Welcome! Yet more stories and programmes about benefit scroungers and people masquerading as disabled in order to defraud the system. I’m still waiting for programmes and articles that discuss or portray the other side of the coin. Examples could include the fact that Motability sells or leases 600,000 new vehicles. What does that mean in terms of jobs and the profitability of the car industry? For every pound invested through the Access to Work Scheme the government get back one pound forty-eight pence! Seems like a good investment to me! Local authorities provide financial support, which enables severely disabled people to employ support workers. How does that help the employment figures? The five hundred thousand of us who use wheelchairs are presumably pretty important to wheelchair manufacturers and their staff. Disabled people such as Roosevelt, Churchill, Hawkings, Fry and Branson made, or are continuing to make, an extraordinary contribution to our world. We’re clearly not all useless lazy cheats!
Anger and shock over BBC’s ‘offensive’ welfare documentary
Outraged campaigners have attacked the BBC for screening an “offensive” documentary about the benefits system.
Campaigners say that the documentary – presented by the veteran BBC journalist John Humphrys – was “shockingly poor” and little better than “propaganda” for the government’s welfare reforms.
The BBC has received 136 complaints about the programme, of which “about 45” mentioned its coverage of disability benefits.
The programme, The Future State of Welfare, claimed that government figures showed that “three-quarters of new claimants who were tested were deemed not to merit” employment and support allowance, the new replacement for incapacity benefit.
In fact, government figures show that of those tested, and once the many successful appeals are included, only just over half of claimants have so far been found fit for work.
The documentary also failed to point out the extensive criticisms of the severity, inaccuracy and inflexibility of the controversial “fitness for work” test, the work capability assessment (WCA).
Instead, Humphrys told viewers that “more stringent” tests had been brought in to “try to flush out people who are claiming on health grounds when they should not be”.
He also failed to point out that government figures show that incapacity benefit fraud is just 0.3 per cent of spending.
A BBC News spokesman said the programme could not be described as “disablist” because “those who are genuinely unable to work through disability or incapacity should not be impacted by the change in policy we examine”.
He refused to accept that the BBC should not have used the “three-quarters of new claimants” figure, or that the programme-makers had misunderstood what the figures actually showed.
The programme-makers have also been criticised for asking pollsters Ipsos MORI to put a “leading” and “loaded” question about IB to members of the public.
The pollsters asked those taking part if they agreed with the statement: “We need stricter tests to ensure people claiming IB because of sickness or disability are genuinely unable to work.”
Tom Mludzinski, a senior research executive with Ipsos MORI, said the company did not believe it was a leading question.
He said: “We had the chief executive and the managing director look at the question to make sure it wasn’t leading.”
But he accepted that few of those questioned would have known what the WCA actually entailed.
He said: “I’m sure it is not a great deal [of people] but that is not to say that people that don’t know about it don’t have an opinion.”
The Labour MP John McDonnell said he was “shocked” by the “offensive” documentary, which “bears no relationship to reality” and was “based on prejudice”.
Disabled activist John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, which campaigns against the unfair use of the WCA, said he was “disgusted” by the programme, which “reinforced stereotypes of people on incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance”.
He said: “We have been working solidly for the past couple of years to dispel these myths and programmes such as that are grossly irresponsible in that we see a responding rise in hate crime and victimisation of disabled people.”
The disabled blogger Mason Dixon, Autistic, who has complained to the BBC, said there were “more omissions, half-truths and blatant untruths in the programme than there are minutes in it”.
He said there was “no intention to be balanced or rigorous” with the “investigation”, and added: “Talking points which are common among government ministers and newspapers hostile to benefit claimants were presented as concrete facts and clearly were intended to advance the shared agenda of all of them towards Britain’s existing welfare system.”
The BBC spokesman said Humphrys had interviewed a woman with ME who had gone through a WCA and – he claimed – “clearly outlined how distressing she had found it”.
He added: “Both the BBC and John Humphrys consider the programme to be a success – it challenged preconceptions while remaining a balanced and accurate analysis of both emerging policy and public opinion in this highly contentious area.”
Alarm as government cuts time limit for benefits form
A sudden government move to cut the length of time benefit claimants have to fill in a lengthy medical questionnaire will make it harder for them to obtain the support they need, say campaigners.
Disabled people claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit, previously had six weeks to fill in the lengthy ESA50 questionnaire as part of their claim.
But the government has now cut this time limit from six to four weeks, without warning.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the move – on 10 October – would deny many disabled people the opportunity to gather the information they needed.
He said it would lead to disabled people being forced to undergo unnecessary medical assessments at the hands of the government’s much-criticised contractors, Atos Healthcare.
The House of Lords merits of statutory instruments committee has also been critical of the sudden move, and said the government had failed to explain how the change would benefit either the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or ESA claimants.
Coyle said: “The DWP is making an already difficult process harder for disabled people and risks wasting considerable sums of public money.
“Disabled people who cannot get their health consultant to respond in the short time permitted may now have to attend a pointless [Atos] assessment no matter how ill or what the impairment is.
“This wastes limited time and money and the government should focus instead on ensuring appropriate timeframes are used and on delivering the recommendations to improve the assessment process promised last year which are not only undelivered but are now also undermined in further arbitrary time limiting.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “The timescales were previously based on those for incapacity benefit, which included an additional 14 days for claimants to contact their GPs to make an appointment.
“This is not needed for ESA claims and it is therefore reasonable to reduce the timescales.
“We recognise concerns about the effects on vulnerable people, especially those with mental health problems.
“As a consequence, we are retaining all existing safeguards for those claimants who demonstrate that they had good cause for failing to return the questionnaire on time.
“Decision makers must consider the claimant’s state of health, nature of disability and whether they were in Great Britain before deciding if the claimant has good cause for not completing the questionnaire on time.”
Relief over government’s Access to Work driving U-turn
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has rewritten rules that were making it harder for disabled people to use a key employment support scheme to find and keep work.
The new rules had been highlighted by the Essex-based disabled people’s organisation ecdp in August after it was contacted by members and staff concerned by the new restrictions on Access to Work (AtW) funding.
The updated rules, introduced on 1 August, meant disabled people driven to and from work by their personal assistant (PA) were no longer able to claim AtW funding for that travel if they were being driven in their PA’s car.
Instead, they would have to insure the PA to drive their own car – if they had one – or a company car, or use taxis, or ask their PA to apply for a minicab licence.
The DWP claimed the new rules were introduced to comply with new Department for Transport (DfT) guidance on private hire vehicle licensing.
They came at a time when the government has been defending its commitment to the AtW scheme – only last week, government figures revealed alarming new evidence of a slump in the number of “new customers” helped by AtW.
Following coverage of the new AtW rules by Disability News Service and in other media, ecdp was contacted by other disabled people and organisations concerned about the implications of the changes.
The DWP has now agreed to return to its original rules, so that those using AtW to pay support workers to drive – using the support worker’s own car – will be able to continue to do so.
Mike Adams, ecdp’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted that DWP has reviewed the position and responded in such a positive way.
“We know that many disabled people with good jobs were concerned that the change in guidance would force them to give up the support that enables them to work.
“This commitment from DWP to ensure that this barrier does not prevent disabled people working with unnecessary constraints and at cost to the public purse, will be welcomed by disabled people in Essex and beyond.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “The bar on AtW being used in this way was intended to protect support workers and disabled people from any possible prosecution by licensing authorities under a strict interpretation of the DfT legislation.
“Having considered and discussed with DfT their supplementary guidance we have concluded we can revert to our earlier position and this took effect from 12 October. AtW staff have contacted any individuals affected by the change.”
Hate crime sentencing breakthrough
Disabled activists have welcomed a campaigning breakthrough after the government agreed to correct a major disparity in the sentencing of disability hate crime murders.
Justice secretary Ken Clarke announced that the government would introduce amendments in the House of Lords to ensure that the “tariff” for disability-motivated murders would match that for other hate crime murders.
There is currently a starting tariff – which can be increased or lowered due to other factors – of 15 years for disability-motivated murders, compared with 30 years for those with a sexual, racial or religious motivation.
The Labour MP Kate Green had proposed a new clause to the government’s legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which would have corrected the sentencing anomaly.
Her clause was supported by the disabled Conservative MP Paul Maynard, who said there would be “utter incomprehension” among disabled people if MPs failed to “make progress on this issue, which should be a simple matter of human dignity and equality”.
During the bill’s report stage this week, Clarke promised that the government would bring forward an amendment to align the tariffs for disability-motivated hate crime murders with other hate crime murders when the bill moves to the Lords.
Green paid tribute to the efforts of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and other campaigners, in achieving the breakthrough.
Katharine Quarmby, whose ground-breaking new book Scapegoatinvestigates disability hate crime and who has been campaigning on the sentencing disparity since 2007, was among those praised by Green in the Commons.
Quarmby welcomed the “long overdue” change, and said: “I am so pleased that the government is honouring its pledge to alter the law so that murders committed because of a victim’s disability can be sentenced in the same way as murders committed for other forms of hate crime.”
She also praised Clarke’s commitment to wipe out the similar disparity for murders committed through hostility to transgender status.
She said: “I applaud the work of MPs working together, across party lines, to further this important reform, and also the work done by so many charities, so many disabled people and the families of those bereaved, behind the scenes, to make this reform reality.”
The bill, which will also cut an estimated £350 million a year from the £2 billion legal aid budget for England and Wales by 2014-15, completed its progress through the Commons this week and now moves to the Lords.
Critics have warned that the legal aid cuts will lead to the “decimation” of the civil law system and cause huge problems for disabled people.
Among the areas where eligibility for legal aid is set to be removed are legal advice on benefits and less serious housing and debt issues.
Manchester police back under spotlight, after ignoring calls about dead man
A police force has been criticised by an independent watchdog for ignoring two phone calls expressing serious concerns about the health of a disabled man, who was later found dead.
It is just the latest in a series of concerns over how Greater Manchester Police (GMP) responds to disability-related incidents.
Philip Dorsett, a wheelchair-user, was found dead in a carpark near his home in Great Lever, Bolton, at about 9.20am on 16 December 2010.
But despite receiving calls at 7.14am and 8.59am from a neighbour who had spoken to Dorsett but received no response, no police officer attended to check on him.
Dorsett was known to police because of frequent calls made about his welfare, but carried a sign on his mobility scooter saying “do not call the emergency services I’m OK”.
Minutes after the second call, police received a call from the ambulance service, saying they were responding to a report that Dorsett had been found dead in a carpark.
As a result of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) probe, a GMP police constable and two members of call-handling staff have received “management action”, although the IPCC said there was “no evidence to suggest Mr Dorsett might have lived with a quicker response”.
IPCC commissioner Naseem Malik said: “It is evident that due to the past history of calls about Mr Dorsett the police officers and staff involved made assumptions on this occasion. This was clearly a mistake.
“Police officers and staff should treat each call they receive on its own merits. This call clearly needed an urgent response.”
Peter Fahy, GMP’s chief constable, said: “We are very clear that once the call was made to us we should have dealt with it properly and sent an officer.”
But it is not the first case in which GMP has been criticised for its attitude towards disabled people and disability-related incidents.
In March, the IPCC heavily criticised GMP for its “total failure” to treat the “years of torment” experienced by David Askew at the hands of local youths as disability hate crime.
Askew, who had learning difficulties, collapsed and died from “natural causes” in March 2010 soon after police received reports that youths had again been harassing him outside his home in Hattersley, on the edge of Manchester.
Between 2004 and 2010, Askew and his family – his mother and brother are also disabled – reported 88 incidents of targeted harassment and hostility, threats and abuse.
There were also questions raised last year about whether GMP failed to investigate a brutal and sustained attack by three teenagers on a young man with Asperger’s syndrome as a potential disability hate crime. The attack lasted three days.
Garry Shewan, an assistant chief constable with GMP, said: “These cases and others like them demonstrate how police have a huge responsibility for dealing with people who are identified to us as being vulnerable through age, infirmity or mental confusion.”
He said the force had made “significant improvements” to the way it deals with disability hate crime since the death of David Askew, and had “learned the lessons from that case and rolled out training and awareness packages to all officers, as well as changing the ways we record disability hate crime”.
He said: “Officers can now quickly identify when an incident can be dealt with under disability hate crime legislation so that it can be prosecuted as such and offenders are given lengthier sentences.”
Shewan said GMP was also working with disabled people, disability organisations and “partner agencies” to “tackle the causes of disability-related crime and harassment head-on”.
Activists take next step in fight against cuts
Scores of disabled activists have come together to plan the next stage of the fight against the government’s cuts to disability benefits and services.
Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) heard from activists, politicians and celebrities and discussed their campaigning priorities.
DPAC was formed after its co-founders organised the first disabled people’s protest as part of the mainstream march against the cuts at last year’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
John McArdle, co-founder of the campaign group Black Triangle, told DPAC’s first annual general meeting in north London that he believed disabled anti-cuts activists “finally seem to be turning the corner”.
He said: “The message is getting out to people. I think there is going to be a public backlash against the government for victimising us and oppressing us.”
Actor and broadcaster Mik Scarlet said he was saddened that his industry had done more than any other to create stereotypes of “tragic” disabled people, “brave, courageous super-crips” and “scrounging” benefits claimants.
He called for campaigners to bring the stories of “real people who have had their lives ruined through the cuts” to the attention of the media, even though it will “stick in our throats to play to the stereotypes”.
He said: “We need to use the media’s inherent ignorance and prejudice to our advantage. If we can get the real truth about the impact of the cuts out to the public, I think we can change public opinion in our favour.”
Labour MP John McDonnell said that of the three groups suffering most from the government’s cuts – disabled people, people with “insecure nationality status”, and families with children – disabled people had been hit “by far the hardest”.
He said he was meeting people at his constituency surgery every week who were “in absolute desperate straits”, with food parcels being distributed in his constituency for the first time in at least 40 years.
He pointed to disabled people “who have had benefits for years and have gone through the Atos system [which tests people for their ‘fitness for work’] and have lost all their benefits”.
He added: “In the last year… you could sit down after my surgery and weep. I am at a stage now where you think my staff might need counselling.”
McDonnell said the coalition was behaving in a “ruthless” fashion, although he was “ashamed” that the Labour government “laid the road which this government is walking down”.
He also attacked the hostile language being used about disabled, poor and unemployed people.
He said: “It is being used in the House of Commons by individual MPs and ministers, which is an absolute disgrace.”
Olcay Lee, a member of North Hertfordshire People First, told the meeting: “As a disabled person, it is not right that people are taking our money away.
“As you’re disabled, they think you can go to work. Some people can’t. So what is going to happen to people who can’t go to work?”
DPAC used the agm to set up a new, 10-strong steering group of disabled activists: Linda Burnip, Stephen Lee Hodgkins, Richard Rieser, Rob Murthwaite, Roger Lewis, Sarah Mingay, Thomas Butler, Andy Greene, Patrick Lynch and Ellen Clifford.
‘Abnormal’ book explores roots of discrimination
A new book exposes how society’s obsession with the idea of “normality” and “perfection” has led to discrimination, hostility, and the isolation and segregation of disabled people.
Abnormal: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure, argues that society must rid itself of its belief that non-average bodies are “abnormal”.
Ju Gosling aka ju90, a leading disabled activist and artist, explores the historical roots of this deeply-embedded “body dysphoria”.
She says: “For centuries, being classed as normal has meant being able to afford to be part of society and to be recognised as a legitimate member of it. Being classed as abnormal has meant being isolated and segregated, and above all poor…”
She adds: “Our dysphoria is now so serious that anything even remotely regarded as being linked to an ‘abnormal’ body is to be reviled.”
She points to the stigma attached to disability aids and equipment – such as wheelchairs and canes – which arises “simply from the ‘abnormal’ people that they are associated with”.
Disability aids are viewed as dehumanising, she says, even though there is “nothing innately negative about any of the items used specifically by disabled people”, while she argues that ramps are far more “normal” and useful than steps.
She says: “Why is a car seen by many people as an essential, but a wheelchair as something to be avoided at all costs, even if this means spending a decade or more inside the home? The answer can only lie in our body dysphoria.”
In her book, Gosling dismantles the arguments of the segregationists and eugenicists, arguing that genetic diversity is vital to the survival of the human race, and pointing to the example of Stephen Hawking, who shows that “just one person can make a profound difference to our species, regardless of – or perhaps because of – their ‘defective’ genetic status”.
She says society needs to “recognise that survival is as much about skill as it is about genetics; that ordinary people are as important to the survival of our species as the extraordinary; and that impairment is irrelevant”.
Much of the research for the book was carried out during an artistic residency at the National Institute of Medical Research, where she focused on society’s perceptions of normality and the part played by the misunderstanding of the power of science to “cure”.
Gosling argues in her book: “If we really want to create a world without disability and premature death, and without disabling barriers in every area of our lives, then it is to politicians, not the men in white coats, that we need to look once we have cured ourselves of our body dysphoria.”
The book accompanies an exhibition, Abnormal: Towards a Scientific Model of Disability, at the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum, which runs until 14 January 2012.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com