Last week was a pretty good one. I attended two evening events the first launched the “OneVoice for Accessible ICT Coalition” a programme aimed at making IT more accessible to disabled people. The other arranged by the Employer’s Forum on Disability demonstrated real progress regarding the portrayal of disability on television. Clips from Eastenders and Hollyoaks plus interviews with producers and actors showed how far things have moved over the last decade.
Sadly the old adage that we take two steps forward and then one back seems true based on this weeks clippings. The Equality Bill has been enhanced after vigourous campaigning but entitlement to disability benefits seems to be more difficult to get based on the latest figures. Drop me a note if you want more information.
Equality bill amendments ‘will transform rights’
Campaigners and disabled peers say two key sets of government amendments to the equality bill will transform disability rights in employment and education.
One series of amendments will tighten the ban – added to the bill at an earlier stage – on employers using health questionnaires to discriminate against job applicants with hidden impairments.
The amendments, added during the bill’s committee stage in the Lords, mean there will be fewer exceptions to the ban and will allow the Equality and Human Rights Commission to enforce the new laws.
The mental health charity Rethink said the amendments “could mark a turning point in equal opportunities”.
They were also welcomed by the disabled peers Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who said she felt “very strongly” about the amendments, “having gone through many interrogations from interview panels in the past”.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, which has campaigned for more than ten years to outlaw the questionnaires, said banning them was “probably the single biggest difference and improvement that could be made through the equality bill” on employment of disabled people.
She said: “It will build confidence amongst people with HIV, mental health conditions and other hidden disabilities that they will be judged fairly, on merit.”
The second set of amendments lays out new measures to give disabled pupils the right to support at school through access to auxiliary aids and services – such as computer technology to help visually-impaired pupils, or adaptive keyboards – another key, longstanding demand of disability rights campaigners.
Education secretary Ed Balls had pledged to bring in such laws after they were recommended by the Lamb inquiry on special educational needs.
Baroness Royall, for the government, said it was “right and proper that all members of our society…have access to education and the educational aids they need in order to thrive as individuals and to participate as full members of our society.”
The disabled peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins said: “Too many disabled children face barriers to participation in learning and school life, because if they do not have a statement of special educational needs, they have no enforceable entitlement to extra support.”
She said the amendments would “provide many thousands of disabled pupils, and their parents, with the confidence to get the practical support they need to take part in school life”.
The amendments were also backed by Lord Low and both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.
Caroline Ellis, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, described the new measures as “a big gain” and “a very practical way of boosting inclusion”.
Figures show thousands missing out on employment support
New government figures have confirmed that only a small proportion of people applying for out-of-work disability benefits are “passing” the strict new test, the work capability assessment (WCA).
The government claimed the figures showed that “thousands of people are now moving towards work rather than being left to claim sickness benefit”.
But of the 326,500 people who completed new claims between October 2008 and May 2009, only about 59,000 (18 per cent) were found eligible for the new employment and support allowance (ESA). Of these, about 18,000 (5.5 per cent) do not have to take part in work-related activity.
More than two in five (about 135,000 people) were found to be “fit for work” and so ineligible for ESA and the personalised support it would have entitled them to through the government’s Pathways to Work programme.
The remaining 133,000 claimants stopped claiming before completing the WCA.
Those who “fail” the WCA are placed on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), and receive £25 less a week, although the Department for Work and Pensions said some JSA “customers” with health conditions can volunteer to be “fast-tracked” to receive “much more intensive help and one-to-one support to improve their employability”.
Campaigning organisations have repeatedly warned that the WCA is inflexible, riddled with errors and fails to reflect disabled people’s daily lives.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “We are aware that too many disabled people are being misassessed in an overly rigid system and failing to access the support arrangements that could help them find work.”
But he said he was “hopeful” that the current government review of the WCA would “lead to a more effective system able to identify the needs of disabled people”, with Pathways to Work offered to more people.
Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, said the government was reviewing the WCA to “see where improvements and changes need to be made to ensure that it is working as it should be”.
The government will start rolling out the WCA to existing incapacity benefit claimants this October. It is also reviewing the effectiveness of Pathways and aims to publish proposals this spring.
The new figures also reveal that, by the end of November 2009, 8,800 claimants had completed appeals against a decision that they were ineligible for ESA, and 3,300 were successful (37.5 per cent).
Previous figures suggested less than a third of claimants were winning their appeals.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com