Benefit cuts, Glastonbury Stevie Wonder, Hate Crime

I have now returned safe and sound for my narrow boat holiday which passed off without too many alarms and excursions! Aside from the platform lift breaking down while I was on it and the remote-controlled steering device failing, everything was bliss! It is a real sign of progress, despite these minor irritants, that people in wheelchairs can now seriously contemplate holidays afloat something that simply wasn’t possible when I was younger. What made the experience even more enjoyable was the fact that the towpaths themselves were very accessible and many of the pubs and shops en route were likewise. One downside of this newfound accessibility was the fact that I was able to get into a pub to watch the dismal England football team draw against the USA, which was a sign of things to come! Enough of this and I hope what follows is of interest. As always drop me a line if you think I can help.
Government to review impact of welfare reforms

The government has ordered a review of how its package of welfare reforms will affect disabled people.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith announced the “strategic review” following growing anger among disabled people at repeated government references to the need to cut spending on disability benefits, as well as concerns about other welfare reforms and threatened cuts to public spending.

Duncan Smith claimed he had ordered the review because he was “committed to ensuring that disabled people and carers receive the support that they deserve”.

The review will look at the impact of scrapping Labour’s employment support programmes and replacing them with a single work programme, as well as reforms around incapacity benefits and disability living allowance, among other measures.

The review was announced during the final day of the budget debate – although it was not publicised by the government – and will be carried out by the Conservative minister for disabled people, Maria Miller.

Duncan Smith said Miller would take a “principled look” at the support provided for disabled people, “to ensure that the effect of all the measures is appropriate and that they work”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said afterwards: “The secretary of state has asked the minister for disabled people to conduct a strategic review of how proposed welfare reforms will impact on disabled people and carers as a key part of her role.

“She will maintain an ongoing dialogue with the secretary of state on this moving forward to ensure that the interests of disabled people are looked after as we make fundamental reforms to the welfare system.”

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), welcomed the announcement. He said DA had called for such a review in its response to last week’s emergency budget.

Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said she hoped the review would be “serious” and that disabled people’s organisations would be able “to make it clear how damaging the impact of these changes threaten to be”.
Conservatives attack DLA spending – again

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has launched another government attack on disability living allowance (DLA), claiming that spending on the key disability benefit had “spiralled out of control”.

Duncan Smith told MPs during the final day of the budget debate that the DLA system had been “vulnerable to error, abuse and, in some cases, outright fraud”.

His comments followed last week’s comments about spending on DLA – using similar language – in George Osborne’s budget statement.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show spending on DLA has risen in real terms from £6.7 billion in 1997/98 to an estimated £11.7 billion in 2009/10.

DWP figures also show that estimated DLA fraud for 2009/10 was £60 million, just 0.5 per cent of the money spent on DLA.

Estimated incapacity benefit (IB) fraud was also just 0.5 per cent, or £30 million.

These figures compare with far higher levels of fraud among claimants of income support (2.8 per cent, £240 million), jobseeker’s allowance (2.5 per cent, £120 million) and carer’s allowance (3.9 per cent, £60 million).

Duncan Smith also confirmed that the government would implement new rules agreed by MPs last year, which will allow severely visually-impaired people to claim the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA, instead of the lower rate.

The new rules will come into effect in April 2011 and should mean an extra £30.90 a week for about 22,000 people.

Later in the debate, Conservative MP Stewart Jackson complained that 6,000 of his constituents “languish” on DLA, and “most shockingly, more than 1,000 of them languished on that particular benefit for more than 12 years”.

Maria Eagle, Labour’s former disabled people’s minister, said: “People who work receive DLA. It is not a benefit that one languishes upon. It is a recognition from society that disabled people need a little extra support to enable them to participate in life.”

She said the introduction of a new medical test for those on DLA “looks like harassment”, and appeared to be a way of cutting the number of people on DLA by a fifth in order to save money.

Following the debate, Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the government had clearly been trying to condition people, including MPs, to accept that cuts to the IB and DLA budgets were “unavoidable” and “necessary”, when they were not.
Briefing throws incapacity benefit plans into confusion

The coalition’s welfare plans have been thrown into confusion after two government departments appeared to be delivering contrasting messages about the speed of its reforms.

The chancellor, George Osborne, told reporters that he wanted to reduce spending on benefits such as housing benefit and incapacity benefit (IB), and its replacement, employment and support allowance, in order to avoid cuts in other government departments.

But several national newspapers also reported that the chancellor wanted to speed up the process of reassessing all those still claiming old-style IB.

The coalition government announced last month that it would reassess a small number of people claiming IB through a “small trial”, starting this October. The trial will take place in Burnley and Aberdeen.

A “national reassessment programme” will run from spring 2011 to March 2014, with the first letters likely to be sent out to disabled people next February.

This is likely to mean about 10,000 people on IB every week being reassessed through the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA), usually at the time their benefit review is due.

A Treasury spokesman said he could not confirm or deny who briefed journalists about the chancellor’s wish to speed up this process.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman denied any plans to speed up reassessment, and said: “There have not been any changes from our end. We are not moving from 10,000 a week.”

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the continuing uncertainty following a string of welfare reform announcements was “extremely unhealthy and unhelpful”, while the government could still speed up the process at a future date.

But he said the key problem was not with the speed of the scheme, but with the need to ensure the system “gets things right”. He said: “The problem is the assessment. The assessment is not effective.”

Employment minister Chris Grayling this week announced changes to the WCA, which will mean fewer people with severe mental health conditions and all those waiting for or between courses of chemotherapy no longer being asked to attend a WCA.

Coyle welcomed the changes and said they could ease the problems in the system, and cut costs.

Grayling also said that an independent review of the WCA – headed by occupational health expert Professor Malcolm Harrington – would be completed by the end of 2010.
New Scottish law is step on road to better access to pubs

A new law which could improve access to pubs and clubs in Scotland has been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The law will force bars to provide details of their access when applying for new licences or major changes to their licensing conditions.

Local councils will publish the statements on their websites, so disabled people can check out access at a pub or club before they visit.

The new law was included as an amendment to the criminal justice and licensing (Scotland) bill, which was passed by the Scottish parliament this week.

The amendment was lodged by MSP George Foulkes, who took up the issue after being approached by wheelchair-user Mark Cooper, from Edinburgh.

Cooper launched a successful Facebook campaign for better access – Barred! – after being told by an Edinburgh pub that it had no accessible toilet, even though it had level access.

Cooper’s campaign was taken up and expanded by the disability charity Capability Scotland, which now employs him as a parliamentary and policy officer.

Cooper said he was “delighted” that campaigners’ hard work had paid off, and said the new law would ensure that “disabled people can make informed choices about where they go to socialise”.

He added: “I think it will make a tremendous difference because it will allow disabled people to plan and enjoy a night out and not have to figure out the barriers that could occur.”

Jim Elder-Woodward, convenor of Independent Living in Scotland, a disabled people’s organisation set up to develop the independent living movement in Scotland, praised the Barred! campaign but said the new law was “only a start” towards making it easier for disabled and non-disabled people to meet and relate to one another.

He said pubs and bars had been “central to the British way of socialising for generations” but “for many disabled people, they have been no-man’s land”.

He said: “The inaccessibility of most bars and pubs has cut off vital resources in disabled people’s attempts to integrate and participate in their local communities.

“Irrespective of the amount of time spent in sharing work or educational experiences, it is only by sharing social time with non-disabled people, that the real barriers between them and disabled people can come tumbling down.”
Stevie Wonder’s Glastonbury access plea

Soul legend Stevie Wonder has delivered a plea to “make the world more accessible”, at the end of his headlining appearance at the Glastonbury music festival.

The singer-songwriter, who is blind, had performed some of his classic hits, including Higher Ground, Superstition and Happy Birthday, in front of an estimated crowd of 100,000 people on the final day of the festival.

But as he finished his set, he appealed to the crowd to “encourage the world to make the world more accessible for those who are physically challenged”.

To a roar of approval from the crowd, he added: “Make it more accessible. Let there be nowhere that I cannot go being blind, or one cannot go being deaf, or someone cannot go being paraplegic or quadriplegic.

“Make it accessible so that we can celebrate the world as well as you can.”

The musician has a long track record of campaigning on civil and human rights issues, and raising funds for disability and other causes.

Elsewhere at the festival, Attitude is Everything (AIE), which campaigns for better access to live music for disabled people, showcased several Deaf and disabled musicians and DJs on one of the open air stages.

Performers included Bug Prentice and La Rebla Fam, both of which have disabled band members, and Deaf Rave DJs MC Geezer, DJ Inigo and DJ Ceri.

Other disabled musicians who appeared at the festival included the Congolese band Staff Benda Bilili and Mystery Jets, whose frontman Blaine Harrison is disabled.

AIE also provided 10 Deaf and disabled stewards to assist disabled festival-goers on the accessible campsite and on the viewing platforms.

Suzanne Bull, chief executive of AIE, said it was too early to evaluate access at this year’s festival, but she added: “Glastonbury work very hard to do the best that they can. They are open to the suggestions and feedback and evaluation that we give them.”

She pointed to notices written by festival founder Michael Eavis on the doors of the accessible toilets, asking non-disabled people not to use them.

She said: “What is changing is that they are asking the question now instead of us bringing it up.”

She added: “They are not just talking about [disabled] audiences anymore, they are talking about artists, too.”
Government’s benefits bashing ‘could lead to hate crime’

Activists have warned that repeated government references to the need to slash the disability benefits bill could lead to a rise in disability hate crime.

The government is making it increasingly clear that the more money it can save from its benefits bill, the less it will have to cut from other areas of spending.

Speaking to journalists at the G20 summit in Canada, the chancellor, George Osborne, highlighted incapacity benefit and housing benefit as two large budgets that the government wanted to cut.

The comments followed his emergency budget, in which he stressed the cost of spending on disability living allowance (DLA).

Anne Novis, a leading national campaigner on disability hate crime, said she was “appalled and dismayed” at the government’s “targeted hostility” towards disabled people.

She said: “The ignorance around what DLA is and how it supports disabled people with the recognised extra cost of being a disabled person is perpetuating a myth that disabled people have it easy, get everything free and have an easy life.

“It reinforces the attitude that some have towards us that we are a burden on the state and should be got rid of or marginalised into more poverty by such extreme measures.”

Novis said the government appeared to have no understanding of the importance of DLA to disabled people and how crucial it was in promoting independent living.

She said disabled people were experiencing increasing physical and verbal assaults “due to everyone believing the myth perpetuated by many MPs and ministers that disability and sickness fraud is extremely high, when this is not the case”.

DWP figures show that estimated DLA fraud for 2009/10 was £60 million, just 0.5 per cent of the money spent on DLA. Estimated incapacity benefit (IB) fraud was also just 0.5 per cent, or £30 million.

These figures compare with far higher levels of fraud among claimants of income support (2.8 per cent, £240 million), jobseeker’s allowance (2.5 per cent, £120 million) and carer’s allowance (3.9 per cent, £60 million).

Stephen Brookes, joint chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and another leading anti-hate crime campaigner, emailed NUJ colleagues this week to say he was becoming “deeply concerned” at the growing numbers of “sensational headlines and stories about disability ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefit cheats’”.

He said the government was spreading the message that “if only they can stop ‘disabled benefits cheats’ then other cuts won’t have to be so bad”.

Brookes warned that such stories could create a “serious discriminatory attitude which will clearly lead to abuse of disabled people”.

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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