Just back from Northumberland where the sun shone! In all the years I’ve travelled to this beautiful part of the world I’ve become used to cold winds and plenty of precipitation!! (What does that mean?) Sue and I visited all sorts of places from gardens to castles and very few problems were encountered from an access point of view. No Friend holiday is ever complete, however without something going awry! On this occasion while turning right in our motor home from a road onto a drive way I managed to clout the step slung underneath the vehicle. Sue has now taken up high jumping in order to access the vehicle. I of course use a ramp so all is fine from my point of view!! I hope the following news items are of interest.
Government to slash DPTAC membership
The Department for Transport (DfT) is to slash the membership of its advisory body on accessible transport by nearly half as a result of the coalition government’s freeze on civil service recruitment.
The DfT admitted this week that membership of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) – most of whom are disabled people – would be cut from 19 to just 10 people at the end of this year.
The three-year terms of nine members are due to end on 31 December, and none of them will now be replaced or have their membership renewed.
Those being forced to leave include many of DPTAC’s most experienced members.
The DfT also admitted that the cuts could mean the government breaches its legal duty to ensure that DPTAC – which provides a pan-disability view on the impact of transport laws, regulations, guidance and policy to government and the transport industry – has a chair and at least 10 other members.
A DfT spokeswoman said: “It hasn’t happened yet. We need to take stock and see what we can do about it.”
Helen Smith, director of policy and campaigns for Mobilise and one of the DPTAC members who will be forced to leave, described the situation as “pretty dire”.
She said the cuts would mean DPTAC would have to scrap its structure of four working groups, each specializing in different areas of transport, while many of the 10 remaining members were much less experienced than those who were leaving.
She said: “I think there is a great deal of disappointment. We feel that the work of DPTAC is not being particularly taken seriously.”
She fears the government might be considering scrapping DPTAC altogether in a bid to cut spending even further.
Alan Norton, chief executive of Assist UK and another member due to leave in December, said DPTAC’s work had led to a “massive improvement in services for disabled people, without wasting money”.
He said: “It is one of the areas where disabled people have really made a difference in advising ministers on policy. Recommendations that we have put forward have been implemented.”
He added: “DPTAC’s remit is very wide. It covers all forms of transport. Obviously if it has reduced numbers its scope would have to be reduced and its priorities would have to change.”
A DfT spokeswoman confirmed that the number of members would be cut from 19 to 10 at the end of 2010. She said there were no further cuts planned to DPTAC’s budget.
She said the DfT could not say whether DPTAC would still be equipped to perform its advisory duties “until we have looked at the implications of the recruitment freeze”.
In a statement, Dai Powell, chair of DPTAC, said it was “vital” that it continued its work so “the dedication, expertise and commitment” of its members could keep the “needs of the disabled traveller” at the “forefront of government transport policy development”.
Government ‘must provide more work test support’
The government’s work capability test needs to do far more to recognise the barriers faced by people with mental health conditions, learning difficulties and fluctuating conditions, according to a coalition of charities.
The charities have called for better support for disabled people undertaking the work capability assessment (WCA), both before and after they have been assessed.
Their call came in a letter to Professor Malcolm Harrington, who is leading an independent review of the assessment for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The WCA determines eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit. Disability organisations have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of the WCA since its introduction in October 2008.
The letter was coordinated by the Papworth Trust, but has also been signed by the Disability Benefits Consortium, and charities such as Mind, RNID, Deafblind UK and the Learning Disability Coalition.
They believe the WCA is “too focused on physical capability” so people with serious mental health conditions, learning difficulties and fluctuating health conditions are often unfairly marked as “fit to work”.
The Papworth Trust pointed to the case of a nurse manager who tried to commit suicide, but was then assessed as fit to work because she could wash, dress, walk and talk coherently.
She said: “I desperately want to go back to work but am still unwell. I need time and support to recover before I can hold down a full-time job again.”
The letter also says coalition members are becoming “increasingly puzzled” by the significant proportion (37 per cent) of people who withdraw their ESA claim before the end of the WCA process.
The coalition suggests that some of these people may have “become frustrated by the system and simply given up”, and urges Harrington to recommend that the DWP starts tracking what happens to them when they drop out.
The letter also calls on the DWP to record what happens to people with different impairments who have been passed fit for work, in order to “demonstrate whether the system is capable of supporting them”.
Matthew Lester, the Papworth Trust’s work and learning director, said: “The current process causes massive uncertainty and stress for those already struggling with their health. We believe that people should be supported before, during and after the assessment, with advice available at every step.”
Vital grants scheme could be next victim of spending cuts
Plans to scrap a London-wide grants programme could have “devastating” consequences for Deaf and disabled people’s organisations (DDPOs), say campaigners.
London Councils (LC) – the organisation representing the capital’s 33 local authorities – is considering scrapping its grants programme, set up more than 20 years ago to address “social issues of London-wide significance”.
Instead, the £28.4 million-a-year budget would be returned to individual councils, all of which are likely to be facing major cuts in government funding this autumn.
The scheme funds vital services – such as expert advice, information and advocacy – provided by some of the capital’s leading DDPOs, including Inclusion London, Disability Law Service and Transport for All.
Funding is provided over four years, but LC is now warning charities it can only guarantee funding until March 2011.
Minutes from LC’s grants committee make it clear that the huge government spending cuts expected from the Treasury’s spending review in October are a major factor behind the proposals.
But a report to the committee warns that stopping all funding for the scheme could have “significant reputational and potentially legal consequences” for LC.
Another option is for funding to be gradually cut back as the four-year grants “come to their natural end of life” over the next three years. LC could also continue to fund London-wide services, with councils funding local services.
Inclusion London warned that scrapping the programme could force the closure of some DDPOs, while any cuts “would be devastating for Deaf and disabled Londoners – coming just at a time when disabled people face cuts in services, jobs and benefits and when they need DDPOs”.
Disability Law Service (DLS) said the scheme was a “valued and vital funder and supporter of user-led disabled people’s organisations working pan-London”.
A DLS spokeswoman said: “It would be very sad if any cuts in London Councils funding resulted in reduction or closure of such services, as it is unlikely that it would be possible to fund individual services of this kind in each borough, and at this time disabled people need advice, information, advocacy and support more than ever.”
The London Voluntary Service Council said the “repatriation” of funding to local authorities would essentially be a “cut” in grants because councils were under such “severe financial pressure”.
A London Councils spokeswoman said: “We are still at the very early stages of the review but should boroughs end up retaining any of the money they give to the pan-London scheme, it would be up to them how they should spend the money at a local level.”
She said a consultation on the proposals would be launched “in the next few days”.
‘Evidence needed’ to prove businesses benefit from better access
The government should produce new evidence that demonstrates the benefits to smaller businesses of becoming more accessible to disabled customers, according to a new report.
The report by consultants Atkins was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Office for Disability Issues, as part of efforts to produce a “legacy” for disabled people from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.
One of the key pledges in the Labour government’s “legacy promise” was to secure a “radical shift in society’s perceptions of disability”, and remove barriers to inclusion in areas such as business and sport.
But Atkins said its research found a low level of interest and awareness of disabled people as customers by small and medium-sized enterprises.
The report says businesses with a “better focus” on disabled customers have seen a “rapidly expanding customer base, increases in sales and profitability”, and have gained a “distinct advantage” over their competitors.
But the report, 2012 Legacy for Disabled People: Inclusive and Accessible Business, says few SMEs are aware of these opportunities, while often sharing a “discomfort with disability”, a fear of “getting it wrong”, and confusion about “reasonable adjustments”.
The report calls for more to be done to build relationships between disabled people’s organisations – which are most knowledgeable about disability and access – and business organisations.
And it points to a lack of material – such as “best practice” case studies – for government departments and agencies to use to promote the case for focusing on disabled customers in the lead-up to 2012. The report calls on the government to commission new “compelling material” to help achieve a “radical shift in the attitude of businesses”.
Andrew Little, chief executive of Inclusion London, welcomed the report and said it was “very important” to build the “maximum possible positive legacy for disabled people” from London 2012, with “every opportunity” taken to remove the barriers facing disabled people.
But he criticised some of the report’s “quite basic” recommendations with so little time left before 2012.
He said: “We are all for more research, but both the equality and the business case for access and inclusion have been made. Now is the time to implement.”
He said more progress might have been made had both the Greater London Authority and the London Development Agency not cut spending on supporting and promoting equality to the private sector.
A BIS spokeswoman said commissioning new material was “something we are looking at doing [but] at the moment it has not been approved by ministers as we have only just received the report”.
Hunt is on for Europe’s most accessible city
The European Commission has launched a competition to find the most accessible city in Europe.
The idea for an Access City Award was first proposed by the European Disability Forum (EDF), which described the new competition as a “real step forward”.
Seven British towns and cities – Cardiff, Cheltenham, Leeds, Leicester, Luton, Middlesbrough and Barnsley – have already expressed an interest in entering the competition, which is open to cities and towns with more than 50,000 inhabitants.
The winning town or city will have shown it has improved accessibility in its buildings, public spaces, transport, information services and public facilities, as well as having “ongoing and ambitious” plans for further improvements.
The winner will have to act as a role model for other towns and cities, and must have involved disabled people and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in planning, implementing and maintaining its access policies.
The commission said that “limiting a city’s access to just a part of the population, and ignoring another significant part” was “economically, socially and politically unsustainable” and “simply not fair”.
An EDF spokeswoman added: “By taking into consideration the way persons with disabilities move in the city, society encourages equal access to everyone and avoids additional discrimination.”
Applications from each country will be reviewed by both a national and European jury made up of representatives of DPOs and other access experts.
Four cities will be selected as finalists, with the winner to be announced at a ceremony in Brussels on 3 December, the International Day of Disabled People.
Applications must be submitted by 23 September, although this deadline is likely to be extended until 1 October. For more details, visit www.accesscityaward.eu
News provided by John Pring atwww.disabilitynewsservice.com