Motability, News Bias, Gervais in trouble, Public Transport

Following on from last weeks posting more information is emerging concerning the Motability Scheme and I’ve copied this in. What is also interesting is there is some evidence that the news media is printing more negative stories about disabled people and there issues. See below.

On a more positive note I chaired a wonderful event hosted at No 10 Downing St by Mrs Cameron. It was a celebration of RADAR’s Leadership Programme and over 100 guests were present to meet, and hear from young people who have successfully completed the programme and who are now moving to the next stage of their leadership journey. A fabulous event and a memorable evening. Once the guests left I and members of RADAR’s staff team prepared to leave! There was of course a slight problem! (Why wouldnt there be? Phil Friend was involved!) The platform lift, designed to negotiate a few steps in order to access the main lift, resolutely refused to let me get off it! After several attempts at solving the problem I suggested I stayed the night! Did they have any sleeping bags available? Finally we parked my chair at the top of the stairs. I then transferred onto an ordinary chair positioned on the platform and then succefully made the journey down. RADAR staff then dragged me on the chair off the platform and my own chair was then transported safely down! No 10 staff were obviously very apologetic but to be fair the lift was the problem not them. Someone did suggest that perhaps the issue was weight but I refuse to go there!! Have a good week!
Motability rule change means disabled people must drive cheaper cars

Disabled people have reacted angrily after they were told they will no longer be able to drive vehicles worth over £25,000 through the Motability car scheme.

The announcement of tighter new rules by Motability follows a series of inaccurate, hostile and disablist media reports attacking the disabled people’s car scheme.

Earlier this month, campaigners complained to the press watchdog after the Mail on Sunday suggested there was widespread abuse of the scheme.

The paper claimed that more than 3,000 families of people withattention deficit hyperactivity disorder – which it called “naughty child syndrome” – were “abusing” the benefits system by receiving “free” cars through the scheme.

It claimed that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was “determined to stop what he regards as abuse of free cars for the disabled”, and said the Motability website “openly advises claimants how to use the benefit to get luxury cars”. The newspaper later published a series of corrections to its story.

Duncan Smith is attempting to force through a controversial package of welfare reforms, including proposals to cut spending on disability living allowance (DLA) by a fifth.

In a statement announcing the rule changes, Motability’s chair, Lord Sterling, mentioned “recent press comments” which had focused on customers obtaining “prestige” cars through the scheme.

He stressed that only five per cent of cars leased through the scheme had a recommended retail price of more than £25,000 – those available only with an advance payment of more than £2,000.

The average car obtained through the Motability scheme is worth £19,500, far less than the UK average of over £28,000. Motability vehicles can only be obtained by disabled people claiming the higher rate mobility component of DLA.

Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for the user-led charity Disabled Motoring UK, said she was “angry” and “disappointed” with the new rule, and accused Motability of bowing to media pressure.

She said: “I feel they have listened too much to the negative press reports and reacted to them in this way.

“I am saddened by it because it is restricting the choice of the car for disabled people.”

Dolphin also pointed out that the new rule would not save the government any money on its benefits bill.

She said: “It is not going to save a penny. It is going to limit people who have chosen to drive a slightly more expensive car.

“If the government think that restricting vehicles for disabled people is going to save money, they have clearly misunderstood what the scheme is about.”

She said there was a “gross misunderstanding” about the scheme in the media and among the public, who failed to realise that if a disabled person wants to obtain a prestige car they have to pay a much higher advance payment.

She said she would not in future be able to lease the Motability car she currently drives, because it was worth more than £25,000.

She said: “It was a completely personal choice because I do a lot of mileage and I wanted a car that could reach reasonable speeds and was safe to drive.

“Is it outrageous for me to want to have a nice car? I work full-time and I put my money towards it. What is outrageous about it? I don’t get it.”

But Dolphin said she did agree with some of the other changes introduced by Motability, such as only accepting named drivers – people the disabled customer can choose to drive their car – who live within five miles of the DLA claimant. Previously this was set at 25 miles.

Motability also said that from January 2012 it would no longer accept named drivers under the age of 21, unless they lived with the disabled customer.

And Lord Sterling said Motability would “invest further in our capacity to investigate and act on allegations of abuse, as well as piloting new vehicle technologies to monitor how cars are used where we perceive the greatest risk of abuse”.

Asked whether Motability had bowed to government and media pressure, a spokeswoman declined to comment.

She also declined to comment when asked whether Motability believed the new maximum price would actually cut government spending on disability benefits.
Gervais sparks storm over disablist word

Comedian Ricky Gervais has sparked a storm of protest from disabled people and other campaigners after repeatedly using an offensive and disablist word in messages on the social media network Twitter.

Gervais sent a string of “tweets” that used the word “mong” – a term of abuse used to refer to people with Down’s syndrome.

He claimed he would never use the word about people with Down’s syndrome, and that because its meaning had changed it was OK to use it as a generalised term of abuse.

But Andrew Lee, director of People First Self Advocacy, an organisation run by people with learning difficulties, said he knew people with learning difficulties who had been called “mong”.

He described the word as “an offensive disability term” and said Gervais and other comedians who used disablist terms of abuse were probably “oblivious to the actual spite”.

He said: “If people actually think that that statement is cool, then it most definitely is not cool.

“He has lost an awful lot of street cred and if the people who watch him at the moment want any kind of street cred they would desert him in their droves.”

He said people should stop watching Gervais’s programmes and buying his DVDs.

Lee added: “Individuals like him only sit up and take notice when their pocket is actually hurt.”

He said Gervais’s excuses were “pathetic”, and added: “He probably knows he has done something wrong but doesn’t want to admit it. I don’t think he has any kind of morals. Maybe he hasn’t had to fight for anything in his life.”

Alice Maynard, a leading disabled campaigner and director of the consultancy Future Inclusion, said Gervais’s use of the word was “unacceptable”.

She said she was most shocked that Gervais had used the word last year to insult the singer Susan Boyle, who has a learning difficulty, telling fans at a live show that she “looks like a mong”.

Gervais then went on to joke about how easy it was to say the word “mong”, and added: “Even mongs can say it. That’s part of the beauty of the word.”

Maynard said: “If he applied the term to Susan Boyle it doesn’t suggest to me that he is using it in a completely abstract sense, because Susan Boyle has a learning difficulty.”

But she added: “We should question and challenge in a constructive way rather than going, ‘no, you may not say this or that.’”

Comedian Richard Herring, a long-time supporter of the disability charity Scope, used Twitter to criticise Gervais, and questioned why he would use a word which “demeans and offends” disabled people.

Herring spent much of the week replying to critical Tweets from fans of Gervais and trying to explain why the word was offensive, telling his followers he was “trying to explain [the] impact of disablist language on disabled people”.
More news is bad news, says report

There has been a “significant increase” in the number of negative stories about disabled people in national newspapers over the last six years, according to new research.

The Bad News for Disabled People report, which compared articles from 2004-05 and 2010-11, found that the proportion of stories about disability benefit fraud had more than doubled.

When focus groups were asked to describe a typical story in the newspapers about disability, benefit fraud was the most common subject mentioned.

There were also more stories discussing the alleged “burden” that disabled people are placing on the economy, and a fall in the number of articles about disability discrimination.

All the focus groups used by the researchers thought fraud was much higher than its true level, with suggestions that as many as 70 per cent of claims were fraudulent, justifying this by referring to articles they had read in newspapers.

Government figures estimate that the overpayment of incapacity benefit due to fraud is just £20 million a year, or 0.3 per cent of spending.

The report, written by the University of Glasgow’s Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research and Glasgow Media Group and commissioned by the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London, concludes that there has been a shift from a “largely patronising portrayal of disabled people” in 2004-05 to one where “the predominant focus has been on disabled people as scroungers”.

There has also been a sharp rise in the use of offensive language used to describe disabled people, with terms such as “scrounger”, “cheat” and “skiver” found in 18 per cent of tabloid articles about disability in 2010-11 compared to 12 per cent in the same period in 2004-5.

The Daily Mirror increased its use of “pejorative” – unpleasant or disparaging – language from 4.3 per cent to 8.8 per cent of articles, but the greatest increase was found in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Sun.

There was a large fall in the number of articles in which the suggestion that disabled people were “deserving” claimants of benefits was a “dominant theme”, with such articles in the Sun falling from 7.9 per cent in 2004-05 to zero in 2010-11, in the Daily Express falling from 6.2 per cent to 1.1 per cent, and in the Daily Mail falling from 1.4 per cent to 0.8 per cent.

This coverage contrasted with the Guardian and the Daily Mirror, both of which ran stories expressing concern about the impact of cuts to disability benefits on disabled people.

Professor Nick Watson, of the Strathclyde Centre, said: “Much of the coverage in the tabloid press is at best questionable and some of it is deeply offensive.”

Researchers found a “significant increase” in the reporting of disability in the five newspapers over the last six years, with 713 disability-related articles in 2004-5 compared with 1,015 in a similar period in 2010-11.

Anne Kane, Inclusion London’s policy manager, said media coverage was becoming more offensive at the same time that disabled people were facing the “savage impact” of government spending cuts.

She said: “The researchers at Glasgow University have done a great service by analysing the disturbing way in which bad government policy finds its reflection in pejorative language and an increasing portrayal of disabled people as ‘undeserving’.”

A senior Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “It is difficult for us to comment on what stories the media run or choose not to run.

“Ministers have said repeatedly that what they wanted to do is get the system working the way it should do for people who need help from the welfare state. We are not interested in tarring people as fraudsters or anything like that.”

He denied that the government was failing to take any action when newspapers published inaccurate and hostile stories about disability benefits.

Although he could not say whether he and his colleagues had complained about particular stories or to particular papers, he said DWP press officers frequently phoned the media when they published or broadcast inaccurate stories.

He added: “We phone up journalists and we attempt to correct the stories. My team do it, I do it, we try and correct articles when we see inaccuracies.”
Government is ‘talking up’ benefit fraud, says shadow minister

Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people has accused the government of “talking up” the issue of disability benefit fraud as it attempts to push through its sweeping welfare reforms.

Anne McGuire, herself a former minister for disabled people, told Disability News Service that she was “highly critical” of the “context” the government had created around its welfare reforms.

She was particularly critical of the focus on “benefits cheats”, when the government’s own figures show that only a “tiny proportion” of disability benefits claims are fraudulent.

She said: “People who cheat on disability benefits are not disabled people, and [the amount of fraud] is a tiny proportion.”

Government figures estimate that the overpayment of incapacity benefit due to fraud is just £20 million a year, or 0.3 per cent of spending.

She also attacked the government for not doing more to address offensive and inaccurate stories about “cheats” and “scroungers” in the media.

She said: “They certainly do not appear to have done anything to mitigate the wilder accusations in the tabloid media. That is something I will be wanting to raise in the Commons.”

She was speaking days after being appointed as her party’s new shadow minister for disabled people.

McGuire also criticised ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions – including the disabled people’s minister, Maria Miller – for failing to work more closely with disabled people on the welfare reform bill.

She said: “We had two major welfare bills, I was minister on one of them, but we worked with disabled people at all points in developing the policies and in the parliamentary process.

“I do not yet have the confidence that the government – the Department for Work and Pensions ministers – are listening and responding to some of the concerns.”

And McGuire said there was “great concern” about government plans to scrap disability living allowance and replace it with a new “personal independence payment”.

She said her party would “continue to challenge” the government on the bill, which is currently passing through the Lords, but was unable to say which disability-related elements of the welfare reforms her party might target for possible concessions.
Maynard hopes bill will bring dignity to public transport

A disabled MP is attempting to introduce new legislation that would extend free travel concessions in England to disabled people who use community transport services.

Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said extending the concessionary scheme was a matter of “human dignity”.

The scheme provides disabled people and over 60s with free off-peak travel on local buses and some other forms of public transport.

But the free travel does not usually apply if the user needs to use community transport – such as a dial-a-ride service – because of their mobility impairment.

Maynard told MPs: “To me, that imbalance seems to be not only unfair, but contrary to the spirit of human dignity.”

He added: “I understand that many councils seek to subsidise travel for those who are disabled in various ways. However, not every council does, and with increasing budgetary pressures… I fear that fewer and fewer will.”

His bill follows a report by the transport select committee in August, which found that most local authorities in England had cut funding for bus services.

The report on the impact of government spending cuts on bus services in England – except for those in London – backed the government’s commitment to protect free bus travel for older and disabled people.

But it pointed out that the concessionary scheme does not apply to most of England’s 1,700 community transport providers, and called for a change in the law.

Maynard’s bill would amend the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 so that people with “complex mobility problems” who cannot access public transport could use their concessionary passes on community transport services.

The bill was introduced under the ten-minute rule, one of the ways in which backbench MPs can introduce legislation. Such bills rarely become law and are mainly an opportunity for MPs to highlight an important issue.

But Maynard said afterwards: “I am happy with the support the motion got from all sides of the house and I very much look forward to its second reading in February next year.

“This is a great step forward in bringing fairness and equality to many people who have thus far been denied what others take for granted due to disability or mobility issues.”
DPO hopes funding will turn volunteers into employees

A disabled people’s organisation has secured £300,000 of National Lottery funding to support disabled young people into volunteer placements.

The three-year Including Disabled Volunteers project aims to provide workplace experience that will make it easier for young people to move into paid work, education or training.

Those taking part will be offered information, advice and guidance, as well as workshops and training on issues such as assertiveness, life skills, job-readiness training and job-seeking support.

The project is being run by Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability (HAFAD) and Hammersmith and Fulham Volunteer Centre.

Sarah Robinson, HAFAD’s fundraising manager, said the project would “make a huge difference to disabled young people who are desperate to work and desperate to have independent lives”.

She said many people find paid work as a result of volunteering opportunities, but young disabled people are not being offered such placements.

They also do not usually have the opportunity to build up their skills, CVs and confidence through the part-time or Saturday jobs that non-disabled young people often find while at school or college, she said.

Robinson said the opportunities were “really not there for them” and they were “not getting the kind of support that would help them get a job”.

She said the project would also provide support similar to that offered through the Access to Work scheme for disabled people in paid work.

She added: “When they are going for a job they will be able to talk confidently about how they use assistive technology or a personal assistant in the workplace.

“If you can do that in an interview and give an employer a vision of how it can work, it could dramatically improve your chances of getting a job.”

She warned that government support aimed at helping disabled people into jobs – through its new Work Programme and the Work Choice scheme – “really isn’t working, except for people who do not need much in the way of reasonable adjustments”.

Kamran Mallick, HAFAD’s director, said the two organisations were “thrilled” to receive the funding, which would “help to create a lasting change” and enable young disabled people to “raise their aspirations and confidence in their abilities”.

He said the project would “support the third sector to take a strategic approach to the removal of barriers that prevent disabled people from volunteering and gaining employment”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Author: PhilFriend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) himself a wheelchair user, is acknowledged as the UK’s foremost consultant on disability matters. A powerful and highly popular communicator, his company – Phil & Friends – provides consultancy to many of the country’s best-known companies. In addition to his professional activities, he is also a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general, where his special blend of humour and direct speaking has won admirers from around the world.

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