Work Assessments, Baywatch and Prison Discrimination

I’m working in Birmingham all week so thought I’d better get this out there before I go. As some of you will know I run a three day personal development programme for disabled people with a colleague Dave Rees. The idea originated with Lloyds Banking Group several years ago, and has also now been taken up by Accenture, it is proving to be a huge hit with those who attend. I find it incredibly rewarding and I’m always amazed at how totally brilliant so many disabled people are!! I guess I would say that wouldn’t I! My own personal view aside Lloyds have undertaken a study of the programme and the results are very encouraging. Course attendees stay longer, achieve more promotions and are seen more positively by the line managers.

I hope you find the news useful and feedback is alway very welcome.

New fears over impact of work assessment test

New job statistics provide worrying evidence that disabled people are dropping out of the welfare system after failing the government’s strict new work assessment test.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show the number of people who say they are “economically inactive” – neither in work nor available for work – has risen to 8.08 million, its highest ever level.

And the number giving “long-term sickness” as the reason for being economically inactive has risen in one year by 25,000 to 2.01 million, while those giving “temporary sickness” as a reason has risen by 8,000 to 177,000.

Mark Baker, policy chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said these figures could have been boosted by disabled people who fail the work capability assessment (WCA) and so do not qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit.

He believes many then decide not to apply for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) because they cannot cope with its tougher regime and stricter conditions.

He said: “The JSA regime just alienates people. They will just want to survive on disability living allowance.

“JSA is a much tougher regime and it simply wasn’t designed for disabled people.”

He said there were serious concerns that many disabled people were being “left in the space between work and welfare”.

He added: “We are extremely worried about it and our suspicion is that many of the people are just falling out of the system.”

Citizens Advice said it was “very concerned” at the large numbers of disabled people and those with serious illnesses being found fit for work after taking the WCA.

A Citizens Advice spokeswoman said: “By being found ineligible for ESA, some move onto JSA, which offers considerably less support. Others are moved off benefits altogether, with no support at all.

“We had understood that the aim of ESA was to move people into work, not simply off benefits.

“Both of these groups are being let down by the system and find themselves much further away from a situation where they may be able to return to sustainable work in the future.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted that those who move to JSA after failing the WCA receive “immediate back to work support”.

He said disabled claimants and those with health conditions can discuss limitations on their availability.

Their condition or impairment is also taken into account “when discussing and agreeing jobsearch activities”, while Jobcentre Plus offers additional support through disability employment advisers.

But he could not say whether the government believed more disabled people were becoming “economically inactive” because of concerns about the JSA regime.

Baywatch survey provides more evidence that fining works

A national survey of supermarket carparks appears to provide further proof that fining motorists who misuse accessible parking spaces cuts levels of abuse.

But the survey by more than 550 disabled supporters of the Baywatch campaign also found levels of abuse in two of the big four supermarket chains had increased since the previous survey in 2007.

And the new survey found some disabled shoppers were experiencing threats and verbal abuse when they challenged motorists who were misusing accessible spaces.

The best performer in the survey was Sainsbury’s, with nearly half of surveyors who visited their carparks last September reporting no abuse of any accessible bays.

More than half of those who visited Sainsbury’s also reported seeing signs warning that people using accessible bays without displaying a blue badge would be fined.

Although 16 per cent of Sainsbury’s total spaces surveyed were being used by a vehicle that was not displaying a blue badge, this was an improvement of two percentage points since the 2007 survey.

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “Last year we introduced a nationwide scheme of monitors to help keep our disabled bays open for those who need them. It is great to hear that they are having a real impact.”

The worst performer was Tesco, with nearly one in four bays abused, a slight increase in misuse since 2007.

According to Baywatch, Tesco has started to enforce bays at some of its supermarkets, but “only a measly 10 per cent of people reported any sign of this”.

Asda – the first supermarket to introduce widespread fining for abuse in 2008 – saw misuse of its bays fall from 23 per cent in 2007 to 19 per cent.

But Morrisons, which failed to follow Asda’s lead on fining, saw abuse rise from 13 to 17 per cent of bays.

Helen Smith, director of policy and campaigns for the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise, which runs the Baywatch campaign with the British Polio Fellowship and Disability Now magazine, said the survey showed that fining bay abusers works.

She added: “In order to see real improvements for their disabled customers, supermarkets need to do more than just put up signs – they need to practice active enforcement as well.

“It’s not acceptable for supermarkets to pass the buck on to their disabled customers by refusing to monitor their bays.

“Instead, supermarkets should ensure that disabled customers can come in and shop – without fear of intimidation.”

Prison service breached disability discrimination laws, says court

A court has ruled that the prison service breached disability and race discrimination laws in its treatment of foreign prisoners in the UK.

The High Court ruling came in a case taken by the Equality and Human Rights Commission against the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which delivers prison and probation services in England and Wales.

The EHRC launched the judicial review after NOMS implemented a new policy of transferring foreign prisoners between prisons, but failed to consider its impact on disabled or ethnic minority prisoners.

Public bodies such as prisons are legally required to carry out assessments of how their policies will affect disabled people, ethnic minorities and women.

The EHRC said the failure took place despite “widespread documentation” by the prisons inspectorate of “significant discrimination and disadvantage” faced by disabled and ethnic minority foreign prisoners.

The court found NOMS failed to carry out any formal assessments, and described its reasons for failing to do so as “unconvincing”.

After the EHRC started legal proceedings, NOMS carried out retrospective equality impact assessments, which the court said satisfied the law.

EHRC commissioner Kay Carberry said the ruling sent “a clear message” to all public bodies, which should “take the lead in this area and not wait for legal action before seeking to comply with the law”.

She added: “We expect the prison authority to monitor the impact of the policy to make sure that foreign national prisoners are treated in the same way and have the same access to support and rehabilitation courses as all other prisoners.”

The disability charity RADAR welcomed the ruling and said transfers can have a “major impact” upon disabled prisoners, as many of Britain’s prisons are “elderly institutions”.

Last May, RADAR condemned the treatment of two disabled prisoners at HMP Parkhurst, who were left without proper washing facilities for months because of inaccessible bathrooms.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “I hope this judgment will go a considerable way towards preventing any further unequal or inhuman treatment of disabled prisoners.”

But a Prison Service spokesman said: “We regret the fact that the EHRC chose to challenge a policy designed to improve services provided to foreign national prisoners.”

He said the policy – designed to locate foreign prisoners in fewer prisons – remained in place, but could not say whether the government would appeal.

He said the policy was “not a blanket process and individual circumstances will be taken into account before any prisoner is allocated or otherwise moved between jails”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Author: PhilFriend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) himself a wheelchair user, is acknowledged as the UK's foremost consultant on disability matters. A powerful and highly popular communicator, his company – Phil & Friends – provides consultancy to many of the country's best-known companies. In addition to his professional activities, he is also a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general, where his special blend of humour and direct speaking has won admirers from around the world.

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