DLA Cuts, Legal Aid Cuts, Euthansia, Jobs, Hate Crime, Taxicard cuts

Some of you will have read about the government’s intention to cut the mobility component from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for those living in residential care.

An assumption is being made that residents have access to the unit’s minibus. It is true that part of the fees received by residential settings are intended to cover travel costs.

Many, many years ago I ran a residential institution and we had a minibus. Unfortunately it was extremely difficult to find people who were qualified to drive it and who could be covered on the insurance policy. Secondly the cost of using the minibus was also taken into account every time a trip took place, no budget, no trip! Thirdly the minibus could only be used if everybody wanted to go to the same place.

I just don’t believe that modern residential settings have a surplus of drivers and the budgets to run say, 20 disabled individuals to 20 different locations at 20 different times! It strikes me as ironic that DLA is about promoting independence and personal mobility but the cuts will have the effect of keeping some disabled people indoors. How does that fit with the government’s stated intention to get disabled people off benefits and back into work?

Legal aid cuts could have ‘profound’ impact

Planned cuts in government spending on legal aid will have a serious impact on disabled people’s access to justice, say campaigners.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) this week launched a consultation on its plans for reforming legal aid in England and Wales, which it said would target support on “those who need it most”.

If all the proposals were implemented, they would save an estimated £350 million a year from the £2 billion legal aid budget by 2014-15.

Justice secretary Ken Clarke said the proposals would “ensure access to public funding in those cases that really require it, the protection of the most vulnerable in society and the efficient performance of the justice system”.

Legal aid would be retained in areas such as community care, asylum and people with mental health conditions who have been sectioned appealing against the terms of their detention.

But among those areas where eligibility for legal aid is set to be removed are legal advice on special educational needs appeals, employment claims, and appeals against refusal of benefits such as disability living allowance and employment and support allowance (ESA).

The consultation document claims advice on benefits appeals is available from other sources, including charities such as Disability Alliance (DA), the Child Poverty Action Group and Age UK.

But DA has already written to the MoJ, saying the claims are “factually incorrect and extremely misleading”.

Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, says in the letter: “The implication that charities like Disability Alliance are available to help people in the advent of legal aid cuts misrepresents the reality [which is] that we do not provide such support.”

He adds: “We are particularly concerned that ministers are made immediately aware that potential changes to legal aid and reductions in support simply cannot be met by small charities such as Disability Alliance – despite the statement included in the consultation.”

Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the planned cuts were “appalling”, and pointed to the huge numbers of successful appeals being made by disabled people whose ESA claims have been rejected.

She said the cuts would have a severe impact on disabled people, including disabled children fighting for their right to support at school.

She added: “Legal aid is already pared to the bone – it is already extremely difficult to get legal aid. This will have a profound effect in denying people access to justice.”

The National Aids Trust also said it was “extremely disappointed” at the proposals to cut legal aid for employment cases, just weeks after the new Equality Act came into force and gave disabled people new protection from workplace discrimination.

The charity also expressed concerns about the cuts to legal aid for benefits advice.

Euthanasia report is ‘victory for disability movement in Scotland’

Disabled activists have welcomed a Scottish parliamentary committee’s recommendation that MSPs reject plans to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland.

The committee, set up to consider the end of life assistance (Scotland) bill, outlined a series of flaws in the legislation proposed by independent MSP Margo MacDonald, and concluded that it could not recommend its “general principles” to the Scottish parliament.

The bill, which is set to be debated by MSPs on Thursday (25 November), 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.

Surveys suggest a large majority of MSPs will now vote against the bill.

The committee concluded in its report on the bill that society’s “wider” interests should prevail over an individual’s right to exercise control over the time of their death, and highlighted evidence that the bill could have “a negative effect for disabled people”.

It also criticised the “extraordinarily wide” number of disabled people who would be covered by the law and warned that “using the inability to live independently as an eligibility requirement for end-of-life assistance” could have “unintended consequences”.

And it pointed to the “particularly compelling” evidence given by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), who argued that disabled people’s lives could be “intolerable” simply because society was failing to provide “sufficient and appropriate support”.

It concluded that Scottish law on assisted suicide and euthanasia was clear and unambiguous and dismissed “spurious” calls for clarity.

Pam Duncan, a board member of Inclusion Scotland, who gave evidence opposing the bill, said she was “really pleased” with the report, which had been “a lot stronger than we expected”.

She said that DPOs had played a crucial part in convincing the committee that the bill should not become law.

She said: “It says something about the strength of the disabled people’s movement in Scotland that we were able to get that voice out and get people heard.”

Duncan said the report had sent a message to MSPs and wider society about “the value of the lives of disabled people”.

Catherine Garrod, a member of Inclusion Scotland, also welcomed the report, and added: “We thought the committee would come back with a neutral report which would just highlight the pros and cons. We didn’t think they would make a recommendation.”

But both Duncan and Garrod said the bill had been a major distraction from the need to campaign against the spending cuts that are set to have a major impact on disabled people’s right to independent living.

Garrod said: “The disability movement wants to be focused on fighting those cuts and fighting for those rights rather than this distraction.”

Government research offers new evidence of struggle for jobs

Government research has provided stark new evidence that disabled people found fit for work through a controversial new assessment are struggling to find jobs.

The research by the Institute for Employment Studies for the Department for Work and Pensions interviewed 3,650 people who had applied for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit (IB).

Of those found “fit for work”, only 13 per cent were in work by the time they were questioned at least six months later, with half insisting that they were off work because they were sick or disabled and another 28 per cent saying they were unemployed.

The survey – carried out between December 2009 and Feb 2010 – also provides further evidence that the work capability assessment (WCA) is failing to reflect people’s impairments accurately.

Only 29 per cent of those found “fit for work” felt that the healthcare professional who carried out the assessment understood their condition, although the levels of satisfaction were far higher (71 per cent) among those found not fit for work.

And 87 per cent of those found fit for work felt the WCA report did not reflect their condition well, rising to 93 per cent of those with a mental health condition.

The disability poverty charity Disability Alliance said it was not surprised that many disabled people found fit for work were failing to find jobs.

Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, said: “Sadly, there are not enough appropriate jobs available and this will get worse through public and private sector job cuts and changes to programmes of support for disabled people.”

Coyle said DA was also not surprised that the WCA had “once again been found wanting”, because it “consistently under-assesses disabled people’s needs and routinely finds people with significant health problems (or) impairments fully fit for work”.

He called on the government to address the problems with the WCA before it starts its main programme of reassessing those on “old-style” IB next spring.

A DWP spokesman said: “We know there have been concerns around the WCA which is why employment minister Chris Grayling asked Professor Malcolm Harrington to conduct a thorough independent review, involving a number of charities representing disabled people, to iron out any issues and recommend any changes.

“The new Work Programme, which will come on stream next year will ensure that everyone who can work will get the help and support they need to get the skills and training which will make them job ready.”

Court recognises murder as hate crime, but legal flaws exposed

Hate crime campaigners have welcomed the recognition in court that the brutal murder of a disabled man in his own flat was a disability hate crime.

Martin Mather, 23, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to beating Philip Holmes to death at his flat in Rhyl, north Wales, in April this year.

The judge, Mr Justice Griffith Williams, told Mather he will serve at least 17 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.

Holmes, who had a mobility impairment, was found dead in his flat by his support worker on 16 April.

Because it was a murder case, the law did not allow the judge to increase Mather’s sentence on the grounds that it was a disability hate crime, even though both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and North Wales police had treated it as a hate crime.

The CPS drew the court’s attention to the “hostility” Mather had shown towards Holmes as a disabled person when interviewed by police but the judge was only able to increase the sentence on the grounds of Holmes’s “vulnerability”.

Detective chief inspector John Hanson said Mather had carried out a “brutal and sustained attack” on Holmes.

He said: “Having attacked his disabled victim, a man who couldn’t walk without a frame, he left him on the floor in his flat, closing the door behind him and making no attempt to help or call assistance.

“He showed a callous disregard for Philip and whilst in police custody showed no remorse whatsoever for his actions.”

The court heard that Holmes suffered massive internal injuries consistent with a sustained violent assault.

Gareth Preston, CPS North Wales crown advocate, said: “It is hard to know for certain the exact motivation behind this attack – only Martin Mather truly knows what drove him to commit such an horrific crime.

“What is clear is that Mr Mather was aware of, and exploited, Philip Holmes’ vulnerable situation.

“In interviews with police after his arrest, Mr Mather also made disparaging remarks about Philip Holmes that displayed hostility toward his disability.”

Anne Novis, a leading disabled activist and anti-hate crime campaigner, welcomed the statement in court by the CPS that the murder was a disability hate crime and said this recognition would be “good for community confidence”.

But she said the case highlighted why there was a need for tougher disability hate crime laws, to ensure equality with how other types of hate crime were treated by the courts.

Taxicard cuts are ‘severe blow’ to disabled Londoners

New cuts and fare increases across London’s Taxicard system will be a “severe blow” to the freedom and independence of thousands of disabled and older people and push them further into poverty, say campaigners.

London Councils (LC) – the organisation representing the capital’s local authorities – has told the 32 individual borough councils that take part in Taxicard to limit the benefits of the scheme, which is used by 88,000 Londoners who find it hard to use public transport.

Four campaigning organisations – Inclusion London, Transport for All, London Visual Impairment Forum and Age Concern London – had asked London Councils to protect the scheme, which is funded by London boroughs and Transport for London.

The letter said the cuts and fare increases would mean “greater poverty” for thousands of disabled and older people on low incomes who were already facing drastic cuts in public spending.

They are particularly angry about the decision to end “double swiping”, which allows Taxicard users to use two credits on a single trip, doubling their range to six-to-eight miles from home.

Their letter said: “Ending double swiping is, for those with no other means of transport, effectively imprisoning them within a radius of a few miles around their house.”

Taxicard users will also have to pay at least £2.50 per trip as a contribution – an increase of £1 – while the maximum subsidy per trip will be cut by £1.

And they will be allowed a maximum of one return trip a week, an increase in some boroughs but a sharp fall in others.

Faryal Velmi, director of Transport for All, said the changes were “rushed through with no opportunity for Taxicard users to have their say” and that more time was needed for a full consultation.

A London Councils spokeswoman said: “London Councils’ transport and environment committee has recommended a series of changes and it is down to individual boroughs to consult and decide in their area.”

While this is true, councils that fail to implement the changes and then spend more than their allocated budget will be suspended from the scheme for the rest of the year.

London Councils said the changes were needed because Taxicard journeys had risen by 18 per cent, from 741,142 between April and August 2009 to 872,824 between April and August 2010.

Without the new measures, spending would exceed the scheme’s £19.2 million budget for 2010-11.

And she said the £1.50 minimum cost of a trip had not increased in more than 10 years.

But she was unable to confirm claims that the maximum subsidies payable per trip had also not risen for at least five years, cutting the distance disabled people can travel in a single Taxicard trip.

Europe’s disability strategy is ‘great step forward’

Europe’s leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has welcomed the European Union’s (EU) new 10-year disability strategy as a “great step” for disabled people.

The European Disability Strategy was published this week by the European Commission and sets out to provide a “framework for action” at European and national level until 2020, including more than 160 “key actions” over the next five years.

The European Disability Forum (EDF), which represents an estimated 80 million disabled people across the EU, said it welcomed the action across eight areas, including accessibility, participation in society, equality, employment, education and training, and health.

Among measures EDF welcomed were plans for a European Accessibility Act, aimed at improving access to goods and services; a proposal to ensure all public sector websites are accessible by 2015; measures to give disabled people the right to free movement and residence across the EU; and a promise to use EU funds to improve accessibility.

The strategy also pledges to use EU funds to support disabled people to move from institutional to community-based care.

And it promises to promote inclusive education and lifelong learning for disabled pupils and students.

But among its criticisms of the strategy, EDF said there should have been a greater emphasis on the need – as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – for EU member states to consult and involve DPOs when making decisions that will affect disabled people.

And EDF said all relevant European laws – and not just employment legislation, as the strategy says – should be checked to ensure they comply with the UN convention when being reviewed.

Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF’s president, said: “The disability strategy is a great step for persons with disabilities: it is more ambitious than the last action plan [the EU Disability Action Plan for 2003-2010] and it includes a lot of our proposals.

“If implemented, the strategy could be of benefit to 80 million Europeans with disabilities.”

European parliament president Jerzy Buzek has promised EDF a meeting every two years between the presidents of the commission and the parliament and disabled people’s organizations to assess progress on the strategy.

An EDF spokeswoman said its focus would now be on ensuring the strategy and its actions were implemented, particularly over the next five years.

Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, said her goal was “a truly barrier-free Europe” for disabled people by 2020.

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 – has provided 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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