Work capability, Autism jobs, Deaths in Hertfordshire, Chancellor warned re Equality Duty

Another week gone by and for a change no particular mechanical failures! A nice weekend celebrating my daughter’s thirtieth birthday. BBQ and sunshine a great combination!

I’ve come across an interesting piece of software called TextExpander. This might be useful for those of you who need to type the standard responses in emails or letters. You save the “snippets” using simple abbreviations and when you type the abbreviation the expanded text is pasted into the document. The main purpose is to save time and I’ve found it really useful. Have a look see what you think. http://www.smileonmymac.com/TextExpander/ Now for the news.
Benefits advisers call in new work test rules for consultation

The government’s benefits advice body is to investigate changes to the controversial work capability test which campaigners believe will make it even harder for disabled people to claim access to the support they need.

The social security advisory committee (SSAC) decided yesterday (4 August) to hold a public consultation as part of a formal “referral” of proposed changes to the work capability assessment (WCA) regulations.

The changes to the WCA, which determines eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit, were made earlier this year following an internal government review, and are due to come into force next spring.

Disability organisations have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of the WCA since its introduction in October 2008, and say the changes are aimed at making it even harder for disabled people to claim ESA.

Rebecca Rennison, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium’s (DBC) policy group, welcomed the referral.

She said: “We have consistently stressed our opposition to this review taking place so early in the life of ESA and with the express purpose of tightening access to ESA.

“Overall, the DBC cannot support the internal review’s conclusions or the proposed changes to the WCA which will result in making the test even tougher, denying vital support to many more disabled people, and running the risk of pushing even more disabled people into poverty.”

The SSAC will now hold a public consultation and prepare a report for work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, although he can legally ignore its advice.

A spokeswoman for the committee’s secretariat said the SSAC had “broad discretion” to choose which proposed regulations it reports on, but added: “I am aware – as is the committee – of the concerns expressed by stakeholder organisations.”

The SSAC is also set to consult on the housing benefit changes announced by the chancellor in his emergency budget.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Whenever we make changes to regulations we know that the SSAC often choose to consult when appropriate. We always build that [possibility] into our planning, so it is not a setback.”

She said the DWP “absolutely” stands by the proposed changes to the WCA.

A separate, independent review of how the WCA is operating – headed by Professor Malcolm Harrington – will report by the end of 2010.

Consultation details will be published next week on the committee’s website, www.ssac.org.uk
New firm hopes to create 50 jobs for people with autism

A new social enterprise is aiming to create 50 jobs for people with autism in Scotland, by providing skilled software-testing services to businesses.

Specialisterne Scotland, which was launched by Scottish government minister John Swinney this week, is modelled on a Danish company which was set up to offer mainstream jobs at market rates of pay to people with autism.

About three-quarters of the 60 staff at Specialisterne in Denmark have autism and they work in areas such as programming and software testing.

The company uses the skills and characteristics shared by some people with autism, such as precision and consistency, to provide IT services to businesses around the world.

Now Specialisterne Scotland, which is based in Glasgow, is set to use this successful blueprint to provide jobs for people with autism in Scotland.

Over the next six months, Specialisterne Scotland will recruit and train 12 people with autism, with commercial testing due to begin early next year. It aims to create a workplace with “a high degree of planning, predictability, systemisation and minimal stress”.

By 2015, it expects to be employing 61 people, 50 of whom will have autism.

The new business has been developed by the social enterprise support agency Community Enterprise in Scotland (CEiS), with support from the National Autistic Society Scotland (NASS) and the Autism Resource Centre.

Gerry Higgins, chief executive of CEiS, said: “We know from the experience in Denmark that Specialisterne Scotland has the potential to change lives for the better by providing mainstream employment at the market rate for people with autism, while transforming recruitment attitudes and business practices.

“In the longer term, we anticipate that the majority of the workforce will be working at customer premises, assisting the competitiveness of Scottish businesses.”

SS has secured £700,000 in grant and loan funding from the Scottish government’s Scottish Investment Fund, a Big Lottery award of more than £400,000 as well as £30,000 from Glasgow City Council.

NASS said its research had found only 13 per cent of adults with autism in Scotland had jobs.

Carol Evans, national director for NASS, said Specialisterne Scotland was “a real breakthrough in employers recognising the strengths of people with autism as key staff in their workforce”.

Kieran Pentland, who has Asperger’s syndrome and works for NASS as an employment consultant, said: “Being in an occupation that I love and enjoy doing has given me a sense of purpose, financial independence, boosted my confidence, lifted my depression, and restored my pride and dignity.”
Police probe deaths of disabled woman and mother

Police are investigating the deaths of a disabled woman and her mother, whose bodies appear to have been lying undiscovered in their home for several weeks.

The bodies of Sam Wolf, 29, and her mother Stephania, 67, were finally discovered this week at their home in Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire.

Hertfordshire social services claim that both Sam – who was a wheelchair-user – and Stephania Wolf refused a series of offers of support over the last 12 years.

A council spokesman said social services carried out an assessment of Sam Wolf’s needs in August 1998, which resulted in “the provision of equipment and major adaptations to the property to provide disability access”, such as ramps and rails.

He said: “Following on from this, various offers of support offered by adult care services were declined.”

There was a further assessment of her needs in March 2006, after which the council offered to provide day services and “various other support”. The offer was again declined, he said.

Hertfordshire police said early post mortem results showed neither woman had received any external injuries or were victims of violence before they died.

They said the results of forensic tests to establish the causes of death were not expected for “a number of weeks” and it would be “impossible to speculate further on causes until these results have come through”.
Minister warned chancellor of spending cuts equality duty

Home secretary Theresa May has warned the chancellor that the government’s planned spending cuts could cause it to breach its legal duty to promote disability equality.

May wrote to George Osborne on 9 June in her role as women and equalities minister, two weeks before his emergency budget, warning him of “real risks that women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and older people will be disproportionately affected” by spending cuts.

Her letter was written on the same day that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wrote to the civil servants who head every government department – including the Treasury – to ask for “reassurance” that they would comply with their legal duties to consider the impact of spending cuts on disabled people, ethnic minorities and women.

A number of disabled people’s organisations have raised serious concerns about the impact of cuts on disabled people, particularly around disability benefits, with one calling plans to cut spending on disability living allowance by 20 per cent a “wholesale, brutal attack on disabled people”.

In her letter, leaked to the Guardian newspaper, May said there was a “real risk” of successful legal challenges – for example by those receiving public services or the EHRC – if government departments could not show they had taken equality issues into account in reaching their spending decisions.

This week, the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality for women, announced it was seeking a judicial review of the emergency budget on the grounds that it would increase inequality between men and women.

The EHRC told Disability News Service that it was closely monitoring the potential impact on disabled people as government departments prepared their plans for spending cuts.

The EHRC is in “initial discussions” with all government departments – including the Treasury – about the equality impact of their spending decisions, and is “watching with interest” the progress of the Fawcett Society judicial review.

If the government fails to comply with its equality duties, the EHRC has a range of powers, which include holding a formal inquiry.

Asked whether a formal inquiry was a possibility, an EHRC spokeswoman said: “I really wouldn’t want to speculate on that. So far our discussions with the departments have been fairly positive. What happens next remains to be seen.”

A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman said: “The letter was simply a formality. In her capacity as minister for women and equalities, Theresa May wrote to all government departments – not just the Treasury – reminding them of their legal responsibilities under the 2006 Equality Act.”

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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