The law of “unintended consequence” is alive and well. Two recent examples involve Jane Cordell a deaf woman who recently lost her discrimination case against the FCO in part because her reasonable adjustments costs were deemed to be to expensive. Several years ago government departments were told they could no longer use Access to Work funding and should fund the costs themselves. One of the consequences of this change is the FCO’s refusal to fund Jane’s adjustments. The second consequence concerns her ability to gain significant promotions within the FCO. Without the adjustment she cannot work effectively at the most senior levels. So we’ve saved money and wrecked a promising career. Stephen Hawkins, David Blunkett, Sir Bert Massie, Baroness Jane Campbell all have significant impairments, all have played a major part in the lives of people in this country and all are of course talented. I wonder what the impact would have been on each of them had they not received appropriate support in order to make their important contributions. Talent needs to be nurtured not squashed!
Welfare reform white paper: Disabled people to face harsh sanctions
Disabled people will face harsh penalties if they fail to comply with government efforts to help them prepare for work, according to a new welfare reform white paper.
Launching a “root and branch reform”, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the government could “not afford to simply continue tinkering around the edges of the welfare system”.
His white paper, Universal Credit: Welfare that Works, includes plans to introduce potential sanctions for disabled people who have been found “not fit for work” but still capable of “work-related activity”.
They may have to take steps to prepare for work, and could lose their work-related benefits temporarily if they fail to comply with the regime.
Claimants of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) – many of whom will be disabled people found “fit for work” through the controversial work capability assessment – could lose their JSA for a longer period, potentially as long as three years for “the most extreme cases”.
And many JSA claimants will be forced to undertake up to four weeks of unpaid work to help them develop “labour-market discipline”.
The white paper also fleshes out plans for a new universal credit (UC), which will see a range of benefits – including housing benefit, income support, income-based JSA and income-related employment and support allowance (ESA) – replaced by one single payment.
Disability living allowance and contributory ESA are among the non-means-tested benefits that will not be replaced by UC, which will begin to be introduced in 2013.
The UC will provide a basic sum, with extra cash for disabled people, and to take account of children, caring responsibilities, and housing need.
Benefits will be withdrawn “slowly and rationally” from this payment as claimants return to work and increase their working hours. The changes should mean that those returning to work keep 35p of every extra pound they earn.
Disabled people will be among those groups who can earn more – the white paper suggests £7,000 per household a year – before any benefits start to be withdrawn.
Duncan Smith said his reforms would “cut a swathe through the massive complexity of the existing benefit system and make it less bureaucratic to run”.
Maria Miller, speaking at a Disability Alliance conference on the day of the launch, said the current welfare system was “torturously complicated”, and the new UC would mean “everyone who is in a position to work will be better off”.
She said that “many disabled people who want to work and are not able to will be able to get into work, maybe for the first time”, with people with fluctuating conditions particularly benefiting, while the UC would also “make it easier to reduce fraud and error”.
Minister ignores calls for DLA rethink
The minister for disabled people has ignored calls to reconsider plans to cut a vital mobility-based benefit from disabled people in residential care.
The call from a leading disabled activist came after Maria Miller spoke about her government’s welfare reforms at a conference organised by the disability poverty charity Disability Alliance.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, told Miller that disability living allowance (DLA) had “done much to improve the life chances of disabled people”.
She said the government’s proposal to remove the mobility component of DLA from most disabled people in residential care was “very misinformed and penny-pinching”, and risked adding to their isolation.
She said: “For me, independent living is not about living in your own home, it is about having choice and control and being able to be an active citizen.
“That applies as much to people in residential care as it does to other disabled people.”
And she drew loud applause from other activists when she called on the minister to reconsider the DLA cut.
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, also attacked proposed cuts to DLA, asking the minister how she could “reconcile” the government’s plans to cut DLA spending by 20 per cent with “your statement that there are fair choices being made”.
Miller ignored Bott’s call to reconsider the cut to the mobility component, but said: “The reason why we have put the reform in place around DLA is because we believe there is a way we can make the money work better for us there.”
She claimed – as she has done previously – that council care packages should already include funding for disabled people’s mobility needs.
She said councils were currently looking at the DLA people in residential care received and then “making assumptions about the sort of package an individual might need”.
She added: “At the moment, there is a duplication of benefits there and with the financial problems we have got it is a way of trying to eke out £100 million.
“This really should not affect materially the access disabled people have to be able to get out and about.”
She also told the conference that the government had no plans to start means-testing DLA, while the new DLA assessment it plans to introduce would be “objective” and would not be a “medical assessment”, as it was mistakenly described by the chancellor in his emergency budget in June.
Meanwhile, members of Disability Alliance agreed at their annual general meeting (AGM), held before the conference, to approve plans to move towards a merger with NCIL and RADAR.
Members of NCIL and RADAR had already backed the plans at their own AGMs this autumn.
Campaign will sign up disabled surfers to fix the web
A new campaign is hoping tens of thousands of disabled people will help to fix the problems caused by inaccessible websites.
Fix the Web hopes its scheme will enable access problems on up to 250,000 websites to be reported to their owners within two years.
The campaign, backed by the disability charity AbilityNet, is led by Citizens Online, which campaigns for wider access to the internet.
Fix the Web aims to provide disabled people with a “quick and easy” way to make complaints about inaccessible websites.
Any disabled person will be able to report an access problem through the Fix the Web site, via Twitter or by email, while filing this report should take less than a minute.
Thousands of volunteers will then take up the complaints on their behalf and liaise with the owners of the websites over fixing the problems.
AbilityNet said four-fifths of websites were still failing to meet minimum accessibility criteria, with problems including images with no captions or alternative text; the use of distracting animations; and websites that can only be used by mouse-users.
Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, said: “A raft of legislation already obliges website providers to ensure accessibility…but the business case for so doing is overwhelming.”
Citizens Online said blind web-users report wasting 30 per cent of their web time because of problems with access.
Disabled web-surfer Mandy de la Mare said the campaign was “a fantastic idea”.
She added: “I have tried complaining to various websites but either the forms were not accessible for me or if I do manage to lodge a complaint, I do not get a reply.”
For more details, visit: www.fixtheweb.net
Doubt cast on impartiality of assisted suicide commission
A leading think-tank claims a new commission set up to investigate legalising assisted suicide will be independent and impartial, even though it is funded and chaired by leading pro-legalisation campaigners.
The Commission on Assisted Dying will be chaired by the former Labour minister Lord Falconer and part-funded by the author Terry Pratchett, and has been set up on their behalf by the pro-assisted suicide campaigning charity Dignity in Dying.
Lord Falconer has spoken in the Lords on the issue – last year he tried unsuccessfully to introduce a pro-assisted suicide amendment to a bill in the Lords – while Pratchett has also been outspoken in calls for legalisation since being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The think-tank Demos will launch the commission on 30 November and it will sit for nearly a year, aiming to “explore a safeguarded process for assisted dying”.
It is the latest in a long line of attempts – all fiercely opposed by disabled people’s organisations – to force through legalised assisted suicide or euthanasia.
A Demos spokeswoman insisted that the commission would be independent of Demos, which will act as its “secretariat”, and of the two donors funding its work – one of whom is Pratchett – and Dignity in Dying.
When asked how a commission chaired by Lord Falconer, co-funded by Terry Pratchett and set up by Dignity in Dying could be impartial, she said: “Because the other commissioners come from a wide range of backgrounds and their job is not to come to the commission with pre-formed ideas, it is to assess the evidence brought before the commission and make judgments on that.”
But she declined to name the other commissioners, and refused to say whether they were supporters of “assisted dying”, adding: “They have been selected because they represent a range of backgrounds and experiences.”
Asked if the commission would be biased towards legalising assisted suicide, she said: “It is an entirely independent commission that will make its conclusions based on the evidence brought before it.”
But Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a leading disabled campaigner against legalising assisted suicide, said that at this stage – before the full make-up of the commission was known – it “does not look in the least independent”.
She added: “Demos may make all the claims of independence it likes, but if the commissioners and funders are heavily weighted towards those who support assisted suicide then the manner with which they will look at the evidence will be seen through this prism.”
Baroness Campbell said she was keen to discover whether the commission would involve “knowledgeable disabled people with the experience of severe impairment”.
Court’s decision could open door to more council cuts
Campaigners fear that a court’s decision to back a council that cut a disabled woman’s care package – despite assessing her as needing that support – could lead to other local authorities taking similar action.
Elaine McDonald claimed that 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.
McDonald, a former principal ballerina with the Scottish Ballet, became disabled following a stroke in 1999 and later broke a hip as a result of a night-time fall. She had been provided with a weekly package of 22.5 hours of daytime support and another 10 hours of care seven nights a week.
A needs assessment by the council found night-time care was essential to provide supervision to prevent her falling while using the commode during the night, due to a bladder condition.
But two years ago – despite that assessment – the council said it planned to cut her care package, and that she could be given incontinence pads instead of an overnight care worker, even though she is not incontinent.
Although the Court of Appeal said the council had breached the law by threatening to cut her care provision in 2008, it said later reviews of her care in November 2009 and April 2010 meant they were then acting lawfully.
The court ruled that the council had not breached McDonald’s human rights or the Disability Discrimination Act.
Lord Justice Rix concluded that the council’s decision to meet her toileting need by using pads was “a reasonable decision” which “provides safety and a large degree of independence and privacy”.
And he said the council was right to balance its desire to help McDonald “with its responsibilities to all its clients within the limited resources available to it in its budget”.
But Douglas Joy, senior solicitor with Disability Law Service (DLS), which took McDonald’s case, said the court had found that a council could review a service-user’s care needs – and then reduce their support – without conducting a new assessment, in effect “assessing by stealth”.
He said: “It is a well-founded rule of community care that if there is an assessed need, they have a duty to provide it.
“But local authorities can now say to people, ‘OK, we had a review and now as a result we have decided to cut or change your needs.’”
Joy said DLS was hoping to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
With councils across the country facing cuts in government funding of 26 per cent over the next four years, he said he feared the ruling would make it easier for other councils to cut disabled people’s support packages.
He said increasing numbers of disabled people were contacting the DLS legal advice line to say they had been told by their local authority that their needs were not going to be met “and the underlying reason for this is just spending cuts”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which funded McDonald’s appeal, said the judgment was “bad news for service-users and disabled people who receive community care”.
An EHRC spokeswoman added: “It is likely that local authorities will try and use the judgment to reduce community care and services for disabled people.”
Cllr Julie Mills, the council’s cabinet member for adult social care, said it was an “immensely important case”, and that, despite McDonald’s “strong preference” for a night-time carer, urinary problems were “a very common feature of getting older”.
She said: “I am pleased that the court has recognised that in making these difficult decisions the council must have regard to the resources available to others in need, as well as those of the appellant.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com