Hate Crime, Janet Street-Porter Furore, Welfare Reform, Deaf Student wins Discrimination Case

Sorry the break in the news! I was working away all last week so didn’t get a chance to put anything together. Still at least it gave us a chance to settle down after the election. Just in case you missed it the new title for the Minister for Disabled People is “Parliamentary Under Secretary of State For Disabled People”. Anyway, the post has gone to Maria Miller MP. She’s been MP for Basingstoke since 2005, and has already campaigned for improvements to the Blue Badge Scheme. Mark Harper the previous Shadow Minister is now with the Cabinet Office. By the time you read this the spending cuts will be announced, more on this in the next Blog! Have a great week.
News Roundup

In this article:
Union activists call for public inquiry into disability hate crime
Recession has led to ‘huge rise in discrimination’
Press watchdog launches probe into ‘offensive’ article
Coalition’s plans for government: Welfare reforms ‘will entrench poverty’
Deaf student wins important discrimination victory against university
Union activists call for public inquiry into disability hate crime

Union activists have called on the government to set up a public inquiry into the way the police deal with disability hate crime.

Delegates to the TUC’s annual disability conference unanimously backed the motion, proposed by the University and College Union (UCU), which also called on the government to pressure the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to expand its inquiry into disability-related harassment.

The motion asked the TUC to write to the new home secretary, demanding a “public acknowledgement” that the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick were a “direct result of disability hate crimes”.

An inquest last year heard that Pilkington and her family were subjected to years of sustained harassment and abuse from a gang, much of it targeted at Francecca, who had learning difficulties.

Despite 33 calls to the police, the family’s complaints were not taken seriously and the harassment was never treated as potential disability hate crime.

An inquest jury concluded that the failures of the police and other public bodies contributed to Pilkington’s decision to kill herself and Francecca in 2007.

Sasha Callaghan, from the UCU, told the conference that she and colleagues had been “infuriated” by media references to the deaths being caused by “anti-social behaviour”.

She added: “If we have a public inquiry at least it will go some way to making sense of the terrible things that happened to them.”

She also criticised the inquiry set up by the EHRC. “The EHRC just talks about disability-related harassment. That’s not the reality. It’s hostility, it’s hatred, it’s fear…to talk just about harassment doesn’t go far enough.”

Stephen Brookes, chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists, told the conference that it was the most important motion they would consider.

He said: “It is about stopping something that has caused the deaths of 32 disabled people. Support it and act on it.”

Brookes said that some magistrates he meets at conferences do not even know about the extra sentencing powers they have to deal with disability hate crime offences.

He added: “This is not anti-social behaviour. It is hostility against disabled people.”
Recession has led to ‘huge rise in discrimination’

The recession has led to a huge increase in discrimination faced both by disabled people in work and those looking for jobs, according to a leading union activist.

Diana Holland, an assistant general secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest union, told the TUC’s annual disability conference that thousands of disabled people would lose jobs as a result of the recession.

She said she had seen a “massive increase” in the number of disabled people contacting her with work-related problems since the recession began.

Holland told the conference in London that there had been an increase both in discrimination at work, and discrimination faced by those trying to find jobs.

Because of the economic situation, many disabled people were “fearful” of stating that they have access requirements at work, while employers were ignorant of the Disability Discrimination Act and reasonable adjustments.

Michelle Daley, a consultant and former member of the government’s Equality 2025 advisory network of disabled people, told the conference: “The reality is that the recession should not be – but is – used to discriminate against disabled people.”

Billy Blyth, disability employment analysis team leader for the Department for Work and Pensions, said the employment rate for disabled people had “pretty much plateaued” in the last four or five years, with about 47 per cent of disabled people in work.

He warned that, because disabled people were more likely to work in public administration, health and education, they would be at greater risk through cuts to public spending.

But he said the latest statistics showed disabled people had not so far been “disproportionately” affected by the recession.

But Richard Rieser, a leading disabled rights activist and consultant and a member of the National Union of Teachers, fiercely criticised Blyth’s use of the word “disproportionate” and said what should be driving the agenda was the “quite appalling” level of disabled people in work.

He said that disabled people shouldn’t have to pay for the financial crisis “because we have been paying all our lives”.

Rieser said that if public sector organisations laid off disabled people they would be breaching their disability equality duty – under the Disability Discrimination Act – because their employment of disabled people was already so low.

The conference also approved an emergency motion condemning the threatened closure of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies.
Press watchdog launches probe into ‘offensive’ article

The press watchdog has launched an investigation into a newspaper article in which journalist Janet Street-Porter describes depression as “the latest must-have accessory” for “trendy women”.

The article sparked a torrent of complaints from people with mental health conditions, both on the newspaper’s own website and to the Press Complaints Commission.

The disability charity RADAR described the article in the Daily Mail as “ignorant, offensive and damaging”.

The mental health charities Mind and Rethink and the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change wrote to the editor of the Daily Mail, describing the piece as “offensive in the extreme”.

In her article, Street-Porter says “the latest must-have accessory is a big dose of depression”, which she describes as “a relatively new ailment”.

She says that “at the moment, trendy women are allegedly suffering from ‘depression’, but back in the Nineties the biggest cause of sick leave was backache”.

She concludes: “Every day, loads of women get divorced, lose a loved one, give birth and find out they have a terminal disease.

“But, miraculously, 90 per cent of us don’t get depressed about it, don’t take special medication and don’t whinge about ‘black holes’. That’s life in the real world.”

A string of Mail readers who have experienced depression attacked Street-Porter on the newspaper’s website, accusing her of “prejudice”, and of being “ridiculously ignorant”, “small-minded” and “attention-seeking”.

The Press Complaints Commission said it had received about 100 complaints and would be investigating her article.

RADAR said it felt compelled to respond to the article because it was “so ignorant, offensive and damaging”.

David Stocks, RADAR’s empowerment manager, who has bipolar disorder, said: “Try going into a hospital and speaking to a mental health patient about depression being trendy, and then you would see the stupidity of comments like these.”

Saying that rich celebrities should not have depression was “like stating that they should not get food poisoning or chicken pox: patently and utterly absurd”, said RADAR.

It said many people had kept their mental health conditions secret due to the “ever-present stigma” that was “perpetuated by the nonsense that has dribbled from Janet’s pen”.

No-one from the Daily Mail was available to comment.

Stephen Brookes, chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said the article had “no basis in reality whatsoever”.

An NUJ motion at this week’s annual TUC disability conference – which was unanimously carried – attacked recent media coverage of mental health issues.

It called on the TUC to lobby the Society of Editors, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Office for Disability Issues to produce guidelines on reporting mental health issues.
Coalition’s plans for government: Welfare reforms ‘will entrench poverty’

A leading disabled people’s organisation has warned that the new coalition government’s plans for welfare reform will further entrench poverty among thousands of disabled people.

Inclusion London also criticised the “Orwellian” language used by the government in describing its plans for welfare reform.

The government’s “sweeping” programme of welfare reform is based on measures in the Conservative election manifesto.

In its “programme of government”, the new coalition pledges to provide “help for those who cannot work, training and targeted support for those looking for work, but sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training”.

And it says it will re-assess “all current claimants of incapacity benefit (IB) for their readiness to work”, as promised by the Conservatives during the election campaign. Those found “fully capable for work” would be moved off IB and onto jobseeker’s allowance at a lower rate of benefit.

But Andrew Little, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “The proposal to ‘reassess all current claimants of IB for their readiness to work’ is, in Orwellian-language, a promise to slash the benefits of thousand of disabled people by changing the rules so they can be deemed fit to work.

“The result is predictable: poverty among disabled people will grow yet further.”

There are also question-marks over how the reassessment will work in practice, including whether all those on IB will be subjected to the strict new work capability assessment (WCA).

There was confusion during the election campaign, with senior Tory Theresa May suggesting there would be no exemptions, while her colleague Mark Harper, the then shadow minister for disabled people, saying there would be exemptions, such as for those who are terminally-ill.

The coalition government will also adopt the Conservative policy of replacing all Labour’s welfare to work programmes – including Pathways to Work – with one new scheme.

Campaigners have already warned that “one size does not fit all disabled people” because of their need for more personalised support.

Claimants of jobseeker’s allowance “facing the most significant barriers to work” – likely to include many disabled people assessed as “fully capable for work” under the WCA – will be referred to this new work programme immediately, not after a year, as is currently the case.

In another sign of a tougher welfare regime, the government stressed that receipt of benefits for those who can work would be “conditional on their willingness to work”.

But there has been a positive reaction to the new government’s plans for reforming the access to work programme.

Disabled people will be able to secure access to work funding for any workplace adaptations and equipment they would need before they applied for a job. Currently, they can only apply for funding once they secure a job.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the move was “very, very welcome”.

She said campaigners had been pushing for such reform “for years”, and added: “That’s going to make a big difference, not only to disabled people but it will help reassure employers as well.”

Susan Scott-Parker, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability, agreed. She said the change “should give employers more confidence in recruiting disabled people, as well as giving disabled jobseekers more confidence when applying for work”.
Deaf student wins important discrimination victory against university

A deaf student who accused a university of failing to ensure her degree course was accessible to her has secured an important legal victory.

Durham University has agreed to pay £25,000 in compensation to Rosie Watson, who quit her anthropology degree last year after claiming the university repeatedly failed to comply with an assessment of her access needs.

Watson, a mature student from Darlington, said: “I just wanted to be treated as a normal student but I didn’t get the support.

“Every day there was another attitudinal barrier against me. They just made it impossible for me to continue.”

Watson said she hoped her case would draw attention to the problems faced by other deaf students. She knew two deaf students who quit Durham University because of a lack of support.

In her witness statement, Watson described a string of examples in which tutorials, lectures and assignments were not made accessible even though she kept asking her tutor for help.

Lecturers were not told about her access needs, and frequently failed to supply lesson plans in advance to allow her to plan any assistance she might need.

Videos were shown without subtitles – again without any warning – and one tutor refused to arrange a tutorial group in a circle, which would have been more accessible.

On one occasion, Watson missed the second half of a session because the lecturer had moved the students to another class without checking she had heard where they were going.

Watson also described in her witness statement how she had been exposed to “ridicule and humiliation” in front of fellow students, and that her experiences in the second year of her course had been “completely devastating”.

Her case was taken under the education section (part four) of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and was settled out of court, although the university did not accept liability.

She had sought compensation for tuition fees, the cost of student loans, injury to feelings, loss of career opportunities and damage to her mental health.

Solicitor Chris Fry, of Wake Smith & Tofields, who represented Watson, said it was the first case he knew of in which a student had successfully taken such a case against a university.

Many disabled people were put off by the legal costs they would have to pay if they lost their DDA case, he said.

His firm took on Watson’s case on a “no win, no fee” basis, and arranged insurance to cover the university’s costs in case she lost.

Fry said: “It’s an important case: a disabled person taking on a large establishment for the benefit of others.

“While there has been no formal court judgement, we think there will be a wide response to it across other educational establishments.”

Watson was supported throughout her case by Darlington Association on Disability (DAD).

Gordon Pybus, chair of DAD, said the case showed the need for disabled people to seek support if they were facing discrimination, and the importance of access to qualifications for disabled people to allow them a better chance to find work.

Michael Gilmore, Durham University’s academic registrar, said: “The university has agreed a settlement with Mrs Watson without admission of liability and it would not be appropriate to make any further comment.”

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 – has provided 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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