Possibly my last blog before Christmas and before setting off on my world cruise!! Aside from the excitement of packing it feels like it has been a pretty dismal week. Announcement after announcement about cutting benefits and local government funding, the planned closure of the Independent Living Fund and changes to Access to Work. It really does feel as if disabled people are under attack. Even a wheelchair using student protestor was given a pretty interesting work out by the Met! One real highlight of the week however was the Leadership Programme run by RADAR. The stories that these budding leaders shared were both moving and energising and as long as we have this kind of talent trying to get ahead I’m greatly encouraged. Of course the RADAR Quiz as always was a humbling experience because I came, as usual nowhere! still there is always next year!
Well I guess for many of you getting ready for the Christmas holiday is beginning to occupy your thoughts. I hope you have a fantastic time and are able to relax and enjoy a well-earned break. I will update you from time on disability issues from around the world. Go well!
Government backs out of Access to Work pledge
The coalition government has backtracked on a high-profile pledge to allow disabled people to secure funding for workplace adjustments before they applied for a job.
The government had repeatedly promised to reform the Access to Work programme so that disabled people could show potential employers that they already had funding in place for adaptations and equipment at work.
The coalition’s “programme for government” in May stated: “We will reform Access to Work, so disabled people can apply for jobs with funding already secured for any adaptations and equipment they will need.”
The pledge was repeated by Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, at a meeting of the all-party parliamentary disability group in June.
But when Miller announced details of the scheme today, she revealed that it would simply provide a standard letter that disabled people could print out from the government’s Directgov website and then show to an employer.
The letter begins: “Dear Customer. This letter confirms that you may be eligible to apply for Access to Work. You can print it off and show it to potential employers when looking for work.”
Miller said the change would “give disabled people the confidence to apply for jobs, safe in the knowledge that they are already eligible for support”.
She added: “Employers will also be reassured that support is available towards costs beyond what is reasonable for them to meet.”
A DWP spokesman confirmed that the government would not be extending the measure any further than just making the letter available to download from the website.
He said: “We do think it is a good thing and will speed up the process a bit. Employers will recognise this letter.
“I think the fact that you may be eligible goes pretty far. You can’t always decide [in advance] what level of funding they will get.”
Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager, said they were “very disappointed” that the coalition was not implementing the commitment in its programme for government.
She said: “Enabling disabled people to bring a letter to their prospective employer will help to spread awareness about the Access to Work scheme.
“However, this does not go far enough, and we call upon the government to give disabled people and their prospective employers more certainty about the type and extent of support that will be available, as well as to ensure that disabled people have access to support from the time that they start their employment.
“Currently disabled people may have to wait a long time for approval of support after they’ve started their job.”
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, accused the government of “playing games with disabled people’s need for better lives and better independence”.
And Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, also expressed concern at the government announcement.
Survey provides more proof of barriers
A new report has revealed new evidence of the barriers that disabled people face when attempting to participate in society.
The report, by the Office for National Statistics, provides interim findings from the Life Opportunities Survey, a major examination of the social barriers faced by disabled people.
The report suggests that 26 per cent of British adults – or more than 13 million people – would be viewed as disabled under the Equality Act, while 29 per cent of adults have an impairment.
Among its findings, the report says that 56 per cent of adults with impairments face restrictions in the paid work they can do – due to factors such as a lack of job opportunities or family responsibilities – compared with 26 per cent of adults without impairments.
It also says that adults with impairments are twice as likely to say their education opportunities are restricted (17 per cent) as adults without impairments (nine per cent).
And 45 per cent of households where at least one person has an impairment are unable to afford typical household expenses or make loan repayments, compared with 29 per cent of households without anyone who has an impairment.
The report also says that nearly a third of adults with impairments (29 per cent) face a barrier in accessing buildings outside their home, compared with seven per cent of adults without impairments.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: “The government must take this report very seriously.
“It confirms that disabled people are excluded from jobs not through any failings of their own, but because of the barriers they face in getting work.
“Far from being the ‘scroungers’ portrayed by some parts of the media, the great majority of disabled people who are out of work are prevented from working because of their condition, a lack of accessible and suitable transport, and the absence of decent job opportunities.
“The price disabled people and their families are paying is a life in poverty.
“Ministers need to focus on removing the barriers that prevent equal access to work, not on slashing the benefits system and making disabled people even poorer.”
The report is based on interviews with 18,000 adults aged 16 and over – with and without impairments – between June 2009 and March 2010. A full report will be published next autumn.
DLA reforms: Proposals are ‘slap in the face’ for campaigners
“Threatening” new proposals to reform disability living allowance (DLA) are a “slap in the face” for campaigners who have tried to engage with the coalition government, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO).
In a searing attack on the government’s plans, the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) said they hinted at a “hidden agenda” to dismantle the support provided by the key benefit.
Sue Bott, NCIL’s director, said the proposals – launched this week by Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people – gave the impression that “virtually no-one is going to be entitled to the new benefit”.
She said the consultation document was “vague”, “rushed”, “half-hearted”, “full of contradictions” and disguised the government’s “hidden agenda”.
She said: “It comes across as the agenda is to abandon DLA entirely and to put in its place a dubious benefit that is not going to achieve the outcomes DLA has been achieving, and very few people will be entitled to.”
Bott said that proposals to take greater account of how people use aids such as wheelchairs, while removing eligibility from those “who don’t get support from anywhere else”, felt like “heads you lose, tails you lose”.
She said: “It just seems naive in the extreme, saying you have a wheelchair so you don’t have any mobility issues. I just don’t get it.”
Bott also warned that disabled people were losing trust in the new coalition government.
She said Miller had given the impression of “listening” to DPOs and attempting to understand DLA and the issues around it.
But she added: “What I was expecting in the consultation was not wholesale reform of DLA – because I think DLA works pretty well – but trying to improve assessment and trying to get better consistency of decision-making.”
She said it was clear that Miller’s views had been “over-ridden” by the Treasury, and added: “I think people will feel justifiably very, very angry.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), said it was “astonishing” that the proposals failed to mention the government’s intention to cut spending on DLA by 20 per cent by 2016.
He said there was no need for the new system and the associated costs of implementation, assessment and appeals.
He said: “The combined effects of the government agenda for DLA risks meaning disabled people are unable to participate, less likely to work and more likely to live in poverty.”
Coyle was also critical of the government’s decision to allow just 10 weeks for the public consultation – over the holiday period – rather than the usual 12.
DA has launched its own DLA consultation, which will examine disabled people’s needs and the “potential risks” of the government’s plans.
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the consultation document was clearly setting out how the government would cut the number of people claiming DLA by 20 per cent, which was “bound to increase levels of poverty”.
She said: “The way they are doing it is very severe. This is effectively a proposal to abolish DLA and replace it with something else.”
Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager, said there were “a lot of concerns about the proposals” but also many unanswered questions, such as how the government planned to cut DLA spending.
She added: “What is important to us is that if we have a new assessment, it should be less bureaucratic, with less red tape.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it was unable to comment in depth on the criticisms before the end of the consultation.
But a DWP spokesman said there would be a series of meetings with “stakeholders” in January, while the government had already consulted informally with disabled people and disability organisations.
And he said the new assessment was being produced in “co-production” with specialists in health, social care and disability, including disabled people.
Meanwhile, the government has admitted that 20,000 more people will be affected by the decision to remove the mobility component of DLA from most disabled residents of care homes.
Miller said the government now estimated that 80,000 people – rather than 60,000 – would be affected by the measure, which is set to be introduced in October 2012.
The figures were updated after the government received new information about care home residents who entered residential care before 1998.
To take part in the DA consultation, visit: www.disabilityalliance.org
DLA reforms: Proposals lay out strategy for cutting support
The government has announced plans to tighten eligibility for a key disability benefit, which looks certain to remove entitlement from at least 360,000 disabled people with lower support needs.
Announcing a consultation on the plans, Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said spending on disability living allowance (DLA) had become “unsustainable” and “poorly targeted”.
As part of the reforms, DLA will be renamed personal independence payment (PIP), and will be “targeted at those disabled people who face the greatest challenges to leading independent lives”, she said.
A short equality impact assessment of the proposals warns that it is likely that “some disabled people with lesser barriers to leading independent lives will receive reduced support”.
The chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his emergency budget in June that the government would cut the 1.8 million working-age people claiming DLA – as well as spending on working-age DLA claimants – by 20 per cent by 2016, although the consultation paper makes no reference to this figure.
Instead of three levels of the care component of DLA and two of the mobility component, there will be a higher and lower rate for a “daily living” element of PIP and two rates for a “mobility” element.
And whereas disabled people currently need to have qualified for support for at least three months before they can receive DLA, this will now be extended to six months.
The government also warned that any claimant who “knowingly” fails to report a change that would have led to their DLA being cut could face a financial penalty or a prosecution for benefit fraud.
The new rules will take greater account of how a disabled person uses aids and adaptations. This is likely to mean that someone who uses a wheelchair will find it harder to claim PIP than under existing DLA rules.
The government will start to reassess all working-age claimants of DLA in 2013, through a new assessment. It has yet to decide whether to extend the reassessment to children and those over 65.
The consultation makes clear that medical “advice” from a healthcare professional will be “an important part” of the new assessment, which will take account of the “ability to get around, interact with others, manage personal care and treatment needs, and access food and drink”.
Far fewer disabled people – only those who are terminally-ill – will receive automatic entitlement to PIP, but claimants will still be able to use it to obtain a vehicle from the Motability scheme.
Miller pledged that the new benefit would remain non-means-tested and would continue to contribute to “the extra costs incurred by disabled people”.
She claimed the new benefit would be delivered in a “fairer, more consistent and sustainable manner” than DLA.
The consultation paper says that far more people are claiming DLA than had been intended when it was introduced in 1992. The original estimate was that 140,000 people would receive the lowest rate of the care component, whereas there are now 880,000 people receiving it.
The consultation ends on 14 February. To take part, visit:www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2010/dla-reform.shtml
Blunkett accuses government over Access to Work
The government has been accused of “surreptitiously” introducing new restrictions on how disabled people can claim government funding for vital adjustments in the workplace.
The new rules mean that employers or disabled people themselves will now need to fund equipment such as basic versions of voice-activated software, most adapted chairs, and satellite navigation devices, rather than having them funded through the Access to Work (ATW) scheme.
David Blunkett, Labour’s former work and pensions secretary, said the changes threw “new hurdles” in the way of disabled people looking for work in an “ever-tightening labour market” and in the face of “mass redundancies”.
He said the new rules were a “deeply damaging and cynical exercise in salami-slicing” the support available to disabled people.
He was speaking after the government announced a new review of the employment support provided to disabled people – including ATW – to be led by RADAR chief executive Liz Sayce.
Blunkett said: “It is simply bizarre of the coalition to have announced a review at the same time as having surreptitiously changed the rules in relation to what equipment is available.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “At the same time as disabled people will receive less support through disability living allowance and other benefits, new guidance has been issued which restricts support for disabled people to get and keep jobs.”
He said the new rules would be “bad for disabled people” and “incredibly bad for employers”.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the new rules were “very concerning”.
She said: “Aren’t we supposed to have an agenda where we are trying to get more disabled people into employment?
“Companies will say ‘we are just not prepared to spend the money on making sure that you can do the job’.
“Companies do not see it as their responsibility, they really don’t. And the government aren’t doing anything to persuade them to see it as their responsibility.”
Sayce said she would be taking a “holistic” look at ATW and the various changes the government wanted to introduce to the programme.
But she said the question of how much should be the responsibility of the employer through its legal duty to make “reasonable adjustments” in the workplace, and how much should be paid for through ATW, was “very much part of what I am looking at”.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said it was “the legal responsibility of employers to provide reasonable adjustments to allow disabled staff to do their work”.
He added: “The ATW programme provides funding for equipment and support that would be above and beyond what is reasonable for an employer to supply.
“The list is to ensure that our advisors across the country have the same guidance to bring consistency to how we deliver the scheme.
“It also makes sense that the scheme’s funds are used where an employer won’t pay for equipment so that we can help as many people as possible.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com