This week’s news has been somewhat delayed. The reason for this is that one of my closest friends Graham Bool died very suddenly last Friday. For many of you the name may not ring many bells but you might have seen Graham a wheelchair user with his ginger hair taking photographs at an event you attended or possibly you knew him through his photographic coverage of several Paralympics. I went to school with Graham in the 1950’s and shared most of my life with him. He Is survived by two wonderful children Roger and Jessica who he cared for alone when his wife Fran died in the 1990’s. Graham was a warm hearted, generous and funny man. He had a real zest for life and I will miss him terribly.
Minister gives first estimates for IB reassessments
The government has given its first estimate of the number of people claiming long-term incapacity benefit (IB) who they expect will be found “fit for work” when reassessed using a controversial new test.
The work capability assessment (WCA) was introduced for new claimants of out-of-work disability benefits in October 2008, but the first pilot schemes to reassess disabled people already claiming IB will start next month in Aberdeen and Burnley.
Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee, told work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith this week that she was concerned about her constituents in Aberdeen who claim IB and are set to be reassessed.
She said she was also worried that the government’s new Work Programme would not be running until after the pilot schemes had ended.
Duncan Smith, who was giving evidence to her committee, said he “recognised the problem” and would ask employment minister Chris Grayling to talk to her and “see if there are any measures we can take”.
He said his department had estimated that about 23 per cent of those on IB who are reassessed would be found fit for work.
He said the others would be able to claim the new employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for IB – with an estimated 58 per cent to be moved to the work-related activity group, and about 19 per cent placed in the support group for those who do not have to do any work-related activity.
This compares with government figures which show that of new ESA claimants who have completed the WCA, two thirds (66 per cent) have been found fit for work and ineligible for ESA, with 24 per cent in the work-related activity group, and just ten per cent placed in the support group.
The evidence session came as the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) and Disability Alliance (DA) made serious criticisms of the WCA in their submissions to two public consultations.
UKDPC, responding to an independent review of the WCA, called on the government to do more to address the barriers in society that prevent disabled people finding work, such as discrimination by employers, inaccessible workplaces and the lack of accessible transport.
As well as a series of criticisms of the test, it warned that further cuts to social care funding “may prevent disabled people being able to get out of bed and actually go to work even if they are deemed to be fit for work”.
DA, responding to an investigation by the social security advisory committee into proposed government changes to the WCA, also made a series of criticisms and said that the test fails to “adequately reflect the impact of impairments on disabled people’s day to day living”, while the changes “could well result in the problems increasing”.
RADAR, NCIL and DA set to merge: UKDPC raises concerns
The UK’s leading representative voice of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) has expressed surprise and concern over the proposed merger between three other national disability organisations.
RADAR, the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) and Disability Alliance (DA) announced this week that they hope to “unify” within the next 12 months.
But the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) said it was concerned that the new organisation could encroach on its own role representing disabled people and DPOs.
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of UKDPC, said news of the proposed merger had come as a surprise and that he was “a little bit taken aback as to why dialogue has not happened with UKDPC”.
He said the new organisation “appears to be sharing the same aims and objectives” as UKDPC, such as representing DPOs’ views and influencing the policy agenda.
The announcement comes as UKDPC is itself steadily developing its own “new approach”, following Dhani’s appointment at the end of last year.
Dhani suggested that UKDPC, which represents DPOs and individual disabled people and works with “diverse communities”, could be “better positioned” to reach those communities than the new merged organisation.
He said: “We as an organisation are evaluating what this means in terms of a threat to UKDPC but also in terms of exploring future opportunities as well.
“The concern literally is not knowing how blurred the boundary is between what we are already doing and what they want to do.”
He said he had already arranged to meet Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, to discuss his concerns and “give us a chance to further explore what this new entity is about”.
But he said the announcement would also provide an opportunity for UKDPC to “re-evaluate and address what we are doing”.
This could mean a greater focus on particular areas, such as the concerns of disabled people from different minority groups, including the black and minority ethnic and LGBT communities, and older people.
15 September 2010: RADAR, NCIL and DA set to merge: Trio want a stronger voice
Three of the most influential national disability organisations are hoping to merge within 12 months, they announced this week.
RADAR, the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) and Disability Alliance (DA) said they had been “exploring” the possibility of closer working for the last 18 months.
Each organisation will now consult with its members about the proposal to create a single disabled people’s organisation, provisionally to be called the Disability Rights Partnership.
There are no plans for any redundancies among the combined 35 staff of the three organisations, RADAR said.
Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, said the “unification” was not because any of the organisations were facing financial problems, but because “we can do more collectively than we can apart”.
He said the new organisation would provide a more powerful voice to address disabled people’s concerns, and would build and improve upon the existing support and services provided by the three partners.
Sir Bert Massie, a former RADAR chief executive and still a vice-president, welcomed the move.
He said disabled people needed an organisation that could campaign and lobby government on the big issues but was not a service-provider reliant on short-term government contracts, like so many disability organisations.
Sir Bert said that RADAR’s campaigning influence and skill, DA’s expertise on the “huge” issue of disability benefits and NCIL’s work promoting independent living would “come together rather nicely”.
He added: “What’s important now is that it moves very quickly. What would be dangerous would be a long period of indecision.”
In a statement, RADAR, NCIL and DA said the new organisation would provide “an integrated service for disabled people” and would be led by disabled people.
They said this week’s announcement that Vanessa Stanislas, DA’s chief executive, would be leaving for another job on 1 October had “offered an opportunity to inject new energy” into their discussions.
They said their shared vision was about realising rights and equality for disabled people, but warned that society would only change when disability was “at the heart of public policy” and “when disabled people speak for themselves and determine their own future”.
RADAR was formed in 1977 and is a national campaigning network of disability organisations and disabled people; NCIL was set up by the British Council of Disabled People in 1996, becoming independent in 2003, and promotes the concept of independent living; while DA, which was formed in 1974, campaigns and provides information on the link between disability and poverty.
Members have been asked to give their views about the proposed merger by the end of this month, with debates to take place at their annual general meetings this autumn, with RADAR’s on 13 October. Final decisions are likely at general meetings next spring.
They hope the new organisation will be established by the middle of 2011.
‘Deep concerns’ over Ofsted’s SEN review
Inclusive education campaigners have raised “deep concerns” about crucial parts of a review of the special educational needs (SEN) system by the education watchdog.
Ofsted’s review, which was commissioned by the Labour government, points to “widespread weaknesses” in provision for disabled children and “evidence that the way the system is currently designed contributes to these problems”.
It says that, since 2003, the proportion of children with a statement of SEN – for those needing the most intensive support – has decreased from three to 2.7 per cent, while those needing less intensive support has risen from 14 per cent of all pupils in 2003 to 18.2 per cent in 2010.
About one in five children – approximately 1.7 million – are currently categorised as having SEN.
But the report claims as many as 460,000 of these children should not be classed as having SEN and, rather than needing “relatively expensive additional provision…simply need better teaching”.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said it was “deeply concerned” about this claim and “does not share” Ofsted’s view.
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s campaigns and policy coordinator, said: “We know how difficult it is for parents of disabled children to access the support they need to thrive in the mainstream environment. From our experience, a lot of those [460,000] children are those with undiagnosed conditions.”
ALLFIE said it was also very concerned about Ofsted’s recommendation that there should only be legal rights to provision for those disabled pupils covered by the Disability Discrimination Act [soon to be replaced by the Equality Act].
Aspis said this was “watering down” and “weakening” disabled children’s right to access the support they needed, and added: “When the child’s needs are identified, the provision must be provided – no ifs, no buts.”
But she welcomed the review’s call for simpler legislation and a more transparent SEN framework, and Ofsted’s acknowledgement that there was a lack of choice for disabled learners in further education.
Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, director of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, said the Ofsted report shows the need for a “thorough” review of how provision is organized and the “significant discrepancies” between provision in different local authorities.
She also welcomed the call for simpler legislation, a “huge issue” which CSIE has been pushing the government to act on, as well as the demand for clarity on the different terms used by agencies to refer to disabled children.
And she praised the emphasis on the outcomes disabled children themselves said they wanted from their education, such as relationships and independence, rather than a narrow focus on educational attainment.
She added: “I hope this report challenges the government to develop a system where parents no longer feel they have to fight for the rights of their children.”
The government is due to publish a green paper on disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN) this autumn.
Report finds Pathways was a dead end
A new report by MPs has called on the government to “fundamentally review” the employment support it provides for disabled people claiming out-of-work disability benefits.
The report by the public accounts committee (PAC) on Labour’s Pathways to Work programme for disabled people found the scheme was “not well implemented” and had little impact on moving disabled people into work.
It followed a report by the National Audit Office in June that also concluded that Pathways had provided “poor value for money”.
In 2008-09, £94 million (more than a third of its budget for that year) was spent on providing extra support that failed to deliver any additional jobs, says the new report.
The report calls on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to deliver “clear guidance” on the type of support that is likely to deliver additional jobs to those involved in the coalition government’s new single Work Programme that will launch next summer.
It raises concerns that those found fit for work under the controversial new work capability assessment (WCA) might not receive the job support they need under the Work Programme.
And it calls on the government to evaluate its capacity to support the “large numbers of people” on old-style incapacity benefit (IB) who will be found fit for work when reassessed under the WCA and are likely to need extra support because of the length of time they have been on IB.
The number of people claiming incapacity benefits – including IB, income support on the grounds of disability, and the new employment and support allowance (ESA) – fell by 125,000 between February 2005 and August 2009, but has remained at more than 2.5 million for over a decade.
More than £750 million has so far been spent on Pathways.
Margaret Hodge, the Labour chair of the PAC, said that “no-one knows” how much Pathways contributed to the fall of 125,000, and she criticised the failure to carry out a “rigorous evaluation” of the initial Pathways pilots that began in 2003, which gave an “over-optimistic” impression of what it could achieve.
The report criticises private sector Pathways providers, who “seriously underperformed”, doing less well than the government-run Jobcentre Plus, even though private contractors work in “easier” areas with fewer claimants and higher demand for labour.
Chris Grayling, the minister for employment, said: “This report is hugely disappointing and just underlines how misplaced many of the previous government’s labour policies were.”
Euthanasia protest will mark opposition to ‘very dangerous’ bill
Disabled anti-euthanasia campaigners are to stage a protest outside the Scottish parliament, as a committee of MSPs hears evidence on a proposed bill that would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.
The end of life assistance (Scotland) bill would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.
Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify for assistance to end their lives under the bill, which has been proposed by independent MSP Margo MacDonald.
Bill Scott, acting manager of Inclusion Scotland – a national consortium of disabled people’s organisations and disabled people – said that offering the bill’s assistance to anyone with a care need was “very, very dangerous”.
He said a “huge number” of people would technically qualify for assistance under the bill, which was “not about assisting people at the end of their lives but about offering assistance at any stage once they have acquired an impairment that requires some level of care”.
Catherine Garrod, a member of Inclusion Scotland, said there were many people within the disability rights movement who were “very strongly opposed” to the bill.
She said it could be argued that the bill covered any disabled person who receives disability benefits, and added: “That’s why the disabled people’s movement is so strongly opposed to it. It is going to cover such large numbers of disabled people.”
Written evidence already submitted to the committee considering the bill by Independent Living in Scotland (ILiS) – a disabled people’s organisation set up to develop the independent living movement in Scotland – said the bill took a “disempowering” approach to independent living.
ILiS said the bill “contradicts and undoes the years of work” by the independent living movement, the Scottish government and other organisations.
ILiS also criticises MacDonald’s bill for making no mention of the barriers disabled people face that may contribute to them finding life “intolerable”.
The protest will take place from 9.30am on Tuesday 28 September, the day Inclusion Scotland is due to give evidence to the committee, along with other disability and pro- and anti-euthanasia organisations.
For more information about the protest, contact Inclusion Scotland, firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 0141 8877058
Agreement with EU publishers could help sharing of accessible books
European publishers and disability organisations have signed an agreement that could help convert more books into accessible formats.
The agreement aims to help ease the “book famine” faced by those who are “print-disabled” – blind, partially-sighted and dyslexic people – in which only about five per cent of books are ever converted into accessible formats such as large print, audio or Braille.
The “memorandum of understanding” was signed this week by the Federation of European Publishers, the European Blind Union (EBU) and the European Dyslexia Association, who were brought together by the European Commission (EC).
Although it will not be legally binding, the document describes the circumstances in which publishers will allow disability organisations to share their stocks of accessible books across the EU.
Most of the few books that are currently made accessible are produced by RNIB in the UK and other charities such as ONCE in Spain.
Lord [Colin] Low, president of the EBU, said the signing of the memorandum of understanding was the start of an “important project”, and added: “We need and welcome publisher help to tackle the ‘book famine’.”
Dan Pescod, international campaigns manager for RNIB, said the ideal solution would be for publishers to publish more books in accessible formats, but that “isn’t likely to happen in the near future”.
Although the agreement sets a helpful precedent, he said it was unlikely to have a huge impact on print-disabled people in Britain as there were no other EU countries mass-producing English-language books.
He also said it would be important to monitor the impact of the agreement, but stressed there was also a need for a “proper legal framework” through the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a UN agency.
RNIB, EBU and other campaigning groups want a worldwide WIPO treaty on sharing accessible books.
Michel Barnier, the EC’s commissioner for the internal market and services, presided over the signing in Brussels.
The commission described the signing of the memorandum as an “important and concrete step” in increasing the number of accessible books, and said “noticeable increases in cross-border distribution” should be possible within a year.
Barnier said: “Today’s agreement shows what Europe truly stands for: an internal market that not only promotes culture but also caters for the needs of people with special needs or disabilities.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com