Jan 212019
 

 As well as our previous post about a vigil at 1.30 pm concerning two UC cases this weektThe Alliance For Inclusive Education supports a human rights legal challenge around the provision of support for Disabled pupils with visual impairments within mainstream schooling.

On the 23rd January in the High Court a severely visually impaired pupil will claim that the local authority is breaching her rights in the way it arranges specialist teaching assistant support in mainstream schools.

The local authority has decided to give individual schools the responsibility for the recruitment and employment of Teaching Assistants for their Disabled pupils. This means there is no central pool of specialist support staff (specialist teaching assistants) available when a Disabled child wants to join a particular school.

The court is being asked to make a decision on whether the local authority’s policy to delegate responsibility to schools for the recruitment and employment of TAs is lawful under the Equality Act 2010 Public Sector Equality Duty, European Convention on Human Rights and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities around promoting Disabled pupils’ right to participate in mainstream education free from disability discrimination.

Currently, there is a presumption of mainstream education for Disabled pupils under the Children and Families Act. However, there is no requirement in law that local authorities should arrange SEND provision that will maximise parental choice of mainstream schools or promote Disabled pupils’ full participation in the curriculum.

“This is a very important case because for too many Disabled pupils, failure in mainstream schools arises when local authorities do not arrange SEND provision in a timely manner and in a way that guarantees high quality support to enable Disabled pupils to follow the entire school curriculum at all times, ie without any gaps. This leaves Disabled pupils being treated in a discriminatory way, as they are denied full participation in the school curriculum and all aspects of school life because they are Disabled and require assistance. We therefore want the court to issue guidance and rule that leaving Disabled pupils without appropriate assistance to engage in mainstream education is disability discrimination and a breach of Disabled pupils’ human rights,” says the Alliance for Inclusive Education’s Policy and Campaigns Coordinator Simone Aspis.

Anthony Gold Solicitors are representing the client and Steve Broach of Monckton Chambers is instructed counsel.

For more information please contact Simone Aspis:

Phone: 0207 737 6030 / mobile: 07856 213 837

Email Simone.Aspis@allfie.org.uk

 

 Posted by at 14:47
Jan 182019
 

 

  • Hosted by WinVisible – women with visible & invisible disabilities, DPAC and MHRN
  • Wednesday January 23rd, 13.30-13.45pm at Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, WC2A 2LL

Supporting legal challenge against Universal Credit by the single mum of a disabled daughter, and a man who was on ESA. Mum and daughter are £140/month worse off under UC than Income Support. Man has lost severe disability premiums.
PHOTOCALL outside court at 1.30pm.
Go into court from 10/10.30 onwards. Court room list here, case of TD and AD https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/court-lists/list-rcj
Case continues Thursday 24 January.

More info: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwp-facing-court-over-claimants-universal-credit-fit-for-work-injustice/
http://cpag.org.uk/content/universal-credit-disability-and-transitional-protection

https://www.facebook.com/events/792963844375348/

 Posted by at 15:51
Jan 182019
 

Haringey Against Universal Credit Public Meeting

by SSUCH – Stop & Scrap Universal Credit Haringey 

The Eventbrite page for the meeting is http://bit.ly/ucevent 

 Thursday 24th January 7.30
Alevi Centre
19 Clarendon Rd 
Hornsey 
London 
N8 0DD 

Speakers:

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green (chair)

Cllr Kaushika Amin, Haringey Council Cabinet Member for Civic Services (including rollout of support for Universal Credit)

Miriam Bindman, disability rights activist (Disabled People Against Cuts: DPAC)

Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary, PCS union

Linda Grant, employment and poverty researcher and Sheffield Heeley Constituency Labour Party executive member

Additional speakers to be confirmed

Local advice groups will have stalls at the meeting Organised by Stop and Scrap Universal Credit Haringey

We are a broad-based group of mainly Labour Party members and Unite Community members that came together to campaign against this cruel benefit system and support people receiving it. 

5 minutes walk from 144 and 41 Wightman Road bus stops. Nearest tube station: Turnpike Lane (Piccadilly Line) 

Info.ssuch@gmail.com

 Posted by at 15:45
Jan 172019
 

Shock and anger at government’s failure to invite DPOs to disability workshop

Campaigners have been left “shocked and appalled” by the government’s decision to hold a workshop on the barriers facing disabled people without inviting a single disabled people’s organisation (DPO) to take part.

The Cabinet Office workshop is due to take place tomorrow afternoon (Friday), and its purpose is to “convene leading external experts and officials to discuss the key issues facing disabled people and identify opportunities to address these”.

But it has failed to invite representatives from organisations such as the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) – which represents many leading DPOs – or The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), and then snubbed their requests to take part when they found out about the event.

Another disabled-led organisation missed off the list of invitees was Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

The Cabinet Office did invite Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), but he was invited as a policy specialist and not as a representative of DR UK.

Mark Harrison, from ROFA, wrote to the Cabinet Office this week to ask if he could attend the workshop but was told it was “already at capacity” and that it was only “an initial exploratory meeting, including officials from Cabinet Office and the Office for Disability Issues [ODI] and a small group of academics and disability charity representatives”.

The civil servant added: “If this initial work develops into a more significant work stream, then we intend to engage with a wide range of disabled person led and smaller groups and will be in touch with details.”

Harrison told her he was “shocked and appalled” by the exclusion of DPOs and said this suggested the government had learned nothing from the recent examination by the UN of the government’s record in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

In its “concluding observations”, following the examination, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities said in August 2017 that it was concerned about the UK government’s “lack of mechanisms to ensure effective participation of all organisations of persons with disabilities, in decision-making processes concerning policies and legislation in all areas of the Convention”.

Harrison said he would now write to the UN committee “with this example amongst many others where the UK Government is still failing to comply with the [UNCRPD] which it has signed and ratified”.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s deputy chief executive, said her organisations only found out about the event from the University of Bristol.

She has been told the workshop will be based on research the university has co-produced with disabled people, including DR UK.

Bott told Disability News Service (DNS): “[The university] did not want to attend the event without disabled people who had worked with them and asked if we had had an invitation.

Philip will be making our objections known at the workshop as will colleagues from Bristol University.

We were disgusted with the response given to ROFA from the Cabinet Office. 

Either they have no knowledge of the CRPD, which is disgraceful in itself, or have chosen to ignore it and the need to engage with disabled people from the very beginning, not at some point down the line.”

She said that DR UK would be happy to sign any joint letter of complaint from the coalition of DPOs – which also includes ROFA, ALLFIE and DPAC – that played a significant role in the review of the UK’s progress in implementing the UNCRPD.

DPAC is also set to inform the UN committee of the government’s actions, which it says are an “ongoing and flagrant violation of our human rights enshrined in UNCRPD to which this government are committed to supporting”. 

DPAC has told the Cabinet Office that it is “horrified and angry” at its behaviour and that of the ODI, and added: “Oh, the irony of holding a workshop to address the barriers faced by disabled people which actually does not include disabled people – only a government department could do this without realising just how appalling it is.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, told DNS that the decision to exclude DPOs from the workshop “ironically serves to illustrate the major barriers disabled people face.

This exclusion highlights the ongoing contempt which this government and its officials show towards disabled people and their lives.

It flies in the face of UNCRPD and the findings of the UN disability committee and can only be described as an utter and total disgrace.”

Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s chief executive, told DNS she was “really cross” at her organisation being excluded from the workshop.

She said: “We are the only DPO working in this area, so who the hell is on this invite list?

Where does this leave article 33 [of the UN convention, which describes how DPOs should be “fully involved” in monitoring the treaty’s implementation] and ‘nothing about us without us’?

If this is genuinely about tackling the barriers that disabled people face, where will disabled children and young people’s barriers fit in that? My feeling is that they are very unlikely to feature.”

A government spokesperson declined to answer a series of questions about the workshop and its UNCRPD obligations, but said in a statement: “We recognise that a variety of groups have important insights to offer – and we will shortly be launching Regional Stakeholder Networks, providing forums for a wide range of people to contribute.”

Only two months ago, the Department of Health and Social Care insisted that it was complying with the UN convention by consulting on its mental capacity (amendment) bill with non-user-led charities like Mencap and Sense.

But the UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its “general comment number seven”, which was adopted last September.

17 January 2019

 

 

Universal credit forces wheelchair-user who can’t heat home further into poverty

A disabled benefit claimant with high support needs who has lost more than £40 a week after having to transfer onto the new universal credit – forcing him into even greater poverty – has challenged the government to defend its drastic cuts and reforms.

Mark Golden, from Yorkshire, estimates that he paid more than £100,000 in income tax and national insurance during his working life before he was forced to leave his job by a serious injury at work.

Now the wheelchair-user is having to confront the reality of the impact of the introduction of universal credit on disabled people, after being forced off employment and support allowance (ESA) and onto the new system.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has repeatedly refused to provide details of exactly how universal credit will affect disabled people in different situations financially, insisting instead that more than a million disabled people will be better off by £100 a month under universal credit.

But Golden’s case appears to demonstrate how many disabled people with high support needs will be forced into even deeper poverty by universal credit.

On 1 December, Golden – who has both physical and mental health impairments – had to move from Bradford to Bridlington so he could be nearer his family, because of his deteriorating health.

Because of his change of circumstances, he was told that he would have to move from the ESA support group – and associated disability premiums – onto the much-criticised universal credit.

He was shocked to be told that he would receive only £149 a week in living costs benefits on universal credit, compared with £191 a week on ESA, severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP).

Out of that £149, he must also contribute £17 a week towards his housing costs.

Out of the remaining £132, he must also pay child support (£10 a week), credit card repayments (£20, after having to replace his fridge-freezer and washing-machine), contents insurance (£2 a week), about £6 a week on his mobile phone (he has no landline or broadband), TV licence (£3 a week), gas and electricity (£27 or £28 a week), and £10 a week he budgets for clothing and footwear (he gets through five or six pairs of trainers a year because he drags his left foot).

He already has to restrict his use of central heating, only turning it on when the temperature in his flat falls below ten degrees, even though he has Raynaud’s disease, which affects extremities such as the fingers and toes in cold temperatures.

This leaves about £50 a week for food and other essentials like toiletries and cleaning products, but that is without the £20 a week he budgets for MOT and car repairs, the £20 a week he previously spent on petrol, which he can no longer afford, and council tax of more than £20 a week he has been asked to pay, which he is hoping the council will reduce.

He has been left with a choice of spending his little remaining weekly income on food, heat or transportation. He is likely to have to sell his car, leaving him even more isolated than he is already.

He will eventually receive some compensation for the loss of SDP – likely to be less than £20 a week extra, backdated to when he moved onto universal credit – once regulations laid before parliament this week are voted on by MPs.

He also receives personal independence payment of £145 a month to cover some of his disability-related extra costs, but he uses this to pay for personal care, provide the support he needs for visits to shops and other busy locations, and to pay for taxis when he is too ill to drive.

In a letter to his MP, the Conservative Sir Greg Knight, Golden described both how inaccessible he had found the universal credit process and the impact on his income, writing: “As a constituent of Bridlington I would like to inform its MP of what is happening in his constituency. And how Universal Credits is so unfit for purpose.

The whole process has left my health even worse and I can totally understand why people are actually taking their own lives due to the process and awards of Universal Credits.”

He told Disability News Service that he wanted the government to explain how it could justify the “dread and high stress levels” caused by the introduction of universal credit, which was leaving him and others with less money and “causing even more hardship and very difficult decisions on what areas you can cut back on in an already frugal lifestyle”.

He said this was “pushing people into even more poverty and hardship” and having a “massive” impact on both their physical and mental health.

He said: “Over the past few years, disabled people of this country have been made to jump through the government’s hoops to receive what they are entitled to, in many cases going through not only the benefit allocation but also the appeals processes.

At times, it makes one feel like you are having to grovel for what you’re entitled to.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “People can access support online, via our helpline or in the jobcentre and Mr Golden regularly uses his online journal to communicate with the DWP.

In some circumstances, home visits can also be arranged to support a claimant with their claim.

Where a claimant is unable to make or maintain their claim online, they are able to do so using the claims by phone process.”

She said the government was “committed to supporting people with disabilities and health conditions.

The SDP is not part of universal credit because we have simplified disability provision within universal credit.

This change ensures that around one million disabled people will receive more in universal credit than the legacy benefits system.”

Despite this, a report by the Commons work and pensions committee suggested last month that even claimants with higher support needs would be worse off under universal credit because of the loss of SDP and EDP, saying that universal credit “does not match what those claimants could have received under the legacy system, with the premia in place”.

DWP continues to refuse to say if it accepts this statement is correct.

Only last week, the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, told her Labour shadow, Marsha de Cordova, that it would be too expensive to find out how many disabled people claiming SDP had been moved onto universal credit since June last year – and in the previous 18 months – in circumstances like Golden’s.

Golden will be one of the last recipients of SDP to be moved on to universal credit, at least for several months, as new regulations came into force yesterday (Wednesday) that prevent any further migration of such claimants – apart from those involved in a small pilot programme – until the main “managed migration” process begins next year.

Ministers laid this and another set of regulations before parliament on Monday (14 January), following a statement made by employment minister Alok Sharma on 11 January.

The other set of regulations – which will have to be approved by MPs – will allow the government to run the small pilot, which will involve a maximum of 10,000 claimants of legacy benefits, including ESA, moving onto universal credit, which will begin in July.

The regulations will also provide transitional protection for former recipients of SDP like Golden who have already moved across to universal credit, and those who will do so in the future.

But even when these protections are introduced, ministers have previously suggested there will be compensation of only about £80 a month, compared with potential losses for Golden of more than £180 a month.

The government will report on findings from the pilot before introducing legislation that will allow it to extend the “managed migration” to a further three million people on legacy benefits, including hundreds of thousands on ESA.

The DWP spokesperson said: “The department will be providing a transitional payment to those who have already moved to universal credit who had SDP before they moved and who are eligible. This will be a lump sum and ongoing payments. 

The transitional payments are within the main managed migration regulation package, laid today (Monday), which will be debated prior to the pilot, when parliamentary time allows.

Both the lump sum payment and the ongoing payments will commence after the managed migration regulations are passed.”

She added: “The aim of the pilot is to ensure that claimants on all legacy benefits, with a range of differing characteristics, are successfully migrated to universal credit.

The department is currently working closely with a wide and diverse range of stakeholders to design the managed migration process and we are considering our approach to the pilot.”

17 January 2019

 

 

Benefit appeal recordings not possible at nearly half tribunal venues

The government is discriminating against disabled benefit claimants by failing to install equipment at tribunal venues that would allow them to record what happens at their social security appeals, according to university researchers.

Leeds University’s International Disability Law Clinic (IDLC) has discovered that there are no social security tribunal venues across the whole of London that have installed recording equipment.

Such equipment allows disabled people who are unable to make their own notes to have a record of what was said during their appeal.

The figures were released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which also admitted – in the freedom of information response to questions from the law clinic – that it had failed to carry out any assessment of the impact on disabled people of failing to provide such equipment.

Discrimination law experts at IDLC said MoJ’s failings appeared to be a breach of the Equality Act 2010; article six of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a fair hearing); and article 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (on access to justice).

IDLC, which is based in the university’s School of Law, said this disability discrimination lacked “any objective justification”.

MoJ told IDLC that of 161 hearing centres in England, Wales and Scotland, only 91 (56 per cent) have recording equipment.

The performance in England (recording equipment installed in 52 per cent of centres, or 63 out of 120) is far worse than that of both Scotland (68 per cent) and Wales (also 68 per cent).

MoJ also admitted that the cost of installing the equipment was only about £1,000 per centre, with upkeep likely to be just £15 a year.

The failings emerge after years of rising concerns about the fairness of the disability benefits system, and the number of claimants who are unfairly deprived by the government – and the actions of its private sector contractors – of financial support from benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP).

An IDLC spokesperson said: “Many disabled people are unable – because of their impairment – to make a written record of what is said during a social security tribunal hearing.

It is often vital that they have access to a record of what has been said during their hearing.”

The failure to allow recordings of these hearings “puts disabled people who are unable to keep a written note of their hearing at a serious disadvantage”, the spokesperson said.

Such claimants could be forced to travel to a more distant venue or buy their own expensive equipment and try to secure the permission of the tribunal judge to use it to record their hearing.

Some claimants may even pass up their right to attend their own hearing, which “is a right of fundamental importance”, said IDLC.

The disability law clinic is currently researching how the UK’s social security system complies with the government’s domestic and international obligations to disabled people.

Its research was backed by a national disabled people’s organisation, the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA).

Daniel Burden, SIA’s head of public affairs, said: “Given the high number of disputed assessments for PIP and ESA, it is unsurprising that disabled people feel it is essential to record tribunals.

For spinal cord injured people with little or no hand dexterity, it is not possible for them to keep written notes.

Audio recordings of tribunals are therefore extremely important and SIA is very concerned by the findings of this research.

We hope that the Ministry of Justice will take swift action to remedy this situation and will ensure that disabled people are not treated unfavourably because of their impairment.”

A spokesperson for HM Courts and Tribunals Service refused to say how it justified so few tribunal hearing centres having the capacity to record social security hearings, including none in London.

She also refused to say why there had been no equality impact assessment, and whether the service accepted that it had discriminated against disabled people and breached the UN disability convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.

But she said in a statement: We aim to provide services that people with disabilities can use independently but know that sometimes additional assistance may be required.

Any request for a reasonable adjustment will be considered so that they can participate fully in hearings.

We are looking at increasing the number of tribunals with recording facilities as part of our wider £1 billion court reform programme.”

17 January 2019

 

 

Surprise PIP report raises concerns over ministers’ spending plans

Disabled campaigners have been left bemused and concerned by a report from an independent fiscal watchdog which shows the government’s introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) has led to a sharp rise in spending on disability benefits.

Tory chancellor George Osborne announced in 2010 that the new coalition government planned to cut spending and the number of claimants on disability living allowance (DLA) by 20 per cent by introducing a new working-age benefit.

But instead of leading to a fall, the introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) from 2013 has instead led to accelerated growth in benefits spending, said the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in its annual Welfare Trends Report.

It said: “Disability benefits spending has risen faster than anticipated despite reform aimed to reduce it.

The transition to PIP was intended to save 20 per cent relative to DLA remaining in place, but appears to have cost around 15 to 20 per cent more.”

There were concerns this week that these figures could prompt the government to attempt to tighten eligibility for PIP, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refusing to say if ministers were considering such a move.

Disabled activists, including those who have campaigned to raise awareness of the unfairness of the PIP regime, have this week been left bemused by the report.

Hundreds of thousands of disabled people have lost support under the move from DLA to the new PIP regime, but they appear to have been outnumbered by the number of successful new claimants.

According to the OBR report, spending on disability benefits – PIP, DLA and attendance allowance (for older people) – continued to rise steadily between 2013-14 and 2017-18, with a rising proportion of the working-age population receiving either DLA or PIP.

These figures are predicted to continue to rise, with the proportion of the population receiving one of the three benefits expected to increase from 7.9 per cent to 8.4 per cent between 2017-18 and 2023-24, and the proportion of working-age adults receiving DLA or PIP predicted to rise from 5.4 to 6.2 per cent.

One explanation for the unexpected increase is that the rise of the internet and social media may have made it easier for disabled people to “navigate the system”, says the OBR.

The OBR has also had to explain why its spending predictions in earlier years were so inaccurate.

In December 2012, it predicted that moving to PIP would save £2.9 billion a year by 2017-18 and that introducing PIP would see a reduction in the number of claimants of 28 per cent by May 2018 (compared with what this number would have been under DLA).

The report produces a series of explanations for this failure.

It says the number of new PIP claims was higher than it had been for DLA; that success rates for new PIP claims were higher than expected; that fewer claimants were reassessed; that reassessment success rates were higher than expected; that fewer claimants were coming off PIP than expected; and that average PIP awards were “significantly higher” than expected.

Another explanation for some of the rising spending is the string of successful legal actions taken against the government, which have led to more claimants being entitled to PIP, and more receiving higher rates of the benefit.

The report says: “There is clearly a risk that future legal challenges to the Government’s interpretation of benefits legislation could expand coverage of the system further, increasing caseloads or average awards.”

And it suggests that there is substantial potential for even higher growth in the number of claimants, adding: “The available data suggest there is likely to be a much larger number of people eligible for disability benefits than currently claim them, giving considerable scope for future growth in the caseload through higher take-up.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “The introduction of PIP saw DLA support cut for hundreds of thousands, thousands of people with mental distress unlawfully discriminated against and assessments which wrongly deny disabled people social security. And for what?”

Disability News Service (DNS) spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of PIP.

It continues to receive such reports today, more than two years after the investigation began.

In one case – revealed by a secret recording – a nurse failed to mention a disabled woman’s near-fatal asthma attacks, accidental overdoses and repeated blackouts in her PIP assessment report.

In October 2017, DNS revealed that complaints about the PIP assessment process had risen by nearly 900 per cent from 2015-16 to 2016-17.

Earlier that year, DNS reported unpublished DWP figures which showed that nearly half of disabled people subject to “planned reviews” of their eligibility for PIP were having their existing award either cut or removed completely.

Other DWP figures from 2017, obtained by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) showed that fewer than half (about 126,000) of the 254,000 people previously receiving the higher rate mobility component of DLA secured the same level of mobility support when reassessed for PIP.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) were among the disabled activists surprised by the OBR report, following years of research and hearing personal testimonies that showed how disabled people have been unfairly deprived of support as a result of the introduction of PIP.

A DPAC spokesperson said that, although more people are receiving PIP than DLA, they have to “go through more hoops” to do so.

She said OBR and DWP had “overestimated the savings” and this had been “driving the denial of PIP to many claimants”.

DPAC said there would now be “concerns, as always, that changes will be made to limit the number of people eligible for PIP”.

Stef Benstead, a disabled researcher and member of the Spartacus Network, said she believed the higher volume of PIP claims was “because the new benefit was publicised and discussed in a way that older benefits, like DLA and ESA (employment and support allowance) aren’t”.

Many of those who had had DLA claims rejected may have thought it worth applying for PIP, particularly those with mental health conditions and high support needs, she said.

And Benstead said the underlying problem was that the government did not understand disability.

She said: “They have grossly underestimated the severity of the functional impact of chronic illness and disability; falsely believe that disability reduces over time; and wrongly think that disability is largely a simple matter to determine.

They simply didn’t realise how many people are severely disabled and how long that disability persists, so they underestimated how many people would be in receipt of PIP.”

Despite the OBR figures, she believes that PIP does not capture the extent of disabled people’s disability and that award rates are too low, “particularly for mobility problems, domestic tasks, and remaining safe and as healthy as possible”.

Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy officer for DR UK, said: “The OBR’s findings will feel like a kick in the teeth to the many thousands of disabled people whose incomes, independence and physical and mental well-being has been blighted by PIP.

Those hardest hit by austerity have been disabled people and this has been a deliberate result of government policy.

PIP is not just failing those disabled people deliberately excluded by its severe eligibility restrictions.

It is also failing those disabled people who are wrongly being refused entitlement to it.  

Over 70 per cent of PIP (and ESA) appeals are found in favour of the claimant.

What the government needs to do is completely overhaul the flawed PIP system and replace it with one that identifies the true extra costs of living with disability.”

The Benefits and Work website added: “Once again a cost cutting reform has proved to simply be an expensive exercise in creating avoidable misery.

It happened with employment and support allowance, it has now happened with personal independence payment and it will happen with universal credit too.”

A DWP spokesperson declined to say whether ministers were happy with the figures showing a rise in spending, rather than the intended cut; whether they would take steps to tighten eligibility for PIP; or what lessons ministers drew from the report.

Instead, she said in a statement: “Our priority has always been to ensure disabled people get the support they’re entitled to.

PIP is designed to focus support on people with the greatest needs and that’s happening, with 31 per cent of people getting the highest level of support, compared to 15 per cent under DLA.

As with any major new benefit we have been flexible and adapted our approach, and we continue to make improvements to ensure PIP is working in the best way possible.”

17 January 2019

 

 

DPOs call for support in battle to make ministers think again over attack on rights

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are calling for urgent support to prevent the government “bulldozing” through parliament a “potentially dangerous” bill that will affect the lives and welfare of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.

DPOs including Inclusion London and People First (Self Advocacy) say they are “deeply unhappy” about the flawed mental capacity (amendment) bill, which began its committee stage in the House of Commons this week.

They say the bill will significantly weaken existing rights, and that it will not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The bill will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), to replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), that will apply to service-users who are said to need to have restrictions placed on their liberty as part of their care but are considered to be unable to consent to those arrangements.

This week, the public bill committee began line-by-line consideration of the draft legislation, and it will report to MPs with its conclusions ahead of the next stage of the bill.

But Inclusion London, People First and self-advocacy organisations they have been consulting with have major concerns about the bill, even though peers and ministers have ensured some improvements during its passage through the House of Lords.

Among the self-advocacy groups that have joined Inclusion London and People First in raising concerns are Inclusion Barnet, SpeakEasy NOW, North Somerset People First, Wiltshire People First, Bromley Speaking Up Group, Lewisham Speaking Up, Brighton and Hove Speak Out, and Portsmouth Self Advocacy Group.

People with learning difficulties have told Inclusion London and People First that health and care professionals who already have control over their lives would be given even greater powers by the bill.

Inclusion London and People First want to ensure that the bill only deprives disabled people of their liberty as a last resort.

They also point to significant conflicts of interest in the bill, and they say this could force disabled people to live in care homes or to accept physical and medical restraint just because it is easier or cheaper for a local council or service-provider.

They say the bill also fails to ensure the necessary rights to advocacy for everyone facing the possibility of having their liberty restricted; and does not do enough to ensure such cases can be reviewed by a court or tribunal.

Svetlana Kotova, coordinator of Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project, said: “Last week the government introduced new amendments to the bill, which will water down the duty to inform people about their rights and introduce a deeply flawed definition of deprivation of liberty, which will exclude many cases from liberty protection safeguards, which will mean that professionals will be able to impose restrictions on them without any checks.”

Previously the bill required that individuals were given information about their rights at the beginning of the process, she said, but the government has now said this should happen only after authorisation for a deprivation of liberty has been granted.

Kotova said this would be too late and would come at a point when the only way of redress would be a court hearing.  

She said: “The minister said yesterday (Tuesday) that their goal is to design a simple system which has a person at the centre. 

But this is just words. All government’s amendments, the speed of the bill, their resistance to good suggestions put forward by the opposition, the lack of accessible information and their unwillingness to consult and hear from deaf and disabled people’s organisations indicates to us that despite the rhetoric about a person’s rights, the purpose of the bill is to save money by making life easier for care professionals, local authorities and hospitals, including independent hospitals, at a cost of people’s right to liberty. 

If they wanted to put a person at the centre, they would not take deliberate actions to weaken the rights people already have.”

Inclusion London and People First also believe the government has breached the Equality Act by failing to produce the bill in an easy read format, which would allow those people most likely to be affected by the legislation to understand it.

And they are angry at the government’s repeated failure to consult properly on the bill with DPOs, particularly self-advocacy groups, even though it will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has previously admitted in a freedom of information response to Inclusion London that it failed to consult any organisations led by disabled people while drawing up the bill.

Instead, it resorted to discussions with big charities like Mencap and Sense, which are run and controlled by non-disabled people, a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Inclusion London and People First believe progress on the bill should be halted immediately until there has been proper consultation with disabled people and until the government provides information about the bill in accessible formats.

An Inclusion London spokesperson said this week: “We don’t know why the government are choosing to rush through such an incredibly important human rights bill.

This leaves little time for people who will be affected by the bill to contribute. This is a shocking state of affairs.

The government needs to pause the mental capacity (amendment) bill and get it right, starting by engaging directly with disabled people.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “The current system for keeping vulnerable people safe is unworkable, with 125,000 people waiting for legal protections, and we cannot let them down by pausing the bill.

Our urgently needed reforms are based on the Law Commission’s three years of consultation with the third sector and disabled people’s organisations.

The department is committed to listening to the views of those affected and has engaged directly with individuals with dementia and learning disabilities and their carers, and has met with representatives from user-led groups.

An easy-read version of the bill is being produced and will be published shortly.”

Nearly 150,000 people have now signed a petition drawn up by Inclusion London that calls for major changes to the bill.

The call for evidence to be submitted to the public bill committee was only issued on 19 December, and the deadline is expected to be next Thursday (24 January), or even earlier.

Inclusion London and People First are now calling on disabled people and allies to express their concerns about the bill on social media, using the #mentalcapacitybill hashtag; email the public bill committee by 24 January at the latest; and write to their MP, using a template letter drawn up by Inclusion London, which will be posted on its website.

17 January 2019

 

 

Equality watchdog needs further legal powers, MPs are told

The equality watchdog should be given greater powers that would allow it to take more legal cases against organisations that breach the Equality Act, a disabled former commissioner has told MPs.

Mike Smith, who chaired the disability committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) between 2009 and 2012, told the Commons women and equalities committee that it was impossible for many people to take legal action to enforce their rights under the Equality Act 2010.

Smith, who is now chief executive of the disabled people’s organisation Real, said: “For many disabled people it’s de facto impossible to achieve justice in many areas.”

He said this particularly applied to cases alleging discrimination under the act by service-providers.

He and other equality experts who gave evidence to the committee yesterday (Wednesday), as part of its inquiry into how the EHRC is enforcing the act, said the commission needed to be able to take far more legal cases.

Smith said the EHRC should be allowed to take cases in its own name on behalf of claimants, which would allow legal action from individuals who “just didn’t have the life circumstances or the capacity” to do that themselves.

He also suggested that the commission should be allowed to support class actions on behalf of multiple claimants, and that enforcement of the Equality Act should be amended so people could bring cases before the small claims court, which in England and Wales allows claims of up to £10,000.

He said this could “allow a much deeper range of challenge to the kind of pervasive inequality and disadvantage that people often experience”.

He said the risk of service-providers “getting caught” for breaching the Equality Act was “pretty low”.

He said: “I don’t think most organisations think that there is much risk associated with breaking the Equality Act, either in terms of reputation or the financial consequences.”

Smith contrasted this with the US, and its Americans with Disabilities Act, where courts produce far higher levels of damages.

He said: “Any time I go to the States I am always amazed at how much more effective the manifestation of the legislation is.

Maybe we need to look harder at how there are consequences for organisations for breaking the law in the first place and that might sharpen their minds.”

Smith also told the committee that the EHRC should find a way to hold the government to account on its failure to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

He believes the failure to realise rights in the convention is as big an issue – if not bigger – for disabled people as discrimination.

But he told the committee that the commission had changed the lives of many disabled people with legal action it had taken recently, including forcing 13 NHS clinical commissioning groups to withdraw unlawful, discriminatory policies that could have seen service-users with complex healthcare needs forced into institutions.

He also praised its support for a significant legal case which saw the high court rule last year that disability benefit rules were unlawful and “blatantly discriminatory” to people with mental distress.

Niall Crowley, an equality and human rights expert and former chief executive of Ireland’s Equality Authority, told the committee that the EHRC was one of two equality bodies across the European Union (the other is Poland) that had suffered “disproportionate” cuts in funding, cuts which he said have “a hugely chilling effect on the work of equality bodies”.

He said such cuts are “particularly damaging” to the efforts of such bodies to enforce equality legislation.

Crowley was also critical of the commission’s policy of “strategic litigation”, taking only high-profile legal actions.

He said: “If you pursue a strategic litigation strategy that is purely about high-profile, precedent-setting cases you get greater clarity about the law but you don’t get a culture of compliance.”

He said equality bodies like the EHRC needed to take a “critical mass of cases” across the areas covered by equality laws.

Barbara Cohen, a discrimination law consultant and former head of legal policy at the Commission for Racial Equality, told MPs that the EHRC needed to be more of an “enforcer”.

She said it needed to do more to advertise its legal successes and create a “sense of fear”.

She said: “Just beginning to shout, ‘We are the big bad wolf and we are coming for you,’ just hasn’t happened… people are not frightened of the EHRC.”

Nick Webster, a senior solicitor at lawyers Leigh Day, said the government’s decision to remove the commission’s conciliation and mediation powers had not been helpful.

He suggested that these powers should be returned, while the commission should also be given new powers to act as an ombudsman.

This would mean that employers would know they do not have to just deal with a tribunal, the employee taking the case against then, and their union, but also with “a government body that is potentially going to come and look at what they are doing and issue fines as necessary”.

He said: “You hope that people do learn [after losing an Equality Act case]. In my experience they don’t. You hope that they will change their behaviours. In my experience they don’t.

That’s because they can just deal with that issue… and move on.”

But if employers know that losing a discrimination case “isn’t the end of it” and that they could face further action from the EHRC, they could be forced to make significant changes to how their organisations operate, he said.

17 January 2019

 

 

Double legal victory for access campaigner over underground discrimination

A court has found that London Underground twice discriminated against a disabled campaigner by failing to warn him that vital lifts that would allow him to complete his journey on the capital’s tube network were out-of-order.

Doug Paulley found himself stranded and confronted with inaccurate and incomplete information and unhelpful staff on trips to London in October 2016 and May 2017.

A district judge has now ruled that London Underground breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for its disabled customers by failing to let Paulley know about lift closures on its network.

The judge ruled that it was not reasonable for London Underground to expect wheelchair-users and other passengers who rely on lifts to check the organisation’s website for closures before every journey they make.

London Underground will now have to do more to alert passengers when its lifts are out of order across the 12 stations with step-free access in the central zone, which should include placing white boards at station entrances to ensure passengers know about problems before they start their journey.

The judge said that such measures “would not in any way place an unreasonable burden on the defendant’s resources”.

He also made it clear that he knew Paulley was more interested in the principles he was fighting for than in securing damages from London Underground.

On the first occasion, Paulley had been hoping to travel to King’s Cross from Westminster tube station, but he was left confused by a sign informing him that one lift was out of order and directing him to another entrance.

When he reached that entrance, he found that lift was also out of order.

Seven months later, he was travelling to King’s Cross by tube to catch a rail connection but had not been told that a lift at the station was out of order.

After initially refusing to speak to him face-to-face or discuss other options other than catching another tube to retrace his journey, returning to the surface and catching a bus back to King’s Cross, London Underground staff eventually agreed to help Paulley up the escalator in his wheelchair.

Although Paulley was able to catch his train, the judge said he was “unimpressed by the handling of the incident” by London Underground, which had initially taken an “intransigent” attitude, increasing Paulley’s frustration and causing him “detriment and worry” until a solution was found.

It is not the first time that Paulley has succeeded with a legal bid to persuade London Underground to improve the information it provides to disabled passengers.

Six years ago, after settling another case out-of-court, London Underground promised to update more frequently its website and written guides which show which tube stations are accessible.

But Paulley says London Underground failed to do that.

He was critical this week of London Underground’s failure to settle his latest case out-of-court, which has now led to him being awarded £1,000 in damages by the judge for the King’s Cross incident and £800 for the Westminster incident.

He said the “sloppy lack of adherence” to procedures and standards designed to minimise disabled people’s inconvenience by London Underground staff had been “shameful and unacceptable”.

He said: “I am amazed and disturbed that London Underground would spend so long, and so much money, fighting to defend such behaviour.”

He said its staff had failed to follow “clear procedures” as to what they could and should do to warn disabled people about lift failures at two key step-free interchanges, Westminster and King’s Cross.

He said: “If they don’t follow them there, then what chance have we that they will follow them elsewhere?”

He added: “I very much hope that in future they adhere properly to suitable procedures for disseminating information and taking action when lifts break, such that other disabled people don’t go through what I did.”

Mark Evers, London Underground’s chief customer officer, said: “Making London’s transport network more accessible is one of our top priorities and we understand how challenging it can be for our customers when lifts are taken out of service, either for planned maintenance or due to a fault.

We apologise to Mr Paulley for failing to provide him with the relevant information to carry out his journey.

We try hard to alert our customers in advance to any issues, for example through real-time lift information on our website, and to provide up-to-date information at stations and on trains.

We are also introducing an initiative at all step-free stations which involves distributing prompt cards to station staff to remind them of the actions to take when a lift goes out of service.

However, we acknowledge that there’s more to do. We will be considering the county court’s ruling in relation to these cases.” 

London Underground said it had introduced a real-time information app for station staff which allows them to report lift faults – via their iPads – directly to the control centre.

It is also installing “poster frames” next to lifts in these stations and printing posters with key alternative routes that can be quickly used if there is a lift fault, a system which should be introduced at all step-free stations by the spring.

The court victory is just the latest of a series of legal bids and other campaign actions taken by Paulley in a bid to push service-providers to improve the country’s inaccessible public transport network.

His most high-profile success came almost exactly two years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled that First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces.

But Paulley has also secured high-profile campaign successes after taking on providers across the coach, train and taxi network.

And only last week, Disability News Service reported how he revealed the inaccessibility of supposedly wheelchair-accessible coach services provided by National Express after taking nine journeys on the same day and experiencing significant problems on all but one of them.

17 January 2019

 

 

Project highlights need for museums to take ‘radical’ action on disability employment

Museums need to take radical action to address the “woeful” under-representation of disabled people in their workforce, a parliamentary event has heard.

The call was delivered by Esther Fox, the disabled leader of the Accentuate programme, at a House of Commons event held to mark the end of the three-year History of Place project, which has charted the lives of disabled people across eight heritage sites and 800 years.

Accentuate also called for moves to ensure that deaf and disability history becomes part of the country’s collective history, with more museums and heritage attractions giving this “equal prominence” in their displays and exhibitions.

Fox told the Commons event: “Sustained change takes time and we believe it will not happen unless there are deaf and disabled people working as part of our cultural organisations at all levels.

However, deaf and disabled people are woefully under-represented in the workforce of our cultural sector.”

She told guests of “some rather shocking statistics” that showed that disabled people made up only 2.6 per cent of museums’ workforce, and contrasted this with History of Place, where 49 per cent of staff were disabled people.

She added: “This demonstrates that change is possible in the cultural sector if the right opportunities are there and those with specialist knowledge and experience are leading them.”

In a report on the project, Accentuate delivers a 13-page “call to action”, which includes recommendations to improve employment and volunteering opportunities for disabled people within the heritage sector, and for organisations in the sector to include the “hidden histories” of deaf and disabled communities in their displays, exhibitions and events.

Accentuate, which works to create opportunities for disabled people in the cultural sector and is part of the cultural development agency Screen South, is now working on a professional development placement programme for a group of disabled curators as a contribution to the changes needed in the sector.

It says in the call to action: “We believe it is particularly important to have deaf and disabled people in decision making roles in our cultural institutions.”

Fox told Disability News Service (DNS) afterwards that it was now important to take this message and “really hammer it home”.

She said: “People should really start to take responsibility. It’s not good enough to have organisations being [publicly] funded if they are not addressing these issues.”

She said Arts Council England was starting to address the issue through its Creative Case for Diversity, and was making funding dependent on addressing issues of diversity in recruitment.

Fox said: “We are at that point where we need to be quite radical. Just saying, ‘Oh well, we’ve tried,’ is not good enough.”

She said she was not that surprised that the problem was worse in the museum and heritage sector than the arts sector because of the politicised history of disability arts.

She said there had not been the same level of politicised engagement with museums, which were “often seen as shrines to preservation rather than social hubs”.

Fox said the History of Place project, which worked with more than 100 volunteers to “excavate the archives” of the eight sites, had been recognised as a “nationally significant” social history programme and demonstrated that disabled people are “integral to the UK’s heritage and culture”.

It also worked with 111 museum, heritage and archive institutions, including three high-profile exhibitions and displays at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, M Shed in Bristol and the Museum of Liverpool, each of which was visited by more than 140,000 people.

Fox told guests at the event: “We have uncovered rich and unexpected stories about the lives of deaf and disabled people who not only impacted on our communities but also on our built environment, from a blind nurse in a medieval alms house… to the amazing pioneer Maggie Davis, who was determined not to be incarcerated in an institution and worked with architects to build the first fully wheelchair-accessible home.

These pioneers were intrinsic to the world around them and they left a mark which is only just beneath the surface, requiring only a small amount of excavation to uncover.”

Each of the eight heritage sites had a significant connection to disabled people, including Maison Dieu, in Kent (a medieval alms house and hospital on the pilgrimage route to Canterbury); the Guild of the Brave Poor Things, in Bristol (opened in 1913); the Grove Road housing scheme, in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire (commissioned in 1976); and the Royal School for Deaf Children, in Margate (founded in 1792).

Fox told DNS that the nature of archives, collections and records relating to disabled people meant there were rarely any documents from the perspective of people with lived experience themselves, with records usually created by “gate-keepers”, such as doctors and teachers.

She said she hoped the project would now persuade the heritage sector to “start diversifying their collections”, to ensure that the voices of deaf and disabled people are heard.

She said: “There is more stuff to be discovered. I think there have got to be things in their own collections where they are maybe not aware of their significance or have been hidden away in a box somewhere.”

In the call to action, Accentuate says: “If a museum only has a small number of artefacts relating to deaf and disabled people’s history we would suggest they consider making new acquisitions, to provide a more well-rounded reflection of the communities they represent.”

Fox told DNS that she would like to see museums become more radical and accessible to all and become a “hub for social activity and cohesion”.

She said: “The museum partners we work with have been incredibly supportive.”

But she said it was frustratingly difficult to produce even small change in the largest institutions, because there are “so many levels you have to get through before anything can be done”.

She suggested the opportunities to be more radical lay in the “middle range of museums, because they have a bit more profile, more money [than smaller museums] but they have more freedom than a really large institution.

So I think it can happen and there is a will and I think now is the right moment to really galvanise more people around this sort of movement.

I think there’s a will there. There are enough people that do want to see change happening.”

Ros Kerslake, chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which funded History of Place, had earlier given Accentuate’s “call to action” a “ringing endorsement”.

She said the project had started to fulfil the pledge made by her organisation in 2015 to support more disabled-led heritage, and both put “deaf and disabled people’s heritage in the spotlight” and “demand change from heritage organisations”.

She said: “We are determined to continue this commitment and inspire and support more projects like History of Place, projects that create a more diverse workforce and ensure that people who visit and benefit from heritage are truly reflective of the UK society.”

Damian Collins, the Conservative MP and chair of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee, who sponsored the meeting, said Accentuate’s work was “genuinely ground-breaking and refreshing”.

And he welcomed HLF’s willingness to fund “different perspectives on heritage and tell different stories, maybe stories that weren’t told about before”.

17 January 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:22
Jan 152019
 

Reblogued from @SpeyeJoe’s blog: No job? Kids? Then you’re homeless is Tory policy. Why don’t Shelter know this? https://speyejoe2.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/no-job-kids-then-youre-homeless-is-tory-policy-why-dont-shelter-know-this/

The Overall Benefit Cap policy which limits a household to £20,000 per year in ‘welfare’ and £384.62 per week will mean that in 2027 the two parent three child household will not get a penny in housing benefit.

Is it irony for the Shelter Commission report this week investigating social housing for the next 20 years has a picture of a mother and child on its cover and a lone parent with one child in 20 years will not be able to afford the cheapest council housing Shelter demand is needed due to the Tories Overall Benefit Cap policy?

This week the DWP announced that tax credits will be paid for the 3rd child (if born before 2017) and that welfare benefits will rise and be unfrozen and I assume they will rise by the CPI rate of inflation.

2p3c

The quick table above shows that in 2019 the two parent three child household (2P3C) gets £323.45 in ‘welfare’ plus a maximum of £61.17 in housing benefit.  The table then increases the £323.45 other welfare figure by 2.2%, the current CPI rate of inflation, each year and by 2027 this reaches the Overall Benefit Cap limit of £384.62 meaning the 2 parent 3 child household will not get a penny in housing benefit.

Where will they live?

Council and housing association landlords will not house them as they cannot pay the rent, they cannot afford the rent and what we have is the cheapest rented housing that will call social housing will see social landlords operating a blanket NO DSS policy as private landlords have done for decades.

Using the same method of welfare increasing by CPI in 2034 the lone parent with 3 child household will not get a penny in housing benefit and in 2038 the two parent 2 child household will not get a penny in housing benefit.

The Overall Benefit Cap (OBC) policy kills off the 1948 Welfare State housing safety net and directly creates ever-increasing homelessness with its systemic flaw that I first mentioned in 2012 of its cap or limit remaining a constant while ‘welfare’ and rents both increase.

The OBC means the social landlord model is dead as the proverbial Dodo as councils and HAs will not house those in housing need as they simply cannot afford to.  I cautioned social landlords at their euphoria over the return of inflation-busting rents from 2020 (CPI inflation plus a further 1%) that will also lead to NO DSS for their 400,000 social housing lets they have each year and of course for the mass eviction of existing tenants that the combination of welfare and rent rises will create as an unambiguous inevitability.

NO JOB NO HOME as well as NO DSS becomes the norm for council and housing association landlords

Look at the following table for the lone parent 2 child household which uses the same method of welfare rises of (2.2%) CPI inflation and social housing rent rises of 3.2% and CPI plus 1%

1p2c

By 2027 the lone parent with 2 children will get a maximum housing benefit of £129.33 and the rent will be £131.99 and a shortfall arises of £2.66 per week.  Yet 2 years after that in 2029 this housing benefit shortfall has increased to £22.60 per week and in a further two years by 2031 doubles to £43.60 per week … which means that councils and housing associations in the cheapest rent areas of the UK cannot afford the ‘benefit tenant’ with 2 children. It means the eviction of existing lone parent two child households and denies the allocation of social housing to them (NO DSS)

It further means that council and housing association landlords can ONLY house those in work for the near 40% of all social housing that is 3 bedrooms or larger.  The benefit tenant ghetto is what council and housing association housing becomes. It also means any household with two children cannot live anywhere if they have no job. It means NO JOB NO HOME.

This past week has also seen the Shelter Commission Report that calls for 3.1 million social housing properties to be built over the next 20 years or 155,000 new houses described as ‘genuinely affordable’ and meaning houses are social rent.  Yet what is the point if none of those allegedly ‘genuinely affordable’ houses will not be allocated to the benefit households or those most in housing need due to the OBC and inflation-busting social rent rises?

The OBC policy means NO JOB NO HOME and means NO DSS in even the cheapest rented properties of council and housing association landlords.

The Shelter Commission report claims to look at housing until 2039 yet by that time the lone parent with 1 child household will have a housing benefit shortfall of £35.63 per week in the cheapest form of social housing.  Hence by 2039 at the latest council and housing association landlords will not house any benefit tenant household who has children!!

Remarkably the OBC policy has an approval rating of over 70% and just as offensively the last Labour Party general election manifesto called for a reduction in the OBC limit – both of which show that the electorate and all politicians don’t have a clue about the OBC policy and what it inevitably means which is I remind again NO JOB NO HOME and NO DSS being the norm and the eradication of the 1948 Welfare State.

The Tory OBC policy not only has the cap as a constant figure and with it the systemic flaw but in 2017 the Tories reduced the cap by 23% from £26,000 per household per year to £20,000 per household per year (and to £23k pa in London.)

The Shelter Commission did not mention the OBC policy and did not consider it in their report despite the fact it will systemic create ever-increasing homelessness and NO DSS in the cheapest rented housing that we misname social housing.  Excuse me reader but isn’t Shelter’s rationale to fight homelessness and yet they do not even see the inevitable OBC impact of mass homelessness and mass social housing NO DSS!!

Note well that figures unlike politicians, lobby groups and social landlords DON’T LIE and when the creation of those figures is THE most basic of basic spreadsheets that a 7 year-old can do then why the hell can’t politicians, landlords and the likes of the Shelter Commission take 2 minutes to create such as simple spreadsheet?

All of these actors claim to care about homelessness yet they do not know their arse from their elbow when it comes to the systemic creation of ever-increasing homelessness do they?

 Posted by at 22:54
Jan 132019
 

NHS Plan Unfit! No to cuts, rationing and privatisation.

Signup at the Facebook Event Page

Thursday 31 January. 10:00am to 1:00pm
RALLY OUTSIDE NHS ENGLAND BOARD MEETING
Skipton House, 80 London Road Elephant and Castle, London SE1 6LH.

Please come and join fellow KONP supporters in protesting the government’s NHS long term plan. Called by National KONP and Lambeth Keep Our NHS Public.

All of the main lines of what has been published or leaked about the Plan are a depressing re-run of previous plans and gimmicks: the only novel proposals are for more central control and less accountability, for trusts to run more like and with private businesses seeking profits, and to raise money by undermining the principles and values of the NHS through charging overseas visitors – a government policy widely condemned by NHS professional staff and campaigners as discriminatory and a step backwards from prevention and public health. There is no reason to believe this plan, with even less local accountability and no serious plans for public consultation, will prove any more acceptable to the public or successful in implementation than the secretive STPs in 2016 or other previous failed efforts. Campaigners have yet to see anything to recommend the new plans, or any indication NHS England is willing to come to grips with the crisis fuelled by chronic austerity limits on funding – or demand an end to chaos and fragmentation of the Health & Social Care Act.

Join the rally and bring your friends!

 Posted by at 16:26
Jan 102019
 

Home Office’s ‘inhumane’ deportation decision poses ‘risk to life’

Autistic rights campaigners are calling on the government to reverse its “inhumane” decision to ignore detailed, independent medical evidence and force a young disabled man with high support needs and his family to return to India.

Disabled activists from Autistic UK say the medical evidence proves that Gopul Anand is not well enough to make the journey and that the UK government’s attempt to deport him and his family is a “grave breach” of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Gopul is autistic, and also has schizophrenia, epilepsy and learning difficulties, and his family insist – backed up by evidence from experts including social workers and his mental health team – that he is too ill to travel because of the risk both to his own health and the safety of other passengers.

British Airways has even told the family that it would not allow 24-year-old Gopul to fly with the airline because of his current poor health.

Errol Kerr, chair of Autistic UK, said the Home Office’s “lack of consideration” for Gopul’s situation was “horrifying” and suggested “a wider attitude towards disabled people and immigrants”.

Gopul’s father Shekhar, a social and economic development expert, who has worked with Oxfam for 15 years in Africa, Asia and the UK, has told the UK government that his family accepts its decision that they must return to India, but is pleading for time for his son’s health to improve.

Shekhar originally came to the UK with his family seven years ago for a senior position in Oxfam’s Oxford office.

Gopul had been educated in a mainstream school in India, but his mental health deteriorated sharply following the death of an uncle in 2013.

His parents tried to take him on a flight to India that year to visit family, but he was too unwell to travel.

His health dramatically deteriorated even further the following year, and he was eventually sectioned and spent time in an assessment and treatment unit (ATU) in 2015.

Gopul spent 10 months in the ATU, and his family had to appeal to a tribunal to have him released. He still has nightmares and flashbacks because of the abuse he experienced at the hands of a member of staff at the unit.

He is also self-harming and experiencing hallucinations and panic attacks, and is currently so unwell that it is almost impossible for him to leave the family home in Cowley, Oxford, to attend events where he might interact with strangers.

Two years ago, Shekhar’s visa expired, and he and the family have now submitted detailed, independent evidence to the government that shows why Gopul is not well enough to travel back to India.

One of Gopul’s support workers has described how his condition has deteriorated in the last year and said that taking him to India would be “practically impossible and very risky for Gopul, family and any members of the public present during the journey by any means of transport” and that escorting him would be “unsafe and dangerous”.

The move to India, she said, could cause “irreversible damage” to his mental health.

His mental health team agrees and says his condition has deteriorated in the last 12 months, with an increase in his impulsive behaviours, and that he has become increasingly unsettled, aggressive and violent.

They say it would cause him “extreme anxiety” to travel to India and that he would be a threat to himself and other passengers.

Shekhar said: “The risk is that he will get into severe depression and he will not be able to come out of it. There is a risk to his life.”

As well as the risks to his health from the anxiety caused by the flight itself, and the lack of family support in India, Shekhar is also concerned about attitudes in India to autistic people and those with mental distress, and the lack of services to support autistic people and treat Gopul’s mental ill-health.

He said: “The social acceptance is not there. If he goes out by himself maybe some people could throw stones at him and kill him.”

Shekhar said there was a “social taboo” in India about mental health which would prevent Gopul being accepted.

He also pointed out that there is a global average of 3.96 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, whereas in India this figure is just 0.301.

He said: “Gopul will neither feel safe nor get the same level of services as he is getting in the UK. 

We are really, really worried. It is a dire situation. It is a risk to his life.”

A tribunal ruled last February that the Anands would have to leave the UK, and they were refused permission to appeal in September.

Shekhar then approached Gopul’s doctors for a medical review and they concluded that he was not well enough to travel.

The family’s solicitor told the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) service in a letter in November that it had made “arbitrary and hollow statements” in response to the detailed and independent medical evidence provided by the family, and did not understand why UKVI could not consider this as evidence to justify discretionary leave to remain in the UK.

The letter added: “Our client and his disabled dependant are left in a limbo being crushed between medical opinion and the UKVI policy.”

The Home Office has now told the family that it will not reconsider its decision, despite the concerns over Gopul’s health, but that they can lodge a fresh application to seek discretionary leave to remain in the UK.

This new application will cost them about £10,000 in legal fees and costs. The family have already spent nearly £20,000 in applying for leave to remain in the UK, and say they have wasted two years waiting for a decision on their application.

Because of the government’s refusal to extend their visas, Shekhar’s wife Anima has been forced to turn down a job offer.

His other son, Atul, who has been paying international rate fees for the last three years, has had to interrupt his computer science degree at the University of Bath and will need to return to India and then apply for a student visa so he can continue his studies.

Autistic UK, which is run and controlled by autistic people and has supported the campaign to persuade the government to change its position, said the Home Office appeared to consider “invisible” impairments such as autism and mental distress as “ineligible” in deciding whether there should be a medical exemption in such cases, which “is plainly discrimination”.

Errol Kerr said: “The lack of consideration the Home Office have for the situation Gopul is in is horrifying.

However, it is not an isolated one. Instead it is indicative of a wider attitude towards disabled people and immigrants held by the Home Office itself.

Whether this is due to wilful ignorance or a lack of understanding matters little – Autistic UK are deeply hurt that the very real needs of a multiply disabled individual are being ignored and we feel we have no choice than to stand with Gopul and his family, and show our support to those whose lives are similarly undermined.”

The Anand family have been supported by their MP, Labour’s Anneliese Dodds, who has called on the Home Office to re-open the case because of the new medical evidence that has emerged since the tribunal decision.

They have also launched an online petition in the hope of putting further pressure on the Home Office to reconsider its decision.

Shekhar said: “We are just asking for the Home Office to give us some more time, maybe six or eight months or a year.

The moment the doctors say he is fit for travel, we will be able to take him back to Delhi.”

A series of Home Office spokespeople repeatedly promised that the department would release a statement about the case, but it had not done so by noon today (Thursday).

10 January 2019

 

 

ROFA lays out plans to make the right to independent living a reality

Campaigning disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have set out their demands for a new national independent living service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support, and finally make the right to independent living a reality.

The Independent Living for the Future document has been developed over the last 14 months under the banner of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), whose members include Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London, People First (Self Advocacy), Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, The Alliance for Inclusive Education and Shaping Our Lives.

ROFA will now seek support for the document from its members, political parties, disabled people, DPOs and other organisations.

Independent Living for the Future is based on principles laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 19 of the convention describes how countries signed up to the convention – like the UK – must recognise the right of all disabled people “to live in the community, with choices equal to others”.

The new document describes how the rights in article 19 could be upheld through a new national independent living service, which would build on “what was most successful” about the former Independent Living Fund.

The new service would be “co-created between government and disabled people, funded through general taxation, managed by central government, led by disabled people, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people”, says the document.

It would be free, non-means-tested and “provided on the basis of need, not profit”.

There would also be funding for DPOs to deliver local services, ensuring a range of options to support disabled people to live in the community and exercise choice and control over their support.

Priorities would include setting up a new independent living taskforce, led by disabled people, to develop plans for the service; and agreeing how to introduce a legal right to independent living, including an independent living bill of rights.

There would also be a need, says the new document, to educate the public about the benefits of investing in independent living support for disabled people.

The document also calls for the government’s Office for Disability Issues to be moved out of the Department for Work and Pensions and placed within either the Cabinet Office or the Government Equalities Office.

And it says there should be a strategy for investment in local user-led services alongside the closure of institutionalised, segregated settings including long-stay hospitals and assessment and treatment units.

The document points out that government austerity cuts have had “serious adverse impacts” on the rights contained in article 19, with the social care and mental health systems in crisis and disabled people’s rights being taken “dramatically backwards”.

It says that grassroots campaigning by disabled people since 2010 has focused heavily on the right to independent living, partly because activists are so proud of the independent living movement and its achievements.

It adds: “At a time when discrimination continues to exist legally, structurally and within many parts of society, daily living conditions are deteriorating and the odds against us seem overwhelming, it is enormously important to be able to draw on a source of pride that sits at the core of our shared identity.”

The ideas behind the document began to be discussed several years ago with disabled activists involved in the campaign set up in 2011 to stop the planned closure of the Independent Living Fund.

More recently, there have been discussions at the National Disabled People’s Summit in November 2017, the Independent Living Campaign Conference later that month, and a ROFA round table event last May.

10 January 2019

 

 

Motability set to spend millions more on grants for adapted vehicles

The Motability car scheme is set to increase substantially the number of grants it makes to disabled people with high support needs that allow them to lease an adapted vehicle, MPs have been told.

The move would be a success for disabled campaigners who have long called for Motability to use more of its substantial resources to fund expensive, heavily-adapted vehicles for disabled people who would otherwise be unable to engage in their community.

Lord Sterling, the co-founder of the scheme and chair of the Motability charity, made the pledge to increase the number of grants during a joint evidence session held yesterday (Wednesday) by the Commons Treasury and work and pensions committees.

The committees are holding a fresh inquiry, following a critical report last month by the National Audit Office (NAO) which raised significant concerns about Motability Operations, the company which runs the scheme on behalf of the charity*.

Only disabled people receiving the higher mobility rates of disability living allowance (DLA) or personal independence payment (PIP) – or similar payments for former members of the armed services – are eligible to join the scheme.

The evidence session saw MPs raise concerns about the level of financial reserves held by Motability Operations, high rates of executive pay at the company, and a lack of transparency by its chair, Neil Johnson, as well as the “cosy” relationship between the charity and the company.

Another key issue was what the charity would do with £400 million in donations handed to it by Motability Operations, with the expectation of a further and continuing £100 million a year, as a result of profits that were more than £1 billion higher than forecasted between 2007-08 and 2016-17.

Labour’s John Mann, a member of the Treasury committee, said there was a disabled young woman who lived in a rural area of his Bassetlaw constituency and had been refused a grant for an adapted vehicle which she needed to drive to her first job.

He questioned why such grants were being rejected when Motability Operations held £2.62 billion in reserves in March 2018 and was paying its executives such large salaries and bonuses (in 2016-17, the company’s chief executive Mike Betts received a total financial package of £1.7 million).

Lord Sterling told the MPs that the charity knew there was unfulfilled demand for grants to adapt vehicles for disabled people with high support needs.

He said: “We know there’s a much bigger demand… we want to do many more of these cars for the more severely disabled.”

But he admitted that the charity did not yet have a long-term strategy for spending the new funds donated by Motability Operations, although he said the money would all be spent “over a period”.

Paul Atkinson, the charity’s new chief executive, said the cost of a wheelchair-accessible vehicle can be up to £60,000, with the charity currently making £23 million in grants every year for about 8,500 people to lease adapted vehicles [many of these grants are for less expensive wheelchair-accessible vehicles].

He said: “What this donation will allow us to do for an awful long time into the future… is increase the number of people who are able to receive those grants.”

He was also asked whether some of the new money could be spent on allowing disabled people to keep their Motability vehicles until the end of their three-year lease period if they lose entitlement to PIP or DLA during that time, as tens of thousands have done since the introduction of PIP by the coalition government in 2013.

Although Atkinson did not appear to answer this question, he did say that the charity already considered such requests on a case-by-case basis.

He said the charity was about to launch an extensive consultation process to ask how it should spend the extra funds donated by Motability Operations; there will also be a review of the level of reserves being kept by the company.

The session saw representatives of both Motability Operations and the charity answering critical questions from MPs on the two committees.

While praising the way the scheme was run and the service it provided to disabled people, Frank Field, the Labour chair of the work and pensions committee, questioned whether it was “value for money” and whether it could be provided for lower payments for disabled customers.

Sir Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office, said this was possible, but he added: “We are talking about a success. And it’s very seductive to start picking a success to pieces.”

He said it was “reasonable” to challenge Motability Operations to reduce the “substantial” level of “over-profits” and “deliver a leaner operation”.

And he said the committees were right to be concerned about the levels of executive pay at the company.

He also said the government needed to take a “much more active part in shaping the future” of Motability Operations and then “guiding that future forward”, while there was a need for a “much more muscular” model of governing the company.

He said: “These issues aren’t going to go away without significant change in the way this is operating. It’s valuable, it’s a success, but there does need to be change.”

In response to one MP, Lord Stirling was forced to admit that there were currently no black and minority ethnic governors on the charity’s board, and only one woman.

Nicky Morgan, the Tory chair of the Treasury committee, also asked why the charity had not once since 2013 sent one of its governors to attend the Motability Operations committee that is responsible for setting levels of executive pay, even though the charity had sent letters expressing concern about the issue in both 2012 and 2016.

She said: “The difficulty is that everything I’m hearing so far is there has been a very long-term cosy relationship between the charity and the company.

I think over the years you have done amazing work, but you have forgotten this is an arms-length relationship.”

Lord Sterling told her: “With hindsight, maybe one should have made sure someone should have attended it.”

MPs also asked about the company’s earlier failure to disclose nearly £2million in bonuses that were due to be paid to Betts by 2022.

Mann, a long-standing critic of Motability Operations, accused Neil Johnson, chair of the company, of hiding the full value of the incentive scheme.

He said: “You’re a monopoly underpinned by the taxpayer and I’m asking a simple question: why were you hiding that amount of money?”

The Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke, another Treasury committee member, said Johnson’s evidence had been “evasive” and that there had been “a lack of openness, a lack of transparency, a lot of defensiveness”.

He suggested that, even if Motability Operations had not breached the “letter” of the Companies Act over details of the incentive scheme, it had breached it in “spirit”, and added: “‘The spirit matters too. You’re all City figures.

The spirit matters as much as the letter. Being evasive and that kind of behaviour is not right.”

Johnson insisted that there was “no intention to cover [up] anything” and that Motability Operations had acted in line with best practice, but that it recognised that “there could be more openness” and had now taken steps to ensure that happened.

Asked about the level of reserves, Johnson said: “This is not a leasing company like any other leasing company.

If another leasing company has insufficient reserves and goes to the wall then its customers can go somewhere else. Our customers can’t. That’s why we need to have sufficient reserves in place.”

But Field said the government and MPs would never allow it to fail.

*The Motability charity is one of Disability News Service’s subscribers

10 January 2019

 

 

Rudd has not delayed roll out of universal credit, DWP confirms

The roll out of the government’s much-criticised universal credit benefit system has not been delayed and will proceed as planned, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed.

Reports at the weekend suggested that new work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd had decided on a significant overhaul and planned to delay the process of moving about three million claimants of existing “legacy” benefits, including hundreds of thousands of people on employment and support allowance (ESA), onto universal credit.

Some commentators and politicians subsequently praised Rudd for listening to critics of the new regime, which has been blamed for driving many claimants into poverty.

But DWP confirmed this week that the timetable had not changed, and that the “managed migration” of those on legacy benefits like ESA and income support onto universal credit would begin in July with a small pilot programme of about 10,000 claimants, as previously announced.

Next year, DWP will begin migrating the remaining three million of those on legacy benefits, with the aim of completing the roll out by the end of 2023.

All that has changed is that, instead of seeking parliamentary approval for regulations that would allow the entire managed migration process to be given the go-ahead, ministers will first ask MPs to approve only regulations covering the pilot scheme.

They will then come back to parliament at a later stage for approval of regulations covering the rest of the managed migration process.

A DWP spokesperson told Disability News Service this week: “There is no change to the roll out timetable.

We will begin migration this year with a maximum of 10,000 people to make sure the system is working well for claimants and to make any necessary adaptions as we go.

We are clear this will have no impact on our timelines for universal credit to be fully rolled out by 2023.”

Rudd told MPs this week during the first work and pensions questions of 2019 that she was still considering when to ask MPs to vote on the main migration of the three million claimants.

She also confirmed that there were already 1.4 million people on universal credit, with another 1.6 million expected to move on to it during the next 12 months as part of so-called “natural migration”, through new claims by people not already on legacy benefits and from those moved onto universal credit because of a change in their circumstances, such as moving to a new home.

She said she would take on board a suggestion from Labour MP Ruth George that DWP should publish a “conclusive list of all the reasons for people having a change of circumstances and being moved on to universal credit”.

DNS has been trying since last January, through freedom of information requests, to persuade DWP to release such a list, and other information about the universal credit reforms.

Later in work and pensions questions, the shadow minister for disabled people, Labour’s Marsha de Cordova, was scathing about DWP’s decision to launch a seventh review of disabled people who had been wrongly denied social security payments, as revealed by DNS last week.

She said it was “yet another example of the devastating impact of the chaotic shambles at the heart of the DWP”.

And she asked Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, if the latest review was “the result of institutional indifference to the suffering of disabled people” or simply “the result of a department in utter chaos”.

Newton told de Cordova that she would “not even dignify those comments by repeating the allegations”.

She said: “We are utterly determined to make sure we have a benefits system that is compassionate, fair and fit for purpose.

We are proceeding at pace to review the PIP claimant cases to make sure that people get all the benefits to which they are entitled.”

But Newton was also told, by fellow Tory MP Maria Caulfield, of a constituent with cystic fibrosis who has “lung function of less than 30 per cent” but has lost his entitlement to personal independence payment and now faces a 47-week wait for a tribunal to hear his appeal.

Newton told her: “Many more people are benefiting from PIP than they were under the legacy system, but one mistake is one too many and I will of course work with her.”

10 January 2019

 

 

Nine journeys in one day expose ‘sham’ of National Express ‘accessible’ coaches

A disabled campaigner who took nine journeys on the same day to check the accessibility of the services provided by the UK’s largest coach operator experienced signifcant problems on all but one of them.

Wheelchair-user Doug Paulley had booked assistance in advance for services between Leeds and Bradford provided by National Express.

But all but one of last week’s nine journeys threw up serious problems, with malfunctioning lifts, drivers who did not know how to deal with the equipment, or staff failing to clamp Paulley’s wheelchair in place correctly and safely.

He caught all the day’s journeys on video and edited them into a 20-minute package of the worst moments.

The first journey saw him stuck in mid-air on the lift that was loading him and his wheelchair into the coach, with staff making repeated attempts to make the equipment work, and the equipment malfunctioning again at the end of the trip.

There were problems with the seatbelt on the second journey, but the third journey was problem-free.

After this third trip, he began taking pictures of the way his chair was being clamped, and found that not once on the remaining journeys was he restrained safely and correctly.

The fourth trip again saw the lift jamming, while the driver on the fifth journey had to repeatedly enter and reverse out of the bay because the ramp would not open properly.

When the ramp finally opened, the lift jammed.

On the sixth journey, the wheelchair was not clamped correctly, and on the seventh a member of staff reported problems with the “ratchets” that attach the wheelchair to the floor of the coach.

The next coach driver had problems clamping the wheelchair to the coach, while Paulley’s final journey saw the coach parked so close to the railings that it was difficult for him to access the ramp, while his wheelchair was again not clamped safely.

Last year, an investigation by Paulley showed that National Express was ignoring access laws by refusing to allow wheelchair-users to travel on its services on the same day they bought tickets.

Any coaches that have been adapted to be compliant with Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations – as all of National Express’s have – must provide a wheelchair space and make that space available to wheelchair-users.

All companies operating scheduled services must ensure they are accessible by 1 January 2020, so other companies have less than a year to meet the necessary standards.

This time, Paulley booked his coach tickets in advance, and managed to make nine trips between Leeds and Bradford in different coaches in one day.

And he says his experiment shows that even those companies, like National Express, that are already running “wheelchair-accessible” services are actually offering an “unusable” system.

This means wheelchair-users do not even try to use the service, he said, so the equipment is never used.

Paulley said: “So when somebody like me comes along and bucks the trend by having the audacity to dare to attempt to use this system which everybody else takes for granted, it all falls apart spectacularly.

The sham is exposed as being a tick-box exercise of going through the motions of meeting the legislation, but nobody actually checks that it works and it isn’t actually usable.

Which is utterly shameful.”

Alan Benson, chair of Transport for All (TfA), the user-led organisation that campaigns on accessible transport in London, said Paulley’s experiences were “very disturbing and upsetting for Doug” but not a surprise to TfA.

He said: “Watching this experience is enough to put any disabled people off travelling by coach. This is unacceptable.

Clearly the equipment doesn’t work as it should and significantly the staff training wasn’t up to scratch even though the operator provided more support than would usually be available.

With rising train fares coach travel is seen by many as a more affordable alternative but based on this experience disabled people will be seriously considering whether this is a realistic or sensible alternative for them.”

A National Express spokesperson refused to say if the company was concerned about what it had seen in Paulley’s video.

But she said in a statement: “We take our commitment to accessible travel very seriously and always endeavour to facilitate travel on our coaches for any passengers requiring assistance, which includes wheelchair users.  

Customer feedback is key to our continual learning and informing any business decisions regarding our policy and procedures.

We are in direct discussions with Mr Paulley to respond in detail regarding his travel with us on 30 December 2018.

10 January 2019

 

 

Disabled designer wins $500,000 to develop first intelligent manual wheelchair

A disabled entrepreneur and product designer is set to develop a revolutionary prototype of the world’s first “intelligent” manual wheelchair, after winning half a million dollars in funding through a global competition.

Andrew Slorance, whose start-up company Phoenix Instinct is based in Forres, Moray, in the north of Scotland, was this week announced as one of five finalists in the worldwide Mobility Unlimited Challenge (MUC).

Slorance hopes to produce something that has “never been done before”: an ultra-lightweight wheelchair that uses artificial intelligence to create an “intelligent” centre of gravity, providing a chair that is both stable and easy to self-propel.

The wheelchair will also have intelligent, electronic braking so the user will not need to grab the tyres to slow down on steep slopes.

Slorance told Disability News Service (DNS) this week: “I genuinely think it would be a revolution of the wheelchair.

It’s a huge responsibility to wheelchair-users because the wheelchair has stayed as it has been for the last five years with very little innovation.

The wheelchair companies themselves, it doesn’t look like they are going to do anything like this. They’re going to carry on dishing out the same stuff.

And here we have the chance to move the posts and show them and wheelchair-users the wheelchair can be a lot better.”

The problem with lightweight wheelchairs, he says, is that even if they are easy to lift, the amount of weight on the small front wheels can make them difficult to push because the centre of gravity is too far forward.

But if you move the centre of gravity – the axle position – further back it becomes “very tippy and prone to falling backwards”.

What he will do with his new wheelchair – known currently as the Phoenix AI – is to use artificial intelligence and sensors that allow the wheelchair to adjust its own centre of gravity according to what the wheelchair-user is doing.

So it will always be very light to push because all of the weight will be going through the back wheels,” he says, “but it will be smart enough to keep the wheelchair stable, so any time the wheelchair looks like it may be prone to falling backwards, the system will kick in and correct it so that can’t happen.”

This, says Slorance, has never been done before.

The centre of gravity is the number one cause of accidents for wheelchair-users, he says, while the problems linked to the need to make the chair stable make it harder to push, create a lot of vibrations through the front wheels, and cause muscle spasms and other discomfort.

The new chair will also have intelligent, electronic braking, so it will automatically slow down to a pre-programmed speed when on a slope.

Wheelchairs don’t have brakes,” he says. “They have parking brakes, so when you get in and out of a wheelchair you can keep it in one place, but when you’re going down a steep slope in rain you’ve just got your hands.

Imagine saying to a cyclist, ‘Here’s your new bike, it doesn’t have any brakes, just grab hold of the tyre if you want to slow down.’”

All five of the MUC finalists will receive $500,000 to develop prototypes of their designs, with one of them set to receive another $1,000,000 when the winner of the challenge is announced in Tokyo in September 2020.

The Toyota Mobility Foundation launched the $4 million global competition in 2017 in partnership with the UK charity Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, with the aim of improving the mobility and independence of millions of people with lower-limb paralysis.‏

Four of the finalists, including Slorance and Phoenix Instinct, have already benefited from $50,000 MUC grants to help them develop their ideas.

Now he and the other four finalists have 18 months to produce a prototype to show to the judges.

He says he and his team have a “massive task” ahead of them.

They have proved that they can electronically adjust the centre of gravity through censors, so when the user moves their body position around on the wheelchair the centre of gravity will adjust itself – in a similar way that the Segway device keeps itself upright – but they still need to create an ultra-light wheelchair that remains “super-duper light” even after the electronics have been added.

He believes that such a product would be a revolutionary development of the wheelchair.

Slorance believes that his team should be able to get their wheelchair to market within three years.

If they do, he believes that smart wheelchairs will be commonplace within five years, just as mobile phones, fridges, and cars are increasingly becoming smart through their use of artificial intelligence.

Soon, he says, “people will be driving in driverless cars, they will be taking them home, the car will be telling the oven to turn itself on, while the fridge is ordering some shopping, but the wheelchair, the thing the person most needs more than anything else in life, will be this standard product that existed 35 years ago.

He says: “I don’t think it will stay like that. I think that making smart chairs is the natural progression and I think we are the people to get the ball rolling on that.”

Innovation in the wheelchair market has been slow so far, he says, partly because it is a niche market, but also because the companies that design wheelchairs are mechanical engineers, they are not electronic or software engineers and so do not have the expensive expertise they need at hand.

He believes this could change, if smart wheelchairs become the norm, and the big electronics and automotive companies join the market, ratcheting up the speed of innovation.

It could be, he says, “a very exciting time for people like myself as an innovator but also as a wheelchair-user”.

Slorance himself already has a strong track record of innovation in wheelchair design, after conceiving and designing the Carbon Black wheelchair, which is made almost entirely from carbon fibre.

He has wanted to design wheelchairs almost from the moment be broke his back when he was 14 and was presented by an occupational therapist with an “horrific” NHS wheelchair, and thought to himself: “Wheelchairs have to be better than this.”

He built a career in television, editing video for Channel 4 News and Sky News, but gave it up to design the wheelchair that would become the Carbon Black, driven by this belief that “wheelchairs could be better” and the feeling that he was “creatively starved” in journalism where the news is “here today and gone tomorrow”.

It was not quite as big a leap as it sounds, he says, because wheelchair-users have to problem-solve every day, but there was still a “long learning journey” ahead of him, on carbon fibre manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and finding the right people in computer-aided design “who would actually create the design that was in my head”.

The Carbon Black wheelchair that resulted from this journey was critically-acclaimed and was even exhibited at the Design Museum in 2012 after coming runner-up to the Olympic torch in the Designs of the Year competition.

But after he was forced out of his own company by investors he had brought on board – a “very tough thing to go through”, he says – he had to start all over again, which he did by starting up a new firm.

The name of his new company – Phoenix Instinct, which sells ultra-manoeuvrable luggage that can be towed by wheelchairs, which he designed himself after launching a Kickstarter fundraising campaign – has a double-meaning.

He says: “Every wheelchair-user customer that we have at the moment has Phoenix Instinct – they have the ability to get up every day and overcome the adversity that’s tried so hard to beat them.

But also for me, I have Phoenix Instinct as an entrepreneur, regardless of what happened to me at Carbon Black. Carbon Black is just part of my story.”

The other four MUC finalists – two from the US, one from Japan and one from Italy, whittled down from 80 entries spanning 28 countries – will also each benefit from $500,000 development funding over the next 18 months.

The Evowalk is ‏a smart, wearable leg sleeve that would help people with partial lower limb paralysis regain their mobility; the Moby is an integrated network of wheel-on electric devices that would allow users of manual wheelchairs the benefits of a powered chair through the equivalent of a cycle share scheme; the Qolo is a lightweight, mobile exoskeleton on wheels, which would allow users to sit or stand; and the Quix is a robotic, powered exoskeleton with motors at the hips, knees and ankles, which aims to offer someone with lower-limb paralysis “fast, stable, and agile upright mobility”. ‏

Ryan Klem‏, director of programs for Toyota Mobility Foundation, said: “These five finalists have shown real innovation driven by human-centered design.

We think that the technology incorporated in these devices could change the lives of a huge number of people around the world, not just for people with lower-limb paralysis, but also those with a wider range of mobility needs.”

Charlotte Macken, of Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, said: “Current personal mobility devices are often unable to fully meet the needs of users due to limitations affecting functionality and usability.

Historically, the pace of innovation is slow, due to small and fragmented markets and difficulties in getting new technology funded by health-care systems and insurers.

This can make the field unattractive to the very people who could help change the world.

We hope that challenges like this can inspire innovation and are excited to see how the five finalists use this opportunity to develop their ideas further.”‏

Meanwhile, Slorance says he can see a time when smart wheelchairs are all part of a connected network and are able to communicate with each other.

This could mean, if he wanted to travel from Covent Garden to Hyde Park in London, that his wheelchair would be able to ask other wheelchairs in the network how it could do this in an accessible way, whether there were any slopes on the route, and what the road surface was like.

My chair will be able to network with other wheelchairs that have done that journey,” he says, “and tell me exactly where I need to go, and what accessible places there are en route.

I think there’s a whole new world that can open up with the smart technology in wheelchairs.”

He says this could eventually see wheelchair-users with an advantage over non-wheelchair-users, something that has already happened in athletics with competitors with running blades, where, he says, “someone with carbon fibre legs can actually have an advantage over someone running on natural legs”.

A couple of years ago, he was in his wheelchair on an Edinburgh street and his front wheel caught a paving slab that was sticking up.

I fell flat on my face,” says Slorance. “I scarred my nose quite badly, I broke it. There was nothing I could do.

I think as we move forward, we will see intelligent systems implemented in wheelchairs that would have detected that paving slab sticking up and would automatically turn the chair a different way or sounded some sort of alarm long before I would have known it was there.

In that sense, unless you’re going to wear shoes that have sensors that tell you there’s a paving slab sticking up, then, yes, maybe the wheelchair-user might be at an advantage.”

10 January 2019

 

 

Company praised for ‘first accessible parking bay for charging electric vehicles’

Campaigners have welcomed the decision to install what is believed to be the country’s first accessible parking bay for disabled people who need to recharge their electric vehicles.

Only holders of blue parking badges who also need to recharge their electric vehicles will be allowed to use the space in the new NCP car park in Stanley Street, Salford.

The idea came following a suggestion from disabled campaigner Helen Dolphin, and Libbie Bilyard, co-founders of the People’s Parking scheme.

Dolphin, an independent mobility consultant and herself a disabled driver, came up with the idea when looking at how to make improvements to their car park accreditation scheme, which already judges services on their provision of electric charging points.

She said: “I am only too aware of the increasing growth of electric vehicles and although I don’t have an electric vehicle myself, I knew that as a disabled person I would struggle to get out of my car in a standard sized bay.

I therefore wanted to encourage car park operators to consider the needs of electric vehicle owners who are disabled and I’m absolutely delighted that NCP have installed a dual bay in their new car park.”

The scheme aims to improve car parks by highlighting those with facilities for disabled people, parents, commuters, cyclists and motorcyclists, and for electric and wheelchair-accessible vehicles, and those that can show they have good signage and pedestrian routes, are well-lit, clean and well-managed. 

Sean Fenney, NCP’s head of operations for Manchester, said: “Normally we have to work within the limitations of the estate that we currently have, so when we have a new-build car park it’s always a great opportunity to be able to make the space really work for all our customers.

We were really pleased to be able to add our first dual electric charging bay for our disabled customers, as we expect that to be a very real need in the near future.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) welcomed the move by NCP.

A DfT spokesperson said: “We welcome measures that support the use of electric vehicles and are committed to ensuring that everyone in our society enjoys the same opportunities to travel.

Our Road to Zero strategy, combined with £1.5 billion of investment in ultra-low emission vehicles, sets out a clear path for Britain to be a world leader in the zero emission revolution.”

Motability currently offers three electric models to lease through the disabled people’s vehicle scheme, with 202 customers with electric vehicles at the end of December.

A Motability spokesperson said: “The Motability scheme is currently in discussions with a number of other manufacturers to be able to supply full battery electric vehicles on the scheme in the future.

Motability supports initiatives, such as People’s Parking, in helping to improve facilities for disabled people.”

10 January 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 14:31
Jan 082019
 

Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance logo

Independent Living for the Future

Foreword

So long as we live under a system that puts profit before people, we will need to struggle to secure the resources required to support Disabled people to access the same rights and opportunities as non-Disabled people. That struggle will take different forms at different times depending upon the attacks we find ourselves facing and the reforms we consider most urgently needed under particular circumstances. Throughout, it is important that we do not lose sight of the bigger picture that we are fighting for, of a society where each person is valued for their diverse, personal worth rather than their ability to labour and produce profit, and where each person is able to truly fulfil their diverse, personal potential.

As desperate as times currently are, we are sadly a long way off from achieving a society founded upon principles of fairness and social justice. Nevertheless, the demands that we make and the reforms we lobby for must be consistent with that wider vision. The way that the personalisation agenda, sold to local authorities on the basis that it would produce cost savings and tied to the marketisation of social care, has effectively undermined Disabled people’s rights and freedoms is a prime example of the dangers of focusing on reforms in isolation from wider social principles. It is therefore important that Disabled campaigners continuously review our vision and our demands.

Grassroots campaigning by Deaf and Disabled people since 2010 has been focused heavily on social rights, especially on to the right to independent living and being included in the community as set out in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD).

Article 19 – Living independently and being included in the community

States Parties to the present Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community, including by ensuring that:

a) Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement;

b) Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community;

c) Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs.

This is for a number of reasons:

  • Measures imposed through ‘austerity’ and devastating cuts in social care are having serious adverse impacts that directly affect Disabled people’s rights and freedoms in exactly those areas set out in Article 19. Instead of closing Assessment and Treatment Units and moving people with learning difficulties and autism back to their communities, it has become more common for Disabled people to be sent many miles from their homes, families and friends due to a chronic lack of local provision. People with mental health diagnoses may also be sent a long way away for treatment. Local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups are introducing maximum expenditure policies which threaten to force Disabled people into residential care against their wishes. The General Comment on Article 19 published by the UN disability committee in 2017 made clear that institutionalisation of Disabled people can also occur in people’s own homes, when their basic needs are neglected and they are denied the support they need to leave the house and participate in the community. The rights to independent living and being included in the community set out in Article 19 provide a clear guide to the rights that Disabled people should be able to enjoy and a measurement framework for progression.

 

  • Austerity measures are disproportionately affecting Disabled people’s right to an adequate standard of living as set out in the UNCRPD. New assessment processes such as the WCA and PIP arbitrarily divide disabled people into the “genuine” and the “undeserving”. These assessments are informed not by Disabled people’s lived experience of impairment, but by insurance companies aiming to limit claims. The huge reduction in financial support available to many disabled people under ESA and PIP reform, combined with delays and failures in the assessment process has resulted in increased poverty and a well-documented deterioration in our wellbeing and quality of life. A number of benefit claimants are being forced to cut down on food and heating, use food banks and borrow money that they are ill-equipped to return, which is traumatising and, in some cases, has resulted in suicide. Current measures seem to have links with a neoliberal approach within which people who are regarded as wealthy, or ‘hard working’ are perceived as worthy in contrast to people with support needs who are viewed as second class citizens.

 

  • There are some acute intersectional issues. Disabled people who have more than one ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010, who experience additional inequalities not covered by the Act (related to socio-economic class, or homelessness, for instance), or have dual diagnoses (including substance addictions) are especially disadvantaged in relation to independent living.

 

  • There are particular issues for Disabled People who are made subject to the Mental Health Act 1983, with people from BME communities often affected particularly badly, and people deemed to lack capacity under the Mental Capacity Act. Some groups of BME service users are particularly likely to experience the controlling rather than supportive aspects of the psychiatric system. The MH Act authorises detention and compulsory treatment for people diagnosed with a (serious) mental disorder when they/others are thought to need protection. This authorisation removes their right under Article 19 to live in the community, choose their place of residence and exercise choices on an equal level with others. Detention and compulsory treatment, whether exercised through an inpatient setting, or a Community Treatment Order, also run contrary both to Article 12 and to Article 14 of the Convention. Thus the UNCRPD Committee has recommended an end both to substitute decision-making and to ‘compulsory treatment and detention of persons with disabilities on the basis of actual, or perceived impairment’. In both hospital and other settings, the UNCRPD guidance also includes an end to the use of physical and chemical restraint. People who are neurodivergent and people with life limiting chronic illness are also subject to detrimental impacts caused by inappropriate referrals to and interventions used on them within the mental health system.

 

  • The language of independent living has been appropriated by Government and public bodies to justify the cuts they are making. Policy documents at national, regional and local government levels repeatedly refer to “helping people to stay independent for as long as possible”, often while simultaneously claiming to be in accordance with Article 19 and yet demonstrating a clear failure to comprehend a concept of independent living based on Disabled people’s right to exercise choice and control over our everyday lives and to access the same chances in life as non-Disabled people on an equal footing. It is common practice for essential support to be removed from Disabled people through social care assessments under the justification of “helping” them to “improve their independence”. Article 19 rights have thus been co-opted and subverted in order to facilitate the retrogression of Disabled people’s rights.

 

  • The UNCRPD is a tool that Disabled people have used to draw attention to the suffering and distress directly caused by government legislative and policy measures where we have felt listened to and our experiences validated. That gives it an immediate relevance to Disabled people’s day-to-day lives.

 

  • Disabled campaigners are proud of the independent living movement and all that it achieved. At a time when discrimination continues to exist legally, structurally and within many parts of society, daily living conditions are deteriorating and the odds against us seem overwhelming, it is enormously important to be able to draw on a source of pride that sits at the core of our shared identity. It keeps us going, reminding us how powerful we can be and what we can achieve when we collectivise and are determined. The right to independent living as set out in Article 19 gives us a clear and relatively uncontroversial goal to focus on.

There has been recent debate about whether it is useful to still use the language of independent living. We would argue that it is. With certain audiences we are seeking to influence it may be expedient to tailor language in order to be better understood and to convey our messages more effectively, for example referring to cuts to “social care” rather than “independent living support services”. Those are decisions that can be made according to particular circumstances. However, to stop talking about independent living and to shift our focus away from achieving a right to independent living would be a strategic mistake. It would rob Disabled people of one of the few things we have left to hold on to.

If new campaigners come into the movement who are only aware of the appropriation of the language of independent living rather than the proud history of the independent living movement, then it is our job to share our history and learning. We must also remember that the politics of the independent living movement, based as it is on collectivisation and grassroots struggle, will not appeal to all. There is a view that it is better to find a ‘middle way’, acceptable to the status quo than to fight for the fundamental reshaping of society, that is held for a multitude of reasons, some due to internalised oppression and others not, ranging from an absence of hope that real change is possible to a vested interest in maintaining the current system. Where those political differences exist, there will be times when we find common goals on which we can campaign together in the pursuit of reforms to mitigate and alleviate the worst harms, but we must understand them as differences and reflect on our own position within the context of our wider principles and values.

Below we set out our demands for a national independent living service capable of upholding Disabled people’s Article 19 rights and what will need to be in place to achieve it. It has been shaped and developed through ongoing debate and discussion within the Independent Living Campaign, set up in 2011, in response to the then planned closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) and most recently through:

  • The independent living workshop at the National Deaf and Disabled People’s Summit organised by the TUC Disabled Workers Committee and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance in November 2017.
  • The 2017 National Independent Living Campaign Conference funded by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and co-organised with the Reclaiming Our Future Alliance.
  • A Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance independent living round table held in May 2018 and follow up email discussions.

Disabled People’s Vision of Independent Living Support for the Future

Introduction

The social care and mental health systems are in crisis and as a result Disabled people’s rights to an adequate standard of living, to inclusion and equal participation in society are being taken dramatically backwards. Rising levels of charging are increasingly pushing Disabled people out of receiving social care altogether and leading to a growing problem of debt and arrears1. The joint report of the Health and Social Care and Housing, Communities and Local Government Committees on the long-term funding of adult social care says:

The combination of rising demand and costs in the face of reductions in funding has placed the social care system under unsustainable strain. In its present state, the system is not fit to respond to current needs, let alone predicted future needs as a result of demographic trends.”

Besides urging that research be undertaken into actual and future levels of need and for corresponding investment, Disabled people have long called for the radical overhaul of both the social care and mental health systems in order to better fit a human rights approach to disability. At present, Disabled people’s experiences of independent living and being included in the community differ considerably depending upon impairment, for example people with learning difficulties, people who are neuro-divergent and people with energy-limiting chronic illness (especially medically contested diagnoses like Myalgic Encephalomyelitis 2) are less likely to be found to have eligible needs under the social care system while people living with mental distress are largely confined to a separate system without access to the same sorts of support. Instead, we are arguing for a system underpinned by the social models of disability and distress that can be accessed by all Disabled people regardless of impairment or perceived impairment. Our vision for a national independent living support system would also eliminate the post code lottery that exists within current local authority and CCG administered provision. We believe that all independent living support should be free at the point of need and as the example of free personal care in Scotland has shown this could lead to savings in other areas such as the NHS budget3. By building on what was most successful about the Independent Living Fund which had considerably lower overheads than local authority administered support4, it could also be more cost effective than the current system.Terminology

Under the term “Disabled people” we refer to anyone who is disabled by society according to the social model of disability. (See Appendix A).

Priority Demands

  1. Set up an independent living taskforce led by Disabled people to develop proposals for a national independent living support service.
  2. Explore in co-production with Disabled people the strongest legal frameworks for legislating for Article 19 rights, including enshrining the CRPD in domestic legislation and developing an independent living bill of rights.
  3. Make a case for investment in independent living support, including evidencing social care as a social and economic generator5 and what wider benefits could be saved from savings to NHS budgets.Model the amount of funding needed to ensure good quality independent living support meeting need now and in the future to uphold all Disabled people’s rights under Article 19.
  4. Educate the public and promote the benefits of investing in support for Disabled people.

Vision

That the right to independent living as outlined in Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities becomes reality:

All Disabled people to have equal rights to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and be fully included and able to participate in the community, through:

  • the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others, without being obliged to live in a particular living arrangement;
  • access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community;
  • community services and facilities, for the general population are available on an equal basis to Disabled people and are responsive to their needs.”

Underlying principles

  • Social and human rights-based models of disability and distress
  • The twelve pillars of independent living
  • The National Survivor User Network’s Manifesto
  • Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • The UNCRPD Committee’s General Comment No 5 on Article 19

Core demand

A new universal right to independent living, enshrined in law and delivered through a new national independent living service co-created between government and Disabled people, funded through general taxation, managed by central government, led by Disabled people, and delivered locally in co-production with Disabled people.

Universal right to independent living

The UN CRPD is not enshrined in UK law and recent case law has weakened its application in interpreting domestic legislation; for example, the judgment in Davey vs Oxfordshire states that “great care must be taken in deploying provisions of a convention or treaty which set out broad and basic principles as determinative tools for the interpretation of a concrete measure such as a particular provision of a UK statute. Provisions which are aspirational cannot qualify the clear language of primary legislation.”6 The inadequacy of the Care Act 2014 to uphold the rights of Disabled people has been proven in practice. Disabled people’s concerns that the “well-being duty” implemented through the Care Act would offer insufficient protection against retrogression of our rights were ignored multiple times in the development of the legislation. Our petitioning for a right to independent living as outlined by Article 19 of the UN CRPD to be placed on the statute through the Care Act was dismissed and although the statutory guidance refers to Article 19 (para 1.19), this does not have the legal weight needed to be effective. In addition, it has not been co-ordinated well with provision for mental health service users such as the Care Programme Approach.

We call for new free-standing legislation to implement an independent living bill of rights, drawn up in consultation with organisations of Disabled People and enshrining their recommendations. This legislation would be in accordance with the UNCRPD Committee’s General Comment on Article 19, including its call to end detention, substitute decision making and compulsory treatment and to put a focus on intersectional issues too. The legislation would also cover rights to support which enable Disabled people to access the same life chances as non-Disabled people in all areas covered by the twelve pillars of independent living.

Disabled people’s rights under the new legislation will need to be communicated in accessible ways, with an appeals process, legal aid, legal status and legal support made available for Disabled people who consider their rights to have been breached.

This legislation should apply to all Disabled people who are resident in the UK, regardless of citizenship or asylum status.

National independent living service

The social care element of Disabled people’s right to independent living will be administered through a new national independent living service managed by central government, but delivered locally in co-production with Disabled people. It will be provided on the basis of need, not profit, and will not be means tested. It will be independent of, but sit alongside, the NHS and will be funded from direct taxation.

It will build on and learn from the success of the Independent Living Fund, closed by the coalition government in 2015, and the failures of the local authority care and support system. It will also learn from the experiences of user-led Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), including those run by people experiencing intersectional discrimination and disadvantages, user-led social enterprises and co-ops which have innovated and developed exciting models of self-organised and self-directed care through personal budgets and peer support. It will work with non-Disabled allies who share the critique of the existing system and who work to the social models of disability and distress.

The national independent living service will be responsible for carrying out assessments and reviews and administering payments to individual Disabled people. Individuals will not be obliged to manage their support payments themselves if they choose not to. Alongside establishment of the national independent living service will be investment in local service provision so that within each area Disabled people will be able to choose from a range of peer support options delivered by user-led Disabled people’s organisations and co-operatives wherever they live. These services will support them to exercise choice and control over the support they receive and to manage their financial, administrative and employment responsibilities including legal duties as employers. Local Disabled people will be meaningfully involved in investment and commissioning decisions, as well as in researching and monitoring how well provision is meeting need. Disabled people who are involved in these processes will also be demographically representative.

The national independent living service will be located in a cross-government body which can ensure awareness of and take responsibility for implementation plans in all areas covered by the UNCRPD’s General Comment on Article 19 and by the twelve pillars of independent living, whether it be in transport, education, employment, housing, or social security. The cross-government body will also be responsible for ensuring that intersectional issues are adequately addressed. Rather than being ghettoised in the DWP as the Office for Disability Issues is at the moment, this will ensure that independent living is mainstreamed in every area of activity as an equalities issue rather than seen primarily as a work and benefits issue.

  • Co-created with Disabled people

The national independent living support service will be co-created with Disabled people through an independent living task force led by Disabled people who need/use independent living support.

  • Anti-discriminatory

The service will be designed to be anti-discriminatory, challenging current discriminations on the basis of age, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class, culture, disability and distress. This will include diversity and inclusion at all levels including organisations of Disabled people and structures led by Disabled people involved in delivery of the service.7Funded through general taxation

Social care should not be funded through set precepts or levies as evidenced by the difficulties encountered in Australia with their National Disability Insurance Scheme8. Funding through general taxation allows greater flexibility to respond to changing levels of need. This could be done, as advocated by a number of recent reports,9 through “soft” hypothecation, for example a rise in National Insurance that the public understands is in order to adequately fund social care. There is much evidence that the public would be in favour of tax rises in order to fund the NHS and social care, however there is also evidence that the public vote for lower taxes and the creation of a specific levy earmarked for social care has the disadvantage of insufficient flexibility to match demographic changes. Pinpointing tax rises to cover specific areas can also be problematic in that it places the spotlight on particular groups. Funding for social care should as with the NHS be out of general taxation. Managed by central government

The national independent living support service will build on lessons learned from the Independent Living Fund in being independent of Local Authorities and CCGs. This will eliminate the current postcode lottery, which has increased since closure of the ILF10, and enable greater transparency and accountability to Disabled people.Led by Disabled people

The governance of the national independent living support service will ensure that Disabled people are involved and have a meaningful say at all levels of decision-making with a governing body that is made up of a majority of Disabled people. Structures will limit the involvement of non-user led charities and disability organisations.

  • Delivered locally

Alongside the establishment of a national independent living support service, there will be investment in the development of Disabled People’s Organisations delivering local services in response to need and ensuring that a range of options are available to support Disabled people to live in the community and exercise choice and control over the support they receive.

User-led organisations will be resourced to provide support that enables equal participation in society across all areas of Disabled people’s lives, including Access to Work11, housing12, social security and financial advice and wide-ranging service and resource provision.However, there must be monitoring mechanisms to ensure that local delivery does not deny the nationally uniform status of the entitlement to support, so that for example disabled people can move to different areas without any loss, or threat of disruption, of funding or support services.

Service provision will include a full range of alternatives to the “white western medical” model approach, psychiatric medication and clinical treatments which are prevalent in mental health services and to the re-defining of service user concepts such as recovery in clinical terms. There will, too, be a wide range of resources which are important to Disabled people who are currently disadvantaged by shortfalls in intersectional provision.

Features of a national independent living support system designed to uphold Disabled people’s rights

The national independent living support service will be co-created with Disabled people so its features will be decided by them. However, the features below reflect ideas that would address the current barriers experienced by adult social care service users.

Eligibility

In place of eligibility criteria, the service will provide support on the basis of meeting need where it exists so that all Disabled people experiencing issues that have a significant impact on their ability to live independently and be included in the community receive the self-identified support they need. Under the current system of eligibility criteria certain impairment groups are effectively excluded from social care support, for example people living with chronic illness and mental distress. Meeting wider needs saves money in the long-term by preventing crises and lessening the strain on acute services.

Assessments and support plans

Assessments should take the self-identified needs of the Disabled person as their starting point and self-assessments should be available to all who prefer this option.

Assessments should be proportionate, without compromising the dignity of the Disabled person or being overly intrusive, and to be designed and carried out with the aim of genuinely assessing need rather than looking for ways to make cuts.

Assessments should consider all areas of a person’s life including the ability to socialise and participate in the community on an equal footing with non-Disabled people, and to take part in education, volunteering and employment, and not focus solely on personal care. Equally, they should not be based upon the current approach that views employment as good for every Disabled person, regardless of the realities of their impairment and the disabling barriers they face.

Assessments and assessment reports should be respectful of the Disabled person concerned and of the Disabled person’s account of their impairment and their needs, even if this is not validated by or is at odds with medical report or diagnosis. There should be a clear distinction between assessments of need and support plans. Support plans should be based on the wishes of the Disabled person even when they disagree with the assessor’s recommendations. People should have the right to turn down services offered that they do not want or consider appropriate.

One-size fits all support packages such as reablement or intermediate care can be completely inappropriate, and indeed, harmful for people with energy-limiting chronic illness. Reablement should never be the default response to presenting care needs, nor a necessary gateway to accessing long -term support. Reablement services should only be offered if a Disabled person fully understands the concept and agrees that being supported to do more for themselves could increase function and wellbeing.

Support planning has to be genuinely co-productive. Disabled people should be supported to fully participate in this process.

Disabled people’s wishes and views on how their needs can best be met should not be over-ruled by a desire to cut costs, for example replacing support with technology or aids and adaptations in circumstances where they would reduce the Disabled person’s quality of life.

Assessments for the new national independent living service will be delivered by employees of the service itself and will not be outsourced.

Support package awards

Flexibility should be given in how payments for support can be spent, with no blanket restrictions (such as not providing night support; not funding costs for Personal Assistants accompanying Disabled people on activities; not allowing buildup of contingency funds). Disabled people’s support packages must pay enough for:

Disabled people’s support packages must cover all costs associated with managing the package and pay enough for:

  • Hourly Personal Assistant rates that reflect the skills and experience needed for the role and are in line with NHS pay scales and increase in line with inflation.
  • Pension contributions and sick pay scheme.
  • Compliance with the National Minimum Wage.
  • Increase in line with inflation.
  • Paid training opportunities for Personal Assistants and training for Disabled people in managing Direct Payments and managing staff.
  • Support from local services with supervisions, management and conflict resolution.
  • Contingency funding for periods of temporary greater need (e.g. when recovering from an operation or short-term health problem) and for temporary cover for absence of PAs due to illness or other emergencies or for if PAs resign/have to be dismissed and replacement PAs cannot be recruited immediately.

There will be no caps on how much support can be funded to support an individual to live and participate in the community.

Disabled people will not be charged for, or have to make any financial contribution towards, the support they receive through the national independent living support service.

Administration

Disabled people will have the choice to act as individual employers or to appoint local services to act as legal employers for the Personal Assistants they recruit and supervise and be responsible for administration and payroll. The costs of using administrative and payroll services of an adequate standard and quality will be covered in the independent living support awards that Disabled people receive.

Payment Cards should not be presented as the only or default option for spending support package funds as this limits choice and control while diverting substantial funds to the companies running the card services. 13

Services

Investment in local user-led services, including those led by people experiencing intersectional discrimination, responding to local need and the provision of services are informed by the views of local Disabled people from all demographic backgrounds will ensure that a range of support options are available.

This will include:

  • Peer Support Forums14, training, information and support for Disabled people using the independent living support service.
  • Direct Payment management, employment support and payroll services.
  • Independent advocacy.
  • Social security and financial advice.
  • A range of therapeutic provisions, including a wide variety of non-medical alternatives and culturally appropriate options.
  • Independent living aids, adaptations and assistive technology.

Monitoring

Monitoring must be proportionate, and be closer to the monitoring systems that were employed by the ILF than the burdensome and intrusive monitoring mechanisms used by local authorities. The National Independent Living Support Service must also be efficient and timely in its processing of monitoring information, again by contrast to common practice within local authorities.

Reviews

Reviews should take place not more frequently than once every 3 years unless circumstances change and unless requested by the Disabled person. Disabled people should not be burdened with being repeatedly forced to re-tell and explain how disability impacts on their lives; nor continuously repeat their independent living needs. This would allow the service user to forward plan their lives and the service provider is not snowed under with case work.

Where possible assessors should hold client lists, this allows for continuity, for both parties. Where a disabled person requests a review, say for a change in circumstances, there need to be easy to access mechanisms in place. Reviews, where practicable, should be carried out by the original assessor.

Appeals system

There must be a transparent and accessible complaints and appeals system for Disabled people who are dissatisfied with the service they receive or decisions made by the National Independent Living Support Service. This must also be a system which Disabled people find satisfactory in resolving concerns that they have raised.

Portability

Once assessed and an independent living package is put in place, this package should be portable. If a disabled person wishes to move, for personal, health or employment reasons, and if their support needs have not altered, then they should not be forced to go through the assessment process again.

Steps to achieving our vision

  • Office for Disability Issues to be placed within either the Cabinet Office or the Government Equalities Office to give it more reach across different Government departments.

 

  • Formation of an independent living taskforce with a meaningful influence, led by Disabled people from all demographic backgrounds who need/use independent living support.

 

  • Funding to make a case for investment in independent living support, including evidencing social care as a social and economic generator and what wider benefits could be saved from savings to NHS budgets.

 

  • Model the amount of funding needed to ensure good quality independent living support meeting need now and in the future to uphold all Disabled people’s rights under Article 1915.

 

  • Funding of user-led research into alternative service options and culturally appropriate resources for Disabled people.

 

  • A communications strategy for raising awareness about what we mean by independent living, Disabled people’s human rights and the role of Personal Assistants.

 

  • Dealing effectively with stigma against Disabled people whether at political, commissioning, or service levels, or within society as a whole.

 

  • The funding of adequate training for government personnel, commissioners and service providers about the meaning of independent living and its value, led by Disabled people

 

  • A strategy for investment in local user-led provision alongside closure of institutionalised, segregated settings including long stay hospitals and Assessment and Treatment Units.

 

  • Fund work to draw up a case for investment in Access to Work, evidencing the level of return on investment to the treasury for every pound spent on AtW.

 

  • A review of Access to Work with a view to:
    • Overhauling the scheme to make it fit for purpose, significantly reduce administrative and financial errors, address lack of training and hostile attitudes from AtW advisors towards customers, and replace the current mentality of gatekeeping with a concern to adequately support Disabled people,
    • Identifying current problems experienced by existing and prospective customers and ways to make improvements
    • Ensuring provision of a supportive and effective service for Disabled customers
    • Expansion of the scheme to support volunteering and work experience
    • Improved scope for Disabled people who cannot work regularly to undertake small and occasional pieces of paid employment without their benefits being at risk.
    • Rolling it into the new national independent living support service.

 

Legislative and treaty change

  • Legislate for a free-standing right to independent living that includes an adequately resourced right to inclusive education.16
  • Implement the appeals process under the Care Act 2014.
  • Bring into force Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 to introduce a socio-economic duty on public sector bodies and dual discrimination provisions.
  • Reverse the changes to legal aid that have restricted eligibility for Disabled people.
  • Remove UK reservations and interpretative declaration on Articles 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities17.
  • Amend the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to give full human rights to Disabled people and their families and to ensure that ‘best interest’ decisions made reflect the will and preferences of Disabled people and introduce an accessible system for people to challenge decisions made about them.
  • Bring detention, substitute decision-making and compulsory treatment to an end for all Disabled people.

 

 

Appendix A

Under the term “Disabled people” we refer to anyone who is disabled by society according to the social model of disability. This includes:

  • People physical, mobility or sensory impairments
  • People who are Deaf
  • People with learning difficulties/disabilities
  • People living with mental distress
  • People are neuro-divergent
  • People living with chronic illness and long-term health conditions.

We recognise that not everyone within these groups identifies as Disabled and respect that not everyone with these experiences considers themselves to have an impairment. There is certainly need for wider discussion and debate on these issues, however for this paper we have taken the position that what unites us all are the disabling barriers and experiences of oppression that we face and we therefore use the term “Disabled people” to refer to all of us.

For more information on the social model of disability and cultural model of Deafness see: https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/disability-in-london/social-model/the-social-model-of-disability-and-the-cultural-model-of-deafness/

Appendix B

The 12 Pillars of Independent Living

Theses are:

Appropriate and accessible information

An adequate income

Appropriate and accessible health and social care provision

A fully accessible transport system

Full access to the environment

Adequate provision of technical aids and equipment

Availability of accessible and adapted housing

Adequate provision of personal assistance

Availability of inclusive education and training

Equal opportunities for employment

Availability of independent advocacy and self-advocacy

Availability of peer counselling

The twelve pillars were developed by Hampshire Coalition of Disabled People building on seven action points, originally devised by the Derbyshire Coalition of Disabled People, which identified the barriers to independent living and how they can be removed:

Information

Disabled people require information on what is available to assist with independent living.

Peer Support

Disabled people need the support of other disabled people to discuss how to make best use of the information obtained and for ongoing support.

Housing

Disabled People need accessible housing. This may be in terms of wheelchair access or in terms of support and advice in relation to having one’s own accommodation.

Equipment

Many disabled people need particular types of practical equipment to assist them in living independently.

Personal Assistants

This is the one to one support that some disabled people need to live in their own home and be part of the community.

Transport

This may mean improved public transport in terms of physical access, information about the routes, more assistance for passengers who are unsure about using public transport, and improved routes to take into account the issues for disabled people. It may mean access to personal transport such as the use of cars or support to use other forms of transport.

Access

The most obvious examples concern physical access such as dropped kerbs, level entrances to buildings and provision of accessible public toilets. However, access goes much further than this. There are barriers created by systems, practices and attitudes which prevent disabled people from participating, for example, excluding people with mental health needs from public meetings.

Appendix C

European Network for Independent Living (ENIL) Principles

1. Independent living is a process of consciousness raising, empowerment and emancipation. This process enables all disabled people to achieve equal opportunities, rights and full participation in all aspects of society.

2. Disabled people must be able to control this process individually and collectively. To achieve this goal, we provide peer support and use democratic principles in our work.

3. As equal citizens we must have the same access to the basics of life including: food, clothing, shelter, health care, assistive devices, personal support services, education, employment, information, communication, transportation and access to the physical and cultural environment, the right to sexuality and the right to marry, to have children, and peace.

4. The Independent Living Movement must be a cross disability movement addressing the needs of all disabled persons. In order for this to occur we must rid ourselves of any prejudice we have towards disabled people other than our own and encourage the involvement of disabled women and other under-represented groups. Disabled children should be enabled by their families and society in general to become independent adults.

5. Disabled people must obtain all the requirements for equalisation of opportunities and full participation by defining their own needs, choices and degree of user control.

6. The Independent Living Movement is opposed to the development and maintenance of systems which promote dependency through institutional responses.

7. Disabled people must involve themselves in research and development, planning and decision making at all levels, in matters concerning their lives.

http://enil.eu/

Appendix D

The National Survivor User Network’s Manifesto

Our Voice Our Vision Our Values

We aim to:

1. Address the injustice and harm that have been caused by cuts to public funding and changes to the benefits system

2. Make the policy of ‘getting the right support, at the right time, in the right place, from the right person’ a reality

3. Pressure mental health services to make the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’ a reality at all levels, through meaningful involvement in decisions about our own individual care and genuine co-production to develop services

4. Work together with people from socially deprived and marginalised communities to determine their support and develop alternatives

5. Challenge institutionalised discrimination and put equality back on the agenda for mainstream mental health services

6. Call for a reform of the Mental Health Act 2007 to make it fully compliant with human rights and ensure that people are not harmed or abused

7. Reflect the social model of disability and promote informed choice and alternatives to medication 8. Reclaim, challenge and revive survivor knowledge and research

8. Reclaim, challenge and revive survivor knowledge and research.

To see the full manifesto go to: www.nsun.org.uk/our-manifesto

Appendix E

Inclusion London Briefing on the UNCRPD’s General Comment no 5 on Article 19: Living independently and being included in the community

To read the full text of the General Comment go to: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/crpd/pages/gc.aspx

In August 2017 the UN disability committee published a “general comment” on Article 19. General comments provide an interpretation of the provisions of a treaty. In this case the treaty is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The following points made within the General Comment are useful to note for campaigning within the context of the current situation facing Disabled people in the UK and the right to independent living

  • Investing in independent living is cost effective because it reduces poverty and therefore the dependency of Disabled people. Para. 5

  • There are NO exceptions to whom the right to independent living applies

  • Emphasis of the importance of addressing intersectional issues. – Para. 15

  • The General Comment criticizes “Inappropriate decentralization, resulting in disparities between local authorities”. – Para. 15(k)

  • Independent living should not be interpreted solely as “the ability of carrying out daily activities by oneself”. – Para. 16(a)

  • Article 19 recognises the importance of a “full social life” within the right to independent living including all “spheres of social life” such as cultural, political and leisure activities and “shopping”. – Para. 16(b)

  • Institutionalisation is not limited to people being kept in long stay institutions but includes where Disabled people are confined in their own homes, isolated and effectively segregated, unable to access the community due to lack of funding in personalised support options. – Para. 16(c)

  • The obligatory sharing of personal assistants is mentioned a number of times as contrary to the right to independent living. – Para. 16(c)

  • Funding for personal employment must take into account “human rights standards for decent employment”. – Para. 16(d)(i)

  • Where a State party introduces measures which regress Article 19 rights in response to economic or financial crisis the State Party is “obliged to demonstrate that such measures are temporary, necessary and non-discriminatory”. – Para. 43

  • State parties must ensure that private institutions are not established in the guise of “community living.”” – Para. 51

  • The availability of accessible and affordable housing is crucial for de-institutionalisation. – Para. 53

  • It is against Article 19 to exclude Disabled people who require higher levels of support and have more complex needs. – Para. 60

  • All personnel working in relevant areas including “civil servants monitoring services” need to be adequately trained on independent living, both training and practice. – Para. 65

  • An end must be brought to substitute decision-making and involuntary institutionalization. – Para. 83

  • There must be mechanisms to allow Disabled people to appeal against decisions concerning independent living and “substantial” rights to legal aid must be in place. – Para. 82

  • Independent living in inherently linked to inclusive education. Para. 89

1

 An investigation by GMB union has revealed at least 166,000 people are trapped in debt for their social care. http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/social-care-debt

2

 Action for ME (2015) Close to collapse: an interim report on access to social care and advocacy for people with ME/CFS

3

 Both the Joint Committee report and the recently published Lord Darzi Review into Health and Social Care recommend the introduction of free personal care.

4 According to the final annual report and accounts of the ILF from end of March 2015, the Fund had a 98% service user satisfaction rate and just 2% of the budget was spent on administration.

5

 Beresford, P. (2016), All Our Welfare: Towards participatory social policy, Bristol, Policy Press.

6

 Davey, R (on the application of) v Oxfordshire County Council & Ors [2017] EWCA Civ 1308 (01 September 2017) Paragraph 62.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/1308.html

7

 Building on work developed by Shaping Our Lives looking at overcoming barriers to more inclusive user involvement : http://www.invo.org.uk/beyond-the-usual-suspects-towards-inclusive-user-involvement/

8

 The NDIS was financed by an increase in the Medicare levy in June 2014 from 1.5 per cent to 2.0 per cent of taxable income. This has proved to provide be insufficient funding, and there are now concerns of a lack of public will for an increase.

9 Long-term funding of adult social care – First Joint Report of the Health and Social Care and Housing, Communities and Local Government Committees of Session 2017–19

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/768/76810.htm#_idTextAnchor124

Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care: recommendations for funding adult social care

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/citizens-assembly-report.pdf

The Lives we want to Lead: the LGA green paper for adult social care and wellbeing – July 2018

https://futureofadultsocialcare.co.uk/

The Lord Darzi Review of Health and Care Final Report: BETTER HEALTH AND CARE FOR ALL A 10-POINT PLAN FOR THE 2020s, Institute for Public Policy Research; Lord Darzi June 2018

https://www.ippr.org/files/2018-06/better-health-and-care-for-all-june2018.pdf

10

 See Inclusion London’s report “One Year On: Evaluating the Closure of the Independent Living Fund”

https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/campaigns-and-policy/facts-and-information/independent-living-social-care-and-health/ilf-one-year-on/

11

 So long as Access to Work remains separate – we favour these being rolled into the new independent living service.

12 We also favour Disabled Facilities Grants being eventually rolled into the new independent living service.

13

 A report from the Independent Living Strategy Group found that over a million pounds a year is spent on fees and costs to operate the cards and that an estimated £1.5 million has been spent by 71 local authorities introducing the schemes.

14

 These should focus on building peer support communities and not take the form of professionalised one to one peer support.

15

 Both the Joint Committee report on the long-term funding of adult social care and Lord Darzi’s review of Health and Social Care recommend a need for data modelling.

16

 The UN Disability Committee’s General Comment No. 5 on the Right to Independent Living and Being Included in the Community made clear that inclusive education is an integral part of Disabled people’s rights under Article 19. The UK government continues to have a reservation on Article 24 and maintains its position of offering segregated education as a “choice”.

17

 Article 24 is the right to inclusive education.

 Posted by at 22:27
Jan 032019
 

Ministerial disability group met just three times… and then was scrapped

A cross-government group of ministers set up to “encourage and stimulate progress” towards the inclusion of disabled people in society met just three times before it was scrapped, the government has been forced to admit.

Information released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) under the Freedom of Information Act shows that the government spent nearly four years without any cross-departmental group of ministers working to improve the lives of disabled people.

The information was finally released by DWP following a freedom of information request submitted by Disability News Service (DNS) in June 2018.

But it was only released four days before Christmas, after DNS had lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office about DWP’s refusal to provide information about the inter-ministerial group.

Following the first meeting of the group of 13 ministers on 13 March 2014, the then minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, said that setting up the new body showed “how seriously this Government takes improving the lives of disabled people”.

The DWP response reveals that the cross-government group of coalition ministers also met in June (chaired by Penning) and September 2014 (chaired by the new minister for disabled people, Mark Harper) but then failed to meet again before the general election the following May.

The group was set up as part of the coalition’s Fulfilling Potential strategy, which also saw the creation of the Fulfilling Potential Forum, the Disability Action Alliance and the Fulfilling Potential Policy Advice Service, all of which were subsequently scrapped or fell into disuse.

Under the Conservative government elected in 2015, there was no attempt to resurrect the ministerial group on disability, and Theresa May’s new minority government then waited another year after the 2017 general election before setting up a replacement group of 10 ministers in May 2018.

Sarah Newton, the new minister for disabled people, announced in May that she was “really pleased” to announce that the government had created a “new” inter-ministerial working group that she said would “bring the full force of the Government behind ensuring that every disabled person in our country has the ability to reach their full potential”.

This decision came eight months after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights, and concluded that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”.

DWP’s freedom of information response to DNS said the department had “reconsidered its position” and no longer wished to rely on an exemption in section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act, which covers communication between ministers and related information.

DWP said it had therefore decided to release the dates of the meetings of the inter-ministerial group (IMG) and the names of the ministers who attended.

But the response said the department held no recorded information that explained why it had decided to scrap the group, and it added: “It is a normal part of procedure for an IMG to be discontinued following a change in government.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say by noon today (Thursday) why no meetings had been held after September 2014, why the 2015 government did not set up a similar group, and why the 2017 government took until May 2018 to set up an inter-ministerial group.

She also refused to say whether the information released showed a lack of interest in cross-government working on disability between September 2014 and May 2018, and whether the decision finally to set up another group was related to the UN committee’s report.

Instead, she issued a statement claiming that “empowering disabled people in all aspects of their lives has always been and will continue to be a priority for this Government”.

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

3 January 2019

 

 

Backlash over ‘disgraceful’ police force that passed video footage to DWP

A Labour police and crime commissioner is facing criticism from within his own party for endorsing his force’s “disgraceful” decision to pass video footage and other information about disabled anti-fracking protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Wayne Blackburn, co-chair of Disability Labour but also a borough councillor in Lancashire, has written to police and crime commissioner Clive Grunshaw to express his alarm and shock at the tactics of Lancashire police.

Cllr Blackburn is among scores of disabled campaigners who have raised similar concerns since Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last month that the force had passed information and footage of disabled protesters to DWP – in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed – and then claimed that it had “a duty” to do so.

Two senior political figures – Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell and the Green party’s co-leader Jonathan Bartley – have also called for an inquiry into claims that Lancashire police officers have targeted and assaulted disabled people taking part in the protests.

The DNS reports mostly focused on police tactics during peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla at Preston New Road, on the edge of Blackpool.

Cllr Blackburn told Grunshaw in the letter that he was “deeply concerned” to hear that Lancashire police was passing information and footage to DWP, which he said was “in clear contravention of any person’s right to peaceful protest”.

He said he agreed with McDonnell that these tactics were “shocking” and “unacceptable”, and he said that he was “personally disappointed” that Grunshaw supported the force’s actions.

Cllr Blackburn has asked Grunshaw a series of questions about the force’s relationship with DWP, including asking him: “Are you concerned that you and Lancashire Police are adding to the Conservatives’ hostile environment towards disabled people?”

A spokesperson for Grunshaw told DNS that he was “aware of the concerns raised and will be responding to the questions posed by Cllr Blackburn”.

Following the DNS reports on Lancashire police sharing information with DWP, many disabled campaigners took to social media to express their alarm.

Mark Brown, who writes and speaks about mental health issues, said on Twitter that the force’s actions needed to be seen in the context of “15 years of anti benefits rhetoric” which had led to social security turning into “social surveillance”.

He said: “In the UK we’ve tried to drive down public spending by activating people’s worst instincts and then telling them they’re good boys for telling tales.

Disabled people, especially people with #mentalhealth difficulties, live in fear of malicious fraud allegations.”

After Lancashire police defended its actions on Twitter – telling DNS that it had a “duty” to contact DWP if it had information “to suggest fraud may be being committed” – there was widespread anger among disabled people, including those claiming benefits.

The Mental Health Resistance Network tweeted in response: “This is truly shocking. So even the police have joined in the war against disabled people.”

Another mental health activist, Rick Burgess, tweeted: “The uniting of the shadow DWP penal system and the established criminal justice system, where if one cannot get you the other will, is a highly significant intersection.

We are now under full Stasi like conditions.”

Activist and researcher Caroline Richardson, a member of the Spartacus Network of disabled campaigners, said the force’s actions were “discriminatory and frightening”.

She said on Twitter: “Being reported maliciously for fraud is more worrying than being assessed.

This sends a clear message that if you protest then the Police will report you on suspicion of fraud, without reason/evidence/proof.”

Film-maker and author Richard Butchins told the force on Twitter: “Your officers can have no idea if fraud is being committed but they are clearly spiteful petty minded servants of those in power – disgraceful behaviour.”

Dr Jay Watts, an activist and consultant clinical psychologist, said such actions were “an affront to civil liberties of disabled people” and that a few minutes of video from a protest gave “a false perception of ability”, with disabled protesters often facing “weeks of physical and psychological backlash afterwards but do so to make the world fairer”.

Paula Peters, a member of the Disabled People Against Cuts national steering group, said the police actions were “horrendous and disgusting”, and that “attacking disabled protestors then reporting them” was “the lowest of the low”.

Felicity McKee told Lancashire police: “You can have a disability and leave the house. We don’t just sit inside all day.

Disabilities can vary from day to day, as some days I’m better than others. That isn’t fraud [it is] just fact. What you’ve done is so immoral it’s shocking.”

Another Twitter user with a fluctuating condition, @mookpixie, said: “This is disgraceful. My illness is mostly invisible and varies hugely from hour to hour, let alone day to day.

Most times I leave the house for an hour or two, I then spend days in bed recovering. Could you tell all that from video footage of me leaving the house? No.”

And @neonwheelchair tweeted: “I very, very rarely leave the house now as if they took my PIP away, I’d end up homeless. We can barely eat as it is and can’t heat our home.”

Another, @vashti, added: “You guys suck. You are the reason I’m too frightened to go outside even when, well within my PIP criteria, I’m well enough to do so.”

Meanwhile, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it was not aware of any targeting of disabled protesters at anti-fracking protests.

An NPCC spokesperson added: “If an incident has occurred contrary to that, it is for the force’s professional standards department to address it in the strongest possible terms.”

Terry Woods, assistant chief constable for Lancashire police and the NPCC lead on shale, gas and oil exploration, said in a statement: “Police forces will always facilitate the right to peaceful protest, while ensuring that disruption to their local communities is kept to a minimum. 

Police officers are trained in maintaining public order and using the minimal force to do that. 

When an officer does need to use force they are accountable for ensuring it is lawful, proportionate and necessary. 

Existing guidance on dealing with fracking protests is currently under review by the College of Policing.

No police guidance has ever, or would ever, recommend targeting disabled people.”

A College of Policing spokesperson said it hoped to launch a public consultation on its updated guidance on the policing of long-term protests in the first quarter of 2019.

The guidance will contain a section about protests focused on onshore oil and gas exploration.

3 January 2019

 

 

Bungling DWP announces seventh review of disability benefits errors in a year

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to launch its seventh costly trawl through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits following years of serious errors by senior civil servants.

The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, announced on the last day before parliament’s Christmas recess that her department would begin another new review this month.

It follows six other reviews launched by her department during 2018 to find disabled people who had been wrongly deprived of their disability benefits.

The latest review is necessary because of an upper tribunal ruling in the case of a claimant moving from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence payment (PIP) who had his DLA stopped because he had failed to attend an Atos face-to-face assessment.

The upper tribunal found that the claimant, OM – who had long-standing psychosis, and became agitated and aggressive around people he did not know – had “good reason” for not attending the PIP assessment that the government contractor Atos had told his wife he would have to attend in one of its London centres.

The upper tribunal found that OM should have his DLA reinstated until a final decision was made on his PIP claim, while he should also receive backdated payments from the date DWP stopped his DLA.

This same approach will now be applied to other cases where DLA claimants have had their benefits stopped for not having “good reason” for failing to attend or participate in their PIP consultations, or to provide the necessary information or evidence for their PIP claim, but were later found by DWP or a tribunal that they did have “good reason” for not doing so.

Newton said DWP expected about 4,600 claimants to benefit from a review of such cases.

It has taken DWP more than a year to implement the tribunal’s ruling, which was handed down on 23 November 2017.

The review follows six others that DWP was forced to begin during 2018, all as a result of errors by senior civil servants in the department.

In June, Newton announced a review following a tribunal ruling delivered in March 2017 – concerning a PIP claimant referred to as RJ – on how DWP assesses whether disabled people can carry out activities safely and need supervision to do so.

This was likely to affect people with conditions such as epilepsy, with an estimated 10,000 PIP claimants set to benefit by £70 to £90 per week by 2022-23.

In the same week in June, Newton announced a review of an estimated 1.6 million PIP claims to find claimants who experience mental distress when making or planning a journey.

This followed a court ruling in December 2017 – in the case of a claimant referred to as MH – which found that new rules introduced that year by DWP were unlawful, “blatantly discriminatory” and breached the UN disability convention.

A third review announced in June 2018 related to the way DWP had been assessing an estimated 420 PIP claimants with haemophilia who have the associated condition haemarthropathy (a severe type of arthritis caused by bleeding into the joints).

A fourth review was launched so that DWP could trawl through the files of thousands of other PIP claimants who need support to take medication and monitor their health conditions, following two tribunal findings – in the cases of AN and JM – that found that DWP should have been scoring such claimants in the same way as people needing support to manage treatment therapies such as dialysis.

The fifth review followed a high court ruling in June 2018 that DWP had unlawfully discriminated against two disabled men who each lost disability premiums worth £178 per month when they moved to a new local authority area and were forced to transfer onto the new universal credit.

The sixth review followed the botched migration of an estimated 70,000 former claimants of incapacity benefit and other benefits to employment and support allowance (ESA).

DWP failed to realise that many of these claimants were entitled to income-related ESA – and therefore to associated disability premiums – rather than just the contributory form of ESA.

A DWP spokesperson said in a statement on the latest – seventh – review: “We accepted the judgment and we are committed to implementing it correctly.

Making the necessary changes to guidance is complex and it is right we proceed carefully to ensure claimants receive the payments to which they are entitled.

We have recruited hundreds of extra staff to complete these exercises as quickly as possible.

We take matters relating to benefit underpayments seriously and will learn the lessons from the issues raised.”

By noon today (Thursday), she had declined to confirm that this was the seventh review to be launched by DWP in the last 12 months.

3 January 2019

 

 

Traumatised child rape survivor harassed again by DWP as he waits to give evidence

A traumatised benefit claimant has accused the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of “sheer malice” after it again broke its promise to stop harassing him while he waits to give vital evidence in a child abuse trial.

DWP’s contractor Maximus sent David* a text message last month telling him that his employment and support allowance (ESA) could be at risk if he failed to attend an assessment set to take place just two days after Christmas.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been reporting on DWP’s continuing harassment of David* since 2016, when former minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson threatened to stop David’s benefits if he failed to co-operate with an Atos personal independence payment (PIP) reassessment.

David has been told by police that his medical file is sub-judice and cannot be discussed with anyone while the legal process is ongoing, and so he cannot allow DWP or Atos or Maximus access to his medical records.

He has severe post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by the horrific sexual abuse he suffered as a child, and which has led to several suicide attempts.

In 2017, DWP broke its promise not to harass David when Atos asked him to attend a face-to-face personal independence payment (PIP) assessment.

Last year, DWP broke its promise again, when it contacted him to tell him he needed to fill in a new PIP form, before later accepting its error and extending his PIP award.

But the harassment has continued.

On 20 December, he received a text message from Maximus – which carries out assessments under the name of its subsidiary, the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments – warning that his ESA was at risk if he failed to attend a work capability assessment (WCA) on 27 December.

When he rang DWP to complain, he was even told by a civil servant that he was fabricating his claim that his medical evidence was sub-judice.

David said DWP’s continuing harassment was “completely draining”, “dehumanising” and “extremely distressing”, and he could not understand why the department continually ignored the fact that his medical records were crucial evidence in ongoing child abuse proceedings.

He said: “It’s like I can’t escape their gravity of sheer malice and hubris.

I would ask why they repeatedly seek to interview a proven child rape victim.

I’m tired of people thinking I’m a lab animal to be cut open alive.” 

A DWP spokesperson: “We are sorry for any distress felt by [David].

We are all doing everything we can to ensure he continues to receive the benefits he is entitled to.”

The spokesperson said the WCA had now been cancelled, and David had been allocated a member of staff to be a single point of contact with his PIP and ESA.

Asked how this latest harassment had happened again, another spokesperson said: “We’ve addressed [David’s] case and a staff member is working with him to ensure he gets the right support.

We don’t have anything further to add but do look into any issues which are raised by claimants, including on their experience with DWP staff and contractors.”

A Maximus spokesperson said: “As soon as the case was withdrawn by DWP, we cancelled the appointment and immediately ceased our attempts to contact the customer.”

*He cannot be named for legal reasons

3 January 2019

 

 

Government broke freedom of information laws over access to 10 Downing Street

The government has broken freedom of information laws by refusing to release documents that could reveal why it has failed to ensure there is a wheelchair-accessible front entrance to 10 Downing Street.

The information commissioner has ruled that the Cabinet Office breached the Freedom of Information Act by failing to release reports to Disability News Service (DNS), including any documents that mention the two steps leading to the iconically-inaccessible front door.

DNS has been trying for more than a year to discover what discussions have taken place about removing the steps.

Although there is step-free access at the rear of 10 Downing Street, wheelchair-users wishing to use the front door must rely on a portable ramp.

The latest request for information came in July 2018, when DNS asked for “any reports or documents on the subject of disability access (including those relating to the steps leading to the front door) at No 10 Downing Street that have been prepared over the last two years”.

The Cabinet Office insisted that the only relevant recorded information was a 20-word extract from a draft memo that had already been released, which spoke of the “improved accessibility” from increasing the size of an internal lift.

But DNS argued that a Number 10 spokesperson had claimed that Downing Street had “undertaken a programme of works over recent years to make sure this historic building is accessible to all who visit”, while Historic England had said the Cabinet Office was “rolling out a programme of improvements to the grade I listed complex to proactively address disabled access”.

Historic England had also told DNS that an “accessibility audit is still being worked through and we will continue to advise as necessary”.

Despite these statements, the Cabinet Office had insisted to the information commissioner that it held no recorded information on disability access at Number 10, or reports or documents concerning discussions with Historic England.

Historic England has also since admitted that it does hold information about access at 10 Downing Street dating back five years but has argued that it cannot release it because of “national security” concerns.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has now concluded that the Cabinet Office “holds further information within the scope of the request” and had breached sections 1 and 10 of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Cabinet Office will now have to produce a legal response to DNS by 24 January, either producing the information or explaining why it has an exemption from doing so.

The Cabinet Office said it would now review its response to the DNS freedom of information request.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring Downing Street is accessible. 

A custodian is constantly stationed at the front door so that access can be provided to the building at any time of day. 

In addition, a new lift and more accessible toilets have been installed as part of work to improve facilities in this historic building.”

3 January 2019

 

 

OBE ‘is overdue recognition of importance of inclusive education’

A disabled campaigner says the decision to award him an OBE is an overdue recognition of the importance of inclusive education.

Anthony Ford-Shubrook, a youth ambassador with the charity AbleChildAfrica and a trustee of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, was among the disabled people recognised in the new year honours.

Ford-Shubrook, who has campaigned for inclusive education both in the UK and Africa, was awarded the OBE for services to disabled children in Africa.

He said he was “completely shocked” and “ecstatic” when he heard of the award and was “still in shock” now.

In 2016, Ford-Shubrook was one of 17 inaugural Young Leaders – and the only disabled young person – chosen by the UN to promote its Sustainable Development Goals.

At AbleChildAfrica, he continues to campaign for disabled children’s right to inclusive education and sports, and to healthcare.

He has recently returned from Kenya and Rwanda, where he delivered training to young disability rights activists on how to advocate for education for disabled children and young people.

Now in his early 30s, as a teenager he successfully took a pioneering legal case – backed by the Disability Rights Commission – against a sixth form college that had decided the stair-climbing wheelchair he needed to use to reach a first-floor classroom would be a health and safety risk.

It was the first time an injunction had been used to enforce the Disability Discrimination Act in education.

And his undergraduate dissertation on access to education for disabled children in a South African township is used by the South African government in its training for teachers working with disabled children.

He told Disability News Service: “The fact that I’ve been awarded [an OBE] shows that although there’s a lot of work to be done, people are finally realizing the importance of inclusive education, and the benefits it can bring.”

And he said he hoped the OBE would help him continue his campaigning on disability, both in the UK and in Africa. 

He said the fight for inclusive education had been “very important” in his life, because “without going to a mainstream school I would not have had the opportunities I’ve had, would not have been able to do many of the things I’ve done”. 

The government’s own figures showed that only four per cent of recipients in the 2019 new year honours list said they were disabled, compared with five per cent in the 2018 list.

Among other disabled people recognised are broadcaster, conservationist, author and naturalist Chris Packham, presenter of BBC shows such as The Really Wild Show and Springwatch, who receives a CBE.

Packham won widespread praise for the 2017 documentary Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me, in which he discussed being autistic and made it clear that he would not want to see a “cure” for autism.

He said after the documentary was aired: “We don’t need a cure, there is nothing wrong with us – we are different.

And that difference has enormous biological and social importance.

Many of us have skills to invent solutions, produce art and science to benefit all and to receive these gifts all we need in return is understanding, tolerance and acceptance.”

A CBE is also awarded to artist Yinka Shonibare, whose work explores issues of race and class through painting, sculpture, photography and film, and who has supported disability arts organisations such as Shape Arts.

Martin Stevens, chair of Disability Rights UK, is recognised with an OBE for services to people with multiple sclerosis.

Stevens, who has MS himself and has a background in accountancy and business management, is a long-term volunteer for the MS Society and a trustee for the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation.

Also awarded an OBE are Robin Hindle Fisher, a trustee with Scope, who chaired the charity’s Extra Costs Commission, which looked at ways to alleviate disabled people’s extra living costs; and former Scottish rugby international Doddie Weir, who set up a charity to raise funds to research potential cures and support others with motor neurone disease after he was diagnosed with the condition.

Disabled people awarded MBEs include campaigner John Davidson, for services to people with Tourette’s; wheelchair basketball coach and retired Paralympian Caroline Matthews; and motivational speaker and diversity consultant Andrew Walker.

British Wheelchair Basketball (BWB) said Matthews was a “true ambassador of the sport” and had “tirelessly worked to further the development of wheelchair basketball within Wales and on the international stage”.

As well as winning 125 caps for Great Britain between 2002 and 2011, and competing at the Athens and Beijing Paralympics, BWB said she had “changed the landscape of the sport within Wales” and had been either head coach or assistant coach at club, regional, national and international level.

3 January 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:52
Dec 302018
 
Sick of rising rail fares and chaotic commuting?

Tired of the endless tinkering with our broken privatised railway system?

It’s time for a #RailRevolution.

Bring Back British Rail

Join our New Year Protests

On Wednesday 2 January 2019, as our rail fares rise again by 3.1%, we’re joining forces with our friends at We Own It, the Association of British Commutersand NOR4NOR to organise the Rail Revolution: National Day of Action calling for radical reform.

Coinciding with the public consultation for the government’s new ‘root and branch’ review of our railways: the Williams Rail Review, we’re calling on passengers all over the country to respond in favour of a re-unified national rail network run for people not profit.

On Wednesday 2 January 2019, protests will take place at stations across the country (see list below), with a central one at London King’s Cross from 7:30-9:00am. See the Facebook event page for details, print a Bring Back British Rail placard and come join us!

Then on Friday 18 January 2019, to mark the deadline of the Williams Rail Review public consultation, we’ll be delivering our Care2 Petition to Re-nationalise our Railways signed by 118,039 people to the Department for Transport to demonstrate the sheer weight of public support for public ownership. Make sure you add your name before then: www.bringbackbritishrail.org/care2

Join Protests at Stations across the Country

Wednesday 2 January 2019:

06:45-09:00 Kings Lynn Station

07:00-10:00 Levenshulme Railway Station

07:30-09:30 London King’s Cross Station

07:30-09:00 Cardiff Central Station

07:30-09:00 Liverpool Lime Street

07:30-09:00 Birmingham New Street

07:30-09:00 Manchester Piccadilly

07:30-09:00 Lewisham Railway Station

07:30-09:30 Whitehaven Railway Station

07:30-09:00 Warrington Central Station

08:00-09:00 Bristol Temple Meads

08:00-10:00 Leeds Railway Station

08:00-09:00 Watford Junction

08:00-10:00 Doncaster Railway Station

08:00-09:00 Newcastle Central Station

09:30-11:30 Sheffield Meadowhall Interchange

10:00-12:00 Norwich Railway Station

10:00-12:00 Stratford Railway Station

16:00-18:00 Millom Railway Station

16:00-18:00 Birmingham Snow Hill

16:30-18:30 Hastings Railway Station

16:30-18:00 Clapham Junction

Thursday 3 January 2019:

09:00-11:00 Edinburgh Waverley (Market Street)

 Posted by at 23:27
Dec 202018
 

Police force admits passing footage of disabled protesters to DWP

A police force has admitted passing video footage and other information about disabled anti-fracking protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Disability News Service (DNS) reported last week that forces including Lancashire police had been accused of repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in peaceful anti-fracking protests.

Many of the allegations concern the policing of peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla near Preston New Road, on the edge of Blackpool.

But DNS has also spoken to disabled protesters who say Lancashire police has passed information about their involvement in the protests to DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Lancashire police this week confirmed to DNS that it had passed on information and footage of disabled protesters at Preston New Road to DWP.

Despite this admission, DWP would only say that it had no “formal arrangement” with any police force to pass it information about disabled protesters, and it refused to say if the department had received material from Lancashire police.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, and John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, have described the police force’s actions as “shocking” and “unacceptable”.

Nick Sheldrick, a wheelchair-user with a spinal cord injury, was astonished to be called in for a reassessment of his industrial injuries disablement benefit just two months after he began attending protests at Preston New Road early last year.

Sheldrick, who used to work in the merchant navy and was injured while working on a ship, had received a lifetime award and said his doctor could not understand why he had been sent in for a reassessment.

He said: “The doctor wrote on his notes that I shouldn’t need to be assessed again because spinal cord injuries do not repair themselves.”

He said he had heard of “quite a few” fellow protesters who had been called in for benefit assessments.

Another of the Preston New Road protesters, a disabled woman with a fluctuating condition, had her Motability vehicle removed after her claim was suspended by DWP.

She is being told to repay months of disability living allowance and now faces the possibility of court action.

She was told that police had sent footage of her at a protest to DWP, and she was even told by a police officer who stopped her while she was driving to a protest in her Motability vehicle that they were “duty bound to tell Motability that you’re using your car for illegal purposes”.

She later received a letter from DWP saying that her claim had been suspended, which led to her losing her car, and she was then interviewed under caution and ordered to pay back £6,000 to DWP, while a file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

She was asked in the interview about footage that showed her walking a few steps forward and then a few steps back, and about being seen leaning on a bicycle as she walked up a hill.

She said: “What they were saying was absolute rubbish. Where are the photos of me falling over, me sleeping for 12 to 16 hours?

To get people on benefits they take your benefits away. It’s to stop us from protesting, it’s to deny us our rights from protesting, that’s what it’s about.”

Another disabled eyewitness who has spent time at the Preston New Road site and knows this protester said this week: “I weigh up how I am going to spend the energy that is available to me that week and my capacity for [coping with] pain.

It is a conversation that she and I have had about how we both – for any activity we do – will either spend time resting up in preparation to be able to do it or resting up to recover from it and to cope with the pain that has been caused.

Police and DWP are trying to curtail people’s human rights by trying to stop them protesting.

They are making me worry every time I go out to somewhere like that that it is going to cost me my ability to pay my rent, because they are going to say, ‘If you are able to stand at the gates, you should be able to do a full year’s work.’”

But she said that she and others make this decision to stand at the gates in pain “knowing it is going to cost [us] a lot of exhaustion later”.

She added: “Just because I can do something for a few hours a week does not mean I have the same ability as somebody else who is not disabled.”

Bartley, who has visited Preston New Road and spoke to Disability News Service before the police admitted passing the data to DWP, said if it was true that information had been given to DWP about protesters who claim disability benefits it was “absolutely shocking”.

He said: “The police and DWP need to come clean and make clear if this is happening.

There needs to be full disclosure if this is the case. That would be an underhand tactic with dreadful consequences. It would clearly be unjust.

It is absolutely shocking if this is happening. It should not be happening.”

He added: “Disabled people have as much right to be protesting in their own way as anybody else and in fact more right because we know when things go wrong [with fracking], the impact on local communities and the impact on air quality and of course the wider impact of climate change, it is always those who are most vulnerable who suffer the most and they have more right than anyone else to be there making their voices heard.”

McDonnell, who has also visited protesters at Preston New Road, says in a film about the targeting of anti-fracking protesters, produced for Netpol by Gathering Place Films, that the passing of such information to DWP by police was “unacceptable”.

He says in the film: “Does this mean disabled people can’t protest? That’s ridiculous.

What we need to do is expose this. We can’t have the targeting of an individual just because they are a peaceful protester.

This idea that just because you’re on disability benefits you can’t actually engage in the rest of society, that’s unacceptable.”

Despite McDonnell’s concerns, the police and crime commissioner for Lancashire, Labour’s Clive Grunshaw, defended the force’s tactics and said: “If police have any information to suggest that fraud or any other crime is being committed, they understandably have a duty to do something about it.”

Asked what arrangements DWP had with forces policing protests such as the one in Preston New Road to pass on information about the activities of disabled protesters, a DWP spokeswoman said: “There is no formal arrangement in place between DWP and any police force for this or other similar scenarios.”

When asked whether that meant that DWP had not received any information or footage from Lancashire police, she refused to comment further.

She also refused to say whether DWP accepted that disabled protesters claiming disability benefits had a right to protest.

But a Lancashire police spokesman said: “The DWP are a partner agency and where we have information to suggest that fraud may be being committed we have a duty to pass that on, including video footage if we have it.

Do we accept that people with disabilities have a right to protest? Yes, of course we do.

Are we concerned that by passing on information we are setting a dangerous precedent? No we are not.

We will, of course, facilitate the right of anyone to protest lawfully.”

Another force spokesman later confirmed that Lancashire police had passed on information and video footage from Preston New Road to DWP, and he said the force had “a duty” to do so.

He denied that this was setting a dangerous precedent that was likely to deter other disabled people from exercising their right to protest, and said: “I don’t think there’s any concerns from our end.

Ultimately, if there are people that are found to be claiming benefits down at the site there’s obviously an issue there.”

When asked if this meant the force believed people claiming disability benefits should not be allowed to take part in protests, he said: “It’s obviously a case by case basis really, what the benefits are being claimed for in terms of their position down at the site.

That’s a decision for the DWP anyway. We have passed that information on, they will make a decision, an informed decision on the back of that.”

20 December 2018

 

 

Labour and Greens call for inquiry into claims of police abuse of disabled protesters

Two senior political figures have called for an inquiry into claims that police have targeted and assaulted disabled people taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests.

Both the co-leader of the Green party, Jonathan Bartley, and Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have called for an inquiry into the actions of Lancashire police.

Bartley said he was “incredibly concerned” about what he had been told, and that it was clear disabled people had been “abused” and were being subject to discriminatory treatment by Lancashire police.

He has called for an independent inquiry, after Disability News Service (DNS) reported concerns last week about police actions at protests across the country and particularly one focused on the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla at Preston New Road, on the edge of Blackpool.

As well as disabled people, protesters believe that older people, women and younger people have also been targeted by police.

McDonnell, although not available to speak to DNS this week, has spoken of the need for an inquiry into the “unacceptable” level of “physical force” that appears to have been used by Lancashire police.

The shadow chancellor, who has visited Preston New Road, says in a film about the targeting of anti-fracking protesters, produced for the Netpol police monitoring network by Gathering Place Films, that he was shocked by what he had heard from protesters and had seen in video footage and was “really worried about the physical nature” of the policing.

He says in the film: “I think there is a need for an inquiry of some sort into what’s happening with the policing operation overall.

The evidence that I’ve seen is deeply worrying and I think if other people see it as well, they will feel the same way as me.”

Bartley has also visited Preston New Road and has spoken to disabled people and other protesters.

He told DNS this week that he could not prove that disabled people were being deliberately targeted by police officers, but that there was “an awful lot of circumstantial evidence that it is happening”.

He added: “What is clear is that disabled people are being abused by the police. I think that’s clear. It’s abuse.”

And he said there needed to be an independent inquiry into what had been happening.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said this week that it had no current investigations into the actions of Lancashire police at Preston New Road, but that it was continuing to “monitor the situation”.

But Bartley accused the IOPC of being “mealy-mouthed” and said its statement was “a cop-out” and that action needed to be taken before someone was seriously injured.

He also said Lancashire police needed to make it clear the steps it would take to ensure the safety and rights of disabled protesters were protected. And he said there was “ample evidence” to show that the force was not currently doing that.

Despite the call for an inquiry by McDonnell, Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner, Labour’s Clive Grunshaw, has backed the force’s tactics and has told DNS that he is “reassured that the tactics available to officers and used on the ground are all in line with Home Office and College of Policing guidelines”.

He said he did not support the call for an independent inquiry into the policing tactics.

He said: “Officers react to situations they are faced with and respond in a legitimate and proportional manner.

The prime consideration of the police presence, and the approaches they take, is to keep everyone safe at the site.”

DNS spoke last week to three disabled protesters, and two other eye-witnesses, who all experienced or witnessed serious and repeated incidents of police brutality targeted at disabled people taking part in the Preston New Road protest.

Disabled protesters have described being kicked, punched, knocked unconscious, and tipped out of their wheelchairs.

One of the disabled protesters Bartley has spoken to, at another fracking site in Lancashire, is veteran Green party member Anne Power.

Video footage shot by protesters, and reported by the Independent last year, showed Power, who is in her 80s, being dragged across a road by police officers while protesting peacefully outside the site near Little Plumpton.

Bartley said: “I know Anne, I know her character, I know her integrity, her honesty.

To see the way that she has been treated and to see the video of the way she has been treated and to hear it first hand from her is frankly shocking.”

Bartley, who himself was pushed to the ground and then dragged along a road by police officers while trying to deliver a speech at an anti-fracking protest at Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire in November 2017, warned that the events in Lancashire and at other anti-fracking protests needed to be put in the context of other attacks on the rights of protesters.

He pointed to the anti-terror laws used against the Stansted 15, and the 15- and 16-month prison sentences imposed on the Frack Free Three (protesters at Preston New Road, whose sentences were later quashed on appealed).

Bartley said a pattern was developing of the views of local communities “being ridden roughshod over” and then their democratic right to protest being taken away.

He said: “There seems to be a concerted effort across the board to clamp down on protest.

We are seeing every mechanism at the establishment’s disposal being used.”

And he said he would not be surprised – once parliament had settled the Brexit logjam – if the government brought forward “even stronger laws that take away people’s civil liberties further”.

There are fears that forces across the country that have policed anti-fracking protests are developing a tactics “template” that can be used to target disabled people taking part in other peaceful protests, such as those organised by the anti-cuts and climate change movements.

Last week, Andy Greene, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, warned that there had been an “escalation” and a “clear direction of travel” in police tactics since the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe, in Sussex, in the summer of 2013.

He said police tactics were becoming “more physical… more confrontational, more provoking” and that he expected these police tactics to be “rolled out across the protest movement” over the next year as the country sees a likely increase in political volatility around issues such as anti-fracking, anti-austerity and Brexit.

Grunshaw said in a statement: “The policing operation on Preston New Road is in place to ensure public safety on what is a very busy and vital route and I am reassured that the tactics available to officers and used on the ground are all in line with Home Office and College of Policing guidelines.

Officers at the fracking site are caught between competing demands of facilitating peaceful protest and allowing companies to conduct their lawful business, as well as keeping an important emergency services route open.

Where people do have concerns about the actions of the police, there is a robust complaints procedure in place, overseen by myself.

Anyone who is unhappy with the outcome of the complaints process has the right to appeal to the independent body the IOPC.”

He said Lancashire police had upheld just five complaints about its Preston New Road policing operation, out of 217 complaints, between January 2017 and last month, while there had been 434 arrests and 429 charges.

Meanwhile, the IOPC has confirmed that it failed to uphold an appeal by wheelchair-user Nick Sheldrick after Lancashire police had rejected his complaint, following an incident in February, and found that his complaint “had been properly addressed and all appropriate lines of enquiry had been followed”.

Last week, Sheldrick told DNS that he had been tipped out of his wheelchair six times by police at Preston New Road and believes that only one of these incidents was accidental.

But the IOPC did uphold a single complaint earlier this year by another protester that the force should have recorded their complaint.

An IOPC spokeswoman said: “We take incidents where it is alleged someone has suffered a serious injury as a result of use of force, or has been discriminated against, very seriously.

We do not have any independent investigations relating to the incidents reported.

We are aware of the anti-fracking demonstrations, as reported in the media, and we have recently been in contact with Lancashire Constabulary.

The force has assured us that any complaints received have been dealt with appropriately, and did not meet the criteria to be referred to us.

We will continue to monitor the situation, and will be in regular contact with the force about this going forward.”

Lancashire police said last week that its intention was to “ensure a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to lawfully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.

We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but if it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response.”

20 December 2018

 

 

Anger over latest delay to social care green paper

Disabled people’s organisations have reacted angrily after the government admitted that it will break its promise to publish its long-delayed adult social care green paper by the end of this year.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed this week that the green paper would now only be published “at the earliest opportunity” in 2019, as parliament continues to struggle to find a solution to the Brexit crisis.

It originally promised that the green paper would be published by the end of 2017, and then July this year, before delaying it to the autumn and then the end of 2018, and now to 2019.

DHSC declined to explain the reason for the delay but claimed that its green paper was “a departmental priority”.

Last year, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that the UK was “going backwards” on independent living, and called on the government to draw up a “comprehensive plan” to address the problem, and to take “urgent action” to ensure disabled people were provided with “adequate support to live independent lives”.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the repeated delays were “simply not good enough”.

She said: “The crisis in social care, and the misery it is causing to hundreds of thousands of disabled people, is now undeniable.

Creating a social care system and funding that genuinely promotes and delivers independent living, is one of the great domestic policy and funding challenges the country faces – yet the government acts as though this is a peripheral issue that can be constantly kicked into the long grass.

Disabled people and wider society are up for the debate with a growing consensus that significantly more funding, from progressive taxation, is needed for social care now and in the future.”

She said the government needed to “urgently show leadership and vision” on the issue.  

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said the further delay was “disgraceful” and “clearly demonstrates where disabled people are in terms of priorities for national government”.

She said: “It leaves disabled people and disabled people’s organisations facing uncertainty and lacking in confidence that the current government understand or care about the lives of disabled people.

Of course, this isn’t altogether surprising given recent criticisms by UN.

Many of the disabled people we work with feel the impact of the crisis in health and social care, and that situation isn’t improving or set to improve if the government are not able to propose any solution to tackle the crisis.”

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said it was no surprise that the green paper – which itself represented a “failure to get to grips with the urgent and growing crisis in social care” – had been “pushed back and pushed back”.

She was due yesterday (Wednesday) to attend a roundtable meeting with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock to discuss the possible content of the green paper in relation to working-age disabled people.

Bott said she would be “taking the opportunity to let him know how the social care crisis is continuing to deepen”, and she said she hoped he would tell those present that “he understands the implications of the current crisis on disabled people and that solving the funding of social care is now an urgent priority”.

But she added: “I’m not holding my breath, we shall see.”

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a disabled crossbench peer who chairs the Independent Living Strategy Group, said she was “not surprised” by the latest green paper delay.

She said: “Sadly for disabled people’s desperate need for care and support to live with dignity and exercise their basic right to independent living, it’s what I have come to expect.”

20 December 2018

 

 

MPs hear of ‘despair’ of austerity’s victims in second WOW debate

The experiences of disabled people whose lives have been devastated by austerity-related cuts were discussed in parliament last night as MPs took part in a long-awaited debate on the impact of eight years of cuts to disability support.

The backbench debate was the result of months of lobbying of cross-party MPs by the disabled-led WOWcampaign, which has been pushing for six years for the government to carry out an assessment of the impact of all of its cuts to disabled people’s support.

Last night’s was the follow-up to a high-profile debate that took place in the Commons nearly five years ago, after nearly 105,000 people had signed a WOW petition calling on the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA).

Some of the many accounts from disabled people of how austerity and cuts had impacted on their lives were shared with MPs during last night’s debate, which had been delayed for several hours by an emergency Brexit debate.

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who secured the Commons debate on behalf of the WOWcampaign with fellow Labour backbencher Kate Green, told MPs how one constituent was refusing to have life-saving surgery on a brain tumour because he had been worried he would have his benefits sanctioned.

He had already had his employment and support allowance sanctioned for three months after failing to attend a benefit assessment so he could receive treatment for the tumour.

Abrahams told MPs that another disabled woman had told her how the contribution she had to make towards her social care had risen from £82.50 a month to £81 a week, despite no change in her financial circumstances, leaving her no money to pay for medication or independent living aids, and causing her increased pain, isolation and anxiety

Another disabled person, this time someone with significant mental distress, had described how he had been forced through seven benefit assessments in six years.

Abrahams said more and more disabled people were becoming isolated in their own homes and were facing the “relentless stress and anxiety resulting from a social security system that is hostile, unsupportive and even dehumanising”.

Encouraging MPs to read the WOWvoices collection of accounts written by disabled people of their experiences of austerity and cuts to support, Abrahams told them: “This is happening up and down the country. The despair in these messages is palpable.”

The disabled MP Stephen Lloyd, formerly a Liberal Democrat but now sitting as an independent, backed calls for a CIA, as did the Scottish Tory MP Luke Graham, who supported the idea of having “an objective assessment of what these changes are doing for our constituents and for the most vulnerable people”.

There was also support for a CIA from Jim Shannon, a DUP MP, whose party has been keeping the Conservatives in power since 2017.

Shannon said government cuts to disabled people’s and child support were causing “massive issues” in his constituency and “in everybody else’s as well”.

He pointed to a CIA published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in March which found that disabled lone parents with at least one disabled child would lose almost £3 out of every £10 of their net income, almost £10,000 per year, by the time the government’s reforms and cuts were fully implemented in 2021-22.

The SNP’s Angela Crawley added: “If the government can spend limitless amounts of money and resource on Brexit and planning for a no deal then why can they not introduce an independent CIA of their welfare reforms?”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, thanked WOW for its work over the last six years and for “making the voices of disabled people heard in this house”.

She called on the government to “own up to creating a social security system for disabled people that the UN report on extreme poverty described as callous, punitive and mean-spirited”.

She said: “We are demanding that the government own up to the effects of more than £40 billion of cuts to disabled people’s social security since 2010.”

And she said disabled people had been “consistently and disproportionately impacted by cuts to social care, legal aid, housing, education and social security”.

De Cordova said the government’s “pointlessly cruel sanctions regime” had hit more than one million disabled people in the last eight years, while disabled people now faced the introduction of universal credit, which “acts as little more than a vehicle for cuts”.

The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said the government was spending more than £50 billion this year on the main health and disability related benefits [this figure includes housing benefit paid to disabled people].

She also claimed that the lack of information on disabled people in the survey data used by the Treasury did not allow a CIA of all government policies at present, although the Office for National Statistics was carrying out work which might mean the necessary data was available in the future.

She also said that DWP figures showed that “poverty for people in families with a disabled person has improved since 2010 on three of the four measures, and there was no change in the fourth”.

The government has repeatedly refused to carry out a CIA, even though the organisations that have called for one include the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, the government’s own social security advice body, and peers on the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee.

And the EHRC report in March calculated its own CIA of all the tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms introduced between May 2010 and January 2018.

Abrahams’ motion for the government to carry out a CIA of changes to social security on disabled people was carried, but there is no obligation on the government to act on the motion.

20 December 2018

 

 

Hancock comes up empty on ‘no deal Brexit’ social care recruitment plans

The health and social care secretary has failed to produce any evidence that he has put extra plans in place to deal with an adult social care recruitment crisis in the event of a “no deal Brexit”.

Despite the ever-increasing likelihood of Britain crashing out of the European Union in March without a deal, Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has again been unable to point to any plans it has drawn up to deal with the likely recruitment crisis in social care if there is a no deal Brexit in March.

Disabled people who use personal assistants (PAs) have warned repeatedly of the risk that any form of Brexit could mean their access to PAs from EU countries could dry up, with a no-deal Brexit making this even more likely.

Inclusion London said this week that the impact of Brexit on social care recruitment was “potentially disastrous”.

Although Hancock has insisted that he is planning for the possibility of a no deal Brexit’s impact on the NHS, he and his department have been unable to point to any contingency plans on social care recruitment, other than measures that will be “going ahead regardless” of the Brexit outcome.

These include a national recruitment campaign in the new year to “raise the image and profile” of the adult social care sector, following pilot schemes launched last month in Gloucestershire and Tyne and Wear, while an adult social care green paper – postponed yet again this week (see separate story) – will “look at how we can recruit and retain a valued workforce”.

DHSC has also pointed to the government’s EU settlement scheme, which will provide the 104,000 EU nationals currently working in social care with the opportunity to continue living in the UK after June 2021.

A DHSC spokesman said: “We are confident of reaching a deal with the EU which benefits our health and care workforce.

We want to promote adult social care as a career of choice and are launching a national recruitment campaign in the new year to raise the image and profile of the sector.

Our upcoming green paper will also look at how we can recruit and retain a valued workforce.”

But asked what extra plans DHSC had in place in the event of a no deal Brexit, he refused to comment further.

Bott said it was important that the “messaging” of the recruitment campaign was right.

She said: “Yes we need more people working in social care but we need people with the right values who respect the right of disabled people to determine our own lives.”

And she said she was still concerned that the EU settlement scheme “will not be known about by disabled people or employers of personal assistants, particularly as DHSC has decided to target social care providers with the information.”

She said she had raised this with the Home Office and was due to attend a meeting with that government department yesterday (Wednesday).

20 December 2018

 

 

Move to universal credit could be ‘disastrous’ for disabled people, say MPs

The government’s new universal credit benefit system could have “disastrous” consequences for disabled people if ministers fail to make a series of major changes, according to a committee of MPs.

A report by the Commons work and pensions committee highlighted major flaws in the government’s plans to move disabled people onto universal credit.

Frank Field, chair of the committee, warned that the introduction of the new system risked forcing disabled people “further into poverty, deprivation, miserable hardship”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

The work and pensions committee says in the new report that those disabled claimants not designated “severely disabled” will be “substantially worse off” under universal credit because of the scrapping of the severe disability premium and enhanced disability premium.

But the report also suggests that this will mean that even claimants with higher support needs – a group the government claims it is targeting with higher payments under universal credit – who previously received these premiums will receive less under the new system.

The report says: “The Department argues it is, instead, making support for the most ‘severely disabled’ UC claimants more generous than under the legacy system.

This is true, but it still does not match what those claimants could have received under the legacy system, with the premia in place.”

The committee was unable to clarify yesterday (Wednesday) whether this meant that it believed disabled people who received the premiums would be worse off under universal credit.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman also refused to say whether the committee’s statement was correct.

Although DWP is providing “transitional protection” for those moving from existing disability benefits and premiums onto universal credit, this will not apply to new universal credit claimants, while the protection will lose value over time.

The report says that removing the “vital additional support” provided by the premiums “risks disabled people living more isolated lives, relying more on unpaid care (including from their own young children), or simply being unable to gain support to complete basic daily tasks”.

The committee points out that DWP has carried out no analysis of the financial impact of removing the two premiums on disabled people and calls for it to do so “urgently”.

The MPs say DWP should include in this analysis “clear worked examples” of the financial support that disabled people claiming different benefits under the old system will receive under universal credit.

Disability News Service is currently attempting, through a complaint to the information commissioner, to force DWP to provide similar information.

The committee’s report also says – repeating its recommendation from an earlier report on benefit sanctions – that universal credit claimants who are waiting for their work capability assessments (WCAs) should not be forced to accept strict conditions while they are waiting if they can provide a valid “fit note” from their doctor stating that they cannot work.

Such a step would restore a “vital safeguard” that “protects claimants from having to meet conditions that may be unmanageable and inappropriate”, the report says.

The report says the move to universal credit will leave 100,000 families with disabled children worse off than they would have been under the previous system.

And it says that only a third of disabled people making new universal credit claims receive their first payment in full and on time, because of delays in arranging WCAs.

The MPs also warn that the simplified process for universal credit claimants who are terminally-ill is failing many people who are forced to prove they have less than six months to live to qualify for the fast-track procedure.

The committee calls on DWP to introduce “a more humane approach”.

And it says that it is “entirely unacceptable” that DWP has failed to ensure that its online universal credit service is compatible with some of the most basic assistive technologies that disabled claimants might use.

It calls on DWP to delay moving disabled people from existing benefits onto universal credit – which is supposed to be “digital by default”, with the vast majority of interactions with DWP taking place online – until this work has been done.

The report also points out that the availability of assistive technology on jobcentre computers is “too often patchy and poor”.

In response to the report, a DWP spokeswoman said in a statement: “More than a million disabled people will be better off by £100 a month under universal credit and £3 billion of funding will help protect families as they move over from the old system.

Universal credit does work for the vast majority, and the managed migration regulations* are set to be debated in parliament in due course.”

But the DWP spokeswoman confirmed that the £3 billion was “for all families” and not just those with disabled members, even though the committee’s report is about support for disabled people.

*The managed migration regulations describe how DWP will treat those claimants who move from existing benefits to universal credit without a change in their circumstances. This process will begin on a pilot basis from the middle of next year, with the full rollout due now to begin in 2020 and end in 2023

20 December 2018

 

 

Rights of disabled children in Scotland ‘not protected’ over seclusion and restraint

Local authorities and the Scottish government are failing to protect the rights of disabled children and young people – and others with support needs – who are being restrained and placed in seclusion at school, according to a children’s rights watchdog.

A report by Scotland’s children and young people’s commissioner suggests that some schools and councils may be breaching both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Some schools could be acting unlawfully over their use of seclusion, it adds.

Bruce Adamson, the commissioner, said his office had received allegations about the treatment of children in schools across Scotland, and in particular “the use of restraint and seclusion techniques as a method of behaviour management”.

Information passed to his office by families suggests restraint and seclusion are used “disproportionately” with disabled children and those with other support needs, his report says.

Adamson said: “Our investigation into the use of restraint and seclusion revealed a complete lack of consistency across authorities.

Some authorities record incidents, but have no guidelines; some have guidelines but cannot tell us how often they use the procedure.

More worrying, we have heard from young people, their parents and carers how these practices are used as discipline or punishment, without an understanding of needs or care for individuals.”

Adamson said his office has received photographs of disabled children with injuries alleged to have been sustained at school.

He said: “We heard that children can be restrained and/or secluded in response to challenging behaviour, without any consideration of what may lie behind that behaviour or the individual child’s rights and needs.”

He said it was not clear if the Scottish government had fulfilled its responsibilities under UNCRC and UNCRPD to embed the rights relating to restraint and seclusion into schools’ policies and practices.

The report says that four Scottish local authorities do not have any policies on restraint and seclusion.

It concludes: “Based on the evidence provided, we are deeply concerned that significant physical interventions may be taking place in some authorities without any kind of policy or procedure at local authority level to ensure the lawful and rights-compliant treatment of children.”

It calls on the Scottish government to publish a rights-based national policy and guidance on restraint and seclusion in schools.

And it says that local authorities should ensure that no restraint or seclusion takes place unless they have “clear consistent” policies and procedures to govern their use.

Only 18 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities told the commissioner they recorded all incidents of physical intervention, with the report warning that those authorities that fail to record incidents “have a concerning information gap in relation to the safe and lawful treatment of children in their schools”.

The report says it is impossible to say how many incidents of restraint and seclusion take place in Scotland each year and which children are most affected, which it says is “troubling”.

It also points to the lack of clarity and consistency in defining restraint and seclusion among different local authorities, and warns of “the potential for dangerously blurred lines between measures like ‘time out’ and ‘seclusion’”.

It warns that some schools may be using seclusion as an informal – and therefore unlawful – form of exclusion.

And it calls on the Scottish government to develop “clear rights-based definitions of both restraint and seclusion” as part of national policy and guidance.

One parent, Sharon Gardner, said: “My own son was regularly locked in a room at school, which he found incredibly upsetting.

Several times he wet himself and was blamed for misbehaving, even though the school knew about his sensory issues and his anxiety.

Instead of reducing his stress, restraining him and locking him alone in a room increased it and led to serious mental health issues by the time he was eight years old.”

Responding to the report, a Scottish government spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all children and young people, with each council responsible for the care, safety and welfare of pupils in school.

National guidance is clear that physical intervention, physical restraint and supported isolation should only ever be used as a last resort, when in the best interests of the child and never for disciplinary purposes.

Every intervention should be carefully monitored and reviewed. We will fully consider the report recommendations.”

20 December 2018

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 16:10
Dec 182018
 

Below is the text of a statement by Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) refuting the charge that they are an anti-Semitic organisation, brought by a former supporter of the organisation Ben Glass.

DPAC wish it to be known that we have worked with MHRN closely over many years and we have never seen the merest shred of anti-Semitism, racism nor any form of bigotry by anyone within or associated with that organisation. We will continue our close and friendly relationship with MHRN and the activists that make that organisation a valued partner of DPAC.

DPAC as an organisation condemns most strongly any form of bigotry, or racism (including anti-Semitism), or any form of discrimination based on disability, race, place of birth, religion, gender or sexuality

Further DPAC condemns any group or individual that uses false accusations of anti-Semitism as a weapon to attempt to discredit legitimate campaigning organisations. Not only does this slander the work of decent activists, it also devalues the evil of genuine racism or bigotry that we are all working to defeat.


Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN)

Public statement refuting accusation of anti-Semitism and racism

On 5th December 2018 a post appeared on Twitter of a photograph of a former member of Mental Health Resistance Network making a Nazi salute. This was presented as evidence of anti-Semitism and racism within MHRN. However the post was intended to mislead.

Picture with caption: Roy Bard of MHRN makes a Nazi salute to show his opinion of forced back to work treatment for mental health sufferers to be given in the new Southwark ‘hub’ at Thames Reach Employment Academy.The photograph was taken by Peter Marshall, who is a well-respected photographer, on 9th December 2015, just prior to a protest by MHRN against forced back to work mental health ‘treatment’ under the threat of benefit sanctions. Below the image a caption reads:

Roy Bard of MHRN makes a Nazi salute to show his opinion of forced back to work treatment for mental health sufferers to be given in the new Southwark ‘hub’ at Thames Reach Employment Academy.

However this image has been posted widely on social media with the caption that explains the context having been removed. We believe that it was removed deliberately in order to create confusion and doubt about the nature of MHRN and the wider disability movement.

It is clear that the Nazi salute in the image was not in support of Nazism but in condemnation of government initiatives that echo the Nazi persecution of people who live with mental distress. It was clearly meant to highlight – not promote – injustice and persecution of minorities. Thousands of disabled people, including people with mental health problems, were persecuted and killed during the Nazi era of the 1930s/40s. We mourn and remember them alongside their millions of Jewish brothers and sisters, and the many others who suffered at the Nazis’ hands.

The use of Nazi imagery has been widely used by the disability movement as the present Conservative government has created a hostile environment for us. Much of this hostility focuses on our ‘lack of productivity’ and claims that we are a ‘burden’ on the social security system. This hostility began with a vigorous media propaganda campaign against us by preceding governments. The consequences have been extreme, resulting in deaths, including many suicides.

MHRN does not promote or tolerate racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, classism, fascism and discrimination against LGBT+ people or any other form of discrimination.

The posts on Twitter claim that Roy Bard, who left MHRN in 2016, is an anti-Semite. If this is the case (and we have seen no evidence that it is), it has no connection whatsoever with his involvement with MHRN. We campaign solely on domestic issues that impact on people who live with mental distress. Nobody at MHRN is aware of Roy Bard having expressed any anti-Semitic views or acted with any anti-Semitic intent. MHRN has never had any complaints of anti-Semitism before, whether about Roy Bard or anyone else.

It is deeply regrettable that, in the name of the legitimate and necessary struggle against anti-Semitism, attempts are being made to defame disabled people who are simply fighting for the financial support and mental health services we desperately need. MHRN exists to end discrimination against people with mental health problems. We oppose all prejudice and bigotry, and are proud to work with all members of the community to achieve our goals. We will oppose any attempt to divide us with false accusations.

For more on the persecution of disabled people: https://www.ushmm.org/learn/students/learning-materials-and-resources/mentally-and-physically-handicapped-victims-of-the-nazi-era/euthanasia-killings

 Posted by at 22:26
Dec 172018
 

[Reproduced from the WOW! Website]

WOWcampaign/Petition, with the support of MPs Debbie Abrahams and Kate Green, has again secured a debate in the House of Commons through the Back Bench Business Committee;  to discuss the  urgent need for a cumulative impact assessment  of all cuts to disability support.

The debate will take place on 19th December 2018 in the afternoon after PMQ

Some of you may say we’ve been here before but every time this Government has been told that their policies disproportionately target cuts at disabled people they just sneer back at us “Fake News, you can’t prove it”.
Now is the time to make them prove that what they are saying is right and what we are saying is wrong.
If they can.

How can you help and get involved?

Not everyone can travel to London and attend the debate but you can still make a difference from the comfort of your own home.

What you can do before the debate

  • You can still write to your MP asking them to attend the debate
  • We have produced a document with the ‘voices’ that people have been sending us in the past few months. This document will be given to MPs and the media before the debate. You can still send us your voices here
  • We are also looking for social media volunteers from now until the debate, we just need people to help us promote this on Twitter and Facebook
  • You can share this post on social media as much as you can, you can also add a Twibbon to your social media profile.
  • You can also inform individuals and organisations that have been opposing cuts and welfare reforms

What you can do to support the debate on 19/12

If you are in London, you can join the protest to support WOW debate on cumulative impact of the cuts on disabled people 12.15-1.15pm Old Palace Yard Westminster London SW1P 3JY (Westminster Underground Jubilee Line accessible from train to street level. Buses 3,11,157,136 all stop near parliament).From 1pm to 4pm on 19th December, use the #WOWDebate hashtag on Twitter to explain how cuts have affected you and your family. Feel free to use your creativity, post videos, poems, art, remember we want to be heard and seen on the day and make people know how austerity and cuts have affected disabled people, carers and their families.

You could also print one of these signs, or make your own,  take a picture of yourself or your family, friends or colleagues with it and post in on social media with the hashtag #WOWDebate

Thank you for your help and support

 Posted by at 22:57
Dec 132018
 

Kicked, punched, knocked unconscious, tipped out of wheelchairs’: Campaigners describe repeated police targeting of disabled anti-fracking protesters

Police forces are repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in peaceful anti-fracking protests, campaigners have told Disability News Service (DNS).

DNS has seen video footage of a string of incidents in which disabled campaigners taking part in peaceful protests have been injured, manhandled or put at risk of injury by police officers.

It has also spoken to three disabled protesters, and two other eye-witnesses, who have all experienced or witnessed serious and repeated incidents of police brutality targeted at disabled people.

There are now fears that forces across the country that have policed anti-fracking protests are developing a tactics “template” that can be used to target disabled people taking part in other peaceful protests, such as those organised by the anti-cuts and climate change movements.

Some of the most recent and serious concerns relate to the actions of officers from Lancashire police in dealing with peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla near Preston New Road (PNR), on the edge of Blackpool.

Maria Allen, who is deaf and has arthritis, has been involved in the Preston New Road protest since it began in January 2017, and in the wider anti-fracking movement for four years.

She lives about 20 miles from the fracking site, in an area that is also licensed for fracking, and has family in Blackpool, while a cousin lives less than a mile from the site.

She told DNS: “I have been targeted by the police on so many occasions I have lost count.

I have been shoved over, kicked, punched, pressure pointed [putting pressure on sensitive points in the body to cause pain].”

On one occasion she was picked up and thrown into a fence, she said. Another time she was knocked unconscious.

She said: “The favourite trick of some of the officers there is to sneak up behind me and grab or shove me without warning.

Or they will issue instructions when they are stood behind me and they know I don’t know what they are saying [because she lip-reads], and then grab or shove me, using the excuse that I did not comply with their request to move.

I have also been told by several officers that I am lying when I tell them that I am deaf.”

She described the police behaviour she had witnessed as “intimidating, aggressive, confrontational, violent, abusive, disproportionate, frightening”.

Allen said: “On numerous occasions I have also seen the police goading and harassing autistic protesters, following them, grabbing them and holding them, calling them names.

Most of us have also been subjected to targeted arrests where we have been arrested on spurious grounds and been held for several hours in police cells. We have then been released without charge.

The police do not only target disabled protesters at PNR; they target anyone they perceive as vulnerable.

They also target our young people and women, particularly elderly women. They have even assaulted and deliberately frightened teenage children.”

She believes this targeting of disabled people and other protesters the police see as vulnerable is a deliberate policy, intended to “intimidate people and make them scared to protest”.

Allen, a single mother of four disabled sons, said: “After they have assaulted me it takes me a few days to get the courage up to go back.

I believe they also do it to try to provoke a violent response from some of the non-disabled protesters.

At PNR we are primarily a bunch of ordinary, local people. Our whole ethos is non-violent. We never fight back.

Many of us are disabled or vulnerable and the police treat us as if we were football hooligans about to riot.

Until I went to PNR I had always respected the police. The policing at PNR has destroyed any trust I had in our police force, and sadly it has made my children feel the same way, because they have seen the horrific bruising the police have left me with.”

Another disabled protester, Nick Sheldrick, who lives three miles from the fracking site and has a spinal cord injury, is also convinced that he has been targeted by police officers.

Since he began attending protests at PNR last year he has been tipped out of his wheelchair six times. He believes only one of these incidents was accidental.

The other five times he has been deliberately pushed in his chest, he said.

Sheldrick said: “I have told them that if they do that then I am going to go over in my chair.

I have told the senior officers if they need me to go anywhere just ask me and I’ll move. They don’t need to pull me and touch me and drag me. But they do.

They don’t give you time to move at all. As they are saying ‘move’ they are [already] pushing you.”

On one recent occasion he was shoved in the chest by one officer – after being dragged across the road by his shoulders by another officer – and fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement.

Because of the treatment he has received, he will no longer attend the protest site alone.

On another occasion last year, one officer left him with a bruise covering his thigh after trying to pin him down by putting a knee across his leg.

He said this was “the first indication that the police weren’t there for my protection.

I’ve always had a really big respect for the police, I was a merchant navy officer, I’ve never been in trouble in my life.

I’ve always thought the police were there to help and protect us, but that’s not what I’ve witnessed down there.”

He has also had one officer tell him he should go for a run and then laugh in his face. He lodged a complaint but it was unsuccessful after the officer claimed he had been directing his comment to a nearby group of protesters and not to Sheldrick.

Other complaints he has made to the force have all been rejected.

In one piece of film shot by a protester, reported by the Mirror and other publications last year, Sheldrick is seen apparently being pulled to the floor in his wheelchair by police officers as he attempts to block a delivery lorry.

One of the officers told him to stop being stupid and stand up, he said. “I was trying to explain to them I’ve got a spinal cord injury and my legs don’t work. They just wouldn’t listen.”

The publicity around that incident has not stopped officers targeting him.

He described the police tactics as “quite brutal” and says that watching officers grab protesters and push them into the hedge is “quite nasty, and sad to watch as well”.

He said he has also seen many incidents in which officers have grabbed young women and pulled their tops up to expose their breasts, which he said “looked deliberate”.

He said: “I think there are a lot of tactics going on to stop people going to the protests, to scare people away.”

And Sheldrick said he had seen similar tactics being used by police forces on other protests, as he has watched them live online.

One of the disabled people mentioned most often by protesters when asked about police targeting is Liz Beck, from nearby Manchester.

She told DNS that she had been thrown or fallen to the ground at least 30 times at Preston New Road, although she also broke her collarbone after an incident at the Horse Hill fracking site in Surrey, footage of which DNS has watched.

On every one of these occasions, Beck was carrying her walking-stick.

In one piece of footage shot by a protester at Preston New Road and also seen by DNS, Beck can be seen being pushed by a police officer and falling to the ground. The officer then picks her up and drags her across the floor.

On her return to Preston New Road after the Horse Hill incident, her arm was in a sling, but that was no protection.

They would target it,” she said. “They would deliberately grab it and pull me by that arm.”

She added: “I have been pushed to the ground, I have been rugby tackled, I have been thrown to the ground, I have been slung round, thrown to the ground and [had an officer’s] knee in my back.”

Sometimes she falls because she has been pushed or shoved by police officers; on other occasions she has lost her balance while in a crowd being manoeuvred by officers.

She has also been pushed into hedges at the side of the road, and on one occasion was pushed from the road and then pushed again so she rolled down to the bottom of a steep bank.

She said: “They will either grab you or pinch you or pull you round. I’m unstable, so I go over.

They seem to go for the weaker ones so other people will start getting angry, because everybody is peacefully protesting.

They want people to be violent because then they know what to do, so when it’s peaceful they will make it violent.

They want us to go away quietly, but we have done nothing wrong apart from protest.

A lot of people were scared to come up because of the police… because of the way police are, but it just makes you more angry. It’s denying people’s right to peacefully protest.”

Miranda Cox is a member of the town council for Kirkham, a couple of miles from the Preston New Road fracking site.

She needed an operation after tearing cartilage in her knee at the beginning of last year after police contained a group of protesters and then pushed against them.

This year, she received a substantial cut to her arm after she was “lifted up and thrown” onto the road by a police officer.

She said: “We have had people knocked unconscious, broken shoulders, broken wrists.

I have witnessed a number of incidents with people who are very obviously disabled people.”

These include repeated incidents involving Sheldrick, Allen and Beck.

She said: “I have seen Liz [Beck] knocked to the floor several times and I have seen another friend who uses a wheelchair [Sheldrick] tipped to the floor.

I have spoken to another lady wheelchair-user who narrowly avoided being tipped.”

She said: “I can’t say for certain that those people are targeted but it does seem a bit bizarre to me that someone could be tipped six times from their chair if they are not targeted.

Every occasion [Sheldrick] has been right next to me and I have seen what’s happened and there’s a clear manoeuvre that tips him forwards or backwards or sideways.

I have asked if [targeting disabled people] was a tactic and they deny it.”

She is another who believes the targeting of those seen as more vulnerable is a deliberate ploy to undermine the morale and determination of protesters.

She said: “It is completely unsafe. The police will say the only reasons they are present at PNR is for our safety, but at the same minute you’re being rugby tackled to the floor or tipped out of your wheelchair.

I think their tactics are to get the industry wagons through the gates at any cost and they justify it by saying it’s for our safety, but it’s not. It’s a very dangerous game they are playing.”

Cox and another local councillor, along with residents and protesters, formally withdrew from monthly meetings with the police last month when they realised the force was “not even paying lip service” to their complaints.

None of the complaints that she and others have lodged with the force – to her knowledge – have been upheld.

She believes – as do fellow protesters – that police forces across the country are now using the anti-fracking protests as a means of training officers, developing a template to use on other protests.

She said: “We have conversations like this all the time. When I look at patterns of police behaviour at different anti-fracking sites, they seem to follow a similar sort of pattern.

You can almost predict what is going to happen.”

Another piece of footage shot by protesters, and reported by the Independent last year, shows a disabled member of the Green party, 85-year-old Anne Power, being dragged across a road by police officers while protesting peacefully outside another fracking site, at Little Plumpton, also in Lancashire.

DNS has also spoken to Nina Tailor, from Gathering Place Films (GPF), which has been filming anti-fracking protests around the country for more than five years.

She said she has grown increasingly surprised by the police behaviour GPF has observed at anti-fracking protests across the country, including the way officers appear to be targeting disabled and older protesters, and women.

DNS has seen some of the footage she has shot and collected from protesters for a film GPF is making, Frack It and See, about fracking in the UK.

Kevin Blowe, coordinator for the Network for Police Monitoring (NETPOL), believes the police are targeting protesters perceived as vulnerable, including disabled people.

He believes this is happening partly to “scare people away” but also to try to provoke a reaction from other protesters, so the police then have an excuse to arrest them.

He said: “It’s surprising how many people who have disabilities and who have been prepared to step up seem to be the ones who end up being targeted.

There does seem to be a pattern of people with disabilities being amongst those who are targeted. People on the ground… are saying it’s deliberate.”

NETPOL, which monitors and resists excessive, intimidating or violent policing, is now hoping to encourage some of those protesters who have been injured – including disabled people – to launch legal actions against the police.

Blowe is convinced that police forces are rolling out the tactics from one anti-fracking protest to the next, usually starting with the intention of “facilitating” the protest but soon descending into a “zero tolerance” approach to any form of disruption, even though the protests are peaceful.

NETPOL will be publishing a series of short films about anti-fracking protests, with one on police targeting of protesters published online today.

He said: “Police have been able to get away with things that would horrify most people [because of the rural locations of the anti-fracking protests]… because largely these things are going unreported, partly because it’s not happening in front of all the cameras in central London.”

He is surprised there has not yet been a fatality in any of the anti-fracking protests, and he added: “I know there have been some near misses.”

The danger, he said, is that with disabled people being targeted “you have got to worry that at some point something really terrible is going to happen”.

The evidence of protesters from Preston New Road, and other anti-fracking protests, are backed up by two reports.

Last year, in Protecting the Planet is not a Crime, NETPOL described seeing evidence – particularly from Lancashire – “of police officers pushing people into hedges, knocking campaigners unconscious, violently dragging older people across the road and shoving others into speeding traffic”.

The report added: “We had also heard about the targeting of disabled protesters (including repeatedly tipping a wheelchair user from his chair) and officers using painful pressure point restraint techniques.”

And in March 2016, academics at Liverpool John Moores University and the University of York looked at the policing of the Barton Moss anti-fracking protest camp in their report Keep Moving!

They told how protesters described “the provocative targeting of some of the camp’s more ‘vulnerable’ members, including young, elderly and disabled protesters, and women”, which they were told appeared to stem from “a more systemic tactical approach”.

DNS put a series of questions to Lancashire police shortly after 5.30pm on Monday – including whether it accepted that it had been targeting disabled protesters, and whether it had guidance for dealing with disabled people at protests – but the force had failed to answer the questions by noon today (Thursday).

But a force spokesman said in a statement: “Our intention is to ensure a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to lawfully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.

We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but if it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response.”

13 December 2018

 

 

Police targeting of disabled protesters is ‘an outrage and a scandal… and it’s set to spread’

The targeting by police of disabled people involved in peaceful anti-fracking protests is an “absolute outrage” and “a scandal”, but such tactics will soon be rolled out to other protests and other parts of the country, a leading activist has warned.

Andy Greene, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), spoke out as Disability News Service (DNS) revealed “extremely disturbing” evidence that police forces in England have been repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in the protests (see separate story).

Some of the most serious concerns reported this week relate to the actions of officers from Lancashire police in dealing with peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla near Preston New Road, on the edge of Blackpool.

Greene, a veteran of numerous peaceful anti-austerity street protests with DPAC, said the evidence reported by DNS was “extremely disturbing” and the police behaviour “an absolute outrage”.

DNS has seen video footage of a string of incidents in which disabled campaigners taking part in peaceful protests have been injured, manhandled or put at risk of injury by police officers.

It has also spoken to three disabled protesters, and two other eye-witnesses, who have all experienced or witnessed serious and repeated incidents of police brutality targeted at disabled people.

There are now fears that forces across the country that have policed anti-fracking protests are developing a tactics “template” that can be used to target disabled people taking part in other peaceful protests, such as those organised by the anti-cuts and climate change movements.

Greene said: “It is an absolute outrage and a scandal that [police officers] are not just perpetrating this but getting away with it on a daily basis now.

It isn’t an isolated incident, it isn’t a one-off, this isn’t one force, this is an escalation over a period of time with a clear direction of travel and involves many, many forces and it’s clear that there is a bigger strategy out there.”

He said he had seen an “escalation” and a “clear direction of travel” in police tactics since the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe, in Sussex, in the summer of 2013.

He said he had been disturbed by what he had seen at Balcombe, but that there had since been a “scale up” of such tactics with the policing of the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, near Manchester, in late 2013 and early 2014, while what was being seen at Preston New Road was “an escalation again from Barton Moss”.

Greene said: “The on-the-ground tactics are becoming more physical, they’re becoming more confrontational, more provoking, and I think there is a real strategy behind that.”

He said he now expected these police tactics to be “rolled out across the protest movement” over the next year as the country sees a likely increase in political volatility around issues such as anti-fracking, anti-austerity and Brexit.

He said he believed it was “only a matter of time” before the tactics being applied to disabled people at Preston New Road were seen on the streets of London.

He said: “I think they are very careful about where they do it and more particularly where they don’t do it at the moment.”

He believes the police have been using the rural locations of anti-fracking protests as a training ground and “the gloves will come off” in London once they are more confident about their ability to translate what they have learned to “bigger scale” protests in London.

Greene said the barriers facing disabled people attempting to have their voices heard in anti-fracking protests reflect the discrimination they face in other areas of political activity.

Party political activity is often not accessible, while voting is not accessible and polling booths are “an absolute national scandal”, he said.

He said: “If it was any other community that was shut out of having their political voice heard like this there would be complete and utter uproar.”

But he said disabled people had become “more confident, more angry” in the last few years, and had become “more present” in anti-fracking, anti-austerity and other protest movements.

He said: “What we want to see now is an end to this, we want to see people being facilitated to protest, being supported to protest, to demonstrate, to have their political voice heard.

What shouldn’t be happening is state institutions using violence and other means to exclude disabled people from getting involved in political discourse.”

But he urged disabled people not to be put off by what they were hearing of police tactics.

He said: “I would absolutely say that they have to meet this challenge head on, in the same way that they have met previous challenges, whether it is the independent living movement, whether it is anti-austerity.

I think we have to confront this and not be cowed. I think we have to challenge what is going on and bring it into the light, and I think we have to fight back against it.

This should be something that makes us shout louder and be more persistent about what we want.”

Greene said there needed to be “a bigger conversation with the anti-fracking movement about how we deal with this” as well as “a show of support” for those disabled activists who have been targeted.

He said protest movements needed to work together with organisations like NETPOL, which monitors and resists excessive, intimidating or violent policing, to “develop some form of plan for supporting ourselves to deal with this and push back against it”.

13 December 2018

 

 

Mixed response to government’s plans to improve access to air travel

A trio of disabled peers who have all been fierce critics of the discrimination faced by disabled air passengers have delivered a mixed response to the government’s proposed new “passenger charter”.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Friday (7 December) that a planned consultation on a new aviation strategy, expected by the end of the year, would include plans for the new charter.

A draft version of the charter, seen by Disability News Service (DNS), includes a series of proposals aimed at improving the way disabled passengers and others with reduced mobility are treated by the air travel industry.

The government’s announcement came just days after the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell called on the government to start handing out “heavy fines” to the air travel industry when it failed to ensure its services were accessible to disabled passengers.

Another disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told peers last week how she had been left in tears after being dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall while airport staff tried to find her wheelchair following a flight from Heathrow to Madrid.

The draft charter includes a plan to remove limits imposed on the compensation paid when a wheelchair is damaged during a flight; and stronger enforcement powers for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which will allow it to fine airlines and other parts of the industry that breach access regulations.

There are also proposals to improve the way wheelchairs are stored during flights; to raise awareness among disabled people of airport assistance services; and to tighten standards on how long passengers should wait for their wheelchairs at the end of a flight.

If the draft charter was adopted, it would also mean airlines having to make “all reasonable efforts to arrange seating to meet the needs of disabled passengers”, while some new and refurbished aeroplanes would have to include at least one accessible toilet.

In addition to the passenger charter, the government is to support a working group from the industry, which will include wheelchair manufacturers, disability representatives and the CAA, to achieve the “longer term goal” of creating a system that will allow disabled passengers to “travel safely in their own wheelchairs in the aircraft cabin”.

But the president of the Liberal Democrats, the disabled peer Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told DNS that the charter proposals did not go far enough.

She said: “A charter places very little obligation on either the carriers or the airports to deliver.

This means that the disabled traveller will have very little recourse when things go wrong. 

Baroness Sugg [the aviation minister] talked about fines for carriers and airports that fail to deliver but we haven’t yet seen how easy it will be for complaints to be made and judgements passed that actually result in fines.

The record on fines for train operating companies missing their targets has been woeful. 

A charter will not be enough to change the culture and practice that results in disabled passengers being let down time after time, being treated as a piece of luggage and trapped in disabled ghettos. 

We need more: we need clear standards which if missed give disabled passengers the equivalent of a delay repay* when trains are late, as well as large fines for carriers and airports if they miss wider accessibility targets.”

She added: “This government is very fond of codes and charters which sound great but actually don’t change anything for the consumer because they have no teeth.

We have the same problem with the Victims Code, which sounds lovely but there is no duty on the agencies (police, criminal justice system, councils) to actually deliver it. So they don’t.” 

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell was more optimistic.

Although she has not yet been able to examine the charter, because of the Brexit debate occupying both houses of parliament, she said it appeared to be “quite a big leap for the industry and realistically that’s all that can be achieved in the short term (the coming year)”.

But she said industry members had now recognised that they “must up their game significantly to address the increasing flow of criticism, otherwise the bad publicity will accelerate dissatisfaction from the public at large, which in turn will damage their business, economically and image wise”.

She told DNS: “I am hoping in the slightly longer term, the industry will address what we know from experience will be continuing discrimination with stronger regulations and fines.

Because if they don’t, the campaign will just increase and eventually hurt them.”

After speaking to Chris Wood, the father of two disabled sons and founder of the campaign Disabled Flying, she said she believed it was necessary to capitalise on the apparent willingness of some parts of the industry to introduce a way to allow wheelchair-users to travel on aeroplanes in their own wheelchairs.

And she said it was crucial that disabled people were “centrally involved” in “developing the design of the reasonable adjustments and advising on the service delivery as a whole, so that it is fit for everyone and discriminates against no-one”, and that it was time to demand “more co-production”.

She suggested that disabled people should join Wood’s campaign in the absence of a successful disabled-led alternative, as he had been a “fantastic” ally to disabled people.

Another crossbench disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, said removing limits on compensation for damaged wheelchairs would be “a step forward” and would “make some airlines think a bit”.

She also said that the working group would mean that some disabled people who are currently “completely excluded” from flying might have an opportunity to do so, which she said “feels like an open door”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said there still needed to be better recognition that disabled people face “discrimination and poor treatment”, with too many passengers given the impression that their experiences are only one-offs.

She said: “I think the charter is a step forward. It should be easier to sort out the problems disabled people face.

They shouldn’t have such bad experiences and be made to feel that they are an inconvenience.”

A spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “It is encouraging to see the government putting a major focus on the flying experience of disabled people, especially following the widely reported and unacceptable failures that have occurred in this space.

These recommendations are a positive step towards tackling discrimination against disabled passengers.”

Nusrat Ghani, the DfT accessibility minister, said: “We need to address the fact that 57 per cent of disabled passengers say they find flying and using airports difficult.

That’s why our proposed passenger charter includes measures designed to make real changes that will improve the accessibility of flying, building on the ambitions set out in our Inclusive Transport Strategy earlier this year.

We are committed to continuing the progress the industry has already made in making the aviation network truly open to all.”

*The national rail compensation scheme for unexpected delays and cancellations

13 December 2018

 

 

Ideas to replace WCA with new assessment framework win some support

Disabled activists have delivered a generally positive response to fresh ideas on how to replace the hated fitness for work test with a new assessment framework that would restore “dignity and respect” to those unable to work full-time.

The ideas were presented by disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale at a meeting attended by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood, and Marsha de Cordova, the party’s shadow minister for disabled people.

Last month’s was the second in an ongoing series of meetings – focused on the work capability assessment (WCA) – between senior figures in the party and some of the disabled activists who have played a key role in exposing the harm caused by the government’s social security cuts and reforms.

Hale, lead researcher and project manager of the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project (CIIP), and a member of the Spartacus Network, presented some of the ideas she has been working on with fellow Spartacus and CIIP researcher Stef Benstead*.

Hale fears that if disabled people do not come up with their own model to replace the hated WCA then something will be imposed on them.

She said after the meeting: “If we have to have assessments, I’d rather we designed them and achieved a consensus among ourselves.

Some will say to hell with assessments, or just get doctors to sign us off as not fit for work, but I think both those positions are naive.”

Any new assessment framework should have four key principles if it is to restore the human rights of disabled people, she says, in a blog subsequently posted on her website**, which was based on her presentation at the meeting.

She says such a system should overturn the ideology behind the “hostile environment” created by the government’s social security reforms and restore “dignity and respect” to disabled people; it should change the relationship between work and health; it must empower disabled people; and it should provide an “adequate and secure” baseline standard of living.

Hale says that Labour must now commit to removing the “adversarial stance running through all DWP’s assessment systems” which cast disabled people as “guilty until proven innocent”.

A Labour government would also need to work to “bring about culture change” within DWP, and “eliminate conditionality and sanctions as a punitive tool for getting disabled people into work”.

Compliance interviews, benefit fraud hotlines and “other instruments of intimidation and suspicion” must all be eliminated, she says, as must the outsourcing of assessments to private contractors.

She also calls for a new “parity of esteem” between paid work and unpaid work such as caring, volunteering, peer support, and self-care, while she says the NHS should never view whether someone is in work as an indicator of health or recovery.

The government should also bring in disabled people to develop new assessment criteria, which should test how disabled people are disadvantaged by both barriers in the labour market and their impairments, says Hale.

Reaction from disabled activists to Hale’s presentation, most of who were at the meeting, has been generally positive, although neither Greenwood or de Cordova were able to comment this week.

The WOWcampaign, which was represented at the meeting, said Hale’s presentation “was very much in line with the thinking of the WOWcampaign, especially in proposing the ending of the hostile environment (sanctions and conditionality) and stating that the purpose of any assessment must be to empower and enable disabled people”.

But a WOW spokesman added: “As stated at the roundtable, WOWcampaign’s concern is that the focus is on the ability of the disabled person seeking work and not on the structural discrimination, prejudice and exclusion that has not only continued but increased in the workplace over the terms of the last two governments.

There is absolutely no point in disabled people going away and preparing for work if there is and will never be any appropriate work out there for them.”

Disability Labour said it was “very impressed” by Hale’s presentation.

Wayne Blackburn, co-chair of Disability Labour, who was present at the meeting, said: “We completely agree that disabled people should not be treated as guilty until proven innocent; our knowledge of our own conditions and how they affect us must be believed and respected.

There has to be a fundamental culture change within DWP; the negative attitudes and unconscious bias must end.”

Fellow co-chair Fran Springfield, who also attended the meeting, said she supported Hale’s position that paid work was not the only route to social participation, was often not the most appropriate route for disabled people, and must never be damaging to health and wellbeing or used as an indicator of health or recovery.

Springfield said: “Bringing back DWP assessments in-house, as a Labour government will do, is so important.

Disabled people should never be abused to provide shareholder profit.

I believe what is absolutely vital is integrating assessments of care and support needs into the assessment of work capability.

Supporting us with independent living would make a huge difference to those of us who are able to work or volunteer.”

And she said that providing a secure baseline income was “an essential element of our human rights”, as was “understanding and accepting that some people will never be well enough or able to volunteer or work”.

She and Blackburn said Disability Labour was working on how such ideas could be implemented and “look forward to being able to integrate that into the work that John McDonnell’s team is already doing”.

Gail Ward, from Black Triangle, said Hale and Benstead had “put forward good arguments for replacement of the WCA”, although she said that Black Triangle had “grave reservations” about Benstead’s suggestion that occupational therapists should be closely involved in a new assessment process.

John McArdle, also from Black Triangle, said Hale had “brought forward many excellent ideas”.

He said that any incoming government would “have to go at least as far as the Scottish government and consult with disabled people themselves and not those who purport to represent them”.

He added: “Paramount in that exercise would be to engage and consult widely with individual disabled people themselves in a sincere effort to discover what would constitute a new social security system worthy of calling itself one which places dignity and respect at the very heart of the system, while complying with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Recovery in the Bin, said it was “very early days” and the ideas should be seen as “exploring possibilities” rather than drafting plans for a new assessment process.

He also stressed that there should be legislation to address the barriers faced by disabled people in the labour market, rather than attempting to address the discrimination they faced solely through social security reforms.

He also said the ideological push to see work as a “cure” must not act as an excuse to reduce income or support provided by social security or the social care system. 

He said: “Catherine and Stef’s work is helpful to add to the all the ideas and ways of thinking we have to engage in.

Overall, what I think is important is that Labour/a new government draws up social security reform in co-production with disabled people and service users primarily and not allow corporations, charities or the medical establishment to lead it.”

Burgess said he believed disabled people should not look to replace only the WCA and benefits such as personal independence payment, but instead “replace the entire relationship between the state and disabled people which has been a hostile one for so long”. 

Bob Ellard, a member of the DPAC national steering group, was more critical.

He said he did not agree with the principles of Hale’s paper because the ideas centred on the link between social security and work inequality, “and that link needs to be broken”.

He said that a fair incapacity benefit system would have to remove that link and be based purely on need, with the government then tackling issues such as “workplace discrimination, access to transport, education and training and other issues that are barriers to disabled people gaining good quality work”.

But he added: “In terms of short-term measures that Labour could take pending a redesign of social security there are some good things in there, but I don’t view it as a model for a long-term replacement.”

*Benstead has previously produced a series of reports on replacing ESA for the thinktank Ekklesia

**Comments on the ideas can be posted on her website

13 December 2018

 

 

Fresh Motability criticism after watchdog’s report

The company that runs the Motability car scheme and the charity that oversees its work are facing fresh criticism from disabled campaigners, following a watchdog’s report that criticises the company’s huge financial reserves and excessive profits and executive pay.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report concludes that the Motability scheme has delivered “excellent service” and “remarkable satisfaction levels” (99 per cent in 2017-18) among its more than 600,000 customers.

But it also says that the scheme has generated “substantial cash surpluses”, while Motability Operations – the company that runs the scheme – has failed to disclose more than £1.5 million in bonuses that were due to be paid to its chief executive, Mike Betts.

It also reports that five Motability Operations executive directors received more than £15 million in bonuses between them in just seven years. In 2016-17, Betts himself received a total financial package of £1.7 million, including his salary and bonuses.

NAO found that Motability Operations had £2.62 billion in its reserves in March 2018 and that it had made £2.19 billion in profits between 2007-08 and 2016-17, more than £1 billion higher than it had forecasted.

And it says that underestimating the value of used cars meant that disabled customers have been charged £390 million more than was required in their lease agreements to cover the costs of depreciation.

But NAO also warns that it is not clear if the Motability charity*, which oversees the work of Motability Operations, could absorb the scale of the extra donations it has received from the company – including an extra £400 million donation in September – as a result of its unplanned profits “in a way that can maximise its effectiveness”.

Motability Operations had previously donated £345 million to the charity between 2010 and 2017.

NAO’s recommendations include a series of reviews to be carried out by Motability, Motability Operations and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The report also raises concerns about the diversity of Motability’s board of governors, and how long some of them have been in post, with four current governors who have each served for more than 16 years.

There is also not a single black and minority ethnic governor, and just one woman among the charity’s 11 governors.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said DPAC had started raising concerns about the bonuses paid to Betts several years ago, as well as about the level of reserves held in the charity’s Motability Tenth Anniversary Trust.

In 2014, the charity introduced new rules which restricted the grants made from its Specialised Vehicle Fund (SVF) to disabled people with high support needs, which mean that only disabled people who spend more than 12 hours-a-week in education, work, volunteering or caring can qualify for grants that enable them to lease a drive-from-wheelchair vehicle.

Burnip said: “There can be no reason, given the billions in [Motability Operations] reserves, for any disabled person to be refused a grant for a drive-from wheelchair or internal transfer vehicle.

It is blatant discrimination to restrict access to such vehicles which disabled people with the highest support needs require to enhance their independence.”

Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOWcampaign but speaking personally as a Motability customer, said: “Motability Operations has collected and hoarded £2.62 billion (March 2018) of disabled people’s money, which was paid on the understanding it was to cover costs.

Motability Operations has paid its directors millions of pounds of money collected from disabled people in bonuses, for hitting performance targets described by the National Audit Office as ‘easily exceeded since 2008’.”

He said that Motability Operations, which states that all its profits are reinvested into the scheme, had instead effectively paid “dividends” of £745 million to the charity over the last eight years, payments which “grossly exceed the charity’s annual running costs”.

He said: “I am very worried that the above items may tend to bring the Motability charity into disrepute and call on the Charity Commission to immediately launch an investigation to reassure disabled people and the public at large that disabled people’s money is being spent responsibly and not misappropriated by ‘fat cats’ working for and controlling Motability Operations.”

Graham Footer, chief executive of Disabled Motoring UK, said: “Many of our charity’s members are on the Motability scheme and have been for a number of years.

While the scheme provides an essential lifeline to these individuals, we believe that Motability could make better use of its surpluses to not only improve the scheme for its customers but alleviate many of the problems they face on a daily basis as disabled motorists.

We look forward to working with Motability in the future to fully implement the recommendations of the National Audit Office.” 

Lord Sterling, who co-founded the Motability scheme in 1977 and now chairs the charity, said it had accepted all NAO’s recommendations, including the need for a review of the level of reserves held by Motability Operations.

But he said the suggestion that customers were charged more than was required to cover the leasing costs was “open to further debate” because its customers pay “45 per cent less than the market rate for their vehicles, in addition to the support, insurance and vehicle enhancements that we offer”.

He said that “every penny, surplus to sustainability and to this excellent price and service, goes to help enhance the lives of our disabled customers and their families”.

He added: “The scheme has cumulatively delivered five million vehicles, many heavily adapted, putting millions of disabled people and their families on ‘the road to freedom’.

I am very glad that Sir Amyas Morse, the comptroller and auditor general at the National Audit Office, has personally commended the excellence of our service and quality of our management.

That praise, of course, is due to the wonderful dedication of all those employed at both Motability and Motability Operations.”

Motability declined to comment on or answer any further concerns or questions this week, including what impact the NAO report might have on how much disabled customers pay for their Motability vehicles and the service they receive, although it said there were exceptions to the SVF rules.

A spokeswoman said the charity would not be issuing further comments ahead of a new inquiry to be held by MPs in the new year.

Motability Operations welcomed the NAO report and said it was “proud that it has acknowledged the impressive performance of the company, and the excellent service it offers to 625,000 disabled people and their families”.

In response to the report, it said it would improve its reporting of executive pay and bonuses and review its approach to forecasting.

It will also develop, with the charity, a 10-year plan for how profits are re-invested or donated and will work with the charity to support an independent review of reserves.

Motability Operations also announced that Betts would step down as chief executive by May 2020.

The Commons work and pensions and Treasury committees will be holding a fresh inquiry into the Motability scheme in the new year.

Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the work and pensions committee, said – in a letter to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd – that the NAO report made for “grim reading”.

He said the “value of the scheme cannot be allowed to blind us to serious concerns about its governance – not least the unjustifiably high levels of executive pay and the colossal financial reserves built up by Motability Operations”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We asked the NAO to investigate and are grateful for the valuable insight provided, which strengthens our concerns regarding Motability Operation’s financial model.

We agree with the NAO’s finding that the Motability scheme provides an excellent service.

To ensure that the scheme is focused on delivering better value for money we are committed to working with the charity and key stakeholders so that current and future arrangements result in improved outcomes for disabled people.”

*The Motability charity is a Disability News Service subscriber

13 December 2018

 

 

PIP announcement should mean more claimants are spared reassessments

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has announced measures that should mean fewer disabled people are forced to undergo unnecessary benefit reassessments.

Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, announced in June that new claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) with the “most severe, lifelong conditions” who were awarded the highest level of support and whose needs were not expected to decrease would only receive a “light touch” review of their award every 10 years.

Rudd said this week that this measure would be extended to existing PIP claimants.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said this was to “ensure that for disabled people who need extra support, the system is designed to be as seamless as possible while minimising any unnecessary stress or bureaucracy”.

Guidance for PIP case managers on which new PIP claimants will qualify for the “light touch” review and an “ongoing” award was published quietly by DWP in August.

The guidance does not mention any particular conditions.

Instead, it says such an award should be made if “the claimant’s restrictions on Daily Living and/or Mobility are stable and unlikely to change significantly or they have very high levels of needs which will only deteriorate” or if “the claimant is awarded enhanced/enhanced and their needs are not going to improve or would only deteriorate”.

Newton’s announcement in June was seen by some as another move back towards disability living allowance (DLA), the benefit PIP is replacing for working-age claimants.

One of the key reasons that ministers gave for introducing PIP was that DLA supposedly allowed claimants to secure unchecked “welfare for life” because of the lack of repeat assessments.

Esther McVey, who quit as work and pensions secretary last month, made the claim herself five years ago in a bid to justify the introduction of PIP and proposed cuts of 20 per cent.

But Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, said in June that people were placed on lifetime DLA awards “for very good reasons” and all the government had done by introducing PIP and its frequent reassessments in 2013 was to “create extra costs for themselves”.

She said that the “light touch” announcement showed the government had spent years and wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on its PIP reforms, while exposing people to assessments that were “very oppressive and upsetting”.

This week, one disabled people’s organisation, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), suggested that Rudd’s announcement should be treated “very cautiously”.

BuDS said that 18 per cent of PIP claimants already receive lifetime awards, and it added: “The chances are that this announcement will make very little difference for most people.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The guidance change has not been in place long enough for us to provide estimates of how many people may gain.”

13 December 2018

 

 

Disabled facilities grants need fresh approach and fairer formula, says review

The government should implement major changes to the scheme that provides funding for disabled people in England to make access improvements to their homes, according to an independent review.

Among the suggested improvements, the review says the government should increase the upper limit on disabled facilities grants (DFGs) from £30,000, although only in line with inflation.

It also suggests renaming the grant as part of a national awareness-raising campaign, with a new name that is “up to date and easily recognisable”; producing a fairer and more transparent funding formula; and introducing a national accreditation scheme for builders and tradespeople carrying out adaptations.

In October’s budget, the chancellor announced another £55 million in funding for DFGs for 2018-19, following a previous decision to increase funding for DFGs from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.

But the review points out that, although the government has already more than doubled DFG funding in recent years, the contribution of local authorities has fallen, which has meant the number of homes adapted – at least until 2016-17 – “has not significantly increased”.

The review, Disabled Facilities Grant and Other Adaptations, says the DFG is “often seen as simply providing level access showers, stair lifts and ramps”.

Instead, the review suggests, there should be “a fresh approach that is all-encompassing and creates a home environment that enables disabled people to live a full life”.

It adds: “Districts and counties, housing and social care, occupational therapists and grants officers will need to work together to establish person-centred services that meet a disabled person’s needs in a more preventative, holistic and timely way.”

The review says the way the DFG system is delivered varies widely across different areas, and it makes recommendations for improvements, including the need to bring together occupational therapists and housing staff into single integrated teams, which is already happening in some areas and will “simplify and speed up customer journeys”.

Among other recommendations, the review says that housing and health partnership boards should be set up in every part of England to have responsibility for meeting the housing needs of disabled and older people in their area and maximise the impact of DFGs.

The review was commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health and Social Care and was carried out by the University of the West of England; Foundations, the national body for home improvement agencies; the Building Research Establishment; and Ferret Information Systems.

The government said it was “carefully considering the findings”.

13 December 2018

 

 

Stars add support to bid to transform access for disabled musicians

A user-led music charity has launched a major survey of disabled musicians in a bid to push for improvements to the accessibility of performing, rehearsing and recording spaces.

Attitude is Everything’s (AiE) NEXT STAGE project has already secured the support of leading disabled musicians such as Blaine Harrison of Mystery Jets, singer-songwriter and violinist Gaelynn Lea, Kris Halpin from Winter of ’82, and Rob Maddison from Revenge of Calculon.

AiE is now looking for disabled and Deaf musicians to take part in the nationwide survey and provide information about their own experiences of rehearsing, recording, playing live, attending industry events and applying for arts funding.

The charity has previously focused on improving accessibility for disabled people who attend festivals and live music gigs, but its new project aims to support the music industry to develop inclusive spaces for performing live, recording, networking and pursuing a career in music.

AiE hopes to use the survey results to develop a comprehensive network of disabled artists, musicians, songwriters and DJs.

Suzanne Bull, AiE’s chief executive, said: “We have spent almost 20 years working for disabled audiences and now, with support from Arts Council England, we want to improve accessibility for disabled artists. 

This process will not be easy. The challenges facing Deaf and disabled people are often hidden, and rarely discussed publicly. There are a range of stigmas and sensibilities.

So our first goal is to collect information through a comprehensive and wide-reaching survey. 

By paying attention to artists’ voices, I believe we can build a thriving network of talent that will enhance British music and benefit all in the wider music community.” 

Harrison, an AiE patron, said that “hearing the experiences and voices of disabled artists will hugely diversify and enrich the music industry of tomorrow”.

He said: “Since we started out playing shows there has been a huge shift in the music industry’s attitude towards deaf and disabled audiences.

It’s been so inspiring to see live-signing catching on at gigs and festivals, not to mention how popular viewing platforms have become.

And when you’re up there it’s not hard to see why. The atmosphere is one of shared joy; reminding us that the live music experience is one we can all participate in. 

But backstage, it’s often another story. Dressing rooms can be tucked away up steep flights of stairs in the eaves of the building; if there are lifts they are often made for hauling heavy equipment and not safe to ride in unattended.

For artists requiring some alone time to mentally prepare for the pressures of a performance, the back of the van in the car park can sometimes be the closest thing to a safe space.”

Halpin said: “We often see commitment from venues to improve access for disabled audience members, but often backstage it’s as if no-one ever considered the existence of disabled people.”

Maddison added: Whilst on tour, disabled artists often encounter huge problems in terms of accessible transport and accommodation, the last thing we need is to arrive at the venue we’re booked to perform at only to find out that it is totally inaccessible as well.

All of these barriers inevitably result in a situation where disabled artists feel excluded from playing live, and the knock-on effect is that you rarely see any high-profile disabled artists in the music industry as a whole.

Tomorrow (14 December), at Cafe OTO, AiE is co-promoting the accessible London date of Gaelynn Lea’s UK tour in support of her new album, Learning How To Stay. There will be a question and answer discussion before the performance on accessibility and live music with Gaelynn Lea and Suzanne Bull, moderated by BBC’s Nicola Stanbridge

13 December 2018

 

 

Energy efficiency policy sidelines disabled people, says report

Much more needs to be done to ensure that disabled people and other groups in fuel poverty can benefit from energy efficiency schemes, according to a new report.

The report says that disabled people often have higher energy demands, because of factors such as health-related needs to keep warm and the electricity needed to use equipment such as nebulisers, stair lifts and hoists, and to charge wheelchairs.

The report, published by the UK Energy Research Centre, University of York, and ACE Research, says this can lead to both higher energy costs and a greater risk of harm if energy supplies are disconnected.

The report says current policy is focused too much on targets and providing work to improve the energy efficiency of homes – such as installing cavity wall insulation and replacing inefficient boilers – at the lowest possible cost.

Because disabled people often live in the poorest quality homes and need extra support through the installation process, they are often side-lined by those providing schemes such as the government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) energy efficiency programme.

They also face other barriers, such as problems caused by the disruption of the energy supply while installation is taking place, the inaccessibility of the application process and the difficulty of carrying out preparatory work, such as clearing a loft space.

There are also “high levels of mistrust” of the energy sector.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for the government to reinstate a taxpayer-funded scheme in England, where there has been no such programme since the demise of Warm Front in 2013, even though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all operate such schemes.

It calls for investment in energy efficiency support in England to be “brought up to par with the devolved nations with the reintroduction of a tax-payer funded energy efficiency scheme”.

It also concludes that “the trustworthiness of energy efficiency programmes needs to be improved, most notably in England”.

As well as the report, Policy Pathways to Justice in Energy Efficiency, the two-year research project has also published a guide for those working in the sector on supporting disabled people, Supporting Fuel Poor Disabled People Through Energy Efficiency Measures.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which helped deliver the project, said the research showed how current policy was “overly focused on targets and low-cost provision to the exclusion of the people living in fuel poor homes”.

It said the research also shows how households in need are “difficult to find, that they do not receive adequate information that is accessible and from a trusted source, and how their needs are not always taken into consideration during the installation process”.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said that delivery of energy efficiency policy was “variable and patchy”, and there was “a lack of knowledge and awareness of the specific needs of disabled people”.

She said that 30 per cent of families living in poverty contain a disabled person and are at particular risk of experiencing fuel poverty.

She said: “Too often fuel poverty is thought of as an issue that only impacts older disabled people, but the reality is that fuel poverty blights the lives of disabled people of any age: from children, to adults of working age, to older people.

The effects of fuel poverty can penetrate deep into everyday life and exacerbate existing impairments and health conditions.”

Dr Joanne Wade, chief executive of ACE, said: “In short, the needs of older people – important though they undoubtedly are – have been prioritised above those of people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, and those of families with young children.

All these groups are vulnerable to the ill-effects of cold homes, and many people within them also have greater than average needs for energy services.

We have to stop ignoring people who don’t always have the loudest voices; we have to stop avoiding people who are harder to engage, or more expensive and more difficult to help than others.”

13 December 2018

 

 

New DWP employment scheme could support 10,000 disabled people

The new work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, has announced details of a new voluntary programme for disabled people who are long-term unemployed.

The programme aims to provide “highly personalised packages of employment support for people who are at least a year away from moving into work”, with the target of supporting 10,000 disabled people over four years.

Those on the scheme will receive coaching to “build their independence, confidence and motivation, as well as work experience to help boost their career prospects”.

The scheme will be rolled out across England and Wales in 2019, providing support for up to 21 months, including six months of in-work support for those who secure a job.

Rudd said: “Everyone, no matter what their background is, should have the opportunity to thrive in the workplace, and having the right support in place for disabled people is one of my greatest priorities.

To truly help people transform their lives, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach.

That’s why this new programme is designed to offer people, who may think they will never move into work, tailored support to help them overcome any personal barriers they may have in the first instance, and then to focus on boosting their skills.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the £40 million funding for the scheme – to be spread over four years – had not come from the cuts of nearly £30-a-week in payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), a measure that was introduced last year.

The government has predicted that it will save an estimated £450 million a year from the WRAG cuts by 2020-21 and has said it will invest a total of £330 million of those savings over four years from April 2017 in employment support for those affected.

But a DWP spokeswoman said: “The funding in the business case is from the DWP baseline and not part of the £330 million relating to employment support and WRAG removal.”

13 December 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:17
Dec 122018
 

Ofsted, the schools inspection service have been concerned in recent months at data suggesting some pupils have been moved off the school register and removed from their school. Disabled pupils and those described as having special educational needs, are more likely to be subject to this practice, called “ off-rolled” This happened to one young person Pat (not the real name) who was recently off- rolled from a, state funded, secondary school in Greater Manchester. Pat is 14, has a diagnosis of Autism, also has the protection of an EHCP. Pat had three years of 100% attendance at the school and although Pat did not find the school met all support needs, Pat accepted responsibility and gave a commitment to hard work. This was reflected in Pat’s academic achievements, test results clearly indicated academic progress, year on year. An incident occurred when Pat was allocated a new support worker. The support person had been in post 5 days, no formal training to work with neuro – diverse pupils. The support worker did not know Pat, it was the lack of a meaningful relationship with Pat that triggered Pat’s “melt down” Pat will not be the first neuro-diverse person to have a melt down in school and Pat will almost certainly not be the last person to have a melt down. A melt down is likely when the school does not anticipate the triggers for a particular pupil and has not put appropriate support in place. This resulted in Pat being suspended from school for two days. Pat was utterly devastated, uncertain what had happened.

Pat’s mother attended the school to discuss what had happened, she was confronted by the headteacher and the head of SEN services from the local authority. There was no discussion, Pat’s mother was told to remove Pat to a “ autism school” 35 miles from their home or have Pat “homed schooled” This “choice” was imposed upon Pat’s mother by the head of SEN, supported by the headteacher without any consultation. This illegal action from two senior professionals is now being challenged. It is however, expected that both professionals will deny their actions and re- present their arguments as “ considered advice” in the “ best interests” of the young person. What is disturbing is that if the two senior professionals were confident in their judgments were in Pat’s best interest – why did they not follow the appropriate procedures and engage in the formal process of an EHCP review, with representatives from health and social care ? Why did the SEN local authority lead professional not take into consideration Pat’s views ? in fact he has never met Pat. Why have Pat’s teachers, health and care professionals not taken action to protect Pat from this abuse of Pat’s rights and a total disregard of the EHCP ? What is unforgivable is that the “professionals” surrounding Pat have allowed Pat to be presented as “the problem” and for Pat to take responsibility for the abuse of the professionals. Pat is not the only young person being subject to this despicable and systematic professional abuse, but is one of a growing number, identified by Ofsted.

This practice is a consequence of a wider concerted devaluation of disabled people in the UK, by this government, which has given licence to such malpractice against disabled people. What disabled child is safe from the malpractice of such senior professionals In schools and colleges ? What parent can say with Confidence their child is safe from being off-rolled by their school ? As a starting point we should encourage every such incident to be reported to Ofsted and Governors of the school.

 Posted by at 20:12
Dec 062018
 

 

UN day of disabled people: Newton silent on international day… again

The minister for disabled people has been unable to explain why she failed to make any public statement to support disabled people’s battle for rights on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).

It is the second year in a row that Sarah Newton has apparently demonstrated a lack of interest in domestic and international efforts to further their rights.

Last year, Newton failed to organise or attend any IDPD events on the day, which is celebrated around the world, or send any messages of support through her Twitter or Facebook accounts.

This year, her Twitter page was again silent, other than retweeting a couple of messages sent by her Office for Disability Issues about an event she had attended, while her Facebook page failed to make any mention of the day.

Her silence on the UN’s international day of disabled people contrasted with her support for Carers Rights Day, which had taken place three days earlier, with Newton telling her followers on 30 November that she wanted to “say a huge thank you to carers across the country for the great work they do each and every day supporting the most vulnerable in society”.

Newton’s parliamentary office declined to comment and referred Disability News Service (DNS) to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

A DWP spokeswoman said: “It’s frankly ludicrous to cast aspersions about someone’s allegiance to a day based on whether they have posted online or on social media.

The minister’s commitment to empowering and supporting disabled people is unwavering, and she attended events to mark International Day for Disabled Persons and announced the recruitment of six new sector champions.”

She declined to say if Newton would apologise.

The press release about the appointment of the new disability sector champions, which was issued on Monday, did include a quote from Newton, but her comment failed to mention the UN international day.

Newton’s failure to support the UN day contrasted with Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, who released a video “to celebrate the contributions disabled people make everyday” and their struggle for rights, and to call for an end to the “hostile environment” they faced because of government policies.

She also hosted a meeting, organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts (see separate story), which called for the government’s universal credit benefit system to be scrapped, although de Cordova herself did not call for it to be scrapped because Labour’s position is still to “pause and fix” the system.

De Cordova told DNS: “The UN international day of disabled people is crucial to promoting the rights of disabled people in Britain and across the globe.

This government has shown a shocking disregard for the day itself, and the importance of what it represents.

Given that Conservative policies were labelled as responsible for ‘grave’ and ‘systematic’ rights violations by the UN, this is sadly unsurprising.”

Newton’s government has been repeatedly and severely criticised by the United Nations for severe breaches of its human rights obligations.

Only last month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said the government had inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies.

And last year, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities delivered a damning verdict on the government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with its chair saying that cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” in the UK.

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Activists fight purple campaign’s ‘hijack’ of rights day

Disabled activists have fought back against what they say are attempts by the government and big business to “hijack” the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities through their support for a purple-themed campaign that focuses on disability employment.

The #PurpleLightUp campaign, which was launched last year, aims to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled employees.

It is led by PurpleSpace, a disabled-led organisation which describes itself as a “professional development hub for disabled employee networks” and is headed by Kate Nash, a former chief executive of RADAR, one of the three disability organisations that merged to become Disability Rights UK.

Among those supporting the #PurpleLightUp campaign on Monday’s international day were the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Treasury, controversial government contractor Atos – which produced purple lovehearts and cupcakes to mark the day – and accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It was also supported by banking giants Lloyds Bank and HSBC, both closely associated with the global recession that led to government austerity policies that have caused misery for hundreds of thousands of disabled people in the UK since 2010.

But disabled activists are furious at how they believe the campaign has “hijacked” the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which focuses on the rights of disabled people.

The theme of this year’s UN international day was supposed to be empowering disabled people and ensuring “inclusiveness and equality” on development issues.

Now disabled activists have begun a fightback, calling for the UN day to be marked in the future with what they say are the true colours of the disabled people’s movement: turquoise and yellow.

Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled Labour councillor on Liverpool City Council and a former member of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), persuaded her council to light up its civic buildings on Monday in turquoise and yellow.

She said these colours had been used by disabled people’s campaigns for equality since the 1990s, with accounts from the period suggesting that turquoise represented “unity” and yellow stood for “freedom”.

Among the more recent UK disability rights battles that have used turquoise and yellow was the campaign to save the Independent Living Fund.

Thomas said #PurpleLightUp was “not about disabled people’s rights, but about economic activity”, and she pointed to its close connection with DWP and its discredited Disability Confident employment scheme.

She said: “What is really annoying me is that Purple Light Up has taken our international day for their own agenda.

Disabled people are experiencing the extreme hardships of ideologically-imposed austerity, as shown in several different reports, our own organisations have had funding cut and hardly any remain.

Meanwhile, large multi-million pound disability charities and commercial organisations are prepared to promote and perpetuate the DWP’s agenda, which is one of the main deliverers of austerity on disabled people.”

She said she was “so disappointed” that disabled people would support the involvement of these organisations in #PurpleLightUp, “knowing what Atos and all the other government departments have done to disabled people.

How could they side with them and not the disabled people’s civil rights movement?”

Disabled activists have pointed out that DWP has been repeatedly shamed by the UN for its grievous breaches of international rights treaties, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Thomas said: “Disabled people involved with Purple Light Up need to consider their own ethical position of promoting the DWP agenda and their own business, whilst shutting down disabled people who are campaigning for civil rights and against austerity and oppression, on our international day of all days.”

She said she would now push the Labour party and trade unions to adopt yellow and turquoise as the colours of the disabled people’s civil rights movement.

Nash defended her organisation’s #PurpleLightUp campaign.

She said the idea came from disabled employees wanting to move away from discussions of “deficit”, “welfare reform” and “getting people into work” and towards sharing “stories of success” and disabled people’s contribution “to economies and civil society”. 

She said: “#PurpleLightUp is therefore designed to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled employees – and the response from disabled people, employers and the public, across the world, where it was featured in 17,000 tweets, suggest that others want to do that too.”

Nash* said 3 December was chosen “as a mark of deep respect to the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities”.

She added: “PurpleSpace applauds the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

We hope the #PurpleLightUp will provide further opportunities to notice our rights and dignity, not diminish them. The responses so far seem to confirm that.”

Nash said: “Our members are from many different types of organisations – we support employee networks and resources groups irrespective of the nature of the business of the organisation, and wherever they are on the journey of change. 

It is not for us to measure the integrity of every contributor, nor judge their record on disability rights.”

But the disabled actor and activist Liz Carr was another to express her anger at the hijacking of the international day.

She said on Twitter: “Happy international day of disabled people to all the fantastic crips who make this world a better place just by existing.

Despite all the purple # bollocks on here, this is not a day for the likes of DWP & ATOS to light up their buildings purple. This is our day.”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “It is absolutely a hijack which is why the idea of using the turquoise and yellow is absolutely brilliant because it takes it away from their level of commercialism which is what it’s about. Their bottom line is money.

This is something that goes back a long way and it is absolutely about rights and freedoms, which are slowly being eroded away.”

She said the #PurpleLightUp campaign was “window-dressing. It has nothing to do with our rights.

If DWP are going to be lighting themselves up purple they are absolutely no beacon at all of good treatment of disabled people. They terrify us, they terrorise our lives.”

Liverpool City Council also helped celebrate the UN day with the international disability arts festival DaDaFest, which ends on Saturday and has been taking place across the city region since 1 November.

*Kate Nash said that any readers who would like to share their views about the #PurpleLightUp campaign can email her organisation at hello@purplespace.org

6 December 2018

 

 

Mental Health Act review ‘falls significantly short on human rights’

A government-commissioned review* set up to modernise the Mental Health Act has been criticised for falling “significantly short” of recommending full human rights for people in mental distress.

The review, published today (Thursday), includes 154 recommendations for improvements to the Mental Health Act 1983 that its chair, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, says would make it easier for mental health service-users to say how they want to be treated and harder for those requests to be ignored.

The prime minister this morning welcomed the report, announced plans for a new mental health bill, and said the government would respond formally in the new year.

But nearly 150 user-led organisations, allies and individual campaigners – led by the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) – have previously warned that the review appeared to be backing away from the need for fundamental reform of the act.

They have argued that there needs to be “full compliance” with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with action taken to comply with recommendations made to the UK government last year by the convention’s committee.

NSUN was today highly critical of Wessely’s report, and said many user-led organisations, individuals with lived experience and allies were “disappointed and feel let down” by support for its recommendations from professionals, many mental health charities and some human rights organisations.

An NSUN spokeswoman said: “The recommendations fall significantly short of giving people with mental health diagnoses full human rights as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).”

She said the review had failed to address the concerns raised by NSUN and its supporters in letters to the review in May and October.

Full implementation of the convention would mean – among other changes – an end to detentions, substitute decision-making [appointing someone to make decisions on behalf of a service-user, rather than providing them with support to make the decision themselves] and compulsory treatment.

When asked by Disability News Service at a press conference yesterday why the review had not recommended full implementation of the UN convention, Wessely said that “those kind of recommendations go too far”.

He said the review’s recommendations had “done a lot” to move towards the “very clear and concrete” changes to human rights that the convention demands.

But he said the UN convention made it clear that the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act were not compatible with the treaty.

He said: “I think the truth is that we don’t think that’s right. We don’t think much of the public will think that’s right, we don’t think service-users will and we don’t think parliament will.

We think it’s absolutely right in principles, but I think those kind of recommendations go too far.”

He said there had to be a balance between the need to respect autonomy and “looking after the vulnerable” and he said the review’s recommendations would mean “full compliance” with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Among the 300-page report’s recommendations are a proposal to create new advance choice documents, which would enable people to make choices and statements about their future inpatient care and would be “easier to make, and far more difficult to ignore” than current methods of expressing views about future treatment for those detained or at risk of being detained under the act.

There should also be earlier access to second opinions about treatment, and the right to challenge decisions made by tribunals.

Service-users would be able to choose the person who would have power to take decisions for them if they lacked capacity themselves, rather than having to be allocated a “nearest relative”.

The review also calls for “systematic” improvements by services to take account of the local population’s ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and there is a call to address the frequent inappropriate use of the act to detain autistic people and those with learning difficulties.

The review also said that decisions to give compulsory treatment or detain someone in hospital should be “clearly explained and recorded”, while the harm being mitigated by detaining someone must be recorded and would have to be “significant”.

It also calls for a “substantial” reduction in the use of community treatment orders, particularly for black African and Caribbean people.

And it says that police cells should never be used as a “place of safety” for those who meet the criteria for detention under the act.

The review also calls for improvements to the physical environment of wards “through co-design and co-production with people of relevant lived experience, to maximise homeliness and therapeutic benefit and minimise institutionalisation”.

The review’s recommendations have been welcomed by people with lived experience of mental distress who advised or worked on the review.

Steve Gilbert, a vice-chair of the review and chair of its service-user and carer group, a member of the working group that advised the review’s leadership, and a trustee of the mental health charity Mind, said: “No one person in our group agreed on everything.

However, when we look at the package for reform as a whole, we do feel the recommendations must be adopted, that the act will work better for service-users, families, carers and professionals by delivering better experiences, better outcomes, and it is for this reason that I call upon the government to accept all of our recommendations.”

Asked by DNS about the influence of service-users on the recommendations, Gilbert said they were “fundamental” to the review process and “right there at the centre”, while “in some respects it was service-users leading the development of the recommendations”.

Kate King, who had years of experience of inpatient mental health care – with the care she received ranging “from the excellent to the abusive” – and was a member of the review’s service-user and carer group and the working group, said: “We really need the amendments this review will recommend.”

She said the review’s recommendations would “empower patients to be involved in their care, to make choices when they are well that would be harder to over-rule and to have better access to doctors and tribunals for a review of how and where they are treated”.

But the NSUN spokeswoman said: “People with mental health diagnoses should be able to enjoy the same human rights as other people have; under the review recommendations, this will not be the case.

There has been a failure to draw directly on the type of supported decision-making set out in UNCRPD documentation in relation to people whom clinicians designate as ‘not capable’.

The review report continues to employ an essentially clinical model for understanding and approaching mental distress, despite the fact that significant numbers of service-users have found these unhelpful and despite growing scientific challenges to the evidence base for these.

There is an attempt to address issues for service users from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities, people with learning difficulties/disabilities and/or autism and young people, though the adequacy of the recommendations has been questioned by a considerable number of service-users.”

And she said there was also “a concerning lack of focus on other intersectional issues, such as gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, older age, including dementia, other disability issues and disadvantaged socio-economic status”.

*The review deals with the UK government’s responsibilities under the Mental Health Act in England and Wales, which cover health policy in England and justice policy across England and Wales

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Government could face court over universal credit

The government could be forced into court to defend its failure to make the much-criticised universal credit benefit system accessible to disabled people.

A parliamentary meeting held to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on Monday – and to call for universal credit to be scrapped – heard that disabled campaigners are now seeking claimants willing to help challenge the government’s apparent breach of equality laws.

Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project (DJP) is considering various possible legal challenges, which could include the failure of jobcentres to make the process accessible for disabled people forced to apply for universal credit, and the failure to assess the impact of the system on disabled people.

Another possible legal challenge could address how the rollout of universal credit has led to disabled people losing accessible housing, or not being able to secure housing that meets their access needs.

DJP is also examining the impact of sanctions and conditions imposed on disabled people through universal credit and whether that could form the basis of a legal action.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, and also representing the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, told the parliamentary meeting that it was a “disgrace” that the government had never carried out an equality impact assessment of the universal credit system, even though it “disproportionately affects disabled people”.

She said universal credit was “fundamentally inaccessible”, with an online system that appeared to have been designed to exclude hundreds of thousands of people from using it, and which disregarded the many disabled people who have never used the internet, and the hundreds of thousands who only have sporadic online access.

She added: “We also happen to think it is legally challengeable under the Equality Act, so we are looking for people who might be interested in making that challenge*.”

Lazard said she could not think of a better event to mark IDPD because universal credit provided a “live, current danger to disabled people now” and despite recent government concessions it “continues to be devastatingly unfit for purpose”.

She said: “Rather than motivating people into work, as this government claims, there is now irrefutable evidence that this hostile and threatening use of sanctions and conditionality is deeply damaging.”

She said there was a “growing number of deaths linked to universal credit” and “widespread experience of a downward spiral of sanctions, debt, food and fuel poverty”, and even destitution, and a regime that was “instilling terror and anxiety in hundreds of thousands of disabled people”.

Lazard said universal credit had been “ideologically designed” to be “punitive and hostile”, and she said disabled people must “refuse to be guinea pigs” in the government’s “ideological experiment”.

The event was organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts, and was hosted by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova.

Dave Allan, chair of the national disabled members’ committee of Unite, reminded the meeting that the annual TUC Congress unanimously approved a motion he had moved in September that called on the Labour party to shift its stance on universal credit and promise to scrap the system.

Labour’s policy is currently to simply “pause and fix” universal credit rather than scrapping it.

The motion had previously been approved by disabled trade unionists at May’s TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference.

Allan said there was a need for a broad alliance to “put massive pressure” on the government to scrap universal credit.

But he said there was also a need to pressure Labour’s frontbench to commit to scrapping universal credit.

Dorothy Gould, a freelance researcher, trainer and consultant for the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), said people with serious psychological trauma were seeing their mental distress “severely” worsened by the “huge problems associated with universal credit”.

She said people were finding themselves “trapped in a cycle of assessment, rejection and appeals”, and she said the assessment system was “particularly unsuitable for people in mental distress”.

NSUN has been collecting individual accounts of the impact of universal credit.

One woman has told NSUN how the fear of disability cuts over the last two years had given her the most severe mental breakdown she had had in 44 years, involving eight months of illness, six weeks in a psychiatric unit and six months of recovery, which was ongoing.

She told NSUN: “Now my biggest fear has been realised. The Department for Work and Pensions has cut all my disability payments and with two weeks’ notice.”

Everything carefully built up over the last 17 years of self-management to provide some form of stability “has been taken away within two weeks”, she said, and added: “I don’t know where to turn, I’m in despair and in great danger of another major relapse. I have felt suicidal.”

Gould said NSUN was urgently calling on the government to address the “trauma and injustice” caused both by universal credit and people’s experience of the Mental Health Act (see separate story).

Dr Liz Okokon, co-disability officer and women’s officer for Dulwich and West Norwood Labour party and a Unite activist, who works in the NHS, said it was important to feel “positive and hopeful” because “so many people are not going to give up and give in”.

She said: “We can do something about this, we can make a difference, we can change.

There are dreadful stories but [we should remember] the fact that we have our trade union movement behind us, activists from all corners behind us.”

She pointed out how the telling of individual stories of the Windrush scandal had brought it to the mass media.

She said: “Telling these stories really is really important.

We must remember that we are valued as people, not just as commodities, not just those who will go out and bring in a couple of tax dollars.

We have value as people and we need society to remember all of us have value, and not just how many cogs we can put on a wheel.”

Miriam Binder, from Disabled People Against Cuts, said it was important to recognise that universal credit was being introduced “at a time of unprecedented cuts in our social infrastructure”.

She said: “The whole universal credit process is essentially draconian and not fit for purpose.

It is punitive and takes no heed of the personal circumstances of those who are obliged to turn to it.

Universal credit has led to destitution, homelessness, illness, exacerbated disabilities and death.”

She added: “It needs to be stopped and scrapped. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”

The parliamentary event came just two days after a national day of action by Unite against universal credit saw 90 different actions across the country.

Sean McGovern, co-chair of the disabled workers’ committee, said activists now needed to persuade Labour to scrap universal credit.

He said universal credit was an “atrocious social policy” that had already killed “innumerable people” and activists needed to discuss the campaign to scrap universal credit with constituency Labour parties and trade unions.

He said there would not be a formal campaigning alliance but groups needed to work together, including disabled people’s organisations and other grassroots groups, to push for universal credit to be scrapped under a Labour government.

*Disabled people who have ongoing problems or concerns with universal credit or have had problems in the last couple of months, and are interested in a potential legal challenge on these or other grounds, can contact Svetlana Kotova at Inclusion London by emailing: Svetlana.Kotova@inclusionlondon.org.uk although Inclusion London cannot offer advice on individual claims.

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: De Cordova close to tears over Commons access failure

A disabled shadow minister told activists she was on the verge of tears after House of Commons authorities provided them with an inaccessible meeting room for an event being held to celebrate the UN’s international day of disabled people.

Marsha de Cordova is to write to the Commons speaker to raise her concerns about access problems at Monday’s event, which she was hosting and was organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts.

The day after the event, parliament was congratulated by the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, for being “Disability Confident”, under the government’s discredited disability employment scheme, which her press office said was “a sign of its commitment to being inclusive and open to all”.

As well as problems with microphones, and fixed furniture which made it difficult for disabled people to move around the Commons committee room, wheelchair-users who were due to address the meeting on Monday were unable to reach the platform.

Most of the main speakers, including the chair, Sean McGovern, were forced to speak from a small, cramped space in front of the platform or from other parts of the room, while one wheelchair-user ended up having to speak into a microphone with her back to the meeting because of the lack of space.

The meeting had originally been scheduled to take place in an accessible room in the more modern Portcullis House but had to be moved to make way for a select committee meeting.

De Cordova told them she had been assured by the parliamentary authorities “that there would be no access issues” with the replacement room.

She said: “I wanted to make sure that everyone’s experience, including my experience, was smooth and it was a positive experience so accept my apologies that on this UN day of the rights of disabled people, parliament is still getting it wrong.”

She said the failure was “unacceptable” and added: “I feel like I want to cry, I am so flipping angry at what they have done.”

McGovern, co-chair of the disabled workers’ committee, said after the meeting that he was “not at all happy” with the access arrangements, particularly as the meeting had taken place on the UN international day of disabled people, and he added: “Parliament isn’t fit for our needs.”

A House of Commons spokesman said: “We are very sorry to hear about the problems which Ms de Cordova and attendees at her event experienced when visiting parliament.

As part of parliament’s core democratic function, select committee business takes precedence over other events which occasionally [results] in private bookings being moved at short notice.

On this occasion, the specific requirements were clearly not taken into consideration and this was unacceptable. Action will be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.”

He said the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Digital Service had both signed up to Disability Confident, while the House of Commons worked with the Business Disability Forum and had appointed a workplace adjustment advisor “to be a designated point of contact for members and their staff throughout their time in parliament”.

In February, a disabled peer told the House of Lords that plans for a major “restoration and renewal” of the Houses of Parliament must ensure a “step change” in the provision of disability access in a building that could be “extremely unwelcoming” to disabled people.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, said the newly-restored palace would have “failed” if it was not “truly accessible” to all disabled people.

She said that the building itself – and a “wider, unconscious cultural attitude” – could make the Houses of Parliament “extremely unwelcoming to disabled parliamentarians, staff and visitors”.

6 December 2018

 

 

DWP accused over ‘less than truthful’ Purple funding claims

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of misleading disabled people about its links to the disability organisation that organised a controversial accessible shopping event.

Disabled activists called last month for a boycott of Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day, because of its close links with DWP, and concerns that CCTV footage of disabled people shopping could be used to dispute disability benefit claims.

When asked whether it had provided any funding for the Purple Tuesday initiative or to Purple itself, DWP said last month: “We have not provided funding to Purple but we have worked closely with them to facilitate Purple Tuesday and ensure it is a success.”

DWP also said that Purple “does not have any contract or agreement with DWP”.

But Disability News Service (DNS) has now established that both these statements were deeply misleading, while the first was untrue.

DWP has twice provided significant levels of funding to Purple – although not for Purple Tuesday – with the latest agreement for a programme run through the local jobcentre ending on 31 July and separate funding for a government disability employment programme ending in August 2017.

Disability Labour said it was “appalled, but not surprised” at the links between DWP and Purple.

Wayne Blackburn, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “It seems the DWP’s statements about its relationship with the Purple organisation have been less than truthful.

We will be seeking to get this matter raised in the House of Commons.”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, added: “Any organisation led by disabled people that takes money from the DWP betrays disabled people.

That is why we campaigned and will continue to campaign against Purple Tuesday.

How can Purple be proud to work with the DWP, who have persecuted disabled people and caused the deaths of so many?” 

Purple said last month that it had received “not one penny” from DWP for the Purple Tuesday campaign, which was “not government-led or involved or paid for in any shape or form”.

Mike Adams, Purple’s chief executive, confirmed this week that the organisation had received DWP funding, but not for Purple Tuesday.

He said he was comfortable that what he said last month was accurate but was “frustrated” that DWP’s statements “could have been seen as misleading”.

He said: “Purple Tuesday has not received one penny of government funding. Never has and never will and it is not a government campaign.

The minister [Sarah Newton] likes it [but] they don’t own it, its not theirs.

Separately, and very separate to Purple Tuesday, Purple has received funding for other… projects or initiatives from DWP.

I’m comfortable in what I told you last month is absolutely crystal clear and I am comfortable that what [DWP] told you was correct, but I understand why it could have been seen as misleading.”

He said he was “frustrated” that questions were being unfairly asked of Purple, and he said he was “very proud” of the work Purple did on those two projects for DWP, and its work on Purple Tuesday.

In the wake of last month’s event, DNS had submitted a freedom of information request to DWP, asking how much funding had been given by DWP to Purple in each of the last three years.

It admitted in response: “We do hold information falling within the terms of your request.”

But it said it was delaying its response because it was considering seeking an exemption under section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act*.

DWP refused to answer questions about its funding of Purple this week.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “I’ve checked with colleagues on this and you’ll be getting the full response shortly [from the DWP freedom of information team] so I’m unable to pre-empt this.”

Adams said he was “surprised” that DWP had not spoken to him about the concerns this week.

He said: “I’m frustrated that DWP didn’t speak to me and agree that we could release the information. I don’t think it’s commercially in confidence.”

Purple is a community interest company which replaced the former Essex Coalition of Disabled People, which itself had become known as ecdp.

Many of Purple’s board members are disabled people, and the organisation provides training for employers, and works with disabled people to find jobs, recruit personal assistants and manage their direct payments.

As well as running Purple Tuesday, it also charges up to £10,000 to help other organisations become accredited under DWP’s Disability Confident employment scheme.

*Section 43 (2) relates to information that could prejudice an organisation’s commercial interests, and DWP says it will now consider if maintaining this exemption is outweighed by the public interest in disclosing the information

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Temporary election access fund ‘must be just a first step’

The government has finally launched a new temporary fund that will support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office, but only for the next 15 months.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said the EnAble “interim” fund would provide £250,000 to help cover the disability-related expenses of standing for elected office.

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office (EFEO) will go live in January and will end in March 2020, covering expenses such as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.

The funding is likely to be used by candidates for May’s local elections and police and crime commissioner elections in May 2020, although a GEO spokeswoman said that its use by prospective candidates for a general election would also be considered if one was called.

But there has been no guarantee that there will be any further funding post-March 2020, with the department’s focus apparently on working with political parties to make their own policies and procedures accessible to disabled candidates.

The fund is being administered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which will be paid £75,000 by the Local Government Association (LGA) for about 18 months’ work.

The interim fund replaces the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years.

The new funding was first announced in May after lawyers for three disabled politicians – Labour’s Emily Brothers, Liberal Democrat David Buxton and the Green party’s Simeon Hart – wrote to the government to warn that the government had breached the Equality Act by failing to reopen the Access to Elected Office Fund.

They said they had effectively been unable to stand as candidates in a general election since the government froze the fund.

Buxton this week welcomed the launch of the new interim fund, even though it was only open for 15 months, and he said he was glad it would be administered by a disabled people’s organisation, which would be “able to understand the barriers we face”.

But he said there was “still a lot of room for improvement”, with “no long term solution” and the delays in launching the new fund meaning there were now just six months until May’s local elections.

He said the experience in Scotland, where the Scottish government has set up its own Access to Elected Office Fund, showed that the longer potential candidates had to secure financial support with disability-related expenses before an election, the more successful such a fund would be.

Brothers welcomed the announcement as a “first step”, but she said the funding was “insufficient and short term” and “fragmented”.

She said: “I have concerns that EnAble is being set up so close to the next local elections, with selections well in hand and only six months to polling day.

The LGA and DR UK will need to get their act together very quickly, but for many disabled people it may well be too late.”

She added: “I believe a permanently resourced Access to Elected Office Fund needs to be established to support the participation of disabled people in political and public life.

The representation of disabled people is woeful, our voices are not being heard and consequently laws, policy and practices persist in failing to meet our needs and aspirations. That has to change.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “The new fund is a drop in the ocean.  

Funds also need to be made available to political parties and providers of premises where political meetings are held for reasonable adjustments to be made.

Premises are often inaccessible and this needs to change.

For example, funding for hearing loops, ramps, sign language interpreters need to be provided through a central fund which facilitates access to the political process as a whole.” 

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said: “Around 10 per cent of local councillors are disabled, but around 20 per cent of adults are disabled.

This fund will provide practical help and support to try and close that gap. Help with issues like transport, assistive technology or sign language interpreters can make a significant difference on whether to stand for elected office if you’re disabled.

We hope this is the beginning of something which will see funding increase, and broaden in scope, so that disabled people can get more involved in public life; from being a local councillor to becoming a member of parliament.

And we hope – and expect – to see political parties do much more to encourage their disabled members to stand for office.

Political parties across the spectrum have a poor track record when it comes to selecting and supporting disabled candidates.

They should be doing better, and the establishment of this fund is a reminder of that.”

Announcing the new funding on Monday, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, said: “Everyone has the right to stand and represent their community – and it is vital no-one is held back.

Empowering people with disabilities leads to better decisions and more effective outcomes for all of us.                                                       

Unless every one of our citizens can reach their full potential our nation never will.”

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Cycling benefit fears, public appointments review, and a new ODI network

Half of disabled cyclists fear having their benefits cut or removed if they are seen to be physically active, according to a survey released on the UN’s international day of disabled people.

The results of the survey of more than 200 disabled cyclists by the disabled people’s organisation Wheels for Wellbeing showed that of the 49 per cent who were concerned about their benefits, one in six (17 per cent) had been discouraged from cycling, cycled less or given up cycling altogether.

Only two months ago, a report by the disability sports organisation Activity Alliance found that four-fifths (83 per cent) of disabled people surveyed would like to be more active, but nearly half (47 per cent) feared losing their benefits if they took more exercise.

Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing, said: “For disabled people, cycling is a wonderful thing because it mitigates the effects of impairment and enables you to move freely over long distances, improving your overall wellbeing in the process.”

But she said that cycling doesn’t “make your impairment magically disappear” and so to “penalise people because they use a cycle to move around, as well as or instead of a wheelchair say, is just lazy and discriminatory”.

She called on the Department for Work and Pensions to clarify its position on how disability benefits are affected by cycling.

The Wheels for Wellbeing survey was just one of a string of events and publications held and released on the international day on Monday (3 December).

The disabled peer Lord [Chris] Holmes published a review which calls for “urgent action” to tackle the under-representation of disabled people in appointments to public bodies such as NHS organisations, national museums and regulatory and advisory bodies.

He said it was shocking that, last year, just three per cent of people who had previously been appointed to public bodies described themselves as disabled, although the figures are slowly improving, with 6.9 per cent of new appointments who shared their status in 2017-18 reporting that they were disabled.

The Tory peer called for an interim target of 11.3 per cent of all public appointees to be disabled people, while he also called for “reliable, consistent, comprehensive” data on how many disabled public appointees there were, for the government to take “innovative” approaches to recruitment, and for a more accessible applications process.

He suggested there should be less reliance on panel interviews and more open processes such as the use of shadowing current appointees, holding mock board meetings, and making better use of technology, with new efforts to attract and nurture disabled talent, for example by using mentors and role models.

The government makes more than 1,000 appointments to the boards of more than 500 public bodies every year, with those organisations spending more than £200 billion of public money.

Meanwhile, the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) used the UN international day to announce that the government was setting up a new network of “regional stakeholders” who will organise forums for organisations and individuals in nine regions across England.

The forums are intended to “provide a channel for disabled people and their organisations to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect them and will complement stakeholder relationships that already exist across government”.

ODI said it would publish more information about how to join the regional stakeholder network “shortly”.

The forums appear to be a replacement for the Fulfilling Potential Forum, the Disability Action Alliance and the Fulfilling Potential Policy Advice Service, all of which were set up by the coalition government but have either been scrapped or fallen into disuse.

The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, also announced that the government was looking for six new “champions” to tackle some of the issues disabled people face as consumers.

The six individuals will be asked to use their influential status as leaders in their own industries to promote the benefits of being inclusive to disabled people across fashion, technology, countryside and heritage, website accessibility, food and drink, and product design.

They will join 14 existing sector champions in areas such as airports, banking, insurance, live music, retail and tourism.

The disabled-led arts organisation Together! 2012, based in east London, announced on Monday that it had been awarded nearly £230,000 lottery funding that will allow it to expand its Clubs creative development programme for disabled people over the three years from 2019.

Together! also held a live-streamed reading of the easy-read version of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, at Beckton Globe Library.

As part of their celebrations of the day, York Independent Living Network and York Human Rights City Network organised a live video link that brought together students from York and Urbino in Italy who had won prizes in this year’s Eleanor Worthington Prize to talk about their work and celebrate the day.

Elsewhere on the UN international day, the Centre for Disability Studies and the Centre for Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds held a screening of Sanctuary, an award-winning film which follows the relationship between two people with learning difficulties.

The screening was followed by a question and answer session with the director, Len Collin, the university’s Professor Gerard Quinn, and representatives of CHANGE, the Leeds-based, disabled-led organisation that focuses on the human rights of people with learning difficulties.

In London, Merton Centre for Independent Living released a series of short films on independent living.

And in Liverpool, as part of the DaDaFest international disability arts festival, which ends on Saturday, Disability Arts Online held a panel discussion, asking: “Are we in an era post Disability Art?”

6 December 2018

 

 

Disabled peer calls for ‘heavy fines’ for air travel access failures

A disabled crossbench peer has called on the government to start handing out “heavy fines” to the air travel industry when it fails to ensure that its services are accessible to disabled passengers.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell asked the government on Monday what action it was taking to encourage all UK airports to provide appropriate facilities for disabled people.

Another disabled peer described how she was left in tears after being dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall while airport staff tried to find her wheelchair.

Baroness Campbell pointed to the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) third annual report into the assistance provided at the UK’s biggest airports, which said that one in 10 of those surveyed had described the quality of assistance provided in 2017-18 as “very poor”.

Baroness Campbell said: “Examples include being left in a wheelchair, being left on an aeroplane, expensive wheelchairs being broken and, in my case, being left on an aeroplane for two hours because they refused to bring my chair to the plane door.

In the light of this, can the minister assure the house that the government’s aviation strategy will contain more stringent ways to address this outrageous discrimination with more than just guidance and regulations that we know do not work?

Will she also tell me how many disabled people were involved in developing the strategy?”

Baroness Sugg, the junior transport minister, failed to say how many disabled people were involved in the strategy, but she said it was due to be published “in the coming weeks”, and promised that it would address these issues.

She said the CAA survey results were “obviously not good enough”.

She added: “The green paper will propose a passenger charter, which will clarify what can be expected from airlines, airports and airside services, including on wheelchair damage and waiting times, and will improve the standards of service for passengers with reduced mobility.”

Within three hours of asking her questions, Baroness Campbell had been contacted by the Airport Operators Association, seeking a meeting to discuss the issues she had raised.

She said on Twitter: “Is a ‘government charter’ enough? Surely it’s time to enforce the regulations with heavy fines?”

Another disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told the minister how when she arrived on a flight from Heathrow to Madrid last month she was told her wheelchair was missing.

She said: “I was then passed from pillar to post and was dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall by staff who were trying to sort out what was going on.

I ended up in tears while they tried to find my wheelchair.

If this were an unusual occurrence, it would be horrific, but it is not.

What is even more horrific is that this happens every day to air passengers.

Charters butter no parsnips: when will the regulations be enforced to stop air travel being a ghetto for disabled people?”

Baroness Sugg told her: “She is absolutely right that these occurrences happen far too often, and that is what we need to change.

Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and it is important that we as a country continue to work with international forums to promote greater accessibility to air travel for those with reduced mobility.”

She said the government was “working closely with the aviation industry, the CAA, wheelchair manufacturers and disability organisations to achieve the long-term goal of enabling wheelchair-users to travel with their own airworthy wheelchair on a plane”.

Following the questions she asked in the Lords, Baroness Campbell was contacted on Twitter by a string of other disabled people sharing their own experiences of airport and airline inaccessibility and discriminatory attitudes.

One fellow disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, told her: “I’ve had the pilot tell the plane that we’re leaving late because of ‘having to board a wheelchair’.

Thanks. Actually I was there early. It was the assistance team that wasn’t.”

Another to share her experience was Sophie Christiansen, the eight-time Paralympic gold-medallist, who shared an experience from last week.

She described how she arrived at an airport at the end of a flight, and said: “Every time recently I’ve had to ask someone for my chair back as they’ve been sitting in it. This is like a stranger wearing your shoes.”

And Anna Severwright, co-chair of the Coalition for Collaborative Care, told Baroness Campbell: “Let’s hope they are willing to listen and change.

Both my experiences of flying with my electric wheelchair were negative and very stressful. Puts me off wanting to fly. Thanks for trying to improve things.”

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Historic document throws light on birth of movement

A key document that helped many disabled activists develop their understanding of how they were being oppressed by society more than 40 years ago has been published for the first time.

The document, Are We Oppressed?, was compiled in 1974 by Vic Finkelstein, one of the pioneers of the disabled people’s movement, and it played a significant part in the development of what was later described as the social model of disability.

It was developed through discussions among members of the newly-formed and radical Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) and came from circulars issued by post to members every few weeks.

Two years before the document was drawn up, Finkelstein helped found UPIAS with Paul Hunt, who had spent much of his life in Leonard Cheshire residential homes and campaigned against institutional discrimination.

The 2018 edition of Are We Oppressed? includes a new introduction written by Judy Hunt – Paul Hunt’s widow – and UPIAS member Maggie Davis, who herself was a significant figure in the development of the movement.

It was published this week on 3 December, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The document has been prepared, with their support, by Tony Baldwinson, whose wife Lorraine Gradwell, who died last year, was another UPIAS member and later a founding member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).

Baldwinson pulled the new version of the document together from old stapled cuttings and Finkelstein’s typed and handwritten slips of paper.

Preserving the UPIAS papers is part of a wider archiving project by GMCDP.

Are We Oppressed? includes a series of influential comments by Finkelstein, often described as the father of the social model, as well as responses from other UPIAS members, although their comments have been anonymised.

Among Finkelstein’s comments, he told fellow members: “At the outset of starting our new organisation we must be sure and in total agreement about one thing – Disabled people are oppressed in our society.

There should be no confusion about this, nor should this fact be far from our minds.”

The oppression faced by disabled people forced to live in institutions was also key to his arguments, with Finkelstein telling members: “The future will look back on the anti-institution struggles of today, as we look back on the anti-slavery struggles.”

In another circular, he said that “1970s society has already reached the stage where the technological solutions are at hand for full integration of physically impaired members of society.

The fact that this is not done is because of the oppressive nature of the society (in the way it is organised).”

He also told UPIAS members: “However, I suggest that the real reason for our oppression (as for all other oppressed groups) is in the way society is organised (the socio-political causes).

Our struggle, therefore, is with this system of rules. When we struggle against this, we also struggle against all those who defend and administer them.”

And, in a comment that is likely to be seized on by members of today’s disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, he warned: “In economic crises, when competition is increased, we are amongst the first to suffer (together with the other oppressed groups).

This means the struggle against the competitive rules of our society has to continue until these are changed.”

Although his ideas were taken on and played a significant part in the foundation of the disabled people’s movement in the UK and the social model of disability, some members questioned his radical tone, with some of their comments likely to be viewed today as disablist.

One responded: “I’m worried a little as to our situation – I mean how radical are we going to be?

Are we to sit in the streets waving placards, chanting thereby attracting publicity as a curiosity value – a freak show?

Demos in our case ought to be out. We are not going to convince the general public that to be disabled doesn’t mean mental backwardness if we exhibit ourselves in an undignified manner.”

Judy Hunt told Disability News Service this week that she had passed huge amounts of UPIAS material to Baldwinson for his archiving work, which included two copies of Are We Oppressed?

She said she believed the document “still has a value” because so much of what Finkelstein said was still relevant today.

She said: “He argued people through it. It was a process people in the union were going through at the time.

People had been socialised into trying to present themselves in a dignified manner because they had enough problems with all the ways people treated disabled people, and the attitudes that were around, the very real prejudices that were around and the hostility.”

She said she believed that disabled people were still oppressed.

I think they are. What’s happening now is a lot of things stripping back, and people being forced into institutions again because they cannot get the support in the community.

They are having their benefits cut so a lot of people are going to be struggling just to survive at home.

They are not being allowed to participate as full citizens in many cases.

There’s a much more mixed picture now. On the one hand there are people able to get to university and going into mainstream schooling and go and get jobs and get careers.

But on the converse, people are losing their benefits and there is a real danger of institutionalisation again and it’s happening for some people, and in education too… with disabled children having difficulty getting access to mainstream schooling.

We are not over that yet at all. There is quite a long way to go.”

6 December 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:19
Dec 042018
 

What’s your experience of the welfare safety net?

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has opened an inquiry into the current state of the UK’s welfare safety net, prompted by the evidence of debt, hunger and homelessness it has heard across several recent inquiries.  The inquiry will look at how effectively our welfare system works to protect against hardship and chronic deprivation.

 

The UK’s welfare system is currently undergoing fundamental reform – the transition to Universal Credit alongside other major and largely untested reforms like Benefit sanctions and the Benefit cap, also there is the freeze on benefits.

 

Have you experienced hardship because of changes in you benefits? Your experience will inform Inclusion London’s evidence to the inquiry.  Please send to Henrietta.Doyle@inclusionlondon.org.uk  by 12 December.

                         

You are welcome to send evidence direct to the Select Committee, information about doing this is available at:  https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/inquiry12/

The deadline is 14 December 2018

 

 Posted by at 17:20
Nov 292018
 

 

DWP softens ‘threatening’ tone of universal credit agreement after claimant’s death

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to soften the “threatening” tone of the agreement that claimants of universal credit are forced to sign to receive their benefits, following a secret review into the death of a claimant.

A panel of DWP civil servants called for the threatening wording of the claimant commitment to be toned down after carrying out an internal process review (IPR) of the circumstances around the death.

The review panel concluded: “The references to sanctions and amount of money that will be lost seems excessive (mentioned eight times).

The panel advises that a better balance could be struck in reminding a client of the consequences of not meeting their obligations and not appearing to be overtly threatening, especially to individuals who are vulnerable.”

This was among 12 sets of recommendations that resulted from 50 IPRs carried out between April 2016 and June 2018, 33 of which involved a benefit claimant who had died.

Four of those who died were universal credit claimants.

Following a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS), DWP has now released brief information to show what action it took in response to the 12 sets of recommendations.

The DWP response states that the universal credit claimant commitment now “makes no reference to sanctions”.

Although the claimant commitment does appear to have been substantially softened in its and references to sanctions, DNS has seen one from February this year that still includes a single sanction threat, warning: “Your Universal Credit payments will be reduced if you do not do the things in your commitment and do not have a good reason. This is called a payment ‘sanction’.”

It is not known when DWP made the changes to the claimant commitment, when the claimant died or how that death was connected to the threatening nature of the document he or she was obliged to sign.

But one universal credit claimant has spoken out this week about the continuing “punitive” nature of the claimant commitment.

She told DNS how she attempted suicide earlier this year after her benefits had been withdrawn and she then faced eviction following months without income.

Her benefits had been withdrawn after she had refused to sign a claimant commitment she knew she would be unable to keep to because of its strict job search conditions.

She has since been found not fit for work through a work capability assessment (WCA) and her current claimant commitment makes no mention of job-seeking, but she says she still finds the language in the guidance section “punitive”.

She said: “Whether or not the DWP have ‘toned down’ the punitive language of the claimant commitment, there is still a very strong message that a) work always pays and b) the DWP will be watching very closely to make sure you don’t try to fiddle the system in any way.

I and many others are so afraid of DWP sanctions and the hardship this could cause that they could promise us ponies and rainbows in that claimant commitment but we would still live in fear.

We’ve internalised that fear, which was exactly what the DWP intended.”

This week, DWP refused to answer a series of questions about the claimant commitment and why the changes to make it less threatening had been made.

It refused to say whether the changes were made as a result of the IPR recommendations; when the changes were made; whether DWP now accepted that the claimant commitment was previously too threatening; whether it accepted that the threatening nature of the claimant commitment may have played a part in the death of the claimant examined by the IPR; and why its freedom of information response was apparently misleading.

Instead, a DWP spokesman said: “The DWP has a responsibility to inform all claimants of the implications of not keeping to a commitment.

Claimants are rightly informed of this throughout the process of creating their Claimant Commitment.

But the final Claimant Commitment does not directly refer to sanctions, other than containing a link highlighting where more information is held.

Through our ‘test and learn’ approach, we have listened to feedback from stakeholders and claimants and regularly make improvements to Universal Credit.”

Earlier this month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, warned that universal credit could “wreak havoc” and had created a “digital barrier” that prevented many disabled people and other disadvantaged groups from accessing the support they were entitled to.

He said the government’s “test and learn” approach to universal credit risked treating such groups “like guinea pigs” and that the preparations being made by local authorities and charities for the rollout of universal credit had “resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

And in July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.

In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who have to claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.

29 November 2018

 

 

Minister appears unprepared for impact of ‘no deal’ Brexit on social care

The health and social care secretary appears to have accidentally confessed to having no plans for dealing with the worsening social care recruitment crisis that is almost certain to hit the UK if the country is forced into a no-deal Brexit.

Matt Hancock was asked by a committee of MPs on Tuesday about the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union (EU) next March without agreeing a deal with the other 27 members.

The prospect of a no-deal Brexit, although still unlikely, is looking increasingly possible as a result of the seemingly intractable parliamentary deadlock over the UK’s planned exit from the EU next March.

Disabled people, including those who use personal assistants (PAs), have warned repeatedly of the risk that any form of Brexit could mean their access to PAs from EU countries could dry up, with a no-deal Brexit making this even more likely.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell told peers last year that John Evans, one of the founders of the UK independent living movement, had employed PAs from 15 EU countries in the past 34 years.

He had told her that if the government failed to protect access to the EU’s huge pool of people keen to work as PAs in the UK, he would lose his ability to live independently and could be forced to return to residential care, 34 years after he was liberated from a Cheshire Home.

But Hancock’s evidence this week to the Commons health and social care committee, and subsequent statements by his press office, appear to show that he has no plans in place for dealing with a social care recruitment crisis if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal next spring.

Labour’s Diana Johnson had asked Hancock: “If we have a no deal scenario, what is your policy for recruitment to social care in the future?

How are you going to deal with that?”

Hancock, who also confirmed later that he still plans to publish the government’s long-awaited adult social care green paper by the end of the year, told the committee in response that there was a higher proportion of people working in social care in the UK who were from outside the EU than from EU countries.

But his only answer to how he would cope with the impact of a no-deal Brexit on social care recruitment appeared to be to “train people locally and give people from the UK opportunities to work in social care” and to make sure “it is yet more of a rewarding career”.

He said: “I think these things are all part of trying to make sure that social care can give the dignity that it ought to.

It’s something that we care a lot about getting right.”

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokeswoman said afterwards: “We are confident of reaching a deal with the EU which benefits our health and care workforce.

We want to promote adult social care as a career of choice and are launching a national recruitment campaign in the new year to raise the image and profile of the sector.

Our upcoming green paper will also look at how we can recruit and retain a valued workforce.”

DHSC was due to launch a pilot scheme today (Thursday) to provide the 104,000 EU nationals working in social care in the UK with an opportunity to apply early to the government’s EU settlement scheme.

But the DHSC spokeswoman also said that that recruitment campaign and the green paper were “going ahead regardless of whether or not we get a deal and both aim to help with recruitment and retention”.

She refused to confirm that there were no extra plans in place for social care recruitment in the event of a no-deal Brexit, although DHSC has now been given several opportunities to explain what they might be if they did exist.

Hancock had told the committee that it was easier now to recruit people into social care because of the introduction of the government’s “national living wage”, which had led to workers in the sector receiving “some of the fastest pay rises” across the economy as so many of them were previously only being paid the minimum wage.

Hancock had said that it was “important to plan for all eventualities” and so his department was planning for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit’s impact on the NHS although it did not think that was likely to happen.

He said: “A no-deal scenario for the NHS will be difficult but we are confident that if everybody does everything that they need to do then we will have an unhindered supply of medicines.

We can make sure that we get the talent that we need from around the world and we can have a medicine and medical devices regulation system that can provide for access to the best new medicines.”

He added: “As a contingency we prepare for all eventualities, including no-deal, and no-deal clearly is the one that makes life… for which we have to do the most preparation.”

The committee had earlier heard from Mark Dayan, a policy and public affairs analyst at Nuffield Trust, that a no-deal Brexit would likely cause “quite a big problem for social care” because of the sector’s current reliance on EU workers, and because it has to compete for workers with other low-paid sectors in the UK economy.

He said the government would have “total freedom” with its immigration policy in such a situation and so could keep allowing people who want to work in social care into the country but he said that “all the indications we have are that that will not be the case and that there will be strong impediments to workers with lower salaries and lower qualifications”.

He told Johnson: “The social care sector is in an extremely weak position to start raising wages to try and bring in a bigger share of a pool that is not growing as quickly, so I think you are absolutely right to flag that up as a concern.

For me it’s a bigger one actually than the [impact of a no-deal Brexit on the] NHS workforce.”

29 November 2018

 

 

DWP admits failing to keep track of disability discrimination claims by its own staff

The government department responsible for running the Disability Confident employment scheme has admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints of disability discrimination are made by its own staff.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) repeatedly brags about its much-criticised scheme, which aims to help employers recruit and retain disabled employees, and it claims itself to be a Disability Confident “Leader”, the highest of the scheme’s three levels.

But last month Disability News Service (DNS) reported how the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period.

Now a freedom of information response to DNS from the department has revealed that it has been failing to track how many complaints by staff through its internal grievance system are based on allegations of disability discrimination.

It says in the response: “DWP’s central [human resources] system records the number of grievances made by DWP employees each year; however it does not record disability discrimination as a discrete category of grievance.”

It says in the response that it “treats complaints of Disability Discrimination very seriously and would always rigorously investigate such a complaint”.

But Dr Minh Alexander, a former consultant psychiatrist and NHS whistleblower whose research led to the DWP tribunal figures, said the failure to track disability-related grievances showed “incompetence and disinterest”.

She said: “If DWP don’t track disability-related grievances, they can’t know if a greater proportion of disabled employees are filing grievances, and therefore potentially experiencing worse treatment. Not so Disability Confident!!”

And David Gillon, a prominent disabled critic of the Disability Confident scheme, said it was “extraordinary that DWP does not keep systematic track of internal disability discrimination”.

He said: “This would be unbelievably lackadaisical in a small or medium-sized company; it is difficult to comprehend in an organisation the size of DWP that is not just a Disability Confident Leader, but the organisation that defines Disability Confident.

The failure to track this information demonstrates a comprehensive failure to follow DWP’s obligations under Disability Confident for both employee retention and ongoing improvement.

If DWP is not gathering this information, and therefore is clearly not compliant with its Disability Confident Leader certification, then shouldn’t DWP’s certification be withdrawn?”

But he also pointed out that there was no mechanism within the flawed Disability Confident scheme to assess whether a Disability Confident organisation was meeting its membership obligations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suggested that DWP should have been monitoring how many disability-related grievances it was dealing with.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “Appropriate data collection is essential in uncovering and understanding discrepancies in any workplace.

Whilst collecting data on disability discrimination cases specifically is not a requirement of the [Equality Act’s] public sector equality duty, it would be a beneficial way of monitoring how an organisation is performing against its obligations.”

A DWP spokeswoman said the department takes “active steps to promote equality” and that the complaints system – provided by a third party – had now been “updated to capture categories of grievances”, a step apparently taken in the days after the freedom of information response was sent to DNS on 22 November.

According to information provided to DNS by the department, DWP has also altered its policies only this year to ensure that employees found to have bullied, harassed or discriminated against a colleague are dealt with under its disciplinary procedures.

It is due to make further changes next month to make it easier for employees to report such behaviour and to make anonymous reporting easier.

Meanwhile, Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, has launched a new voluntary framework that aims to encourage employers to report how many of their staff consider themselves to be disabled or to have a long-term physical or mental health condition.

It came as she hosted a roundtable at Downing Street with businesses such as Barclays, Channel 4 and KPMG, and disabled employees, to discuss “what more companies can do to build inclusive workforces”.

29 November 2018

 

 

Watchdog calls on government to act ‘before it’s too late’ on impact of cuts

The equality watchdog has called on the government to “do something before it’s too late”, after its own research showed UK government reforms will cut the living standards of disabled people with the highest support needs in England by more than 10 per cent.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report says that the “disproportionate” impact of spending cuts on disabled people – and other disadvantaged groups – shows the UK government has breached the principle of non-discrimination laid out in international human rights treaties.

The Cumulative Impact on Living Standards of Public Spending Changes looks at the impact of changes in England, Scotland and Wales from 2010-11 – when the coalition government came to power – until 2021-22.

It concludes that the impact of cuts to public spending per head of population in areas such health, social care, public transport and housing (through changes in the value of the public services they use) will have a much more significant impact on households in England than on those in Scotland and Wales.

Overall, public spending per head is forecast to fall by around 18 per cent in England, 5.5 per cent in Wales and just over one per cent in Scotland, with particularly heavy falls on spending per head on higher and further education in England and Wales and on social housing in England.

But the impact of public spending changes over those 11 years on disabled people in England is also much more significant – largely because of social care cuts – with households with people with six or more significant impairments in total experiencing losses of more than £2,900 per year, compared to such households in Wales losing less than £800, and those in Scotland actually gaining by almost £100 a year.

The new report, carried out for EHRC by Landman Economics and Aubergine Analysis, also combines the new figures with research it published earlier this year on the overall impact of tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms on disabled people and other groups.

It concludes that the overall impact of all of these austerity reforms will see those households with disabled people with the highest support needs losing 10.5 per cent of their “final income” (including the value of the public services they use), compared with similar households in Scotland losing 4.5 per cent of their final income and those in Wales losing just under five per cent.

The report concludes that the differences between the three countries are partly because of faster population growth in England, but also due to different spending priorities, and more generous funding in Scotland resulting from the Scottish government’s own income tax rises.

EHRC said the figures – and the different impacts in Wales and Scotland – showed that “neither the overall scale of spending cuts in England, nor their precise impact on protected groups, was inevitable”.

EHRC called on the UK government, as well as those in Scotland and Wales, to mitigate the effects of the cuts by increasing spending in areas such as universal credit, health, social care, education and social housing.

It also called for the next major spending announcements of the three governments to include equality impact assessments, including cumulative assessments that would show how the overall packages of measures would impact on groups such as disabled people.

And the commission said the three governments should explain how these spending measures would comply with their duties as public sector bodies under the Equality Act (through the public sector equality duty).

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC’s chief executive, said: “We know that some communities are being left behind and that the gap is widening.

We know we need to do something before it’s too late and we’ve shown that it’s possible to assess public spending decisions to see if we can make the impact fairer.

Our latest research has found that welfare reforms, coupled with changes in other spending such as on transport, housing and health, have a disproportionate effect on disabled people, children and young people, women and certain ethnic minorities.

This impact needs to be mitigated to ensure that everyone can have a fair chance in life and realise their right to an adequate standard of living.”

The Treasury failed to comment on the EHRC report by 10am this morning (Thursday).

29 November 2018

 

 

Ombudsman warns of sharp rise in complaints about care charges

An ombudsman has warned of the sharp rise in complaints he has received about how local authorities in England are charging disabled people for their care and support.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said there had been a nine per cent increase in complaints about adult social care charging over the last 12 months.

There was also a sharp rise in complaints about direct payments (an increase of 13 per cent) and a smaller increase in complaints about assessment and care planning (a 1.4 per cent rise), comparing 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The ombudsman warned that the complaints he was dealing with on adult social care were no longer just “one-off mistakes” but were increasingly about the “systems and policies” of local authorities.

He said he had become “increasingly concerned” about the way some local authorities were “handling the need to balance the pressures they are under with the way they assess and charge for care”.

In his annual review of social care complaints, King said he had been upholding two-thirds (67 per cent) of complaints about charging, which was higher than the rate for adult social care (62 per cent), and for all complaints the ombudsman investigates (57 per cent).

He said: “Assessment and care planning, and how care is paid for, remain some of the biggest areas of complaint.

Even more concerning is that the issues we see demonstrate a shift from one-off mistakes to problems with whole systems and policies, or procedures being incorrectly applied.

Adult social care has seen sustained high levels of complaints upheld compared to our general work.

We know authorities are operating under an enormous amount of pressure and financial challenge to deliver care services.

The stark reality of this is now playing out in the complaints we see.”

The Local Government Association refused to comment on the ombudsman’s criticism of local authorities’ care charging policies and performance.

The ombudsman’s report comes just two weeks after a report from the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG) found that charging disabled people for their care and support was driving many of them into debt and forcing them to cut their spending on food or heating.

The ILSG study found that four in 10 (41 per cent) of those responding to a survey had experienced a substantial increase in charges over the last couple of years.

Jenny Morris, an ILSG member, said: “The increase in complaints to the ombudsman about charging for care and support comes as no surprise to the Independent Living Strategy Group.  

Our survey found that many people are facing substantial increases in charges, many are cutting back on essentials like food and heating, and some are forced into debt.  

The Care Act was all about ensuring people’s well-being but charges are effectively a tax on disability and old age and are having a negative impact on well-being.” 

29 November 2018

 

 

Crossrail step-free promise looks set to be broken

The promise to disabled people that every station on London’s much-delayed, £15 billion Crossrail project would be step-free from the moment it opens looks increasingly likely to be broken.

Four years ago, a two-year campaign by disabled and older people led to promises by Transport for London (TfL) that every one of its stations would be step-free, at least from street to platform-level.

Disabled campaigners had been furious when they found out that seven of the Crossrail stations would not be accessible to wheelchair-users, but their campaigning led to further funding from TfL and the government to ensure that every one of the 41 stations would be step-free.

But Disability News Service has established this week that at least one of these stations is unlikely to be step-free by the time the new line finally opens next year, with question-marks over several others and contracts for some of the projects to install lifts still to be awarded.

Transport for All, the user-led organisation that campaigns on accessible transport in London, first raised concerns last week, saying on Twitter that the news that some stations could open without being fully accessible to disabled and older people was “totally unacceptable”.

Stage four of Crossrail – now renamed the Elizabeth line – which will see trains running into central London from Shenfield in Essex, is due to open in May next year.

But work by Network Rail to make Ilford and Romford stations step-free still does not have a completion date, while it is seeking funding from the government’s Access to All scheme to install a lift at one of the platforms at nearby Brentwood, due to “technical challenges”.

There are also question-marks over whether work being led by TfL to make Maryland, Manor Park and Seven Kings on this eastern branch step-free will be completed in time for its planned opening next spring.

Stage five of the scheme, with trains running from the west into central London, is also beset with delays, with the current date for opening now not likely until December 2019.

Work to make Acton Main Line, Hayes and Harlington, Southall, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway and West Drayton step-free has been delayed, with Network Rail unable to provide any completion dates for the work, although it says it is “underway”.

TfL work to install lifts at Hanwell, Iver, Langley and Taplow, on the same western stretch of the line, is also not due to be completed until the end of next year.

The central section of the line, with its 10 new stations and tunnels, has been delayed from next month until next autumn at the earliest, although all these new stations will be step-free from street-level to train when they eventually open.

Network Rail said the delays with step-free work were largely because “design work has taken longer than envisaged to incorporate the upgrades suggested by local authorities and communities”, while “some elements of the tender review process for the main ticket hall works have taken longer than expected as we seek to ensure maximum value for money for the public purse”.

A Network Rail spokesman added: “We do not yet know if there is a change to the target dates for Stage 4 (Shenfield into the central section) and Stage 5 (Reading into central section) so at this stage it is not possible to say what will be complete by the time the Elizabeth line actually opens.

A TfL spokeswoman said: “There were some issues with the design of lifts at stations in the east.

This, combined with the limited access time on stations to complete the work, has led to some delays in the delivery.

The vast majority of the work at the stations takes place during planned weekend closures throughout the year to enable staff to work safely.”

She added: “The Elizabeth line will completely transform the accessibility of the transport network for passengers across London and the south east.

All 41 stations will be step-free to platform level, staffed from first to last train, with a ‘turn up and go’ service offered to anyone needing assistance.

All of the parties involved – TfL, Network Rail, Crossrail Ltd and the Department for Transport – remain 100 per cent committed to delivering these benefits.

We continue to work closely with Network Rail, who are working to deliver vital accessibility improvements at some of the stations on the above-ground parts of the route to the east and west of the central section.”

29 November 2018

 

 

Action needed to make major roads more accessible, says watchdog

A transport watchdog is calling for action to make the network of major roads across England more accessible to disabled drivers and passengers.

A new Transport Focus report, An Accessible Road Network?, centres mainly on the barriers disabled people face in using roadside services, as well as the problems caused for some disabled drivers who become stuck in long traffic jams or whose vehicles break down.

Among the concerns raised by disabled people interviewed by Transport Focus was the difficulty of escaping their vehicle quickly and scaling the barrier at the side of the road after breaking down.

There were also concerns that breakdown and recovery staff were not trained to deal with disabled drivers and passengers and adapted vehicles.

The report says it is unclear if minimum training requirements are in place for breakdown and recovery services, and it calls for all such organisations to “review and improve the disability awareness training given to all their staff”.

Those interviewed also raised long-standing concerns about the difficulty of securing assistance to refuel vehicles at filling stations, with the report calling on petrol retailers to ensure they meet their obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

Disabled interviewees also said that services on ‘A’ roads often do not have accessible toilets, while there were also reports of those accessible toilets that were available being used to store bins or staff bicycles.

The report says there are currently only 20 Changing Places toilets – facilities with extra space and equipment for disabled people who cannot use standard accessible toilets – in place or planned at roadside services in England, just two of which are at ‘A’ road services.

It calls on the Department for Transport (DfT) to fulfil the pledge in its inclusive transport strategy that it would spend £2 million to support the installation of more Changing Places facilities in motorway services.

Among the report’s other recommendations is a call for the government to ensure that providers of roadside services allow more than two hours’ free parking for disabled drivers and passengers because they often need extra time.

And Transport Focus calls on DfT to carry out research to identify the number and location of driving instructors trained to help those with learning difficulties or hearing impairments, which would “enable an assessment to be made as to whether there are sufficient numbers in all parts of the country”.

There are also recommendations for Highways England, including a call for it to update and publicise information about the help available to disabled people who are caught in traffic jams and need urgent assistance, and who they should call if their vehicles break down.

There is also a call for Highways England – which runs England’s network of motorways and ‘A’ roads – to compile and maintain accurate information about facilities provided for disabled road-users at services on its roads.

And the report says that the companies that run roadside services should strengthen efforts to ensure that accessible parking spaces are only used by motorists with blue badges.

The report, published today (Thursday), was based on interviews with 50 disabled drivers and passengers, focus groups and interviews with service-providers and experts, including the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), which advises the government on transport access issues.

Helen Dolphin, a DPTAC member [but not speaking on behalf of the committee] and an independent mobility consultant, said: “Thanks to the Motability scheme and sophisticated car adaptations, many disabled people are able to drive and this means that the road network may need to make some changes to ensure disabled people can use the roads as safely as every other driver.”

Dolphin, herself a disabled driver, added: “I am therefore pleased that this report has highlighted many issues that I have been raising for many years and I sincerely hope that the recommendations put forward will be carried out.” 

DfT today (Thursday) announced a partnership with the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK to allocate the £2 million funding for new Changing Places toilets at motorway services, which will be installed in “the early 2020s”.

But a DfT spokeswoman also said that motorway services operators were required to provide up to two hours free parking and that charging for longer parking periods was “a commercial matter for the operators”.

She added: “Disabled people who need specially qualified driving instructions can speak to the Association of Disability Driving Instructors for impartial advice.

In the longer term, we recognise the need for further research to understand the barriers to transport that people with cognitive, behavioural and mental health conditions may face.

As outlined in our response to the consultation on the Accessibility Action Plan, we intend to proceed with this research by 2022.”

Highways England welcomed the Transport Focus report and said it would be launching a new National Mobility and Disabled Road User Forum next month, which it said would help inform its response to the recommendations.

It said it had already developed messages to display on electronic signs to “better inform road users about what is happening when they are caught up in incidents on our roads, specifically addressing the concerns of those trapped in traffic”.

It also said it would “refresh” disability-related training for its traffic officers and would “work with disability and mobility forums to define what information is important to road users, and how they want that information shared”.

A Highways England spokeswoman said: “We will work with operators to collect information about their roadside facilities, and will look at ways to publish it that reach the road users that need it.”

And she said the agency would engage with operators of services “to discuss how we can work together to consider areas raised in the research, such as extending parking times where appropriate, and the layout of service areas”.

She said Highways England was “already in discussions with DfT about enabling the construction of more Changing Places facilities at motorway service areas”, while operators of services had been “actively engaging with Highways England about existing provision, usage and future funding” of accessible toilets.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “Disabled road users tell us how driving gives them independence and a sense of freedom when using public transport may not be possible.

More must be done to remove the barriers that disabled people face when they travel on the road network.

Until now, much of the transport debate around disability has been mostly about public transport.

This research widens the discussion to people who drive or are driven, a vital form of mobility for many people.”

28 November 2018

 

 

Bus company ‘turns back clock on wheelchair access’

A bus company has turned back the clock on access by introducing new buses that will make it harder for wheelchair-users to use public transport, says a leading disabled campaigner.

Lothian Buses took the decision to ban non-folding buggies from its vehicles in 2008 so the accessible spaces could be used by wheelchair-users, which it said at the time was a reasonable adjustment under the Disability Discrimination Act.

It scrapped the ban four years later – following years of protests from parents – after introducing more than 250 new buses with dedicated spaces for both buggies and wheelchairs, although passengers with buggies still had to vacate spaces for wheelchair-users if required.

But the company, which provides services to Edinburgh and the surrounding areas, has now announced that it will be introducing new double-decker buses, with extra capacity, audio-visual announcements, wi-fi and high-backed seating.

But the new buses will only have one accessible space, with no separate area for buggies.

Campaigners and politicians have warned that the new vehicles risk shutting both disabled people and parents with young children out of central Edinburgh.

Transport access campaigner Doug Paulley, who himself secured a Supreme Court victory over another bus company’s failure to ensure the rights of wheelchair-users to use its services, said he was “very concerned about the change in Lothian’s attitude and approach”.

He said: “They know there is a known severe problem of conflict for the wheelchair space, as evidenced by their previous policy and the parents’ campaign.

They’ve gone from a bastion of good accessibility practice which I and others held up to recalcitrant organisations, to a lazy position of reinstating conditions causing such conflict, without thinking the issues through.

Disabled people will suffer as a result: all the repeated and known problems of conflict with non-wheelchair users, and the lock-on confidence problems, conflict and unpleasantness this engenders. All of which is totally unnecessary. They are going backwards.

Their lack of knowledge, care and competence is demonstrated succinctly by their claim that the buses are ‘DDA compliant’ when the Disability Discrimination Act hasn’t existed for eight years and when they have previously acknowledged that a vehicle’s physical compliance with the accessibility regulations is not enough on its own to ensure wheelchair users have reliable and hassle-free access to buses.”

Lothian Buses had failed to comment by 10 am this morning (Thursday).

29 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 14:37
Nov 222018
 

McVey flees DWP without answering key questions on WCA deaths ‘cover-up’

Esther McVey has quit as work and pensions secretary without answering questions she was asked by MPs four months ago about whether her department covered up links between its hated fitness for work test and the deaths of benefit claimants.

McVey resigned last week in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit deal, but her resignation came months after two opposition spokespeople wrote to her about claims of a possible cover-up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Neither Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, nor Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrats’ work and pensions spokesman, had received a response from McVey to their questions by the time she quit the department.

They had written to her after Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP was refusing to say if it showed key documents linking the deaths of claimants with the work capability assessment (WCA) to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert the government hired to review the test in 2013 and 2014.

Litchfield carried out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has refused to say if he was shown two letters written by coroners and a number of secret DWP “peer reviews”.

Litchfield, who was recognised by the prime minister with a CBE in June’s birthday honours, published his two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of his reports mentioned the documents, which all link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

De Cordova wrote to McVey seeking answers about the documents on 25 July, nearly four months ago, and has yet to receive a reply.

Lloyd’s letter to McVey, written a week later, on 2 August, said it would be “astonishing” if Litchfield had not been shown the documents.

His letter added: “In light of Dr Litchfield being awarded a CBE, could you please confirm whether or not he was shown the documents linking the government’s WCA program with the deaths of benefit claimants?”

Weeks later, having failed to receive a reply, Lloyd wrote a follow-up letter.

His office confirmed this week that McVey had failed to reply to either letter.

Even though DWP possessed both the coroners’ letters and all the peer reviews, it has claimed in a freedom of information response that it holds no information in its records to show whether they were passed to Litchfield while he was reviewing the WCA.

A DWP spokeswoman refused to explain why McVey had not answered the letters from de Cordova and Lloyd.

Instead, she repeated a previous comment from the department, stating that Litchfield’s reviews were “independent” and that “DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request”, while “any evidence used was referenced in the review”.

Since DNS revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that DWP and some of its ministers deliberately covered-up evidence showing the fatal impact of the assessment on disabled people.

The coroner’s letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013, and were sent to DWP in the spring of 2010 and early 2014, each warning of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by DWP civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as other deaths and serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

One of the aims of a peer review is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

But neither of Litchfield’s reviews mentioned either the peer reviews or the coroners’ letters, although the second coroner’s letter was not written until he had begun work on his second review.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, who carried out the first three WCA reviews in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has told DNS he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter (the second letter had not been written by the time he completed his third review) nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

22 November 2018

 

 

Ministers’ ‘shocking’ failure to consult DPOs on bill shows UN convention ignorance

The government is facing calls to halt the progress of its mental capacity bill through parliament because of its “shocking” failure to consult any disabled people’s organisations about the controversial legislation, in a clear breach of the UN disability convention.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has admitted in a freedom of information response that it failed to consult any organisations led by disabled people while drawing up its mental capacity (amendment) bill.

Instead, it resorted to discussions with big charities like Mencap and Sense, which are run and controlled by non-disabled people, a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

It released the list of organisations it consulted in a freedom of information response to the disabled people’s organisation (DPO) Inclusion London.

But DHSC this week admitted that it believed – wrongly – that consulting non-user-led charities like Mencap and Sense on disability-related legislation meant that it was complying with the convention.

Inclusion London said it was “extremely disappointed but unfortunately not surprised” by the department’s “continued apparent inability to understand the difference” between disability charities and DPOs. 

And it said it was “outraged” by the failure to consult any DPOs about the bill “despite repeated requests from organisations of people with learning difficulties and self-advocacy groups”, while Inclusion London said the government had also failed to publish any accessible, easy read information about the bill.

Inclusion London called on the government to halt the passage of the “hugely important bill” until it had carried out a “meaningful consultation” with DPOs.

And it called on the government to take its duties under the convention seriously and start engaging directly with DPOs “as required by the UNCRPD”.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the government appeared to be “deliberately and persistently misunderstanding the very real difference” between DPOs and those charities “that are run and controlled by non-disabled people that do not represent us or reflect our lived experience”.

She said the evidence pointed to the government “deliberately choosing not to consult or engage” with DPOs, and she added: “This is quite simply unacceptable and goes against everything the UNCRPD stands for.”

She said: “In any other circumstances there would be an outcry if a bill that focuses on a specific community then excludes that community from having any information, knowledge or say over that bill.”

But she said this now appeared to be “standard government practice” where disabled people were concerned.

Last week, DNS reported how more than 100,000 people had signed a petition – drawn up by a network of DPOs, including Inclusion London – demanding the government make major changes to the bill because of fears that it would make it easier for many disabled people to be deprived of their freedom.

There are particular concerns about the powers that the bill – which will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries – will grant care home managers, local authorities and NHS organisations.

Some amendments to the bill have been made in the last few days, but they have not satisfied the concerns of disabled campaigners. The bill began its report stage in the Lords yesterday (Wednesday).

The timing of DHSC’s admission is particularly embarrassing for the government, coming just days after a UN rapporteur delivered a stinging report on its efforts to address the extreme poverty experienced by disabled people and other disadvantaged groups.

It is also little more than a year after the chair of a UN committee said the government’s cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”.

In the freedom of information response, DHSC listed 28 organisations that it consulted with about the bill between March 2017 and July 2018, including the General Medical Council, the Law Society, the National Autistic Society, Mencap, Sense, Rethink, the Care Providers Alliance, Age UK, the British Association of Social Workers and BUPA.

It also said it consulted with representatives of local government, the social care sector and the NHS.

But not one of the 28 organisations is led and controlled by disabled people.

The UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its “general comment number seven”, which was adopted in September.

When Disability News Service (DNS) asked DHSC why it failed to consult any DPOs about the new legislation, and whether it accepted that this was a breach of the UN convention, a spokeswoman said there was no such breach “as we have consulted (and continue to consult) with ‘representative organisations’, as required”.

She added: “The [UNCRPD] requires government to consult with ‘representative organisations’.

We have complied with this by consulting throughout the process with third sector organisations, such as Mencap and Sense, who represent disabled people and whose members have fed back their views.

We have also engaged directly with individuals with dementia and learning disabilities, and their carers, to ensure the bill delivers effective reform whilst strengthening safeguards.”

When DNS pointed to the convention and general comment number seven, another DHSC spokeswoman declined to change the comment, and said: “We consider that we have complied with the convention by consulting throughout the process with third sector organisations, such as Mencap and Sense, who represent disabled people and whose members have fed back their views.”

DHSC also says the bill is based on proposals from the Law Commission, which itself carried out four years of engagement with service-users, local government and service-providers.

22 November 2018

 

 

UN poverty report: Newton refuses to apologise for misleading MPs about report

The minister for disabled people is refusing to apologise to MPs for misleading them about a report by a UN human rights expert on the UK’s record on causing and addressing extreme poverty.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, finished a 12-day fact-finding visit to the UK last week, concluding that the government’s policies and “drastic cuts to social support” were “entrenching” high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery.

He was highly critical of the benefits system, and highlighted claimants’ concerns about the system of “mandatory reconsiderations” (MR), in which DWP civil servants review decisions on eligibility for benefits such as personal independence payment and employment and support allowance.

Claimants must go through an MR before they can appeal to an independent tribunal.

But Alston concluded, in the preliminary report he published on Friday: “When claimants contest assessments that they consider to be wrong, there is a clear sense that the Orwellian named anonymous ‘decision-maker’ rarely varies the approach.

Similarly the requirement that before appealing a disability assessment to a tribunal a phase of mandatory reconsideration must take place is considered by many observers to be little more than a delaying tactic.”

But when asked by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, whether she would commission an independent review of how benefit sanctions and conditionality affect disabled people – after Alston had described the sanctions regime as “debilitating”, “draconian”, “harsh” and “arbitrary” – Newton instead claimed that there had been “factual errors” in the UN rapporteur’s report.

She said: “For example, on mandatory reconsiderations, ​he absolutely denied the fact that decisions were overturned, yet 19 per cent of mandatory reconsiderations found in favour of disabled people.”

She also told MPs that the benefit system was “there to provide personalised and tailored support for its recipients”, and she added: “We have undertaken a huge number of independent reviews of our benefit system and we do not hesitate in making improvements when they are identified.”

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say if Newton would apologise for misrepresenting what Alston had said in his report.

She also refused to say if Newton would point to the other “factual errors” she referred to in the House of Commons.

But she said, in a general statement about the report: “We completely disagree with this analysis.

With this government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.”

She added: “We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.”

It is the fourth time in less than a year that Newton has been accused of misleading MPs.

In July, she denied misleading the Commons work and pensions committee about the early years of the government’s much-criticised disability employment scheme Disability Confident.

In June, as she tried to defend her government’s repeated breaches of the UN disability convention, she misled MPs in the House of Commons by stating that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”, even though every part of employment and support allowance – apart from the support group top-up – is caught in the freeze on working-age benefits that is set to last until 2020.

And in January, Newton had refused to apologise for misleading MPs about a court of appeal judgment that was highly critical of her new boss, Esther McVey, just a day after her appointment as the new work and pensions secretary.

22 November 2018

 

 

UN poverty report: UK government has ‘inflicted great misery’ on disabled people

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies, a UN human rights expert has concluded.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said disabled people had faced “endless problems” as a result of the government’s social security reforms.

And he said it was clear that there needed to be a better assessment of the impact of the government’s social security cuts and reforms, including any links to the deaths of people found unfairly fit for work.

He said work capability assessments that had found disabled people unfairly “fit for work” had caused “a huge cause of frustration and disbelief” and that he had no doubt that disabled people had been “hit particularly hard by the changes in the benefit system”.

Alston said figures from the Social Metrics Commission showed that 14 million people, a fifth of the population, were living in poverty and nearly half of them were from families in which someone was disabled.

He said disabled people “were feeling a very big crunch” and he added: “Many of them were still getting benefits but those benefits had been reduced dramatically, many others were put in a position where the assessment had concluded that they were not really disabled and that they should simply get out and work.”

He said disabled people had told him “again and again about benefits assessments that were superficial and dismissive, and that led to findings that contradicted the advice of their doctor”.

Alston said the “lack of compassion” and the “lack of trying to really understand the challenges confronted in life” by many disabled people was “a real problem”.

He was speaking to journalists at the end of a 12-day visit to the UK as he published a preliminary statement on his findings.

He said the government had succeeded in putting out the message that “the state does not have your back any longer. You are on your own.”

And he warned: “By emphasizing work as a panacea for poverty against all evidence and dismantling the community support, benefits, and public services on which so many rely, the government has created a highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences.”

Alston said his discussions with ministers had convinced him that they were in “a state of denial” about poverty.

He said they appeared to be “happy with the way their policies are playing out” even though they had inflicted “great misery” on groups such as “the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping”.

He said he had heard “story after story from people who considered and even attempted suicide” and had spoken with many organisations that had needed to introduce suicide prevention training for frontline staff.

One adviser told him: “The cumulative impact of successive cuts has been devastating.

People are coming to me because they are suicidal, they have turned to sex work, they can’t live with themselves.”

Alston said there was a sense from the government that it should “make the system as unwelcoming as possible, that people who need benefits should be reminded constantly that they are lucky to get anything, that nothing will be made easy”.

And he said it was “very hard to disagree” with the conclusion that the government’s sanctions system was “cruel and inhuman”.

He said the government clearly wanted sanctions to be “harsh… immediate… painful”, even though the evidence he had seen suggested that they were “usually counter-productive, that they create fear and loathing among claimants, that they impose immense hardships on people who might have been five minutes late for an appointment [or] might have screwed up in some other way”.

Alston said this “punitive approach” was “utterly inconsistent” with the “social underpinnings” of both people’s human rights and the “British sense of community and the values of justice and fairness”.

Although his report focused on the social security system, particularly universal credit, he also pointed to the real-terms cuts of 49 per cent in government funding faced by local authorities from 2010-11 to 2017-18, alongside a rise in demand for social services.

He said: “As I toured the country, I was told time and again about important public services being pared down, the loss of institutions that would have previously protected vulnerable people, social care services that are at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin.”

Asked in parliament on Monday about the report’s findings on disability, the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said the government was “putting in place record levels of funding to support people with disabilities”.

She said: “I published a very full response to the previous UN report [by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities], and I utterly repudiate the conclusion that this country does not support disabled people.

I am determined to make sure that every disabled person in our country has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

Asked by Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, about the sanctions regime and the “hostile environment” the government had created for disabled people, Newton claimed wrongly that Alston had stated that no benefit decisions at all were overturned at the internal review, or mandatory reconsideration, stage (see separate story).

Newton said: “The benefit system is there to provide personalised and tailored support for its recipients.

We have undertaken a huge number of independent reviews of our benefit system and we do not hesitate in making improvements when they are identified.”

Alston will present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June.

22 November 2018

UN poverty report: Universal credit could ‘wreak havoc’, says human rights expert

The government’s new universal credit benefit system could “wreak havoc” and has created a “digital barrier” that prevents many disabled people and other disadvantaged groups from accessing the support they are entitled to, according to a UN human rights expert.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the government’s “test and learn” approach to universal credit risked treating such groups “like guinea pigs” and could “wreak havoc in real people’s lives”.

And he said that the preparations being made by local authorities and charities for the rollout of universal credit had “resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic”.

He said: “They have expended significant expense and energy to protect people from what is supposed to be a support system.”

Alston was speaking to journalists at the end of a 12-day visit to the UK, as he published a preliminary statement on his findings. He will present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June.

Earlier this month, Disability News Service reported how written evidence submitted to Alston’s inquiry described how a man with learning difficulties had died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto universal credit that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

Alston said in his report that a key feature of universal credit was the imposition of “draconian sanctions”, even for minor infringements.

He said: “Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the special rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.”

Alston also warned of the impact of the government’s decision to make universal credit the first major government service that is “digital by default”, with the expectation that claimants will rely on an online service rather than human interaction with DWP staff.

He said: “We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm.

In its place, a digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.”

Asked about Alston’s concerns about universal credit, the new work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, told MPs on Monday that she had been “disappointed, to say the least, by the extraordinary political nature of his language” in the report.

She said: “We on the Conservative benches will always engage with professionals, experts and non-governmental organisations – we are not so proud that we do not think we can learn as we try to adjust universal credit for the benefit of everybody – but that sort of language was wholly inappropriate and actually discredited a lot of what he was saying.

We look forward to working with experts in the area to make sure that we get the right outcome for the people whom we want to look after.”

She later described her new department as “a force for good”, but she admitted that there were “problems with universal credit, despite its good intentions”.

She said: “I have seen them for myself. I will be listening and learning from the expert groups in this area who do such good work. I know it can be better.

I will make it my role to ensure that we deliver that through our discussions within the DWP and through discussions with the Treasury.

We will have a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system.”

In response to Rudd’s comments, Alston said on Twitter that the government had “a set of talking points about poverty and employment” that fail to address poverty, use “carefully chosen and misleading statistics to paint a rosy picture” and “ignore the horrible situation in which a large number of Britons live.

He added: “That’s not the way to find solutions.”

He also told Disability News Service: “I am hoping the secretary of state’s criticism of my report is not a substitute for a more systematic policy response to the many issues I have raised. 

My report recounts in some depth the many problems experienced by adversely impacted groups, and especially by people with disabilities, and I would hope that DWP will seek to improve the system so that it does not cause such hardship and make already very difficult situations even worse.”

22 November 2018

Union leads call for action on ‘silent massacre’ of disabled staff and students

Disabled teachers, lecturers and students have come together to call for sweeping changes to disability equality laws, and to highlight the barriers they face across the education sector.

A parliamentary meeting heard last night (Wednesday) how disabled people working in the education sector have been confronted by employers that are failing to provide them with accessible lecture and teaching spaces, denying them the right to disability leave – for disability-related absence from work – and delaying the provision of the reasonable adjustments they need and are entitled to under the Equality Act.

The event, hosted by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, was part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) first national day of action for disability equality in education.

Joanna Vanderhoof, co-chair of UNISON’s eastern region disabled members’ committee, described how she had been forced to go through an internal grievance procedure to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed from her university employer.

She said she had been “fundamentally failed” by her employer and as a result set up a disabled staff network and implemented workplace training on disability equality.

She said: “My employer broke current legislation in multiple areas yet I’m the one who has suffered and they face no repercussions whatsoever.”

She said she felt “utterly trapped because I can’t move to another job easily the way others can because I am disabled”.

Vanderhoof said that current legislation was “simply not sufficient”.

Disabled physics teacher Saeeda Bugtti said she had gone from being a highly-praised “poster girl” for her school to being asked if she wanted to take early retirement, after she became disabled.

She said: “As soon as I became disabled, I was too much of a problem.”

She echoed other speakers who had described how long it took for reasonable adjustments to be agreed and implemented by employers.

Another disabled member of staff said it had taken his “affluent” university – which had a surplus of £200 million – one-and-a-half years to provide him with a telephone with an amplifier.

He said the current legislation was “toothless” and there was a need to campaign for “a more effective Equality Act”.

Elane Heffernan, chair of UCU’s disabled members’ standing committee, who chaired the meeting, said: “We have to win this change. We cannot have this silent massacre of workers in education and students who cannot even get in through the door in the first place in terms of education.”

The meeting also heard how further education colleges and universities, motivated by increasing pressure to cut costs and increase revenue, were refusing to support disabled students and even attempting to force then out because it was too expensive to provide them with the support they needed.

Rachel O’Brien, disabled students’ officer for the NUS, said there was an increasing “marketisation” of further and higher education, as well as cuts to disabled students’ allowance in higher education and the introduction of education, health and care plans in further education, which had also led to cuts in support.

She said the introduction of “fitness to study” policies – assessing whether someone can continue as a student by looking at aspects of their life on campus such as health, behavior and attendance – implicitly or even explicitly targeted disabled students, such as those with mental health conditions, and could see them kicked off their courses.

She said: “It is no coincidence that this has come in at the same time as marketisation.

Disabled students, to be frank, are expensive. Universities and colleges are being forced to be businesses.

They have incentives to get rid of us, and they are trying to do it as fast as they possibly can.”

Among UCU’s demands are for legal rights to disability leave, a review of building regulations to ensure facilities are fully accessible, and strict time limits for reasonable adjustments to be provided for disabled staff.

Campaigners who have supported the UCU campaign – including other unions such as the National Education Union and Unison – also want a legal right for disabled people to access mainstream education and a reversal of cuts to special educational needs and disability (SEND) spending.

Michelle Daley, an inclusive education campaigner, said that disabled people should not be asking for “reasonable adjustments” but should be seeking “adjustments as a right” if that was what they needed to be able to function.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: “Education funding has an impact on our right to access mainstream education.

We are increasingly seeing attacks on provision of support and local authority support and disabled students’ allowance support in mainstream education.”

She said there was “more and more money being ploughed into segregated provision”, which amounted to an “ideological attack” on disabled people’s right to inclusive education.

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “It is so important that disabled people have role models but disabled staff within education settings are… under attack from workplace discrimination and worsening conditions at work, with experiences of hostile environments and isolation at work all far too commonplace. This is unacceptable.”

The idea for the day of action originally came from the union-funded National Disabled People’s Summit, which was held at the headquarters of the National Education Union in central London last November and was co-organised by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance.

The House of Commons event also coincided with the start of Disability History Month (see separate story).

Richard Rieser, founder of Disability History Month, told the day of action event that there was a need to “learn from the history” when it came to the increasing segregation of disabled children and young people, and he added: “We have the right to be treated with equality and challenge all the historic assumptions that have been made about us for many hundreds of years.”

The day saw UCU branches across the country organise activities to raise awareness about the issues faced by disabled staff and students, with support tweeted through the hashtag #IncludeUs.

One of those actions took place at the University of Liverpool, and involved disabled lecturer Dr Kay Inckle, who told Disability News Service in August how she had been forced to scour the campus for accessible rooms in which she could deliver her lectures.

She was even told that it might be considered “reasonable” for her to go down stairs on her bottom in some circumstances rather than be timetabled into ground floor or fully accessible rooms.

22 November 2018

 

ALLFIE calls for halt to MPs’ ‘sham’ SEN inquiry

A disabled campaigner has called for a “sham” inquiry by MPs into the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system to be halted until it agrees to address the increased levels of segregation of disabled students and cuts to their support.

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), spoke out the day after she gave evidence to the Commons education committee’s inquiry.

She told an event held in parliament last night (Wednesday) to mark the University and College Union’s (UCU) first national day of action for disability equality in education that the committee was refusing to “discuss the increased levels of segregation, refusing to discuss what needs to happen for this country to be more inclusive, is refusing to discuss cuts to SEND support services”.

She added: “I would urge everybody in this room to write to their MPs to demand an end to that inquiry until they have decent terms of reference that recognise the attack on inclusive education in this country.”

Flood told Disability News Service this morning that she had been feeling “more and more angry” about the way her evidence had been handled by the committee’s chair, disabled Tory MP Robert Halfon.

She said: “I felt I was the only one who was ignored when I attempted to speak.

I was stopped from talking when I started talking about the need for a rights-based education system.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been that polite.”

She is to write to the committee to express her concerns and will also contact the committee’s Labour MPs to ask why they had not made a stronger case for the committee’s “incredibly weak” terms of reference to be expanded.

Halfon was not available to comment this morning.

Flood told the committee on Tuesday that there had been a “spike” in the number of parents contacting ALLFIE for help since the government’s Children and Families Act became law in 2014.

She was one of a number of SEND experts giving evidence to the committee as part of its inquiry into the impact of the major reforms to the SEND system introduced through the act.

She said: “I would say the majority [of parents who contact ALLFIE] are at the end of their tether.

They come to us and then recount the most appalling experience of struggle, of fight, of battle, feeling embattled, and a lot of this revolves around the myth of parental choice.”

She told the committee that there was no choice in the current system, and that parents had to accept the decisions of their local council, school or other education provider.

She said: “The minute that a parent says, ‘we want something different,’ particularly if it is, ‘we want our young person in mainstream with all the right support,’ parents are then often finding themselves isolated, labelled as a difficult parent, an unreasonable parent often, and are then left to fight.”

Flood said that this often leads to “a hugely expensive and very adversarial battle” with the local authority.

She added: “There is a perfect storm in terms of schools struggling with league tables, struggling with funding, parents struggling to get the right support for themselves and for their young person and yet still expected to talk about having choice and having a new aspiration for their children.”

Flood said the “real issue” was that the SEND system was “needs-led” rather than “rights-led”.

She said: “Parents will often have to get into this awful competitive round of who has the most significant need.”

The committee also heard from Steve Haines, executive director for policy and campaigns for the National Deaf Children’s Society, who pointed to a survey by the charity of about 1,000 parents of D/deaf children and young people.

He said that only about four per cent felt they had seen an improvement in support since the act was introduced while 82 per cent were concerned about funding.

One of the areas the committee’s inquiry is examining is the act’s replacement of statements of special educational needs with new education, health and care plans (EHCPs), which last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support a family in England should receive.

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, which is a “strategic reform partner” with the Department for Education on its SEND reforms, said a “fundamental criticism” of the act was that it had “concentrated almost wholly in its first three years on the 2.8 per cent of children who have EHCPs.

Our worry is that the other 12 per cent of children who actually need SEN support are not yet getting that support in the way that they should.

It’s not clearly defined enough in schools, it’s not nearly understood enough in schools. We are clear that that remains an area of significant challenges.”

She also said there was an “inbuilt unfairness in the system” because it was usually people who were “white and middle class and educated” who were able to fight the system and take their battle for support for their child to a tribunal.

Guardian journalist John Harris, whose son is autistic, told the committee that the new system was “failing” despite its good intentions, partly because it was “enacted at a time of austerity, which continues”.

He said parents often find an “almost impossible wall of paperwork” when they seek support for their disabled child, followed by an “almost straight kneejerk refusal” by the local authority.

He said that, “irrespective of the good intentions” in the act, its execution had left “a huge amount to be desired, and I would say we are faced with a system in crisis”.

22 November 2018

Campaigner’s six-year battle to secure the truth about universal credit

A freedom of information campaigner has vowed to continue his six-year battle to uncover the grim truth about universal credit and its impact on disabled people and other groups fighting poverty.

John Slater has been using freedom of information laws since 2012 in an attempt to force the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reveal the serious flaws at the heart of its new benefits system.

Slater, who has an extensive background in software development and programme management in industry, has submitted scores of requests under the Freedom of Information Act in the last six-and-a-half years.

But his attempts to secure information that he believes should be publicly available have been repeatedly obstructed by DWP’s frequent breaches of freedom of information laws.

He first became intrigued in universal credit in early 2012 after claims from work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith that DWP was going to complete the move to universal credit within just five years, a claim he knew was a “ludicrously short timescale for such a complex programme”.

But he was also alarmed to hear about DWP’s plans to adopt an “agile” approach to developing the programme, something that had never been attempted on such a large and complex programme.

Agile is a technique used mostly for small IT projects and which relies on flexibility, responding rapidly to change and making frequent and continual improvements.

None of these, Slater knew, were descriptions usually associated with DWP, or the ministers in charge of the programme, including Iain Duncan Smith.

He therefore began asking DWP questions about Agile, the risks the department associated with the programme and the “milestones” it had set to measure the progress of universal credit, through freedom of information (FoI) requests.

But right from the start, the department placed every obstacle it could in his way.

In May 2012, Slater told DWP that it had breached its legal duty to respond to freedom of information requests within 20 working days.

Although the department responded to his complaint later the same day, it then relied on an exemption under the act, claiming that releasing the information would “prejudice the free and frank provision of advice” or the “effective conduct of public affairs”.

Slater did not finally secure all the information he was seeking until April 2016, nearly four years later, following a series of tribunal hearings and appeals. The information he received, he says, “did not show a well-run programme”.

He says he has continued to ask questions about the programme for more than six years because he is “stubborn”.

As long as the DWP tries to hide what is really going on within UC, I will keep asking reasonable questions and asking for information that should shine a light on what’s actually happening.”

He adds: “I suspect that if the DWP hadn’t fought so hard to prevent me getting the risks, issues and milestones and been so dishonest I may well have stopped after that initial FoI request.”

Since that first FoI, most of his requests have initially been refused by DWP, resulting in repeated complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

He has so far been successful in every single appeal he has made to the information rights first-tier tribunal, and in responding when DWP has appealed to the tribunal, including cases when DWP has withdrawn its appeal before the hearing.

He also complained to the ICO about DWP’s plans to share the sensitive data of claimants of universal credit with other organisations, which he believed breached the Data Protection Act, and which led to ICO raising “significant concerns” and his own subsequent FoI request which he used to ask DWP what measures it had taken to protect claimants’ sensitive personal data.

One of his FoI requests asked if DWP had a schedule or plan to show how the rollout of universal credit would be completed by 2021, as it claimed at the time.

He said: “Unsurprisingly, no such plan existed. This meant, in my opinion, that the date was a guess.”

One of his latest bids for transparency was launched in April 2017, seeking the information that was provided for regular meetings of the programme board that reviews progress on implementing the universal credit system and whose members are mostly senior DWP civil servants.

Like many other requests, its progress has been hindered by refusals, delays, appeals, complaints to the information commissioner, further delays, criticism of the department by the commissioner, and yet more of what he told DWP were “outrageous delaying tactics” and “contempt for the law”.

He said: “Given how hard it is to get accurate information about universal credit out of the DWP I asked for the packs of information that the UC programme board get given for their monthly meetings.

I assumed that this was likely to show an accurate view of what was really going on with UC.”

Last week, Disability News Service revealed how he had forced DWP to deposit significant numbers of previously confidential documents about universal credit in the House of Commons library as a result of this request.

Among those documents, Slater found evidence that appears to show that DWP is planning to transfer more benefits – including the contributory version of employment and support allowance – onto the creaking universal credit IT system.

He believes this would place greater stress on the system and expose even more disabled people to the stress and anxiety of having to cope with an online system that is already inaccessible to many of them.

He is currently waiting for the ICO to rule on whether DWP should release unredacted versions of the documents deposited in the Commons library, which he believes would reveal even more embarrassing information about the impact of universal credit on the people forced to rely on it.

Slater – who has worked closely on his campaigning with Disabled People Against Cuts – believes that universal credit was a “total mess” in its early years, before DWP brought in outside experts to assess what was going wrong.

This led to a major “reset” of the programme in 2013, following severe criticism by the government’s own Major Projects Authority.

Although Slater suspects it has now improved to some extent, he believes the disaster of the early years of its development means it is never likely to regain that lost ground.

He says: “Once something on this scale has gone so horribly wrong, I don’t think you can ever fully recover it and get it to the place it would have been if it had been run properly from the start. I’ve seen this with other programmes and projects.”

And he believes the senior civil servants leading on universal credit “are only just waking up to what it means to deliver change on this scale”.

But he also believes that DWP has failed to think about the impact of such major reform on the claimants themselves, including sick and disabled people, and “fails to reflect or take account of people’s real lives”.

I don’t think they give a damn about the claimants. I think they are almost seen as a nuisance,” he says.

The warnings and concerns of disabled activists, politicians and other professionals suggest he is right.

Campaigners have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, while, in June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

Secret DWP reviews have already been carried out into the deaths of at least four universal credit claimants that have been “linked to DWP activity”.

Disability News Service also reported earlier this month how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt. It is not clear whether this was one of the four deaths reviewed by DWP.

And only last week, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, said universal credit had “built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements”.

Slater agrees with this and warns of the “unexpected and unintended consequences” of the rush to rely on an online system, particularly as the numbers moving on to universal credit continue to increase and DWP continues to introduce major alterations to the software that powers the system.

He also agrees with Alston’s conclusion that the government’s “test and learn” approach “could treat vulnerable people like guinea pigs and wreak havoc in real people’s lives”.

Slater says: “The drive to reduce costs and automate parts of the UC process, especially sanctions, will cause major problems unless the DWP spends the time to think about and talk to people who are using the system.

I think as the UC system becomes more complex and things are automated, we will see more and more unexpected and unintended consequences.

For example, in the recent Panorama program a man was sanctioned because his work coach was away and a meeting couldn’t take place.

If the DWP is going to automate more of the process, this is only going to get worse for people.”

He fears that universal credit will never work properly because DWP refuses to listen to claimants, particularly those with the highest support needs and the most complex barriers to using the system.

In the meantime, he intends to continue probing the flaws of universal credit with his freedom of information requests.

He says: “As long as the DWP keeps trying to present universal credit in an unrealistically positive light, I will keep trying to get information that shows what is actually going on.

This is why we have the Freedom of Information Act.

I don’t like organisations that are dishonest and use their size and power to bully people and impose their will or get away with mistakes that should be made public.”

22 November 2018

 

 

Activist tells mental health conference delegates: ‘You’re helping no-one but yourselves’

Grassroots activists have challenged the government and mental health professionals over their failure to address widespread attacks on their rights.

Members of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) were outside a conference in central London on Tuesday to protest at the “deeply harmful” impact of mental health services on the wellbeing of people living with mental distress.

MHRN said that “profiteers” and “cost cutters” at the event – which was examining “next steps for mental health services” – would be discussing services “designed to benefit employers and neoliberal ideology over the wellbeing of people who live with mental distress”.

They want instead to see a “change in culture” in mental health services and an immediate end to the “conscious cruelty” of the work capability assessment.

Several MHRN activists also attended part of the event, organised by Westminster Health Forum, which is believed to have been attended mostly by mental health professionals and civil servants.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, told delegates the conference was “a disgrace” and that they had “no right to make money out of people in mental distress”.

She reminded them that people were taking their own lives because they were having their benefits removed.

She said: “This is about people making money. You’re helping no-one but yourselves.”

She told Disability News Service later that the focus of the part of the event she had attended had been on the government’s agenda of pushing people with mental health conditions into work.

She said: “This abusive ideology is now being embedded into the type of treatment we are receiving.

You go in to a mental health professional and they actually start bullying you to get a job.

There was this most toxic piece of Tory ideology being spouted out [at the conference]. I am really not happy with psychiatrists talking about a work cure. That’s quackery.”

Members of MHRN handed over copies of their new document, We Demand… , to delegates, and have sent a copy to Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director.

We Demand… makes 50 demands for reform, both of mental health services, and the social security system that service-users rely on.

The document includes calls for a public inquiry into the harm caused by psychiatric drugs and ECT; for the research and manufacture of drugs to be nationalised; for user-led mental health services; and for an inquiry into violence and abuse of patients in psychiatric wards and the community.

Among its demands on social security, it calls for universal credit to be “stopped and scrapped”; for an end to “degrading and stressful” benefit assessments; for the removal of all DWP work coaches from NHS settings; and for an end to “the lie that work can cure mental distress”.

They also want to see a public inquiry into deaths linked to the benefits system, with legal action taken against any MP or peer implicated in these deaths.

And they want to see legal action taken against any health professionals and disability benefits assessors who “cause harm by colluding with the removal of social security”.

An MHRN spokesperson said: “Action to hold the government to account is now long overdue as its reckless and contemptuous treatment of mental health service users and disabled people, removing vital support services and holding the threat of cutting our benefits constantly over our heads, is causing great harm and driving some to suicide.”

MHRN has demanded a full response to its demands from NHS England within two months, and wants an invitation to speak at all such future events.

In an open letter to Murdoch, MHRN demanded “a change in the culture of mental health provision, with the focus on long-term user led support and a stop to the ‘work-outcome or be sanctioned’ approach which is set to drive benefits provision for mental health service users” and amounts to a “dangerous level of pressure and coercion”.

The letter added: “We will also be demanding an end to the lie that mental distress can be cured by the simple act of trying hard enough.

This is another way of saying, ‘pull yourself together’. It is ill informed, lazy, accusatory, cruel and counter-productive.”

A spokesman for Westminster Health Forum declined to comment on the content of the conference.

22 November 2018

Fresh concerns from user-led network over mental health review

A user-led network has raised new concerns about the approach being taken by those leading a review of a key piece of mental health legislation on behalf of the government, just weeks before they are due to publish their recommendations.

The National Survivor User Network (NSUN) has released a letter it has sent to the chair and vice-chairs of the review of the Mental Health Act 1983, which raises serious concerns about their failure to consider an adequate human rights approach to reform of the act.

The NSUN letter highlights the continuing disquiet of the network and a wide range of other user-led organisations, service-users and allies about the review’s approach, following an earlier letter and a meeting with leaders of the review in July.

Their concerns include the “lack of concrete evidence” that service-users and carers are having an adequate influence on the review, including the failure to hear from enough people who have experienced detention, and an under-representation of service-users and carers in key working groups.

They are also concerned at the “unwillingness” of the chair and vice-chairs to consider recommending the full implementation of the rights contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

A full implementation of the convention would include bringing an end to “detentions, substitute decision-making [appointing someone to make decisions on behalf of a service-user, rather than providing them with support to make the decision themselves] and compulsory treatment”.

The letter from Dr Sarah Carr, NSUN’s acting chair, and Sarah Yiannoullou, its managing director, says they continue to have “serious misgivings” about the review and the recommendations it will make to the government, which are expected next month.

More than 120 organisations and individuals – led by NSUN – first wrote to the review in May to raise alarm about its reluctance to recommend full rights that comply with the UNCRPD.

A further 17 organisations and individuals have since added their names to the concerns being raised.

The first letter included a call on the review to address the concerns raised by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, after it investigated the UK’s implementation of the UN disability convention last year.

The UN committee said in the “concluding observations” to its examination of the UK that the government should “repeal legislation and practices that authorise non-consensual involuntary, compulsory treatment” and the detention of disabled people “on the basis of actual or perceived impairment”.

But Carr and Yiannoullou believe that the review team, led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, has failed to change its approach since July’s meeting.

They are alarmed that the review’s recommendations are due to be published next month, and could form the basis for the last major reform of mental health legislation for many years.

Carr and Yiannoullou ask the review in their letter to consider a number of recommendations, including services that would be needed if there was to be compliance with the UN convention, such as an “extensive expansion of community-based and community-led resources” and a sharp increase in services that are user-led and appropriate for marginalised communities.

They also want to see widely-available peer advocacy and a “significant rise” in the number of resources that service-users have found particularly therapeutic, such as crisis houses or refuges available to service-users as an alternative to hospital.

In response to the NSUN letter, Wessely said: “Engaging with service users and carers has been a consistent priority for the review as we work towards our final report due out in December.

One of my vice-chairs, Steve Gilbert, is a mental health service user and has a critical role in influencing and shaping of all our work.

We have service users and carers within our advisory panel and each of the 18 specialist topic groups we ran over the summer.

We have a standing service user and carer group, which consists of people with a range of lived experience – both past and present; who we have met with regularly and who have robustly challenged our emerging thinking.

He said the review team had also held more than 50 focus groups across England and Wales since the start of the year, to hear from people with direct experience of the act, including those currently detained in a variety of settings.

There have been more than 2,000 responses to a survey of people with lived experience, and eight workshops, each involving about 100 attendees.

Wessely also pointed to blogs by Sarah Markham, a member of the service user and carer group, posted in July and August, in which she praised the efforts of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the review team to ensure that service-users contribute to the review.

DHSC said the review of the Mental Health Act “will consider the reasons for rising rates of detention under the act, how to reduce the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained and how to improve processes that are out of step with a modern mental health care system”.

22 November 2018

Parliamentary event recognises disabled musicians who trumped oppression

A parliamentary event has recognised some of the many artists over the centuries whose talent as musicians has “trumped” the oppression they experienced as disabled people.

The event was held to launch the ninth annual Disability History Month, which this year focuses on disability and music and runs from 19 November to 22 December.

Richard Rieser, founder and coordinator of UK Disability History Month (UKDHM), listed many of the countless disabled musicians – many of whose impairments are not widely known – whose “creative impulse, the urge for self-expression, the need to connect to our fellow human beings” have trumped “the oppression we as disabled people face”.

Those he mentioned included Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Connie Boswell, Itzhak Perlman, Frederick Delius, Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Derek Paravicini, Robert Wyatt, and many blind, black musicians such as blues performers Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, and the Reverend Gary Davis, as well as Art Tatum, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder.

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, who sponsored the event, said Disability History Month allowed people to hear about the “hidden history” of disabled people that is never heard in the mainstream media.

He said: “It’s vitally important that we celebrate it, but at the same time it’s important to recognize the reality of the world as it now is.”

He pointed to the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which concluded two years ago that the government was guilty of grave and systematic violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK.

He said: “I believe the systematic abuse of human rights is also denying people the opportunity of being able to celebrate their cultures.”

And he said the nature of the curriculum and the pressure on school funding were depriving children of the ability to learn instruments or to take part in dance or drama.

He said it was difficult enough for some of the disabled musicians highlighted during the event to demonstrate their talent but it was now becoming even harder for disabled young people to follow in their footsteps.

He said: “I think we are actually going backwards at the moment. If you see what is happening on the ground, in community after community, in school after school, group after group that have lost their funding… it is an absolute scandal.

So as well as celebrating the achievement I think we have to be straight with people as well and expose what’s actually happening.

This is not a party political point, it’s a point about civilized behavior. I think we are going backwards rather than forwards.”

He said there was a need to “get bloody angry”.

McDonnell added: “We should not, in the fifth largest economy in the world, allow disabled people to be treated in this way.

That anger should motivate us into further action.”

The event included highly-praised live performances from two disabled artists.

Tinuke Jonah performed her first single, Girls Like Me*, which is due to be released tomorrow (Friday), and which she said described how she had realised at the age of 18 that she no longer needed to apologise for her albinism.

John Kelly, playing the Kellycaster, an adapted guitar he created with the music, disability and technology charity Drake Music, sung two rights anthems.

The Kellycaster uses an electric guitar as an interface for computer software, allowing him to play both chords and notes.

Kelly said his guitar helped fight oppression, and he added: “We are fighting louder than ever and our voices need to be heard louder than ever.”

He quoted the disabled poet Allan Sutherland, who told him that when he was young, he “didn’t have any footprints to follow” as a disabled person.

He said that disability art is about our culture, it’s about who we are.

It gives us that confidence to fight the injustices and oppression we experience.”

The event also watched a video of one of the songs recorded by Lizzie Emeh, who was the first UK artist with a learning difficulty to release an album of original songs, Loud and Proud, in 2009.

She said that her next EP, Meds, which will be released in February, will be about the medication she takes and how it affects her.

She said: “I hate the word ‘normal’. Do you know why I hate it?

To me, normal is like a cycle on a washing-machine. Do I look like a washing-machine to you?”

The launch event also heard part of an interview between Rieser and Deaf solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, a longer version of which will be posted on the UKDHM website.

She described how taking off her hearing aids had allowed her to hear the drum she was playing through her body rather than her ears which “really allowed me to concentrate on the whole journey of that sound, the impact of the sound, the resonance of the sound.

Taking care of how that sound ended was really important because before I was just bang, bang, bang…”

George McKay, professor of media studies at the University of East Anglia, and author of books on protest movements, jazz, and popular music and disability, pointed to the links between punk music and disability, through disabled musicians like Ian Dury and Ian Curtis.

He said the performance of Dury’s rights anthem Spasticus Autisticus at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics managed to “articulate an expression of difference and a celebration of difference”.

It was, he said, an “extraordinary punk moment”.

*The single will be available from tomorrow by searching for “Tinuke Jonah Girls Like Me” on all major music platforms, including Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and Google Play

22 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:23
Nov 192018
 

#WeDemand Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has a Protest tomorrow, Tuesday 20th November 2018, from 8am.
Why?
Westminster Health Forum are holding a seminar tomorrow at OverSeas House, Park Place, St Janes Street London SW1A Called ‘Next Steps For Mental Health Services In England, funding, care and effencies. Which means cuts!

In fact, Lord Coles has made a series of recommendations in how to save a further £1bn from NHS Trusts budgets by 2020 the bad and the downright terrible ie NHS England, MIND and DWP will all be in attendance tomorrow

Either join MHRN in solidarity in person from 8 am in person address is above, or follow and tweet on line

Follow @MHResist and use the hashtag for the protest from 8am #WeDemand
Also follow @WHFEvents who are hosting the bad and the terrible and counter act them and hijack their hashtag for the event #Mentalhealth conf

Please join in however you can

Please show solidarity to MHRN

Please share with all networks and support.

 Posted by at 22:17
Nov 172018
 

Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Version with footnotes (PDF)

London, 16 November 2018

Introduction

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

The results? 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%.   For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone.  Its manifestations are clear for all to see.  The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country.  But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is.  The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial.  Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.  Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.  The good news is that many of the problems could readily be solved if the Government were to acknowledge the problems and consider some of the recommendations below.

In my travels across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland I met with people living in poverty, whether old, young, disabled, in work or not.  I talked with civil society, front line workers, work coaches, and officials from local, devolved, and UK governments; and visited community organizations, social housing, a Jobcentre, a food bank, an advice center, a library, and a primary school.  I also met a range of Ministers in the central government and in Wales, as well as with the First Minister in Scotland.  I spoke at length with politicians from all of the major political parties.

In the past two weeks I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future, young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose support, against their doctor’s orders.

I have also seen tremendous resilience, strength, and generosity, with neighbors supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions, and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services. I also heard stories of deeply compassionate work coaches and of a regional Jobcenter director who had transformed the ethos in the relevant offices.

Although the provision of social security to those in need is a public service and a vital anchor to prevent people being pulled into poverty, the policies put in place since 2010 are usually discussed under the rubric of austerity.  But this framing leads the inquiry in the wrong direction.  In the area of poverty-related policy, the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering.  Successive governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system for delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it.  Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.  In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.

Most of the political debate around social well-being in the UK has focused only on the goals sought to be achieved.  These goals are in many respects admirable, even though some have been controversial.  They include a commitment to place employment at the heart of anti-poverty policy, a quest for greater efficiency and cost savings, a determination to simplify an excessively complicated and unwieldy benefits system, a desire to increase the uptake of benefits by those entitled, removing the ‘welfare cliff’ that deterred beneficiaries from seeking work, and a desire to provide more skills training.

But Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy.  In fact, however, the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit.  The many billions advertised as having been extracted from the benefits system since 2010 have been offset by the additional resources required to fund emergency services by families and the community, by local government, by doctors and hospital accident and emergency centres, and even by the ever-shrinking and under-funded police force.

Leaving the economics of change to one side, it is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems.  The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded, and some have claimed simple-minded, focus on getting people into employment at all costs.  Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society.  British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.  I provide various examples later in this statement.

Brexit
My report comes at a critical moment in the debate over Brexit.  I take no position on its merits or on the optimal terms for undertaking it, but anyone concerned with poverty in the UK has reason to be very deeply concerned.  Whatever happens in the period ahead, we know that deep uncertainty will persist for a long time, that economic growth rates are likely to take a strong hit, and that tax revenues will fall significantly.  If current policies towards low income working people and others living in poverty are maintained in the face of these developments, the poor will be substantially less well off than they already are.   This could well lead to significant public discontent, further division and even instability, thus underscoring the importance that steps be taken now to avoid such outcomes.

There are many concerns linked to Brexit.  Given the vast number of policies, programs and spending priorities that will need to be addressed over the next few years, and the major changes that will inevitably accompany them, it is the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society who will be least able to cope and will take the biggest hit. The IMF has suggested that a no-deal Brexit could cost the UK economy somewhere between 5% and 8% of GDP, representing a loss of thousands of pounds per household.

In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought, to be dealt with through manipulations of fiscal policy after the event, if at all. But Brexit will have serious consequences in this domain and the challenges need to be dealt with head on. A lack of clarity is preventing families at risk of poverty from planning for its impact. People feel their homes, jobs, and communities are at risk.  Ironically, it was these very fears and insecurity that contributed significantly to the Brexit vote.

The fall in the value of the pound has already increased the cost of living for people in poverty by £400 pounds per year, and researchers have estimated that the UK economy is already 2-2.5% smaller than it would otherwise have been. Almost all studies have shown that the UK economy will be worse off because of Brexit, with consequences for inflation, real wages, and consumer prices. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, if the government does not adequately uprate benefits to account for inflation after Brexit, up to 900,000 more people could fall into poverty. This would strain a social support system that has been gutted in recent years.

The vote for Brexit reflects a great value being placed on the notion of sovereignty. But while people in a democracy are entitled to prioritize sovereignty through such a vote, it is imperative for steps to be taken to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure that the further fiscal consolidation measures called for by the Government and the International Monetary Fund should not be achieved at the risk of making that group of people even worse off.

The UK stands to lose billions of pounds in EU funds that will disproportionately affect the poorer areas that have most benefited from them, including almost £9 billion in poverty reduction funding between 2014 and 2020. Although the government has announced a “shared prosperity fund” to replace this funding, local and devolved governments told me they had no information about the fund or how it would operate—just five months before Brexit. Time is running out. Brexit could also have particularly harsh consequences for people living in Northern Ireland, with people living on the border and dependent on trade or cross-border employment.

If the European Charter of Fundamental Rights becomes no longer applicable in the UK, the level of human rights protections enjoyed by the population will be significantly diminished.  The UK should not roll back EU-derived human rights protections on workplace regulation and inequality.

Universal Credit
No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than Universal Credit.  Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.

Social support should be a route out of poverty, and Universal Credit should be a key part of that process. Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle.  But many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting. While some surveys suggest certain claimants do have positive experiences with Universal Credit, an increasing body of research makes clear that there are far too many instances in which Universal Credit is being implemented in ways that negatively impact many claimants’ mental health, finances, and work prospects.

In addition to all of the negative publicity about Universal Credit in the UK media and among politicians of all parties, I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit. When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits.

The Universal Credit system is designed with a five week delay between when people successfully file a claim and when they receive benefits. Research suggests that this “waiting period,” which actually often takes up to 12 weeks, pushes many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears, and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat. Given the delay, which will only be partially mitigated by a recent concession, it is no surprise that the majority of claimants seek “advance payments,” which in turn must be repaid to DWP in relatively short order. Additionally, debts to DWP and to third-parties can be deducted from already meager Universal Credit payments at a rate much higher than is the case with the older benefit system. While supposedly deductions are capped at a maximum rate of 40% of the standard allowance portion of the payment (which will change to 30% in a year’s time), the Government told me that in fact additional clawbacks can occur. These so-called “Last Resort Deductions” are for matters such as rent, gas, and electricity arrears, if it is judged to be in the best interest of a claimant or their household.

The rationales offered for the delay are entirely illusory, and the motivation strikes me as a combination of cost-saving, enhanced cashflows, and wanting to make clear that being on benefits should involve hardship. Instead, recipients are immediately plunged into further debt and inevitably struggle mightily to survive.

There are undoubtedly many people who have benefited from the Universal Credit system, and many of the Jobcentre staff play important roles in supporting and encouraging their clients.  But many claimants also feel that they are forced to jump through hoops for the sake of it, fill out pointless job applications for positions that do not match their qualifications, and take inappropriate low-paid, temporary work just to avoid debilitating sanctions. One Conservative Party MP with whom I spoke criticized DWP for adopting a military-style command and control approach rather than seeking to empower their clients and instill confidence.

The digital-by-default feature of Universal Credit is highly controversial and a detailed assessment of this aspect is found on page 7 below.

When claimants contest assessments that they consider to be wrong, there is a clear sense that the Orwellian named anonymous ‘decision-maker’ rarely varies the approach.  Similarly the requirement that before appealing a disability assessment to a tribunal a phase of mandatory reconsideration must take place is considered by many observers to be little more than a delaying tactic.

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor.  Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.  As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years. 

Recent statistics indicate dramatic fluctuations in sanctioning, perhaps reflecting different instructions from on high. For unemployed people, between 6% and 8% are subjected to sanctions, and 31% of sanctions were for a period exceeding three months, and one in eight were over six months. A recent book characterized the sanctions as being cruel, inhuman and degrading, and the Inquiry undertaken by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found “evidence of grave and systematic violation of the rights of persons with disabilities,” partly on the basis of the sanctions regime.

Many detailed studies have been undertaken which give substance to the harsh consequences that ensue for vulnerable claimants who are sanctioned.   Departmental and Ministerial insistence notwithstanding, there is no clear evidence that recent high employment rates in the UK are due to sanctions, or that blunt and harsh sanctions are superior to far less harmful methods to encourage compliance with conditionality. Indeed, a real deficiency in the data DWP provides about sanctions makes it difficult to assess the regime. DWP does not make public sanctions data disaggregated by race or ethnicity, much less certain other claimant statuses such as single parents or carers. It is also impossible to determine from the data the number of sanctions that an individual has received, so it is not clear if the duration of sanctions is due to consecutive sanctions or rather an individual sanction of longer duration.What is clear from those with whom the Special Rapporteur has spoken, is that sanctions succeed in instilling a fear and loathing of the system in many claimants.

The government says it is taking an experimental “test and learn” approach to Universal Credit, but there seems to be an unacknowledged risk that this approach could treat vulnerable people like guinea pigs and wreak havoc in real peoples’ lives. “Test and learn” cannot be a decade-long excuse for failing to properly design a system that is meant to guarantee the social security of so many, and it does not remedy the damage done to those who were thrown into debt or out of their houses, or made to rely on food banks before the improvements kicked in.

As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future rollout of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilization resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic. They have expended significant expense and energy to protect people from what is supposed to be a support system. Scotland has repeatedly urged the Government to halt the rollout and paid DWP for the introduction of certain flexibilities for claimants, such as the ability to receive payments more frequently. This is a constant complaint, and while some beneficiaries are happy with monthly payments, a great many suffer as a result of the arrangement, and may end up visitng the food bank or forgoing heating just to stretch a very small amount out over an entire month.  While cost has been cited by DWP as one justification for being inflexible and unresponsive, vast amounts have already been expended on automating the system and I am unaware of any precise costing estimate to justify the resistance to implementing this reform.

A Digital Welfare State
Relatively unnoticed amidst the turmoil of Brexit, the UK government announced the ‘total transformation’ of government in 2017. The 2017 Government Transformation Strategy was presented as “the most ambitious programme of change of any government anywhere in the world.” Not only will government services become ‘digital by default,’ as was first announced in 2012, but the inner workings of government itself will be transformed in a push for automation aided by data science and artificial intelligence.

There are few places in government where these developments are more tangible than in the benefit system. We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm. In its place, a digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.

Universal Credit as a Digital by Default Service
The UK government made Universal Credit the first major government service that is ‘digital by default.’ This means that an entitlement claim is made online and that the beneficiary then interacts with authorities mainly through an online portal. One wonders why some of the most vulnerable and those with poor digital literacy had to go first in what amounts to a nationwide digital experiment.

From the outset, the belief within DWP has been that the overwhelming majority of Universal Credit claimants are online and digitally skilled, and confident enough to claim and maintain benefits digitally. Despite contrary indications from some officials, the relevant documents show DWP’s assumption that most people are at ease and competent online.

Overall rollout of broadband internet in the UK may be high, but those figures hide the fact that many poorer and more vulnerable household are effectively offline and without digital skills. According to 2017 Ofcom figures, only 47% of those on low income use broadband internet at home. Only 42% of those who are unemployed and 43% of those on low income do their banking online. According to the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, 21% of the UK population do not have five basic digital skills and 16% of the population is not able to fill out an online application form.

Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are more likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle. According to a 2017 Citizens Advice survey, 52% of its clients in ‘full service’ Universal Credit areas found the online application process difficult. According to DWP’s own survey from June 2018, only 54% of all claimants were able to apply online independently, without assistance. As of March of this year, only about one third of all Universal Credit claimants could verify their identity online via GOV.UK Verify, a crucial step in the application process.

Again, despite official protestations to the contrary, ‘digital by default’ is really much closer to digital only. Since Universal Credit was announced in 2010, DWP has always underlined that alternative routes to this benefit needed to be “kept to a minimum.” According to its own figures, 95% of Universal Credit claims they receive are made online. DWP points to the Universal Credit Helpline as an alternative route, but long waiting times and call center staff who, according to civil society organizations, are often poorly trained, make this a very frustrating alternative. Jobcentres, many of which have been closed, offer online access, but very little digital assistance is available and official policy is to keep ‘face-to-face’ help at a minimum. Only in really exceptional cases will work coaches make a home visit to offer digital support.

The reality is that digital assistance has been outsourced to public libraries and civil society organizations. Public libraries are on the frontline of helping the digitally excluded and digitally illiterate who wish to claim their right to Universal Credit. While library budgets have been severely cut across the country, they still have to deal with an influx of Universal Credit claimants who arrive at the library, often in a panic, to get help claiming benefits online. In Newcastle alone, the first city where ‘full service’ Universal Credit was rolled out in May 2016, the City Library has digitally assisted nearly 2,000 customers between August 2017 and September 2018.

Many claimants also rely on digital help from benefits rights organizations and charities that are already under pressure from a range of cuts and other demands. They currently receive minimal funding from DWP to deliver Assisted Digital Support, which only covers 2 hours of help with the original application and is not nearly enough to cover the demand for support. As of next year, Citizens Advice will be funded by DWP as the sole provider of Assisted Digital Support, with a total budget of £39 million spread out over several years, which must also cover personal budgeting support. Not only is this a small amount in light of the need, but it diverts funding away from public libraries and other organizations which have set up improvised digital support programs.

Around one third of new Universal Credit claims fail in the application process and never reach the payment stage. Many of those cases may be related to the design of the DWP system. I am unaware of any effort by DWP to estimate the number of people who do not even attempt to apply due to digital exclusion.

Automated Benefits
While Universal Credit is a very visible example of digital transformation, an even more significant digital change is happening within the walls of central and local authorities. The merging of six legacy benefits into one new Universal Credit system aimed at reaching millions of UK citizens is in fact a major automation project. The collection of data via the online application process and interactions with the online journal provide a clear stepping stone for further automation within DWP.

One example is the Real Time Information (RTI) system, which takes HMRC data on earnings submitted by employers and shares it with DWP, which in turn uses this data to automatically calculate monthly benefits. As DWP explained to the Special Rapporteur, Universal Credit is only possible because of the automated calculation of benefits via RTI.

But with automation comes error at scale. Various experts and civil society organizations pointed to problems with the data feed, including through wrong or late information transmitted by employers to HMRC. According to DWP, a team of 50 civil servants work full-time on dealing with the 2% of the millions of monthly transactions that are incorrect. Because the default position of DWP is to give the automated system the benefit of the doubt, claimants often have to wait for weeks to get paid the proper amount, even when they have written proof that the system was wrong. An old-fashioned pay slip is deemed irrelevant when the information on the computer is different.

Another area of major transformation is that of automated fraud and error detection and prevention. Serious investments have been made by DWP to undertake data matching to identify fraud and error in the context of the Generalised Matching Service. Over the years, millions of inconsistency matches have led to further investigations for fraud and error. At the local level, DWP has subsidized ‘risk-based verification systems’, mostly built by private IT vendors, which flag claimants for low, medium or high risk of fraud and error, thus allowing local authorities to investigate high risk cases more closely. At present, DWP is developing a “fully automated risk analysis and intelligence system for fraud and error,” which will go beyond automatically finding inconsistencies between different databases and aims to prevent fraud and error by using new tools including Artificial Intelligence.

An Artificial Future?
Artificial Intelligence is very much in fashion and there are many related initiatives in the UK. The Prime Minister aims to “propel Britain to global leadership of the industries of the future” including through the use of big data and artificial intelligence, and one of the ‘Grand Challenges’ of the November 2017 Industrial Strategy is to put the UK “at the forefront of the AI and data revolution.” The House of Lords will debate a recent report on Artificial Intelligence on Monday, and new institutions such as the AI Council, the government Office for AI and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation are being set up.

Government is increasingly automating itself with the use of data and new technology tools, including AI. Evidence shows that the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable are especially at risk in such contexts.

A major issue with the development of new technologies by the UK government is a lack of transparency. Even the existence of the automated systems developed by DWP’s ‘Analysis & Intelligence Hub’ and ‘Risk Intelligent Service’ is almost unknown. The existence, purpose and basic functioning of these automated government systems remains a mystery in many cases, fueling misconceptions and anxiety about them. Advocacy organizations and media must rely on Freedom of Information requests to clarify the scope of automated systems used by government, but such requests often fail. Central and local government departments typically claim that revealing more information on automation projects would prejudice its commercial interests or those of the IT consultancies it contracts to, would breach intellectual property protections, or would allow individuals to ‘game the system.’

But it is clear that more public knowledge about the development and operation of automated systems is necessary. The segmentation of claimants into low, medium and high risk in the benefit system is already happening in contexts such as ‘Risk-based verification.’ Those flagged as ‘higher risk’ are the subject of more intense scrutiny and investigation, often without even being aware of this fact. The presumption of innocence is turned on its head when everyone applying for a benefit is screened for potential wrongdoing in a system of total surveillance. And in the absence of transparency about the existence and workings of automated systems, the rights to contest an adverse decision, and to seek a meaningful remedy, are illusory.

There is nothing inherent in Artificial Intelligence and other technologies that enable automation that threatens human rights and the rule of law. The reality is that governments simply seek to operationalize their political preferences through technology; the outcomes may be good or bad. But without more transparency about the development and use of automated systems, it is impossible to make such an assessment. And by excluding citizens from decision-making in this area we may set the stage for a future based on an artificial democracy.

Transparency about the existence, purpose, and use of new technologies in government and participation of the public in these debates will go a long way toward demystifying technology and clarifying distributive impacts. New technologies certainly have great potential to do good. But more knowledge may also lead to more realism about the limits of technology. A machine learning system may be able to beat a human at chess, but it may be less adept at solving complicated social ills such as poverty.

The new institutions currently being set up by the UK government in the area of big data and AI focus heavily on ethics. While their establishment is certainly a positive development, we should not lose sight of the limits of an ethics frame. Ethical concepts such as fairness are without agreed upon definitions, unlike human rights which are law. Government use of automation, with its potential to severely restrict the rights of individuals, needs to be bound by the rule of law and not just an ethical code.

While the overall innovation agenda may point in the direction of light-touch regulation and ethics, the Special Rapporteur would argue for a strengthening of the existing legal framework and its enforcement by regulators such as the Information Commissioner’s Office. While the EU General Data Protection Regulation includes promising provisions related to automated decision-making and Data Protection Impact Assessments, it is worrying that the Data Protection Act 2018 creates a quite significant loophole to the GDPR for government data use and sharing in the context of the Framework for Data Processing by Government.

The Dismantling of the Broader Social Safety Net
Before describing the ways in which the overall social safety net is being systematically dismantled, it is important to acknowledge some of the positive developments of which I was informed by the Government. The latest budget introduced several positive changes to Universal Credit, including a welcome increase in work allowances, as a consequence of which an estimated 2.4 million households will be better off next year to the tune of £630. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that 200,000 people will move out of poverty as a result of this change. By the same token, such improvements will be partly offset by the continuing freeze on benefits combined with the effect of inflation. The government has also taken steps to prioritize important social care issues through the launch of the government’s first loneliness strategy and the appointment of a Minister for suicide prevention.

There are many ways in which the overall safety net has been reduced since 2010, but this section focuses specifically on the effects of the benefit freeze and cap, the reduction of legal aid, the reduced funding of local authorities, and resulting cuts in other specific services.

  1. Benefit reductions and limits

Significant reductions in the amount of and eligibility for important forms of support have undermined the capacity of benefits to loosen the grip of poverty.  Capping benefit amounts  to working-age households, limiting support to two children per family, reducing the Housing Benefit for under-occupied social housing, and reducing the value of a wide range of benefits, have all made it much harder for people to make ends meet.

While the Government has commendably sought to protect the pension entitlements of older people, especially by introducing in 2010 a ‘triple lock’ to ensure that annual pension levels rise in accordance with whichever is highest among the rate of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%. This helped to reduce poverty among pensioners, although the recent picture is less positive.

But the triple lock contrasts dramatically with the freeze on benefit rates for working age people since 2016. Poor households typically spend a higher proportion of their income on consumer goods than wealthy households and already often struggle to put food on the table after bills are paid. Despite this, the Government froze benefit rates in 2016, thus enabling continuing inflation to systematically reduce the value of the benefits.  Poor families have thus had to do more with less as the prices of goods has gone up and the value of their income has declined. Households are expected to have to cope with a reduction of £4.4 billion in 2019/20 alone. This year, when the Chancellor could have used the windfall he received from the Office for Budget Responsibility to end the benefit freeze a year earlier than planned, he instead chose to change income tax thresholds in a way that will help those better off and will do nothing to move the needle on poverty.

            (ii) Legal aid
There have been dramatic reductions in the availability of legal aid in England and Wales since 2012 and these have overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities, many of whom cannot otherwise afford to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy. The LASPO Act (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) gutted the scope of cases that are handled, ratcheted up the level of means-tested eligibility criteria, and substituted telephonic for many previously face-to-face advice services.

(iii) Local authorities’ cuts
In 2010, the Government pledged to radically reform public services by cutting funding to local authorities in England. This has had tremendous implications for local authorities, which are obligated to balance their books and whose revenue raising powers are limited. According to the National Audit Office, local governments in England have seen a 49% real-terms reduction in Government funding from 2010-11 to 2017-18 alongside a rise in demand for key social services.

As a result, they have transferred a greater share of service costs to users who are often the least able to pay. They have cut spending on services by 19% and focused their spending on statutorily mandatory adult social care and child protection services. The leader of one city council told me local governments have cut preventative, proactive services and then had to cope with a rise in crisis intervention– which can in fact be much more costly than preventative services.

More than 500 children’s centers closed between 2010 and 2018, and between 2010 and 2016 more than 340 libraries closed and 8,000 library jobs were lost. Anyone can rely on publicservices like the library, but they are of particular significance to those living in poverty who may need to access a computer or a safe community space. I spoke with a group of young people from London who made it clear how valuable a community center is as a safe space in a crowded city where people are squeezed by an immensely challenging housing market, and where being stuck out on the street could lead to crime and gang life.

Local welfare funds, a vital resource for people on the brink of crisis, have been another casualty of austerity. Many local governments in England have closed or cut their Local Welfare Assistance Schemes, leaving vulnerable people and those facing emergencies without anywhere to turn. At least 28 authorities have shuttered their local welfare funds and councils reported reducing their related expenditures by 72.5% between 2013 and 2018. From 2015 to 2018, the proportion of destitute people who reported receiving in-kind help from local welfare funds dropped sharply by 28%. The collapse of this resource for people who face sudden hardship has apparently been of no concern to the government, which decentralized responsibility for the funds and does not collect any information on what has become of them.

Local governments are even struggling with the basic services they are statutorily obligated to provide. Northamptonshire County Council has twice this year issued a formal notice indicating that it was at risk of unlawfully spending more than the resources it has available. As a result there are concerns that hundreds of vulnerable children are at greater risk of harm due to rapidly deteriorating frontline child protection services. In March 2018 the National Audit Office criticized the lack of ongoing, coordinated monitoring of the impact of funding cuts on local authority services and raised the alarm that statutory services are at risk.

The government plans to update its funding methodology for local governments from 2020-21, and in December 2017 it launched a formal consultation on the matter — the Fair Funding Review. Many people with whom I spoke from local and central government expressed concern that this review could lead to even more negative policies affecting people living in poverty.

(iv) Cuts in other services
As I toured the country, I was told time and again about important public services being pared down, the loss of institutions that would have previously protected vulnerable people, social care services that are at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin.

Cuts are being made without either measuring or accounting for their broader impact, such as increasing the need for crisis support and mental health services. People are being pushed toward much more expensive services that can’t turn them away, like accident and emergency rooms. Other parts of the government are now starting to feel the excessive resulting burden. And cuts that pare back the government’s ability to tackle poverty don’t even make economic sense. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that poverty is costing the UK £78 billion per year in measures to reduce or alleviate poverty—not counting the cost of benefits. £1 in every £5 spent on public services is making up for the way that poverty has damaged people’s lives.

The voluntary sector has done an admirable job of picking up the slack for those government functions that have been cut or de facto outsourced. One pastor told me that because the government has cut services to the bone, his church is providing meals paid for by church members. But that work is not an adequate substitute for the government’s obligations. Food banks cannot step in to do the government’s job, and teachers—who very well may be relying on food banks themselves—shouldn’t be responsible for ensuring their students have clean clothes and food to eat.

By emphasizing work as a panacea for poverty against all evidence and dismantling the community support, benefits, and public services on which so many rely, the government has created a highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences. As one city council leader told us, “If there is another recession, our capacity to react to it has been completely cut.” Government officials dismissed such concerns and claimed that Universal Credit would work equally well when a future recession brings high levels of unemployment.

Measuring and Monitoring Poverty
It became clear from my many meetings and encounters in the UK that people want to work, and are taking hard, low paying, and insecure jobs in order to put food on the table. They want to contribute to their society and communities, support their families, live in safe, affordable housing, and take control over their lives. A just and compassionate UK can ensure these people are able to escape the restrictions of poverty. But a social safety net is not just for people already in poverty. It is equally important for a very large number of people whose margin of error is small and for whom a single crisis can lead to disaster. Many of the people I heard from ended up struggling to overcome financial hardship because of a surprise health condition, a divorce, or a child’s disability. More and more working people are trapped in poverty by a rising tide of low pay, debt, and high living costs, and a majority of the UK population will use some form of benefits over an 18-year period. In other words, a majority of the British people have a personal stake in the welfare system functioning effectively.

To address poverty systematically and effectively it is essential to know its extent and character.  Yet the United Kingdom does not have an official measure of poverty. It produces four different measures of people who live on “below average income.” This allows it to pick and choose which numbers to use and to claim that “absolute poverty” is falling. Seen in context, however, other measures show that progress in reducing poverty has flat lined, child poverty is rising, and poverty is projected to rise in the coming years. The bipartisan Social Metrics Commission’s New Poverty Measure represents an attempt to create a single comprehensive measure of poverty, and these are the numbers I reference here unless otherwise noted. I would urge the Government to respond to the Commission and adopt its approach, which has received an impressive degree of cross-party support.

The government told me that there are 3.3 million more people in work than in 2010, that so called “absolute poverty” is falling, and that the social support system is working. An elected official added that there is no extreme poverty in the UK and nothing like the levels of destitution seen in other countries. But there is a striking and almost complete disconnect between what I heard from the government and what I consistently heard from many people directly, across the country.

People I spoke with told me they have to choose between eating and heating their homes, or eating and feeding their children. One person said, “I would rather feed my kids than pay my rent, but that could get us all kicked out.” Children are showing up at school with empty stomachs, and schools are collecting food on an ad hoc basis and sending it home because teachers know that their students will otherwise go hungry. Many families are living paycheck to paycheck. And 2.5 million people in the UK survive with incomes no more than 10% above the poverty line. They are thus just one crisis away from of falling into poverty through no fault of their own.

In Jaywick, Erin described how she and her husband used to work full time and had a savings account, but one crisis changed her life. “I needed full time care, and my husband had to leave his job,” she said. “Suddenly we were living on disability. Then our landlord gave us eight weeks to vacate the apartment. We discovered that no one will let you view a house when you’re on disability benefits…. I do not know where I’ll be putting my child to bed soon. Should he be made homeless?”

Cuts to social support, preventative services, and local councils mean that when people need help, there are fewer resources to support them, causing them to rely on charities and crisis services. One front line worker told me that they are referring people to food banks because “people have exhausted the possibility of borrowing from their families and friends, defaulted on their loans, and have nowhere else to go.”

I also heard story after story from people who considered and even attempted suicide, and spoke with multiple organizations that have instituted suicide prevention training for frontline staff in recent years. One person said, “The cumulative impact of successive cuts has been devastating. People are coming to me because they are suicidal, they have turned to sex work, they can’t live with themselves.”

These aren’t just anecdotes. They are reflected in the numbers. In England, homelessness is up 60% since 2010, rough sleeping is up 134%. There are 1.2 million people on the social housing waiting list, but less than 6,000 homes were built last year. Food bank use is up almost four-fold since 2012, and there are now about 2,000 food banks in the UK, up from just 29 at the height of the financial crisis. Not only does the government not measure food poverty, but a Minister dismissed the significance of foodbank use as being only occasional and noted that foodbanks exist in many other western countries. The clear implication was that their rapid growth in the UK should not be seen as cause for concern, let alone for government action.

Employment as the Cure-All for Poverty
The government says work is the solution to poverty and points to record employment rates as evidence that the country is going in the right direction. But being in employment does not magically overcome poverty. In-work poverty is increasingly common and almost 60% of those in poverty in the UK are in families where someone works. There are 2.8 million people living in poverty in families where all adults work full time. Families with two parents working full time at the national minimum wage are still 11% short of the income needed to raise a child. One person told me “I know people who are working five jobs to make the national minimum wage, which isn’t a living wage.”

Low wages, insecure jobs, and zero hour contracts mean that even at record unemployment there are still 14 million people in poverty. Government Ministers emphasized that only 3% of the workforce on zero hours contracts, with no benefits or security. But that amounts to almost one million workers, and a great many of them will be among the most vulnerable members of society. And the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that 10% of workers over 16 are in insecure employment. Jobs aren’t even a guarantee against people needing food banks. The Trussell Trust told me that one in six people referred to their food banks is in work. One pastor said “The majority of people using our food bank are in work…. Nurses and teachers are accessing food banks.”

The Hardest Hit
The costs of austerity have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities. The changes to taxes and benefits since 2010 have been highly regressive, and the policies have taken the highest toll on those least able to bear it. The government says everyone’s hard work has paid off, but according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, while the bottom 20% of earners will have lost on average 10% of their income by 2021/22 as a result of these changes, top earners have actually come out ahead. According to 2017 research by the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group, as a result of changes to taxes, benefits, and public spending from 2010 through 2020, Black and Asian households in the lowest fifth of incomes will experience largest average drop in living standards, about 20%.

(i) Women
Women are particularly affected by poverty. Reductions in social care services translate to an increased burden on primary caregivers who are disproportionately women. Under Universal Credit, single payments to an entire household may entrench problematic and often gendered dynamics within a couple, including by giving control of the payments to a financially or physically abusive partner. Changes to the support for single parents also disproportionately affect women, who make up about 90% of single parents, and as of August of this year, two-thirds of Universal Credit recipients who had their benefits capped were single parents. Single pensioners are also driving the uptick in pensioner poverty, and are significantly more likely to be women.

(ii) Children
Many of the recent changes to social support in the UK have a disparate impact on children, including the deeply problematic two child policy, the outrageous rape exception, and the benefits cap. The Equality and Human Rights Commission forecasts that another 1.5 million more children will fall into poverty between 2010 and 2021/22 as a result of the changes to benefits and taxes, a 10% increase from 31% to 41%. Sanctions against parents can have unintended consequences on their children. According to the Social Metrics Commission, almost a third of children in the UK live in poverty. After years of progress, child poverty is rising again, and expected to continue increasing sharply in the coming years. According to Child Poverty Action Group, the child benefit will have lost 23% of its real value between 2010 and 2020, due to sub-inflationary uprating and the current freeze. And low paid jobs and stagnant wages have a direct effect on children, with families where two adults earn the minimum wage still falling short of the adequate income needed to raise a child. Because of changes to benefits and taxes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission projects the poverty rate for children in single parent households to jump to a shocking 62% by 2021/22.

(iii) People with disabilities
Nearly half of those in poverty, 6.9 million people, are from families in which someone has a disability. People with disabilities are more likely to be in poverty, and are more likely to be unemployed, in insecure employment, or economically inactive. They have also been some of the hardest hit from austerity measures. As a result of changes to benefits and taxes since 2010, some families with disabilities are projected to lose £11,000 on average by 2021/22, more than 30% of their annual net income. People with disabilities told me again and again about benefits assessments that were superficial and dismissive, and that led to findings that contradicted the advice of their doctor.

(iv) Pensioners
Despite the protections offered by the triple lock, pensioner poverty has begun to rise after decades of decline. Between 2012/13 and 2016/17, the number of pensioners living in poverty rose by 300,000. As was made clear to me in a number of submissions and through powerful personal testimony, a group of women born in the 1950s have been particularly impacted by an abrupt and poorly phased in change in the state pension age from 60 to 66. The impact of the changes to pensionable age is such as to severely penalize those who happen to be on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives, rather than being plunged back into a workforce for which many of them were ill-prepared and to which they could not reasonably have been expected to adjust with no notice.

(v) Asylum seekers and migrants
Destitution is built into the asylum system. Asylum seekers are banned from working and limited to a derisory level of support that guarantees they will live in poverty. The government promotes work as the solution to poverty, yet refuses to allow this particular group to work. While asylum seekers receive some basic supports such as housing, they are left to make do with an inadequate, poverty-level income of around £5 a day. For those who have no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status, the situation can be particularly difficult; such individuals face an increased risk of exploitation and enjoy restricted access to educational opportunities.

(vi) Rural poverty
Despite the idyllic traditional image of the English countryside, poverty in rural areas is particularly harsh. Rural dwellers are particularly impacted by cuts to transportation and public services, are at a higher risk of loneliness and isolation, and often face higher fuel costs.

An organization working on rural poverty that I met with in Bristol told me, “If you’re poor in the countryside it’s twice as bad, because you don’t have access to services. People can’t afford the bus and the bus doesn’t go where you need it to anyways.” Without adequate access to transportation, people can’t get to work even when they are able to get a job. One person told me that it was easier for her to go to find a job by going to another city and staying with friends there than it would have been to find a job at home without public transportation.

And with the government’s new dependence on digital-by-default benefits applications, lack of broadband internet or access to libraries are particularly painful. Government officials assured me that anyone can walk off the street and get support to make an online claim for benefits, but that’s simply not the case for people living outside major cities.

Devolved Administrations
Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and constitutional limits on their ability to raise revenue. Scotland and Northern Ireland each report spending about £125 million per year to protect people from the worst impacts of austerity. And unlike England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have continued to provide access to welfare funds for emergency hardships. 

But mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable. The Scottish government has urged the UK to put an end to the benefit freeze and the two child limit on certain benefits, and told me that they have reached the limit of what they can afford to mitigate, because every pound spent on off-setting cuts means taking away from other vital services. Northern Ireland’s mitigation package runs out in 2020, leaving vulnerable people facing a “cliff edge scenario.” But more broadly, it is outrageous that devolved administrations need to spend resources to shield people from government policies.

Scotland
Scotland, despite having the lowest poverty rates in the United Kingdom, has the lowest life expectancy and the highest suicide rate in Great Britain. I met with children in Glasgow’s North East, where, according to one local councillor, 48% of people are out of work, life expectancy is six years lower than the national average, about half of families are single-parent households, and about a third of households lack an internet connection.
 
However, Scotland has recently put in place schemes for addressing poverty, including its Fairer Scotland Action Plan and Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. It has also used newly devolved powers to establish a promising social security system guided by the principles of dignity and social security as a human right, and co-designed on the basis of evidence. The system eschews sanctions entirely and, in contrast to Universal Credit, is decidedly not digital by default. Rather, the stated goal it to make benefits equally accessible however people want to access them.

It is too soon to say if these ambitious steps—and Scotland’s new powers of taxation—will make a difference for poverty, health outcomes, and life expectancy in Scotland. However, it is clear to me that there is still a real accountability gap which should be addressed. The absence of a legal remedy or a more robust reference to international standards in the Social Security (Scotland) Act is significant and should be addressed. I will be following closely the forthcoming recommendations from the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights.

Civil society groups also raised concerns about a general lack of awareness of local welfare funds for people in crisis and the considerable variation in how local authorities process applications for these emergency grants; in Glasgow only 3% of local welfare fund applications were decided in a day, whereas other councils managed to decide these claims within a day 99% of the time.

Wales
Wales faces the highest relative poverty rate in the United Kingdom, with almost one in four people living in relative income poverty. Like the rest of the United Kingdom, employment has not proven to be an automatic route out of poverty in Wales. In-work poverty has grown over the last decade, despite considerable improvement in the employment rate. Twenty-five percent of  jobs pay below the minimum wage, and low-paid, part-time or insecure jobs are often disproportionately taken up by women, due to difficulties in balancing work and caring responsibilities.

Faced with these challenges, the Welsh Government has determinedly shifted its focus to increasing economic prosperity and employment as the gateway to poverty reduction. A poverty-specific action plan and the post of the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty were scrapped in 2017, in favour of adopting a “whole Government” approach to poverty reduction. The new Prosperity for All Strategy, however, has removed the strategic focus on and the Ministerial responsibility for poverty reduction, and lacks clear performance targets and indicators to measure progress and impact.

In the absence of devolved power over social security benefits, the Welsh Government’s capacity to directly mitigate the reduction in benefits is limited, thereby shifting the burden to low-income households. There is a wide consensus among stakeholders that the benefit changes are one of the structural causes behind the increase in poverty, rough sleeping, and homelessness in Wales. Parliamentarians and civil society voiced serious concerns that Universal Credit may exacerbate the problem, particularly in light of the Welsh Government’s inability to introduce flexibilities in its administration, unlike its Scottish counterpart.

Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the lack of a government forecloses the possibility of any major efforts to tackle poverty and results in an accountability vacuum. Like Scotland, Northern Ireland has taken steps to mitigate some of the worst effects of austerity measures, and is taking a different and seemingly more humane approach to certain aspects of Universal Credit. But a £500 million mitigation package is set to run out in 2020, and its expiration could have dire consequences for people living in poverty. According to the government, rates of long term unemployment are more than twice those of the UK as a whole.

In Belfast, I was struck by the extent to which communities in the city are still segregated by physical barriers and I was concerned to learn about persistent inequalities along religious lines. A startling 69% of those long-term unemployed are Catholic, compared with 31% Protestant as of 2016. People in Belfast told me that the government was not building sufficient social housing in predominantly Catholic areas, and Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission found that Catholics experience longest wait times for social housing among all religious groups.

Conclusion
The experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so. Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.

It was a British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who memorably claimed that without a social contract, life outside society would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The risk is that if current policies do not change, this is the direction in which low-income earners and the poor are headed. Loneliness rates have soared in recent years and life expectancy rates have stalled in the United Kingdom, with the latest statistics showing a sharp drop in the annual improvement that has been experienced every year since the records began, and an actual drop for certain groups.

The compassion and mutual concern that has long been part of the British tradition has been outsourced. At the same time many of the public places and institutions that previously brought communities together, such as libraries, community and recreation centers, and public parks, have been steadily dismantled or undermined. In its fiscal analyses, the Treasury and the Government constantly repeat the refrain that fiscal policy must “avoid burdening the next generation.” The message is that the debt burden must be paid off now. The problem is that the next generation’s prospects are already being grievously undermined by the systematic dismantling of social protection policies since 2010.

The negotiations surrounding Brexit present an opportunity to take stock of the current situation and reimagine what this country should represent and how it protects its people. The legislative recognition of social rights should be a central part of that reimagining. And social inclusion, rather than increasing marginalization of the working poor and those unable to work, should be the guiding principle of social policy.

The UK should introduce a single measure of poverty and measure food security.

The government should initiate an expert assessment of the cumulative impact of tax and spending decisions since 2010 and prioritize the reversal of particularly regressive measures, including the benefit freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the reduction of the housing benefit for under-occupied social rented housing.

It should ensure local governments have the funds needed to tackle poverty at the community level, and take varying needs and tax bases into account in the ongoing Fair Funding Review.

The Department of Work and Pensions should conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, and should immediately instruct its staff to explore more constructive and less punitive approaches to encouraging compliance.

The five week delay in receiving benefits under Universal Credit should be eliminated, separate payments should be made to different household members, and weekly or fortnightly payments should be facilitated.

Transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity, and the government should regulate the sector to the extent necessary to ensure that people living in rural areas are adequately served. Abandoning people to the private market in relation to a service that affects every dimension of their basic well-being is incompatible with human rights requirements.

As the country moves toward Brexit, the Government should adopt policies designed to ensure that the brunt of the resulting economic burden is not borne by its most vulnerable citizens.

 

 Posted by at 15:33
Nov 152018
 

 

Utterly disgraceful’ Public Health England refuses to warn councils of ESA suicide risk

The government’s public health agency has refused to warn local NHS and council bodies that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are at a hugely-increased risk of attempting to take their own lives.

Last week, Public Health England (PHE) published the latest update of its Suicide Prevention Profile (SPP), which includes detailed data that helps public bodies draw up their own local suicide prevention plans.

The aim of the profile is to develop “an intelligence driven approach to suicide prevention” by providing figures that show the prevalence of suicide among different age groups and in different areas, and how different risk factors vary across those areas.

PHE says its SPP aims to support local areas in developing and monitoring their suicide prevention action plans, helping them to “understand suicide and the risk and service-related factors that may have a causal relationship”.

The profile includes 25 risk factors for suicide, including the prevalence of depression, alcohol-related hospital admissions and how many people live alone, and shows how these indicators vary in every county and unitary authority area in England.

This allows the experts who draw up local suicide prevention plans to see which risk factors are particularly high in their area, so they can pay attention to them and try to produce strategies to prevent people dying through suicide.

But PHE has ignored the proportion of the population in local areas that claims employment and support allowance (ESA) as one of those risk factors, even though it is aware of NHS figures that show nearly half of ESA claimants have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed in September 2016 that more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle Campaign, said PHE’s failure was “utterly disgraceful” and “beyond belief”.

He said this “negligence” made PHE “complicit” in the continuing suicides among sick and disabled people that were being caused by the government’s welfare reforms, and the further “catastrophic harm” caused to those who do not take their own lives.

Dr Jay Watts, the activist and consultant clinical psychologist who first highlighted the figures, said there was “clear and undeniable evidence of the exceptionally high rate of attempted suicide by ESA claimants from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, the most comprehensive and widely respected measure of the nation’s mental health.

This data has been triangulated by other evidences including that from senior health professionals, the police, activist groups and those volunteering on national suicide helplines, all of which concur that the benefits system triggers risk of death by suicide.

Despite this, Public Health England has chosen to omit this from their new guidance, drawing the focus of local suicide prevention strategies away from an extremely high-risk group where help and care could make a real difference in mitigating risk.”

She added: “It is interesting that the ‘there are always multiple factors’ arguments is used to bat off mentioning evidence where the current government is implicated, yet somehow this rhetoric doesn’t get applied to other more politically neutral factors such as gender and loneliness.

Given this peculiarity, it is difficult to read Public Health England’s decision to omit the mentioning of ESA claimants as anything but an indefensible politically motivated decision.”

PHE admitted that it had been aware of the NHS Digital ESA statistics.

But a PHE spokeswoman said that, because the 43 per cent figure was a measure of how many ESA claimants had attempted suicide during their lifetime, the timing of suicide attempts and claiming ESA “may not necessarily have occurred at the same time, which has to be considered when looking at the data”.

She also appeared to claim that the reason the national ESA figures could not be included in the profile was because they were based on too small a sample, so producing local figures for the SPP could potentially identify individuals.

This appeared to be a clear and basic misunderstanding of the statistics that would be used in the profile, as Department for Work and Pensions figures show there are many hundreds, and usually thousands, of ESA claimants in each local authority area in England.

And if PHE included ESA as a risk factor in its SPP, it would only produce figures showing the proportion of the local working-age population who claimed ESA, posing absolutely no risk of identifying any individual.

The PHE spokeswoman refused to reconsider her response, despite being asked to explain the apparent flaws and inconsistencies in her statement*.

She also claimed that PHE made clear in its local suicide prevention planning guidance that local areas should “also look at other sources to inform their prevention plans”.

But this planning guidance makes no mention of the ESA figures or any other benefits in the relevant section (section 3) or throughout the document.

Lily Makurah, national public mental health lead at PHE, said: “There are many reasons that can sadly drive someone to take their life by suicide.

Our data helps to provide the basis for local authorities and partners to develop suicide prevention plans that best meet the needs of their communities.”

But McArdle said: “Judging from their reaction, it would appear that PHE have not properly examined the empirical evidence before us because had they done so it would be impossible for a reasonable person to reach the conclusion that they have.”

The Department of Health has repeatedly refused to explain why it fails to mention the figures or to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group in its own suicide prevention strategy for England.

Jackie Doyle-Price, the new “suicide prevention” minister, has refused to pledge to take the simple steps of highlighting that ESA claimants are a high-risk group in that strategy, and of alerting local agencies to the figures.

And this week her department failed to comment on PHE’s failure to mention the figures in its SPP.

The PHE spokeswoman did make it clear, though, that Doyle-Price had not been asked to approve the latest list of risk factors.

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

*The PHE spokeswoman also admitted that figures showing the proportion of ESA claimants with mental health conditions in the local working-age populations in areas across England were included in PHE’s mental health and wellbeing joint strategic needs assessment, which is designed to “help planners understand needs within the local population and assess local services”. But she failed to explain why similar figures for all ESA claimants in an area could not therefore be used in the Suicide Prevention Profile

15 November 2018

 

 

DWP ‘plans to move more benefits onto troubled universal credit IT platform’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been planning for years to move more benefits onto the hugely-troubled IT platform that hosts universal credit, documents released through freedom of information requests appear to show.

DWP deposited a substantial number of internal documents relating to universal credit in the House of Commons library this month, following the latest in a series of freedom of information requests by campaigner John Slater.

The documents include a series of “programme decision logs”, providing details of decisions taken between 2015 and 2017 by the universal credit programme board, which reviews progress on implementing the system and whose members are mostly senior DWP civil servants.

Universal credit was designed to incorporate six income-related benefits into one, including income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), housing benefit and income support.

But the IT system that supports universal credit claims – as well as the application of sanctions when they breach strict conditions and the online journal that claimants must keep updated – has been repeatedly criticised for being flawed and error-ridden, while critics have warned that the online system is not accessible for many disabled people.

The department is already preparing to transfer millions of people on existing income-related benefits onto universal credit by 2023, with the public accounts committee warning last month that delivery of universal credit was “causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help” and of “a culture of indifference” within the department to those problems.

Now it appears that DWP is planning to load hundreds of thousands more claimants onto the IT system that supports universal credit, although it is not clear when it intends to begin this process.

The decision logs unearthed by Slater include repeated references to contributory benefits – out-of-work benefits paid to those who have built up sufficient national insurance contributions, such as the contributory form of ESA.

In January 2017, for example, the universal credit programme board “discussed the short, medium and long term approach to Contributory Benefits in UC, progress to date and next steps”.

It also “noted progress made on the development of the contributory benefit strategic business case”.

And it warned that “some senior input might be necessary to drive the business case forward”.

In May 2016, the programme board had “noted progress on Contributory Benefits design proposal for UC Full Service”, while the previous year the board had stated the need to “engage Ministers on the long term plans for contributory benefits and seek a decision by Spring 2016 in order that we can plan any legislative and policy changes”.

But despite these and many other references to contributory benefits by the universal credit programme board, a DWP spokeswoman said: “DWP has no plans to merge contributory benefits into Universal Credit. They will continue to be claimed separately.”

When asked why there were so many mentions of contributory benefits by the programme board and to confirm that the department planned to migrate them onto the universal credit IT platform, she refused to comment further.

Slater, himself a programme manager, said that migrating contributory benefits onto the universal credit IT platform “would appear to place all the DWP eggs into a single basket”.

He said: “Given the problems the UC IT currently experiences (outages, running slow etc), I can’t see it going well if contributory benefits are added to the workload.” 

Slater is also concerned that DWP may intend eventually to move disability benefits such as personal independence payment and disability living allowance onto the IT platform developed for universal credit.

He said the potential problems this could cause were “huge”, and he added: “We’re getting a taste of this already under universal credit, with people claiming income-related ESA or just not having the basic IT skills to cope with the UC IT system being sanctioned on a regular basis, which is leaving them destitute.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

And last week, Disability News Service reported how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

15 November 2018

 

 

UN expert tells of disabled people’s ‘horrendous’ evidence on poverty

The UN expert investigating the government’s record on eradicating poverty has described how he has heard “pretty horrendous” evidence from disabled people while conducting a 12-day factfinding visit to the UK.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, also told Disability News Service (DNS) that the government had not made the progress he would have expected in securing “real equality” for disabled people.

And he made it clear, after speaking at an event in London on Tuesday evening, that the impact of universal credit on the poverty experienced by disabled people and other groups would play an important part in his report.

He said: “I don’t think I could avoid it as a big issue.”

He said that disabled people had made up a “significant proportion” of the community and other groups he had met, and those he had met had told him “stories which are pretty troubling to hear.

They paint a picture of a system which doesn’t respond to their particular challenges and problems in the way that it should.”

He said that that did not surprise him on one level because disabled people faced discrimination all over the world.

But he added: “On the other hand there is a formal commitment [in the UK, through the Equality Act] to treat them with full respect and care.

One would have hoped there would have been more progress in terms of real equality for people with disabilities.”

Alston had made it clear earlier that, because of the strict rules of the UN process he was undertaking, he could not yet speak “in a very direct way” about his findings.

In response to a question from DNS during the event, he told the audience that he had met many disabled people during his visit who had described their experiences of poverty, particularly in relation to universal credit and the disability benefit assessment process.

He said: “I have to say that I have heard some pretty horrendous stories.”

He added: “One of the issues that I’m conscious of, and it’s an easy reply if government wants to make it, is that of course my audience is self-selecting.

In other words, people who feel that the system is working really well, who have had a good deal, who really love their work coach, are not going to come along to a meeting with me nor send me a letter saying the system is great, mate.

So I naturally tend to get people who are deeply discontented but it has to be said that I have had probably more than my expected share of people with disabilities who have had pretty awful experiences.”

He also told the meeting that the UK government had delivered a “relatively dismissive” response to last year’s report by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, in which the committee had told the government to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights. 

But Alston also told the event – organised by the UK human rights consortium Just Fair and the Human Rights Lawyers Association – that he had been told earlier that day by the government that there had been no austerity.

Although he later declined to identify to DNS which minister or civil servant had made the comment, he had just described having meetings that day with work and pensions secretary Esther McVey (who resigned from the cabinet this morning), as well as an unnamed work and pensions minister and a junior Treasury minister.

He said: “I was told today that there isn’t austerity. That government expenditure in almost all areas has gone up steadily in the last 10 years.

So I asked what Philip Hammond and Theresa May were talking about [when they talk about an end to austerity]. I didn’t get a particularly good answer to that.”

Alston also said that he had received “very surprising” answers from the government when he had asked about the use of foodbanks, although he declined to expand on what ministers told him.

He said: “The impact of these policies on communities is going to be an important element in my final report.”

He was asked by an audience member whether he had been examining whether government austerity measures, including benefit sanctions, might amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Alston said there were problems with the sanctions statistics that the Department for Work and Pensions places on its website, with “a lot of data that is not made available”.

He added: “The challenge to me is to be able to describe accurately what is really going on, but I think I will be able to do that.

Whether I would categorise it as cruel and inhuman, I will see how I feel on Thursday night when I’m finishing writing my statement.

There is a whole book that has that title, which I’ve read and I am well aware that many of the people who have experienced these sort of sanctions would categorise them in that way.”

Alston told the meeting that although he had “no power” and could not order the UK government to take any action, he hoped his report would be strong enough to “resonate with people” so that it would “have legs” and would “continue to be discussed”.

He said he knew the UK government would not welcome his report and would not agree to implement it, but he hoped to be able to “shine a light on some issues that could do with added attention”.

He also pointed to the role that tabloid newspapers and others – including those owned by his fellow Australian Rupert Murdoch (now a US citizen) – had played in stigmatising and distorting human rights “so we all know that human rights are only for drug dealers and terrorists”.

He said this had “highlighted for many of us in the human rights community the need to start rehabilitating the notion of human rights”, and to emphasise that human rights “are for the average person and not just for the particularly vulnerable groups”.

He said: “If people aren’t getting enough food to eat I think there should be reasonable outrage and I think it would be useful to see that from a rights perspective, but I think that’s going to take time.

I think that’s what many of us in the field need to start working on.”

Alston also said that the international system of human rights provided a way to hold governments accountable for their actions.

He said: “What has to be recognised is that being in poverty is a grave threat to your civil and political rights.

Most of the people [in the world] who are tortured, most of the people who are killed, most of the people who are abused in prisons or elsewhere are poor. They are abused in part because they are poor.

They are easy victims, they don’t have recourse, they don’t have people to defend them, they can’t afford lawyers.

Attacking the poor is easy, and they as a result suffer highly disproportionately in terms of their civil and political rights.”

Alston and his team carried out months of detailed research in advance of their 12-day visit, which saw them visit Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Jaywick, London, and Newcastle.

He is set to issue a preliminary 10-page statement tomorrow (Friday) before publishing his final report in June.

15 October 2018

 

 

Regulator sets out ideas for better assisted rail travel

The rail regulator has revealed a series of draft measures designed to force the industry to improve the assistance it provides to disabled passengers.

Many of the proposals suggested by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) yesterday (Wednesday) aim to address key concerns that have been highlighted publicly by disabled campaigners.

They include measures to make it less likely that users of mobility scooters will be prevented from boarding trains, improvements to information on whether on-board accessible toilets are out-of-order, better training for staff – with disabled people involved in its delivery – and measures aimed at ensuring that more rail replacement services are wheelchair-accessible.

There is also the possibility of a significant reduction in the standard notice required from disabled passengers seeking to book assistance before they travel, which could be reduced to two hours from the 24 hours notice often required, although other options are also included.

ORR says it wants all rail operators to introduce schemes offering compensation to passengers if they fail to receive the assistance they booked in advance.

And it says it wants the industry to introduce text relay services that would allow passengers with hearing or speech impairments to book assistance using text-to speech translation services.

The ORR consultation will eventually lead to the first changes to the rules governing how Network Rail and train operating companies ensure their services are accessible to disabled people – through their Disabled People’s Protection Policies (DPPPs) – since 2009.

The DPPPs are important because every train and station operator must have one and they have a legal obligation to comply with them.

Other suggested ORR changes include improving and standardising information on assistance and making improvements to the process of booking that assistance.

There are also plans to introduce a formal procedure for communication between staff at different stations to ensure that passengers who have asked for help “consistently receive assistance to alight the train”.

ORR also wants to ensure that wheelchair-users are told when buying a first-class ticket if there are no spaces for wheelchair-users in the first-class carriage.

The suggested changes have come following months of consultations with disabled people’s organisations, passenger bodies and the rail industry.

Few disabled campaigners have yet had a chance to read the 116-page report, but initial reactions suggest many of the measures will be welcomed, although further improvements to the document will be needed.

Doug Paulley, who has raised publicly at least two of the key issues raised by the report, said his initial impression was that the report included some positive recommendations, but that there would need to be improvements through the consultation process.

He particularly highlighted the section on rail replacement services, an issue he has raised, and said the ORR needed to strengthen the new guidance in that area.

He said DPPPs were “important”, and he added: “It’s the key document that sets out in detail what each train operating company is legally required to do to make its services accessible for disabled people.”

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who has repeatedly highlighted cases of discrimination against herself and other disabled passengers on public transport – and last month suggested she would write to the Department for Transport every time she heard of a disabled person having an access problem on a train – said she would welcome anything that made rail transport easier for disabled people.

She said: “The number of complaints I am receiving is unacceptable.”

She said she would send ORR a full response to its consultation.

Stephen Brookes, the government’s rail sector champion and an ambassador for Disability Rights UK, welcomed the ORR report.

He said: “I am particularly pleased to see that the consultation will examine new arrangements to strengthen communication between stations and measures to introduce greater accountability for assistance provision.

This all too frequent failure has been a regular criticism shared with me by disabled people in my work.”

He said he also welcomed the plan to produce “a more concise passenger leaflet focused on what to expect before travelling, at the station, on the train and if things go wrong.

The publicity currently available is not consistent and nor is the on-the-ground implementation, so any simplification has to be a real and significant win.”

John Larkinson, ORR’s chief executive, says in the report: “We know from our previous research and consultation that more needs to be done: to raise awareness of what assistance is available and how to get it; to improve the reliability of this service; and to provide staff with the information, skills and confidence to give the best customer service possible – including to those with hidden disabilities.

We are encouraged by the good practice we have found, but we have been clear with train operators and Network Rail that they must consider what more they can do in these areas.”

ORR will consider the responses to its consultation – which ends on 18 January – and then publish its final revised guidance in spring 2019.

15 November 2018

 

 

Petition raising fears over ‘freedom deprivation bill’ tops 100,000 signatures

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding the government makes major changes to a bill that campaigners say would make it easier for many disabled people to be deprived of their freedom.

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) only launched the petition at the end of last month, but within about two weeks 100,000 people had added their names.

That petition and other campaigning and lobbying efforts appear to have had some impact, with ministers due to announce some amendments to the mental capacity (amendment) bill today (Thursday), although it is unlikely that they will meet all ROFA’s demands.

ROFA’s petition raises grave concerns about the bill – which is set for its report stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday (21 November) – and the powers it will grant care home managers, local authorities and NHS organisations.

The bill will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries.

It will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), to replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), for service-users who are said to need to be deprived of their liberty as part of their care but are considered to lack the mental capacity to consent to those arrangements.

The bill is based on recommendations by the Law Commission but critics say it is “significantly different” from the commission’s own draft bill and omits most of its most progressive elements.

The petition warns that the bill as it stands “will make it easier to deprive someone of their liberty if they are judged unable to make decisions for themselves” and could mean disabled people being “forced to live in care homes because it’s cheaper and easier for the local council even though it’s not what they want or need”.

ROFA – backed by members including People First (Self Advocacy), Inclusion London, and the consultancy Changing Perspectives – believes the bill will significantly weaken protections.

Decisions on deprivation of liberty are currently taken with the help of an independent assessment that “considers the opinions and wishes of the person and makes sure the care that is provided is what the person needs”, says ROFA.

But the petition says the bill would scrap most of these independent assessments and would often give decision-making power instead to care home managers, “who have an interest in keeping people in their care homes”.

An independent assessor will only be asked to carry out a review if the service-user is believed to be objecting to the deprivation of their liberty, and it will be up to the care home manager to decide if that person is objecting.

Similar powers would be given to managers in local authorities, hospitals or NHS clinical commissioning groups when considering LPS for disabled people in other care settings.

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns for People First, said he hoped the number of people responding to the petition would raise awareness with the general public and “put pressure on the government and MPs to change and improve the bill”.

Among his key concerns with the bill are the lack of an automatic right to independent advocacy; the conflict of interest created by a care home manager having responsibility for arranging assessments, as it would “give them permission to put their financial gain over someone’s wishes to live independently”; and the lack of a duty to promote liberty.

He also said there was “a lack of a right to accessible information” about the LPS process, which “is vital if a person is going to be a part of what is happening”.

Lee said the bill had been “rushed through and rather than look at any of the main issues with the Mental Capacity Act and get it right, rights and safeguards have been stripped away. 

Real research needs to be done around the definition of deprivation of liberty, when it is applied and what it covers. 

For now, this bill has just made it easier for people to be deprived of their liberty by taking away their rights.”

He said the bill “gives people who already have power, more power over the decisions in a person’s life”, and he warned that if it was passed in its current state it would “send the rights of disabled people back around 40 years”.

He said he feared a worst case scenario with nothing to stop a care home manager “locking up a person for the rest of their lives, just through the simple fact that they are the ones making the decisions about whether a person has any say about where they live, whether a person has an assessment and whether they get an advocate”.

He added: “For me, this law will lead to further institutionalisation of people with learning difficulties and it is unacceptable that in this day in age, after fighting so hard to be treated as equal under the law, that this bill can come along and treat us like objects.”

Simone Aspis, director of Changing Perspectives, said the response to the petition was “fabulous” in such a short period of time.

She said the legislation “starts from the wrong place” and needed to begin instead with “the promotion of people’s liberty” rather than its current starting-point of creating a legal framework to allow care homes and local authorities to deprive someone of their freedom.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said the bill would “reform a broken system and reduce the number of vulnerable people waiting for access to essential protections by simplifying the process and making it less burdensome.

We agree safeguards must be protected. That is why the proposed model has all authorisations decided by a responsible body, and independent oversight from approved mental capacity professionals.

We are also considering changes to strengthen safeguards, such as the explicit exclusion of care home staff from conducting assessments.”

15 November 2018

 

 

Care charges are driving disabled people into debt, says report

Charging disabled people for their care and support is driving many of them into debt and forcing them to cut their spending on food or heating, according to new research by a network of disabled people’s organisations and their allies.

The study by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG) found that four in 10 (41 per cent) of those responding to a survey had experienced a substantial increase in charges over the last couple of years.

Nearly half (43 per cent) had had to cut back on their spending on food to pay for care.

And two-fifths of respondents (40 per cent) said they had had to cut back on heating costs to pay for care and support.

The study concludes that charging for the support disabled people need to go about their daily lives is “unfair, counterproductive and undermines the primary purpose of the care and support system”.

The effect of charging, it says, is often to “drive disabled people into care poverty, and to create confusion, stress and complexity in an already overly burdened bureaucratic system” through what is effectively “an unhelpful and unnecessary tax on disability and old age”.

The study analysed the results of an online survey of more than 600 disabled people who had received a community care assessment, and freedom of information responses from all 152 English local authorities with social care responsibilities.

All but one of the local authorities – Hammersmith and Fulham – impose charges on some of their service-users.

The study heard from one disabled person who benefited from Hammersmith and Fulham’s no-charging policy, who said: “Social care is a human right. It’s an essential service like education or the NHS.

It’s not ethical to charge for it, in effect it’s an extra tax.”

Charging for care, says the study, only raises “modest” sums of money – about 12 per cent of spending on care and support – but has a “profound impact on the individual”, with an average charge per year of more than £2,000 (£2,243).

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who chairs ILSG, said: “Support provided under the Care Act is meant to improve the wellbeing and independence of disabled people.

By charging many for that support, the system is making a mockery of the spirit of the legislation and causing worry, stress and poverty.

Charging raises a relatively small sum of money which is pushing up costs elsewhere.

The financial impact of personal care neglect such as pressure sores, kidney infections or falls, as well as stress related illnesses, means finding extra resources for the NHS.”

The group called on the government to scrap all charges.

But if it refused to do that, ILSG said, it should introduce other measures to “mitigate” against the “worst effects” of charging.

These should include monitoring the number of people who decline or decide to stop receiving council-funded support after a charge is imposed or increased.

Only 17 of the 152 councils said they knew how many people had declined or abandoned social care packages they had been assessed as needing once they were told how much they would have to pay.

All councils should also carry out an equality impact assessment of their charging policies, said the group.

And it said that all councils should introduce an “early warning” system to identify people getting into charges-related debt, introduce a “breathing space” before any debt collection action is taken, and provide access to support to manage such debts.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, one of ILSG’s members, said: “If councils are to persist in this iniquitous tax on disability, they must at least reintroduce some consistency and clarity to their approach.

The many councils that have failed to conduct an equality impact assessment – and to monitor the numbers of disabled people driven out of the care system by charging – must also get their act together.”

The government is expected to publish its long-awaited green paper on adult social care funding within weeks.

The Independent Living Strategy Group has been working on protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights to independent living in England since 2013.

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 November 2018

 

 

High court go-ahead for challenge to government’s ‘failure to ensure secret vote’

A disabled woman is challenging the government’s failure to ensure that she can vote secretly and independently in elections.

The high court has granted permission for the case being brought against the Cabinet Office by Rachael Andrews to proceed to a full hearing, after the court decided that her case was “arguable”.

Andrews, from Norwich, who is blind, said she had repeatedly been left distressed and upset by a system that either left her unsure whether she had voted for the right candidate, or relying on an election official to tell her whether she had marked the correct box on the ballot paper.

She said: “It is the fact that it is not secret that distresses me so much. As a disabled person I am fairly used to asking for people’s help.

But the fact that I have to ask somebody to do something that is so simple, and it still isn’t private, it just distresses and upsets me more than I can explain.

I feel like I am 12 years old, like I am not a confident, whole person.”

Andrews has already secured one legal victory, over her local authority, Broadland council, following its failure to enable her to vote independently and secretly at the 2015 election.

Since then she has cast her vote in the 2016 European Union referendum and at the 2017 general election, but on both occasions – despite the council’s best efforts – she has still been unable to vote independently and in secret.

She blames the government, because she says the tactile voting device (TVD) – a plastic template placed over the ballot paper that is supposed to allow blind people to vote in secret – is not fit for purpose.

She is challenging the government’s decision to designate the TVD as a suitable device to allow blind people to vote without any need for assistance under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

But she is also arguing for her right to a secret ballot under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Andrews successfully settled her claim against Broadland council for failing to have a TVD available for the 2015 general election.

But although she said its council officers have since done “everything they can within the law” to help her at subsequent elections, the system is still failing her.

In 2016, when voting in the referendum, she was not sure if she had placed her cross in the correct box and had to ask the presiding officer to tell her.

And last year, at the general election, she tried to use a postal vote, and was assisted by a member of council staff, but still had to use a TVD.

She said: “To this day I do not know if I put the cross in the place that I intended to vote.

He read everything out to me and I am assuming he also saw my vote as well because he was literally sat right next to me.”

Andrews, who is represented by human rights lawyers Leigh Day, said that other countries had introduced systems that allow blind voters to vote more easily, including introducing “audio voting booths” and telephone voting.

Graham Kirwan, who was forced to take legal action against his own local council over its failure to make the process of registering to vote and voting accessible to him as a visually-impaired person, said: “I fully appreciate the frustrating difficulties Rachael repeatedly faces having, like many other visually-impaired voters, faced them myself.”

He pointed to devices such as audio and magnification aids which could assist independent and secret voting, and said the government was “simply kicking accessible voting into the long grass”.

He added: “I 100 per cent support Rachael’s legal challenge and wish her all the best with her action.”

The government has argued in correspondence with Andrews’ lawyers that the legal challenge is unnecessary because it is already addressing the issue.

This refers to pledges in its much-criticised response to a consultation on how to make voting more accessible.

The government talked in its response in September about promoting guidance, improving training, and the possibility of allowing disabled voters to try out practice ballots in advance of elections.

And it said it would consider what improvements could be made for voters with sight loss “and look to make the necessary legislative changes when a suitable opportunity arises”.

But Andrews’ lawyers point out that the government’s response did not say what these improvements would be, or when it would change the law.

The Cabinet Office said it could not comment on ongoing legal cases.

But a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “We consult with disabled individuals, and organisations that represent them such as RNIB regularly, to hear about their experiences of voting and recommendations on how government can make elections more accessible.

Every voice matters and this government is committed to building a democracy that works for all.”

The government’s accessibility of elections working group is set to meet in January, and will discuss again the improvements that could be made to the support provided to visually-impaired voters in polling stations.

But Andrews said: “I have always voted in general elections. I see it as a very important civic duty and feel very strongly that I should simply be afforded the same right to vote independently and in secret as everyone else. 

Sadly, I believe that many blind voters are currently put off voting because of the difficulties they face.

I am disappointed that it has been necessary to commence legal proceedings but am keen that the government stops dragging its feet and takes action to allow me to vote independently and secretly in time for the next general election.” 

Sean Humber, head of Leigh Day’s human rights department, said: “The provisions made for blind voters by the government are quite simply not fit for purpose.

The right to vote freely, independently and in secret is fundamental to any democracy.

We hope that the courts will hear our client’s challenge and order the government to reconsider the assistance they provide for blind voters.”

15 November 2018

 

 

Disabled activist calls for evidence of blue badge delays

An activist whose local authority warns disabled people that it could take up to 12 weeks to renew their blue parking badges is calling for disabled people in other parts of the country to pass on their experiences of problems and delays in the system.

It took Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, more than six weeks to receive his new badge from Wolverhampton council, although he had been warned that it could take even longer.

He believes such delays are “unacceptable” and are not restricted to his local authority, and that other applicants face even longer delays.

Now he wants to hear from disabled people in other areas who have had similar problems*.

Wolverhampton council admitted this week that it warns disabled people to expect it to take up to 12 weeks for their applications to be dealt with.

Williams-Findlay pointed to a Disability News Service news story written nearly four years ago which described delays of up to 12 weeks in dealing with applications, and he said this showed little had changed around the country since then.

The system was introduced by the coalition government in 2011 and saw councils told to carry out more independent mobility assessments, while the government introduced a national database of blue badges.

The new electronic badges are sent out by a private contractor, Northgate Public Services, part of the Japanese IT multinational NEC Corporation.

But councils kept responsibility for dealing with badge applications and had to source occupational therapists or other health professionals to carry out the assessments.

Williams-Findlay said the current system was “oppressive, stressful and discriminatory” and the weeks he had been left without a badge had made his life “more disabling” because he had been deprived of “being able to park and participate within society”.

He said the delays curtailed the rights of disabled people under article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Williams-Findlay said the Department for Transport (DfT) was guilty of institutional discrimination and that the centralised part of the system was “not fit for practice”, while the delays were “unacceptable”.

He left it too late to renew his badge and only applied to renew it a day or two before it expired, but he filled in the application form online on 28 September, taking written evidence to the council in person the same day.

On 25 October, he received a letter – dated 18 October – which said his application had been successful, and that once he paid the £10 fee the council would order a new badge, which would take up to 21 days to arrive. His badge eventually arrived on 8 November.

A DfT spokeswoman said the delays were “primarily a matter for local authorities, who are responsible for processing applications, and timescales do vary”.

She added: “The department has not been made aware of any significant problems.”

But she said the department was currently developing “an improved online application process”.

She said: “There have been no problems with the private contractor, whose performance is monitored regularly.”

A Wolverhampton council spokeswoman said: “Our advertised timescales are 12 weeks (from the time of receiving all relevant supporting documentation) for processing.”

And she said the council website advises applicants to apply 10 weeks before their badge is due to expire.

She said she understood that the badges were “very important” because “having a blue badge can significantly change a person’s independence, which motivates us to continue to improve our service by reviewing our processes and listening to feedback received from our customers”.

She said the council had “recently updated its webpage to be clearer on the process and pre-requisites”, and that the government was updating the blue badge application form after consulting with users.

Asked whether she believed delays were a national problem, she said: “Each council has a statutory duty to administer Blue Badges on behalf of the central government.

We are unable to comment on other councils.”

Another disabled activist, Barbara Lisicki, a trainer and writer, has told Williams-Findlay that the renewal process in her London council area was “shoddy, unclear and utterly useless”.

She said the centralised online system was “not fit for purpose, especially as it is misleading and gives incomplete, poorly phrased instructions”.

If a local councillor had not intervened on her behalf to speed up the process, she would have been left unable to park in the accessible bay outside her house, she said.

A third disabled activist has told Williams-Findlay that she was told by her local authority in the south of England to expect a 12-week wait for her blue badge.

*Any disabled people with reports of problems or delays with renewing or applying for a blue badge can email Bob Williams-Findlay at baggiebob1@icloud.com

15 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:09
Nov 112018
 

[This post is a copy of a post (with permission) from the Mental Health Resistance Network, that we have publish in support of their campaign.]

Front page graphic, reading 'Now that

Mental Health Resistance Network

Our Agenda, not your agenda

We Demand …

 

We reject the medical model of mental distress

Psychiatry decontextualises our distress. There is little evidence that the cause is biological and overwhelming evidence that it is caused by trauma and social injustices. Medication may act as a painkiller but cannot “cure” our distress.

We demand:

  1. A public inquiry into the harm caused by psychiatric drugs and ECT.

  2. Research and manufacture of drugs to be nationalised to remove the profit motive.

  3. Provision of treatment where medication is refused, and an end to forced treatment.

  4. An inquiry into violence and abuse of patients in psychiatric wards and in the community.

  5. An end to control and restraint in psychiatric wards and community settings.

  6. A public inquiry into institutional racism, sexism, classism and LGBT discrimination in psychiatry and all services.

  7. Culturally appropriate services to be provided to members of the BAME communities which recognise that racism is a causative factor in mental distress.

  8. A fully funded, national 24 hour suicide prevention and support service.

  9. The provision of alternative treatments such as Open Dialogue, Hearing Voices Networks and holistic therapies.

  10. CAMHS waiting lists to be investigated and all Cygnet Hospitals in the UK to be shut down forthwith.

  11. Long term specialist mental health care if needed – no discharge from services to save money.

  12. Fully funded mental health and social care. An end to payment by results – results are subjective.

  13. Crisis houses be made available to anyone who needs them and to be staffed with fully qualified therapists and mental health nurses instead of poorly qualified support workers with little or no training.

  14. Talking therapies that are trauma informed to be freely available.

  15. Services to be user led including a review of the Mental Health Act.

  16. User involvement in statutory services to be free from service provider control.

  17. An end to the increasing medicalisation of children and adolescents.

  18. Our physical healthcare must not be dismissed as being ‘all in our minds.’

  19. An independent body to oversee the CMHTs to ensure good practice and adherence to NICE guidelines.

We reject the neoliberal model that decontextualises our distress

Like the medical model, the neoliberal model of mental distress locates the cause of distress/madness within the individual and not in society; our thinking and attitudes are blamed without reference to social context. This model uses CBT, Mindfulness, positive psychology and the recovery approach as putative treatments. We reject the recovery approach outright with its insinuation that our continued distress is due to our lack of effort. Any measuring of the quality of our mental health will be done by us and will be measured against our values, not based on how useful we are to rich employers. We consider short term CBT and Mindfulness to have limited value. Positive psychology is not a substitute for proper housing, a secure income, free healthcare and a more equal society.

This model, like the medical model, absolves society from any responsibility for both the causes and treatment of mental distress.

We deplore the use of treatment as a Trojan horse to smuggle into our psyches the beliefs and values that benefit the rich. All mental health care should be for the sole purpose of alleviating our distress and enabling us to fulfil our goals in life. Any other motive is brainwashing and abuse.

The medical and neoliberal models are not social models.

We demand a social model of mental distress

The social model locates the cause and remedy of mental distress within the social, economic, political and cultural context in which it occurs; it takes account of personal trauma along with our material circumstances, societal inequality and discrimination.

When large numbers of people become unwell, we need to look beyond biology and consider what is happening at the societal level.” Danny Dorling, Professor in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

We demand that you acknowledge that our material conditions affect our mental health and prioritise making these adequate. All people who live with mental distress, including those with addictions, must have secure housing and income. Failure to meet this demand is uncivilized and consciously cruel.

We demand:

  1. An end to the abusive practices of the DWP: the degrading and stressful assessments for benefits (the Work Capability Assessment and PIP assessments), unrealistic conditionality and all sanctions.

  2. Universal Credit to be stopped and scrapped immediately.

  3. A public inquiry into benefit deaths with legal action taken against any parliamentarian implicated in these deaths.

  4. Legal action to be taken against health professionals and benefits assessors who cause harm by colluding with the removal of social security.

  5. GPs to be mandated to provide supporting letters for benefit claims for free.

  6. Free and independent social security advice for everyone claiming benefits.

  7. That the DWP take full responsibility for obtaining further medical evidence from claimants’ own healthcare professionals.

  8. Our financial and housing security be treated as a priority by all health workers.

  9. Private companies to be removed from carrying out benefits assessments.

  10. People held in prisons to be given proper access to mental health care while detained and thereafter.

  11. An immediate end to the lie that work can cure mental distress.

  12. That adjustments to be made to the workplace are based on a social model. CBT, resilience training and the Recovery approach are not adjustments to the workplace, they are adjustments to the worker.

  13. Access to a free, specialist, independent mental health advocacy service for people both in and out of work.

  14. The opportunity to pursue education and employment of our choice and at our own pace.

  15. The admission that unemployment is structural and is not the fault of the individual.

  16. Practical help to be made available to everyone in mental distress who needs it (for example material help for parents to care for a child, provision of personal assistants, greater support for carers and so on).

  17. The abolition of the Work and Health Programme and the merging of health services with the DWP including the removal of all work coaches from NHS settings.

  18. An end to the unethical use of psychology to force conformity to a poli