Just spent 5 days in snowy Birmingham and returned to find the garden flooded! I’m now building a wheelchair accessible Ark!! Enjoy your week.
Judges must change attitudes on disability
A leading disabled barrister has called for a “sea change” in the attitudes of judges towards disabled people.
John Horan said judges should be forced to undergo diversity training that includes a section on disability discrimination, because of their lack of knowledge and awareness.
He was speaking as a new report – commissioned by the government – called for a “coherent and comprehensive strategy” to increase the number of disabled judges and those from other minorities.
The report by the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity says the legal profession must do more to promote diversity at all levels and support applications from talented candidates from all backgrounds.
The panel, set up last April by the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, points to the “virtual invisibility” of disabled judges and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Among its recommendations, the report calls for reasonable adjustments for disabled judges, the promotion of flexible working and “open and transparent selection processes that promote diversity and recognise potential”.
And it says members of the Judicial Appointments Commission’s (JAC) interview panels should receive regular equality and diversity training.
Horan, an expert in disability discrimination law, said he “absolutely” agreed with the need for training.
He said: “I really welcome the report of the advisory panel but I wonder whether judges can take it seriously because it involves a sea change in their attitudes towards disabled people.”
He said he would not consider applying to become a judge until “attitudes have changed”.
Baroness Neuberger, who chaired the panel, said there could be “no quick fix” but implementing their recommendations would deliver “real change”.
Her panel also called for a new judicial diversity taskforce to oversee an action plan and publish an annual report on progress.
Although the report rules out diversity targets or quotas for judicial appointments, it says the JAC should make use of the positive action measures in the government’s equality bill that will allow it to appoint a minority candidate if two or more applicants are “essentially indistinguishable”.
And the report says the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Institute of Legal Executives should set out timetables for improving the diversity of their own members who are suitable for appointments “at all levels”.
Straw, who welcomed the report and accepted all of its 53 recommendations, said: “I am determined that race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability should be no barrier to those with ability joining the judiciary and progressing within it.”
Pathways contracts mean many get ‘bare minimum’ help
New research shows that paying providers of employment support according to how many disabled people they place in jobs leads to a “bare minimum” service for those less ready for work.
The research into the effectiveness of paying private and voluntary sector providers of Pathways to Work based on how many clients find work comes as the government is reviewing its work support programmes, including Pathways.
The report by the Policy Studies Institute for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says its research “reinforces concern” that providers given “outcome-based contracts” do not work with the “harder to help”.
It suggests that more funding should be available for organisations working with “clients with more complex needs”.
And it calls for more to be done to allow disabled clients to provide feedback on their Pathways experiences.
The Pathways providers covered in the research – three private sector and one charity – complained that the recession and a decline in job vacancies had “exacerbated the financial risks” in trying to reach their job targets, which were “not considered to be feasible”.
Internal targets set for advisers working with disabled clients had been lowered because of the recession, while advisers were frustrated that managers’ focus on clients who were “job ready” caused them to spend less time with those “further away from work”.
This meant that “creaming” (working intensively with clients closer to the job market) and “parking” (giving other clients a “bare minimum” service) were seen as “appropriate practice”.
The report did find some measures that helped advisers work with “clients not labelled as job ready”, but it also found that any innovations by providers were largely based on cutting costs.
The report came as Rebecca Sudworth, deputy director of the DWP’s disability and work division, told the all party parliamentary disability group that the number of clients found jobs had “been much lower than providers themselves felt might be possible”.
She also admitted that in some employment programmes there was “insufficient enthusiasm” to work with disabled people furthest from the labour market.
A briefing prepared for the meeting by the Disability Benefits Consortium concluded: “The funding system of payment by in-work results only has encouraged a concentration of effort on to those people regarded as easier to support into work.”
But Jonathan Shaw, minister for disabled people, said in a statement that Pathways had helped “nearly 190,000 people who face complex barriers into work” since it was first piloted in 2003.
He added: “We pay our private providers by results – if they don’t get people into sustainable employment, they don’t get the full payment.
“But we know we need to do more to help disabled people into work, which is why we have committed through our employment white paper to review our support programmes, including Pathways to Work. Our findings will be published in the spring.”
Work assessment test under fresh fire
The government’s strict new work test for disabled people has come under fresh attack at a meeting of MPs and peers.
The criticisms of the work capability assessment (WCA) came after the all party parliamentary disability group had heard a presentation by three senior civil servants from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
David Evans, vice-chair of the charity Deafblind UK, said some of the things he had read about the WCA – which tests those applying for the new employment and support allowance – “beggars belief”.
He criticised the “stupidity” and “insensitivity of the people making decisions about people’s lives” and said he was “very concerned” that the aim was to get “as many people into work as possible”.
He also raised fears that disabled people were giving up on the welfare system after failing the WCA and were having to survive solely on DLA instead.
He added: “A huge number of people are not getting the right benefits, creating more work for people trying to work with them, like Citizens Advice Bureaux.”
His comments came a week after new job statistics provided evidence for his fear that disabled people failing the WCA were dropping out of the welfare system.
The figures showed the number of people giving “long-term sickness” or “temporary sickness” as the reason for being neither in work nor available for work had risen by 33,000 in a year.
But Rebecca Sudworth, deputy director of the DWP’s disability and work division, said the government kept the WCA “under review” and it was “very much not the case” that it was about “shoving people into work regardless” of their circumstances.
She said the test was “designed to think where people are on that ability to work spectrum”, and added: “We may not always get it right but we put an awful lot of time and effort into developing the assessment and checking how it is working.”
Cath Hamp, the DWP’s head of employment and support allowance policy, said current reviews of the WCA and the government’s disability employment programmes – such as Pathways to Work – were “very timely”, with the government due to start rolling out the WCA to the 2.5 million people on incapacity benefit this October.
She said: “We want some of the things at either end of that process to be as good as they possibly can be when that process starts.”
She added: “The object of the change is to avoid that group of people being written off as they have been over the last ten years because there has been very little contact with them.”
News supplied by John Pring