pay sectors. This was to ensure a sufficient level of income to support them and their families.

Effectively this was a subsidy on low wages and drove incomes and wage levels down. The minimum wage (now misnamed the National Living Wage) is exactly that, although unscrupulous employers always try to find ways to avoid paying even this amount. This is especially true in the gig economy and in sectors such as social care where travel time between appointments in the community is not paid.

Essentially UC is restructuring the labour market and forcing workers to be monitored and controlled by DWP work coaches. Job Centres are now acting as ‘pimps’ for the private sector by forcing people as part of their claimant commitment to work in companies which offer three hour a week contracts and don’t pay the minimum wage. They are also coercing people to become self-employed when they are working exclusively for one company who are determining when they work, for how long and where.

A claimant in Norwich outlines this process.

“After being made redundant I was put onto UC as a job seeker. I applied for over 170 jobs unsuccessfully. Eventually I was offered a job, and although it was a role different to anything I’d done before it was a job ‘I could do’ so I was obliged to take it under pain of sanction. The job was ‘self-employed’ and as such paid below the national minimum wage. My work coach said that this was ‘illegal’ yet still made undertaking it part of my claimant commitment, which I would have to comply with in order to continue to receive UC. “Because the work is so poorly paid, continuing to receive UC is essential in order for me to survive, yet to receive UC I have keep doing the job, bearing in mind it costs me over £100 a month in fares simply to get to it. If the ‘employer’ is acting illegally, as my work coach considered, then is not the DWP abetting a crime by compelling me to do the work? Now I am sure that the ‘employer’ – a large, well known UK firm – has probably checked all the loopholes to make sure that they are not acting illegally by ‘employing’ me as an agent on a self-employed basis even though I have to work at the company premises using the company’s equipment”.

So claimants are forced into self-employment, under threat of sanction, by DWP/UC staff. Self-employed UC claimants are now responsible for their own national insurance and tax and are not able to receive sick or holiday pay while being paid minimum or below minimum wage rates of pay. Workers on low pay and zero-hours, or near zero hours, contracts are being sucked into the UC vortex. Pay is so low in the DWP itself, the department responsible for designing and delivering UC, that the PCS union estimates that around 40% of DWP employees will have to claim UC and therefore potentially be subject to the sanctioning regime. You would then have the bizarre situation of DWP staff sanctioning colleagues in their own organisation.

The rollout of UC has been hit by the crisis in the government and the Tory Party. In October 2018, the then DWP secretary Esther McVey had to get a vote through Parliament to extend the rollout of UC across the country.

This was not going to be won as the surgeries of Tory MPs were full of UC claimants left destitute by the six week (sometimes ten weeks or longer) delay in receiving payments, the dysfunctional loans process and the extra-judicial, pernicious sanctioning processes. So the government pulled the vote but UC is still being rolled out by stealth.

The problem is that claimants are being transferred onto UC through ‘change of circumstances’. This means that people are losing their legacy benefits when their old claims and enhancements are cancelled and the UC claim is treated as a new claim. This leaves claimants thousands of pounds a year worse off.

McVey was forced to admit this could reach £2,400 a year for some people. However, this suits the Treasury as they are saving billions a year while claimants and their children are forced to use food banks. In this crisis they were forced to reduce the wait for money down to five weeks but food bank use continues to rise as the numbers pushed onto UC continues to suck in more new and existing claimants.

Latest DWP secretary Amber Rudd has been robust in defence of UC and is determined to proceed with the managed migration/rollout despite the overwhelming evidence from her own department and government statistics of the harm being caused. In a desperate attempt to detoxify the brand she has shamelessly bought a series of advertorials in the free Metro newspaper at a cost of over £250,000 to the taxpayer, spinning propaganda and lies about the positive effects of UC as journalism.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have launched a campaign to dump the Metro DWP lies, with activists up and down the country binning thousands of copies every Wednesday when the advertorials appear.

Evidence has emerged of women being forced into prostitution as a result of the five week delay and low levels of payments for single parents. So-called survival sex was revealed by the Guardian and the Work and Pensions select committee is taking evidence on this.

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty singled out UC as a major contributing factor in his report on the UK. He said that draconian sanctions and long payment delays are driving claimants into hardship, depression and despair; that the benefit was “fast falling into universal discredit”; and compared the Tories’ welfare policies to the creation of the 19th century workhouses. He said that unless austerity is ended the poorest in the UK faced lives that are “solitary, poor nasty, brutish and short”. He accused ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies, including the rollout of UC, since 2010.

His report highlights the shocking rise in the use of food banks, and rough sleeping, falling life expectancy for some, the decimation of legal aid, the denial of benefits to severely disabled people and the impoverishment of single mothers and people in mental distress.

A landmark study published in November 2017 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open estimated that 120,000 deaths were directly attributable to austerity cuts. The calculation was made that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of austerity 2010-2014. The research calculated that this could rise to 200,000 by the end of 2020 if austerity is not reversed. The researchers from UCL and Cambridge University labelled this as “economic murder”.

UC is also violating women’s rights. According to evidence collected by the Trussell Trust the five week wait can increase the severe financial barriers women face when leaving abusive relationships. Over 50% of survivors said they couldn’t afford to leave as they had restricted access to funds. The single household payment puts women at further risk and vulnerability. Many survivors in women’s refuges face double the wait if they have escaped an abusive relationship without ID and documents needed to make the claim.

Latest figures show half of people receiving UC have had their payments cut by 20% by the government to repay a debt, including advances.

So what now? The Tories are immune to criticism and evidence as seen in their dismissal of the UN report. In my original article I questioned whether UC was May’s Poll Tax. I concluded that it would only be so if Labour and the trade unions mobilised a mass movement to defeat it. This has not happened.

While Corbyn and McDonnell have said a future Labour government would scrap UC, the shadow DWP minister Margaret Greenwood continues to sit on the fence. The TUC has passed a motion to stop and scrap UC, as has the PCS union. However, they have failed to mobilise any extra-parliamentary action, leaving protest at the level of exposing the horrors while failing to hold government to account.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Unite Community are organising actions to stop and scrap UC and we are building a national social movement in the Scrap UC Alliance (www.suca.org.uk), encouraging activists to set up local groups.

The next stage of the battle needs to move beyond moral outrage to effective direct action to stop the deaths and poverty crisis caused by austerity and UC.

  • Mark Harrison is chair of Norfolk Against Universal Credit and a member of DPAC. He is director of Social Action Solutions.

 

 Posted by at 20:50
Jun 272019
 

Theresa May’s disability announcements ‘are just cynical leftovers’

Disabled people’s organisations have reacted with suspicion and some hostility to the outgoing prime minister’s attempt to shore up her “legacy” with a series of disability-related announcements.

Although some of the measures announced by Theresa May were welcomed, many user-led organisations questioned why she had left it until the last days of her time in office to launch what she said was a “new drive to tackle barriers faced by disabled people”.

In last October’s speech of more than 7,000 words to her party’s annual conference, May failed to make a single mention of disability or disabled people.

But this week, as she prepared to be replaced as prime minister by Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt later this summer, she announced a “new approach to disability”.

She failed to point out that the government has issued no updates or progress reports on its discredited Fulfilling Potential disability strategy since November 2015, eight months before she became prime minister.

Her “new approach” includes a pledge to publish new figures on “outcomes” for disabled people, but she failed to mention that the government has not published any updates to previous outcome figures since a Fulfilling Potential progress report in 2015.

That report revealed that the proportion of disabled people who said they frequently had choice and control over their lives plunged from 77 per cent in 2010 to just 66 per cent in 2013.

There was tentative approval this week from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to the announcement that the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) would move in November from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to the Cabinet Office, as part of a new “equalities hub at the heart of government”.

But there were still concerns that this could see the government’s focus on disability equality further weakened.

May also announced that there would be another work and pensions green paper, focusing on disability benefits, as well as new rights for disabled employees to request workplace adjustments, and reform of statutory sick pay.

And there was a pledge from Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, that the government was now “committed to strengthening the evidence base on disability and to improve engagement with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations”.

In February, in a meeting with his predecessor, Sarah Newton, DPOs repeated their concerns at the government’s continuing failure to understand the principles around engagement with disabled people and DPOs, as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Tomlinson also said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would “improve consumer outcomes for disabled people” by developing a measure of how well different companies “deliver for disabled customers in essential markets”.

One widely welcomed announcement this week was that the government could finally tighten mandatory accessibility standards on new housing, although this will still be subject to a consultation.

This is likely to mean changes to building regulations so that the optional M4(2) accessibility standard – a series of design criteria intended to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use – becomes instead a mandatory minimum standard for all new housing.

Only last October, housing secretary James Brokenshire ignored the crisis in accessible housing in his speech to the Tory party’s annual conference in Birmingham.

May also ignored the issue in her own conference speech, making no mention of the need to build homes to inclusive design standards, despite devoting a significant chunk of her speech to housing.

Brokenshire’s department had been criticised two months earlier by disabled campaigners and the equality watchdog after his new social housing green paper failed to include a single mention of the accessible housing crisis.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned last year that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs.

Number 10 had failed by noon today (Thursday) to say whether there will still be a separate disability unit as part of the hub.

It also failed to explain why the prime minister waited until shortly before leaving office to try to address the barriers facing disabled people.

The response from DPOs this week to May’s announcements was mixed, with some frustrated and even hostile over her attempts to secure a legacy with a series of last-minute pledges on disability that she herself will not be able to follow through on.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said many of the announcements were “the re-starting of work the government should be doing but made a political decision to stop doing years ago, like the collection of data on disabled people’s outcomes”.

She welcomed the decision to move ODI away from DWP, but she said May failed to mention the need to develop a new disability equality strategy.

She said: “At a time when the UN found this government to be systematically violating disabled people’s human rights, when hundreds of thousands of us lost our independence and became prisoners in our homes because of devastating cuts to social care, when our community are amongst the most affected by the punitive welfare reform and when we continue to face discrimination on a daily basis and are unable to challenge it, we need much more than this.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said May was trying to invent a legacy when she had been a “massive failure” as prime minister.

He said: “It’s good to see now that at her leaving, when she has no power, she has suddenly discovered a raft of policies that could benefit disabled people and reduce the exclusions and discrimination we face, which her government helped make worse.

Now we positively know you just did nothing, despite knowing better. 

As it’s down to her successor to shape policy, we can imagine that her left-overs will carry little weight.”

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said May’s announcement “smacks of total hypocrisy”.

She said: “May talks about the injustices disabled people face. The Tory government have caused the hostile environment disabled people are subjected to on a daily basis.

This government are guilty of violating our human rights under UNCRPD and causing a human catastrophe in disabled people’s lives.  

This announcement is a huge insult to disabled people who are living in poverty due to this government and have become further marginalised in society.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said there was “much to be welcomed” in May’s statement, particularly the new “cross governmental approach to disability”.

But he said this “has to lead to real change in disabled people’s day to day experience.

Too often we see fanfare announcements with very limited effect; they seem to wither into inconsequentiality when they are scrutinised for impact.”

He welcomed the housing, work and engagement announcements, but added: “Warm words around supporting disabled people to be part of our society cannot, do not and will not replace benefits and social care packages which have been slashed because of a paucity of resources.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said: “Whilst GMCDP welcomes any measures that improve opportunities for disabled people, we are yet to be convinced that these announcements will amount to any real positive changes.

The more cynical amongst us might argue that this is a desperate attempt by a government in its final throes trying to paper over more than a decade of harsh and vindictive cuts rained down upon disabled people.”

He added: “GMCDP would be overjoyed if there was any real evidence of a commitment from central government to improving housing for disabled people, but sadly there is not.

The government says it will consult on new measures, but the evidence is already available as to what is needed and that is action, not kicking the problem into the long grass of consultation and industry prevarication and extended implementation periods. 

What we need are ambitious targets that redress the current imbalance and significant fines for developers that fail to deliver.”

Hilton said GMCDP would engage with the government’s new equalities hub but, he said, “if they want to draw upon our skills, knowledge and experience we will insist on being reimbursed for our time”.

Disability Labour said the announcement was “a cynical ploy pretending to improve disabled people’s lives without looking at the root causes for our exclusion and increased death rate”.

Fran Springfield, Disability Labour’s co-chair, said: “What is needed is a reform of the benefits systems and the scrapping of universal credit so disabled people are not sanctioned or denied the right to benefits whilst they challenge the target driven refusal of their claim.

The new ‘equalities hub’ sounds good on paper, but will it have enforcement powers?

Will DPOs and disabled people really be involved and have their expertise respected and included in all decision making?

There needs to be disability impact assessments, with implementation criteria in every government department for every government policy or initiative.”

She added: “Will any of these policies actually be followed through by her successor or will they be quietly forgotten?

Neither of the Tory candidates to be prime minister has a record of disability equality and inclusion.”

The Spinal Injuries Association welcomed the “new drive to tackle barriers faced by disabled people”, particularly through the plans for higher access standards for new housing, but a spokesperson said the proposals must be “backed up with appropriate resources”.

Among the areas not addressed by the prime minister, he said, were the problems caused by benefit cuts, “shortfalls in health and social care funding” and restrictions on Access to Work funding.

27 June 2019

 

 

SEN court case is due to ‘shocking’ and ‘shameful’ austerity impact, say campaigners

Disabled campaigners have spoken outside the high court of the “shocking” and “shameful” impact of the government’s austerity policies on the education of disabled children, as they supported a high-profile legal action.

Three families with disabled children are this week asking the high court to declare that the government has acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The families – supported by the SEND Action campaign network – want chancellor Philip Hammond and education secretary Damian Hinds to increase funding to local councils.

All three of the families have been unable to secure the support their disabled child needs with their education.

It is believed to be the first time the government has been taken to court over the level of SEND funding.

Before the first of the two days of hearings yesterday (Wednesday), parents, charities and disabled people and their user-led organisations – including The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) and Inclusion London – spoke of how disabled children were being failed by the government.

Among them was the disabled academic Professor Tom Shakespeare, who told campaigners: “We are the people your children will grow up to be.

Our parents have fought for us to have an education as disabled people.

We want your children to have those same chances.”

He spoke of the widespread – and illegal – practice of “off-rolling”, in which mainstream schools force pupils off their rolls to boost their academic results, which means that “thousands of disabled children are denied the education that is their human right”.

He said: “It can be done differently. Go to Finland. Modern countries do well by disabled children and respect their SEN teachers and include [disabled] children in the mainstream.

It’s not much. It’s human rights.”

He told Disability News Service (DNS) later that parents of disabled children were “doing the right thing” and “standing up for their children” and were “organising in all parts of the country”.

He said of the problems facing disabled children in securing their education: “I feel very emotional about it. It’s a shocking thing.”

He said that if disabled children do not receive the education they need “they are not going to be able to end up as adults who can stand up for their rights and be included in society”.

He added: “It’s shocking, hidden, insidious, and it’s destroying our children’s future.”

Michelle Daley, ALLFIE’s interim director, told DNS that she and her colleagues were outside the court to show their solidarity with the three families and highlight both the cuts to SEND funding and also how resources were being taken from mainstream schools and invested instead in segregated special schools.

She said the government’s actions were “putting a price tag on disabled children’s right to go to school” and were ignoring their right to be in local, mainstream schools alongside their neighbours, friends and family.

Daley said the legal case was, for ALLFIE, also about the need to recognise that the government was breaching its duties under article 24 (on inclusive education) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Two years ago, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities raised concerns about the increasing number of disabled children being educated in segregated settings and said the UK education system was “not equipped to respond to the requirements for high-quality inclusive education”.

Daley said: “I am hopeful that, regardless of the outcome, the fact that people are here and families and disabled children have managed to get it to the high court demonstrates that people are not happy and people want the right for their children to access mainstream education.”

She told campaigners later: “It is disgusting that disabled children are having to take the government to court just for the right to have access to education.

What’s disgusting for ALLFIE is that when I was going to school, our parents had to fight for the same rights as our disabled children are having to fight for today.

This is wrong, this is against disabled children’s human rights.”

She said it was an “embarrassment and shame” for the government that it was being taken to court by parents “to fight for things that are a right”.

More than 40,000 people have signed an ALLFIE petition calling on the government not to shut disabled people out of mainstream education, and to increase SEND funding.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, told DNS: “This government is failing our disabled children, creating a lost and invisible generation of disabled children who have been shut out of education or left in schools deprived of the support they need.

It is a scandal in the fifth richest country in the world.

This is one of the more shameful examples of the disproportionate impact of austerity on disabled people.

This government has to acknowledge the damage it is doing to our country and start working with us to get our equality and inclusion back on track.

They could start by committing to article 24 of UNCRPD.”

Only two days earlier, Labour’s shadow housing minister Sarah Jones had told MPs that a survey of headteachers in Croydon had shown that 85 per cent of them had been forced to cut their SEN provision.

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams added: “The £1.2 billion shortfall in SEND funding means that children with an education, health and care plan may be refused a local place because schools cannot afford to provide the support that these children need.”

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs: “There are clearly funding pressures on the system, which is why we have announced £250 million in additional funding to take the funding to £6.3 billion.

We are in the middle of a spending review and I will be putting my best foot forward to make sure that we get the funding in place.

A Department for Education spokesperson added yesterday, in response to the court case: “The government’s ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities is no different to any other child – we want them to enjoy school and achieve to their full potential. 

This is why we are investing significant funding into supporting those with more complex special educational needs – high needs funding totaling £6.3 billion this year.

It would be inappropriate to comment further until the judicial process has concluded.”

27 June 2019

 

 

DWP broke law by destroying safeguarding report, says information commissioner

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) broke the law by destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, the information commissioner has ruled.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a decision notice in which it concludes – following a complaint from Disability News Service (DNS) – that DWP breached the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) by failing to release the report.

Instead, the report was destroyed, but the commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said she was unable to prove that this was done deliberately to prevent its release and so has not recommended a criminal prosecution.

The report into safeguarding failures in south London jobcentres was written by two or three disabled people recruited under its Community Partners initiative, which was set up to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community.

They had written the document soon after taking up their posts, after becoming increasingly alarmed by the failure of the 18 jobcentres they were working with to take basic actions to protect people claiming benefits such as universal credit, employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.

They recommended that urgent steps should be taken to ensure jobcentre staff were properly trained in safeguarding.

One of the report’s authors said this week that she believed DWP had destroyed the “damning” document because it did not want to see it published.

She said: “The fact that they destroyed it is worrying because it puts people further at risk.”

The report is believed to have been written in August or September 2017, and DNS learned of its existence the following spring, about eight months later.

To avoid identifying its source, DNS submitted a freedom of information request asking DWP to release all reports written by Community Partners while working for DWP in London in 2017 and 2018.

But DWP continually delayed answering the request.

Last August, a civil servant in DWP’s freedom of information team told DNS that she had repeatedly attempted to secure a response from the jobcentre operations team and had warned them they had breached their legal duties under the act, adding: “I have tried. I don’t know why they are digging their heels. I am sorry.”

DWP eventually answered the request by claiming that it held no such reports, but after DNS complained to the information commissioner, DWP released several documents in January this year, although they did not include the safeguarding report.

DWP later admitted the report did exist, and that the document “raised concerns about the DWP safe guarding procedures”.

It told ICO that it had only managed to speak to one of the Community Partners mentioned by DNS, and they confirmed that they had helped “pull together a document about safeguarding procedures in South London”, but could not find this document as old emails had now been deleted and could not be retrieved.

DWP said the report was destroyed 12 months after it was written because the department’s “Information Management policy only requires us to keep a corporate document of an internal briefing for a period of 12 months”.

But that 12 months period ended at least four months after DNS first asked for this and other Community Partner reports to be released, suggesting that DWP could have destroyed the safeguarding report to prevent it being released to DNS.

DWP told ICO that it made a mistake when it originally told DNS that Community Partners “were not required to write reports” and by the time it realised its mistake and carried out a reinvestigation in November/December 2018 “the document would have already been destroyed”.

The information commissioner therefore concluded that “on the balance of probabilities” the report was destroyed before DWP reconsidered the DNS request to see the report.

DWP also told ICO that it “retains only those documents and data which support business objectives”, even though the subject of the document was the safety of benefit claimants.

The ICO has now ruled, in response to DNS’s complaint: “The Commissioner’s decision is that the Department for Work and Pensions held requested information at the time of the request but one requested report was latterly routinely destroyed, in accordance with its Information Management Policy.

The Commissioner finds that the Council breached section 10(1) of the FOIA by failing to disclose the information which was held within the statutory time for compliance.”

But although the ICO has now ruled that DWP broke the law, Denham said she had carried out “extensive enquiries” and had failed to find any evidence that the report was “intentionally destroyed” by DWP “with the intention to prevent its disclosure”.

For that reason, she will not recommend a criminal prosecution of DWP under FoIA.

A DWP spokesperson declined to comment “beyond the position DWP has outlined in the decision notice”.

But the ruling that DWP acted unlawfully still adds to mounting evidence that DWP as a department is not fit for purpose and that it needs to make urgent changes to ensure the safety of all benefit claimants is a priority, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*.

For years, DNS has been reporting on the alleged failure of DWP jobcentres to safeguard disabled people left in vulnerable situations because of flaws in the benefits system.

Many of these failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants and will have subsequently been reported on in secret DWP peer reviews (now renamed internal process reviews).

The deaths of disabled people such as Lawrence BondDavid Clapson and Alan McArdle – and many others – have been linked to alleged failings of policy or practice within jobcentres.

Many other disturbing cases have focused on safeguarding failures in other parts of DWP.

This year, DNS has reported on the Independent Case Examiner report into the death of Jodey Whiting in February 2017, which concluded that DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide.

And only last week, the Liverpool Echo reported that work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd had admitted that an internal review into the death of Stephen Smith, from Liverpool, had found the department missed “crucial safeguarding opportunities” and had “identified areas where we need to change our policy” to protect claimants in vulnerable situations.

Smith died in April, months after he was found fit for work by DWP, despite being in hospital with such severe health problems that his weight had fallen to six stone.

The Liverpool Echo had revealed that DWP ignored two separate doctors’ letters about Smith’s serious health problems.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

27 June 2019

 

 

DWP figures show PIP complaints against Atos and Capita continue to rise

The performance of the two companies carrying out disability benefit assessments on behalf of the government is continuing to deteriorate, according to new figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The DWP figures, released to Disability News Service (DNS) under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the proportion of personal independence payment (PIP) assessments carried out by outsourcing giant Capita that lead to a complaint has risen significantly in the last three years.

And the proportion of PIP assessments carried out by fellow outsourcing company Atos that lead to a complaint has increased sharply in the last two years.

The figures suggest that the likelihood of claimants experiencing sub-standard PIP assessments at the hands of the two companies has dramatically increased, despite public expressions of regret to MPs by Capita and Atos in February 2016 and December 2017 about their performance.

The figures also show that Capita is continuing to attract a much higher rate of complaints than Atos, while Capita is also about twice as likely to uphold a complaint as Atos.

In 2015, there were more than 1,800 complaints about Capita, with 1.1 per cent of assessments leading to a complaint.

But that rose to 1.42 per cent in 2016, to 1.44 per cent in 2017 and 1.57 per cent last year, with 3,490 complaints about Capita assessments in 2018.

In 2015, 0.52 per cent of Atos assessments led to a complaint, falling slightly to 0.49 per cent in 2016, before rising to 0.69 per cent in 2017 and 0.8 per cent in 2018.

Last year, Capita upheld 34 per cent of all PIP complaints, while Atos upheld only three per cent of “admin” complaints and 15 per cent of “clinical” PIP complaints.

DWP refused to say if it was concerned by the rise in complaints, by Capita attracting more complaints than Atos, and by Capita upholding more of those complaints.

It also refused to say if the figures showed that the performance of Atos and Capita was worsening year by year, and it refused to say what action it would take to address these concerns.

Instead, a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want the PIP assessment process to work well for everyone and have made significant improvements, including testing the video recording of assessments.

The number of complaints about PIP assessments represents less than one per cent of the total number of individuals assessed.”

Capita refused to say why it appeared to be attracting so many more complaints than Atos; why it was drawing more complaints every year; why it was upholding so many of those complaints; and whether it believed the figures showed its performance was worsening year by year.

A Capita spokesperson said: “We are committed to delivering a high quality and empathetic service for people applying for PIP.

All our people are focused on delivering the best service to individuals coming through the PIP assessment process – their passion is evidenced in our monthly independent customer satisfaction results, which in 2018 was over 95 per cent.”

Atos refused to say why it thought it was attracting more complaints every year, and whether the figures showed that its performance was worsening year by year.

It also refused to say why it was upholding so few complaints, and fewer than Capita.

But an Atos spokesperson said: “While complaints represent on average less than one per cent of all assessments, we strive to ensure every claimant experience is positive, which is why our focus has consistently been on providing a professional and compassionate assessment service.”

Last year, the then minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, announced that the government was extending the Atos and Capita PIP contracts by a further two years, to 2021.

Since the introduction of PIP in 2013, the two companies have earned hundreds of millions of pounds from their assessment contracts.

DNS spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.

It continues to receive such reports today, more than two-and-a-half years after the investigation began.

27 June 2019

 

 

DWP refuses to release secret benefit death report to mother of Jodey Whiting

A senior civil servant has refused to allow the mother of a woman who took her own life – after being repeatedly failed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – to see a secret report into her daughter’s death.

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA).

But Emma Haddad, DWP’s director general for service excellence, has now told Joy Dove, Whiting’s mother, that she cannot see a secret internal review that was carried out into her daughter’s death.

She told her in a letter: “We do not share Internal Process Reviews due to the personal customer data they contain.”

But only last week, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd revealed key details from another internal process review (IPR) to MP Frank Field, the chair of the Commons work and pensions committee.

That review was carried out following the death of Stephen Smith, who died in April, months after he was found fit for work by DWP despite being in hospital with such severe health problems that his weight had fallen to six stone.

There appears to be no legal reason why an IPR cannot be released to the next-of-kin in full, if the work and pensions secretary gives her or his permission for it to be released.

This week, a DWP spokesperson said the letter to Field was simply “outlining the outcome of the Internal Process Review into Stephen Smith’s case rather than a full copy of the report”.

She added: “We do not share Internal Process Reviews due to the personal customer data they contain.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said today (Thursday): “It is morally reprehensible that the DWP is attempting to hide behind a cloak of secrecy.

Joy has an absolute right to know the contents and conclusions drawn from the DWP internal review into her daughter Jodey’s death.

This denial only strengthens our case for a full independent judicial inquiry into Jodey’s case.

We would like to add our voices to Joy’s in demanding full disclosure of the entire review immediately, no ifs, no buts.”

The letter from Haddad contained written answers to questions put to her by Dove – and prepared with the help of Disability News Service (DNS) – during a face-to-face meeting that took place earlier this month.

In the letter, Haddad also refused to tell her whether any DWP civil servant had been disciplined for the failings that led to her daughter’s death.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

But a DWP spokesperson said this week: “We discussed with Mrs Dove the actions taken as a result of Jodey’s case, including corrective actions, but we cannot discuss any specific actions taken in relation to individual members of staff.”

Haddad also refused to say if she believed that it was ministers or civil servants who were responsible for Jodey Whiting’s death, stating only that ICE “provided a thorough and in-depth review of how we dealt with Jodey’s case and what failings had taken place”.

A DWP spokesperson added: “The Independent Case Examiner did not find any evidence of misconduct by Civil Servants or Ministers.”

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

27 June 2019

 

 

Government agrees to examine ‘troubling’ case of cost-cutting care home council

The government has agreed to examine the “troubling” example of a Tory-run council that plans to undermine the rights of disabled people to live independently by forcing them into residential homes as a cost-cutting measure.

Barnet council’s policy was challenged in the House of Lords this week by the crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell.

She had asked what “crisis prevention measures” the government had put in place to “address the difficulties of those working-age disabled adults who have lost the support needed to live independently in the community”.

When the government whip Baroness Barran said that councils had a duty to “provide or arrange services, resources and facilities that maximise independence for those who have or are developing care needs”, Baroness Campbell said research showed that her words “simply do not match the experience of disabled people on the ground”.

She pointed to Barnet council’s new policy, that it will “no longer prioritise offering community-based care and will instead adopt an assumption that disabled people are placed in cheaper accommodation settings”.

She questioned whether this breached the government’s Care Act.

Baroness Barran promised to take the “troubling example” of Barnet council to care minister Caroline Dinenage.

Barnet’s plans caused outrage among disabled people when they were revealed by Disability News Service earlier this year, and have been described by the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Barnet as a “misconceived” policy that breaches the UN disability convention.

Earlier this month, disabled people and allies staged a protest at a Barnet council meeting at which the plans were being discussed by holding up signs saying: “Disabled People Have A #Right2LiveIndependently”.

Jenny Morris, a member of the Independent Living Strategy Group*, which Baroness Campbell chairs, said this week: “This is only one example of the ever widening gap between what the Care Act was intended to achieve and what disabled people are actually experiencing.”

The north London council wants to save more than £400,000 in 2019-20 by creating more “cost effective support plans”, such as using residential care rather than funding support packages that allow disabled people to live in the community.

It plans to consider “the full range of care options to meet eligible needs (eg residential care), rather than offering community-based placements (eg supported living) by default”, with a new “assumption” that “new clients are placed in cheaper accommodation settings where appropriate”.

The council’s own equality impact assessment of the new policy concluded that it was “possible that not having the option of a council-funded community placement will be seen as negative”, but it claimed that this negative impact on “some equality strands” would be “minimal”.

Paul Baldwin, chair of Inclusion Barnet, said yesterday (Wednesday): “We have been concerned about this policy since it was first proposed.

We are not so far satisfied by the assurances provided by Barnet, as it is clear that financial considerations can still trump individual preferences. 

Therefore, Baroness Campbell’s intervention in the House of Lords this week was a vital challenge to a policy that means that disabled people’s right to live independently is being undermined. 

Inclusion Barnet will also continue to advocate for the council to change direction in our ongoing dialogue with the borough.”

Councillor Sachin Rajput, chair of the council’s adults and safeguarding committee, said: “We remain firmly committed to delivering high standards of care and support for those in need across Barnet, particularly our most vulnerable residents.

We will carefully consider the range of accommodation options available to meet the particular needs of our residents, whilst also considering the limited resources that will be available to us as a council.

Every person will be assessed individually, with their views and the impact on their wellbeing carefully considered.

For the small number of people that will be offered a residential care placement, satisfaction levels and outcomes will be carefully monitored.

Barnet Council will continue to comply with all of its duties under the Care Act (2014).”

Meanwhile, the annual budget survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) has found that only one third (35 per cent) of directors are “fully confident” that their budgets will be enough to meet all their statutory duties in 2019-20.

Since 2010, councils across England have had to make a “staggering” £7 billion in savings, and now need to find another £700 million in 2019-20, “just as demand and needs are rising”, said ADASS.

The Care Quality Commission said the survey “once again highlights the mounting pressure on adult social care budgets and provides a stark reminder of the fragility of our social care services”.

And it said the ADASS report “helps to show the human consequences of such under-resourcing and highlights the urgent need for a long term sustainable funding solution for adult social care”.

Nick Ville, director of membership and policy at the NHS Confederation, said the report showed that “while the government fails to act, the problems facing councils have got worse and the crisis for people needing care is escalating”.

*The Independent Living Strategy Group works to protect and promote disabled people’s rights to independent living in England. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

27 June 2019

 

 

Disabled students act over university’s ‘immoral and amoral’ discrimination

Disabled students are taking legal action against their university over claims of disability discrimination, claiming the way they have been treated is “immoral and amoral”.

They have also launched a petition, which has been signed by more than 200 supporters.

The claims centre on the failure of London South Bank University to provide the support needed by students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

They say that about 20 disabled London South Bank (LSBU) students are supporting the petition, which says the university is treating them “very poorly” by failing to comply with the Equality Act and its own Disability and Dyslexia Support service guidelines.

The disabled student behind the petition, Venesha Rose, is studying for a degree in housing policy and practice.

In a letter to the university, Rose said in February: “The entire experience has been a complete nightmare especially that I am a disabled student with dyslexia, dyspraxia, cognitive delays and complex mobility and I am blind in my right eye so it is a struggle for me to learn in a chaotic environment.”

She write in the letter that she considered the university had breached its contract to her by failing to provide an “excellent quality service” in return for her tuition fees of £9,250 a year.

In a second letter, written earlier this month, she said she considered that she and other black disabled female students had been treated in an “inferior” way to white students and had been “treated badly, ignored and victimised”.

She added: “More importantly, the issues that are being raised are not being taken as seriously because we are black females, who you all appear to look down on as powerless which is reflective in poor service given.”

She said that she and other disabled students had contacted their MPs about the discrimination claims.

Rose told Disability News Service (DNS): “We have all been disadvantaged. It has affected our studies. I went from someone who was getting a first to someone who was being failed.

Why should we leave this establishment with over £70,000 worth of debt, stressed out, after not being given a good service? This is financial injustice.”

She said she and others had tried to take their concerns through the university’s complaints system, without success.

She added: “I feel I have been treated appallingly. As soon as they knew we weren’t just willing to make the complaint and go away they just closed ranks.”

Rose said that five disabled students from her course have written to the universities and science minister, Chris Skidmore, but they have been told by civil servants that “the government cannot become involved in individual disputes between English universities and their students”.

Another black disabled student on the course, Donna Heinz, who is also taking legal action against the university, told DNS: “We have written various letters to the [university] which have been ignored, and they have started to penalise us [through our grades]. It is educational discrimination.”

Like Rose, she says the university is failing to provide the support disabled students are legally entitled to, particularly around support for those with specific learning difficulties.

Heinz, who is 53 and had practically no formal schooling after the age of 11, having spent much of her childhood in care, said: “They are holding us back. I think it’s immoral and amoral.

We are not asking them for anything we are not entitled to, we are just asking them to stick to the guidelines.

They just treat everybody the same [rather than making reasonable adjustments for disabled students]. There is a culture of saying they are diverse, but they are not.

All I am thinking about is future students coming here experiencing the discrimination I am experiencing.”

A third black female disabled student, who has asked not to be named, has also told DNS about the university’s failure to support her after she asked for reasonable adjustments.

When she asked what support the university could offer her as a disabled student, she said she was told to quit her course or take a gap year.

She said: “I regret studying at the establishment and what is happening needs to be stopped.

I do feel that LSBU have not supported me through some of the most difficult times in my life and this type of discrimination could well be due to the colour of my skin.”

All three of the disabled students say they have asked the university to help with their impairment-related support needs, but their requests have been rejected.

A London South Bank University spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that students with a disability or learning difficulty are fully supported and we strive to provide accessible learning opportunities for all.

We take any complaints by students very seriously; we have clear ways in which they can be raised, and thorough processes for investigating them.

However, we cannot comment on individual cases.”

She added: “We are aware of the petition. We listen to all students and their feedback is valued and carefully considered.

We encourage students to voice any concerns they may have and work with us on solutions.”

27 June 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:02
Jun 252019
 


RMT Message of support for our #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign:

“The Metro newspaper is carrying government adverts promoting Universal Credit, the new welfare benefit responsible for driving claimants – including disabled people – even further into poverty and insecurity.

Understandably, disability campaigners are removing this vile propaganda from its distribution points, which include many stations and other transport premises.

As transport workers, our job is to ensure the safe running of the service. It is not our job to prevent the safe removal of newspapers.

Janine Booth, Chair, RMT Disabled Members’ Advisory Committee”

This campaign was initiated by our Sheffield DPAC Group

 Posted by at 22:25
Jun 212019
 

 

Important Information from DAI about Patrick Lynch (RIP)

For those of you who have not seen previous notifications on our website, our Management Committee member and long time volunteer Patrick Lynch, died suddenly on the 2nd June 2019.

This has come as a tremendous shock to his family, friends and all of us here at DAI. He will be sorely missed by all of us who knew him.

His funeral mass will take place on:

Tuesday 25th June 2019

At 10am

St John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church

39 Duncan Terrace

Islington

N1 8AL

This church is fully Wheelchair Accessible including accessible toilet

A Cremation Service will take place at 12pm at the:

Hendon Cemetery & Crematorium

Holders Hill Road

London

NW7 1NB

Friends are invited to join the family:

At 2pm

The Alwyne Castle

83 St Pauls Rd

Islington

N1 2LY

This venue is fully wheelchair accessible including accessible toilet

If you require any further information, please contact us by email at: info@daii.org

Please note that the Disability Action in Islington office will be closed all day on Tuesday 25th June.

Andy Greene

Manager

Disability Action in Islington

you can read a tribute to Patrick in the local paper http://islingtontribune.com/article/disability-rights-campaigner-patrick-took-on-the-government

 

 Posted by at 14:42
Jun 202019
 

Guards lock activists inside DWP HQ during universal credit ‘whitewash’ action

Disabled activists were locked inside the Department for Work and Pensions’ headquarters by security guards as they delivered thousands of copies of a newspaper that feature “deliberately misleading” DWP adverts which “whitewash” the truth about universal credit.

Protesters from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) were unable to leave Caxton House in Westminster for several minutes yesterday (Wednesday) when security guards locked the building’s front doors behind them after they entered the main lobby.

They had entered the building to deliver a letter to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, in which they asked her to explain why she had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on an advertising campaign in the free Metro newspaper that features “one-sided adverts whitewashing the disastrous Universal Credit policy”.

They also delivered about 10 boxes of copies of yesterday’s Metro, which features the latest Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertising feature on universal credit (UC), and which activists had removed from distribution points at train stations and on buses across the capital.

Soon after their arrival, DWP security guards locked the front entrance and threatened to call the police, even though the action had been peaceful and focused only on delivering the newspapers and the letter to Rudd.

The doors were eventually unlocked several minutes later after one of the activists had a panic attack.

The letter to Rudd was finally accepted, and although DWP initially refused to accept the boxes of newspapers, they were later taken inside after being left outside the department’s front entrance.

In the letter, DPAC and allies from Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group asked Rudd “why, when Universal Credit is causing so much suffering and distress, your department chose to throw money at this shameless exercise”.

They added: “We hope that the enclosed materials will provide food for thought as you prepare your response to claimants staring into empty cupboards trying to work out how they can feed themselves and their children, and all those who are wondering why the taxes we pay for collective provision of services are being used in such an inappropriate attempt to rewrite the story of this disastrous policy.”

Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, who took part in the action, said: “They are discrediting people’s real testimonies of going through universal credit.

I have been outside jobcentres and have spoken to claimants who have been driven to prostitution, destitution and homelessness by universal credit.”

She added: “We will continue to expose their lies and total fabrications and we have to get the truth out there with thorough research and with people’s personal testimonies.”

Yesterday’s action, including the hire of a van to deliver the newspapers, was paid for through a crowdfunding effort launched by Sheffield DPAC, which is set to pay for further such actions.

As DPAC was delivering its copies of the Metro to DWP in London, disabled activists and allies in other parts of the country, including Sheffield and Bristol, posted photographs of copies of the Metro being removed from their distribution points, as part of the ongoing #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign.

A spokesperson for Sheffield DPAC – which has played a significant role in the national campaign – said anger about the Metro adverts was growing, and she thanked those who had donated to the fund.

She said the Metro adverts were “propaganda” and “a deliberate attempt to manipulate public perception” of universal credit.

She said: “I implore people, whether they are claimants or not, to support the #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign against the DWP advertorials.

People have to be aware that once the government have done targeting us that they will move on to someone else.

We need to act, we need to stand up, we need to stop this, and we absolutely must do it together.”

Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has confirmed that it is investigating the way the DWP advertising features have been published by the Metro.

Disability News Service (DNS) confirmed last month that DWP breached Civil Service guidelines when it decided to launch the nine-week series of “unethical and misleading” Metro advertorials without including a government logo.

And this week DNS passed a screen shot to ASA showing the home page of the Metro’s website, which featured several UC adverts designed to look like a newspaper investigation and which disguise their DWP origin.

None of the adverts on the website mentioned they were designed and paid for by DWP, which appears to be a breach of ASA rules.

Leaked DWP documents have revealed that the adverts were always designed to be misleading and not to “look or feel like DWP or UC”.

An ASA spokesperson said: “We’re currently assessing a number of complaints relating to these ads, including complaints that challenge whether the ads are obviously identifiable as marketing communications.

We will establish whether there are grounds for further action in due course.”

Meanwhile, the Disability Benefits Consortium of charities has written to ASA to complain about the “deliberately misleading” advertising features.

The letter dismantles several of the claims made in the adverts, including the claim that it is a “myth” that “Universal Credit doesn’t work”, telling ASA: “These statements omit the thousands of claimants universal credit does not ‘work for’ but instead has driven them into debt, rent arrears, foodbanks, and homelessness.”

A DWP spokesperson told DNS: “Our position is that all our advertising is factual and designed to increase understanding of Universal Credit.

We consulted the Advertising Standards Authority prior to launching the partnership and have reflected their advice.

We’ve not got anything further to add.”

On the DPAC action at Caxton House, she said: “You can understand that we’re in a government building, so a group of non-staff members quickly entering the building with large parcels is an obvious security concern.

Security dealt with the incident quickly and the activists were able to leave the parcels outside the front door, without the need for further action.”

She had already declined to comment when asked what DWP planned to do with the thousands of Metros delivered to Rudd.

20 June 2019

 

 

Motability customers ‘will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds in new funding’

Disabled people and families with disabled children will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds in new funding released by the company that runs the Motability car scheme.

Motability Operations announced on Friday that it would release £370 million from its financial reserves to support disabled people and their families, and not all of them will be Motability customers.

The move follows repeated criticism from MPs on the Treasury and work and pensions select committees about high levels of financial reserves held by Motability Operations – which reached more than £2.6 billion in March 2018 – as well as issues such as high rates of executive pay at the company, a lack of transparency, and a critical report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

The company now plans to spend £100 million of the funds it is releasing from its reserves on supporting customers, while the other £270 million – as well as all this year’s profits – will be handed to Motability*, the charity which oversees its work.

This could amount to tens of millions of pounds more than £270 million, as Motability Operations made more than £100 million in profits last year in addition to a £400 million donation to the charity.

The charity has decided to use the extra funds to set up a new endowment fund that will act as a “long-term insurance policy” and allow it to expand its “charitable horizons”.

The two organisations have confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) some of the ways in which they plan to use the extra funds to support disabled people.

One of the most eye-catching initiatives for the Motability charity is a plan to expand the number of grants it makes to disabled people with high support needs to allow them to lease adapted vehicles.

Such a move would be a success for disabled campaigners who have long called for Motability to use more of its substantial resources to fund expensive, heavily-adapted vehicles for disabled people who would otherwise be unable to engage with their local community.

The charity is also considering providing more funds to pay for driving lessons for disabled people, while it is hoping to help more people with disabled children under three years old with high support needs, building on a pilot scheme it has been running with the Family Fund.

Some of the funds could also be used to help disabled people who are not Motability customers with their transport needs, for example with research projects exploring the use of new technology.

Only disabled people receiving the higher mobility rates of disability living allowance (DLA) or personal independence payment (PIP) – or similar payments for former members of the armed services – are eligible to join the Motability scheme.

In a written “rationale” for setting up the endowment fund, Lord Sterling, the charity’s chair, said that Motability was also in “very active discussions” with the Department for Work and Pensions in “areas of particular interest to them, where we can help disabled people with both expertise and money”.

This will include extending the period in which customers can keep their Motability vehicle while waiting for their appeal to be heard, if they lose entitlement in the move from DLA to PIP, as has happened to tens of thousands of customers since the introduction of PIP by the coalition government in 2013.

A Motability spokesperson said: “We recognised that there was an issue with customers returning their car before the completion of the appeal process, so in April 2017, we introduced the option for customers who were eligible for our transition support payment [for customers who joined the scheme before 2014] to receive a lower payment in return for retaining the vehicle for up to 26 weeks. 

At the time we believed that this would be sufficient for any customer to complete their appeal. 

As the volume of people pursuing an appeal has increased, the time taken to complete an appeal has also increased. 

If a customer has chosen to pursue an appeal and this has not been completed within the 26 weeks then, provided we are satisfied that the appeal is actively being pursued, we will provide a further discretionary extension to the retention period so the appeal can be completed.”

Motability Operations said the bulk of the £100 million it will be spending itself will go on direct payments to customers, with most of it to be spent on the good condition bonus that customers receive if they return their car in good shape at the end of their three or five-year lease.

The chairs of the two Commons committees that have held the organisations to account with their inquiries and public evidence sessions welcomed the new funding but said that Motability Operations still had more to do.

Nicky Morgan, the Conservative chair of the Treasury committee, said: “As our committees have concluded recently, Motability Operations’ significant financial reserves are difficult to square with the honourable objectives of the scheme. 

Last week’s announcement by Motability Operations – that it will release £370 million from its reserves to support customers and disabled people with mobility needs – is good news for members of the scheme. 

Motability Operations must now ensure that its customers will benefit from this either in the form of lower prices or more generous vehicular adaptations.”

Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, said: “At long last and after months of chivvying by our committees and the NAO, Motability Operations has begun to accept that it can’t just sit there on piles of reserves built up thanks to the taxpayer’s unique support.

That’s most welcome, but is only a first step. There is still a way to go before we are satisfied that Motability is even beginning to make the best use of its vast funds and privileged position, to provide the best possible service for disabled people.”

*The charity Motability is a DNS subscriber

20 June 2019

 

 

Police and CPS face hate crime questions over disabled teen’s two-year ordeal

Police and prosecutors are facing questions over why they failed to treat the ordeal of a disabled teenager – who was kept as a slave for more than two years and subjected to brutal daily beatings – as a disability hate crime.

It is just the latest in a lengthy line of cases in which police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have faced accusations of failing to secure recognition of disability hate crime through the courts.

This week, both South Wales police (SWP) – one of six forces criticised last year for their “unacceptable” performance on disability hate crime – and CPS repeatedly refused to say what steps they took to confirm whether the teenager’s horrific ordeal should be treated as a hate crime.

SWP has described the injuries experienced by the young disabled man during the forced, unpaid labour as “horrendous” and said he was left without a single uninjured part of his body when he was finally rescued.

The young man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is autistic and has ADHD, and was fed just one meal a day, often just a tin of soup or baked beans.

He was regularly beaten by Anthony Baker and his son Harvey with a metal pole and was forced to work in their scrapyard in Jersey Marine, near Swansea, and to live “in squalor” in a small caravan.

Reports of the trial say that when he was discovered by police in January – following a tip-off from a member of the public – he had a series of horrific injuries, including open wounds, was dirty and malnourished, and found it difficult to speak because of injuries to his jaw, which had been broken on multiple occasions.

Wales Online said the judge described the way the young disabled man was treated as “brutal and savagely inhuman” and said he had been subjected to a regime of “immense brutality” and “sadistic behaviour”.

The Bakers deliberately broke one of his fingers, bit his nose and “treated him as a human punchbag”.

Neither of the men has shown any remorse for what happened, said SWP.

The Bakers were jailed at Swansea Crown Court on Friday (14 June) for a total of 16 years after admitting assault, grievous bodily harm and unlawful wounding, while Anthony Baker also admitted a modern slavery offence*.

But because police and prosecutors apparently failed to consider or treat these offences as possible disability hate crimes at any stage of their investigations and preparation for the trial, the judge was not asked to increase the sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.

It is just the latest case to highlight how the criminal justice system is failing victims of disability hate crime.

Last October, West Midlands police and CPS faced similar questions over their failure to treat an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter as disability hate crime.

The following month, Suffolk police was criticised for failing to treat an attack on a disabled woman – who was spat at and left covered with flour by a group of teenagers as she sat on a park bench – as a disability hate crime.

That case had come just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged in the previous year by nearly a quarter.

The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).

Earlier that month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample forces – including South Wales police – had been found to be “unacceptable”.

Disability News Service has been reporting on the criminal justice system’s failings in dealing with disability hate crime since 2009.

This week, a South Wales police spokesperson repeatedly refused to say if his force took active steps to investigate whether disability-related hostility was a motive for the Bakers’ crimes.

Instead, he said in a statement: “At no stage of the investigation was there any evidence that the victim was abused due to a disability.

If there was evidence of this nature then it would have been presented to the CPS.”

A CPS spokesperson refused to say what steps were taken by prosecutors in relation to considering disability hate crime as a possible motive for the Bakers’ crimes.

Instead, he said in a statement: “The crimes of Anthony and Harvey Baker were despicable and their prison sentences reflect the harm they did.

The victim was subjected to verbal abuse but this was related to their perceived lifestyle and work. The motivation for the assaults was the work the victim did.

The law gives prosecutors the power to request that judges increase the sentence when there is evidence the offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by hostility based on a person’s disability.

Where it exists, we won’t hesitate to put this evidence before the court.”

He added later: “For an offence to be prosecuted by the CPS as a disability hate crime and therefore get a sentence uplift there has to be evidence that the offenders demonstrated hostility or were motivated by hostility based on a disability.

That evidence was not there in his case.”

David Wilkin, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “The inconsistencies inherent in the prosecution of hate crime are underpinned by much evidence from many victims.”

He suggested there was now a need for an “operational stipulation” that forces police officers to “process hate crime with the seriousness that it deserves”.

He pointed to the ongoing Law Commission consultation on current hate crime legislation, which could – if it produces new laws – enable prosecutors to treat hate crime “with the gravity it deserves”, and provide judges with “the clarity that will enable them to make proportional sentencing decisions”.

*Anthony Baker, aged 49, had previously pleaded guilty to requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, four counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, unlawful wounding, and inflicting grievous bodily harm, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and another five years on licence.

Harvey Baker, aged 19, had previously pleaded guilty to six counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, three of inflicting grievous bodily harm, and one of unlawful wounding, and was sentenced to six years in a young offender institution.

20 June 2019

 

 

Disabled woman describes her long-stay hospital abuse ordeal

A young disabled woman has described the abuse she experienced in a charity-run mental health hospital, and has called for more to be done to close such long-stay institutions.

Abigail Donohoe spent more than six years in mental health hospitals in her late teens and early 20s, including more than two years at a brain injury service run by the St Andrew’s Healthcare charity in Northampton.

Although the charity’s brain injury service was rated good (PDF) when last inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2016, the regulator this month placed the adolescents service on the same site into special measures (PDF).

The adolescents service for young disabled people attracted media attention last year when it was revealed that one autistic teenager called Bethany had been kept in seclusion for nearly two years and was often fed through a hatch.

The same service had already been exposed the previous year by Channel 4’s Dispatches, which featured a visit by former Liberal Democrat social care minister Norman Lamb, who described his horror at the use of segregation he found there.

Now a CQC inspection has placed the service in special measures, giving it six months to make urgent improvements, after raising serious concerns about safety, and warning that staff “did not always treat patients with kindness, dignity, compassion and respect”.

Donohoe is not autistic herself, but she says she can display “challenging behaviour with autistic traits”, which was why she was admitted to the neuropsychiatry unit.

She was originally admitted to St Andrew’s as a voluntary patient in 2013, but she was later sectioned.

She arrived during a period of crisis, having been led to believe that she would receive a thorough, six-week assessment followed by recommendations for a continuing programme of treatment.

But she did not leave for more than two years, and then spent another two years at Milton Park Therapeutic Campus, in Bedford, firstly on section for a year and then as a voluntary patient for another year because there were no community-based placements available.

Milton Park, now renamed Lakeside, was rated as “requires improvement” earlier this year by CQC, and remains in “special measures” after previously being rated “inadequate”.

This week, Donohoe described to Disability News Service how she was kept in seclusion for hours at a time at St Andrew’s.

While some staff were supportive and caring, others taunted or threatened her, and physical restraint was common and could last up to 30 minutes, including techniques such as bending her wrists, lying on top of her, or injecting her with powerful sedatives against her will.

She believes the kind of abuse she experienced is widespread in many institutions.

Donohoe, who is currently living with her family with outreach support while she tries to find a suitable supported living setting where she can live independently in the community, has now written to MPs and peers on the joint committee on human rights (JCHR) to push for wide-ranging reform.

Since leaving “high-pressure institutional settings”, she has been “so much calmer”, she said.

She said the failure to release patients from long-stay institutions is partly connected to the profits such services can make for the organisations running them because of the huge fees they are able to charge.

And they often justify the failure to release patients like her by recording every single offensive or aggressive word as a separate incident – which happened at St Andrew’s – allowing them to exaggerate how often a patient has been offensive or aggressive and demonstrate why they cannot be released.

She said: “That makes me look like an abusive monster. I can be very challenging, but not 200 separate incidents, and often it will have been caused by goading from the staff.”

The goading at St Andrew’s involved threatening her with powerful medication or telling her she will be “here forever” if she does not “shut up”.

They do that to make it look as if you need to be in hospital,” she said.

She has spoken of her hope to speak out on behalf of fellow patients to help in the push for reform.

She contrasts the treatment of people with conditions such as diabetes and schizophrenia, who receive crisis inpatient healthcare and then receive ongoing community-based care, with the care often handed out to autistic people, and those with learning difficulties and impairments like hers, who are often “warehoused” for years on end in long-stay hospital units.

She said: “The system is completely ineffective, and it is about locking people away. It needs a complete overhaul.”

She believes that the six-week timeframe she was told to expect is the only one acceptable for someone in her position to be detained in such a setting.

After that period expires, she says, and the recommendations have been made, support should be provided in an inclusive community setting.

She points to the case of Jade Hutchings, an autistic woman and a pen pal of hers, whose own case was written about in the mainstream media last year when it emerged that she had been locked in an assessment and treatment unit for more than 13 years.

Donohoe said there needed to be more effort to hear from service-users like her, although she accepts that many patients cannot speak for themselves because of their impairments and the fear of services taking revenge on them if they do speak out.

She said: “I am extremely frustrated that it is not changing despite all the scandals.”

Only last week, she watched two senior CQC figures giving evidence to the JCHR about the regulator’s failure to halt the abuse at Whorlton Hall, later exposed by an undercover reporter working for BBC’s Panorama.

Donohoe said the whole care system was failing and CQC itself needed to do more to “take ownership” of the problems.

She said she did not trust the CQC’s ratings, and added: “There’s not a lot of point in having them if you can’t trust the ratings.”

A spokesperson for St Andrew’s said: “We support vulnerable people and have a duty of care which we take very seriously. 

An important part of this is respecting patients’ confidentiality. For this reason we never comment on whether someone is or has been a patient at St Andrew’s Healthcare.”

But she added: “Seclusion is used for the shortest possible time and only ever when other less restrictive methods have failed.

A person is only restrained – and then only for the shortest possible time – when they have become a risk or danger to themselves, other patients or staff, and only when all other de-escalation methods have failed.

The CQC have recently recognised the reduction in the use of restrictive practices within our services, such as prone restraint and rapid tranquilisation.

For those patients who are referred to our hospital environments at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, our role is to provide care as best we can and proactively advocate on their behalf when we believe it is right for them to move on.”

But Donohoe said St Andrew’s had not advocated for its patients from her experience.

She said: “They are encouraging people to be kept there longer by exaggerating incidents in the way they are reported.”

She said she could not say what St Andrew’s was like now, but when she was there she was often kept in seclusion for hours, with staff making no effort to de-escalate the situation by engaging with her.

She weighs about eight-and-a-half stone and would often be physically restrained by “six big guys”.

She said the thought of what she went through while being restrained still makes her angry.

She added: “Occasionally I did get seriously hurt during the course of restraint.

It was quite damaging to every sort of recovery. That was why I had to go to Milton Park, to recover from St Andrew’s.”

20 June 2019

 

 

Praise for cake shop chain that admitted access faults, and put them right

A chain of cake shops has thanked a disabled campaigner for drawing its attention to access failures that prevented wheelchair-users entering three of its stores.

Konditor said it was “ashamed” of its previous access failings and has apologised to “anyone who has visited [our] shops in the past and been unable to gain access”.

It has now pledged to make a financial donation to a London disabled people’s organisation (DPO) after admitting it was previously unaware of its duties under the Equality Act.

The access failings were spotted by Esther Leighton, co-founder of the disabled-led campaigning organisation Reasonable Access, after she was unable to enter three of its six London stores.

After she raised her concerns, with support from Reasonable Access members, Konditor agreed to improve access at the three stores, providing each of them with low-cost portable ramps that allow wheelchair-users to cope with single steps at their entrances.

Now Konditor is backing Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project, which supports London DPOs to use the law to make disabled people’s rights to independent living and access to goods and services a reality.

Konditor will donate 20p to the project every time it sells one of its most popular cakes over the next six months.

Leighton said she had asked Konditor repeatedly to buy ramps for its inaccessible stores.

In similar situations, she has taken the service-provider to court, but once the problem reached the company’s head office, she said, “Konditor turned the situation around”.

She said: “They fixed the problem, made amends including by selling cakes for the Disability Justice Project, which is a cause close to my heart, and so I look forward to being a loyal customer for many years to come.”

Leighton said: “I have an ongoing frustration with high street shops without step-free access, particularly when this can often be fixed with a simple ramp available online for as little as £50.

I am unable to get up even small steps, so this is a barrier which unnecessarily limits me.

Despite the Equality Act 2010 duty being very clear that shops should have ramps, many do not do so.”

She added: “I find being denied access to businesses, particularly luxury ones like this, utterly demoralising; it makes me feel like a second-class citizen and it makes me frustrated that 24 years after the law said that ‘reasonable adjustments’ (like a ramp) should be made, that they are not.

I find trying to enforce my rights very difficult, too.

Sometimes I need to go all the way to court (as it’s usually impossible to get lawyers for such cases) and this is costly in time and money, as well as upsetting.

However, it’s often the only way to get this change made, so there isn’t an alternative to ensure I and other disabled people are treated better.

In Konditor’s case, I am really delighted that they made the situation right and this wasn’t necessary.

They’re also keen to share with other businesses the many positives of making changes that ensure a welcome for all people, which makes me happy as it’s improving the world for everyone.” 

She encouraged other disabled people who are angry at not being able to access a service, even after asking for improvements, to use the law to help bring about change.

She said: “You don’t need to be a lawyer to do this, though you do need to have time and be able to deal with sometimes complex paperwork.”

Leighton encouraged disabled people to contact Reasonable Access – which supports disabled people who are using the law, particularly the Equality Act 2010, to advance disability rights – if they want to speak to others who are taking such action, and also to contact their local MP.

But she said they should also campaign for a more effective enforcement mechanism, and she added: “Changes this basic could be enforced by the local council, for instance, rather than requiring individuals to do it.

That would be better for businesses and disabled people.”

Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project co-ordinator, said: “Konditor admitted their mistake and took this opportunity to make their shops more accessible. 

If other providers of goods and services had similar attitude, everyday experience of many disabled people would be very different.

However, it is important to remember that Konditor took those steps because Esther Leighton explained to them what is required by the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

This shows how much work still needs to be done to ensure providers of goods and services, including small businesses, understand their duties under the Equality Act and comply with it.   

We know access is good for everyone and we hope this example will encourage many more businesses to adopt a similar approach.”

Paul Cons, Konditor’s chief executive, said: “Until Esther bought this issue to our attention, I’m ashamed to say we had simply not fully considered the needs of our disabled customers or realised what was required of us by law.

This has been a welcome wake-up call for us and we’re glad to have addressed this issue in the business. 

Thanks to a passionate campaigner like Esther, we’ve made the changes, but feel she shouldn’t have had to bring it to our attention in the first place.”

20 June 2019

 

 

Welcome for new blue badge rules, but concerns remain

Disabled campaigners have welcomed new rules that will make it easier for autistic people and others with invisible impairments to secure blue parking badges, but they have also raised concerns about how they will work in practice.

The new government rules for councils are likely to lead to a significant increase in the number of disabled people eligible for blue badges across England.

Disabled people with blue badges in many parts of the country already find it almost impossible at peak times to find a parking space.

But the government has also announced a new taskforce aimed at clamping down on fraud and misuse of blue badges, which it hopes will ease the pressure on spaces.

The government was forced into making the changes to blue badge guidance because of its previous decision in 2014 to tighten the rules, which led to a judicial review legal case taken on behalf of an autistic man with learning difficulties.

That led to the Department for Transport (DfT) agreeing to review the guidance, and eventually introduce the new rules for local authorities in England, which will come into force on 30 August.

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “It’s unacceptable that people with hidden disabilities still face discrimination when using disabled facilities like parking spaces.  

Extending the Blue Badge scheme is a watershed moment in ensuring those with hidden disabilities are able to travel with greater ease and live more independent lives.” 

Under the new rules, a disabled person should be automatically eligible for a blue badge if they receive eight points or more under the “moving around” activity of the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP), or they receive the PIP mobility component and also score at least 10 points under the “planning and following journeys” activity because making a journey causes them “overwhelming psychological distress”.

Others who do not qualify automatically could still be eligible for a badge if they pass an assessment to decide if they cannot walk or undertake a journey without creating a risk of serious harm, causing “very considerable psychological distress”, or experiencing very considerable difficulty when walking.

Helen Dolphin, co-founder of the People’s Parking scheme and a blue badge expert, welcomed the extension of the scheme as long as there were also efforts made to “sort out the fraud and misuse” in the current system.

She said the new guidance and the anti-fraud taskforce “have to go hand in hand”.

Dolphin, herself a badge-holder, said: “Blue badges are being misused by friends and family quite a lot of the time, and they are also being used fraudulently.”

She has heard from an industry expert that fake blue badges have been sold door-to-door in London for £100 each.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, said the new rules would certainly “be a great relief to many” but Autistic UK was “sceptical” that the change would be effective because there were not even enough accessible parking bays to meet the demands of current badge holders.

She said: “Increasing the number of badge holders without also ensuring that local councils have the funds to increase available parking bays will simply mean that all badge holders will receive a poorer service and experience a reduction in their ability to access services.”

She also warned of problems with the crackdown on fraud and misuse, including the risk of a “backlash” against people with invisible impairments, who “face a different kind of discrimination, that of people not believing that they are disabled”.

But she said: “Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement and a crackdown, properly executed, would be very welcome.”

Autistic UK also wants to see a crackdown on misuse of accessible bays by non-disabled people, along with a requirement on landowners to enforce proper use of the bays on private land.

She said: “A combination of these measures would go a very long way towards ensuring that disabled bays were only used by badge holders, which would mean a great many more bays were available to serve the influx of new people in the scheme.”

The National Autistic Society (NAS) said the changes would be “life-changing” for many autistic people.

Jane Harris, NAS director of external affairs, said: “The old rules were too focused on people’s physical ability to walk, and changes to government guidance in 2014 meant that many autistic people couldn’t get a badge.”

Authorities in Scotland and Wales have already made changes aimed at addressing the problems with the 2014 guidance.

DfT has previous predicted that its new rules will see a six per cent increase in blue badge applications (53,000) in the first year, and an “initial surge” of 44,000 new badges (a five per cent increase).

It will provide councils with £1.7 million in the first year of the new guidance to help with the expected increase in applications.

Last year, the Local Government Association estimated that the theft of blue badges had risen by 45 per cent in 12 months and was six times higher than in 2013.  

The taskforce will look at ensuring badges are used correctly and improving public understanding of the scheme.

20 June 2019

 

 

Author backs Justice for Jodey and calls for urgent DWP deaths inquiry

The disabled author of an acclaimed new investigation into the impact of austerity on disabled people has backed calls for an independent inquiry into links between the government’s policies and the deaths of benefit claimants.

Frances Ryan said there was an “urgent” need for an inquiry to investigate the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its links to the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.

She has become the latest high-profile figure to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry into such deaths, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or senior civil servants to be passed to police.

The petition also calls for a recognition that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to change its policies and practices urgently to make the safety of all benefit claimants a priority.

Ryan’s new book, Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People**, argues that those in power have turned on disabled people, who have become objects of “suspicion, demonization and contempt” since 2010.

Ryan told Disability News Service: “In Crippled, I look at multiple cases of people who have died after having their benefits removed.

Some were found ‘fit for work’ but due to the inaccuracy of the assessment system, were so ill they died shortly after.

Some were starved, frozen, or had lethal health conditions triggered because they had no money for food, electric, or heating.

Others like Jodey were left in desperate states and sadly took their own lives.”

She added: “Coroners have repeatedly pointed to ‘fit-for-work’ tests as a contributory factor in a number of disabled people’s deaths.

Suicide is deeply complex and it’s vital to report on these cases responsibly, but it isn’t hard to see how people are becoming vulnerable.

Remove social security from a disabled person too disabled or ill to work and it’s like pushing someone off a cliff and feigning surprise when they hit the beach.”

Her book brings together much of the research that has exposed the impact of austerity on disabled people in the last decade, but it also hears the stories of individuals whose lives have been blighted by cuts to their support.

It is, she says, “a rallying cry against the shrinking of the welfare state and the hardship the austerity agenda is causing disabled people”.

Her book has been praised by high-profile figures such as film director Ken Loach, and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who has said: “This devastating book should shake our political system to its foundations.”

Ryan concludes in the book that disabled people “have been routinely driven into destitution, pushed from the workplace and stripped of the right to live in their own homes”, while the benefit system is in chaos, with disabled people “forced through a system defined by hostility and humiliation”.

And she says society has now reached the point at which “a cocktail of austerity and long-standing prejudice towards disabled people is leading to the sort of large-scale negligence that at its extremes is tantamount to abuse”.

*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People, by Frances Ryan, is published by Verso Books

20 June 2019

 

 

MPs hear of barriers facing LGBT disabled people who need social care

A disabled activist has told MPs of the discrimination and other barriers faced by LGBT disabled people who need to access social care.

Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of the LGBTQI+* disabled people’s organisation Regard, told a Commons committee that members of her community were much less likely to be able to rely on family and friends for support with their care needs.

And when they accessed support from the care industry, they often faced discrimination from personal assistants (PAs), care workers and their local authority.

She was giving evidence to the women and equalities committee as part of its inquiry into health and social care and LGBT communities.

Gosling pointed to research co-produced by Regard, the University of Bristol, the Social Care Institute for Excellence and the LGBT charity Stonewall, which was published two years ago.

More than half of those surveyed for the research said they never or only sometimes disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity to their PAs.

And more than a third said they had experienced discrimination or received poor treatment from their PAs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, with one man having been sexually assaulted after he told his PA he was gay.

Gosling told the MPs she believed the necessary protections were included in the Equality Act and the Care Act, so the key problem was with implementation of the legislation.

She said the research had also found that more than 90 per cent of those surveyed said their needs as an LGBTQI+ disabled person were either not considered or were only given some consideration when they were assessed or reviewed by their local authority.

Almost a third felt they had been discriminated against by their local authority on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gosling said there were often problems recruiting PAs to provide paid support at home, with PAs often not wanting to be identified as a frequent visitor to a gay person’s home in case they were exposed to harassment.

She said that LGBT people were much more likely to need social care because they were “much more likely to move away from where we grew up, so we don’t have lifetime friends, our contact with our biological family is at best polite, is seldom close and is often non-existent [and] we’re much less likely to have children”.

For the same reasons, LGBT people are less likely to have access to advocacy from friends and family, she said.

She told the committee: “We would very strongly argue for the return of the policy that there should be a centre for independent living (CIL), led by disabled people, in every local authority area because peer support is not only the cheapest but also the most effective way to provide monitoring [of the support being provided].

Generally speaking, if you’re isolated at home you’ve got nobody to tell, [but] if you’ve got peer support meetings once a month for direct payment users you’ve got someone to tell, you’ve got staff, you’ve got workers.”

But she said many disabled-led CILs were being closed or the services they had provided had been taken on by “generic support agencies that aren’t run by disabled people” and that “don’t really know what the issues are and of course they don’t know how to tackle them”.

*People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex or who hold identities such as non-binary

20 June 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:07
Jun 132019
 

 

Confusion – again – after Labour backtracks on Corbyn pledge to scrap universal credit

Labour’s policy on universal credit has again become mired in confusion after its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, promised to scrap the government’s “catastrophic” and “iniquitous” benefit system if his party wins the next general election.

Such a move would be seen as a significant victory for disabled activists and allies who have pushed the party to promise to scrap universal credit, instead of pledging only to halt the rollout of the system and fix its many flaws.

Interviewed after the party’s success in last week’s Peterborough by-election, Corbyn told Channel 4 News: “We are ready for a general election, and that general election will deliver a Labour government.”

He added: “If you voted Remain in 2016, and you’re on universal credit, if you voted Leave in 2016 on universal credit, you actually want to get rid of universal credit. That’s what Labour offers.”

Despite Corbyn’s comments, what seemed to be a significant change in policy appeared not to have been noticed by any mainstream media.

And the party’s press office today (Thursday) issued a statement that conflicted with what Corbyn said, merely stating again that a Labour government would pause the rollout of UC and try to make it fit for purpose.

A party spokesperson said: “Universal credit isn’t working and cannot continue in its current form.

Labour will stop the roll-out, and ensure our social security system genuinely protects people from poverty.”

Disabled activists, particularly Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), have campaigned for the government – and any future Labour government – to “stop and scrap” universal credit (UC).

Only last week, DPAC released new research which detailed media articles on UC published between January and May this year, which it said was “a damning record of UC systemic and catastrophic failures”.

It said that UC had reached a point where it was “unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger”. 

DPAC said it was calling for UC to be scrapped because it had become a social security system “which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life”.

A DPAC spokesperson said last night (Wednesday), in response to Corbyn’s comments, but before the party had released its statement: “We welcome it as it’s the only credible position that Labour or any other party can take given UC’s well-evidenced fundamental failings, enormous waste and terrible harm but we remain unsure of Labour’s position until there is a firm public commitment.”

It is not the first time that Labour has appeared to call for UC to be scrapped and then retreated from that position.

Last October, the party had to back-track after deputy leader John McDonnell said in a television interview that UC was a “shambles” and “iniquitous” and added: “I think we are moving to a position now where it is just not sustainable. It will have to go.”

But the party’s press office later stressed that Labour’s position was that “universal credit in its current form simply isn’t working”.

Labour’s work and pensions secretary, Margaret Greenwood, was also heavily-criticised by disabled activists after telling the party’s annual conference in Liverpool last September that the government must “stop the rollout of universal credit and fix its many flaws”, rather than calling for it to be scrapped.

13 June 2019

 

 

OECD figures expose DWP claims of disability spending ‘generosity’

Repeated claims by the government that the UK is one of the most generous major economies in the world when it comes to spending on disabled people have been exposed as highly misleading by official figures.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its ministers have repeatedly defended themselves against criticisms of cuts to disabled people’s support by comparing their record with other countries.

But that defence has now been exposed as deeply misleading, with official figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing the UK has one of the worst records among major world economies on supporting disabled people.

This week, Disability News Service (DNS) was forced to lodge a complaint with DWP after a press officer refused to say if the department accepted the OECD figures.

The statistics emerged after Esther McVey, the former work and pensions secretary standing to be the new Tory party leader and prime minister, defended her own record in government by claiming – during a BBC interview – that the UK was “one of the most generous countries in our support for disabled people”.

DWP subsequently told Channel 4 News Fact Check, when it tried to confirm that claim, that “as a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany”.

This claim was based on data provided by the OECD group of major world economies, which show that of the G7 countries – Japan, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK – the UK does spend the second-highest amount as a proportion of GDP.

But what the same figures also show is that, when it comes to public spending on incapacity (including sickness and disability benefits, and social care services), the UK’s spending is only 23rd highest of the 36 OECD members as a proportion of the country’s economic activity (GDP).

They even show the UK is below the OECD average of 1.9 per cent of GDP spent on incapacity.

The OECD figures also show the UK’s performance has worsened since 2010, when a Tory-led coalition took power.

In 2010, the UK was 22nd highest of OECD members, with 2.0 per cent of its GDP spent on incapacity, but had slipped by 2015 to 23rd, with just 1.852 per cent.

And when it comes to European Union members of the OECD, UK spending on incapacity is only 18th highest out of 23.

But when DNS asked if DWP accepted these OECD figures, a spokesperson said: “We’re spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before.

As a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.”

She refused to say whether DWP accepted the other OECD figures.

DWP has frequently compared its spending on disability with other members of the G7.

In February 2018, DWP responded to the latest criticisms of its record on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by saying: “The UK is a recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality and as a share of GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.”

It made a similar point in September 2017, in response to criticisms by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, and also in June 2017, again in connection with breaches of the UN convention.

13 June 2019

 

 

Civil servants fail to answer key DWP deaths questions after meeting grieving parents

Senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants have failed to answer key questions about links between the government’s policies and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, during a face-to-face meeting with grieving parents.

Emma Haddad, DWP’s director general for service excellence, and Colin Stewart, its work and health director for the north of England, spent more than an hour in Monday’s meeting with Joy Dove and Eric Whiting, the parents of Jodey Whiting.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of the mother-of-nine, who had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA), and took her own life just 15 days later.

During the meeting, Dove asked 13 key questions that had been drafted for her by Disability News Service (DNS), based on her daughter’s case and the wider scandal of deaths linked to the actions of DWP ministers and senior civil servants.

But Haddad refused to answer many of the questions for legal reasons.

Among the questions about her daughter’s case, Dove asked how DWP could have made so many serious safeguarding failings.

Her ex-husband asked whether anyone had been disciplined or lost their job over their daughter’s death.

Dove asked Haddad why she should believe that DWP had fixed the system when it had made similar promises after so many other deaths.

And she asked why DWP kept making mistakes that led to the deaths of disabled people when it had carried out so many secret reviews into deaths linked to DWP actions.

Crucially, she also asked about the alleged cover-up which saw DWP fail to show the independent expert ministers had appointed to review the WCA a series of secret reviews into benefit-related deaths and letters written by coroners linked to the assessment process.

And Dove asked if she could see the secret review that would have been carried out by DWP after her daughter’s death.

Haddad promised Dove that she would provide written answers to all the questions.

The meeting took place in the offices of Labour’s Dr Paul Williams, Dove’s MP, in Thornaby-on-Tees.

Dove said that Haddad insisted in the meeting that ministers had not ordered her and Stewart to apologise in person, but that they had instead “got together and decided we needed to come here and say sorry”.

Dove told DNS she was glad the meeting had taken place, but she warned DWP that this would not be the end of her campaigning, although her legal team would now take the lead in seeking justice for her daughter.

She said: “It hasn’t really changed things because she’s dead and she’s not coming back.

I told them that five minutes away from here, my daughter is in that cemetery.”

Dove believes Haddad was on the verge of tears when she heard her speak about Jodey and showed her pictures of her daughter.

She said: “I thought she had a tear in her eye when I got upset and showed her letters from Jodey saying she was in debt and which said, ‘Please, mam, look after my babies.’

I could see a tear in her eye but at the same time she had to hold it back.”

But she said Haddad also told her: “I am a mother of two. I know how you would have felt.”

Dove said Haddad and her colleague were left speechless when she told them that campaigners were calling DWP “murderers”.

After the meeting, a DWP spokesperson said: “Senior officials have met with Mrs Dove today, to apologise again for the failings in handling her daughter’s case and discuss the lessons learnt.

We fully accepted the Independent Case Examiner’s findings earlier this year and have since reviewed and strengthened our procedures to ensure all vulnerable claimants are safeguarded.”

The number of people signing a petition in Jodey Whiting’s name, calling for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police, has now passed 42,000.

But that is less than halfway to the target of 100,000 needed to secure a House of Commons debate on the petition.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

13 June 2019

 

 

Care regulator faces ‘whitewash’ allegation by MPs and peers over abuse scandal

The care regulator has faced accusations from a committee of MPs and peers that it ordered a “whitewash” of abuse allegations at a private hospital for disabled people that was later exposed by a BBC documentary.

Two senior figures in the Care Quality Commission (CQC) were asked yesterday (Wednesday) to explain why their organisation failed to act over abuse at Whorlton Hall in County Durham four years before an abusive regime was exposed by an undercover BBC reporter.

Harriet Harman, the Labour chair of the joint committee on human rights, asked Dr Paul Lelliott, CQC’s deputy chief inspector of hospitals and its mental health lead, and Ian Trenholm, its chief executive, why their organisation had “suppressed” a critical inspection report about Whorlton Hall, written in 2015, which was never published.

Harman said she did not understand why Lelliott had appeared so surprised at allegations passed to him in the Panorama documentary when a draft report written by CQC’s own inspectors in 2015 had included allegations of bullying and “inappropriate behaviour” by staff at Whorlton Hall.

The 2015 report said patients in the hospital “did not know how they could protect themselves from abuse”.

The evidence session was part of the committee’s inquiry into the detention and inhuman and degrading treatment experienced by young autistic people and people with learning difficulties in assessment and treatment units and other institutions.

The committee heard that the CQC team sent to inspect Whorlton Hall in 2015 included a person with learning difficulties, as part of the regulator’s experts by experience programme, which sends service-users to assist on inspections of care homes, hospitals and care agencies across England.

But the 2015 report was never published, which led its lead inspector, Stanley Wilkinson, to lodge a complaint with his CQC superiors.

The CQC executive who considered his complaint said it should be published, and Lelliott said it would be, Harman revealed.

But instead of publishing it, CQC sent a smaller, less experienced team of just three members to carry out a second inspection, which failed to mention any allegations of bullying or abuse in its report, concluding instead that standards at Whorlton Hall were “good”.

This second team did not include an expert by experience.

Harman said: “It looks like there was a diligent inspection in 2015, it looks like they discovered what we then saw to our horror on Panorama on our televisions, it looks like CQC didn’t publish that 2015 report, it was suppressed.

There was a row about it, and a strong complaint from the lead inspector, and then the report was supressed despite a commitment to publish it and then a new team was sent in and they produced a report which was a whitewash and said Whorlton Hall was good.”

After Lelliott claimed that the “key findings” of the first report were included in the second report, Harman said: “They were not, because the abuse and bullying had vanished.”

She said Wilkinson had told CQC that this refusal to publish his report “fails in our duty to protect people” and “compromised the safety, care and welfare of patients”, and that the culture within CQC was “toxic”.

Wilkinson had added: “I am raising these issues because I believe something serious could happen which could put CQC under the spotlight.”

Harman told Trenholm and Lelliott: “He was right, wasn’t he?”

Trenholm said he and his colleagues had still not got “to the bottom of what happened during that period” and so had launched an independent review.

And he said that if Wilkinson had thought there was any significant abuse at Whorlton Hall, he would have recommended an “inadequate” rating – instead of “requires improvement” – and CQC would have acted immediately and called police, which would have led to the hospital being forced to close.

Lelliott said that what he saw in the Panorama programme had been “horrifying and sickening”.

But he said the 2015 report had not concluded that abuse was taking place at Whorlton Hall, and he added: “I had no idea that abuse of that type was happening.”

And he insisted that CQC had “a track record of taking decisive action when we have evidence of abuse or malpractice or poor care”, although Whorlton Hall was “a wake-up call for us and for the whole system”.

13 June 2019

 

 

DWP civil servant praises UN poverty report ministers dismissed as ‘barely believable’

A senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) official has told MPs that a highly-critical UN report on poverty in the UK was “factually correct” and “made a lot of good points”, despite ministers repeatedly attacking its accuracy.

Donna Ward, DWP’s policy director for children, families and disadvantage, told the work and pensions select committee yesterday (Wednesday) that the report by Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, made “really good points” on issues such as austerity and cuts to local government spending.

Ministers have consistently dismissed Alston’s report, with minister for disabled people Sarah Newton, who has since resigned, claiming last November – following the publication of his preliminary report – that he had made “factual errors”.

And in May, after Alston published his final report, DWP described it as “a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here” that “paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty”.

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, reportedly claimed that Alston had not carried out enough research and apparently threatened to lodge a formal complaint with the UN.

But Ward has now told MPs on the committee – during an evidence session on the impact of universal credit – that DWP has carried out a “fact check” on the report and has concluded that Alston “made a lot of good points” and that his report was “factually correct”.

She said: “I think where the secretary of state took issue with it and where I as a civil servant can’t be involved was the political interpretation of a lot of what’s happened.

But in terms of the facts, in terms of austerity, and cuts to local government funding, in terms of the reliance that we have on the labour market and the risk that we have if there was a recession, all of those things were really good points that we have taken on board, we should take on board.”

SNP’s Chris Stephens said Ward’s comments were “quite revealing” because the rapporteur’s report was “very often pooh-poohed” by ministers and some Tory backbenchers.

Will Quince, the junior minister for family support, housing and child maintenance, said he took such reports “incredibly seriously”.

He said: “I’m not going to say I don’t regret the quite inflammatory language and in some cases quite overtly political tone of the report but there are areas in there that of course I recognise and I know that we need to do a considerable amount of work on and any report of that nature is always going to highlight areas.”

Alston said in his preliminary and final reports that government policies such as cuts to public spending and “highly regressive” changes to taxes and benefits suggested that the UK government had breached the “principle of non-discrimination enshrined in international law”.

He also said that figures from the Social Metrics Commission showed that 14 million people, a fifth of the population, were living in poverty and nearly half of them were from families in which someone was disabled.

And he said that many disabled people’s families had been “driven to breaking point” by cuts to social care.

13 June 2019

 

 

Union backs DPAC campaign to dump newspapers over universal credit adverts

A trade union has backed disabled activists who are removing thousands of copies of a newspaper every week from their public distribution points over its publication of government advertising features that are air-brushing concerns about universal credit (UC).

The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) voted unanimously at its annual conference on Tuesday (11 June) to support the campaign against the Metro free newspaper, which is being led by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Members of Sheffield DPAC have been leading the Metro campaign, which has seen photographs and videos posted on social media showing activists removing scores of copies of the Metro so they can be recycled.

In one post this week, Sheffield DPAC said thousands of Metro copies had been taken out of circulation by hundreds of activists across Britain, adding: “We will not leave these lies on the shelves. Universal credit is ruining people’s lives.”

The Metro advertorials are part of a nationwide Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) campaign that it claims will “myth-bust the common inaccuracies” reported on universal credit.

But Ian Hodson, BFAWU’s president, told Disability News Service (DNS): “We don’t agree with it. Tax-payers’ money being used for adverts about something that’s untrue.

It’s a lie and we know it’s a lie. What they are trying to do is propaganda and it’s unfair.

We agree with dumping them, burning them, whatever, just taking them out of the public domain and getting a public apology actually for the waste of taxpayers’ money.”

He added: “If they want to do that, what they should do is have two versions: the government version and then a version given by people who are impacted by it, for some balance, and they should fund that as well.”

He said so many benefit claimants were taking their own lives, having their benefits cut, struggling financially and losing their homes, and yet the government “mislead and lie to people over the reality of it”.

He said DWP’s Metro advertising campaign was about “stopping people from being able to speak out and telling what the reality of being under this regime is”.

DNS confirmed last month that DWP had breached Civil Service guidelines when it decided to launch the nine-week series of “unethical and misleading” Metro advertising features without including a government logo.

This week, employment minister Alok Sharma said in a written parliamentary answer that the Metro campaign would run for another six weeks, and DWP would announce how much it had cost after it ended.

Only last week, DPAC released new research which detailed media reports on universal credit published between January and May this year, which it said was “a damning record of UC systemic and catastrophic failures”.

It said then that UC had reached a point where it was “unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger”. 

DPAC said it was calling for UC to be scrapped because it had become a social security system “which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life”.

Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme, told MPs on the work and pensions select committee yesterday (Wednesday) that he could not introduce vital improvements to UC immediately because the system would not be able to cope.

The maximum rate at which deductions can be made from UC payments to repay an advance will be reduced from 40 per cent to 30 per cent of the standard allowance, but only from October.

And the period over which UC advance payments can be recovered by DWP will be extended from 12 to 16 months, but only from October 2021.

Labour’s Ruth George told Couling and Will Quince, the junior minister for family support, housing and child maintenance: “If these are things that need doing, surely they need doing now for the 840,000 households that are suffering deductions at this moment now and the further 1.5 million that are likely to be suffering them by this time next year.”

Couling and Quince had been called to answer questions about evidence taken by the committee on the link between UC and an increase in “survival sex”, or sex in exchange for money to help meet claimants’ most basic needs.

Couling said the number of people receiving UC was now growing by 130,000 a month so the only way he could introduce changes would be by scheduling them “carefully”.

Quince added: “There’s not another week goes by that I don’t ask [Couling] for another change to UC and you see his head goes into his hands as I ask for another request.”

He added: “The system can only accommodate so many changes at one time.”

But George said: “Do you not understand that the actual claimants are the people whose heads are in their hands because they don’t see a way out of the situation?

I’m sorry, but that answer is not good enough.”

Couling replied: “Our absolute priority has to be the maintenance of the system.

There are currently now two million people on it and they depend on payments every month from that and I’m not prepared to take steps that will jeopardise that despite the fact that I would like to introduce these changes quicker than we can.”

13 June 2019

 

 

Archive launch will shine spotlight on impact of disabled people’s movement

The largest single archive of material detailing the birth, growth and impact of the disabled people’s movement in the UK over the last half-century will be launched in Manchester next week.

The GMCDP Archive consists of about 160 boxes of documents, books, photographs, posters, badges, magazines, newspaper cuttings, postcards, reports and even tee-shirts, some dating back to the late 1960s.

The project began 14 years ago when Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) conducted a feasibility study on setting up a national archive of documents and artefacts connected with the disabled people’s movement.

This led to “spontaneous” donations of material, both by disabled people and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), a flow of items which continues today.

That material has now found a home in Archives+, a purpose-built centre for archives and family history set within Manchester Central Library.

Most of it will gradually become open to the public, although permission from GMCDP will be needed to view some of the papers, while a few will remain confidential.

An archive of material from the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) – which played a hugely-significant role in the birth of the movement – will also be deposited with Archives+, alongside the GMCDP archive.

GMCDP said the UPIAS archive would be deposited due to the hard work and dedication of Tony Baldwinson, a long-time ally of the disabled people’s movement and husband of the late Lorraine Gradwell, a GMCDP co-founder.

As well as offering a permanent home for the artefacts, Archives+ has provided support with cataloguing and preserving the archive, working alongside Linda Marsh, GMCDP’s archive development worker.

But only a small part of the archive has been catalogued, and GMCDP is hoping to secure funding for further work.

Archives+ has estimated it will take a full-time worker 18 months to catalogue the entire archive.

Marsh said they had only “scratched the surface” of what was in the archive, with about 20 of 160 boxes of material summarised so far.

She said: “Even if it’s with unpaid volunteers, it will continue. The commitment is within GMCDP and Archives+ to push this forward.”

Part of the reason for the launch is to highlight the importance of archiving important material about the movement.

Marsh said: “It’s just making people aware that we need to preserve this history.

It’s so important. Every time somebody dies, we lose what’s in their head.

And quite often we lose the artefacts that they had as well. It’s not just papers, it’s the badges, tee-shirts, postcards, books. Anything that shows our history is really important.”

She added: “It’s important because, as disabled people, we have made such a significant impact on society in the last 30 years.

We recognise it ourselves in the movement, but it’s not as recognised in the mainstream as some other aspects of social change.

It’s just so important to preserve this for our own knowledge and our ability to see our own identity and where we have come from, particularly for disabled people in the future.”

She said the documents she has been most excited to uncover were hand-written planning notes for a rally in Manchester of the Disability Benefits Consortium in 1991, along with the parking permit for the van that was carrying the stage for the event.

She said: “It’s all well and good having photographs and postcards, they look really good, but what the archive has is the background detail.”

If there is one document she would like to find, it is something from a black disabled people’s organisation called Spectrum that she remembers from the 1990s.

She said: “There is such a lack of DPOs now that are specifically for black and minority ethnic people, it would be a shame if the knowledge of what went before was to go.”

Marsh is keen for disabled people and DPOs to donate or loan more material from the archive to GMCDP, or to identify an archive in their local area.

And she issued a plea to DPOs to look after their archive material and not throw it away.

She said: “Whatever your organisation is doing, whether it’s a protest or a letter to your MP or organising a lobby of MPs, don’t throw anything away.

If you’re storing it electronically, store it in at least two places, preferably three. Don’t think that things aren’t worth keeping.”

The launch on Wednesday (19 June) will include speeches from Judy Hunt, wife of the late Paul Hunt, UPIAS co-founder in the early 1970s; Martin Pagel, a GMCDP co-founder and former deputy leader of Manchester City Council; and Deaf actor and activist Ali Briggs, best-known for playing Freda in Coronation Street.

For more details of the launch, visit GMCDP’s website.

13 June 2019

 

 

Nursing regulator cleared more than 200 nurses over PIP and WCA complaints

A regulator failed to find a single nurse “not fit to practise” despite more than 220 complaints about face-to-face disability benefit assessments carried out for government contractors, its own figures have revealed.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) figures show it dealt with 224 complaints about the way nurses carried out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments and work capability assessments (WCAs) in 2016 and 2017.

But not one of those complaints led to the regulator concluding the assessor was not fit to continue to work as a nurse.

In 2016, of 88 complaints dealt with, 87 were closed in the initial “screening” process and one nurse was found to have “no case to answer”.

The following year, of 136 complaints, 129 were closed in screening, four nurses were found to have no case to answer, while one led to the conclusion that the nurse’s fitness to practise was not impaired, and two complaints had not been concluded.

Only two months ago, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) said it had found widespread mishandling by NMC of complaints it had received about the way nurses had carried out PIP assessments.

PSA found a string of failings, including a refusal to consider all the concerns raised by complainants.

It also found that NMC relied on the findings of government PIP contractors Atos and Capita to justify closing cases about their employees, and failed to consider crucial documentary evidence, often ignoring the evidence of the person who had lodged the complaint, and failing to ask them for further information.

NMC also told some complainants that the role of PIP assessor was not relevant to the nurse’s fitness to practise, unless it involved dishonesty.

The new figures suggest NMC’s problems extend to complaints about nurses who have carried out WCAs on behalf of the government contractor Maximus.

Disability News Service (DNS) spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.

It continues to receive such reports today, more than two-and-a-half years after the investigation began.

NMC released the new figures under the Freedom of Information Act to Andrew Hill, from Norfolk, who has himself lodged a complaint with the regulator about the nurse who carried out his face-to-face PIP assessment in 2017 on behalf of Capita.

An appeal tribunal found the nurse had been “unreliable” and that her “incorrect and inaccurate findings” about his mental health condition contributed to him having his benefits cut.

Hill has diabetes, and has had one leg amputated, and has further serious diabetes-related impairments which are “fluctuating and unreliable” and have left him with significant support needs.

He had asked for a reassessment of his PIP because his health had deteriorated and he had lost his partner and carer.

But the nurse’s assessment instead led to him losing his PIP enhanced rate of mobility, as well as points on his daily living component – for which he had previously been granted the standard rate.

A subsequent mandatory reconsideration of its initial decision by the Department for Work and Pensions restored him to the enhanced mobility rate of PIP but left his daily living component unaffected.

An appeal tribunal last July allowed his appeal and confirmed his enhanced rate of mobility as well as awarding him the enhanced rate of PIP daily living for the first time.

Meanwhile, he has lodged a complaint with Capita and the NMC about the nurse who assessed him.

NMC is still investigating his complaint. Capita has not yet ruled on his complaint against the nurse.

Matthew McClelland, NMC’s director of fitness to practise, said: “After the PSA published its report, we acknowledged that our approach to PIP-related cases fell short of what is expected. We didn’t get things right and I am sorry for that.

Since 2018, we have taken action to address these concerns. We have reviewed our processes, improved our quality checks, and enhanced management oversight of cases.”

DNS has now asked for NMC’s 2018 figures through a freedom of information request.

13 June 2019

 

 

Bus company’s ‘indefensible’ failure over wheelchair spaces

A bus and tram company has been criticised for an “indefensible and shocking” failure to comply with a high-profile Supreme Court victory on the rights of wheelchair-users to use buses.

Blackpool Transport has now been forced to back down after being challenged about information on its website that describes the company’s policy on access to the wheelchair spaces on its buses.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that another bus company had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces.

It was the first case of disability discrimination in service provision to be heard by the country’s highest court, and the victory followed a five-year legal battle by accessible transport activist Doug Paulley.

But Paulley pointed out last week that Blackpool Transport’s accessibility information page also suggested it had a “first come, first served” policy.

The company says on its website: “Some of our buses have space for only one wheelchair user or one pushchair however much of the new fleet is designed to have space for a wheelchair user and a pushchair.

Neither wheelchair users or pushchair users have priority over the other.”

Paulley said this was “indefensible and shocking” and he was backed up by Chris Fry, of Fry Law, the solicitor who represented him throughout his legal battle, who said on Twitter that “wheelchair users DO have priority over pushchairs” and added: “Drivers should do all possible to remove people from the space apart from throw them off.”

Stephen Brookes, the minister for disabled people’s rail sector champion for disability, a former non-executive director of Blackpool Transport, also criticised the company.

He stressed that he was speaking for himself, as a disabled user of public transport, and not on behalf of the government.

But he said: “The Blackpool Transport website written policy is not appropriate and needs rewriting to take into account wheelchair requirements on buses, which should be in line with national aims, and more importantly in line with the actual operational signage on the company’s buses.

It is sad that the work of several disabled people and groups in face-to-face training and awareness-raising, leading to successful outcomes, has been put at odds by incorrectly written website ‘policy’.” 

Brookes insisted that bus drivers and other staff in Blackpool were “really on the ball” on access issues and that he believed the problem was with the written document on the company’s website and not the situation on the ground.

Jane Cole, managing director of Blackpool Transport, told Disability News Service that the wording of the information on the company’s website would be changed.

But she claimed the current wording was just “misleading” rather than wrong and that the problem was only with “the way it was worded”.

She claimed the company’s policy had always been that wheelchair-users have priority use of the spaces.

She accepted that the website should make it clear that wheelchair spaces are “a priority for wheelchair-users”, and she said that the wording would be changed “quite soon”.

Following the 2017 Supreme Court ruling, the Department for Transport (DfT) set up a group of advisers, who produced recommendations for action.

DfT welcomed the recommendations “in principle” in March 2018 and announced a further consultation with “a view to bringing forward a package of measures” later in 2018.

But 15 months later, it has still not produced those measures.

A DfT spokesperson said more information on the measures would be released “in due course”.

She said: “We want everyone to be able to use our bus network, and expect operators to comply with relevant legislation.”

But she said it would be “inappropriate” for the government to comment on the policies of individual operators.

She said that 98 per cent of buses in Britain now had a wheelchair space, a boarding ramp or lift and other access features, but “we know there is more to do, which is why our Inclusive Transport Strategy sets out plans to make the entire transport network accessible by 2030”.

13 June 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:56
Jun 112019
 

Disabled children v Secretary of State for Education and Chancellor of the Exchequer

Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) will be attending this important court case on Wednesday 26th and Thursday 27th June. Put it in your diaries – come and join us from 9am onwards and show your support for disabled children and their families as they fight for proper support.

If you would like an opportunity to speak outside the court case, do join us between 12.00 noon – 1.30 pm on Wednesday or between 9.00 am – 10.30 am on Thursday.

Alternatively you can email or send us a statement that we can read out.

For further information about the court hearing – follow the web-link : https://www.allfie.org.uk/news/blog/disabled-children-v-secretary-of-state-for-education-and-chancellor-of-the-exchequer/

Do let us know Simone Aspis simone.aspis@allfie.org.uk

 Posted by at 21:36
Jun 092019
 

National DPAC fully support the statement below from our Berkshire DPAC Group.

Berkshire DPAC wish to register our strongest condemnation of Mr. Lee Harpin’s articles in the Jewish Chronicle, in which he uses screenshots taken from a private group without the group’s consent from our Facebook page to throw utterly false accusations of anti-semitism at Nada Foster and Helen Caney. BDPAC’s members are fully committed to tackling all forms of oppression wherever it appears.

In DPAC, we do not target criticism at policies or MPs from only selected parties; since ALL disabled people have been horrendously impoverished and isolated by austerity measures, we will criticise anyone who has supported these measures or failed to oppose them. And we will continue to do so.

 Posted by at 15:52
Jun 092019
 

[Text by Fuel Poverty Action, with thanks]

With the second anniversary approaching, two events – the Silent Walk on 14 June and a Solidarity March on 15 June –  will demonstrate that the 72 people who died in the Grenfell fire, and the survivors still fighting for justice, are very far from forgotten.  Please see details at the bottom of this email, and try to be there!

And please sign the petition from Grenfell United, pressing for an effective regulator for social housing, that will hold housing providers to account.  

 

It is time also for an update from SCIN – the Safe Cladding and Insulation Now campaign:

 

The Parliamentary debate on Grenfell  on 6 June was opened by Emma Dent Coad with a powerful indictment of the appalling and often racist treatment faced by the Grenfell community. 128 households are still homeless, and one active member of the community is is now being held in prison over the anniversary, while none of those responsible for the deaths of so many has so far faced arrest.  

 

This debate that followed provides a useful resource for those concerned about the remaining danger to UK residents   

 

It cites an estimate that the homes of 60,000 people are still clad in flammable materials.  Hundreds of blocks are in the ACM cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower, with only a “waking watch” of workers patrolling the floors for signs of fire, intended to alert them to disaster.  Waking watches, moreover, have often been found to be untrained and inadequate, as well as extremely expensive for leaseholders or social landlords.  Residents have told FPA that too often watchmen do not walk the floors, and some whistle-blowing personnel themselves have told us that they cannot offer safety, or that they are not even properly equipped.  In many cases the private firms contracted for this key role have had to be sacked and replaced.

 

The majority of tower blocks still clad in ACM are now in the private sector, where leaseholders organised in UK Cladding Action Group have only just now won a government promise of £200 million for remediation.  Just a year ago, the £400 million for social housing was announced right before the first anniversary, and shortly after we’d launched our Open Letter to the government about it – we had to redraft and recirculate a new version.  Similarly, UKCAG’s Open Letter was immediately made out of date by a government announcement.  Their campaigning has been startlingly effective, but many questions remain about the level of funding and how and when it will be accessed.  In the meantime, Housing Minister Kit Malthouse said in the debate that the government have allocated just £259 million of the £400 million announced for social housing, and they are not anticipating any further claims.

 

While many people think that social housing cladding is sorted now, this is far from being the case.  The Building Safety Programme Monthly Data Release reports good progress, but many tenants have been left behind.  See this shocking account by a resident of one of nine Pendleton Together tower blocks in Salford. Here, tenants who are attempting to organise about dangers that closely mirror those at Grenfell Tower have been subject to threats and intimidation – just as Grenfell residents were.  

 

Moreover, while Grenfell-style ACM cladding has been removed from many blocks, the government has delayed, and delayed again, the necessary tests on other kinds of potentially combustible cladding — results were due in the autumn, then in the spring, and now “by summer”.  It has been estimated that there are 1,600 properties — both social housing and private — on which the material is not ACM, but could be as dangerous.  Yet these homes are not even being identified.

 

The 6th June debate helped highlight this issue but much more pressure is needed.  Equally important is the issue of buildings below 18 M (6 storeys) high, including not only public and private blocks of flats but schools, old people’s homes, and hospitals.  The plight of lower buildings is finally beginning to attract more support. (We are trying to get breakdowns of statistics on this and non-ACM cladding through a Parliamentary Question.)

 

The debate also highlighted the need not only for remediation — and sprinklers, and an end to single-staircase blocks — but wholesale change in the way the construction industry is regulated and monitored.  

 

However, another key question was not mentioned in this debate: the danger residents have from cold and damp when cladding has been removed, but not yet replaced — a situation that can go on for months.  FPA has been highlighting this nightmare for over a year now.  Together with Tower Blocks UK and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) we wrote directly to housing associations and local authorities before Christmas to ask for their policies (See Inside Housing report here or here).  

 

Some have responded with a promise that if cold proves to be a problem, they will compensate residents and ensure that they can keep warm.  Yet few so far seem to have done this.  Camden is one example. Others have provided inadequate amounts eg £15/week in Barnet where the extra costs far exceeded this figure, or have paid compensation into rent accounts, where it can be swallowed up by arrears.  Others, like Westminster, decided there was no need for compensation because residents’ bills did not reflect a major increase when cladding was off — ignoring the fact that many people simply cannot afford to risk keeping the heat on in the hope that their bill will be covered.  Salford residents too have been told they must offer proof. As demanded in our original Open Letter to the Minister, safe heaters should also be provided to residents, so they don’t have to go out and buy the cheapest — and possibly least safe — from the local second hand shop.  

 

Since there are still so many more buildings with combustible cladding — buildings of different purposes and heights and different kinds of materials as well as different tenures — and since progress is painfully, unacceptably slow, this crisis looks like continuing for a long time to come.  Some landlords have delayed the removal of cladding until after the winter — putting residents in a painful Catch 22. The best solution is clearly for cladding to come off and go  on again immediately.  Some social landlords have achieved this, eg in Islington, and two years on from the fire excuses like delays in the supply chain are now wearing thin.  Some, as in Wandsworth, have even taken cladding off and replaced it floor by floor – necessitated in this case because it was attached to the windows.

 

But some tenants wait for months to have cladding replaced, only to have removal scheduled just when it’s getting cold.  And many social landlords did not bother to even reply to our letter. They need reminding that each year nearly 10,000 people in the UK die when they cannot afford to heat their homes.

 

Pressure also needs to be increased to meet residents’ demands on the toxicity found in a wide area around Grenfell Tower — and to ensure that cladding and insulation applied in future is truly safe – which means non-combustible, and non-toxic.  

 

In the meantime, and most urgently, please show your support for the Grenfell survivors and community on 14 and 15 June.  

 

Friday 14 June:

See https://www.facebook.com/pg/GrenfellSilentWalk/posts/You are invited: An evening of remembrance on the 2nd anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire. 6.15pm Wreath Laying at the Tower 7pm Multi Faith Vigil 7.45pm Silent Walk To Join us please head to Silchester Road, W11. Wear something green.

—————————

Sat 15 June, 12 noon:

See https://justice4grenfell.org/

 

Assemble: Portland Place, London W1A1AA Oxford Circus

Two years on…Still no justice! Solidarity March

Hosted by Justice4Grenfell and Grenfell Trust

 Posted by at 15:25
Jun 062019
 

 

Abrahams asks watchdog to investigate DWP benefit deaths cover-up

An MP has asked the equality and human rights watchdog to investigate why ministers hid documents from their own independent reviewer when they knew the information would link their “fitness for work” test to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, a former shadow work and pensions secretary, has told the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) of her “grave concerns” about how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) investigates deaths linked to DWP activity.

In a letter sent this week to EHRC’s chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, she explains her concerns that DWP failed to send crucial evidence about deaths linked to the work capability assessment (WCA) to the independent expert ministers had commissioned to review the test.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last month that DWP had finally admitted that two letters written by coroners, and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants who had gone through the WCA process, were hidden from Dr Paul Litchfield.

Since DNS revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that DWP deliberately covered-up evidence showing the fatal impact of the assessment on many disabled people.

In her letter, Abrahams also says she is “extremely concerned” about the lack of official scrutiny of the treatment of disabled people by DWP and its private sector contractors, Maximus, Capita and Atos, which carry out the assessments.

She says: “As you will be aware, there are a large number of social security claimants who have died after being found fit for work or having their PIP [personal independence payment] refused or reduced.”

Abrahams asks Hilsenrath to launch an investigation into deaths linked to the WCA and PIP assessment processes.

She also raises concerns about DWP’s failure to tell her how many secret internal reviews have been carried out into claimant deaths over the last four years, and provide statistics showing how many claimants died shortly after being found fit for work or having their PIP claims refused or their payments reduced.

She tells Hilsenrath: “I am particularly concerned that disabled people are being specifically discriminated against by the Government-commissioned assessments for Employment and Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit.”

Abrahams, the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, has previously backed calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the government’s social security reforms, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by ministers and senior civil servants to be passed to the police, two of the key demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition*.

An EHRC spokesperson said: “We have received the letter from Debbie Abrahams and we are assessing it.”

DWP insists that it “co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team” and has told DNS that it “was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to”.

But DWP has been unable to explain how Litchfield’s team could have requested information – the secret peer reviews and coroners’ letters – if they did not know they existed.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

6 June 2019

 

 

Two government departments ‘are breaking the law over PIP recording failure’

Two government departments are breaching equality laws and their human rights obligations by failing to ensure that disabled people can record their face-to-face benefit assessments and appeal tribunals, legal researchers have concluded.

They say the delay by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in ensuring that all disabled people can record their assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) is causing them “significant and predictable harm”.

And they say the failure of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to ensure that all PIP appeal tribunals can be recorded is also causing “significant and predictable harm” to disabled people.

MoJ’s failure to assess or even acknowledge the harm caused by the absence of recording equipment at many tribunal venues means its actions are unlawful, say researchers from the International Disability Law Clinic (IDLC) at the University of Leeds.

They say both DWP and MoJ are breaching the Equality Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Convention on Human Rights.

And they say the government’s policies are unjustified and have an “adverse impact” on disabled people.

An IDLC report says there is “widespread and well-documented evidence of dissatisfaction” with the PIP assessment process.

It points out that many disabled claimants cannot take their own notes at their assessments or appeal tribunals and so – unless the government takes steps to compensate for this – their right to justice is “undermined”.

IDLC’s research has been carried out by undergraduate and postgraduate researchers working with members of the academic team at the university’s School of Law.

PIP assessments can be recorded, but only at the claimant’s expense, using expensive equipment capable of making two identical copies on audio cassette or CD, while the claimant must also sign an agreement about how the recording will be used.

DWP agreed last year to pilot video-recording of PIP assessments, but the report says that, despite this pledge, “the recording of each PIP assessment is still not part of the process”.

The report, For The Record, adds: “The current regime is clearly inappropriate and ineffective: requiring disabled persons to fund their own equipment is impractical and unaffordable for many claimants.”

And it says its researchers have been “unable to identify any evidence that the [DWP and MoJ have] sought to assess the impact of these policies”.

Earlier this year, the law clinic published research based on freedom of information responses that showed that of 161 social security tribunal venues in England, Wales and Scotland, only 91 had recording equipment. 

The cost of installing recording equipment in a single tribunal venue is about £1,000 and the annual maintenance cost is about £15, says the report.

Daniel Burden, head of public affairs for the Spinal Injuries Association, said: “With so many appeals against eligibility decisions for PIP, the ability to record assessments is essential for those people who cannot keep their own accurate notes.

The fact that the two departments concerned in this research have either delayed honouring their commitments or failed to acknowledge the harm that they are causing demonstrates the lack of seriousness with which they are addressing the issue.

Government ministries must face up to both their domestic and international legal obligations to meet the needs of disabled people.”

In response to the report, a DWP spokesperson said: “We take fulfilling our legal obligations seriously and do not consider the current process is unlawful.

Claimants are already able to audio record their assessment if they want to and, as part of our commitment to improving trust in the assessment process, we are undertaking a video recording trial.

There has not been a delay to the video recording trial. We will announce the next steps in due course.”

An HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) spokesperson said: “We already ask disabled users to tell us if they have any particular requirements for the hearing and will consider any request for a reasonable adjustment so that they can participate.

We are looking at increasing the number of tribunals with recording facilities as part of our wider £1 billion reform programme.”

Another HMCTS spokesperson said that “each request for reasonable adjustments will be dealt with individually as is appropriate so we cannot give a blanket answer for what will happen that covers all scenarios”.

But he refused to say why so few tribunal centres had the capacity to record hearings, including none in London; and why no equality impact assessment appears to have been carried out on the failure to provide this equipment.

He also refused to say if HMCTS accepted that it had discriminated against disabled people under the Equality Act and breached the UN disability convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.

6 June 2019

 

 

Inquiry encourages Deaf survivors to share childhood sexual abuse experiences

Deaf survivors of sexual abuse are being encouraged to share their childhood experiences as part of a major independent inquiry.

The Truth Project, one of the three parts of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, this week launched new measures to make it easier for d/Deaf people who were sexually abused as children to come forward and tell their stories.

The project, which allows survivors to share their experiences in writing, on the telephone or in person, has announced a partnership with the charity SignHealth that will make the process more accessible to d/Deaf people.

More than 3,000 people have already taken part in the Truth Project, launched in 2015 as part of the inquiry into how institutions and organisations have failed to protect children in England and Wales from sexual abuse.

Those taking part in The Truth Project “are listened to without judgement or challenge” and their accounts will help the inquiry make its recommendations to government and other organisations on how to improve child protection across England and Wales.

The Truth Project is now partnering with the charity SignHealth, which will provide information and support for d/Deaf survivors through WhatsApp, text messages, video calls and email.

There are also BSL videos and other information on the inquiry’s website.

Those who want to share their experiences of childhood sexual abuse can attend a free private session with Deaf facilitators at any of the inquiry’s offices, with their transport costs paid for.

Jackie Driver, SignHealth’s chair, said: “This new, confidential service offers direct communication and support in British Sign Language on a sensitive subject that can affect anyone, regardless of their background.

As a national charity, with more than 30 years’ experience of improving the mental health of Deaf people, we know that communication barriers and a lack of Deaf awareness often prevent Deaf people from having a voice.

Today, we break down those barriers for any Deaf adult who may have experienced sexual abuse as a child. 

Today, we enable and empower Deaf adults to come forward in a safe and supported environment to tell their Truth.”

Among those who have already come forward is Peter*, who has described how he was sexually abused by a housemaster at a boarding school for d/Deaf children.

The abuse continued for years until another boy told a member of staff what was happening, and the housemaster was arrested, convicted and jailed.

Peter told the Truth Project that he believes the school “brushed the abuse that went on under the carpet”, and he added: “They wouldn’t accept there was anything wrong and the reputation of the school was more important.”

Veronica*, who is Deaf, was placed in a children’s home run by nuns, after her father died and her mother became terminally ill.

No-one in the home could sign, and Veronica was sexually and physically abused by one of the nuns.

Many years later, seeing reports of the Jimmy Savile case caused her to experience flashbacks to her childhood, and she sought help from a psychotherapist, and then reported the abuse to the police.

Eventually they tracked down the nun who had abused her, who was by now in her 90s and insisted that she had never met or known a Deaf child, even though Veronica showed the police a picture of the two of them together. The case was closed.

Although she has now met with representatives of the Catholic diocese’s child protection unit, she was unhappy with how they treated her.

She told the Truth Project that she believes there have been clear failures by the Church, and a cover-up, and she would like someone to apologise for what was done to her and to acknowledge that it was wrong.

She particularly wants to see communication barriers removed for d/Deaf children and adults.

The inquiry has already launched an investigation into residential schools, including residential special schools, with two weeks of public hearings scheduled for September and October.

The chair, Professor Alexis Jay, and her panel have said they “consider it necessary to consider in some detail the residential special school sector”.

The inquiry said last year [PDF]: “Some children with special educational needs are in residential special schools for 52 weeks of the year and have little contact with their families/their community.

Some children are unable to tell people about abuse due to sensory impairments or learning difficulties; others have behavioural problems which can obscure signs of abuse and which can act as a barrier to being believed.”

The inquiry will take evidence from 10 residential special schools across England, although it says that evidence from some of these schools “will focus on the measures they currently have in place for protecting children from child sexual abuse, including peer on peer abuse, rather than evidence of failures to protect children”.

To share your experience with the Truth Project, visit www.iicsa.org.uk/victims-and-survivors/services-deaf-users or email contact@iicsa.org.uk

*Not their real names

6 June 2019

 

 

Jodey Whiting: Mum to demand truth from DWP in face-to-face meeting

The mother of a disabled woman who took her own life after repeated safeguarding failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to demand the truth about her daughter’s death in a meeting with a senior civil servant.

Emma Haddad, DWP’s director general for service excellence, will travel to Teesside on Monday (10 June) to apologise in person to Joy Dove for the government’s failings in the case of her daughter, Jodey Whiting.

The meeting, which will also be attended by Colin Stewart, DWP’s work and health director for the north of England, will take place in the offices of Dove’s MP, Dr Paul Williams.

Haddad said, in a letter confirming the meeting, that they wanted to hear “personally” from Dove and explain “what happened with Jodey’s claim and changes we have put in place as a result of the lessons we have learned”.

Dove said: “They say they want to speak to me, to hear what I think about it all.

It will never bring my daughter back. I don’t want apologies, I just want the truth.

It’s their fault she’s in the ground and they shouldn’t have done that to her.”

She said she hoped the meeting would help “change the system for good”.

The number of people who have signed a petition in her daughter’s name, calling for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police, has passed 41,000.

But that is less than halfway to the target of 100,000 needed to secure a House of Commons debate on the petition.

The petition also calls for recognition that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for urgent changes by DWP to make the safety of all social security claimants a priority.

Dove is hoping to ask Haddad at the meeting about DWP’s admission that it failed to pass documents linking the work capability assessment (WCA) with the deaths of benefit claimants from the expert ministers commissioned to review the test (see separate story).

Following intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), DWP has admitted that two letters written by coroners – and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants who went through the assessment – were hidden from the team set up to review the WCA in 2013 and 2014.

Dove’s legal team are also planning to push for a second inquest, which they hope would force a public examination of the DWP failings that contributed to Jodey Whiting taking her own life in February 2017.

None of these failings were discussed at the original inquest, although the Independent Case Examiner later concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case, and failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading to her suicide.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

6 June 2019

 

 

Manchester council leader snubs Peterloo memorial protesters

The leader of Manchester City Council (MCC) has been bombarded with emails from disabled people and their allies over his plans to push ahead with a “discriminatory” memorial to victims of the Peterloo massacre.

Many of them told Labour’s Sir Richard Leese that they were “angry and shocked” that a memorial designed to remember those who marched for liberty and equality should be “designed and built with discrimination and inequality at its heart”.

The council has told Disability News Service (DNS) it is unlikely that any “fundamental changes” will be made to the memorial, which is due to be unveiled to the public on 16 August, the 200th anniversary of the massacre.

But in a further sign of Leese’s dismissal of the concerns, he has refused to comment personally on the emails, and has even refused to provide an estimate of how many he has received.

Meanwhile, disabled people and their allies are set to protest this evening (Thursday) at the site of the memorial, outside the Manchester Central Convention Centre.

The council-funded memorial will be a series of concentric circles, with members of the public encouraged to climb the steps to a flat top.

It will be completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though it has been designed by artist Jeremy Deller to allow it to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819.

On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful, pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries.

Deller himself has said he wants people “to be able to sit on it and have their lunch”, while the council’s own access statement said: “The artist’s intention is that the memorial will become the meeting point for the annual gathering of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign, as well as for other events related to the issue of human rights around the world.

At these events, people will stand on it and around it.”

Deller said last week that he hoped that “once the memorial is built there might be a way to adapt it for wheelchairs”, but by noon today (Thursday) he had failed to comment on the council’s position that it was probably too late for further major changes.

Although some changes have been made as a result of concerns about access, including the addition of a handrail, it appears that wheelchair-users will still only be able to reach the height of the lowest of the circles via a ramp.

The Peterloo Memorial Campaign, which campaigned for years for a memorial to be built, has said that disabled people are “right to be frustrated and angry about the lack of access to the monument”, which “has been designed as a platform for speakers and demonstrators”.

Among those who sent letters to Leese was the disabled artist-activist Liz Crow, who told him she was “heartbroken” at his council’s decision to continue with its plans despite knowing that the memorial would be inaccessible to many residents and visitors.

She told him: “I am so shocked that this could ever have been allowed to get to this point, but to find that – even now you are fully aware of the discrimination inherent in these plans – you are going ahead regardless beggars belief.”

She called on him to halt the project immediately and “re-work the proposal to ensure that it is a memorial to democracy and not to MCC’s ineptitude and hypocrisy”.

Tony Baldwinson, who worked for the council for more than 10 years from 1991, appealed to Leese to admit he had made a mistake, and told him: “It is totally designed to be ascended, and disabled people would be excluded from a monument to democracy.”

Many of the others who wrote to Leese told him the memorial was “a fine example of inequality and discrimination embedded in design” and was set to be “a glaring metaphor for inequality and segregation” and an “act of exclusion that denies disabled people a voice, a blatant act of discrimination”.

One campaigner, Jane Angel, asked Leese in her email: “How did this happen in this day and age?  

A brand new memorial, in development for years, and we are building something that is not accessible to people to whom steps are a barrier.”

Another, Joan Rutherford, who campaigns for an inclusive built environment, told Leese in her email: “Manchester has waited 200 years for a fitting memorial to this appalling massacre. 

The requirements for the memorial were that it should be Respectful, Informative and Permanent (RIP).

In my view this design is not inclusive and therefore is not respectful.

If the monument is built as designed it will be an opportunity lost to celebrate and truly promote the aspiration for which people gave their lives… Equality.”

A council spokesperson said Leese had been “made aware” of questions from DNS about the emails.

The spokesperson said in a statement on behalf of the council, rather than Leese himself: “Our position remains that we have made significant changes to the original design of this public artwork to improve accessibility and that, while the memorial is not intended to be viewed exclusively from the top, the elements which provide information about Peterloo are all accessible. 

It is a misunderstanding of this memorial artwork to suggest that its sole or even primary purposes involves ascending it and that it cannot be properly viewed, appreciated or engaged with otherwise.

While we totally respect the views of those who disagree and we are keen to continue constructive dialogue with them, it should be remembered that this is a memorial piece of art rather than a building or similar structure and is being created both in time for the 200th anniversary of Peterloo this summer and within the limitations of the site, the only one available within the St Peter’s Field area where the tragic events of 1819 took place.”

6 June 2019

 

 

DWP defends first Work and Health Programme job figures

Only about one in five of the disabled and other unemployed people receiving support from the government’s new work programme have so far secured a “job outcome”, according to official statistics.

It is the first time the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released figures showing how successful its new Work and Health Programme (WHP) has been in securing paid jobs for disabled people and others seeking work.

But the figures show that, for the 1,360 people who began to receive support through the programme in January 2018, after 13 months only 270 of them (or 19.9 per cent) had secured a job outcome (defined in most areas as 16 hours per week for 26 weeks at minimum wage, or six months in self-employment).

Of the 2,840 people who started in February 2018, 470 have a job outcome after 12 months’ support (16.6 per cent).

Despite the release of the “job outcome” statistics, the publication does not show how many disabled people have secured work through the programme.

Under the Work and Health Programme, people are referred by jobcentres to receive support from organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors, which are paid extra when that person achieves a job outcome.

About four-fifths of those receiving support through the programme have been disabled people, since its roll-out across England and Wales began in November 2017.

The other groups receiving support are those who are long-term unemployed – the only participants whose involvement is mandatory – and those DWP calls the “early access” group, which includes care leavers, carers, refugees, homeless people, survivors of domestic violence and ex-members of the armed services.

In all, there have been 51,490 starts on the programme, with 3,140 job outcomes (a proportion of just 6.1 per cent), although this will rise as many participants have not been on the programme long enough to qualify as a successful employment outcome.

Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy adviser for Disability Rights UK, said the job outcome rate did not appear to be “a notable success”.

He added: “Given that the WHP is only accessible by three groups of claimants – the ‘disability group’, the ‘long-term unemployed group’ and the ‘early access group’ – it would seem daft for the DWP not to monitor how many from each group achieve job outcomes.

How else will it be able to see how well the WHP is performing for any or all of these groups?”

The Work and Health Programme is part of the government’s Improving Lives work, health and disability strategy, which has been criticised for its “cruel and disastrous” emphasis on “work as a cure”, the placement of employment advisers in health services, and the continued use of benefit sanctions to “punish” disabled claimants.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our Work and Health Programme is part of our wider commitment to ensuring every disabled person who wants to work can do so.

The Work and Health Programme is targeted at individuals who face significant barriers to gaining employment – and need longer-term support – and therefore it is not surprising that at this stage in the programme the numbers achieving a job outcome are low. 

Those starting the Work and Health Programme more recently have had a shorter time to achieve a job outcome and therefore it is not meaningful to divide job outcomes by the number of starts.

For example, the cohort of starts from December 2017 have only completed 14 of a possible 21 months of the programme.

As we investigate and quality assure our data we will release further breakdowns of our statistics where possible.”

6 June 2019

 

 

Appeal to hundreds across Wales to seek independent assessments of support needs

A disabled campaigner is encouraging hundreds of recipients of support through the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme to consider taking up the government’s offer of an independent re-assessment of their care package.

The Welsh government announced in February that it was pausing the closure of the WILG scheme – and its replacement with a system of council-funded support – following a campaign by disabled activists and allies.

Julie Morgan, the Welsh government’s deputy minister for health and social services, then wrote last month to all WILG recipients to tell them they could ask for a reassessment of their care package if they were unhappy with the outcome of their local authority’s assessment of their post-WILG needs or if that assessment had not yet taken place.

And she assured them that the Welsh government would pay for the independent assessment and any extra care and support they might need as a result.

Morgan has now written to Nathan Lee Davies, the WILG recipient who led the campaign to halt the closure of the scheme, updating him on the government’s progress.

She told him that only 26 WILG recipients had so far requested a re-assessment, across 10 local authorities.

Morgan said in her letter: “It is important that those people who wish to have an independent assessment are able to access it, but this is also in the context of the large number of people who we know are content with their new arrangements.”

Davies believes about 1,300 disabled people are eligible for a re-assessment, and fears that many WILG recipients are being held back from requesting a re-assessment.

He is now calling on all those WILG recipients who are not happy with their care and support package to ask for an independent assessment.

Davies, who has himself requested an independent assessment, said: “I started this campaign four years ago, after a social worker warned me that without the WILG my hours of support would be reduced from 86.5 hours a week to just 31 hours per week.

I would be unable to maintain any quality of life without a substantial increase in my support and any reduction would leave me struggling to exist rather than living the life that I choose. 

The use of an independent social worker allows me to be assessed purely on my physical and mental needs.

I feel that social workers from local authorities are under pressure from their managers to reduce costs, whatever the consequences.

Assessments are therefore skewed from the outset and I fear that a number of WILG recipients are not receiving the support they deserve. 

Let’s not forget that all WILG recipients are disabled people with high support needs.

This means that many of us need a strong network of people around them to give them the confidence to press for improvements.

The fact that only 26 people have asked for a reassessment suggests that many WILG recipients are being held back by a combination of inertia, lack of support and advice and a sense of ‘better the devil you know’. 

I feel that an independent service will provide people with disabilities with greater security for the future.”

He added: “The government have listened to campaigners, reviewed the evidence and acted accordingly to ensure people get the support they deserve to live independently within their local communities.

WILG recipients and their families need to investigate the opportunity that is in front of them to help ensure they have piece of mind for the long term future.”

WILG was set up – with UK government funding – as an interim scheme following the UK government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in June 2015.

The Welsh government is now closing WILG for good and transferring the funding to local councils, and by April the 22 local authorities were due to be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

But Morgan announced the “change in direction” in February because a government review had shown a significant variation in how support packages were being cut by different councils.

6 June 2019

 

 

EHRC has become ‘more muscular’ on Equality Act enforcement, says chair

The equality watchdog has improved its performance in enforcing anti-discrimination laws and has become a “more muscular” regulator, it has told MPs.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said yesterday (Wednesday) that it had doubled the use of its formal legal powers over the last three years, despite a “backdrop of cuts”.

But it was also forced to defend its own performance as an employer, after one Conservative MP criticised its “lamentable record” on workplace discrimination.

EHRC’s chief executive, chair and legal director were giving evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee as part of its inquiry into EHRC and the enforcement of the Equality Act.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC’s chief executive, highlighted last year’s Supreme Court victory for Gary Smith, a disabled man who won the right to protection under the Equality Act for himself and many others working in the “gig economy” after taking a high-profile case – funded by the commission – against Pimlico Plumbers.

She said EHRC was successful in 83 per cent of “strategic” cases that were taken by EHRC through the court of appeal and Supreme Court, and that it also had two investigations and three inquiries underway, most of which would be completed by the end of the year.

But she said: “We completely acknowledge that we haven’t been as effective in the past as we are now.”

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, told the committee that the watchdog was doing more “pre-enforcement” work, such as sending “threatening” letters to organisations it believed were breaching the Equality Act.

He said: “We’ve made huge progress in using our legal powers but actually we’ll be using them even more and I think you’ll see even more change and even more impact.”

Asked why the commission had not made more use of its formal enforcement powers, Isaac said later: “We’re not yet as muscular as I would like us to be but I think we’re more muscular than we were… enforcement is a major part of what we do but it’s not the only part.”

He said EHRC could do more work to enforce the Equality Act if it was given more resources through the government’s forthcoming spending review.

He added: “Like other regulators, we use the stick and the carrot, but I think we’re using the stick more than ever.”

But Tory MP Philip Davies said EHRC’s own record on workplace discrimination was “lamentable”.

He pointed to information sent to the committee by the commission which detailed cases of discrimination against EHRC staff since 2010 that had been settled, upheld or partially upheld, several of which had involved disability discrimination, although he accepted some of these were before Isaac became chair and Hilsenrath became chief executive.

He said: “That’s not making it as easy as possible for people to pursue their complaint, is it, forcing them to go to an employment tribunal, before you acknowledge that something went wrong and settle the case?”

He suggested this was not the kind of behaviour expected of a “best practice organisation” that was regulating other employers.

Isaac said recent cases were brought as a result of two EHRC reorganisations and that he was “confident we treated those people well” and “didn’t make it difficult for them to bring those claims”.

He told Davies: “Many of the matters you’ve referred to are very historical.

On our watch, there were two reorganisations introduced as a result of cuts and us endeavouring to streamline the organisation to be more impactful.

We can’t legislate for how our staff respond to those particular situations and they do unfortunately make assertions, and have made assertions, as part of the claims that they have brought.

I’m not saying they weren’t valid… I’m confident that we have raised our game and that those are historical matters.”

6 June 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:18
Jun 052019
 

In the light of recent increased publicity for asylum seekers to have the ‘right to work’ #lifttheban we are reposting this.

The ‘Right to work’ in the context of #’DWPcrimes

Campaigns for the ‘right to work’ must be treated with caution in the context of #dwpcrimes. A recent letter posted on twitter by #corecities calling for asylum seekers to have the ‘right to work’, argued it would be ‘good for the Treasury, saving money on welfare payments to people who could earn their way’. Surely this cannot be a campaign goal.

Of course the ‘right to work’ would be great for any asylum seekers currently prevented from taking non-exploitative jobs. However, we cannot forget that citizens with the ‘right to work’ are dying when the right becomes an obligation and benefits are stopped #dwpcrimes. This is particularly the case for disabled people. Do we really think asylum seekers would be treated better?


[The following was originally posted on this website as “DPAC Submission to Permanent Peoples Tribunal on migration, London, 2018.“]

It is of course extremely important to challenge the exploitation of migrants and refugees in all contexts. However, using evidence from work with disabled asylum seekers, we suggest that campaigns for the ‘right to work’ need to be treated with caution for a number of reasons:

  1. Campaigns for the ‘right’ to work should not ignore the barriers to finding and being offered work which is achievable, non-exploitative and worthwhile. We need only look at the experiences of Disabled citizens and people on benefits, to predict that the ‘right’ would soon become an obligation irrespective of the barriers that are faced.
  2. To build effective resistance to the injustice faced by asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers, we must recognise that this does not exist in isolation from the injustice faced by the wider population. In the context of citizens’ efforts to resist systematic pressure to find paid work, whatever the cost to themselves and those they care for, we suggest focussing on the ‘right’ to work may hinder chances to build a broader movement.
  3. Calling for the ‘right’ to work risks buying into capitalist definitions of ‘work’ as paid employment, obscuring the unpaid material and emotional work associated with survival which is inherent in the search for asylum. If what we are really calling for is a stable income sufficient to pay for living costs, respect, ability to make worthwhile contributions … then that is what we should be calling for. Those attributes are not automatically associated with paid employment.

Before continuing, it is important to stress that reservations about campaigning for the right to work must be tempered by awareness that for refused asylum seekers, denied all support, the ‘right’ to work, even for a few hours, could enable a person to eat without risking a criminal record which could hasten deportation. In that context, people’s immediate survival needs must be prioritised over objectives for longer term justice. Similarly, it is unnecessarily frustrating for people who have skills, capacity and energy, to be prevented from finding paid employment. We are not therefore arguing against campaigns for the right to paid employment as a short-term measure. We are suggesting such campaigns are no long-term solution, and the risks to the wider movement need to be recognised.


An asylum seeker support worker writes:

I have recently been working with an asylum seeker who experiences serious mental distress, has no support and is living on the street. I am referring to this individual because I know him, but the situation is of course not uncommon. Removing rights from those whose asylum claims are refused is one of the deliberate consequences of the hostile environment, but this problem goes much wider. There are increasing numbers of citizens living on the streets in similar circumstances.

The individual I am referring to is articulate, intelligent and resourceful, however he cannot focus on any one conversation because he is also listening to ongoing conversations with voices audible only to himself. He is clearly distressed in ways that are painfully visible to observers. This person spends his days searching for food, somewhere to sleep, wash, and ways to find some form of support and security. None of this could be classed as leisure. It is the unpaid work of survival.

This person talks about how the only paid work available to him is illegal, exploitative and low paid. He is aware that if he were to take such work, he risks getting a criminal record and so further reducing his chance of ever getting leave to remain. He says his priority is to get the right to work. However, on further discussion, he elaborates that what he actually wants is somewhere safe to live, a steady source of income, security, support, community and something constructive to do. I suggest it is unlikely that these needs would be met with the forms of work that would be open to him, with or without the legal right. It should not be assumed that the work currently open to him would suddenly be available with a living wage, if he were to get the legal right to work. Furthermore, we can see from the wider population how easily the ‘right’ to work becomes an unrealisable obligation. The last thing this person, or anyone else, needs is to be further vilified for not having paid employment.

The barriers to asylum seekers, and particularly disabled asylum seekers, finding non-exploitative employment go well beyond the legal right. I am aware of people with refugee status, including those selected for the Vulnerable Person’s Relocation Scheme who have the right to work, but who complain of the additional stress and pressure caused by having to look for work, when there are so many barriers to finding, and being offered, anything suitable.

It would be interesting to find out from asylum and refugee support organisations, what proportion of employees with the legal right to work, have lived experience of forced migration, destitution and disability, including serious mental distress. If personal observations are correct that the proportion is not high, even where lived experience is highly relevant, then it would suggest that the barriers to paid work go far beyond legal entitlement. If such organisations could lead the way by respecting the knowledge gained by lived experience, and providing paid employment with a living wage, they could then also support others in reducing the barriers.

Most importantly, the asylum sector should not be seen in isolation. It is not as if there is a ready supply of rewarding, worthwhile work available to citizens in similar positions of destitution and mental distress. While the asylum sector is campaigning for the right to work, there are wider campaigns for the right not to work. A search of #dwp crimes reveals evidence of the suffering and many lives that are being lost when support is removed from citizens who are unable to exercise the supposed ‘right’ to work.

In this context, perhaps a more constructive focus of campaigns would be on building a broader movement, and working together for the rights to a regular income, support, housing, respect, contribution, community, security…. Together, we should challenge the idea that there is anything intrinsically positive about the right to work in a capitalist economy.

Rebecca Yeo

 Posted by at 15:28
Jun 032019
 

In response to the DWP’s lies trying to minimise the negative impact of Universal Credit (UC), by commissioning unbranded BBC documentaries and media articles highlighting UC success stories, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has compiled a damning record of UC systemic and catastrophic failures. 

This record draws on local and national press and media articles, government and research reports.   While the DWP bleat that UC is unfairly vilified the reality is that UC had always been a disaster for claimants and has already wasted millions of pounds.

It has now reached a point where it is unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger.  These failures are driven by ideology. Making claimants wait for their first payment on the pretext that this mirrors the circumstances of working people is another DWP fairytale.

Experts who have looked at UC have also identified design, management and IT issues which cannot be solved by tweaking the system. 

This is why DPAC is calling for UC to be scrapped. It has become a social security system, which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life. 

So far DPAC activists have already removed many thousands of copies of the Metro and will continue to do so whenever a lie about UC is printed. RMT and UNITE members are monitoring each days’ delivery of Metros to help us with this.

We are also calling for a boycott of Reach newspapers which have also in many cases published and republished one case study of one Job Centre manager saying UC works well. Reach’s Director, Helen Stevenson, is coincidentally a former non-executive director of DWP.

Download the Report:

DPAC Report – Hunger Debt Homelessness Crime Prostitution and Suicide – Universal Credit Media Articles – May 2019

Notes for Editors

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) are a campaign group fighting for the rights of disabled people www.dpac.uk.net @dis_ppl_protest

https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/second-newspaper-group-could-be-targeted-over-universal-credit-articles/

Intergenerational worklessness is a lie.

https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/are-cultures-worklessness-passed-down-generations

 

The same DWP propagandist Reach Media articles –over and over again

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/uk-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-good-thing-helps-2866016

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://twnews.co.uk/gb-news/why-universal-credit-is-actually-a-great-idea

https://www.latest-news-headlines.eu/local/leicester

https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/uk-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/uk-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.belfastlive.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.lincolnshirelive.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686 

https://www.getreading.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.kentlive.news/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.leeds-live.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

 Posted by at 14:24
Jun 022019
 

These regulations don’t apply if you use CAB (help to claim service) you must claim either from home, DWP officers help at home, or JCP office. this means you will get maximum backdating of your claim.

‘Reg10 (1) (b) of the UC C&P regs says that the date of the claim can be the date that the claimant notified DWP of their intention to make the claim provided that the actual claim is made electronically by DWP themselves or by ‘a person providing services to the Secretary of State which is provided for the purpose of enabling that person to make a claim’.

UC reg 10 (1) b

Claimants who seek help from Citizens Advice to make a claim for universal credit (UC) risk losing out because their date of claim will not be protected due to yet another DWP blunder in their contract with CABs.

Many people who claim UC struggle with the process and need support.

Until 31 March this support was provided by local authorities, often through libraries. People who went to their local library for help would have their UC claim dated from the day they first went for support, even if all the necessary information was not provided until a later date.
However, under the contract negotiated between Citizens Advice and the DWP, the claim is only dated from the day it is received by the DWP.
Claimants who are unable to provide all the necessary information on the day can still have their date of claim protected, but only if they make a separate trip to a Jobcentre to do so.

These regulations don’t apply if you use CAB (help to claim service) you must claim either from home, DWP officers help at home, or JCP office. this means you will get maximum backdating of your claim.

‘Reg10 (1) (b) of the UC C&P regs says that the date of the claim can be the date that the claimant notified DWP of their intention to make the claim provided that the actual claim is made electronically by DWP themselves or by ‘a person providing services to the Secretary of State which is provided for the purpose of enabling that person to make a claim’.

UC reg 10 (1) b

The rules (reg 10 of the Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance Claims and Payments Regulations 2013) say:

10.—(1) Where a claim for universal credit is made, the date on which the claim is made is—

(a) subject to sub-paragraph (b), in the case of a claim made by means of an electronic communication in accordance with regulation 8(1), the date on which the claim is received at an appropriate office;

(b) in the case of a claim made by means of an electronic communication in accordance with regulation 8(1), where the claimant receives assistance at home or at an appropriate office from the Secretary of State, or a person providing services to the Secretary of State, which is provided for the purpose of enabling that person to make a claim, the date of first notification of a need for such assistance;

(c) subject to sub-paragraph (d), in the case of a claim made by telephone in accordance with regulation 8(2), the date on which that claim is properly completed in accordance with regulation 8(4); or

(d) where the Secretary of State is unable to accept a claim made by telephone in accordance with regulation 8(2) on the date of first notification of intention to make the claim, the date of first notification, provided a claim properly completed in accordance with regulation 8(4) is made within one month of that date,

or the first day in respect of which the claim is made if later than the above.

Para b is the relevant paragraph, and applies where someone gets assistance 1) at home or 2) in an appropriate office.

2)Appropriate office is defined in reg 2 as

“appropriate office” means—

(a) an office of the Department for Work and Pensions or any other place designated by the Secretary of State in relation to any case or class of case as a place to, or at which, any claim, notice, document, evidence or other information may be sent, delivered or received for the purposes of these Regulations and includes a postal address specified by the Secretary of State for that purpose; or

(b) in the case of a person who is authorized or required by these Regulations to use an electronic communication for any purpose, an address to which such communications may be sent in accordance with Schedule 2;

Therefore unless a CAB office is designated by DWP as an appropriate office, para b cannot apply if the help to claim was provided in the CAB office.

Source Rightsnet

 Posted by at 19:26
Jun 022019
 

[Text from The Peterloo Memorial: A Monument to Discrimination with thanks]

If you think the Peterloo Memorial should be accessible and inclusive to all, we are asking everyone to email r.leese@manchester.gov.uk tonight, although any time today would be massively appreciated…

See below this post for a template you can use (it also explains the issue).

If you use facebook, open the event page, click “going” so we can count the contributors

Follow @PeterLo06715997 on twitter

Email subject line:

the Peterloo memorial: a monument to discrimination

Email template, you can if you wish amend and add your own thoughts

Dear Councillor Leese

I’m writing to say that I am angry and shocked that Manchester City Council are proceeding to erect the inaccessible Jeremy Deller designed Peterloo Memorial. A Memorial dedicated to those who marched for liberty and equality for all, should not be designed and built with discrimination and inequality at its heart.

Jeremy Deller describes his Peterloo Memorial as “a monument that’s for the public to inhabit – to be one to hang around on and assemble at. It is not something to be looked at and not touched – it is something to be on.”

That is all very well if you can climb steps… As currently designed, this Memorial is a fine example of inequality and discrimination embedded in design.

This Memorial is set to be a glaring metaphor for inequality and segregation with disabled people at the bottom of the monument, literally being talked down to. An act of exclusion that denies disabled people a voice, a blatant act of discrimination.

I and many others demand that a major reworking of the proposed Peterloo memorial is undertaken immediately by Manchester City Council, to make our memorial accessible to those unable to ascend steps, and that options are explored and conducted in a full, open, transparent and public manner.

Anything less will be a breathtaking act of hypocrisy on the part of Manchester City Council and the artist and an abandonment of the ideals of liberty and equality which moved those citizens to gather in St Peters Fields on 16th August 1819.”

If you continue to build this Monument To Discrimination you should hang your head in shame.

Yours etc

 Posted by at 13:53
Jun 012019
 

Come and join Disabled People and their allies from 5pm – 7pm on Thur 6th June outside Manchester Central Exhibition Complex. Make our presence known in our campaign for inclusive and accessible memorial to Peterloo

For more info

Twitter follow @PeterLo06715997 and

Facebook: Event Link and group page – The Peterloo Memorial: A Monument to Discrimination

"We think MCC choosing to deliberately create a platform inaccessible for all speakers - or signers - sends a clear message against democracy for all in Manchester - the exact opposite of the aims of the memorial." - Dennis Queen (Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts)

 Posted by at 21:39
May 302019
 

[From Sheffield DPAC, with thanks]

This is a call out to all members and supporters regarding the DWP universal credit uncovered advertorials that are running in the Metro newspaper currently.

It has been confirmed by guardian journalist Aditya chakrabortty that the wrap-around advert will have cost at least £250,000 of public money. Yes that’s right you’re paying to be lied to by the department of work and pensions.
Mark Serwotka of the PCS Union has condemned the advertorials as government propaganda and we commend him for doing so. we share the National Union of journalists concerns that these advertorials are deliberately misleading and presented to appear as pieces of journalism we maintain that these articles reach advertising standards as they do not bear recognised branding from the department of work and pensions.

The first advertorial was a wrap around advert as well as a double page spread inside the Metro on 22nd May, our friends in the RMT/Unite and TSSA Unions gave us the heads up about the advert had appeared in the newspapers and our activists set to work.
With just a small number of people at widespread locations nationally, we emptied newspaper stands at train stations on buses and on trams in several towns and cities.
The second universal credit and covered advert appeared in the Metro newspaper on Wednesday the 29th of May.
We preempted that it would appear on the Wednesday and several activists went to the local train stations and bus stations as early as 6:30 or 7am and emptied the newspaper stands. 
Some people had to make several trips with their mobility scooters emptying the stands using rucksacks and panniers bags to carry the papers. 
Other people used sack trolleys to remove huge stacks of papers, and some used wheeled suitcases packed full of the metro and taken away while others grabbed armfuls and walked off with them.
We estimate that on the 29th of May our activists removed around 1% of papers from circulation this doesn’t sound a lot but when you look at that it equals in between 10 to 15000 copies it really is impactful; especially to other advertisers who will be losing money as a result.
There is a post on the DPAC Sheffield page that lists the companies who advertised in the Metro newspaper on the 29th of May alerting them that their adverts were seen by thousands less people than who would have if the Metro weren’t running the DWP universal credit adverts.
We are asking people to think twice before advertising in the Metro newspaper whilst they are running the DWP universal credit uncovered advertorials.
These advertorials are going to be running for a further 7-8 weeks in the Metro newspaper.
We are calling on people to join our campaign to dump Metro DWP lies on any day of the week
Yes, it’s important that we get the DWP lies off the shelves… but decreasing the circulation of the Metro newspaper 5 days a week rather than just one will make a bigger impact on as to whether the Metro does anything like this again!
If the Metro was a paid-for paper we would call for a boycott but it’s a free paper so let’s just dent them wherever we can.
Investigations have revealed that other newspapers were allegedly approached to run this advertorial and declined; which says a lot about the Metro!
Whether you remove 10 copies or 100 it all makes a difference.
With just a small number of people taking part in each town and city it soon adds up to big numbers and these numbers will make a difference when we act collectively!
Currently, as the first and second advertorials we run on a Wednesday, we are assuming that the ads will come out each Wednesday…But that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to be released on that schedule.
So we’re calling on our members and supporters keep an eye out on the early morning commute each day and alert as early as possible if you see a universal credit advertorial in the Metro.
Disabled people against cuts has an online network of tens of thousands of activists and supporters we can very quickly let people know and jump into action!
Take pictures of videos of removing the Metro newspaper from the stands and send them to DPAC by email on mail@dpac.uk.net or Twitter using the hashtag
#DumpMetroDWPlies
 Posted by at 16:31
May 302019
 

 

Call for help to design a social security system of dignity, respect and trust

Disabled people and others with personal experience of claiming benefits are leading a ground-breaking project to devise a new social security system, in which claimants would be treated with dignity, trust and respect.

The Commission on Social Security, led by Experts by Experience, will seek ideas from other claimants, organisations and academics, before drawing up their own white paper and putting it out for consultation.

They will then launch a campaign to seek public and political approval for their final ideas.

Every one of the commissioners who will produce the white paper has been or is on benefits, and all of them represent grassroots, user-led organisations that fight for the rights of benefit claimants and disabled people.

In a disturbing sign of the current system’s flaws, some of the commissioners have asked not to be publicly named through fear of Department for Work and Pensions reprisals.

They hope that other benefit claimants, thinktanks, academics and civil society organisations will now share their own ideas for how to reform the system after the commission launched a call for evidence, with a deadline of 31 July.

The commissioners have drawn up a list of five key principles on which they believe any new social security system should be based.

They say all claimants should have enough money to live on; should be treated with dignity, respect and trust; should have rights and entitlements; and should have access to free advice and support.

They also say that the system should be clear, simple, user-friendly and accessible, with people with lived experience involved in creating and running it.

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and one of the commission’s two co-chairs, told its launch event in London yesterday (Wednesday) that its grassroots, user-led approach could avoid the “mistakes, the harm and the waste that top-down policy-making has led to in recent history”.

She said there was no question that changes to the social security system since 2010 had failed benefit claimants and disproportionately impacted on disabled people.

She said: “The pace of changes to social security that have been brought in, each with their own specific calamitous consequences, has left claimants, disabled people, and the organisations that represent us, fighting a largely rear-guard action as we attempt to mitigate the worst impacts and try what we can to ward off further avoidable harm.

As a consequence, we can easily come across as anti-everything and as having lost the forward vision that used to characterise the disabled people’s movement.”

She said the combination of complex policy changes and user-led groups losing funding and capacity had led the movement to focus on “what is, rather than what could be”.

She said this was why she and fellow campaigners from Inclusion London and London Unemployed Strategies – a group formed by unemployed people and allies in trade unions and the voluntary sector – were so pleased when the original idea for a grassroots, user-led project on the future of social security was first suggested by Dr Michael Orton, from the University of Warwick’s Warwick Institute for Employment Research.

One disabled activist, who was representing the Unite Community union, and is well-known on Twitter as @imajsaclaimant, told the launch event that he shared stories on social media every day showing “how wrong austerity and the welfare system is”.

He said: “It shows that every day there is something new that has been discovered that shows something wrong with the benefit system.

The stories we read each week should shame this country… but the longer it goes on, the more it feels like this cruelty is intentional.”

He described how his own experience of the sanctions regime had led to a suicide attempt and left him with enduring mental and physical health problems.

He said: “The safety net we once had is quickly being taken away, and for much of the time I have felt impotent to change the direction this country is heading in.

This is why I fully endorse this new project today to create a white paper, because it allows us to do more than just moan about what is wrong. It gives us the opportunity to provide solutions.”

He added: “When I go into a jobcentre I start to physically shake. People also tell me that they are scared to go into these places because of the treatment they have received before.

More and more I am hearing from people who say they are unwilling to claim benefits because of this issue. That is simply wrong.

Jobcentres ought to be like valued community hubs… people who lose their jobs need to be supported and treated with respect, not treated with disdain and contempt, as happens so often now.”

George Tahta, from Survivors’ Poetry, told the commission’s launch event that walking into a jobcentre turns him from an “articulate and intelligent” person to “a gibbering effing wreck, and that’s what they do to me and that’s what they do to a lot of people”.

He said staff in jobcentres treat claimants “like dirt”, unless they have a supporter or advocate with them, and even then they “go away and stab you in the back” afterwards with a DWP letter.

The commissioners will be supported by Orton and three other academics and researchers: Dr Rosa Morris, who has personal experience of the work capability assessment and last year completed a PhD examining the assessment process and disability benefits; Dr Kate Summers, from the London School of Economics; and Austin Taylor-Laybourn, from Trust for London.

The commission is funded by Trust for London, which provides about £8 million in grants every year for work that aims to reduce poverty and inequality.

The other co-chair of the commission is Nick Phillips, from LUS, who said: “The commission is a great breakthrough for claimants’ rights to have a say in the shaping of a benefits system that affects their lives profoundly.

We would like as many of those affected as possible to contribute to our call for solutions. This is their opportunity to have a voice and make a difference.”

Bharat Mehta, Trust for London’s chief executive, said: “We’re incredibly excited to be supporting this pioneering project which puts people with experience of the benefits system at the heart of redesigning it.

The system we currently have is not working for far too many people. This project aims to create a consensus around what a new system that works for our society and the individuals in it, would look like.”

30 May 2019

 

 

Inaccessible Peterloo massacre memorial causes protest storm

Disabled activists have criticised a council for pushing ahead with “discriminatory” plans for a memorial to victims of the Peterloo massacre – who died 200 years ago in the cause of equality – that will be completely inaccessible to many disabled people.

The new memorial is set to be unveiled on 16 August, the 200th anniversary of the attack by paramilitary and military forces on more than 60,000 peaceful, pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and nearly 700 serious injuries.

The memorial will be positioned near what was known in 1819 as St Peter’s Fields, the site of the massacre, and will be outside the current Manchester Central Convention Centre, which just a few weeks after the unveiling will host the Conservative party’s annual conference.

It has been designed by artist Jeremy Deller as a series of concentric circles, with members of the public encouraged to climb the steps to a flat top.

But the memorial, which has been funded by Manchester City Council, will be completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though it has been designed to allow it to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819.

Now a string of disabled activists from Manchester have attacked the council’s refusal to ensure that the memorial is accessible.

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said: “Manchester City Council (MCC) is failing to deliver a fitting memorial.

Their chosen stepped design purposefully excludes disabled people.”

In March, the designs were approved by Manchester City Council’s planning department, despite objections from GMCDP and others during the consultation and planning process and meetings with council leader Sir Richard Leese.

Hilton said: “Manchester has a reputation of pulling together and lining up shoulder to shoulder in defiance of injustice, ignorance and segregation.

We are certain that once the campaign message is more widely heard the public will be as outraged as disabled people are and the council will be forced to listen and make the necessary changes.”

Mark Todd, a former city council access officer, who started a Facebook page to protest at the design of the memorial – and who calls it “a monument to discrimination” – said the group was “angry and shocked” that it was going ahead “despite it being inaccessible to disabled people and others who cannot climb steps”.

They believe this is “an act of exclusion that denies disabled people a voice, a blatant act of discrimination”, with the memorial “set to become a glaring metaphor for inequality and segregation with disabled people at the bottom of the memorial, literally being talked down to”.

The group has called for a “major reworking” of the memorial by Manchester City Council (MCC), to make it accessible to those unable to climb steps, with options “explored in a full, open, transparent and public manner”.

The group said that anything less would be a “breathtaking act of hypocrisy” and “an abandonment of the ideals of liberty and equality which moved those citizens to gather in St Peter’s Fields on 16th August 1819”.

Dennis Queen, from Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “We think MCC choosing to deliberately create a platform inaccessible for all speakers – or signers – sends a clear message against democracy for all in Manchester – the exact opposite of the aims of the memorial.”

Flick Harris, chair of Manchester Disabled People’s Access Group, said she and her colleagues were “shocked” that the council had approved the “newly designed inaccessible and unsafe Peterloo monument”.

She said: “Any new designs and projects should be accessible for everyone or no-one.”

Alan Holdsworth, a former Manchester resident who now lives in the US, where he is a member of the ADAPT grassroots disability rights organisation, said: “As a former Mancunian on behalf of ADAPT we are appalled that in 2019 we still have to fight against segregation and exclusion from the Peterloo massacre memorial.”

Holdsworth, who founded the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) in the UK, said: “What makes us more angry is that although disabled people were part of the consultation process their voices, ideas and reservations were ignored.

We call on the council to halt the process and include disabled people and accessibility in the design.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “While DPAC realise that the new Peterloo memorial is to celebrate the martyrdom of 19th century activists it remains totally unacceptable in what is now the 21st century for any sector of our society – in this case disabled people – to be deliberately excluded from access to that memorial.

We are appalled that disabled people’s concerns have been repeatedly ignored by Manchester City Council and call for an immediate redesign of this structure, together with disabled people, so that all citizens are able to access it equally.”

Although some changes have been made as a result of concerns about access, including the addition of a handrail, it appears that wheelchair-users will still only be able to reach the height of the lowest of the circles via a ramp.

But the council made it clear to DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that it was unlikely that any further major changes would now be made, stating: “We are happy to continue dialogue and explore whether anything further can be done to address concerns but it is unlikely there could be any fundamental changes.”

A council spokesperson said earlier: “We have engaged, and will continue to engage, with people who are disabled in order to make this memorial accessible while recognising that this is not a building or similar structure but a piece of public art.

Significant changes to the original design were made in response to this dialogue throughout the design’s development including the incorporation of a ramp and handrail and the replacement of tiles covering the memorial with stone to reduce slip hazards.

The specific design elements which provide information about Peterloo are all accessible.

We have taken these considerations seriously. While we respect the fact that some people feel that these changes still do not go far enough, we believe we have done the best we realistically can allowing for the constraints of the site, and this is the only feasible site in the original Peter’s Fields area.

Further mooted changes to the approved and already amended design would require new planning approvals and mean the project couldn’t be completed in time for the 200th anniversary commemorations.

Deller, whose work often focuses on political and social themes, expressed sympathy with the position of disabled campaigners and told Disability News Service: “I take responsibility for not considering enough the needs of people in wheelchairs.”

He said further changes were suggested to improve access after the memorial secured planning permission, but he said the council had decided they were “so substantial it would have meant total redesign” and so were “not practical” because work had already begun.

He said he still hoped that “once the memorial is built there might be a way to adapt it for wheelchairs”, but he had not responded by noon today (Thursday) to the council’s position that it was probably too late for further major changes.

A spokesperson for the Peterloo Memorial Campaign, which campaigned for years for a memorial to be built, said disabled people were “right to be frustrated and angry about the lack of access to the monument”.

He said: “In addition to commemorating the massacre, the memorial has been designed as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, but people using wheelchairs or unable to climb steps cannot use it fully.”

He added: “We accept our share of responsibility for not immediately spotting this issue when the design was unveiled.

We have worked with the council, the artist and disabled people involved in or supportive of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign to try and find a ‘retrofit’ solution.

We are disappointed to be informed by the council that no solution is viable in the limited time left available.”

The names of those who died, and the villages and towns of the protesters, will be engraved on the memorial, while those visiting will be shown the direction of other parts of the world where significant protests have taken place, such as Tiananmen Square, Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Gdansk in Poland.

A smaller circle at ground-floor level will reproduce the information so that those who cannot climb the steps will be able to read it.

30 May 2019

 

 

McVey failed to respond to letter about benefit deaths cover-up, DWP admits

A Tory leadership contender left her job as work and pensions secretary without answering key questions from an MP about links between her department and the deaths of benefit claimants, her former department has confirmed.

Esther McVey resigned her position last November in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit deal.

But she left more than three months after receiving a letter from Stephen Lloyd, then a Liberal Democrat and now an independent MP, about claims of a possible cover-up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He had written to her after Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP was refusing to say if it showed key documents linking the deaths of claimants with the work capability assessment (WCA) to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert the government hired to review the test in 2013 and 2014.

He carried out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has refused to say if he was shown two letters written by coroners and a number of secret DWP “peer reviews”.

Litchfield, who was recognised by the prime minister with a CBE in last June’s birthday honours, published his two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of his reports mentioned the documents, which all link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

In his letter to McVey, Lloyd said he found it “astonishing” that Litchfield appeared not to have been shown the documents.

He added: “In light of Dr Litchfield being awarded a CBE, could you please confirm whether or not he was shown the documents linking the government’s WCA program with the deaths of benefit claimants?”

Weeks later, having failed to receive a reply, the MP wrote a follow-up letter to McVey.

He never received a reply.

This week, DWP claimed it could not comment because McVey was no longer with the department, while McVey’s office claimed it was for DWP to answer any questions about the failure to reply.

A DWP spokesperson said: “As his letter was sent to Esther McVey I can’t say why a response wasn’t sent.”

But a spokesperson for McVey said: “Although the letter was addressed to Esther, the ministerial correspondence team will have forwarded it to the correct person to respond.

In this case, it would not have been the secretary of state.

I am sorry I am not able to provide further information, it would be a matter for the Department for Work and Pensions to address.”

Lloyd said this week: “It’s absolutely deplorable that Esther McVey, when she was secretary of state at the DWP, simply didn’t bother to respond to my letter which was first sent on the 2nd of August last year.

My office even followed her up twice, but still nothing.

This showed a total reluctance by her and the DWP to engage on what were and are shocking allegations.

To think that she’s now trying to become the new Conservative leader and even, god help us, prime minister, beggars belief.”

Since DNS revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that senior DWP civil servants and ministers deliberately covered-up evidence showing the fatal impact of the assessment on disabled people.

The admission that McVey failed to respond to Lloyd’s letter adds weight to calls in the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.

It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

The cover-up over the benefit deaths documents appeared to be confirmed earlier this month when DNS revealed how DWP had finally admitted failing to send Litchfield’s review team the coroners’ letters and the internal reviews.

The admission came in DWP’s response to a complaint lodged by DNS with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the department’s failure to confirm if it passed the information to Litchfield.

A senior ICO case officer told DNS: “Consultation with the ex-review team elicited statements that no such information was received from DWP nor were any physical files sent to stores.”

The coroner’s letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013; they were sent to DWP in the spring of 2010 and early 2014, each warning of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by DWP civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as other deaths and serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

One of the aims of a peer review is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

But neither of Litchfield’s reviews mentioned either the peer reviews or the coroners’ letters, although the second coroner’s letter was not written until he had begun work on his second review.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, who carried out the first three WCA reviews in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has told DNS that he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

30 May 2019

 

 

Activists begin direct action over universal credit newspaper ads

Disabled activists across the country have removed thousands of copies of a national newspaper from their public distribution points after it began publishing a series of advertising features that will air-brush concerns about universal credit.

Members of Sheffield Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) are now promising to “step up the campaign” against the Metro free newspaper.

They have even offered a prize of a DPAC tee-shirt for the most creative way in which an activist can recycle or reuse a copy of the Metro, and so prevent the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertising features being read.

Photographs show all the copies of the Metro at Sheffield train station being removed in a suitcase – while a similar action took place in Ipswich – with Sheffield DPAC encouraging people to “get to your local Metro newspaper stands and help us by removing the Metros from the shelves”.

It adds: “Re-use them, recycle them, just don’t leave these LIES on the stands.”

And it warns: “This nonsense is going to be going on for nine weeks from this week and each week we will be stepping up this campaign […] we are absolutely not giving up […] if anything it just makes us angrier and more determined.”

Sheffield DPAC has also warned all the companies advertising in Metro that thousands of potential readers would not see the adverts they had paid for because DPAC activists “have removed thousands of copies of the newspaper” from stations, buses, trains and trams around the UK.

A spokesperson for Metro – which is run by the company that owns the Daily Mail – said: “Metro is a non-partisan newspaper, which carries advertisements for a range of clients, including government departments and unions.

Metro takes advertising standards seriously and requires our advertisers to comply with all laws and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) code.

The Department for Work and Pensions has informed us that the advertising was reviewed by the ASA’s copy advice team prior to publication.

Metro is happy with this process.”

The protests come as DPAC is set to release a report detailing “the reality of universal credit”, with links to hundreds of newspaper stories from across the UK that have reported on the real damage caused by UC, and were published over a period of just 16 weeks between 20 January and 12 May 2019.

The report contains “harrowing stories of people forced into debt, rent arrears, homelessness, crime, prostitution, hunger, people unable to afford fares to get to food banks, parents unable to get essentials for their babies, child poverty, worsening mental health, ex-service people considering suicide and even cases of actual suicide”.

Meanwhile, Disability News Service (DNS) has confirmed that DWP breached Civil Service guidelines when it decided to launch the nine-week series of “unethical and misleading” adverts without including a government logo.

The Government Communication Service’s “branding guidelines” make it clear that “all government campaigns and comms should be government branded to ensure transparency and accountability”. 

The guidelines also say: “It is important that the public is easily able to recognise the work of government, departments, their agencies and Arms Length Bodies.”

But the first of DWP’s universal credit advertorials published by the Metro newspaper last week included no government logos.

The second advertisement feature, which appeared yesterday (Wednesday) in the Metro, also failed to include a government logo.

The only reference to the source of the advertorials is a line – which is even less obvious on the Metro website – that states: “ADVERTISEMENT FEATURE FROM THE DEPARTMENT FOR WORK AND PENSIONS.”

A leaked DWP memo, signed by three senior servants – including Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme – proves the failure to include a government logo on the advertorials was intentional.

The memo admitted that the nine-week series of advertorials in the Metro were designed to be misleading.

It said: “The features won’t look or feel like DWP or UC – you won’t see our branding, and this is deliberate.”

The Metro advertorials are part of a nationwide DWP campaign to “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”.

They will cost DWP hundreds of thousands of pounds, and have already led to complaints being lodged with ASA.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for overseeing the guidelines, said they were “at the end of the day guidelines and this is a DWP campaign”.

She said the Cabinet Office was “content that the materials clearly stated that it was an advertising feature from DWP”.

She pointed to information provided to DNS last week by DWP, which stated that advertising features “are generally developed to give the same look and feel as the publication they are being placed in – while clearly stating who produced the material”.

DWP also said last week that its first advertorial “clearly stated that it was an advertising feature from the Department for Work and Pensions”.

But Natasha Hirst, chair of the equalities council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), who also has the disabled members’ seat on NUJ’s national executive council, said: “There appears to be a breach of the government’s own guidelines on communications, as raised by the NUJ last week.

The advertorials are shockingly poor practice but are not the only problem.

We are concerned that the integrity of journalism could be called into question by biased and uncritical features in publications.

It is vital that journalism remains independent of political interference.

The erosion of trust created by orchestrated visits to jobcentres and government-placed advertorials that dismiss people’s harsh experiences of universal credit is something we must all fight.

It is incredibly poor judgement for the Cabinet Office to show no willingness to criticise misleading communications from the DWP.”

Linda Burnip, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said the “disgraceful and fabricated” Metro ad campaign “shows just how much UC is a total failure” and how concerned DWP is about its roll out and consequences.

She added: “However, even for Rudd and her DWP minions this is beyond contempt.”

30 May 2019

 

 

Second newspaper group could be targeted over universal credit articles

A second national newspaper group is facing a boycott and possible direct action protests over a Department for Work and Pensions campaign that aims to improve the reputation of its “toxic” universal credit benefit system.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is calling for a boycott of Reach, the largest national and regional news publisher in the UK, while other disabled activists have called for direct action aimed at the publisher.

A campaign of direct action is already underway against the publisher of the Metro free newspaper, which is being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by DWP to publish a series of advertorials praising UC (see separate story).

Now Reach, the newspaper group which publishes titles such as the Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Mail and Bristol Post, but also the national Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Sunday People, Daily Record and Daily Star, is also facing the possibility of a boycott and direct action protests.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how regional Reach newspapers were criticised for running at least three positive and misleading articles about universal credit, which all focus on local DWP staff praising the impact it has had locally and either dismissing or ignoring its well-publicised flaws.

Two of the articles were re-published by other newspapers in the same group, with one of them published by at least 15 other newspapers.

Now another article published by a regional Reach newspaper has emerged, which gives a glowing account of the efforts of DWP staff to support disabled people who have been found fit for work, and the impact of universal credit (UC).

In the wake of the articles, Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “DPAC has seen the succession of articles, which are little more than advertisement pieces for universal credit, copied across local titles owned by Reach. 

People need to be informed that this is a campaign of propaganda rather than news and we suggest that people do not buy Reach titles.”

And Sheffield DPAC, which has led the campaign against the Metro, said it would also like to see action taken against Reach publications.

Another leading disabled activist, who tweets at @imajsaclaimant, also called for direct action protests targeted at Reach publications.

He said: “I am so angry about it. The thing is that Reach seem to have got away with it [compared with the Metro].

I see what Sheffield DPAC have been doing [with the Metro]. We should be doing the same [with Reach publications].

They should not be able to get away with it.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has made it clear that it will not support calls for boycotts of newspapers because they may affect the livelihoods of fellow journalists, including disabled journalists.

But Natasha Hirst, chair of NUJ’s equalities council, who also has the disabled members’ seat on the union’s national executive council, said: “We are concerned that the integrity of journalism could be called into question by biased and uncritical features in publications.

It is vital that journalism remains independent of political interference.

The erosion of trust created by orchestrated visits to jobcentres and government-placed advertorials that dismiss people’s harsh experiences of universal credit is something we must all fight.”

The concerns about the Reach articles come as DPAC is set to release a report detailing “the reality of universal credit”, with links to hundreds of newspaper articles from across the UK that have reported on the real damage caused by UC, and were published over a period of just 16 weeks between 20 January and 12 May 2019.

The report contains “harrowing stories of people forced into debt, rent arrears, homelessness, crime, prostitution, hunger, people unable to afford fares to get to food banks, parents unable to get essentials for their babies, child poverty, worsening mental health, ex-service people considering suicide and even cases of actual suicide”.

The Newcastle Chronicle article – which was also published by the Bristol Live website, with minor amendments – is headlined: “What happens when the DWP deems a disabled person fit for work – according to Jobcentre worker.”

It says the government has “come under fire for deeming people who are living with disabilities fit for work”, while the paper has “reported numerous stories about North East residents being faced with the daunting prospect of returning after being declared fit for work” by DWP.

It then says: “As more people are put onto Universal Credit, we met with staff at Newcastle Jobcentre to find out what happens when a person with a disability is deemed fit?” [sic]

The rest of the article is a series of comments by a DWP disability employment advisor, with no attempt to put them into context, or secure comments from welfare rights experts or campaigners who have spent years highlighting the flaws and dangers of universal credit.

The advisor even suggests in the article that, rather than disabled people found fit for work being forced unfairly into employment, they are often just asked to attend “pie and socialising” clubs or walking groups.

She insists that DWP “have to go with what people are telling us they feel able to do”.

The reporter who wrote the article, Kali Lindsay, told DNS she had written numerous articles over the last four or five months that were critical of DWP and UC – including one just three weeks ago about a man with a chronic lung condition who had his benefits cut after being found fit for work.

She said DWP had invited her paper to send a reporter to speak to jobcentre staff, which had allowed her to “find out what they were saying and put to them what people’s criticisms were of the service” and “explain how they felt about it”.

She said that DWP had a “right of reply” to the previous stories that had been written by her newspaper.

Lindsay said she did not believe there had been any pressure placed on her paper by DWP to run the articles, which were part of a series being published by the Chronicle on various aspects of the jobcentre’s work, and that her paper had seen it as a “good opportunity to go inside the jobcentre and find out more details”.

But she insisted that she was personally angry with how DWP treated people, and will “fight their corner”, and that she had put questions from stories she had covered over the last two years to the advisor when she spoke to her, with the advisor’s answers appearing in the article.

Lindsay said she had not yet seen a leaked DWP memo which revealed that the department was engaged in a “front-footed strategy” to fight back against what it called “negativity and scaremongering” by the media and “tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC”.

The memo said this included writing to journalists like those at the Chronicle to “come and see for themselves the great work we do”.

Reach refused to comment on its latest article, but said it stood by last week’s comments, in which it defended its decision to run one article, and said the company frequently syndicated articles of interest, while it had published more than 1,100 articles in the last 12 months on UC, most of them “critical”.

But it has still refused to respond to questions about the DWP memo, and suggestions that the company has become caught up in DWP’s “myth-busting” campaign, and it still insists that there has been no “undue pressure, financial or otherwise” to publish any of the stories.

The positive account given by the disability employment advisor the Chronicle spoke to about DWP’s fit-for-work processes contrasts with years of evidence linking the deaths of disabled people with DWP decisions to find them fit for work.

In 2015, government-funded research by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford concluded that the programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the WCA was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.

Only three months ago, the Independent Case Examiner concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of mother-of-nine Jodey Whiting*, who had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment, and took her own life just 15 days later.

DNS has reported on many other such cases, including that of Alan McArdle, who had been placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance and had a fatal heart attack an hour after being told DWP was threatening to stop his benefits.

Then there was Luke Alexander Loy, who died just three months after being found fit for work and then having his benefits sanctioned, despite his doctor explaining that he was not currently well enough to work.

Other deaths linked to DWP’s fitness for work process include that of Moira Drury, reported by the Guardian in 2015; Sheila Holt, whose death was reported by the Daily Mirror – part of the Reach group – in March 2015; Karen Sherlock, who died in 2012 after fighting for two years against the injustice of the WCA regime; and Mark Wood, who starved to death in 2013 after he was found fit for work through the WCA system, and lost his out-of-work disability benefits.

DNS also reported last month how DWP destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

30 May 2019

 

 

Activists call for closure of all long-stay hospitals after Whorlton Hall scandal

Disabled people from across Europe have called for the closure of long-stay institutions, after the latest in a long series of abuse scandals was uncovered by the BBC.

Four European disability organisations – including the umbrella organisation representing 80 million disabled people across the continent – have joined UK disabled activists in calling for action to end institutionalisation and forced treatment.

A Panorama documentary, which included undercover footage shot at the private Whorlton Hall hospital for people with learning difficulties and autistic people in County Durham, caused outrage after it was broadcast last week.

Seven men and three women – all members of staff – have been arrested by Durham police and are being questioned about offences relating to abuse and neglect, while the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the health and care watchdog, was criticised for failing to spot and halt the abuse.

Now disabled people and their user-led organisations have called again for the government to take action and close all such long-stay institutions.

Disabled activist Simone Aspis, director of the consultancy Changing Perspectives, who campaigns to free disabled people from institutions, said: “There is something very fundamentally wrong about these institutions and they have to close down.”

She added: “We can’t make a fundamentally flawed system work better by simply having a better ratio of staffing, more resources put in, or more training, or better recruitment practices.

A system that compels people into treatment they don’t want and denies them their fundamental human rights cannot train people to deprive people of their human rights in a positive way.

What we need is the transferring of resources into support that people need to be part of their communities.

It is an absolute disgrace that in this country we are allowed to have such barbaric torture and practices going on.”

She said there was no “political will” to find a solution and no urgency from the NHS to remove people from institutions.

Instead of “thinking creatively” about new placements, she said, NHS commissioners “just want to shove people in wherever there is a bloody bed, not thinking creatively about how we can support these people to live in the community”.

Aspis also said she was “very disappointed” with the failure of CQC and the Children’s Commissioner to recommend the closure of such institutions in their latest reports earlier this month.

People First (Self Advocacy), which is run and controlled by people with learning difficulties, said it was horrified to learn of the new abuse scandal.

It pointed out that promises were made after a previous scandal at Winterbourne View in 2011 to close all such institutions, and that the government had failed to live up to its promises or meet targets set by NHS England after Winterbourne View.

It is calling on the government to introduce a legal right to independent living for disabled people, by incorporating article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law.

People First’s #CloseATUs campaign is calling for the closure of all assessment and treatment centres and for people to have the advocacy and support they need in their local communities, as well as for the government to draw up a national action plan for all ATUs to be closed within two years.

Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said: “As with Winterbourne, the news of Whorlton Hall brought tears, upset and anger to me and many other people I know.

Our thoughts go to all of the people who experienced this abuse. We need to make sure this does not happen again.

Moving people to other closed institutions like Whorlton Hall is obviously not the answer.

People are being sent far away from friends and family at great cost to the authorities and at even greater and more tragic cost to people with learning difficulties and their loved ones.”

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, said the latest revelations were “horrifying, though unsurprising”.

She said: “Whether it’s Winterbourne View, Whorlton Hall or who knows how many others, there is a level of contempt that we face as autistic people and people with intellectual disabilities when it comes to our long-term health that is shortening our lifespans and damaging the lives that we live.

There is a very good reason why the suicide rate amongst autistic people is nine times higher than the national average.”

She called for “ground up” reform of CQC, which she said was “ineffective” and had “no protective instinct”.

In a joint statement, the European Disability Forum – an umbrella organisation of disabled people’s organisations – and three European disability organisations (Inclusion Europe, Autism Europe and European Down Syndrome Association), also called for the closure of such institutions.

They said: “This kind of treatment and abuse is widespread in institutions.

Too many times, we have heard and seen footage like this. Too many times we have witnessed attacks on the most basic human rights of persons with disabilities. Too many times we have witnessed governments failing to act.

Institutionalisation has to end. Forced treatment has to end. These flagrant abuses of the most basic human rights have to end.”

But Whorlton Hall is only the latest in a long line of such scandals that stretches back to the 1940s.

Calls to address the scandal of people with learning difficulties living “inappropriately” in long-stay institutions date back more than 70 years to when the National Council for Civil Liberties launched a campaign against eugenicist laws that led at their peak to the institutionalisation of more than 50,000 people in long-stay hospitals.

A series of scandals through the late 1960s and 1970s highlighted concerns similar to those uncovered by Panorama and other more recent scandals, with inquiries reporting cruel ill-treatment, inhumane and threatening behaviour towards patients (at Ely Hospital), the “harmful over-use of drugs” (Farleigh Hospital) and the use of tranquilisers and “side-rooms” – or solitary confinement facilities – at South Ockendon Hospital.

They were followed by the Longcare abuse scandal, uncovered by the media in 1994, and others including allegations of neglect at Fieldhead Hospital in Wakefield in 2004, and of abuse at the Solar Centre in Doncaster in 2010, Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust in 2006, Winterbourne View near Bristol in 2011, Mendip House in Somerset in 2016 and Atlas Project Team in 2017.

Cygnet Health Care said in a statement that it was “shocked and deeply saddened by the allegations made against members of staff at Whorlton Hall, part of the Danshell Group, which Cygnet recently acquired.

We take these allegations extremely seriously, have suspended all members of staff involved, and informed all relevant authorities including the police, who have instigated an inquiry, and we are cooperating fully with their investigation.

We have a zero tolerance of this behaviour. This appalling behaviour is entirely inconsistent with our values and high standards, and we have transferred all the patients to other services.

Until the conclusion of the police investigation, we are unable to comment further.”

30 May 2019

 

 

Should DRC rise again? Sir Bert asks in posthumous autobiography

An autobiography by one of the most influential disabled people of the last 50 years – published posthumously – could ignite calls for the return of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), 12 years after it was merged into a new equality watchdog.

In A Life Without Limits*, Sir Bert Massie – who was DRC’s chair throughout its seven years – writes in depth about his time leading the equality body and then as a commissioner on its successor, the multi-strand Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

He suggests EHRC has failed to protect disabled people and that many disabled people believe responsibility for disability rights should be taken away from the organisation, with a new DRC set up alongside EHRC.

Sir Bert, who died in October 2017, is highly critical of EHRC’s first chair, Trevor Phillips, who he says was “not a team player” and “made policy on the hoof” while other commissioners were “supposed to step into line”.

He concludes: “I have sat on many boards larger than that at EHRC, but none so badly chaired.”

Although a staunch and long-standing Labour party member himself, Sir Bert is also critical of the number of commissioners with strong Labour party links who were appointed to EHRC’s board under the last Labour government.

In the book, Sir Bert is critical of the Labour peer Baroness [Margaret] Prosser, EHRC’s vice-chair at the time, who became a “very loyal supporter” of Phillips.

He writes at length on the concerns of himself and other board members about Phillips’s conduct and leadership at EHRC, which contributed to six commissioners resigning in 2009.

Sir Bert is also critical in his book of the lack of resources given to EHRC’s disability committee, which led to disabled people receiving “a much inferior service” than they had received from DRC.

He reveals that he had been “unenthusiastic” about merging DRC with other equality bodies to create EHRC in 2007, but that other DRC commissioners who were in favour of the decision “might well have been right” and that an independent DRC could have been abolished under the coalition government elected in 2010.

But he also points to the attack on disability rights under successive Conservative-led governments since 2010, and to a 2016 Lords committee report that concluded that EHRC was failing to protect disabled people.

He adds: “Perhaps in the future we do need a debate on whether disability issues should be removed from the mandate of the EHRC and [given] to a commission with a single focus.

That is what many disabled people want.”

Kaliya Franklin, who worked with Sir Bert on the commission on disability and poverty he chaired for the Labour party, supported his call for a debate on whether there needed to be a new vehicle for ensuring disabled people’s rights were upheld.

She told Disability News Service: “Disability rights are part of a wider human rights issue, but without the specialist knowledge and peer support provided by a body like the DRC, the risk is that the barriers to achieve those rights are too significant for disabled people to surmount alone.

Last week we saw further evidence that in the Britain of 2019, thousands of disabled children and adults have their freedom, right to family life and privacy removed by the state at an enormous financial cost to taxpayers.

All too often those disabled people are then subjected to physical and mental torture by those employed to ‘care’ for them.

This abuse is not new, yet every time there is a new expose of such human rights violations, the same tired excuses of vulnerability, risks and costs are trotted out by the charity, medical and public sectors with a vested interest in continuing the status quo.

The immoral trade in disabled people continues unabated.

A dedicated disability rights enforcement body with the specialist rights-based knowledge and lived experience to support people and their families is one important way in which this ongoing abuse, and many other forms of disability discrimination, could be more successfully challenged.”

Sir Bert’s book also describes his childhood in Liverpool, how he caught polio in the late 1940s and spent time in Alder Hey children’s hospital and experienced “perpetual violence, or a nagging expectation of it” at the hands of staff at the Greenbank residential special school.

There are detailed descriptions of his experience of education, further and higher education, and employment as a disabled child, teenager and young mans in the 1960s, and his first experiences of disability activism with the Disablement Income Group, Liverpool Association for the Disabled, and the Disabled Drivers’ Association.

He writes about his work at RADAR, which he led before heading the new DRC, and he defends RADAR from criticisms made at the time by the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP) that it was not a legitimate representative of the disabled people’s movement.

In the final pages he was able to complete before his death in 2017 – the book was completed by Bob Niven and Ann Frye, two of his former colleagues, who describe him as one of the leading post-war social reformers – he suggests that privatisation of the NHS is “to some extent inevitable” if the Conservatives remain in power, while he predicts there will be further cuts to social care.

Disabled people,” he says, “will need to develop mechanisms to either defend current systems or create new ones.”

But he adds: “Many of the major structural changes achieved in recent decades are probably sufficiently embedded to survive.”

But he warns that these changes could still be weakened, as has happened with accessible housing standards.

*A Life Without Limits, by Sir Bert Massie, is published by Mereo Books

30 May 2019

 

 

Inclusive education campaigners back SEND crisis march

Inclusive education campaigners are supporting parents and their disabled children today (Thursday) as they take part in marches around the country to highlight the special educational needs and disability (SEND) funding crisis.

Parents are calling for reform of the SEND system, increased funding, and improved accountability and assessment, as well as an end to a culture which “encourages the blaming, shaming and dismissal of parents of young people with SEND”.

Marches are set to take place across England and Wales, in more than 25 locations including Liverpool, Yorkshire, Sussex, Birmingham, Derby, Reading and Widnes, with one leading to the handover of a petition in Downing Street.

The SEND National Crisis campaign has been set up by two parents of disabled children, and it has been backed by The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), which said disabled pupils had been increasingly excluded from schools and pushed out of mainstream education.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said: “The funding cuts are creating rife disablism and disability-related discrimination in our mainstream education system.

For the first time in history, more disabled pupils with [education, health and care plans] are being educated in special schools than in mainstream ones.

This needs to stop right now – this government has a duty to promote inclusive education among disabled pupils.”

Nadia Turki, one of the founders of SEND National Crisis, said: “We have decided to act instead of repeatedly say the words ‘we need to do something’.

I’ve been saying this for almost two years now and nothing has changed to the effect of making a positive difference to education provisions and access for disabled children and young people.

We believe that now is the time to stand together and let our voices and the voices of our young people be heard.”

She added: “This crisis is leaving thousands of individuals emotionally and physically exhausted due to the direct failings of our local authorities and the discrimination faced when trying to access their fundamental right to an education.

There are so many of us struggling and battling an unfair system for our children or the people we care for and it is an exhausting process that hammers us into the ground daily.”

Next month, ALLFIE is also supporting a judicial review case being taken at the high court by three families with disabled children.

The families believe inadequate government funding is not allowing councils to fulfil their legal obligations to support disabled pupils.

ALLFIE wants the court to make “an explicit declaration” that the government’s level of funding of SEND is unlawful because it fails to provide the support that disabled pupils need to “flourish within mainstream education on a par with their non-disabled peers”.

It also wants new guidance that will make it clear that the government has to ensure sufficient funding for schools and councils to fulfil their legal duties to “promote the presumption of mainstream education free from disability-related discrimination”.

In response to plans for the march, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our ambition is for every child, no matter the challenges they face, to have access to a world class education that sets them up for life.

Funding for the high needs budget is a priority for this government and we know that councils and schools are facing pressures – that’s why in December, we provided an extra £250 million up to 2020 to help manage these costs.

This takes the total amount that we have allocated for high needs funding to £6.3 billion this year, compared to £5 billion in 2013.

At the same time, the education secretary has been clear that we are working closely with the sector as we approach the spending review, we have launched a call for evidence to make sure the funding system is getting money to the right places at the right time and we are revising the SEND code of practice to improve ways to identify and meet special educational needs.”

His department said it also planned to spend £31.6 million to train more educational psychologists, who play an important role in identifying special educational needs and contributing to education, health and care needs assessments.

30 May 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:08
May 292019
 

join the monthly protest at Caxton House, Tothill Street, London organised by Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group (KUWG)  which this month will include their views on the outrageous lies being told by DWP with their false adverts for Universal Credit in the scum Mail partner paper the Metro.

Please continue to remove as many Metros as possible every Wednesday for the next 7 weeks from venues where they are available.

 Posted by at 18:46