A pretty full on couple of weeks. More depressing news on the economy and the implications for disabled become clearer. Benefits being cut, support programmes designed to help disabled people play there part are being reduced, the BBC via Terry Pratchett wants to change the law so we can be helped to die, the written media continuing its relentless attacks on so called “benefit scroungers”. Mind you all is not lost the Queen awarded some gongs to disabled activists! It really is great to be around if you’re disabled, we really do feel valued!
A disabled peer is set to introduce her own “portability” bill into the House of Lords, in a bid to persuade the government to unlock disabled people’s freedom to move around the country.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell says her new social care portability bill would guarantee disabled people the right to relocate to any different local authority area in England and Wales, without being forced to have their needs reassessed by their new council.
Currently, disabled people have to negotiate a new care and support package from scratch if they want to relocate to a new area.
Although Baroness Campbell believes the government is in favour of the idea of “portability”, this is likely to stretch only as far as ensuring disabled people would not have to be reassessed.
Her private members’ bill would go further, giving disabled people legal rights to support that was “equivalent to the existing care package” they enjoyed before they moved –perhaps for reasons of work, education or to be nearer family or friends – as well as ensuring “seamless” transitional arrangements.
She told Disability News Service: “We are looking forward to a social care system that is equitable and the same wherever you live.”
This would mean councils could not get away with replacing a package of support that ensured independent mobility with one that offered “Dial-a-Ride or an accessible bus service”.
If she was to move, she said, it would mean she could “do the same things I can do now… I could go out, do my job, and know I felt as comfortable and safe as I do now”.
“At a time when we are just losing so much, the one thing it will give us is the control of the very little that we do have.”
Baroness Campbell added: “My job is to convince local authorities that this is not going to be scary, it is not going to be a burden on them and they are not suddenly going to have to come up with resources and schemes and services that they simply haven’t got. It is cost-neutral.
“That is the basis of my bill. I am not asking for any money. I am just asking them to do things differently.”
She is hoping the government will accept the contents of her bill and incorporate it into the adult social care bill it will introduce next spring.
Much of the content of her bill was supported by Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers when she introduced a portability amendment to Labour’s personal care at home bill last year.
Baroness Campbell said the bill – her first since entering the House of Lords in 2007 – would be her “biggest test” since becoming a peer.
She has been working on it for 15 months, along with Professor Luke Clements, the leading community care lawyer; Jenny White, a former commissioner with the Disability Rights Commission; and Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager.
Davidson said the bill would make “such a huge difference to disabled people’s lives”.
She said: “It’s just crazy that in a world and age where there exist virtually no barriers to live wherever you want, disabled people are effectively denied their right to move even a few streets away if that involves moving to another local authority.”
The first reading of the bill is likely to take place close to next month’s report from the Dilnot commission into the long-term funding of adult social care, with a second reading likely near the publication of the government’s social care white paper later this year.
Campaigners hope peers will secure changes to welfare reforms
Campaigners are hoping to persuade peers to make significant changes to the government’s welfare reform bill, after coalition MPs approved measures that could see hundreds of thousands of disabled people lose some or all of their benefits.
The bill passed its report and third reading stages in the Commons, despite Labour opposition, and now passes to the Lords.
But campaigners believe that peers – seen as more independent-minded than MPs – will secure important changes to the proposed legislation.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said it was “disappointing” that the bill had been approved by MPs, but added: “We are hopeful for significant change in the House of Lords.”
He said MPs’ decision-making had been “hampered” by the “deeply harmful” refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide “even a rough estimate of the number of people who stand to lose out”.
He said: “We are desperately trying to find out who is affected, so decision-makers [in parliament] can have that information to hand.”
Among the measures still causing concern are proposals to remove the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP) – the planned replacement for disability living allowance (DLA) – from most disabled people in residential care.
Maria Miller, the disabled people’s minister, said during this week’s report stage debate that the government does “not intend to remove somebody’s ability to get out and about”, but she has so far failed to explain what mobility support will be available for those in care homes.
There are also serious concerns over the draft “descriptors” for the new PIP assessment, which will decide who is eligible for the benefit.
Coyle said the descriptors suggest that “many thousands more people could lose out than we originally expected”, and focus on “very, very restricted” questions such as whether claimants can feed and toilet themselves, when the government claims PIP is designed to support active, independent people.
Other measures causing concern include proposals to increase the qualifying period forPIP from three months (as it is with DLA) to six months.
Campaigners are hoping the government will agree to keep this figure at three months, but instead extend the further length of time that the impairment is expected to last from six months to nine.
Miller said during the report stage debate that the government had “been listening to the arguments regarding the return to a three-month qualifying period”.
And there will also be intense lobbying of peers over plans to impose a 12-month limit on disabled people receiving “contributory” employment and support allowance – the replacement for incapacity benefit – for those in the “work-related activity group”.
The impact of this change on people recovering from cancer was raised during this week’s prime minister’s questions by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who claimed it would leave “7,000 cancer patients worse off by as much as £94 a week”.
BBC faces fresh anger over assisted suicide ‘bias’
The BBC is facing mounting anger over its coverage of the assisted suicide debate, after it emerged that it has broadcast five pro-legalisation documentaries and drama-documentaries in less than three years.
In that time, the broadcaster has failed to produce a single documentary or drama-documentary from the viewpoint of those opposed to a weakening of the law on assisted suicide.
Disabled campaigners spoke out again over alleged bias at the BBC after the screening of the latest programme, a documentary fronted by the author Sir Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer’s disease and is a vocal supporter of legalising assisted suicide.
Pratchett failed to interview any disabled opponents of legalisation, but instead talked to three disabled people who were in favour of changing the law, including two who had decided to end their lives at the notorious Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.
The documentary followed one man with motor neurone disease to the clinic, where Pratchett watched him take his own life with the assistance of Dignitas staff.
Pratchett is one of the funders of the Commission on Assisted Dying, which is chaired by Lord Falconer – a fellow supporter of legalisation – and was set up by the pro-assisted suicide charity Dignity in Dying. Up to nine of the 12 commissioners have previously supported changing the law.
So far, the BBC has received 301 comments of “appreciation” about the Pratchett documentary, but 1,219 complaints.
Since December 2008, the BBC has screened a string of programmes with a similar theme: an edition of Panorama fronted by the assisted suicide campaigner and MSP Margo MacDonald; a docu-drama about the Dignitas death of another assisted suicide campaigner, Anne Turner; the Dimbleby Lecture delivered last year by Pratchett; and an edition of the BBC’s Inside Out, in which journalist Ray Gosling made a false confession that he had helped a former lover to die.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, convenor of Not Dead Yet UK, a disabled people’s organisation that campaigns against legalisation, said the BBC’s bias was “too strange to be true”.
She said she believed there must be executives at the BBC who were “signed-up members of Dignity in Dying”.
She added: “Someone is influencing the BBC, otherwise we would have had more balance; at least one programme.
“We know that there are many of us and many organisations that have written to the BBC and so have high-profile senior people, who have said: ‘This is outrageous, what is going on?’”
Baroness Campbell and two fellow peers, the barrister Lord Carlile – an expert on penal reform and security issues – and the pro-life campaigner Lord Alton, this week wrote to the BBC’s director-general, Mark Thompson, and the chair of the BBC Trust, Lord [Chris] Patten, to protest at the lack of balance on the issue.
The Care Not Killing alliance, which also campaigns against legalisation, called on the health and culture secretaries to carry out an “urgent investigation into the way assisted suicide is covered by the BBC and its link to English suicide rates”.
The alliance said the latest documentary breached international guidelines on the portrayal of suicide, and warned of a “real risk” of “copycat suicides”.
A BBC spokeswoman said there was “clear editorial justification” for the inclusion of the Dignitas death, which “does not encourage suicide and does not breach BBC guidelines”.
She said: “The BBC doesn’t have a stance on assisted suicide, but we do think that this is an important matter of debate.”
She later claimed that the documentary “was not a pro-assisted death programme” but “a documentary about people’s personal experiences”.
She said: “We do not commission programmes based on agendas, so it would be completely against all BBC policy to commission a programme just because it was a pro or anti look at a specific agenda.”
And she said it would be “absolutely physically impossible” for one person at the BBC to be able to promote such a pro-assisted suicide agenda.
But she was unable to explain – despite repeated requests – why there had been five BBC pro-assisted suicide documentaries and drama-documentaries since late 2008, and none representing the views of opponents of legalisation.
When asked about the alliance’s call for an investigation, a Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesman said: “It is a matter for the BBC and the BBC Trust.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health (DH) – which is currently working on a new national suicide prevention strategy – said it was a matter for the DCMS or the Ministry of Justice, and added: “I don’t think there is anything DH can do about it.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was for the DCMS to comment.
Queen’s birthday honours: Leaders and activists recognised with honours
Disabled and Deaf leaders, activists and volunteers have been recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours for their campaigning and charity work.
Among those recognised with an MBE was Kath Gillespie-Sells, who founded the disabled lesbian gay bisexual and transgender organisation Regard in 1989.
Now semi-retired, she still works part-time as an equality consultant and a psychotherapist, as well as working “in the background” for Regard.
She described her award as “a recognition, a communication to our world, to our community”.
Others recognised included Jackie Clifton, the founder of Musicians in Focus, who receives an MBE for services to music and visually-impaired people.
She has worked to secure better access to the computer software which allows blind students to take music degree courses.
She said: “There was virtually no access when we started and now there is quite good access and there are a lot more young people coming through to do a music degree, either at music college or university.
“The ones that first started with us at junior college are now approaching the final years of their degree. I am very hopeful that they will go out there and find work for themselves.”
Asif Iqbal, media and project manager for Deaf Parenting UK, said he was “shocked” and “humbled and honoured” to be awarded an MBE for services to deaf and disabled people.
Among his other roles, he is a public appointments ambassador for the Cabinet Office and Government Equalities Office, a member of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, a board member of RADAR, and a member of the British Council’s disability advisory panel.
Peter Pullan, co-founder and former chair of STAGETEXT – the user-led charity whichprovides and promotes captioning and speech-to-text transcription for theatre and other cultural events – receives an MBE for services to Deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing people.
He said he was “delighted” by the honour but also paid tribute to Merfyn Williams and Geoff Brown, who co-founded the organization in 2000.
Richard Lee, STAGETEXT’s current chair, said Pullan had been a “powerful and persuasive advocate for the availability of captioning and speech-to-text transcription in all areas of the UK’s cultural life”.
John Knight, the former director of policy and campaigns for Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD), receives a CBE for services to disabled people.
LCD said Knight had spent 16 years with the charity, “building up our campaigning work from next to nothing”, and had combined this with other roles, including as a magistrate, a board member of the Office for Disability Issues, a commissioner with the Commission for Social Care Inspection and as a Charity Commissioner.
Keith Boot, chair of Amber Valley Access Group, receives an MBE for voluntary service to disabled people in Derbyshire.
The former plumber has been involved with the access group for nearly 20 years, and also advises Amber Valley council on access issues.
He said: “I just try to help people. I realise what it is like to be severely disabled and realise that other people need some help.”
Margaret Oldham receives an MBE for services to disabled people in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.
She said: “I am just shocked. I have spent 25 years as a disabled person working with disabled people and I just didn’t think that anybody would honour me in this way, which is lovely.”
She is chair of DIAL Lowestoft and Waveney and was previously manager of the charity for 17 years, and still leads efforts to raise an annual £40,000 to keep the organisation alive. She also spent 12 years as chair of Waveney Coalition of Disabled People, Carers and Professionals, and 13 years as chair of Suffolk Disability Information Group.
John Fieldus, a fundraising consultant with the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA), was also awarded an MBE. The charity said he was an “exceptional man” and praised his “persistence and tenacity”.
SIA said Fieldus had raised a “vast sum of money” since he began working for the charity 26 years ago, and that his motivation was “not one of self-benefit but rather what can be achieved for others”.
Other disabled people recognised with MBEs included Richard Gleadhill, from York, who has raised funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Jan Dinsdale, for services to blind golf in Northern Ireland.
Competition will seek new ‘apps’ for access
Software developers are being challenged to design new mobile phone applications that would improve the lives of disabled and older people across Europe.
The competition is being organised by the European Disability Forum (EDF), the older people’s network AGE Platform Europe, and the mobile phone company Vodafone.
Entrants can compete for a share of a prize fund of 200,000 euros, with awards for the best smartphone application in the four categories of independent living; mobility; wellbeing; and access to the internet and social media.
Vodafone has said it will work with manufacturers and distributors to ensure the four winning applications are loaded onto mobile phones before they are sold.
Rodolfo Cattani, an EDF executive member, said: “Communication technologies are vital to making the inclusion of people with disabilities possible.
“When mobile apps are not accessible, it can create new obstacles and can lead to new forms of discrimination.”
Labour MEP Richard Howitt, vice-president of the European Parliament’s disability rights group, who helped launch the awards in Brussels, said: “There are so many different apps available on the market, so why not some for improving the lives of disabled people too?”
EDF, AGE Platform Europe and Vodafone will select 12 finalists, who will present their applications in Brussels in December, where the four winners will be chosen.
The closing date for entries to the Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards is 15 October.
Meanwhile, EDF, the European Blind Union (EBU), AGE Platform Europe and the European consumer organisation ANEC have launched a new campaign to improve access to websites, particularly those in the public sector.
In 2008, a European Commission study found that 95 per cent of government websites were inaccessible.
The commission is due to present proposals by the end of 2011 that would ensure that public sector websites and those providing “basic services to citizens” are fully accessible by 2015.
But Lord [Colin] Low, EBU’s president, said these proposals must be “robust”, and added: “It is time to move from words to deeds; we have seen countless declarations, resolutions and communications on this issue over the last 10 years – it is now time to act.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com