The first story in this week’s blog coincides with the Queen presenting the three millionth Motability vehicle to a severely disabled person. I was incensed by the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail’s recent assertions that 3000 families are swanning about in free cars, many of them BMW’s because they have “restless or naughty children”.
Let’s get the facts absolutely clear. Motability has around 600,000 disabled customers. They must be in receipt of the higher rate of the Disabled Living Allowance. This benefit is assessed and then awarded by the DWP nothing whatsoever to do with Motability. Second, 99% of those on the scheme use standard cars. Third, where does the figure of 3000 come from?
As you will see below only around 100 families with ADHD have claimed the higher rate of benefit and only a third of them actually use the Motability Scheme! Is it just me being cynical or could there be a coordinated campaign to portray disabled people in such a poor light that when the really swingeing cuts are proposed the public don’t really care because as far as they are concerned we’re all swinging the lead, malingerers and fraudsters! The knock on effects of such a campaign are pretty scary. More bullying and harassment, more hate crime directed at disabled people, increasing discrimination and intimidation! It is vitally important that we counteract these grossly inaccurate and misleading media stories with balanced and accurate rebuttals.
Tabloid’s Motability story leads to fresh watchdog complaints
Disabled people and disability charities have complained to the press watchdog after a national newspaper suggested there was widespread abuse of the Motability car scheme.
The Mail on Sunday (MoS) claimed that more than 3,000 families of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – which it called “naughty child syndrome” – were “abusing” the benefits system by receiving “free” cars through the scheme.
The Motability scheme allows disabled people claiming the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) to use that benefit to lease an accessible vehicle.
The Mail on Sunday’s sister paper, The Daily Mail, has run a series of stories over the last year alleging widespread fraud and abuse of disability benefits, at least four of which have led to complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
The PCC has received at least 34 complaints about the new MoS story, including one from Disability Alliance (DA), which described the article as “misleading and inaccurate”.
DA said the paper had exaggerated the number of people with ADHD using the Motability scheme, and accused it of a “potentially discriminatory” use of language.
DA said it was “very concerned that a leading national newspaper has used misleading and inaccurate figures on what, for many disabled people and their families, is essential support”.
The charity added: “DLA does not cover the full, higher costs of living disabled people and their families experience but makes a significant contribution – often described as a ‘lifeline’ by recipients.”
The PCC said the article was now being assessed against clauses one and 12 of its code of practice, those relating to accuracy and discrimination.
So far this year, the PCC has found that the Mail did not breach the code with three articles about disability benefits, while a fourth complaint – from Neil Coyle, director of policy for DA – was “resolved” when the paper published a letter from DA and other organisations detailing why the paper’s story was “misleading”.
The Full Fact website, which promotes “accuracy in public debate”, analysed the figures used by the Mail on Sunday and discovered that just 100 people for whom ADHD (or hyperkinetic syndrome) was their “main disabling condition” claimed the higher mobility rate of DLA.
It believes that the MoS then added this to the 3,100 people whose main disabling condition was a “behavioural disorder”.
But Full Fact points out that even this total figure of 3,200 would be misleading, as only 30 per cent of those who are eligible actually lease a car from Motability.
The MoS also claimed that disabled people who need “guidance or supervision most of the time from another person when walking out of doors in unfamiliar places” can obtain a Motability vehicle, when in fact this is the criteria for claiming DLA lower rate mobility.
The Mail on Sunday declined to comment.
NCIL, RADAR and Disability Alliance members approve merger
Three of the country’s leading disability organisations have agreed to merge within months.
Members of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL), RADAR and Disability Alliance (DA) backed the merger at separate annual general meetings held over the last fortnight.
The new charity – Disability Rights UK – will be a disabled people’s organisation (DPO), will be led by a disabled person, and will be run and controlled by disabled people, with disabled people making up at least three-quarters of its board members.
The final approval for the merger came this afternoon at NCIL’s annual general meeting (agm) in south London, with 11 votes in favour and just one abstention.
DA’s members had voted unanimously in favour at their agm, while just one RADAR member voted against the plans.
Mike Smith, NCIL’s chair, assured his members that achieving “meaningful” independent living for disabled people would be one of the new organisation’s four core “tenets”.
Disability Rights UK will also focus on promoting disabled people’s leadership and control, breaking the link between disability and poverty, and campaigning for disability equality and human rights.
The new organisation will be based in RADAR’s current central London headquarters, which are to undergo a major refit, and is likely to begin work on 1 January 2012, although an official launch is not likely until the spring.
Smith said NCIL had been facing an “uncertain financial future”, while members had a “greater chance of achieving our objectives because of the greater size and scale” of the new organisation, which would ensure that the independent living movement “thrives and not just survives”.
Sue Bott, NCIL’s director, said the merger would create a “powerful and a stronger voice” and would allow NCIL to move away from its current “over-reliance on government funds”.
Liz Sayce, the chief executive of RADAR, will lead the new organisation, with Bott its director of development, leading on areas such as co-production, working with DPOs, independent living, and developing leaders within the disability movement.
Disabled individuals and DPOs will be able to become voting members, while “ally” organisations that are not run by disabled people will be able to join, but will not have voting rights.
Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education and treasurer of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), told the agm that Disability Rights UK must recognise the importance of having a “diversity of voices” in the disability movement.
Last year, UKDPC “politely declined” an invitation to join the merged organisation, but pledged to work alongside it.
It also warned last year of the danger of the new organisation setting itself up as the only voice of disabled people, a concern echoed today by Flood.
Bott said: “We are not putting forward Disability Rights UK as the [only] voice of disabled people. That it could never be.”
Sayce said afterwards that she wanted the two organisations to “work in a collaborative and positive way together”, and believed there was room for both UKDPC and Disability Rights UK.
She pointed to UKDPC’s important work on disability hate crime and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Sayce said: “It is fantastic news that three organisations have now voted overwhelmingly in favour of coming together to create an even stronger national organisation led by disabled people, that will enable many more disabled people to have a voice.”
But she said it was too early to say if there would be any redundancies as a result of the merger.
Richard Gutch, interim chief executive of DA, said he felt “excitement” but also “relief” at the vote by NCIL’s members, following nearly three years of negotiations between the three organisations.
(Phil says: As chair of RADAR I’m absolutely delighted that after three years of discussion and detailed negotiation we have delivered what promises to be a really essential organisation run by disabled for disabled people and their supporters. We live in really difficult times and disabled people face an increasingly uncertain future. Disability Rights UK should help to ensure that disabled people’s wishes and views are properly represented at all levels within our society and its communities.)
Labour’s new shadow set to take on Tories over benefits rhetoric
Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people looks set to spearhead a stronger line from the opposition over offensive government rhetoric on the “abuse” of disability benefits.
Anne McGuire was announced as Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people this week, as part of Labour leader Ed Miliband’s first shadow cabinet reshuffle.
McGuire, who has a long-term health condition, was minister for disabled people between 2005 and 2008, and currently co-chairs the all-party parliamentary disability group.
She said she was “delighted” by her appointment and pledged that Labour would be the voice for “those in genuine need, who need extra help to live a full life”.
McGuire told Disability News Service in a statement that disabled people “feel that they are unfairly being portrayed as scroungers and are feeling very vulnerable”.
Her comments were welcomed by disabled activists, who took them as a sign that recent criticism of the Labour leader’s failure to speak out on the issue had had an impact.
They came on the day that The Broken of Britain’s Kaliya Franklin spoke to Miliband by phone to discuss his failure to speak out on behalf of disabled people.
Miliband had promised to discuss the issue with Franklin after she accused him in a televised question and answer session at his party conference of not speaking up because of hostile media attacks that have labelled benefits claimants as “scroungers”.
The Labour party was also accused of blocking attempts at its conference to discuss the problems caused by the controversial “fitness for work” tests, introduced by the previous Labour government.
Disabled campaigners have repeatedly claimed that Conservative ministers and their advisers are causing hostility towards disabled people with inflammatory messages about the abuse of disability benefits.
Earlier this month, ministers used the Conservative party’s annual conference to reinforce the message that many disabled people claiming out-of-work benefits were “abusing” the system.
In her statement, McGuire also pointed to government plans in its welfare reform bill to introduce a new “universal credit”, which she said would see support for disabled children halved, while the severe disability premium – an extra allowance for many disabled people on income support – would be scrapped with “nothing appropriate put in its place”.
She added: “We believe there can be reforms made to the system, but this is the wrong way to do it, and we will do all we can to stop these changes.”
But it is unclear how much of the government’s bill – currently being debated in the Lords – McGuire and her Labour parliamentary colleagues will try to change.
Her predecessor in the role, Margaret Curran, suggested at Labour’s conference that the party would still back key parts of the government’s welfare reform agenda, because it was vital to “get people back to work”. Curran has become the new shadow Scottish secretary.
Miliband has also appointed a new shadow minister for care and older people, Liz Kendall, who is likely to play a key role in responding to the government’s social care white paper, expected next spring.
Ticket office closures would add to transport access woes
The possible closure of hundreds of ticket offices would make it “nigh on impossible” for many disabled people to travel by train, MPs have heard.
The closure of 675 ticket offices was recommended in a report by Sir Roy McNulty, which is currently being considered by the Department for Transport.
Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who secured this week’s debate on disabled people’s access to public transport, called on the government not to approve the proposals.
Nandy said disabled young people had spoken to her of the “indignity and humiliation” they faced when they tried to travel by train, such as being unable to get on and off trains because there were no ramps, or the ramps being too long or too short, or there being no staff available to operate them.
She called on the government to put more pressure on train and bus companies to improve access.
Nandy said that many campaigning organisations, including Transport for All, Whizz-Kidz and Scope, had expressed concerns about access to public transport.
She said: “Not only did they say that the situation is not getting better fast enough, but many are concerned that the situation is getting worse and not better.”
The disabled Conservative MP Paul Maynard pointed to the investigation into rail access carried out by the Trailblazers network of young disabled people, and a subsequent public hearing held by the all-party group on young disabled people.
He said: “Some dreadful cases came to light. Buses pulled away sharply with wheelchairs going everywhere, and passengers with imbalance issues were sent flying.
“We cannot have passengers being left on trains, and we cannot have staff members ignoring them at stations. We cannot have that attitude, but we must recognise that there is a problem because of the age of many of our trains, buses and so on.”
The Liberal Democrat MP Dr Julian Huppert said the “sheer lack of information and the complexity involved in finding information make it very hard” for disabled people to plan a long-distance journey on public transport.
Lilian Greenwood, Labour’s new shadow transport minister, said government cuts of 26 per cent to transport spending would cause “unaffordable fare rises” and route closures.
She said: “Disabled people, who are often on low incomes and especially reliant on public transport, will be hit even harder.”
Mike Penning, the Conservative junior transport minister, said the situation for disabled people was “fundamentally wrong, but it is not easy to resolve”.
He said: “Constituents need to complain to their MPs and their MPs should tell us. If that happens, perhaps we can have a service for the 21st century that everyone deserves.”
Transport for All (TfA), which represents London’s disabled and older transport users, said before the debate that it had urged the government to reject McNulty’s proposals to close ticket offices and cut the jobs of up to 1,000 station staff.
TfA said many disabled people cannot use trains without the assistance of staff, with many blind people relying on them to guide them to platforms, wheelchair-users needing assistance to board trains safely, and many disabled people requiring advice on planning an accessible journey.
Other disabled people cannot use ticket machines and rely on staff to help buy a ticket, said TfA.
Anti-stigma campaign secures £20 million
The mental health anti-stigma campaign Time to Change has secured £20 million in funding over the next four years.
The campaign, run by the charities Mind and Rethink, has been awarded £16 million by the government, in addition to £4 million from Comic Relief, which has been funding Time to Change since 2007.
Among its new projects is a £2.7 million fund that will provide grants to 75 local grassroots organisations to tackle stigma in their own communities.
Some of the new funding will be used to support user-led groups to run community events and activities, with training in event organisation provided to people with mental health conditions with “unfulfilled leadership potential”.
Time to Change will also continue to train and support people to disclose their impairment “safely”, and to challenge stigma at a local level, for instance by setting up new user-led groups.
The campaign believes the funding will allow it to reach 29 million members of the public and increase the confidence of 100,000 people with mental health conditions to challenge stigma and discrimination.
There will be a particular focus on the stigma faced by children and young people, and those from black and minority ethnic communities, which will start by targeting the African Caribbean community.
A survey carried out last month found that more than 40 per cent of people with mental health conditions who were in touch with the campaign were experiencing stigma and discrimination on at least a monthly basis.
But the Institute of Psychiatry has measured a four per cent reduction in the discrimination reported by people with mental health conditions as a result of Time to Change.
Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications director, who has spoken publicly about his own mental health condition, helped the campaign with its appeal to Comic Relief for funding.
He wrote on his blog that he and Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, had argued that mental health was “an area where the stigma and discrimination were often worse than the symptoms, and that the campaign was focused on one of the hardest things of all – changing attitudes”.
He added: “Mental illness is perhaps the last great taboo, and we need to break it down.”
Baker said: “We have worked hard over the last four years to secure the beginnings of change in society, and have seen robust evidence of a reduction in discrimination.
“But it takes more than four years to overturn decades of prejudice – this is the work of a generation.”
Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, said: “Coping with a mental health condition is difficult enough without the added burden of overcoming discrimination too.
“That’s why I am committing up to £16 million over the next three and a half years to Time to Change to help fight the negative attitudes people have towards mental health conditions.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com