What a week! It kicked off with the RADAR People of the Year Awards. Tremendous glitzy evening populated by celebs and Ministers and of course my family! They had a brilliant time hobnobbing with media types and posed for several pictures. I have much to thank my family for, like you I couldn’t have done half the things I have without their support. The evening was a fantastic tribute to our sponsors, the RADAR staff and the array of extraordinary disabled people and their supporters who won the awards. The Disability Oscars perhaps we should call it that next year!
The next day somewhat bleary eyed we held a further unification meeting between RADAR, Disability Alliance (DA) and National Centres for Independent Living (NCIL). We are making good progress and expect to be able to consult with our members again in the spring of next year as to next steps. Then it was off to the BBC for live interviews to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Alf Morris’s Chronically Sick and Disabled Person’s Act and of course International Day for Disabled People.
Finally a presentation for the Association of Train Operating Companies. I’m a big fan of theirs and engineers in general. Doctors tell me what I’ve got and how it affects me! Engineers design things like wheelchairs so getting from A to B without walking becomes possible. Trains are a bigger version of the same thing and the access improvements are to be greatly welcomed! Now I think I’ll have a lie down!!
Questions asked over impartiality of assisted suicide commission
Concerns have been raised over the impartiality of a commission set up to examine possible changes in the law on assisted suicide, after it emerged that at least eight of its 12 members have backed legalisation.
The commission is chaired by the former Labour minister Lord Falconer and part-funded by the author Terry Pratchett, who have both been outspoken in calling for legalisation, while it was set up by the pro-assisted suicide charity Dignity in Dying.
The other co-funder, Bernard Lewis, founder of the high street retail chain River Island, has told Disability News Service (DNS) that he too is in favour of legalisation, “given safeguards that would prevent abuse or pressure”.
This week, at the launch of The Commission on Assisted Dying, Lord Falconer announced the names of his 11 fellow commissioners.
Lord [Ian] Blair, the former Metropolitan police commissioner; the Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt; Baroness [Elaine] Murphy, a vice-president of the Alzheimer’s Society; Baroness [Barbara] Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK; and Sir Graeme Catto, a former president and chair of the General Medical Council, have all expressed support for legalisation.
Dr Carole Dacombe, medical director of St Peter’s Hospice in Bristol, has also suggested that she backed legalisation – when giving evidence to a Lords committee in 2005 – but now says that she is “yet to come to a definite conclusion about this”.
Dr Stephen Duckworth, apparently the only disabled member of the commission, told DNS he had changed his mind twice on the issue.
He had opposed a change in the law, but told Disability Now magazine last year that he backed legalisation.
He said he was now undecided, although he was “not satisfied or happy with the current situation in law”, but wanted to make a decision on the evidence presented to the commission.
This means that at least eight of the 12 commissioners have in the past supported a change in the law.
When challenged on the commission’s impartiality by Dr Peter Saunders, director of the Care Not Killing alliance, Lord Falconer said the commissioners had been chosen for their “calibre”, were all “independent, straightforward, honest”, and would provide an “objective, dispassionate and authoritative analysis of the issues”.
Kitty Ussher, director of Demos, the think-tank which is “hosting” the commission, said its work would be “100 per cent grassroots evidence-based”.
When asked how the commission could be impartial when both its funders and its chair backed legalisation, while Dignity in Dying set it up, and at least eight of its members had at one time backed legalisation, a Demos spokeswoman said: “I can assure you that all of the commissioners are very, very keen for this to be an independent, dispassionate, objective commission.”
But Demos admitted that the commissioners had been chosen “by Demos in discussion with Lord Falconer”.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who was present at the launch as an observer and has spoken previously of her “huge concerns” about legalisation, said she would be looking for more information about the independence of the commissioners.
She said she would like to give evidence to the commission, and added: “I do worry that disabled people will be pushed into a corner, will be made to feel they are useless and will be encouraged towards assisted suicide.”
She said her concern was over the impact of legalisation on those disabled people who “do not feel empowered” and “can’t fight for themselves”.
One commissioner who has spoken out against legalisation is Professor Sam Ahmedzai, a specialist in palliative medicine, while Dame Denise Platt, a former chair of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, told DNS that she had “no pre-existing position”.
Another member, Celia Grandison-Markey, a former nurse tutor and NHS academic registrar and now interim chair of the Patients Association, did not reply to questions put through the association.
The final member, the Rev Canon Dr James Woodward, canon of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, was unavailable to comment.
The commission plans to publish its report within a year, with the first of six evidence sessions set to take place on 14 December.
Anger after Duncan Smith ‘blames IB claimants for budget deficit’
Horrified disabled activists have reported the work and pensions secretary to the equality watchdog after he seemed to blame incapacity benefit (IB) claimants for the size of the government’s budget deficit.
Iain Duncan Smith said in an interview in the Sun that he was “appalled” at how easy it had been in the past for people to claim IB and cheat the system.
He suggested that a large proportion of IB claimants were cheats, and added: “This is what the benefits system has become – a deep incentive for people to do no formalised work.”
And he said that Sun readers were right to be “upset and angry” when they see neighbours who do not work, because such “unfairness saps away at our sense of togetherness in society”.
He said Britain used to be “the workshop of the world” but had now “managed to create a block of people” who “do not add anything to the greatness of this country”.
He added: “They have become conditioned to be users of services, not providers of money. This is a huge part of the reason we have this massive deficit.”
He added: “We don’t want to talk about scroungers in the future, we want to talk about British people being renowned the world over for working hard.”
When asked to confirm that the comments were reported accurately by the Sun, a spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “If we were unhappy with the article in the Sun we would have gone back to the Sun, but we haven’t.”
She said ministers were “very clear that they want to help and support disabled people” but that “those who are assessed as being fit for work will be expected, with our support, to get job ready and into sustainable employment”.
Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “I despair of any government, any minister, making such a comment, which apparently apportions blame for the current economic crisis on disabled people.
“I think it’s a travesty to make that kind of statement. It creates an environment of additional hostility and pressure when disabled people are very worried about their futures anyway.”
Both he and Anne Novis, another of the coordinators of the network, have reported Duncan Smith’s comments to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into disability-related harassment.
Novis was at the RADAR awards this week where she, Brookes and their colleague Katharine Quarmby collected an award for their voluntary work fighting disability hate crime.
She said: “Disabled people make a huge contribution to society and yet we are being demeaned all of the time by this government.”
RADAR boss to head government work review
A leading disabled campaigner is to head a new government review of the employment support it offers disabled people.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, will review support services such as those provided through the new Work Choice programme, the government’s planned Work Programme – set to launch next summer – and Access to Work.
She will be asked to make recommendations for how the government’s strategy could be improved, including within Work Choice and the Work Programme.
Both programmes are set to play crucial roles in the coalition government’s plans to cut the number of disabled people claiming incapacity benefits.
Chris Grayling, the employment minister, told the Conservative conference in October that the Work Programme would be “one of the biggest employment and back to work programmes the world has ever seen”.
He said the programme would “create a whole new world for benefit claimants” with “no more sitting at home on benefits doing nothing”, while those who refused to cooperate would lose their benefits.
Sayce said at the time that she wanted to know that the government would take account of those people – such as those with fluctuating, serious mental health conditions – who do not respond to elements of the Work Programme because of their impairment. And she said it was vital that the support provided through the Work Programme was accessible.
Sayce will also examine support provided by the government through the nine residential training colleges and through Remploy, which provides specialist employment services – including some Work Choice contracts – and runs 54 sheltered factories.
In July, RADAR published a report – written by Sayce and funded by Remploy – which suggested that most disabled people were better off being supported to find mainstream employment rather than “special” jobs in separate, sheltered workplaces.
In a statement, Sayce said she hoped the review would help the government make “real improvements to the services that support disabled people who want to develop fulfilling careers”.
She added: “I hope that by starting from disabled people’s experience and aspirations, and reviewing evidence from research and from practice, we will understand the most effective approaches to supporting satisfying, sustainable employment.”
Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, said: “Too often in the past disabled people have been failed by the programmes that were meant to help them, and that has to stop.”
She said the government expected that the Work Programme and Work Choice would support more disabled people into work every year than “any of its predecessor government programmes”.
The review should be published next summer.
For more information, visit: www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations
Care system must provide safety net, says commission
The care and support system must continue to provide a “safety net” for disabled and older people with “the lowest means and highest needs”, according to the commission examining how to reform its long-term funding.
The Commission on Funding of Care and Support said evidence suggested “significant levels of unmet need”, and it raised concerns over the complexity of the current system, and the low public awareness of how it works.
The commission was giving its first views on the current system as it issued a call for evidence on how the problem should be tackled.
The members of the commission made it clear that any reforms should promote the “personalisation” of care and support, which has given people “choice and control, and power to determine the outcomes they want”.
But it warned that the reformed system should be a “partnership”, with both individuals and the state continuing to contribute to the costs.
The commission also referred again to the “tensions” between calls for a national entitlement to support and the need for decisions on services to be taken by local authorities.
The commission said the current system was “responsive to local needs”, as local authorities can react to “local conditions” by allocating resources according to “local priorities”, although this “can be perceived by some as inequitable”.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell has already spoken of the crucial need for “portability”, which would allow disabled people to take their support packages with them if they moved to a different local authority area.
And she has criticised Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the commission, for suggesting there was a potential conflict between portability and the need for local decision-making.
In publishing the call for evidence this week, Dilnot said: “Access to new ideas and perspectives is critical if we are to find a lasting solution to a sustainable and resilient care system – both in terms of funding and delivery.”
The call for evidence will be open until 28 January 2011. For more details, visit: www.dilnotcommission.dh.gov.uk/call-for-evidence
New standard on web access ‘could have real impact’
The first “British standard” on website accessibility could force businesses to take the issue seriously, according to one leading disabled expert.
British Standard 8788 (BS 8788) on web accessibility was released this week and builds on guidance published four years ago.
The new code of practice provides a detailed guide on how to make websites more accessible, but crucially also includes guidance on creating the policies and procedures organisations need to eliminate the barriers faced by disabled people.
BSI, which developed the new standard, said its publication could help organisations meet the new legal duty – included in this year’s Equality Act – to make information accessible.
Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion for the disability charity AbilityNet, said that, as a blind web-user, he still faced “a lot of frustration” when using the internet.
He said he hoped the new standard would “raise awareness” and have a “real impact on people’s appreciation of the fact that [accessibility] needs to be built into everything they do” rather than being just a “bolt-on activity”, and said it could lead to improvements in both websites and software.
He added: “It is not just a technical guide, it is not just something for web developers. It is saying that every organisation needs to have an over-arching e-governance strategy that embeds accessibility.”
He said the new standard would provide a “requirement” for organisations to act, rather than the previous “optional best practice”.
He said: “It has got a bit more teeth because companies are used to complying with British Standards, so hopefully it will have some impact.”
Christopherson said there had been a legal duty for websites to be accessible under the Disability Discrimination Act for more than 10 years, but the government had done little to enforce the law.
Instead, individual disabled people have had to take civil claims through the courts, often with backing from charities such as RNIB.
He said that more than 90 per cent of websites do not even meet “single A” accessibility, the lowest of the three levels. The new standard places “double A”, the middle of the three levels, as the “medium term goal”.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the publication of a new standard was included in the new government’s eAccessibility Action Plan in October.
He said: “We knew it was coming and we welcome it and hope industry will sign up to it.
“We will continue to work through the action plan to achieve those goals.”
New Mystery Shopping Service
A service which provides qualitative research was recently launched by Mary Ann Rankin a long time consultant on customer related disability issues. With a panel of 100 disabled people representing a wide range of impairments, age, gender, ethnicity and geographical locations. Rankin says that “rather than just names in a database, I know all of my panel members and what each one can add to a piece of research”. Research methods include mystery shopping of physical locations, contact centres and websites, focus groups and telephone or electronic questionnaires. The panel members enable service providers to test out whether their promises are fulfilled through the actual experiences of disabled customers. For further information contact Mary-Anne Rankinmaryannerankin@clara.co.uk or visit the websitewww.maryannerankin.co.uk
Recorded hate crime nearly doubles in one year
Recorded levels of disability hate crime have almost doubled in one year, according to new police figures.
The Association of Chief Police Officers figures show there were 1,402 recorded disability hate crimes across England, Wales and Northern Ireland during 2009.
It was the first full year since police forces started collecting figures for disability hate crime in April 2008, but in 2008 (with estimates for January to March) there were just 800 such crimes.
The new figures also show huge variations between police areas, which disabled activists say demonstrates how some forces treat the issue less seriously than others.
Avon and Somerset police recorded 78 disability hate crimes during 2009, the Metropolitan police recorded 99, and Thames Valley police 102, whereas Cleveland police recorded zero (one of three forces to state that there was not a single disability hate crime in the entire year).
Anne Novis, one of the coordinators of the Disability Hate Crime Network and a leading campaigner, welcomed the rising numbers of recorded crimes because it shows that “at last it is on the radar”.
She said: “At last they are collecting figures and people are starting to talk about it.”
But she said the striking variation between different forces showed the need for police to invest in training for their officers.
She said: “There has been no appropriate national training [which offers] consistent best practice, pan-impairment, social model on disability hate crime going out to police officers. That is one of the reasons we are not getting a consistent approach.”
Novis also warned that budget cuts could lead to a loss of momentum on the issue among police forces.
And she said there was still a need for new, stronger legislation on sentencing for disability hate crimes.
During 2009 there was a total of 52,028 hate crimes recorded across race, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability or because a person was transgender, a rise from 46,300 in 2008.
Chief constable Stephen Otter, ACPO’s lead for equality, diversity and human rights, said: “Whilst we want to reduce the incidence of these crimes, it is vital that we close the gap of under-reporting.
“We are making real progress in this critical area through standardised reporting and better recording and we continue to work to improve our support to victims of hate crime.”
The figures were released as a civil servant was seconded from the government’s Office for Disability Issues to work for the disability charity RADAR on fighting hate crime.
James Pool will work with criminal justice agencies to develop a national, independent disability hate crime reporting centre, minimum standards for reporting centres and a plan to raise disabled people’s awareness of hate crime.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan police are seeking to recruit disabled volunteers for their new independent advisory group, which will examine how disabled people are affected by policing in London.
Members will act as “critical friends” and form a link between disabled people and the police in London.
For more information, tel: 020 7161 2719, email:firstname.lastname@example.org textphone 18001 020 7161 2719 or text: 07920 768425. The closing date for applicants is 24 December.
Hate crime volunteers win recognition for ‘outstanding’ work
A campaigning network that has achieved “outstanding results” in highlighting the “menace” of disability hate crime, and raising awareness among police and politicians, has been recognised at a prestigious annual awards ceremony.
Stephen Brookes, Anne Novis and Katharine Quarmby, who run the Disability Hate Crime Network without any funding, became the first winners of the new RADAR Crown Prosecution Service Stop Hate award, at RADAR’s People of the Year awards.
They had faced stiff competition, with judges taking the “very unusual step” of also “highly commending” seven local hate crime projects, also led by groups of disabled people, and praising their “pioneering and innovative” work.
Novis said she was “thrilled” by the award, which “shows the evidence of the voluntary efforts of disabled people”, and how they can share their “time, contacts, knowledge and expertise”.
Novis said the network’s Facebook site was being used both by disabled people and criminal justice agencies.
And she said she was also pleased that the other groups of disabled people had been recognized for their campaigning work around hate crime, something she had wanted to see from disabled people for more than a decade.
The winner of RADAR’s person of the year award was Wycliffe Noble, an architect and “unsung hero” who has been promoting access for disabled people – both in the UK and internationally – for nearly 50 years.
Noble was one of the first architects to take disability access issues seriously, in the early 1960s, and RADAR said he had had an “immeasurable influence on the accessibility of modern Britain”.
Ealing Centre for Independent Living was recognised in the care and support category, after securing the contract to run its local carers’ centre.
The judges praised its “cutting-edge work”, which showed “the benefits of giving disabled people real control”.
The winner of the young person of the year award was Nadeem Badshah, a reporter for the British Asian newspaper Eastern Eye, who the judges said had “developed an exceptional reputation for pioneering campaigning journalism”, with stories on controversial issues affecting disabled people in Asian communities, such as abuse and forced marriage.
Lizzie Emeh won the arts award, after becoming the first artist with learning difficulties to write, record and release her own album – Loud and Proud – and see it penetrate the mainstream market.
Sailor Lucy Hodges, who won the partially-sighted category in the UK National Blind Sailing Championships and led her crew to nine straight victories in the Blind Match Racing World Championships, won the sports category.
There was also an award for Channel 4’s comic drama Cast Offs, which followed six disabled people who had been marooned on an island for a TV reality show, and featured disabled talent such as Mat Fraser, Kiruna Stamell and Sophie Woolley.
Other winners included: Channel 4’s How to Look Good Naked…with a Difference, which tackled issues around fashion and beauty for disabled women; Arsenal Football Club’s disability liaison team; the Chartered Institute of Housing; and Nuance Communications.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com