Aug 142014
 

 

Disabled people are more likely than all other groups to be impacted by the cuts to legal aid. The Ministry of Justice conducted an equality impact assessment which concluded “that overall the proposals have the potential to impact a greater proportion of women, BAME people and ill or disabled people.” 1 The assessment found that, whilst 19% of the general population have a long-term illness or are disabled, the figure was 58% of those receiving legal aid for welfare benefit claims. To get legal aid for a discrimination case, disabled people must use a telephone gateway, and there are now only three firms allowed to apply for legal aid for discrimination claims. This has resulted in a massive drop in the number of people getting legal aid for this type of case; in terms of discrimination cases there is a 77% shortfall in the predicted take-up since these restrictions were introduced2.

 

If you have been personally affected . For example have been unable to claim support, had to part claim, or had to represent yourself in court and would be willing to talk about this to a Guardian journalist please contact emma.howard@theguardian.com as soon as possible.

 

It is only by talking about how we are affected that we are able to get these issues out to the public.

 

 

1Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales: Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) June 2011

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20111121205348/http:/www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/consultations/legal-aid-reform-eia.pdf, See Table 6, in particular

2See “Civil legal aid – the secret legal service”, a report published by Legal Action Group in September 2013 reviewing the figures for legal aid take-up in the first quarter of 2013-14.

 

Dec 142012
 

Public Interest Lawyers    Press Release – 14 December 2012

A disabled man who was wrongly found fit for work under the government’s disability benefit assessment scheme is launching legal action to try and stop more disabled people being wrongly kicked off the social safety net.

 Patrick Lynch, a former social care worker who was forced to quit work because of his impairments, is seeking a judicial review of the controversial disability benefit assessment scheme run by Atos.

 The Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for people whose health or impairment stops them from working, is at present hugely unreliable, with many people wrongly found fit for work despite severely debilitating and in some cases life-threatening conditions.

 The legal action is seeking a ruling that would require Atos, the private firm that runs the WCA process on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), to grant all ESA claimants the unequivocal right to have their assessment recorded and to receive their WCA report before a decision on their eligibility is made – both key safeguards against people’s health conditions being misreported or ignored altogether.

 DWP research and a survey conducted by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) both show widespread demand from claimants to have their WCA assessments recorded, to ensure their medical conditions are not misrepresented in order to wrongly strip them of benefits. But while the DWP granted the right to request a recording earlier this year, there are considerable bureaucratic obstacles to both securing a recording and then using it in an appeal, with Atos recently introducing a restrictive ‘consent form’ for those wanting a recording of their assessment.

 The case is being brought by Public Interest Lawyers, and draws on research by Disabled People Against Cuts and the TUC-backed campaign group False Economy.

 Mr Lynch wants the DWP and Atos to adopt the following safeguards:

 a)    Universal recording to ensure that all claimants undergoing a WCA or an assessment under the new PIP benefit system will have the right to have their assessment recorded;

b)    Claimants will get a copy of the WCA report before a decision is made on their eligibility for ESA, and will have the chance to raise any concerns with the DWP decision maker;

c)    The DWP/Atos will be responsible for obtaining medical evidence from the medical professional named by the claimant;

d)    The DWP ensures that all assessment centres are fully accessible.

 Taken together, these measures would address some of the inaccuracy inherent in the disability benefits system. Disability campaigners have raised repeated concerns over how the WCA process causes huge stress for ESA recipients, with many disabled people’s lives ruined after wrongly having their benefits removed.

 Mr Lynch, now a campaigner with DPAC, was found fit for work following a flawed WCA report in 2010, before the DWP reconsidered and reversed the decision. His most recent WCA this year upheld his benefit entitlement, but even then Atos’ report of his assessment contained inaccuracies.

 In bringing the action Mr Lynch notes

 “Disabled people and the poor in this Country have always struggled to get what they are duly entitled to. The fight must go on to address the injustice caused by this out of touch Government.

 A DPAC spokesperson said:

 “The evidence is clear – more than 98 percent of those responding to our survey said they wanted their assessment recorded and that they believed it would provide a better account. However, many reported a whole host of barriers in getting a recording in place.”

 A spokesperson for False Economy, whose investigations into WCA recordings informed some of the background to the recording debate, said that the rights of ESA claimants are crucial.

 “Too many people feel vulnerable in this process. People feel that their final assessment reports inaccurately reflect information exchanged during work capability assessments. We’ve found it hard to pin down the DWP on recording policy. Universal recording, and giving people the opportunity to see their WCA reports before final eligibility decisions are made, will go some way towards restoring fairness and accuracy while the WCA process continues.

 Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, Mr Lynch’s solicitor states:

 The Work Capability Assessment process needs urgent reform. There is an unacceptable risk of unfairness in the current system and we hope these safeguards will be instituted to help mitigate that risk.”

 TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

 “Assessments of disability must be fair and proportionate, treat people with respect and be part of a consistent system. There is overwhelming evidence that they have fallen far short of these basic standards. It is right that they should be challenged in court.

 END

 Contact at Public Interest Lawyers:

 Tessa Gregory, tessa.gregory@publicinterestlawyers.co.uk

0121 515 5069

 see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/13/disabled-man-government-court-benefit-test

see:http://www.dpac.uk.net/2012/11/dpac-survey-responses-on-wca-what-harrington-didnt-ask/

 

Aug 272012
 

In spite of implicit claims in the Brindle article1 that there is no ‘fight back’ disabled people have stopped traffic in Oxford Street 2, Trafalgar Square 3, protested against and closed the offices of Atos, protested online through blogs and social media, provided briefing notes and researched and gained significant victories in publicising exactly what is happening -both DPAC and Black Triangle hope they have been an impetus, along with the growing network of allies, user-led disabled peoples’ organisations and key anti-cuts groups across the UK and in Europe –all of us recognise the severe harm that the ‘cuts’ are doing to large groups of ordinary people.

 In the very first DPAC protest on 3rd October 2010 disabled people came together to lead the march against the cuts proposed by this Government, liaised with unions and other anti-cuts groups- it poured with rain, but DPAC were the first to have a synchronised online protest too. Disabled people saw a need for early action at a time when many formal disabled peoples’ organisations (DPOs) made few public statements on spending reviews or cuts and when the big disability charities remained silent. From the 100 or so original October 2010 protesters and campaigners –there are now thousands, overall numbers are growing at rapid rate- contra Brindle, disabled leaders are emerging in their hundreds trained by anger and despair at what is happening to their lives and the lives of others under this Government.

 The reality of the impact of the cuts on the lives of disabled people are much worse than any of us imagined on that rainy day in October: framed by an apparent media campaign in some sections to demonise disabled people as ‘scroungers (despite administrative error and fraud at 0.04 and 0.5% for disability support) 4, we have seen a rising level of disability hate crime, increasing suicides amongst disabled people 5, more and more disabled people relying on handouts from family and friends because they are being left without any income, disabled people losing their homes, disabled people with paid jobs seeing those jobs removed in a clear ‘cuts agenda’ 6, basic support from local authorities being cut to the bone, a move back to the threat of institutionalisation and away from independent living[7], and a move away from inclusive education for disabled children[8]

 The UK was once a European example of how disabled people’s inclusion, support and equality could be applied. It’s now an example of how fast these basic human rights can be reversed. In two years we have witnessed: the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new applicants[9], disability living allowance (DLA) to pay for the additional costs of disability being stripped from individuals, DLA to be replaced by an expensive and unnecessary round of reassessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with a pre-assessment criteria that 500,000 people will lose all support[10], cut backs and a steep fall in Access to Work applicants[11] with a tightening of criteria and more costs being passed to employers. We see that some individuals pronounced as ‘fit for work’ by Atos are dying days after leaving their assessment centres[12], while those with terminal illness and less than 12 months to live
are being told to seek work, and having income stopped[13].

 This regime is not about supporting disabled people nor is it about supporting disabled people into work – it’s about cuts. It’s about erasing the years that individuals have worked and paid national insurance for welfare support. It’s not about saying the social model has failed- it hasn’t, if anything it’s been made stronger. It’s about recognising the imposition of a bio-psycho social model- a model
that the Government and its partner companies use to provide a bizarre focus on denying disability, impairment and ill-health each of which are being reconstructed as individual failings brought about by individuals adopting the wrong attitude-thinking yourself ‘well’[14] is cheap-it’s also impossible.

 The recent Dispatches[15] and Panorama[16] television programmes on the work capability assessment (WCA) and the regime used by Atos exposed what many of us have known for too long to a wider audience: a system designed to remove over a million disabled people from welfare support that has caused misery, anxiety and the premature deaths and suicides of an estimated 32 people a week[17]. The WCA – a revolving door of Atos assessment, appeal, tribunal, and reassessment has produced horror stories of inhuman proportions. In one of the programs an Atos ‘assessor’ asked someone who had taken several overdoses why they weren’t dead yet. There are stories of people being forced to walk until they collapse and being declared ‘fit for work’ and those that Atos has signed off as unfit for work on employee schemes being declared ‘fit to work’ on the state schemes of cuts under the WCA. Atos have recently been awarded the PIP contract[18] and are official sponsors of the Olympics[19]. These are additional reasons why the Atos games: a week of activities for people to raise the issues of the inhumanity of these ‘tests’ and the callous removal of vital supports is happening.

 The use of Tom Shakespeare’s quote in the Brindle piece that ‘… the politics of disability seem to have run out of steam.’ is grossly misleading: disabled people are fighting back in every way we can: Black Triangles’ tireless campaign to secure a total condemnation of the WCA by the British Medical Association resulting in the call for ‘the WCA to end with immediate effect’[20], the Mental Health Resistance Network’s successful case for a judicial review of the WCA[21], the exposure of the ‘tampering’ with the Ministry of Justice’s You Tube video to help people through appeals against
Atos decisions’ by Government, the continuing evidence and fight back for Atos assessments to be scrapped[22], the continuing legal challenges, the use of social media to spread information, undercover work with and by researchers, Freedom of Information requests and gains from empathetic media, lawyers, and MPs are all part of the ‘steam’-This is not being led by well paid Charity directors, nor as Macrae suggests by those who see themselves as victims but by disabled people without any funds fuelled by a raging sense of injustice and the will to fight back.

 John McDonnell’s words from the opposition day debate on disability benefits and
social care in which he stated his support for DPAC, Black Triangle and the Remploy
workers warned:

…the Government should not think that this issue or these people are going
to go away because they are not: these people are mobilising. We now have
a disability movement of which we have not seen the equal of before…these
people are not going to go away. They will be in our face-and rightly so’[23] 

 The Atos games are an opportunity for all to show their anger at the disproportionate cuts being imposed on disabled people. They are an opportunity to mobilise against the carnage the cuts administered by this Government are causing.

 Details and resources including local actions pack and a minute menu of protest
activities on DPAC dpac.uk.net

 We want to thank the Guardian for publishing ‘The Atos Games will showcase disabled peoples anger at the Paralympic sponsers’ and all those that helped get the CiF piece online here

See you on the streets and online

 


 

Jun 082012
 

The closure of the Remploy factories has ignited a wealth of media attention and strong feeling as well as differences of opinion between disabled people, and Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs) on the position of disabled Remploy factory workers. The now infamous Sayce report called for closure of the factories in the ironically titled: ‘Getting in, staying in and getting on: disability employment support fit for the future’. This was followed by a consultation exercise in July 2011 to which DPAC responded outlining the impact of the closure of the factories and urging that they remain open.

Since then, DPAC, DPOs, Unions, disabled workers, disabled and non-disabled people have been active on the proposed closures in a number of ways which have been publicised on the DPAC site. DPAC have invited Liz Sayce to comment, but she has not responded to our request.

Most recently the Sayce report has been accused of doing the Governments ‘dirty work’, as elitist and a part of the cuts agenda at the TUC Disabled Peoples’ conference. 

There was overwhelming support at the annual TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference for the campaign to fight the planned closure of the Remploy factories.

The government announced in March that 36 of the 54 remaining Remploy factories across the UK would close by the end of 2012, with the loss of more than 1,500 disabled people’s jobs, while there would be further consultation over the future of the other 18 factories.

The announcement was part of the government’s response to a consultation on last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK).

Sayce called in her report for funds currently used to subsidise the factories to be ploughed into more personalised forms of employment support for disabled people, including the Access to Work (AtW) scheme.

But Mandy Hudson, from the National Union of Teachers, told the conference that the Sayce report had “gone about doing the government’s dirty work”.

And she criticised “the completely cavalier way that Liz Sayce’s report sets adrift a whole set of disabled workers”.

The disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low also criticised Sayce’s report, and said its “highly individualised approach… seems to smack of elitism”.

Read more of the article by John Pring including the Remploy protest outside the offices of DR UK by Remploy workers and UKUncut here  

 Opening up the debate

Since the government announced the closures, some DPOs have backed its plans, arguing that the move was one towards the inclusion of disabled people.

But Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said:

This is a cut. It isn’t about inclusion. We shouldn’t let the government justify this in the name of inclusion.

She accepted that the disability movement has been divided on whether to support the closures, but she said:

What we need is a dialogue. This is us putting an alternative view forward which hopefully will get a debate going. That’s what we need. Read more

Letter to the Guardian

The publication of a letter against Remploy closures was published in both on-online and print versions of the Guardian on May 10. The letter was composed by Inclusion London, DPAC and unions. Many DPOs and disabled people signed in support of the Remploy workers. The letter was shortened and some names and DPOs were reduced due to space restrictions by the Guardian. This link  will take you to the letter with a link to the original letter’s wording. DPAC will be updating the names and DPOs that were left off the printed and online versions shortly. We asked Liz Sayce to comment, but she did not respond.

However, a response article to the letter was issued by DPO Breakthrough UK claiming that while they agreed with many aspects of our letter they could not join other DPOs in signing it and wanted to open up debate on the Remploy issue.

We agree with opening the debate, and provide a link to the thoughtful piece by disabled activist and comedian Laurence Clark published in the Independent: Remploy Closures: right in theory but where does it leave disabled employees?

Sean McGovern a former Remploy factory worker responded directly to the Breakthrough article

and Les Woodward a GMB convener and worker at the Swansea Remploy factory said of the Breakthrough article:

This article, unfortunately is typical of the “Politically Correct” brigades attitude to Supported Employment and the language they use to try and justify their positions…

Another unfortunate slant of this article is that it totally fails to take into account the effect on the workers themselves or indeed other disabled workers who given the present economic climate would give their eye teeth for a job any job. They would sell their soul for a job in Remploy that can provide skilled work, training and other support that employment in Remploy offers.

 I have said it many times and I will say it a lot more. No-one ever forced a gun to my head to work in Remploy, over the 28 years I have been employed by the Company, I have been free to leave at any time I wanted, just like any other worker in any other workplace.

 Of course whether or not I exercise that choice to leave is dependant not least on economic circumstances that I have found myself in and whether or not the alternative employment was viable in terms of remuneration or terms and conditions. No employment opportunities that can match those that I am on in Remploy have presented themselves as yet.

 No one would disagree with the aspirations of a fully inclusive society, and I for one would absolutely love to see the day when Remploy really was old fashioned and there would be no need for Remploy because we would have a fully inclusive society that caters for everyone. Unfortunately we live in a rather different world which is going further and further away from inclusion and equality of opportunity over the last 18 months or so rather than moving more towards inclusion and equal opportunity. The reason for this is that we are now governed by the rich for the rich and of the rich, while we get poorer and poorer.

 The ultimate shame in all this is that organisations such as the one who authored this article are wittingly or unwittingly collaborating with this Government in implementing cuts in the living standards of some of the very people they purport to support.

 Thanks a million to everyone that signed the letter, we really appreciate it and appreciate the support that you give us.

 Les

 We will provide more responses soon….

Previous pieces from DPAC and others

DPAC has always been transparent in its connections, actions and thoughts on the Remploy closures, which have been published on the DPAC web site, some of which we list here. We also include pieces by other groups

Remploy Closures: no segregated employment translates to unemployment for up to 2000 workers

DPAC Remploy Workers meeting London March 20th

Right to Work Pledges Support for Remploy workers

London meeting unites resistance to Remploy Closures

Furious workers hit out at Boss whose report led to Remploy factories getting the Axe

Demo for Remploy workers April 20th

Independent: Betrayed Disabled Workers protest against Remploy Closures

Fight the Remploy Closures

Remploy Public Meeting Thursday 26th April

Government accused of Hijacking Disability Equality Language to Justify Remploy Closures

The closure of Remploy factories is about cuts and cannot be justified by a misguided language of inclusion in a time when disabled people are facing the worse attacks on their inclusion, human rights and equality in UK history. Disabled people and DPOs need to support the Remploy workers rather than engaging in forms of ideological bullying that refuse to take into account the impacts on disabled peoples’ lives. Nor should they be so arrogant as to suggest that these workers shouldn’t have choice in where they chose to work. Less than 5% of Remploy workers in the last set of closures found alternative jobs, with some committing suicide-is this really something that we want to support for up to 2000 more disabled people under a flimsy Tory rhetoric of inclusion?