Sorry I’m a little late this week! Easter is upon us and therefore just like you I’m trying to tie everything up before the break! Somebody once told me that if we were as efficient as we are just before going on holiday we’d be the most productive nation on the planet!! Some truth in that I think! Anyway I hope you enjoy the bank holiday and we get some hint of the spring! Enjoy!
Minister announces new line-up for smaller Equality 2025
The government has announced the 10 disabled members of its new, smaller network of disability equality advisers.
Equality 2025 was set up in 2006 to advise the government on achieving equality for disabled people by 2025.
But the government decided last year to cut its membership of more than 20 disabled people and turn it instead into a “high-level advisory group”.
The plans caused some concern among disabled activists, who also called for the body to be given a higher profile and “more clout”.
Equality 2025 members have defended their work and say they cannot publicise the vital advice they give to government departments on disability equality because of the need for confidentiality.
Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, announced the reappointment of five Equality 2025 members, as well as the chair, Rowen Jade, a respected disability equality consultant, campaigner and writer.
The other members reappointed are: Haji Saghir Alam, a human rights and diversity expert and member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) disability committee; Nick Danagher, a consultant, trustee of the Independent Living Fund and director of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People; Miro Griffiths, a student at Liverpool University and former chair of Whizz-Kidz’s children’s board; Andy Rickell, chief executive of The Vassall Centre Trust and former chief executive of the British Council of Disabled People; and Fiona Wallace, chair of People First Mid Lothian, who has been involved in the Scottish self-advocacy movement since the late 1980s.
The four new members of the body are: Diane Mulligan, another member of the EHRC’s disability committee and social inclusion and disability advisor at Sightsavers International; Dr Rachel Perkins, a clinical psychologist and author of a well-received review for the government on helping people with mental health conditions into work; Tracey Proudlock, a human resources and recruitment expert who runs her own disability and access consultancy; and Colin Young, a former researcher with Capability Scotland with experience of advocating for young people.
All 10 will begin their three-year terms on 1 April.
Jade said: “I am looking forward to working with all of the Equality 2025 members at a time when so many government proposals and decisions are having such a significant impact on disabled people.”
Shaw said the 10 members would “bring a mix of experience, skills and enthusiasm to the job”.
Change to equality bill is access warning to service-providers
Disabled peers have again ensured that parts of the equality bill that protect disabled people from discrimination are as strong as similar measures in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
Changes agreed by the government will mean that the bill – which will replace the DDA and other equality legislation – does not weaken the existing legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments in the DDA.
The amendment clarifies the steps a service-provider or employer should take to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments if a physical feature is causing a disabled person a “substantial disadvantage”.
Concerns had been raised at an earlier stage of the bill by the disabled peers Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell.
Baroness Thornton, for the government, said the amendment sets out “key considerations that should be taken into account when the duty to avoid the disadvantage caused by a physical feature is being addressed – whether by an employer, someone providing services or someone delivering public functions.”
Baroness Campbell said: “The duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people lies at the heart of the DDA, and it is particularly important in relation to physical barriers that prevent disabled people accessing services, receiving public benefits or enjoying club facilities.
“It is a matter of exclusion or inclusion. While there have been huge improvements in accessibility in the past few years, all too many providers still do not understand their duties, or blatantly choose to disregard them.”
She said that using some of the “language” from the DDA in the equality bill – as the government had done – was “very important” and would confirm that the intention was to mirror the protection offered by the DDA “and not, as some providers think, to dilute the law” or make it easier for them to “disregard their duties”.
Baroness Thornton later paid tribute to the contributions of Baroness Campbell, Lord Low and their fellow disabled peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins in promoting the rights of disabled people through pushing for amendments to the bill as it passed through the Lords.
The bill has now been passed back to the Commons to approve the amendments agreed in the Lords – the final obstacle before it becomes law.
The personal care at home bill has also returned to the Commons, for MPs to consider amendments passed in the Lords.
A number of amendments approved during the bill’s report stage in the Lords would delay the implementation of free personal care at home for disabled and older people with the highest needs.
Access to work breakthrough for councillors
Disabled local councillors who need access adjustments to allow them to do their jobs have achieved a breakthrough in their fight for financial support from the access to work (ATW) scheme.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas questioned the government last autumn after activists at the Liberal Democrat party conference told her that disabled councillors could not claim ATW support.
One county councillor told how he had been refused an ATW grant after he was elected because he was told he was not in a paid job, forcing the council to pay for the adjustments he needed.
He warned that disabled councillors from minority parties could be prevented from doing their jobs if their councils’ ruling groups refused to approve the necessary adjustments.
Baroness Thomas then asked the government to clarify the rules on whether councillors could apply for ATW support to help them carry out their council duties.
Her intervention followed earlier questions asked by her fellow Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Scott.
The government initially said that councillors could only apply for ATW funding if they received at least the national minimum wage for their council work.
But last week, Lord McKenzie, the work and pensions minister, told Baroness Thomas in a written answer that the government had reviewed its ATW guidance and agreed it was “unclear”.
He said the guidance had been revised and now states that any councillor receiving anything more than just meal and travel expenses will be treated as if they are in a job and can therefore apply for an ATW grant, even if they receive less than the minimum wage for their council work.
Baroness Thomas said: “We now have an absolute assurance from the government that disabled councillors who receive allowances as well as expenses are entitled to apply for the ATW scheme.
“This means no disabled person should be put off standing for office because of uncertainty over what support they can apply for. This is great news for disabled councillors all over the country.”
Report raises ‘grave concerns’ on work test
A new report has raised “grave concerns” about the impact of the government’s new work capability test on disabled people.
The Citizens Advice report says seriously ill people are being subjected to the work capability assessment (WCA), while the test fails to measure fitness for work effectively, and many of those assessed are subjected to poor quality medical assessments.
The WCA was introduced in October 2008 to test those claiming employment and support allowance, which replaced incapacity benefit for new claimants.
But there have been mounting concerns about the test, particularly over its inability to deal properly with people with fluctuating conditions.
The report, Not Working, is backed by 18 other voluntary organisations, most of which represent disabled people.
It calls for a full, independent review of the WCA, an assessment of its impact on health, and research into its reliability “as a matter of urgency”, and suggests that WCA reports should be sent to claimants so they can correct mistakes.
The report includes a string of cases in which medical examiners carried out hurried medicals, missed vital details, made “unjustifiable assumptions” or failed to place enough emphasis on the impact of mental health conditions on people’s ability to work.
It says Citizens Advice staff across England and Wales have reported “high numbers” of “seriously ill and disabled people” found “fit for work” after taking the assessment.
Many people who might have been able to work with the right support are effectively “written off” by being found ineligible for ESA. Many of them are also ineligible for jobseeker’s allowance or cannot cope with its strict conditions and so “end up with no work and very little income”.
So far, 69 per cent of those who complete assessments have been found “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, far higher than the government’s prediction of 49 per cent.
David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We are seeing cases where the government’s aim of moving people into work is being totally undermined.”
He said disabled people were being “severely let down” by the WCA’s “crude approach”, and called for a “much more sophisticated approach” that also considers supporting medical evidence, fluctuating conditions and the external barriers disabled people face in finding work.
Citizens Advice Bureaux across England and Wales have seen a rise of more than 40 per cent in people needing help with out-of-work disability benefits since ESA was introduced – in the last quarter of last year, more than 22,500 people sought advice about ESA.
Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, insisted that the WCA was working and that “for the first time disabled people are receiving the support they need to get back into work”.
He added: “We are already adapting the test and will continue to work with organisations like [Citizens Advice] to make sure their concerns are addressed.
“We want to be sure that the assessment fully takes into account all conditions, including autism and learning disabilities.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com