Sep 252012
 

The United Kingdom Disabled Peoples Council Response to the Fulfilling Potential Disability Strategy issued by the DWP.
The United Kingdom Disabled Peoples Council (UKDPC) initially had welcomed the long awaited publication of the Government Disability Strategy, Fulfilling Potential.

This important document would have guided the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and been a public declaration of intent to support disabled people to exercise full participation in every aspect of society.

UKDPC was surprised and disappointed to find that the action plan, Fulfilling Potential Next Steps, has set out the intention of creating a Disability Action Alliance, convened by Disability Rights UK, (DRUK). This alliance is apparently intended to be a partnership of ‘organisations from the voluntary, public and private sector who have expertise and influence’.

UKDPC is unable to support this action based on the following:

  • The contracting of DRUK to convene such a group was not obviously opened to expressions of interest or tendering by any other organisation. Alongside the appointment of the CEO to lead an employment review commissioned by Lord Freud without public tender, this places DRUK in a position of preferred supplier to the ODI.
  • The continued contracting of DRUK by the ODI and the convening of an unaccountable group could be construed as the creation of a Quango, which is against the principals of co-partnership and accountability.
  • This is a ‘top down’ structure that excludes disabled people from setting the agenda or defining the terms of reference. The creation of this alliance by the government is antagonistic to the principals of the CRPD which advocates the value of consulting and full involvement of disabled people.
  • Without clear terms of reference there is the possibility that the service providers or corporate employers represented would have a potential conflict of interest, eg if participating in government backed schemes such as Workfare or if being awarded contracts determined by changes in the benefits system.
  • The use of the name, Disability Action Alliance, gives rise to potential confusion with Disability Awareness in Action, a human rights based disabled peoples organisation that closed last year, with a well earned respect not just within the sector but also internationally.
  • As UKDPC considers the convening of the alliance as a flawed process then it follows that the function of such a group would similarly be flawed.
  • UKDPC wishes to state these concerns publically, and calls for:
  1. The process of contracting DRUK as the convenors be questioned and an open response be sought from government.
  2. The potential for forming a Quango be questioned and an open response from government.
  3.  Any proposed alliance be guided by disabled people with agreed terms of reference drawn up by the participants.
  4. Any further move to implement this alliance be suspended pending the questioning and satisfactory response to these concerns.

DPAC says….

We’d also like to add some further concerns as the inclusion of corporate partners and private for profit partners is not something DPAC endorses due to the activities of ATOS, UNUM and CAPITA being involved in actions through government partnerships and contracts that have clearly led to devastating outcomes for many disabled people. These outcomes have impacted on the core principles of independent living, dignity, respect and equality for disabled people throughout theUK.

We also feel that involving those who will profit from their exploitation of disabled people is against the intentions of the UNCRPD and the involvement of disabled people in self-determination of their lives and may lead to a conflict of interests with DRUK’s ability to carry out their functions.

Mar 222012
 

from NCODP Press release

Disabled people and supporters will mount a protest on Friday morning (11am on 23 March) outside the Norwich premises of ATOS – a company which carries out medical assessments of disabled people who receive benefits – but which has a ‘No Entry’ policy to wheelchairs users. ATOS’s Norwich offices and other offices around the country are not accessible to wheelchair users.

Norwich Access Group and Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP) are assisting the protest at ATOS’s premises in Duke Street, Norwich.

ATOS is employed by the government to assess whether unemployed disabled people receiving benefits are fit to work. Last year The Guardian newspaper revealed that ATOS had been set targets by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the numbers of people to fail their assessments.  Norwich Access Group and NCODP believe some local *cases prove this cynical policy is being applied in the Eastern Region.

The Norwich protest has been called after the treatment of Norwich couple Glen and Ellie Everet at the Norwich ATOS office and an incident at the Ipswich ATOS office involving an ex-serviceman, Dene Carter. {*SEE CASE STUDIES, below IN NOTES }.

Many organisations representing disabled people believe ATOS is profiteering off the backs of some of the poorest members of society by helping the government to cut welfare benefits in ways which ignore the real conditions and needs of many disabled people.

“Our Government has awarded a multi million pound contract to a company which can’t even rent a building which their customers can access.  I think this is a real statement of the Coalition Government’s attitude towards disabled people“ said George Saunders, Chair of Norwich Access Group
“It gets worse as the public transport links are too far away for disabled people to get to the building.  How can an agency that gets this so wrong be trusted to do proper assessments of disabled people when they have no understanding of the realities of being disabled?” Mr Saunders added.

Mark Harrison, CEO of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People said:

“This is a bizarre situation where ATOS earns its money carrying out medical assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and other Government agencies.  This multinational company makes profits from disabled people and disabled people can’t even get into their premises.  Everything this Coalition Government does seems to have a negative affect on disabled people, their families and carers.  This is yet another example of our elected representatives putting the needs of private business before those of the poorest in society.”

ENDS

NOTES

The protest takes place outside ATOS at St Marys House, Duke Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1QA this Friday 23 March at 11am:

TV/Radio: Interviews are available at the demonstration with Mark Harrison, NCODP  (07825 600195), George Saunders, Norwich Access Group (01603 413485) and Glen and Elly Everett (01603278075)

Dene Carter is only available for interviews on: 07919212014

Picture Editors:  Pictures available at the demonstration

*CASE STUDIES

1) The demonstration has been called as a result of the treatment of Norwich couple Glen and Elly Everett.  Glen and Elly are both disabled and are having to be reassessed for benefits were given 2 separate appointments and told to go to the  Duke Street headquarters of ATOS Health Care for assessment. Ellie, who is a wheel chair user and also the carer for husband went first, and although the toilets were no good for wheel chair access, she was able to attend her appointment. She then went along to support her husband for his appointment a few days later and was told she would not be allowed to enter the building, even though she had been in the previous week, as they did not allow wheelchairs in the building.  This meant the assessment was cancelled.

“We felt humiliated.  The receptionist said she has to turn people away everyday.  How do they think we feel?  We feel like second class citizen”. Glen said.

2) The demonstration has also been called to highlight the case of Dene Carter.

On 12 November 2011 Dene Carter, an ex-serviceman, was ‘assaulted’ by an ATOS employee as part of an Employment Support Allowance (ESA) assessment at the companies Ipswich office.

Mr Carter who has been granted a medical discharge from the army because of injuries sustained during his service in the Infantry was manhandled and manipulated by an ATOS staff member to the point where he was in “horrific pain”.

“The doctor asked me to bend my legs as far as they will go which I did.  She then grabbed my leg and carried on pushing them into positions they won’t go.  I was in horrific pain.  It is bad enough living with constant pain, I am on really strong morphine based painkillers and for a doctor to hurt me in this way isn’t right” Carter said.

As a result of this so-called ‘assessment’ Dene was declared ‘fit for work’.

However there is a parallel process going on with the Army and the Veterans Agency who are also reassessing him.  Mr Carter has a war pension with a top up attributed pension because of his disabilities.  He has also been on DLA since 1993.  This reassessment has shown that his condition has deteriorated from 40% to 60% disability and he has been declared ‘not capable of work’ by the ATOS medical staff, on behalf of the Army,  and is going on to their UNSUPP disability pension.

“I worked until last year when my firm went into administration.  I had been struggling for years not sleeping nights through pain but I didn’t want to go on benefits” he said.

“They treated me like a lump of meat.  I have had 4 assessments by ATOS and 2 of them have been horrendous.  I get the feeling the doctors are under pressure to test people to get them off benefits.  No matter how bad you are she forced my leg into an angle to prove I can do it.  This gives a false picture as she manipulated my leg to places it can’t go by itself.  Most days I have to be helped to dress and I can’t take a bath by myself.  I was co-operating and doing everything they asked me to do.  They need to look at the patient properly as in the NHS.  My wife was with me and she will corroborate my story”.

Mark Harrison CEO of NCODP said:

‘ This case raises wider questions than just the ethics and malpractice of the ATOS staff member.  How can an ex-serviceman be treated in this way?  How can one system declare him fit for work (knowing that medical investigation was still ongoing) and the other declare him unfit for work – which assessment would you trust?’

Jun 242011
 

Government cutbacks increasingly threaten disabled people’s right to work. It is now more difficult to qualify for resources from Access to Work; in addition, those with agreed packages are now being systematically examined irrespective of routine review dates with a view to reducing support.

Access to Work is a government programme set up to support people who face barriers to employment as a result of their health or impairment through provision of advice and support with extra costs to both disabled people and their employers.  The programme is critical in upholding the right of disabled people to access mainstream employment and it actually makes a profit for the government: the amount invested in the programme is exceeded by the amount brought in through the taxes of working disabled people and through savings made in benefit payments, social care support and care, and medical costs. The Sayce report into supported employment: “Getting In, Staying In and Getting On” (June 2011) found that for every £1 spent on support through Access to Work, the government recoups £1.48. The Department for Work and Pensions nevertheless has a budget to cut and at a meeting in March 2011 the head of the Access to Work team, Steve Lismore, confirmed that the direction of travel for Access to Work is to reduce resources.

The personal experience of disabled people shows that Access to Work advisors are, in line with this strategy, adopting an attitude as guardians of public money more preciously than ever before. The onus is on the disabled person to prove beyond question the genuineness of their support needs. This is not only intimidating for the disabled person but also counter-productive for the supposed government agenda of getting disabled people off benefits and into work. Many people rely on Access to Work support and without any guarantee of receiving that support would be unable to take up employment offers, however you cannot apply to Access to Work without a guaranteed job and start date. For many disabled people the programme is therefore irrelevant.

For some disabled people Access to Work has traditionally been one of the most supportive and accessible support streams. The programme takes an approach in line with the social model of disability where individual applications are considered on a case-by-case basis and there is an avoidance of policy statements that treat disabled people in groups according to impairment. Members of the Newham Action Hub reported that they received a better service from their Access to Work advisors than from their care managers. For other disabled people, particularly those with more complex support needs, the programme fails to meet their needs. Moreover, as resources are being reduced the wider experience is already less positive, for example, with people being told that Access to Work might possibly not be providing equipment such as wheelchairs in the future. There is a revised list of equipment that has been included in the Access to Work guidance in order to assist advisers in making operational decisions. The effectiveness of the programme is only going to be further compromised under current conditions.

Individuals with impairments with which advisors are not familiar have less chance of being able to make a case for support that is accepted; people with learning difficulties or mental health support needs are frequently told by individual advisors that they are not eligible for ongoing support costs, rendering them unable to stay in or take up employment. In one example a woman was told that people with mental health support needs could not get support costs from Access to Work but could only “be referred to Mind for counselling to get better”. In another example a young man with a learning difficulty was told that Access to Work cannot provide full-time support costs and that he would not be able to get more than 6 hours support per week past the first 6 weeks of his employment, irrespective of any evidence of genuine support need. Experience suggests that current Access to Work policy disadvantages applicants with mental health support needs or learning difficulties. The DWP continues to deny this link but failure to recognise the importance of being seen to be able to provide ongoing support costs means that this under-representation will continue.

As part of a tightening up of resources, Access to Work are contacting all those currently in receipt of support through the programme and reviewing their packages with a view to identifying possible reductions. This is un-nerving for disabled people as, for many, any reduction would mean having to leave their job. People with learning difficulties had to fight to be accepted as eligible for the programme in the first place and advisors have continued to struggle to understand how a person with a learning difficulty can be capable of doing their own job and have support needs at the same time. Pressure to identify reduction therefore brings with it much anxiety. In one example a man’s support worker was contacted without his knowledge to find out from her a task list of things he “can do on his own”. There are very few people with learning difficulties in paid employment – the Office for Disability Issues calculates 6.4% of people labelled moderate to severe. The figure for those who have meaningful jobs with real wages will be lower still. It should be a right of disabled people to work, moreover it is in the taxpayer’s interest to raise the employment aspirations and expectations of disabled people. For Access to Work to risk the few ground-breaking jobs there are for people with learning difficulties in meaningful employment is irresponsible.

The Sayce Report acknowledges the value of the Access to Work and calls for further investment. Let’s hope the government responds to this and uses the programme to effectively support disabled people into work instead of focusing on squeezing support off disabled people to the detriment of the economy.

———-Ellen Clifford

Ellen Clifford

Ellen Clifford