Welfare Reform, Hate Crime, Landmark Human Rights ruling

Well another bank holiday over and I hope you enjoyed yours! It’s my wife’s birthday this week so we decided to celebrate by taking everyone off to a Point to Point race meeting on bank holiday Monday. To say we all froze is an understatement! The wind howled and hailstones stung our cheeks! To cap it all we all lost the stake money my wife had so generously given each of us!! The one ray of sunshine concerned the provision of two fully wheelchair accessible toilets right in the middle of a field! Well done I say! Have a great short week!!
ELECTION 2010: Key concerns remain over welfare reform

Striking differences have emerged between the Liberal Democrats and the other two main parties over how they would treat disabled people on out-of-work benefits.

Important questions also remain over both Labour and Conservative plans on welfare reform.

Both Labour and the Conservatives plan to reassess every person currently receiving incapacity benefit (IB).

Labour plans to start doing this from October, building up to testing 10,000 people a week through its controversial work capability assessment (WCA).

Both parties appeared to confirm this week that there would be no exemptions from these reassessments for any disabled person, even those who are terminally-ill.

Theresa May, the Conservative work and pensions spokeswoman, confirmed the party’s commitment in a BBC interview that every person on IB would be “reassessed”.

She said: “We will be covering those 2.6 million people on IB. Some of those will not be able to work. All will be reassessed.”

And a Labour spokesman said: “My understanding is because it is going from one form of benefit to another an assessment has to take place.”

But there are also question-marks over the Tories’ figures, with May insisting –as the manifesto does – that a Conservative government would reassess the “2.6 million people on IB”.

In fact, the latest Department for Work and Pensions figures state that in August 2009 there were about 2.26 million on IB and another 375,000 on its replacement, the new employment and support allowance (ESA). This comes to a total of about 2.6 million.

May’s statement – and the manifesto – implies that a Conservative government would retest all those disabled people on ESA who have already taken and “passed” the WCA, as well as those still on IB.

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, put clear water between his party and the other two on the issue.

Also speaking on the BBC, he said that both the Conservatives and Labour were planning to “go through the stock of people” on IB and “reassign” them onto jobseeker’s allowance, which is paid at a lower rate, “essentially as a benefit cut”.

He said: “I fear that under a Labour or Tory administration it is going to be about hitting people on benefits harder and harder rather than supporting them, which is what the Liberal Democrats are proposing.”

Webb outlined what appeared to be a new policy, a “partial capacity benefit” which he said would not be saying “you either work or you don’t work, you’re sick or you’re not sick”.

He said: “It’s based on what you can do, perhaps part-time work, perhaps intermittent work, because at the moment people are afraid to take jobs or to work part-time because they lose benefits.

“We need to work with the grain of people, particularly people who have been on benefits for a long time.”

No-one from any of the parties was available to talk about their welfare reform policies in depth this week.
Serious concerns again over latest hate crime murder

Serious concerns have been raised again about the way the police deal with disability hate crime, after members of a family were sentenced for the brutal murder of a disabled man they had beaten and tortured for years.

Michael Gilbert was held captive by the Watt family in Luton for about 10 years and was regularly beaten, stabbed, tormented, treated “like a slave” and had his benefits money stolen.

Four members of the Watt family, and two of their girlfriends, were sentenced to a total of 93 years in prison for offences connected with Gilbert’s death in January 2009, including causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.

Three of them – James Watt, the ringleader, Natasha Oldfield and Nichola Roberts – were found guilty of murder. Watt will serve a minimum of 36 years in prison, Oldfield 18 years and Roberts at least 15 years.

But court documents make it clear that Bedfordshire police were told on at least three occasions – twice by Gilbert himself and once by his then girlfriend – that he had been abducted.

Lancashire police were also told of similar allegations after Gilbert had escaped to Blackburn but was abducted and brought back to Luton by the Watts.

Other agencies in contact with Gilbert also saw evidence that he was being assaulted.

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, said he was pleased at the “fairly substantial” sentences imposed in the case.

But he said a police force had yet again failed to treat serious violent offences against a disabled person as disability hate crime.

He said: “The police described him as vulnerable. They should have said he was a disabled person who was targeted and brutalised by this mob of thugs.

“What it does prove yet again is that various police forces need to get their act together and work at a common standard level.”

He said it also appeared clear that various agencies had yet again failed to communicate with each other over a disability hate crime.

Paul Fawcett, head of marketing and communications for the charity Victim Support, said that dealing with the justice system “can be a difficult and alien experience for anybody” and that for people with “additional challenges” such as some disabled people “it can be particularly bewildering and difficult”.

He said: “This would appear to be a case, without singling anyone out, where there was a collective failure of the system to identify that somebody was at risk and to intervene and deal with it.”

Bedfordshire police said at a media briefing during the trial that Gilbert had refused police help and so there was “nothing that any authorities could have done”.

It has also emerged that following the latest annual assessment of Luton council’s adult social care department by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the council had to draw up an action plan to “address issues highlighted by the commission relating to safeguarding”.

A CQC spokeswoman said they would be “reviewing what action has been taken when we carry out a full assessment of the service later this year”.

The Luton Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults Board has launched a serious case review “to establish whether there are any lessons to be learned” from the Michael Gilbert case and “if anything could have been done differently by the local professionals and agencies who work to safeguard vulnerable adults”.

Luton council said it could not comment further because of the review, as did Bedfordshire police.
Court case on support is landmark for human rights

A disabled woman was today set to ask a court to prevent a council cutting the support she needs to maintain her dignity, in a case with vital human rights implications for disabled people receiving care.

Elaine McDonald says Kensington and Chelsea council’s decision to cut her care package from more than £700 to £450 per week, reducing her night time support, would breach her right to be treated with dignity.

Douglas Joy, a senior solicitor with Disability Law Service, which is conducting McDonald’s case with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the court would decide whether she has a right to dignity under the Human Rights Act.

McDonald, a former principal ballerina with the Scottish Ballet, became disabled following a stroke in 1999 and needs support because of problems with strength, mobility, vision and spatial awareness.

She had been provided with a weekly package of 22.5 hours of daytime support and another 10 hours of care four nights a week, worth a total of £703.59 per week.

Her council needs assessment found that nighttime care was essential to provide supervision to prevent her falling while using the commode during the night, due to a bladder condition.

But in December 2008, the council said it would cut her care package, saying she could be given incontinence pads instead of an overnight care worker, even though she is not incontinent.

In March 2009, a high court judge refused McDonald permission for a judicial review of the council’s decision, ruling that the issue was one of safety, and that incontinence pads would safeguard her from risk by ensuring she did not have to repeatedly use a commode during the night.

But following a successful appeal, McDonald was given permission for a judicial review of the council’s decision at the court of appeal, with Lord Justice Laws stating the case was “arguable and important”.

Her full support package has been maintained until her case is resolved.

Joy said: “We have come across other local authorities that have relied on the original high court case and cottoned on to this [argument] that all you need to do is safeguard. Hopefully, if we are successful it will right the wrong.”

McDonald’s lawyers were set to argue that the council’s decision to cut her night time support would breach her right to respect for her private life under article eight of the Human Rights Act.

They were also set to argue that her need under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act is for assistance to use the commode at night, rather than an underlying need to be “kept safe”.

And they were expected to say that McDonald has been discriminated against under the Disability Discrimination Act.

A council spokesman said: “When the judgement comes out we will be in the best position to comment.”

The court was expected to reserve judgement until a future date.

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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