For most people the thought of becoming disabled is a pretty awful prospect and one that they would rather avoid. I don’t have too many problems with this thinking. For those of us who have already made the switch from non-disabled to disabled there is plenty to be really positive about! Many of us have got used to the idea and have created strategies for dealing with the challenges we face. It is however very difficult to maintain a positive outlook when media coverage continually portray us as scroungers, benefit cheats, the butt of comedians jokes or the subjects of hate crime. When are we going to see stories showing the potential and real value of disabled people. I don’t mean stories that show us as brave, courageous and worthy of pity but as people who are determined, resolute and hard working! Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
A new bill that would put right “one of the most fundamental wrongs in the social care system” has been introduced by a disabled peer.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell’s social care portability bill received its first reading in the House of Lords this week.
Her private members’ bill would provide continuity of support for disabled people who choose to relocate to another local authority area in England or Wales.
The bill would place duties on councils to work together to ensure disabled people have equivalent care and support in place when they arrive at their new home, rather than having to renegotiate their package from scratch.
Baroness Campbell said: “We all have a human right to move home around the country, to be close to family and friends or a job, university and so on.
“Or so I thought, until I tried to move 22 years ago. It was then I found out that thousands of disabled and older people who receive social care support do not enjoy this same right.”
She said her bill would put right this “fundamental wrong”.
The government has signalled that it wants to see greater “portability of assessment” – which it again confirmed this week – but this would only ensure that disabled people do not need to be reassessed when they relocate and not that they would secure the same level of support in their new home.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the need for portability was “a fundamental point of principle”.
She said: “It is really time this was corrected. I challenge the government not to support this.”
But she said she was concerned that the bill’s principles could clash with the government’s push for “localism” – more decisions taken at local level – even though they fit in well with David Cameron’s “Big Society” agenda and his party’s call for people to support each other in their communities.
Bott said the new bill would help disabled people take up job opportunities, and make it easier for older people to move closer to their families, reducing the money councils need to spend on support.
RADAR, which has supported Baroness Campbell with her bill, also welcomed its publication.
Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, said: “Making portability rights a reality would enable disabled people to pursue work or education opportunities, or allow them to live nearer family and friends for greater security and support.”
In her review of disability employment support for the government, published earlier this month, Sayce said the lack of portable social care was a key barrier to employment for disabled people.
Mencap hate campaign ‘must not distract’ from wider efforts
Disabled activists have welcomed a new campaign aimed at improving the way the police handle hate crime against people with learning difficulties, but have warned that it could distract from wider efforts to address the issue.
The charity Mencap this week launched its Stand By Me campaign, and a report based on research examining 14 police forces across England.
Mark Goldring, Mencap’s chief executive, said: “We continue to hear reports of incidents being dismissed as ‘only antisocial behaviour’ with little or no real action being taken.
“For the people with a learning disability who are suffering from daily abuse, attacks and harassment, this is simply not good enough.”
The report calls for better training in most police forces on “identifying, recording and handling hate crime reports made by people with a learning disability”.
Among its other recommendations, it says forces should: build partnerships with disabled people’s organisations and those run by people with learning difficulties; ensure there is at least one officer with “dedicated responsibility” for dealing with hate crime; and encourage third-party reporting.
Anne Novis, who leads on hate crime issues for the UK Disabled People’s Council, welcomed Mencap’s decision to campaign on hate crime but said the focus on people with learning difficulties was “a distraction”.
She said the focus should not be impairment-specific, but on “why people vilify and view disabled people as a valid target”.
She wants to see a national pan-disability campaign, led by disabled people, with funding for organisations to “come together and work together” on addressing disability hate crime.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said that hate crime “happens across all disabilities and age groups, and the failures are systemic and deep”.
He said it was important to address not only police failings, but also those of other organisations, such as housing associations, neighbourhood watch schemes and residential homes.
He said: “Our message is clear and unambiguous – we all need to work together across all sectors to stop this appalling crime.”
A Mencap spokeswoman said that many of its recommendations would improve the police’s treatment of all disability hate crime victims.
She said Mencap had been working with pan-disability campaigners who have been supportive of its work and “recognise the campaign has generally raised awareness of hate crime against disabled people” and has given campaigners a “good platform to talk about the issues more generally”.
She added: “Mencap will continue to work with people from across the disability sector as well as the police and other statutory agencies to support disability hate crime victims and help end hate crime.”
Government ‘used Motability claims to stir up hostility’
The government has been accused again of stirring up hostility against disabled people and running a “deliberate smearing campaign”, after stories appeared in national newspapers about alleged abuse of the Motability car scheme.
A Sunday Times “investigation” claimed friends and relatives were misusing the cars that disabled people have obtained through the Motability scheme, while the Daily Mail described this misuse as a “scam”.
The Sunday Times claimed government officials were concerned that the disabled people’s car scheme had “mushroomed out of control” and was “so generous that it encourages people to submit spurious claims or to try to keep a benefit to which they are no longer entitled”.
The Mail said the government “hopes that its planned reform of the disability living allowance (DLA) will help stamp out such abuses by introducing closer scrutiny of the system and considering whether Motability is the best option for everyone”.
Many disabled activists are convinced that the source of the story was within the government, which they say is trying to soften up the public for cuts to spending on DLA and its replacement with a new personal independence payment (PIP).
Anne Novis, a leading disability hate crime campaigner, said the story “smacks of government preparing to withdraw DLA and Motability schemes or tighten them exclusively to those they deem ‘severely disabled’”.
She added: “Any scheme can be abused but the fact that this and other statements about disabled people’s benefits, allowances and support being misused are coming out from Whitehall almost every week indicates a deliberate smearing campaign against us as disabled people.
“We are cursed, reviled, demeaned at every turn because people now think they have ‘permission’ from government to treat us this way.”
Novis has given evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) inquiry into disability-related harassment that disabled people’s cars have been “repeatedly vandalized” and set on fire over the last few years.
She added: “For the government to now incite such misunderstandings about the Motability schemes will incite more hostility towards us yet again.”
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK (DM UK), said she also believed the stories would stir up further hostility towards disabled people.
She said she said she would be “absolutely appalled” if the government was behind the stories.
Last week, DM UK completed its Alps Challenge, in which disabled volunteers recreated a 1,500 mile journey across the Alps in 1947 on a petrol-driven tricycle to highlight the importance of providing mobility support to disabled people.
Dolphin said: “The Alps Challenge was to demonstrate how far we had come since 1947, with fantastic adaptations and the fact that we do have Motability and DLA to pay for it, but it seems when you read articles like this that people would like us to step backwards to when we were pushing people around in little blue trikes.”
Motability said its scheme was abused only by “a small minority” of people, while the “overwhelming majority of our customers are hugely deserving individuals with real physical impairments”.
In 2010/11, about 800 people were removed from the scheme for abuse, out of 580,000 customers – less than 0.14 per cent.
Another 500 people were prevented from joining or renewing their agreements, but Motability said many of these were due to driving convictions and so unrelated to misuse.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “Motability is an independent charity which is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the scheme and DWP has regular reviews to monitor its performance.
“Motability provides a vital service for disabled people. However, any misuse of taxpayers’ money is unacceptable and it is essential that we get the gateway to receipt of DLA right, which is why we are introducing the PIP.”
But when asked whether the story originated from the DWP and was another attempt to soften up the public in advance of cuts and reforms of DLA, she declined to comment.
MP’s ‘prejudiced’ minimum wage claim sparks anger
A Conservative MP who suggested disabled people should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage has been dismissed by campaigners as “ill-informed” and “prejudiced”.
Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, told fellow MPs that minimum wage legislation prevented disabled people from climbing onto the “first rung of the employment ladder”.
Davies, who appeared confused about the difference between learning difficulties and mental health conditions, said it was “inevitable that the employer would take on the person who was going to be more productive and less of a risk”.
He added: “The point is that if an employer is considering two candidates, one who has disabilities and one who does not, and if they have to pay them both the same rate, which is the employer more likely to take on?”
He said that allowing disabled people to work for less than minimum wage would give them the chance to “prove themselves” and so possibly “move up the pay rates much more quickly”.
But the Conservative business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk said disabled workers “do not have equal bargaining power when compared with their employer” and would face the risk of “exploitation” if they could work for below the minimum wage.
The MPs were debating a private members’ bill proposed by another Conservative MP, Christopher Chope, which would allow people to choose to work for below the minimum wage. Chope’s bill was denied a second reading by 23 votes to five.
Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager, accused Davies of making “ill-informed, prejudiced comments”.
She said the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled people was 20 per cent for men and 12 per cent for women, which was “a gross injustice”, and added: “Many disabled people can get into a job and have sustainable careers – if they have the support that they need and if discrimination is tackled.”
Richard Exell, a TUC senior policy officer, said that “excluding disabled people from the minimum wage would be a badge of second-class citizenship”.
Exell, who himself has a mental health condition, added: “It is a preposterous suggestion that someone who has a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than the minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said Davies’ comments were “nonsense”, and added: “Evidence from our inquiry into disability-related harassment suggests that the perpetrators view disabled people as worth less than other people.
“We will be writing to Mr Davies in due course to remind him of his responsibilities and will be inviting him to attend an evidence session for this inquiry.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com