This week’s update from Disability News Services is given below with all the articles in a single post, however if you would prefer to view them as separate articles, you can do that on the DNS Website
Council’s planned care charge rises ‘could prove fatal’
Leading disabled campaigners have warned that a council’s proposals to increase care charges will force them and others to quit their jobs and stop their volunteering work, and will push many others into poverty.
One influential campaigner warned that she could be forced to reduce her care from 63 hours a week to just seven, and might have to consider residential care, if Greenwich council goes ahead with its plans.
Another said the Labour-run council’s changes could force her to quit her job with a disabled people’s organisation in another London borough.
A third disabled resident said she feared she would have to quit her work as a self-employed consultant, and her campaigning work with organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), if the council presses ahead with its plans.
Another Greenwich resident, Fred Williams, who receives 38 hours of support a week, said he would refuse to pay any new charges imposed on him by the council.
He has been refusing to pay all care charges requested by Greenwich council since 1995, when new laws on charging were introduced by the Conservative government.
Williams plans to take legal action against the council if it continues with its proposals.
He said they could even prove fatal for some disabled people in the borough, many of whom have already experienced cuts through the introduction of universal credit and personal independence payment.
He said: “For many, it will mean a loss of care, they won’t be able to afford the extra charges, it will end up being a choice of food, heating or paying for the little care they can afford. In time, this could be fatal.
“Is Greenwich council going to take full responsibility for these deaths?”
Among 11 proposals, Greenwich council wants to increase the hourly rate it charges for home care; force recipients of the higher rate of disability benefits to contribute more towards their care; remove subsidies for delivery of frozen ready meals; remove its cap on charges for home care; and increase charges for service-users with savings of between £14,250 and £23,250.
The council’s own equality impact assessment of its proposals warned there was a “risk of impacting on income of most severely disabled people”.
Another disabled resident, Kate Brown, in an open letter to the council that was supported by the grassroots group WinVisible, has said that her charges would increase from £65 per week to £105 per week or more.
She said in the letter: “This sounds overdramatic, but if I had to cut down to pay the extra, it would be on food, or the clothes and bedding that I need as I am double incontinent.”
She has already seen her support package cut from 168 hours to 27.5 hours a week, following the closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015.
Greenwich is just the latest local authority to announce plans to increase charges or restrict access to care and support, as the government continues to delay publication of its long-awaited green paper on how to deal with the adult social care funding crisis.
Anne Novis, who chairs Inclusion London, and received a commendation from the Metropolitan police only last month for her work as an independent advisor to the force, said she was likely to have to quit both those voluntary positions if the council’s proposals went ahead.
Because she was left some money when her mother died, Novis will be hit hard by the reduction on the cap in charges. She is set to lose support worth £3,500 a month.
She said: “If that is removed as proposed, I will have to pay for all my care, an impossible request if I am to live.”
Within a year, she fears she will be forced to claim housing benefit and will probably be hit by the bedroom tax, because of the lack of smaller accessible properties in the borough.
She said: “If they remove the cap, I will be faced with paying all of it or the cheaper option of going into a care home.”
Another option is to cut her care from 63 hours a week to one hour a day, which would still cost more than £300 a month.
She said: “I will not be able to do anything. My life just comes to existing, not living, not contributing to all the things I do. That’s what people need to hear about.”
She added: “I fear I will end up in hospital, as I will not be able to afford the care I have been assessed as needing.”
Novis said the council’s plans would “push all service users into more poverty”, because they are already struggling with the benefits freeze and increased living costs.
Jenny Hurst, another well-known disabled campaigner and Greenwich resident, told Disability News Service that she fears the care charge changes could force her to quit her job – supporting disabled people being assessed for care in another borough – and rely instead on benefits.
She said the Greenwich consultation document says people will only be charged what they can afford.
But she said: “I support people on a regular basis with little or no savings, some with not a penny to their name, who are in debt and struggling to afford household bills and food on a week by week basis who are told [by their council] that they can afford over £100 a week towards their care.
“Calculations are done according to a standard formula, using figures from the government, with minor tweaks… not considering the person’s actual living costs.
“They have all been told that, according to the government’s calculations, they can afford to pay towards their care. The reality for them is that they can’t.
“Greenwich’s consultation document shows that Greenwich will also be following the same government figures in the calculations.”
She added: “People should not have to pay for support to do the most basic tasks that non-disabled people take for granted.”
Eleanor Lisney, another high-profile disabled Greenwich resident, as a DPAC co-founder, said: “My care package is just enough to ensure I have my personal needs taken care of so that I am presentable for the work I do.
“I get my meals cooked and help to maintain hygiene at home, shopping and some leisure activities and campaigning work.
“I don’t think I can afford that if I have to pay for it myself.
“I think, ultimately, I fear that we will be stripped of dignity and choice if we are not afforded the basic daily functions that a non-disabled person takes for granted.
“It is disingenuous to say it is only imposed on people who can afford it, because many of us are walking the line with poverty and the safety net is not there for us.”
A new DPAC group in Greenwich, which Lisney, Hurst and Novis have set up, aims to challenge the proposed increased charges.
Their fight against Greenwich council’s proposals is supported by Inclusion London.
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said: “Social care charges are a tax on disability.
“More and more research is illustrating how care charges are pushing disabled people into deeper poverty and forcing some to make unenviable choices between heating and eating.
“Hammersmith and Fulham council have scrapped social care charges and Inclusion London hopes that Greenwich council will learn lessons from their colleagues and reduce the burden on disabled people who have already been hit disproportionately hard by a decade of austerity.
“We will continue supporting disabled people in Greenwich to campaign against the proposed changes and we will explore all possible means to prevent Greenwich council from implementing their proposals.
“We will make sure disabled people in Greenwich understand their rights, have access to advice, including legal advice, and can challenge councils’ decisions when necessary.”
Greenwich council refused to say if it was concerned that its proposals might push some disabled people into poverty, or if they might force some service-users to give up their voluntary or paid work.
It also refused to say if it believed that the changes would force some disabled people into residential care.
But Cllr Averil Lekau, cabinet member for adult social care and health, said in a statement: “Hundreds of people have had their say on a range of proposals that we are consulting on, and I have personally met and listened to residents who may be affected.
“The consultation has now closed, and all the responses will be collated, analysed and used to inform our decision.
“Since 2010, our funding has reduced by a staggering £1,400 per household, totalling some £125 million, largely as a result of funding that the government has taken away from us.
“At the same time, the population has grown, and more people have had to use our adult social care services.
“Many other councils have already increased the amount they are charging – something we have resisted for years.
“Unfortunately, we are at the end of the line and have to make some incredibly difficult decisions.
“However, whatever changes are brought in, we will make sure that there will be rigorous assessments so that the people who are least able to afford any increases are protected.
“I note that the new prime minister has pledged to fix the social care crisis – I very much hope that this means putting an end to austerity and giving councils the money they need to provide crucial services for their most vulnerable residents.”
22 August 2019
Family fight for ‘misdiagnosed’ autistic man who fears being left to die in hospital
An autistic man who has been kept in locked mental health units for four years has told his mother he fears he will never be released.
The user-led campaign group Autistic UK is supporting the family of Ikram Khan, now 23, who have been fighting since 2015 for the release of their son.
They say he has been wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia, and has been kept under heavy medication for four years, and kept locked up in a series of mental health units at a cost of £13,000 a week.
It is the latest example of a young autistic person forced into a hospital unit, and kept under heavy medication, rather than being supported to live independently in the community.
At one stage, Ikram was so heavily dosed on anti-psychotics that he lost the ability to recognise his family.
Ikram, who has two brothers and three sisters, has told his mother, Monaka Bibi, from Birmingham: “It looks like I am going to die here.”
He told her: “Mum, they took me when I was 19. I never got the chance to work. I can’t do that if I’m locked up.”
Another patient in Priory Woodland View, the private mental health unit near Coventry where he has been kept under section for more than a year, has told Ikram he has been there for 20 years. Now he fears the same fate.
Ikram’s primary school told his family they thought he had Asperger’s syndrome, while his secondary school later attempted to have him assessed for Asperger’s, but he refused to attend the assessment.
He was first sectioned four years ago, at the age of just 19, when – his mother says – he was told he was being taken to an NHS mental health centre for some “activities”.
She was then phoned later that day and told he had been sectioned.
She was given three different explanations for her son being sectioned, she said.
She says he has never been violent, and the only incident of any aggression happened when he was 19, after he was placed on powerful anti-psychotic medication by local mental health services, and even then he had only spat at a fellow college student.
His mother said that after the medication was reduced “he really regretted his actions” and “reverted to his mild-mannered self”.
One doctor specialising in patients with learning difficulties has previously told the family that Ikram is autistic and does not have schizophrenia, but the family say that that diagnosis has been ignored by Forward Thinking Birmingham (FTB), the local NHS provider of community mental health services for children and young people.
FTB took over provision of these services in 2016, after Ikram was first sectioned.
Although in the last couple of months Priory Woodland View has allowed him weekly home visits, his family say he still spends half of the week detained under section in a locked ward in the hospital.
He has to take five separate drugs to counteract the side-effects of the powerful anti-psychotic medication Clozapine he is forced to take.
His mother said: “They just want to keep him locked up. They have no reason.
“They are paying £13,000 a week to lock him up. It will cost them a lot more to keep him in hospital than to keep him in the community.
“The mental health system is a minefield and finding one’s way around seems impossible.”
As well as securing his discharge, the family want a “proper second opinion” on his diagnosis of schizophrenia, with full disclosure of his previous hospital records.
They say the private hospitals and mental health professionals now responsible for him being detained have yet to see these records, and that he has never had any hallucinations.
They believe the records would show that the symptoms taken by his doctors as signs of psychosis were in fact the result of an infection and his autism.
And they say that FTB has told them it cannot find suitable accommodation for him in the community, and that the family home is too noisy.
Ikram’s mother said her son’s ordeal had “devastated” her life – affecting her health, and forcing her to give up her volunteering work, quit her job and put her studies on hold.
The family is just one of several being supported by Autistic UK, a grassroots group run by autistic people, which is seeking legal help for them.
Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, said: “Ikram has been robbed of four years of his life. Why? Because of medical ignorance and mismanagement.
“He has missed four years when he could have been getting a job, making new friends, maybe even going to uni. He will never get those years back.
“Too many autistic and learning disabled people are experiencing this fate – rotting away in assessment and treatment units or mental hospital wards when they should be out in the community experiencing what life has to offer.
“We at Autistic UK want to know why, when the NHS is so strapped for money, they are spending tens of thousands of pounds a week per person to lock these people up when it would be so much cheaper, and so much more humane, to give them support in the community.
“Why are so many lives being irreparably damaged so needlessly?”
She added: “We are asking for the NHS, social services, and the governments both local and national to cooperate to resolve the horrific abuse that is happening all over the country.
“This is a human rights crisis. Please act before more lives are ruined.”
In May, an interim Care Quality Commission report found more than 70 disabled children and adults – all of them autistic or with learning difficulties – in long-term segregation in facilities across England.
The government has agreed to have all their cases reviewed, although it is not clear whether Ikram’s is one of them.
A spokesperson for Priory Woodland View said: “We cannot comment in any detail about individual cases.
“However, we take all complaints seriously and ensure they are thoroughly investigated.
“We are exploring the family’s concerns in detail and are seeking to offer as much support as we can, whilst discussions regarding his placement are ongoing.”
An FTB spokesperson said FTB would not be responsible for discharging Ikram, and that “due to patient confidentiality we’re not able to share specific details of cases”.
He refused to clarify the role that FTB played in such cases.
But he said in a statement: “We’re unable to comment on individual cases due to confidentiality.
“When working with partner organisations we do everything possible to ensure the care patients receive is the most appropriate for their needs.”
22 August 2019
Failure to fund access costs of general election candidates is ‘denial of democracy’
Disabled politicians preparing to contest the general election likely to be called within months will be hit hard by the government’s refusal to fund their disability-related campaign spending, a Deaf parliamentary candidate has warned.
Kerena Marchant, who uses British Sign Language (BSL) and is a disability rights campaigner and a TV producer and journalist, will be contesting the Basingstoke seat at the next general election.
But she fears she will not be competing on a level playing-field with other candidates.
With most observers expecting a general election to be called by new prime minister Boris Johnson within months, Marchant is concerned that the government has made no attempt to provide support for those disabled candidates contesting seats.
This failure is likely to hit efforts to increase the number of disabled MPs, with only about one per cent of MPs currently self-identifying as disabled people.
Marchant was selected by Labour this year to fight the Basingstoke seat currently occupied by Conservative MP Maria Miller, a former minister for disabled people and currently chair of the Commons women and equalities committee.
Marchant has pointed out that a new temporary fund to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office – the EnAble Fund for Elected Office, which went live in January – is not open to parliamentary candidates.
Only disabled people fighting local government and Police and Crime Commissioner elections can apply for EnAble grants.
Marchant said the lack of funding for parliamentary elections “has completely cut disabled people out of the political arena” at a time when there is “growing talk and likelihood of a general election”.
She said she felt as though she was competing in “a race up a steep mountain and the other candidates are already over halfway up and I haven’t started.
“I not only have to fundraise for the campaign but also include some of my interpreting costs.”
She said that Miller’s time as minister for disabled people between 2010 and 2012, in a coalition government that “hit disabled people hard with austerity”, just “makes me want to run faster”.
She added: “We are living in a time when disabled people have taken the brunt of the government’s austerity cuts and many are living in poverty, many are unable to fulfil their potential, their futures stolen.
“Tragically, thousands have lost their lives because of the cuts and the Department for Work and Pensions is a hostile environment.
“This lack of financial support for disabled candidates puts disabled people in a separate political class and denies them democracy and peer representation in parliament at the time they most need it to fight back.”
Marchant was only able to contest the selection process for the seat because her constituency Labour party provided some funding for interpreters.
Now she has been selected, the local party is also making phone calls on her behalf, providing party volunteers to accompany her on visits and carry out note-taking duties, and paying for some interpreters at meetings.
Meanwhile, she has applied for a bursary from the party to cover her disability-related expenses.
The EnAble fund is a temporary, partial replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF), which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years and had provided funding for expenses such as BSL interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.
In contrast to EnAble, AEOF was open to disabled people seeking election to parliament.
Marchant said: “The government have deliberately kicked [AEOF] into the long grass and left it there, hoping that it is hidden and forgotten.
“Throughout this period when MPs have written letters and asked questions about it, they have used delays, diversions and excuses.
“There must be other disabled candidates hit by this or not standing. The sad thing is that if there is a snap election this autumn it could be the last chance to stand until 2024.”
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “Disabled people are seriously under-represented in the House of Commons.
“Disabled people need access to funding for disability-related expenses for general elections too.
“It would be a breach of article 29 of the UN disability convention [on participation in political and public life] if funds were not available for general elections.
“Failure to extend the fund to cover general elections will damage efforts to increase the numbers of disabled MPs.”
A long-delayed evaluation report into AEOF, when it was finally published last June, found that it had been “very expensive” to run.
The average cost of processing each grant by the company that secured the contract was £52 for every £100 spent on grants in the first two years, and £13 for every £100 spent on grants in the final year.
It also found that only 14 per cent of disabled people applying for grants were Conservatives while 39 per cent were Labour candidates.
AEOF’s partial replacement, EnAble, is administered by the disabled people’s organisation Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA), but with central government funding.
The Scottish government has set up its own fund for disabled candidates for local and Scottish parliament elections, delivered by Inclusion Scotland.
DR UK said it was in discussions with the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and LGA about extending the fund to cover a snap general election.
Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “We are aware that the current fund does not cover general elections, and we have spoken to the GEO/LGA about this.
“Discussions are ongoing about the possibility of making the EnAble Fund available for this very scenario [a snap general election].
“So yes, we would like to see the fund extended for this.
“As an organisation we believe that the barriers preventing disabled people from standing for local/national elections should be removed and part of this is through supporting individuals with disability-related expenses.”
He added: “The fund is designed to provide financial support for reasonable adjustments and its impact was demonstrated in the English local elections [where it helped 19 disabled people win seats on local councils].”
Asked about a possible snap general election, a GEO spokesperson said she would not comment on “hypothetical scenarios”, but she said in a statement: “There is not a general election currently scheduled for the time period of the fund but we will consider parliamentary by-elections on a case-by-case basis.
“The EnAble Fund for Elected Office runs between the financial years of 2018-2020.
“It was always intended to be used for the English local elections in 2019, and allocating the money across two financial years ensures all of the money can be allocated to candidates.
“This is an interim fund whilst the government undertakes a programme of work with disability stakeholders to help major political parties best support disabled candidates.”
22 August 2019
Tourist attraction could face legal action after ‘years of access failings’
A world-renowned London tourist attraction could soon be facing legal action after failing for years to address its glaring access flaws, according to a former adviser.
Disabled broadcaster, journalist and access consultant Mik Scarlet said it was “shocking” that a top London tourist attraction like Camden Market was so “unwelcoming and unsafe” for disabled people.
He previously spent more than six years working two days a month advising the market on its access.
But almost nothing was done by its owners to act on his advice, he says.
He was taken on as an access consultant at a time when he was one of the market’s most outspoken and high-profile critics.
Now, he says, he feels like he was just “paid to shut up”.
It is now three years since he stopped working for Camden Market, and he believes the situation has become so bad that its accessibility failings are a significant health and safety risk to many disabled visitors.
Scarlet, who lives in Camden, told Disability News Service (DNS): “This is an internationally-famous tourist attraction. It really puts Camden on the map.
“It needs to start being inclusive and represent London in the 21st century.
“It is no longer an access issue. I think it’s gone past that. I think it’s a health and safety issue now.
“You can’t guarantee walking around the market that you won’t trip and fall.”
He added: “I rant on Twitter a lot about this and every time I do, I’m contacted by people who either say, ‘We came, it was awful and it ruined our holiday,’ or, ‘We don’t even go there although we’ve always wanted to because we know how bad it is.’
“I don’t understand why the council or the people who run it aren’t embarrassed to be known internationally as somewhere that is so [inaccessible] that disabled people will either go there and it will ruin their holiday because they will get hurt, or not go there at all because they know they will have an awful time. I just don’t get it.”
The huge, sprawling market, which stretches north from Regent’s Canal in Camden, dates back to 1974 but it is now internationally-renowned and has become a huge tourist draw for the capital.
It is the city’s largest market and is open seven days a week, but for wheelchair-users and blind and partially-sighted visitors, large parts of it are practically a no-go area because of the state of disrepair of the cobbled walkways.
Scarlet believes the cobbles, which have steadily deteriorated over the years, are the biggest access failing.
But there are also problems with the accessible toilets – one of which he says became notorious for being used by some stallholders to dispose of their used cooking fat – lifts, poor ramped access to shops and wayfinding around the maze of stalls, shops, bars and clubs.
Scarlet began working one day a month for the market about 10 years ago and spent more than six years writing reports, attending meetings and offering advice on access.
Earlier this year he was invited to a meeting with new management and he says he was promised a “rolling programme of upgrades”.
He said: “That was just after Christmas. It’s now the end of August and I haven’t seen anything done.”
He believes the only solution now is to talk to a solicitor about taking legal action against the market for disability discrimination under the Equality Act.
But he is also frustrated with Labour-run Camden council, which he says has done nothing to force the market to improve access.
He compares it with one of his current clients, Derby City Council, which pressures licensed premises to improve access and has a fund to help businesses make access improvements in keeping with the historic environment.
Scarlet remembers taking the head of athlete engagement for the London 2012 Paralympics, who was preparing information in advance of the games, on a tour of the market.
The cobbles were so bad that the man had to be strapped into his wheelchair by his personal assistant, who also had to “gaffer-tape his head to his headrest”, said Scarlet.
He later advised athletes not to visit the market until they had competed, warning them: “It is so inaccessible you will injure yourself before the games.”
DNS tried repeatedly yesterday (Wednesday) to contact Camden Market about Scarlet’s concerns, but no-one was available to comment.
But a Camden council spokesperson said: “Camden Market is an important part of the character, culture and heritage of Camden Town and the borough.
“The council wants to ensure the market is accessible to all and has encouraged the owners to share their vision strategy, to ensure that this aspiration is realised.”
He said the council’s building control service can advise businesses on accessibility audits, but there are “instances where either due to factors such as space or impact on structural integrity, or public safety, such access provision may not be possible”.
He said there had been no complaints received by the council’s licensing service relating to access to Camden Market businesses.
22 August 2018
New figures raise fresh questions over Atos PIP assessments
The amount of time that nurses and physiotherapists spend carrying out face-to-face disability benefit assessments can vary hugely, depending on where the test takes place, according to analysis of new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.
Although the figures do not prove that disabled people in some parts of the country are receiving more careful and considered personal independence payment (PIP) assessments than claimants in other areas, they do raise concerns that this could be happening.
And they suggest that there could even be such contrasting experiences for claimants being assessed compared with those in neighbouring towns, cities and counties.
The figures only relate to face-to-face PIP assessments carried out by healthcare professionals working for outsourcing giant Atos, as data is not yet available for those parts of the country covered by DWP’s other PIP contractor, Capita.
And Atos* insisted yesterday (Wednesday) that there was “no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly” and that any variation shown in the figures was not “untoward”.
The figures show that the average time spent on face-to-face PIP assessments in one part of the south-east of England in August 2018 was just 43.5 minutes.
In the same month, the average time spent on face-to-face assessments in another part of the south-east region was 62.6 minutes, more than 40 per cent higher.
In one part of the north-west of England, in June 2018, assessments were taking an average of 47.2 minutes, compared with 63.1 minutes in another part of the north-west.
In January 2018, average face-to-face assessment times in the north-west varied from 49.4 minutes in one area to 64.7 minutes in another.
The figures are likely to be significant because each of them are averages based on hundreds – and sometimes more than 1,000 – assessments carried out in each area every month in 2018.
They are contained within data files secured from DWP under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater.
The files he obtained have previously shown that 37 per cent of disability assessment reports completed by Capita were found to be significantly flawed.
Data released through a parliamentary question later revealed that the proportion of assessment reports completed by Atos that were found to be significantly flawed reached more than 36 per cent last year.
The new analysis of the data files will only add to these concerns about the performance of DWP’s two PIP contractors.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Fluctuations and variations are to be expected in PIP assessment times.
“PIP assessments cover a mix of different types of cases such as new claims and award reviews as well as localised approaches to disability living allowance (DLA) to PIP transitions.”
But Slater said the figures suggested a “postcode lottery” in how “local parts of Atos carry out DLA to PIP transitions (probably the most stressful part of PIP for those on DLA).
“I wonder how much the DWP centre knows about these localised approaches or does it just let them do whatever they want?”
The data files show figures for different areas within seven different regions: south-west England, south-east England, London, east England, north-east England, north-west England and Scotland.
The fluctuations appear to be less severe in London and the south-west and more striking in the south-east and north-west of England.
An Atos spokesperson said: “With the focus rightly on quality there is no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly.
“A significant factor in the variation of assessment duration is the proportion of home consultations carried out in an area and those carried out in assessment centres.
“Home consultations often take considerably longer to complete than those in an assessment centre.
“The mix of home versus assessment centre consultations is not fixed across the country, with some areas more reliant on home consultations than others.
“Individual claimant circumstances can also be a factor in causing variation at a local level.
“So taken as a whole, significant variation on assessment duration on a case-by-case basis is not uncommon or untoward.”
*Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK
22 August 2019
Disability Labour crowdfunds costs for conference access hub after party ‘snub’
Disabled delegates who are providing free access and mental health advice and support to delegates at next month’s Labour conference have had to launch an “embarrassing” crowdfunding appeal after they say the party refused to pay for any free accommodation.
At last year’s annual conference in Liverpool, the “disability hub” run by Disability Labour provided support for numerous disabled delegates, with the party paying hotel costs for one volunteer.
The hub played a key role in exposing the disablist actions of right-wing journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, who had mocked the conference safe space on social media.
This year, Disability Labour – which is affiliated to the party – plans to expand the number of volunteers offering support and advice to disabled delegates.
It expects to receive many more requests for support because of the access problems usually faced by disabled visitors to party conferences in Brighton.
Two years ago, when Labour last visited Brighton for its annual conference, many disabled party members spoke of the access problems they faced, including uneven pavements, the shortage of accessible accommodation, and problems with lifts and accessible toilets at the conference centre itself.
But four of the disabled volunteers planning to run the disability hub next month, including Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, need accessible accommodation near the conference centre.
Disability Labour has asked the party to provide two fully-accessible twin rooms for five nights across the week of the conference, with another eight volunteers with lower access needs paying for their own accommodation costs.
But they say the party has so far offered only a free space at the conference for Disability Labour to run the disability hub, even though the volunteers will be providing a free service for disabled delegates.
Disability Labour has been raising the issue with the party for several months.
It originally asked for three accessible rooms in the main conference hotel, which is located beside the conference centre, but when it was presented with a bill for £5,800 it asked if the party could provide two free accessible rooms instead.
At one stage, the party suggested rooms at £150 per night in another hotel, but it was too far from the main conference venue.
Following a breakdown in communications, Disability Labour has now been forced to launch a crowdfunding appeal, asking party members to contribute £3,600 towards its conference costs.
Springfield, who is a clinical nurse specialist, told Disability News Service: “We were staggered when we were told we would have to pay.
“It’s really, really embarrassing. We should not be in this position.
“We felt in Liverpool last year [that Labour was] really taking disability equality seriously, but with what is happening now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It is soul destroying.
“We had a major success last year. We changed the whole atmosphere around the way delegates were looked after.”
She said Disability Labour had left it until the last minute to launch the crowdfunding appeal in the hope that the party would provide the funding.
Springfield accepted that the dispute would not reflect well on the party.
But she said: “We shouldn’t be in this state. It’s 2019 and the party needs to recognise that the Equality Act needs to be followed and needs to be worked through.
“We have people with the skill and abilities to do that and they are preventing it happening.
“The party has got the money. I know we have got a general election coming up, but it is not a massive amount of money. And it is all of our income.”
Since last year, several Disability Labour members have been trained in providing mental health first aid, and they will be providing this service to disabled delegates at the conference, as well as providing advice and support on access issues.
Three of them, including Springfield, are trained as access consultants.
In all, Disability Labour will be able to call on three nurses and a psychiatrist if needed for mental health-related issues.
Sarah Taylor, another Disability Labour member who will be volunteering on the hub during the conference, said she was “very disappointed” with the party.
She said: “It is so important that my colleagues have accommodation.
“We are supposed to be the party of equality and if we can’t ourselves keep within the terms of the Equality Act and put our money where our mouth is… it’s a sad show.”
After DNS contacted the party’s press office this week, a Labour party spokesperson said: “The Labour party is an inclusive organisation that prides itself on being accessible to all who share its values.”
Yesterday (Wednesday), it released a new statement: “Party officials have been discussing this matter with Disability Labour since July.
“Like last year, we have offered to provide them with an accessible hotel room.”
Disability Labour confirmed that a new approach from the party had come hours earlier, after DNS had contacted the press office, and involved an offer of three discounted rooms, two of which were accessible.
None of the rooms would be free, with one being charged at £215 per night and the other two at £235 per night, although Disability Labour would only need two of the rooms, at a total cost of £2,250.
This morning, the party provided an updated statement: “Party officials have been discussing this matter with Disability Labour since July.
“The party offered in July to provide Disability Labour with an accessible hotel room free of charge.”
But Kathy Bole, a Labour county councillor in Suffolk, who has been leading discussions with the party, said that at no point had she received an offer of a free, accessible room for this year’s conference.
Labour sources later said that an email offer of a free accessible room was made last month to five members of the Disability Labour executive, although not to Bole.
But Springfield and Disability Labour co-chair Wayne Blackburn denied receiving this offer, while a third member of the executive – who the party claimed had also been copied in on the email – also could not remember receiving such an offer.
22 August 2019
Citizens Advice signed gagging clause in return for share of £51m from DWP
Two charities that will receive £51 million in government funding to provide advice and support to claimants of universal credit (UC) signed gagging clauses that prevent them bringing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “unfairly” into “disrepute”.
Both Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) signed grant agreements with DWP – worth a total of £51 million – that include the same clause.
By signing the documents, it means they cannot take “any actions which unfairly bring or are likely to unfairly bring [DWP’s] name or reputation and/or [DWP] into disrepute”.
It comes a year after f how several disability charities had signed contracts under the government’s Work and Health Programme that included clauses promising not to bring DWP into disrepute.
Copies of the agreements signed last year by CA and CAS have been obtained from DWP by social welfare activist Frank Zola using the Freedom of Information Act.
He told Disability News Service (DNS) that the grant “does little more than help some people claim universal credit and not address its inherent flaws, it just helps impose UC misery on its service users, through this £51,000,000 bribe.
“Citizens Advice provides help to large numbers of those punished by universal credit, such as disabled people and families who have ended up losing thousands of pounds by claiming UC, vast rises in debt, rent arrears, evictions, survival crime, five week delays in first payments and the horror of its inbuilt benefit sanctions and excessive conditionality.
“Against this background, does Citizens Advice campaign and advocate for universal credit to be stopped and abolished?
“No, it decides to act as a mere duplicitous adjunct of the DWP and even agrees to a grant gagging clause that prevents them from being critical of the DWP.”
He questioned why CA had kept its negotiations over the grant secret, rather than engaging with activists and claimant-led organisations, and the advice and guidance sector, on the best ways to support UC claimants and challenge the “iniquity” of UC.
He added: “This Citizens Advice grant damages trust in advice and guidance and reinforces the belief that, like charity and third sector collusion and contracts with the DWP Health and Work Programme, it is now part of a shadow state with commercial interests.”
Dr Jay Watts, an activist who raised concerns about the grant when it was announced at last October’s Tory party conference, said: “First of all, I need to make it clear that I think it is important people feel they can still approach Citizens Advice Bureaux which operate independently of head office and provide a vital service in desperate times.
“Having said that, many people will feel that CA has made a pact with the devil in accepting money from the government within the context of a contractual arrangement that limits their capacity to speak out against the policies which produce much of the despair they are tasked to help with.
“It is simply bad psychology to argue that dissent on government policies which cause such human rights violations won’t be muted at best by the inherent and often unconscious desire not to bite the hand that feeds.”
Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, another who raised concerns last October, said: “This gagging clause will cause utter dismay to people, and to those CA staff who see their executive leadership betraying their very ethos.
“At a time when the DWP is engaged in massive and ongoing human rights abuse, for the supposed Citizens Advice organisation to be tied into a legal and financial relationship with the abusers is catastrophic for CA’s integrity and for people who need defending from the DWP, and for open democratic oversight of government policies.
“It’s a bribe to stay silent.”
Disabled activists raised serious concerns last October about whether the DWP funding would put the independence of CA and CAS at risk, with Watts saying CA had “sold out to the DWP for £51 million after 79 years of independence”.
Just hours after the funding was announced, CA had added to those concerns when it refused to criticise DWP at a party conference fringe event over four deaths that had been linked to universal credit, with the charity’s comments about the UC roll-out appearing to contrast with much stronger criticisms from fellow panellists.
This week, CA confirmed that the agreement with DWP included the “disrepute” clause, but said that all of its “public advocacy work” was “based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’” and so the clause “does not affect Citizens Advice’s ability to publicly criticise DWP”.
A CA spokesperson said the decision not to speak out at last year’s Tory party conference fringe event was not because of the “disrepute” clause.
She added: “We agreed to the clause in the agreement because it does not stop us from speaking out – all of our public advocacy work is based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’.”
Gillian Guy, CA’s chief executive, said in a statement: “There is nothing in the grant agreement that prevents us from raising our evidence publicly about the impact universal credit is having on the people who come to us for help.
“Since we signed the grant agreement and have been delivering the service, we’ve published significant pieces of policy work highlighting where improvements can be made to the universal credit system. We will continue to do so.
“Citizens Advice is, and always will be, totally independent from government.”
CAS has declined to confirm that its agreement contained a “disrepute” clause, and that it could potentially affect its public criticism of DWP, and it has also declined to explain why it accepted the clause in the agreement.
But Derek Mitchell, chief executive of CAS, said in a statement: “Citizens Advice Scotland has not, nor would we ever, sign an agreement which would prevent us speaking out on behalf of people we represent.
“Nothing in this grant agreement stops us from raising concerns about the impact universal credit is having on the people who turn to us for help.
“Universal credit has been one of our major public advocacy issues and we have highlighted concerns around the five week waiting time, the deductions from universal credit which result from advance loans and the digital first aspect negatively impacting claimants.
“We highlighted these concerns as a result of robust analysis of the evidence from our client base across Scotland, which is how we deliver advocacy.
“We will continue to use that evidence base to campaign for a better system for the people we help, and we will always do so independent of government.”
15 August 2019
EHRC proposals on a new right to independent living: Welcome for draft plans
Leading disabled campaigners have welcomed draft proposals by the equality watchdog that would provide a new legal right to independent living for disabled people.
A legal right to independent living is one of the key demands of the disabled people’s movement, and if introduced through legislation should see the UK comply for the first time with article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.
It warned that disabled people were “not able to choose where to live, with whom to live and how to live… [they] are still facing the risk of institutionalisation and not being able to live within the community.”
Now the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says there is “growing evidence of regression in relation to the right of disabled people to live independently as part of their communities”.
It has produced a working paper with six “key elements” that together could “incorporate the right to independent living into domestic law”.
These six elements include a new duty on public bodies like local councils to aim to meet the requirements of article 19; a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable “community or home living”; and a ban on building new “institutional” accommodation.
The commission has been working on its plans since at least November 2017 and is still “refining” its proposals.
As part of its development of the working paper, it has been consulting members of the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, ILSG’s chair, said: “The ILSG welcomes the paper, which we helped to develop over the past 18 months, in one of our many attempts to strengthen disabled people’s right to independent living.
“The EHRC and the ILSG will continue to collaborate on a number of ways to bring about a statutory right to independent living and [want] to work with anyone to this end.”
Dr Miro Griffiths, a researcher, adviser and campaigner on disability rights and a member of EHRC’s disability advisory committee (DAC), said: “As the EHRC has noted in recent years, there are widespread concerns that disabled people’s right to independent living is being eroded.”
He said the commission’s proposals would build on the UN committee’s recommendations and “go some way to protect independent living against the ever-changing political, economic, and social objectives of the state”.
But he said any changes would also have to ensure that guidance and interpretation of the new laws by policy-makers would be developed “in line with the ideas, values, and aspirations of the disabled people’s movement”.
He said he was supportive of the direction of the work so far, but that it was essential that the commission “continues to take guidance from the DAC, and others, as the proposals develop”.
Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives (SOL), who has been involved in the ILSG discussions, said it was “very disappointing that disabled people’s right to live in the community, a right that most people would not question, has to be protected by legal measures”.
She said SOL supported the EHRC proposals, but she warned that disabled people had found it “extremely difficult” to use other legislation, such as the Care Act, to defend their rights.
She said: “A key problem is that disabled people will often not have access to legal aid and not have sufficient money to hire the necessary legal support to challenge a local authority in court.”
She said any new laws would need to be accompanied by investment in disabled people’s organisations so they could advocate for disabled people relying on the new legislation, and support for disabled people so they have “the best possible chance of defending their right to choice and control on where and how they want to live”.
Meakin said: “Shaping Our Lives has been raising awareness of the crisis of user-led organisations and the many closures of local groups that provide a collective voice for disabled people and those from diverse communities.
“Without a strong network of local user-led organisations, disabled people may still experience too many barriers to independent living and have no means to defending it.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of SOL, said there also needed to be more attention paid in the proposals to the diversity of disabled people, particularly mental health survivors.
He said: “Given that more and more survivors are being especially penalised by welfare reform and coming under the control and compulsory provisions of mental health legislation, it would be good if more attention could be paid to this highly problematic and contentious area.
“This especially given that we know that this discriminates particularly against some black and minority ethnic groups.”
He suggested a wider consultation by EHRC with disabled people and their organisations, including SOL.
Sue Bott, head of policy and research for Disability Rights UK, said: “Ideally we would like to see the rights enshrined in the UNCRPD brought into domestic legislation but failing that, the measures put forward by the EHRC would go a long way towards realising our right to independent living.”
She said the proposals “would pretty much do it in term of a right to independent living, but the wording in UNCRPD article 19 is more explicit in the scope of what we need.
“As we have seen with the public sector equality duty, there is always a doubt and room for interpretation in a public sector duty.”
And she added: “It’s not just about resources – many community solutions are in fact cheaper.
“It’s about a change in attitudes and a recognition that disabled people should have the same rights as everyone else.”
*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.
15 August 2019
EHRC proposals on a new right to independent living: Six key elements
The equality and human rights watchdog has described six key elements that it believes would be needed to enable disabled people in the UK to have a legal right to independent living.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been examining whether there needs to be a legal right to independent living since at least November 2017.
Last year, a barrister commissioned by the watchdog concluded that there did need to be such a legal right.
EHRC has been developing a working paper describing how this could be achieved, although it is still “refining” its proposals.
Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.
The committee has recommended that article 19 (on independent living) of the UN disability convention should be incorporated into UK domestic law.
In the working paper, EHRC says it agrees with this recommendation, but believes there is “no single way” to do this.
Instead, a “mixture of provisions with duties and rights of varying strength, levels and breadth is likely to be required”.
It believes there would be six “key elements” to how this could be done.
The first would be to create a new duty on certain public bodies, such as local authorities and NHS clinical commissioning groups, to act with the aim of meeting the requirements of article 19.
Secondly, there would be a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable community or home living, as long as this was in line with the disabled person’s wishes.
Disabled people should also be able to decline care (or elements of that support), “even if others may think those care elements are best for their well-being”, and they should have that wish respected.
There should also be a ban on the building of new “institutional” accommodation, although the working paper does not currently recommend that existing institutions should be shut down.
The fifth element is for local authorities, and central government, to carry out a regular assessment of unmet need for accommodation, support and care in the community, probably every two years.
The final “key element” would be to set up a new independent body to enforce the right to independent living and decide if local authorities have “discharged their obligations”.
The working paper also attempts to define institutional accommodation, suggesting that it is a setting where residents are isolated from the broader community; or live with people other than those they have chosen to live with; or where they do not have control over their day-to-day lives and the decisions which affect them; or where the interests of the organisation itself “tend to take precedence over the residents’ individualised needs or wishes”.
Although the working paper has not yet been published on the commission’s website, it was submitted quietly in April as evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, for its ongoing inquiry into the inappropriate detention of young autistic people and young people with learning difficulties.
Leading figures in the independent living movement have given the proposals a generally positive welcome (see separate story), while some of them have been working with the commission on its proposals.
David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The evidence shows that the rights of disabled and older people to live in their communities are at risk.
“Disabled people often feel like second-class citizens, and many are sadly faced with little choice but to move into institutions. They are often left feeling ostracised.
“We need a transformative solution that reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that everyone can live as part of their community where no one is forced out of the place they call home.
“We are confident that our solution will protect the right of many more people to live in their communities and we would welcome a national conversation to take our proposal forward.”
15 August 2019
Mystery over sharp drop in disabled people’s unemployment rate
Striking – but unexplained – new official figures suggest there has been a large fall over the last year in the proportion of disabled people who are unemployed.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the percentage of disabled people counted as unemployed dropped to 7.3 per cent of those who were economically active (those seeking employment and available to start work) in April-June 2019.
This compares with an unemployment rate of 8.8 per cent during the same time period in 2018, and a rate that was as high as 13.5 per cent in 2013.
The proportion of those economically inactive (not available for work) fell slightly over the same period, from 44.4 per cent of working-age disabled people to 43.3 per cent.
It means there has been a fall of about 17 per cent in the unemployment rate among economically-active disabled people in just a year, while the unemployment rate for non-disabled people actually rose slightly from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent over the same period.
The figures (see table A08) are likely to raise questions about the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on disabled people, and whether the fall could be linked in some way to the introduction of the much-criticised universal credit benefit system.
There will also be questions over whether the fall was at least partly due to increasing numbers of disabled people being forced into self-employment and part-time jobs (of at least one hour a week), or government training and jobs programmes. ONS includes all three in its measure of “employment”.
Figures secured from ONS last year by Inclusion London showed that nearly half of the increase in disability employment in the previous four years – between 2013-14 and 2017-18 – had been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs of as little as one hour a week.
Mike Smith, a former commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and now chief executive of the east London disabled people’s organisation Real, said: “I don’t believe the employment environment has suddenly become more welcoming.
“I suspect some employers are getting better, but it might also be because people on the periphery of struggling to work are struggling even more to survive on benefits, and so have been pushed into work.
“What the stats don’t tell you is anything about the quality of the work, the wage levels, the hours of work, the job security, etcetera.”
There was also a call for research into the cause of the fall by Manchester-based Breakthrough UK, a disabled people’s organisation which provides employment support for disabled people.
Peter Jackson, Breakthrough UK’s deputy chief executive, said the figures needed “more scrutiny” and research to identify what had caused the fall in the unemployment rate, including whether the rollout of the government’s universal credit benefits system was playing a role.
He said: “Somebody needs to drill down into that data to get a better understanding of the impact of the very diverse range of factors involved.”
He added: “We have not seen any significant difference in terms of the employment market and the experiences of our clients on our employment programmes.
“Our experience in working with disabled people who we are supporting to secure employment in the open jobs market has not changed. It is still very challenging.
“People are generally experiencing the same types of barriers.”
He said there had been increasing contact from employers who have signed up to the government’s Disability Confident employment programme.
He said: “It’s certainly got traction from employers.”
But he added: “Whether that gets translated into real outcomes impacting on their workforce is an entirely different matter.”
Jackson also compared the ONS figures with his own day-to-day experiences in Manchester.
He said: “If you walk the streets of Manchester on any given day, the level of deprivation and marginalisation is slapping you in the face.
“The number of homeless people sleeping in shop doorways – that is my barometer in terms of how well the economy is functioning.”
Asked to explain the striking fall in the unemployment rate, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The number of disabled people in employment is the highest on record, showing great progress towards making our workplaces more inclusive and ensuring those disabled people who want to work are given the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling career.
“By encouraging employers to become Disability Confident and providing more funding than ever before for the Access to Work scheme we are removing barriers so that more businesses can reap the rewards of being inclusive and more disabled people can find and stay in work.
“Though welcome, the reasons for the improving disability employment rate are complex so it is impossible to put this down to one cause.”
15 August 2019
‘Anger and collective action’ secure ‘success’ for Peterloo access campaign
A grassroots campaign that “harnessed the anger, determination and collective action” of disabled people in Manchester has secured a council promise that they will have full access to a new memorial to the victims of the Peterloo massacre.
The council-funded memorial is currently completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though it was designed to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.
But following months of campaigning, and weekly vigils by disabled activists, Manchester City Council has now agreed make the monument “fully accessible”, ensuring that “everyone can reach the top”.
It has also agreed that no-one will speak from the inaccessible memorial during events tomorrow (Friday) that will mark the 200th anniversary of the massacre.
Instead, the council says the monument will be used as “the backdrop to the event rather than the centrepiece or any sort of platform for performance”, although disabled activists say they will go further and creatively “obscure the memorial from view” for at least part of the day.
The memorial was unveiled quietly earlier this week without a civic ceremony.
Some of the disabled campaigners who have protested over its discriminatory design were at the site again yesterday to inspect the memorial with artist Jeremy Deller, following a meeting with the council.
They say the council is now looking at two options: incorporating a ramp into the design – the solution favoured by disabled campaigners – or installing a platform-style chair lift, which appears to be the council’s favoured option.
Both options will be examined by the architects that have worked on the memorial with Deller.
The council originally insisted that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the inaccessible memorial, but later backed down in the face of the campaign.
Disabled campaigners are now hoping that a new, fully accessible version of the memorial will be completed in time for the 201st anniversary of the massacre, in August 2020.
A public consultation on designs for the new version of the memorial will begin soon, with the hope that it will be “meaningful, accessible and transparent”.
Dennis Queen, from Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said the decision to reveal the memorial with no ceremony or gathering was “a welcome sign of good faith from a local authority that really is suitably concerned about the whole scandal and will try to fix this error by retrofit”.
She said it was a shame the council had not taken seriously the early concerns that were raised by disabled people about the memorial.
She said: “A lesson must be learned here. Listen to disabled people.
“Disabled people have a strong, radical local movement which has fought hard for involvement in and consideration from our local authority.”
She said the campaign showed that disabled people would take action if they were excluded from local politics in Manchester.
Queen said: “Peterloo left a legacy of strong radical activism and that affected disabled people too.
“The Peterloo memorial will be a centre point for all local activism for, we hope, at least the next 200 years. We will join in. Invited or not.”
Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said the campaign would only be viewed as a success if the council agreed to sign a joint statement confirming its commitment to consult fully on any access design solutions and providing a timetable for work to be completed in time for the 201st anniversary.
He said: “Obviously, GMCDP is proud to have been involved in such a powerful grassroots campaign that has harnessed the anger, determination, and collective action of disabled people.
“It is a campaign that has raised the profile of our exclusion, through our initial protest, weekly vigils, coverage in the media and subsequent constructive meetings with the council, architects and artist Jeremy Deller.
“Although disabled people had been telling the council that its plans for the memorial were flawed, since they were first unveiled last November, it is only really in the last three months that this campaign has really found its voice.
“Although we are reluctant to talk of ‘success’ just yet, a turning point obviously in the campaign came when the council bowed to pressure and announced they were committed to making the memorial ‘fully accessible’.”
But he said the campaign was “far from over”.
Hilton said: “Our aim is that by working with the artist Jeremy Deller, an elegant design solution will be found that not only provides full access to the memorial but also enhances what has already been built.
“The steps tell the story of those massacred on St Peter’s Fields 200 years ago.
“Perhaps [a ramp would] tell a different story, but fundamentally our struggle is the same, a fight for liberty and equality that disabled people are all too familiar with.”
The memorial is positioned near what was known in 1819 as St Peter’s Fields, the site of the massacre, and is outside the current Manchester Central Convention Centre, which in a few weeks will host the Conservative party’s annual conference.
A spokesperson for the city council said: “The council has acknowledged that the innovative and imaginative interpretation of the design brief, with a greater emphasis on interaction than originally envisaged for a public artwork, meant that not enough consideration was initially given to accessible design issues.
“We have listened to, and engaged with, the concerns of disability access campaigners who have raised this issue, and we are committed to making the monument fully accessible – so that everyone can reach the top.
“Details of a proposal for how this will be achieved are being finalised and will be announced in the next few days.
“Both the council and Jeremy Deller are determined that the solution will be of the highest design quality and make a positive contribution to the overall appearance of the memorial as well as its accessibility, and dialogue will continue.
“The memorial will be there in its current form in the short term – enabling it to form a backdrop to the 200th anniversary commemorations – with the modification taking place afterwards.”
Meanwhile, tomorrow’s events to mark the 200th anniversary will include three performances of From The Crowd, which will include eyewitness accounts of those present at Peterloo intertwined with the words of contemporary poets and protesters, including some of the disabled activists who campaigned to ensure an accessible memorial.
Disabled activists are set to “obscure the memorial from view creatively” during the three performances.
Between the three shows, the memorial will be visible for the public to explore.
Disabled campaigners have also issued an appeal for solidarity to other campaign groups not to use the inaccessible top of the memorial as a platform during future rallies over the next 12 months.
They have produced a large banner with a solidarity pledge that allies can sign during From The Crowd.
The pledge commits allies to rally at the bottom of the memorial with disabled people, until everyone can “rally at the top together”.
*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
15 August 2019
Picnics – not work – are a health outcome, say activists
A new campaign aims to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work is an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.
The claim that stable employment is “an important outcome for recovery for people with a mental health problem” angered members of the mental health survivor movement after it appeared in January’s NHS Long Term Plan (pdf).
Now the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has launched a new campaign aimed at persuading the government to drop the claim from the document.
It marked the start of its campaign with a free picnic in Hyde Park yesterday (Wednesday), despite torrential rain, which it called Picnics Are A Health Outcome and which it hopes will also reinvigorate the mental health survivor community.
MHRN believes that the mental health system is now designed “to get people off benefits and to make sure people don’t take too long off work”, particularly through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.
Disabled activists have been warning for several years of the government’s increasing emphasis on linking health and job outcomes.
When the government launched its work, health and disability strategy in December 2017, disabled campaigners criticised this “cruel” and “unacceptable” emphasis.
Among the strategy’s plans were to more than double the number of employment advisers sent in to work within IAPT services, which provide treatment for people with anxiety and depression.
The strategy also revealed that the government was running trials to test different ways of delivering “joined up health and work support” in settings such as GP surgeries.
Now MHRN has launched a campaign to fight back at the increasing emphasis on the idea of work as a mental health outcome.
Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “We have nothing against work; we are all for good employment.
“But we believe that should not be the goal for mental health services. They should be helping people to relieve people of their mental distress.
“When people go to see a therapist now, they know that the therapist has an ulterior motive.”
This focus on employment is combined with a strong target-driven culture, she said, leading to people with severe and enduring mental health problems being unable to secure specialist mental health treatment because they are unable to return to work.
MHRN believes that this “ulterior motive” of therapists destroys the relationship of trust between service-user and service-provider.
McKenna said: “The whole back-to-work thing has completely destroyed mental health services.”
The treatment options are either cognitive behavioural therapy, through IAPT, or heavy doses of drugs, she said.
She added: “Our objection is that work is something that is separate from treatment for mental health.
“This is basically denying people proper treatment for mental health. All they are getting is behavioural changes to force them temporarily into work.”
McKenna said MHRN also believed that it was time to “start rebuilding our community”, after the closure of day centres and other cuts and reforms to mental health services that have left many members of the survivor community isolated.
She said: “The government have done everything in their power to smash the survivor community.
“The idea is that we are a community, and this [event] is a good starting point.”
15 August 2019
Tribunal decision ‘could deter companies’ from building more institutions
A tribunal’s decision that a care provider should not be allowed to build a new residential home because it would look “institutional” and too much like a hospital has been welcomed by autistic rights campaigners and a leading self-advocacy organisation.
The tribunal ruled (pdf) in favour of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) decision to refuse an application for the new facility in Walsall on the site of a former NHS campus, submitted by Lifeways Community Care and backed by Walsall council.
CQC decided last year to block the development – of ensuite bedrooms and three self-contained flats for nine autistic people and people with learning difficulties, with some communal facilities – because it would produce a “campus”-type setting.
National guidance says campus-style or congregate services* are not in the best interests of people with learning difficulties and autistic people and do not promote their right to choice, independence and inclusion.
Lifeways already has six supported living flats on the site in Spring Lane, and CQC argued that the new service would be too big and would not promote integration with the local community.
CQC told the tribunal that the proposed service was “not small-scale, is not domestic in style and is clearly different to the houses in the local area” and had the “appearance of a care facility, not of typical housing”, with “some features of a campus.”
It added: “The outcomes of this service model have been demonstrated to be less good for people with learning disabilities than is a model based on people with learning disabilities living in the same sort of ordinary places as everyone else.”
But the development was supported by Walsall council, whose lead commissioner Ian Staples told the tribunal that he was “under pressure to get people out of hospital”.
He accepted that he was taking “a professional risk by supporting something that doesn’t toe the line”.
Staples told the tribunal: “I accept [it] is bigger than six beds and there is a risk.
“Ideally we would look at six, but I had 12 to 15 people looking for places and I didn’t have other sites available, so I made an informed decision and looked at the risks.”
But the health, education and social care first-tier tribunal unanimously decided that it was “obvious the proposed care home had an institutional look to it and clearly had characteristics of a campus style setting which stood out and was apart from the surrounding neighbourhood”, and that it was “completely inappropriate”.
The tribunal also said the development would create “unacceptable and serious risks to service users in the provision of care”.
Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, welcomed the tribunal ruling.
She said: “Autistic advocates and allies have been campaigning for decades to stop the segregation of autistic and learning disabled people away from their larger communities.
“It is disheartening to see that these sorts of institutions are still in operation in some places and that care companies still attempt to open them because they are more profitable.
“However, we at Autistic UK anticipate that the CQC’s firm stance on denying applications for these places will deter companies from attempting to build them in the first place.
“Isolating people from their communities is inhumane treatment and violates our right to live full and happy lives, whatever level of support any individual requires.
“Living in our larger communities is the first and critical step to being accepted and fully included.”
Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns at People First (Self Advocacy), also welcomed the CQC stance and the tribunal’s “important decision”.
He said: “Institutions have no place in independent living in the 21st century.
“These kinds of institutions prevent access to living, choice, control and independence and this gives a strong message to care providers about what is not acceptable.
“It is these kinds of high-profile decisions that help to put the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into practice.
“It says that being locked up and excluded from society is not supported by the CQC.
“Now what we need, moving forward, is to see commissioners and local authority decision makers getting on board with this approach to meeting the care and support needs of people with learning difficulties.”
CQC said it was an “important judgement” because it “further clarifies what is an acceptable care setting”.
Lifeways confirmed that it would not appeal the tribunal’s decision.
A Lifeways spokesperson refused to say if it would stop building such settings for disabled people, and why it attempted to open such a service when it would breach both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and national guidance.
But he said in a statement: “Lifeways are disappointed by the tribunal decision, as we felt strongly that the homes we are providing are of a high standard, meet the needs of local people, and also meet the principles of Registering the Right Support [the CQC guidance], principles that we support.
“The homes were developed in close collaboration with the local authority, who are clear that they meet the needs of the people in the borough.
“We will continue to work with both commissioners and the CQC to ensure that future developments are of a high quality and meet the needs of the people we support.”
A Walsall council spokesperson said: “After being fully engaged by Lifeways in the development of their plans, Walsall council did not consider the application to be for an ‘institutional-type’ setting and therefore not contrary to national guidance.”
Cllr Rose Martin, the council’s portfolio holder for adult social care, added: “Walsall council is fully committed to developing alternatives to institutional settings and promoting independent living.
“Walsall currently has over 84 per cent of adults with learning disabilities in receipt of a care package living with family or in their own homes, which is well above the national average.
“The application by Lifeways was in response to local need, a nine bed registration presented as two three bed bungalows and three flats with some communal areas.
“For some individuals, on their journey to their own accommodation, a period of living with others can be beneficial and taken in a local context is reasonable and in line with the Care Act requirement of providing choice and a range of provision.”
*CQC guidance (pdf) defines campuses as “group homes clustered together on the same site and usually sharing staff and some facilities”, and congregate settings as “separate from communities and without access to the options, choices, dignity and independence that most people take for granted in their lives”
15 August 2019
Anger over Unum sponsorship of ‘Superhero’ triathlon event
A retired Paralympian organising a mass participation disability sports event has defended accepting sponsorship from a company that spent years lobbying the government to make the out-of-work disability benefits regime harsher and more stressful.
Unum has signed up as one of the sponsors of next week’s high-profile Superhero Tri event in Windsor – which will be televised by Channel 4 – and will be “providing lots of staff volunteers”.
But Unum spent years pushing reforms that have been closely linked to the deaths of many claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) and to harming the physical and mental health of many others.
Disabled researchers and activists have previously shown how Unum spent years undermining the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection insurance policies*.
Now it is sponsoring the Superhero Series events launched by marketing specialist Sophia Warner, who competed for ParalympicsGB on the track at London 2012.
Among those disabled celebrities set to take part in next week’s mass participation triathlon event are the BBC’s Frank Gardner, Paralympian Menna Fitzpatrick and TV presenter JJ Chalmers.
When asked by Disability News Service (DNS) if she knew that Unum had spent decades attempting to influence government policy on welfare reform, Warner said: “Yep.”
And when told that disabled activists had questioned Unum’s sponsorship of the Superhero Tri event because of its disturbing lobbying activities, she said: “I’m afraid I don’t really get involved with disabled activists. We’re all about positivity at Superhero Series.”
When DNS suggested that disabled activists were also “all about positivity” through their push for disability rights and equality, she said: “Um… what I’m going to do is I’m going to end this call, and thank you very much.”
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which has spent nearly a decade highlighting the harmful impact of the reforms promoted by Unum, said it was appalled at the sponsorship and Warner’s comments.
And Mo Stewart, the independent researcher who has done most to raise concerns about Unum’s influence on welfare reform**, said she was “deeply concerned” that Warner had been aware of Unum’s history of lobbying the government on welfare reform and yet still agreed the sponsorship.
She said Unum had been “instrumental in helping to create the preventable harm now endured by the UK’s chronically ill and disabled community who are unfit to work.
“The company have been advising the British government since 1992 on how to limit access to out-of-work disability benefits for those in greatest need, in the expectation that a reduced UK welfare state will encourage the able-bodied community to purchase their discredited disability insurance policies.”
Stewart said the sponsorship was “a very good public relations exercise” for the company and “a distraction from past negative publicity”.
She said: “There have been many thousands of deaths linked to the work capability assessment (WCA), which was introduced in October 2008 and was made possible by the influence of Unum with the British government.
“Those chronically ill and disabled people who died following the flawed WCA weren’t athletes, and it’s most regrettable to learn that some of those who enjoy the peak of physical fitness can disregard the fate of those in greatest need.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Sophia Warner’s understanding of rights and equality is dangerously deficient.
“Had previous generations of disabled people been as blasé about the realities of oppression, we wouldn’t now have Paralympians able to compete on a public stage.
“Her typecasting of activists as negative is ironic given that we are the ones engaged in building a positive future where everyone will be free to develop their personal potential and be valued in society.
“Meanwhile, Warner is actively facilitating a deeply damaging agenda based on denial of opportunity to people with impairments.”
She added: “We anticipate a new promotional campaign pushing Unum’s income protection insurance coming soon…”
Bob Ellard, a fellow DPAC steering group member, said: “The thought of disabled people dressing up in superhero costumes for the ‘inspiration’ of the TV viewing public makes me want to vomit.
“Add to that taking funding from Unum, a company notorious for disability denial and influencing government welfare cuts for disabled people, Channel 4 should be ashamed of themselves and Sophia Warner should be ashamed of herself for this act of deplorable Uncle Tom-ism.”
*Unum’s links with the UK government date back to the 1990s, when Peter Lilley, social security secretary in John Major’s Conservative government, hired senior Unum executive John LoCascio to offer advice on how to cut the number of claimants of long-term sickness benefits.
A submission to the Commons work and pensions committee in 2002 by a director of Unum – then known as UnumProvident – called on the Labour government to “ensure both that work always pays more than benefits, and more importantly that it is clearly seen to do so”.
And in 2005, Unum bragged in a document that it had “always been at the leading edge of disability assessment and management”, and that government policy was now “moving in the same direction” as “our views and understanding” and was “to a large extent being driven by our thinking and that of our close associates”.
Three years later, in 2008, the Labour government introduced the WCA.
In 2011, Unum launched a major UK marketing campaign to promote the need for income protection insurance policies, just as the coalition began its three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing claimants of old-style incapacity benefit through the new WCA.
Unum has repeatedly dismissed claims that it pushed the government to introduce the WCA system, and three years ago even claimed that it “never has lobbied on the topic of welfare reform or related matters”.
**Stewart’s book, Cash Not Care, details Unum’s influence over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the WCA
8 August 2019
Proportion of flawed Atos PIP assessment reports has soared in last two years
The proportion of disability assessment reports completed by government contractor Atos that were found to be significantly flawed has soared by more than 40 per cent in the last two years.
The percentage of substandard Atos* personal independence payment (PIP) reports rose from about 25 per cent in 2016-17 to more than 36 per cent in 2018-19, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.
They show the results of government audits carried out on thousands of Atos reports over the two years from 2016-17.
They were provided to the SNP MP Marion Fellows in May in response to a written parliamentary question, but have only just emerged.
And they show how the performance of Atos – which has been the target of angry protests by disabled activists for most of the last decade over the way it carries out benefit assessments – has worsened over the last two years, despite a public pledge to improve.
The figures emerged after data secured through the Freedom of Information Act by campaign John Slater showed that the proportion of substandard PIP reports completed by the other assessment contractor, Capita, reached 37 per cent in the 2018 calendar year.
In December 2017, a senior Atos executives told a committee of MPs that quality was the company’s “absolute prime target and prime focus” and that he would be “not happy at all until 100 per cent of the cases are deemed to be acceptable and pass those criteria”.
Although the proportion of audited reports that were of such poor quality that they were rated “unacceptable” fell slightly the year after those comments, the figures show Atos is still failing to meet its DWP target of ensuring that a maximum of three per cent of reports are unacceptable, six years after it first began carrying out PIP assessments.
In 2016-17, 4.7 per cent were unacceptable, the following year that rose to 5.3 per cent, and in 2018-19 it fell to 4.3 per cent, still well above three per cent.
But the figures also show how many reports were graded as not being bad enough to be unacceptable but still so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, and those where the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws.
The proportion of reports that were unacceptable, “learning required” or needed amendments rose from 25 per cent in 2016-17, to 32 per cent in 2017-18 and again to 36 per cent in 2018-19.
The Capita figures secured by Slater showed 3.9 per cent of its audited reports in the 2018 calendar year were graded unacceptable, with 17 per cent learning required and 16 per cent needing to be amended, giving a total of 37 per cent substandard (against 36 per cent in 2018-19 for Atos).
Capita has previously refused to say if its audit data showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and if this was deteriorating, and it has refused to comment on the audit results.
Capita carried out about 220,000 face-to-face assessments in 2018, compared with more than 730,000 by Atos.
If the audit results were representative of all the assessments carried out by Atos and Capita, then an estimated 375,000 disabled people would have had their claims decided in 2018 based on assessment reports that were significantly flawed.
And about 40,000 of those would have been decided on reports that would have been declared “unacceptable” if they had been audited.
Slater said: “Considering that Capita and Atos promised to improve the quality of their reports, these figures don’t reflect organisations that have delivered on their promises.
“It’s likely that both have tried to improve the quality of reports but have failed to do so.”
He said he believed this was due to poor retention of assessors, trouble with recruiting staff with the correct attitude and experience, and the need to make its PIP assessment contracts profitable.
Slater said there were also “time pressures” to “keep up with the volume of referrals [from DWP], which means that assessors are put under extreme pressure to turn around reports quickly and so quality suffers.
“This would also explain why retention is an issue as people don’t last long in these environments.”
He added: “Obviously we don’t know what pressure the DWP is applying to Capita and Atos but improving the quality of reports doesn’t seem to be top of the list.”
Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “What is revealed by these audit figures is that a large number of unacceptable reports, of reports so bad that learning is required from the assessors who compiled them, or which need to be amended to rectify serious flaws, have been used to inform decisions about disability benefit entitlement.
“That should go a long way to explain why so many PIP initial decisions are overturned by tribunals.
“The DWP should make sure that all reports are of an adequate standard, as the consequences of using sub-standard reports can be devastating for claimants.”
DWP refused to say if it accepted that the quality of PIP assessment reports had deteriorated between 2016 and 2018; why it believed this had happened; and what action was being taken to correct it.
But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want the PIP assessment process to work well for everyone and are continuously improving the service delivered.
“We set providers challenging targets and regularly monitor their performance in order to ensure that they are delivering to the highest possible standard.
“The majority of people assessed for PIP are satisfied with their experience and the number of complaints received by providers equates to less than one per cent of the total number of people assessed.”
An Atos spokesperson refused to say if the company would apologise for the deterioration in quality since it promised to improve; or explain why this had happened; or what action it would take to improve.
But he said in a statement: “The majority of these cases are deemed as acceptable by DWP and the proportion of cases found ‘unacceptable’ is decreasing, therefore conflating categories that are classed as acceptable with those that are not is unhelpful and misleading.”
*Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK
8 August 2019
Air travel regulator ‘has been doing half a job by ignoring airlines’
By Fleur Perry
The aviation regulator is only doing “half the job” by reporting on access at airports but failing to carry out similar investigations into whether airlines are meeting their legal duties to disabled customers, it has been claimed.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for monitoring UK compliance with European Union (EU) laws on the accessibility of air travel, but it has so far failed to report on whether airlines are meeting these duties.
EU regulations (EC1107/2006) have provided disabled people with a right to assistance at airports for more than a decade.
But the regulations also apply to airlines, which have legal duties to provide assistance on board flights, such as support to and from the toilet, and providing information about the flight in advance in an accessible format.
CAA was appointed by the government to enforce the EU regulations in the UK in 2015, and is tasked with taking the necessary measures “to ensure that the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility (PRM) are respected”.
But although CAA has reported on the accessibility of airports since 2016, it has yet to publish information on how individual airlines are complying with the regulations.
And although it has published guidance (PDF) for airports in complying with the regulations, CAA has failed so far to publish similar advice for airlines.
The regulator’s fourth annual report on airport accessibility, published last month, found 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.
David Gillon, the disability rights activist who raised the concerns about CAA’s failure to monitor the performance of airlines, said: “Monitoring the performance of UK airports in delivering passenger assistance is a welcome step forward by CAA, one that has revealed that some major airports are probably failing their legal obligations, but that’s only half the job, and the other half of the job is where the worst passenger assistance failures happen.
“Wheelchairs aren’t the only thing at risk when disabled people travel by air.
“There are frequent cases of disabled passengers being left abandoned on empty airliners, or where cabin crew have failed to understand their needs.
“In the worst cases, disabled people have been seriously injured by inadequately trained assistance staff.
“Yet these failures are either the responsibility of the airline, or fall into the grey area where how airports and airlines divide their passenger assistance responsibilities doesn’t match the division within the legislation.
“Again, there is a clear risk of the CAA failing to adequately capture problems even for the monitoring of airports they are doing, and no chance of them recording problems happening in flight, when they simply don’t monitor the performance of airlines.”
There have been repeated examples of disabled people reporting distressing treatment by airlines.
Last month, a local newspaper reported how Thomas Cook apologised for the treatment of a wheelchair-user on a flight to Newcastle from Turkey, after she was left in agony when a member of airline staff tried to pick her up by her legs.
On arrival in Newcastle, she saw her wheelchair thrown onto a trolley, with luggage piled on top of it – leaving it severely damaged – and was left on the plane without any support, before a member of staff shouted at her as she tried to leave the plane by shuffling on her bottom to the exit.
Earlier this year, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how airline Flybe was forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.
And in June, Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan, a wheelchair-user, described how she was left unassisted for 45 minutes during a 12-hour flight from Argentina to Heathrow with no way of contacting a flight attendant.
She eventually resorted to sliding headsets down the aisle to attract the attention of a member of the British Airways cabin staff.
A CAA spokesperson told DNS: “When we were given responsibility for overseeing the aviation industry’s compliance with accessibility regulations, our focus was on airports rather than airlines.
“Airports play a larger role in ensuring a PRM’s journey runs smoothly. It was important for us to ensure airports were in compliance before we turned our attention to airlines.”
He said that “that work with airlines has now begun and we will be publishing further information going forward.
“We are currently working on an airline accessibility framework allowing us to provide further guidance to industry on meeting obligations under EC1107/2006.
“This framework will also assess current compliance and promote best practice. We expect to consult on the framework early next year and publish the guidance after that.”
8 August 2019
Would-be MP ‘motivated to oust Duncan Smith by late mother’s benefits ordeal’
The politician aiming to oust Iain Duncan Smith at the next general election has described being motivated by the need to expose the “heartless” reforms he introduced as work and pensions secretary, and their impact on her late mother.
Labour’s Dr Faiza Shaheen said she wanted to win the Chingford and Woodford Green seat at the next general election in part because of the impact on disabled people of the government’s austerity cuts and reforms over the last decade.
Many of these were introduced by Duncan Smith when leading the Department for Work and Pensions between 2010 and 2016.
She was speaking at an event in central London held to launch a new book* by disabled journalist Frances Ryan, which investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people.
Shaheen said she was also partly motivated in her campaign to win the seat by witnessing her mother – who died in 2017 – spend years fighting for the disability benefits and social care she needed.
She said: “Cleaning up her house, one of the most depressing things was finding all of the letters, just all of the admin in her last few years of her life that she had to do to fight for her benefits, to fight for social care. It was just heart-breaking.”
Shaheen has previously told the Huffington Post how her mother had faced a “fit for work” assessment to decide her eligibility for universal credit, the much-criticised new benefit system introduced by Duncan Smith when he was work and pensions secretary.
She told the Huffington Post last year that Duncan Smith had “wreaked so much havoc on people’s lives” and symbolised “so much cruelty and heartlessness”.
She told Saturday’s event that she was struck by how few people in his constituency knew about “what the Tories have done and specifically what their MP has done”.
She said there was “a lot more we need to do for people to understand and realise just how cruel the state has been”.
Shaheen said on Twitter after Saturday’s event: “Court rulings, damning UN reports, suicides – the welfare ‘reforms’ brought in since 2010, instigated by my rival Iain Duncan Smith, have not only been heartless, but a costly shambles.
“Tories need to be held accountable for this and so much more.”
She added: “Being in this room, listening to the harrowing stories of the impacts of benefit cuts, changes to pip and capability assessments strengthened my resolve to beat Iain Duncan Smith whenever that election comes.”
Shaheen, who describes herself as an “inequality geek”, and is director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), told the event that she had been canvassing in Chingford and Woodford Green earlier in the day and had come across a disabled woman who had fallen in the street.
Shaheen’s husband had waited with the woman when an ambulance failed to arrive.
She told the event: “We were talking to her, someone comes just twice a week, she clearly needs more support, she hasn’t got family.”
She said the lack of social investment in care and support for the woman would now cost the state so much more, while the woman herself had gone through the trauma of falling in the street.
“She was like, ‘Don’t worry, just leave me here in the street.’ It’s so upsetting.”
Shaheen also warned the event that the state was now being viewed as a “punitive army” by working-class people because of the values of the politicians who have introduced those policies.
She said: “Partly it’s about lack of money but unfortunately it’s also about the culture, the culture that has developed.
“I’m not blaming the civil servants, those frontline workers, because they are incentivised in certain ways really to forget about the compassion, to forget about humanising.
“So it is something we need to think very seriously about, how we change the culture, not just more money but also a different set of principles and values.”
*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People
8 August 2019
Record number of disabled people receive support from Access to Work
A record number of disabled people received employment-related support through the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme last year, new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures have revealed.
It is also the first time that spending on AtW has exceeded the amount spent on the programme in 2010, the year the Conservative-led coalition government assumed power and embarked on a decade of cuts and reforms in the name of austerity.
The scheme funds workplace adjustments for disabled people such as support workers, travel costs and aids and equipment.
Until 2018-19 (£129 million), spending on AtW had been lower every year in real terms than in 2010-11 (£122 million), and it fell as low as £103 million in 2015-16*.
More than 36,000 disabled people received an AtW grant last year, an increase of more than 2,000 on the previous year.
Under the Conservative-led coalition, the number receiving AtW payments fell from a peak of 32,810 in 2010-11 to just 26,460 the following year.
The DWP press release announcing the statistics quoted two disabled employees of Lloyds Banking Group, who both receive support through AtW.
One of them, Ross, a wheelchair-user who has a support worker paid for by AtW, said: “Access to Work has made a massive difference to my life.
“Without it, I wouldn’t have a job. I probably wouldn’t be earning a living, I wouldn’t own my own home, I wouldn’t be able to go on holidays and I wouldn’t be able to follow the hobbies that interest me because I wouldn’t be able to be employed.
“It makes a massive, massive difference to me.”
Another Lloyds employee, Louis, who is visually-impaired, receives AtW support for taxi fares for him and his guide dog to travel to and from work.
He said: “Access to Work is that key enabler which allows businesses to be as inclusive as they want to be.”
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “Having a disability or health condition must not be a barrier to enjoying a fulfilling career – and the support available means there’s no excuse for employers who refuse to be inclusive.
“Access to Work removes the obstacles facing disabled people in the workplace, helping to level the playing field and ensure businesses don’t see employing disabled people as a burden.
“With more disabled people than ever before supported through Access to Work, thousands more employers across the country are benefitting from the skills disabled people bring to the workplace.”
Disabled campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the benefits of AtW and have even branded it “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”.
But they have also highlighted concerns about delays and errors in dealing with claims, and the cap on annual payments (originally set at £42,500 but later increased to £57,200), which they say has had a disproportionate impact on the job and career prospects of Deaf users of British Sign Language and other disabled people with high support needs.
*These are real terms figures at 2018-19 prices, so as to remove the effect of inflation over time
8 August 2019
Research DRILLs down into bullying and social exclusion of disabled pupils
Young disabled pupils have described how they are targeted by school bullies because of their impairments, and are treated as social outcasts, but still do not view themselves as disabled people, according to new research.
Researchers interviewed more than 40 disabled and non-disabled pupils, mostly aged 12 to 14, in both mainstream and special schools across England.
But most of the pupils who took part in the focus groups defined disability according to whether a person used aids, particularly wheelchairs.
They found that few of the young people who had been labelled as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) identified as disabled people according to the social model of disability.
Instead, they viewed disability as “a person-centric problem, rather than a social one”.
In some cases, pupils with SEND rejected any similarities with disabled people they knew, while they were reluctant to discuss their own impairments, or to link them to the support and adjustments they received in class.
The National Lottery-funded research, led by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), found that most of the young people with SEND described being bullied and socially excluded at school, and said their group of school friends was small or non-existent.
One said: “Like I’ll walk into a class and I’m met with horrible comments because I walk differently because I have mobility… I walk with my feet turned out and I’m met with ‘penguin’ or ‘retard’, stuff like that.”
There were also hints of a “culture of bullying denialism” among school leaders, with some pupils with SEND seeing anti-bullying initiatives as insufficient and unhelpful.
Those that did have friends in mainstream schools tended to associate with “fellow social outcasts”, says the report, Special or Unique: Young People’s Attitudes to Disability.
Non-disabled pupils who took part in the research expressed neutral or positive attitudes towards disabled pupils, but were not friends with them.
The report suggests that the failure of any non-disabled pupils to express hostility towards disabled classmates could be because they were aware that expressing positive views about disabled people “is the socially acceptable thing to do”.
And, the report adds, the pupils who took part in the focus groups were selected by their teachers, who may have chosen pupils they thought would provide answers that would reflect well on their school.
Among the report’s recommendations is a call for school leaders to encourage teachers to take more action to address bullying and social exclusion in the classroom, and to promote “greater openness” about disability in their schools.
It calls on the Department for Education to develop SEND-specific anti-bullying guidance, and to include information on the social model of disability, human rights and discrimination in the Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) curriculum.
The report also says that local disabled people’s organisations should work with schools and local authorities to co-develop and co-deliver PSHE curriculum material on disability and provide disabled adult mentors for young disabled people.
Sue Bott, DR UK’s head of policy and research, says in the report: “The research shows that SEND pupils do not consider themselves to be disabled not from the belief that disability is somehow no longer relevant but because of their negative feelings towards disability generally.
“This research should be a wake-up call or else we will find yet another generation of disabled young people experiencing the same negative attitudes and behaviours.
“It’s only when you can accept yourself as who you are, a valued disabled person, that progress can be made.
“Then you can stop apologising for yourself and rejecting the support that helps with everyday life.
“We need disability to be understood and a valued part of the school environment.
“We need more interaction between all young people, and we need young disabled people to have the opportunity to draw support from disabled adults.
“If we fail to have an education system that is truly inclusive of disabled young people, that values disabled young people for who they are, and enables disabled people to reach their full potential then our efforts to realise the human, social and economic rights of disabled people will always be limited.”
Evan Odell, from DR UK, the lead researcher on the report, said: “These findings show that, in some areas, little has changed for disabled children in the last 40 years or so.
“Schools, special educational needs coordinators and teachers have understandably emphasised the need for reasonable adjustments and classroom support for pupils with SEND.
“Now they need to deal with bullying and ensure disabled children have the same chance to develop social skills and share in the experiences that mark out the teenage years.”
The report is the latest piece of research to come out of the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme, which is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, and delivered by DR UK, Disability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.
It is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.
8 August 2019
Rise of Boris Johnson government is ‘really dark moment’ for disabled people, says author
The rise to power of a new Conservative government under the leadership of Boris Johnson has created a “really dark moment” for disabled people, anti-austerity activists have been told at the launch of a new book.
Frances Ryan, a disabled journalist whose book* investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people, told the event that watching Johnson and his new cabinet take power had affected “everybody who looks different and feels different”.
She said: “These moments can feel particularly scary when you’re reliant on the government to help you with all the basic parts of life, being able to get yourself dressed in the morning or leave the house.”
John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, warned the event and those watching via a live online feed that Johnson’s silence on disability and social security policy since taking office was ominous for disabled people and those claiming benefits.
He said: “In all the discussions so far he’s mentioned nothing about social security, and nothing about [working-age] disabled people in any of the announcements that he’s had, and I think that reflects their priorities and the direction in which they are travelling.”
Aditya Chakrabortty, who writes on economics for the Guardian, said that Johnson and his new government “have got a very serious plan and it involves effectively concentrating the resources of this country, our resources, into the pockets of the few”.
He said it was the “most pernicious achievement” of successive Conservative-led governments during the austerity era that “they have made us all feel that actually it’s us against them, it’s ‘me on my own’, it’s ‘dog-eat-dog’”.
Paul Atherton, one of the disabled people whose experiences of austerity are described in Ryan’s new book, and who has been homeless for the last 10 years and lives “pretty much at Heathrow Terminal Five”, described how he was currently “destitute” because of his ongoing struggle to secure the benefits he is entitled to.
He said he had “absolutely no funds coming in whatsoever” after DWP decided to stop all his benefits, while the likelihood of receiving any financial support for the next four months was “pretty slim”.
He told the launch event: “What the state or the government or society expects you to do to survive these periods, I have no idea.
“As a human being, why would you inflict that pain and suffering and degradation on another human being? It’s incomprehensible to me.”
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, praised Ryan’s book for telling the story of the “human impact” of austerity on disabled people.
And she praised Disabled People Against Cuts – which organised the event, with support from Unite the Union and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity – for ensuring “that the voices of disabled people are being heard and continue to be heard”.
McDonnell praised Ryan, who writes for the Guardian, for “getting the message out about the impact of the last nine years of austerity”.
He said she had been “one of those bright lights we have relied on to get the information out there”, and he said that her book had exposed the “brutality that has been inflicted upon us over the last nine years”.
Ryan said disabled people would need to be “at the front and centre” of any fightback against the loss of their rights.
And she said they would need the political left “to be our allies in this”, and to find ways to “unite and to challenge the dodgy, damaging narratives we have heard in recent years and build a positive, progressive vision for a better society for all of us”.
She said she hoped her book could play “a small part in a much bigger picture of this rallying cry”.
*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People
8 August 2019
Disabled duo who lost out through universal credit set for third DWP court action
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing another court action over the financial impact of universal credit on disabled people, which legal experts say is costing many claimants thousands of pounds a year.
Two disabled people with high support needs – known as TP and AR – are bringing their third case against DWP over the loss of income they experienced after being “migrated” onto universal credit (UC) when their circumstances changed.
They previously argued successfully in the high court that draft regulations would have left them and others forced onto UC before 16 January 2019 – when an earlier set of regulations came into force – worse off by £100 a month compared with those who did not move onto UC and continued receiving severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP).
This was because they were set to receive only £80 per month in compensation, compared with a top-up of about £180 per month to their benefits they had previously received through SDP and EDP.
In an earlier high court case, TP and AR had successfully argued that DWP unlawfully discriminated against them when their benefits were cut sharply when they moved local authority and were forced to claim UC.
TP had been forced to move to an area where UC had been rolled out so he could access specialist healthcare, following a diagnosis of end stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer.
AR had also had to move to a universal credit “full service” area, in his case because the imposition of the bedroom tax meant his previous home was unaffordable.
Before moving, both men had received SDP and EDP on top of employment and support allowance.
SDP and EDP were designed to meet some of the additional care needs of disabled people with high support needs who live alone with no carer, but these premiums are being scrapped under universal credit.
When they moved home, both men were advised by DWP staff that their benefits would not change, but each of them saw their income drop by about £178 a month when they were moved onto UC.
Now TP and AR have had to write to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd for a third time, after she announced last month that the level of compensation for disabled people who had been receiving EDP and SDP and had moved onto UC before 16 January would be set at £120 for single claimants.
Because of their previous court actions, TP and AR currently receive about £180 a month top-up to their benefits, but the new regulations coming into force may reduce this to £120.
They argue that these “migration arrangements” are still unlawful because disabled people who previously received SDP and EDP and moved onto UC before 16 January 2019 will receive over £50 a month less than those in similar circumstances who were not forced onto UC.
They have given DWP a deadline of 15 August to reply to their letter.
If they receive no satisfactory reply, TP and AR will consider bringing their third judicial review case.
AR said: “Losing £50 will make it even harder to make ends meet. It may not sound like a lot, but it will make a difference.
“Not only that, it is unfair that we will be treated differently to other claimants due to the illogical policy the government has put in place.
“Now I fear it is back to food banks for me, even though I have brought two successful legal cases.”
TP added: “To say that I am extremely frustrated to be fighting essentially the same fight again, now for a third time, is an understatement.
“It is time for the government to take responsibility for their flawed policy and ensure everyone is treated equally.”
A DWP spokesperson declined to comment on the new legal action.
But he said: “We recently increased these payments to reflect the value of SDP that people received before moving to universal credit, taking into account the increased amount available in UC through the limited capability work related activity addition.”
Rudd has estimated that about 45,000 claimants will benefit from the package of support by 2024-25.
Claimants currently receiving SDP will now not be moved onto UC if they have a change of circumstances. This situation will not change until 2021.
Tessa Gregory, from solicitors Leigh Day, representing TP and AR, said: “It beggars belief that our clients are having to go back to court for a third time.
“Amber Rudd has promised to take a more compassionate approach yet, despite losing two legal challenges, she is still seeking to short-change severely disabled people, like our clients, who have lost out on universal credit through no fault of their own.
“We hope that the government will not waste further money fighting this case and will now pay our clients and others like them what they are due.”
Leigh Day is also bringing a separate group legal action against DWP on behalf of disabled people migrated on to UC when their circumstances changed before 16 January 2019 and who also lost their disability premiums.
Leigh Day says a single person in this situation will have lost just over £4,000 in the last year, with a couple losing just under £8,000.
Last month, Disability News Service revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit would 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 UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.
8 August 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com