Spent most of last week working with some really talented disabled people on a Career Development Programme I developed with Dave Rees for Lloyds Banking Group. The significance of this programme is that we’ve moved on from the old disability awareness proposition to a recognition that talented disabled people need support in order to become really effective members of the organisation. The process involves ensuring that the disabled person is managing their impairment and its impact on others rather than just “coping” with it. The second part of the process is to equip delegates with the necessary tools to really push ahead with their careers. Assertiveness, action planning and an understanding of their career drivers all feature.
From our point of view the programme is incredibly stimulating and there is measurable evidence that it makes a real difference to the delegates and the organisation.
With all the adverse publicity that disabled people are currently subjected to it is really important to remember that there are some incredibly talented disabled people out there who with the right support can make a real difference.
Couple’s deaths linked to disability benefits struggle
A disabled woman and her husband who have been found dead in their house had spoken publicly of their struggle to obtain the benefits they needed to survive.
The bodies of the couple – who have not yet been named by police – were discovered last week lying side by side at their home in Bedworth, Warwickshire.
Local media reported that the couple had died through an “apparent tragic suicide pact”.
Last winter, they were interviewed on camera about their financial struggles and how they were forced to walk more than five miles to and from a soup kitchen in Coventry every week to pick up a food parcel of vegetables and bread.
The husband told how they used the vegetables to make a soup, which was often the only food they could afford. They had no fridge, and so kept the vegetables in a shed in the garden, and lived in just one room of their house to keep their heating bills down.
He told how he had “lost count of the appeals” they had been forced to undergo to obtain disability benefits for his wife, who had learning difficulties.
He added: “They have no problems suspending benefits. It’s not an issue for them because they put a tick in a box or a stroke across a piece of paper but they alter your lives, which is fundamentally unfair but it’s either those who have the power to do it to you and those of us who don’t have the power to resist it.”
Linda Burnip, a disabled activist and a member and former trustee of the Council of Disabled People Coventry and Warwickshire, said the deaths were “really, really sad” and that “people shouldn’t fall through the net like that in this day and age”.
She said the problems faced by the couple showed the importance of good quality advocacy services run by disabled people, with neither Coventry City Council nor Warwickshire County Council apparently providing any funding for user-led advocacy services.
She said she feared that more disabled people would face such extreme financial problems because of the government’s brutal spending cuts. “I think it’s probably an indication of what is going to happen to a lot of people. They are going to have to end up walking miles to get food parcels.”
She said she also feared that budget cuts affecting social care funding and advocacy services for disabled people in Warwickshire “may well have been one of the main factors contributing to this tragedy”, while it was “very difficult” to understand how the couple could have been “left for so long without being able to get the correct amount of benefits they should have been entitled to”.
A Coventry City Council spokesman confirmed that they did not provide any funding for advocacy services run by disabled people’s organisations.
Warwickshire County Council was unable to confirm that it does not fund any user-led advocacy services.
A Warwickshire police spokeswoman said they were “not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths”, which were being treated as “unexplained”.
A post-mortem on the couple proved inconclusive and police are now awaiting the results of toxicology tests.
Government ‘pandered to Daily Mail’ over work test stats
MPs have accused the government of “pandering to the Daily Mail” over the issue of incapacity benefit reform, after it published a misleading press release about the results of its “fitness for work” tests.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was asked to explain the way his department had presented the latest figures on the work capability assessment (WCA), which tests eligibility for the new employment and support allowance (ESA).
Members of the Commons work and pensions committee claimed Duncan Smith’s department presented the statistics in a way that emphasised the number of people found “fit for work”, even though the figures actually showed increasing numbers of disabled people being found eligible for support and not fit for work.
The press release said that 38 per cent of claimants were being found fit for work, but then described this as a “majority”.
The Labour MP Sheila Gilmore said the press release, published on 25 October, “appeared to be yet again an attempt to convey a particular image of claimants that most were fit for work”.
She said the press release had selected a set of figures which “creates the impression of the fewest people being successful in getting the benefit and the notion that there’s an awful lot of people who are making some kind of spurious claim”, when the DWP could easily have highlighted different figures that provided a more accurate picture.
The Liberal Democrat committee member Stephen Lloyd accused the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of “going backwards and pandering to the Daily Mail”.
He said: “I find it unbelievably frustrating when a DWP press release calls 38 per cent a majority. I don’t want to play that game.”
Duncan Smith became the latest coalition minister to protest that he was unable to “control” how media organisations presented DWP figures.
But he added: “I personally thought all the figures are available and people can see how this thing is working quite straightforwardly, but if the committee feels we need to do more on this then we will do more on this.”
Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who chairs the committee, also drew Duncan Smith’s attention to last month’s report by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC), which includes a case study on the implementation of ESA.
The report says the ESA’s introduction by the previous government “breached all of the AJTC’s principles for good administrative justice”.
It examines figures for 2009-10, before the coalition came to power, when one in seven decisions to find a claimant fit for work was found to be wrong on appeal.
Even where claimants scored zero points on the assessment (with at least 15 needed to claim ESA), 34 per cent of appeals were successful, while on average it took more than seven months to overturn an incorrect decision on appeal.
The report adds: “Looking behind the facts and figures, there is copious evidence that ESA claimants did not understand the purpose of the WCA, that nobody took time to explain it, and that it was carried out ‘mechanistically, impersonally and with a lack of empathy’.
“Similarly, there is copious evidence that claimants have been expected to attend assessment centres without appropriate facilities for disabled people. Given the purpose of ESA as a benefit, the apparent failure of design and planning is incomprehensible.”
The AJTC said it welcomed reports that people taking part in trials in Aberdeen and Burnley – which tested the reassessment of claimants of old-style incapacity benefit – had “experienced a better service”, but suggested that the current national rollout of the trials would need more resources if this improvement was to be maintained.
Dame Anne told Duncan Smith: “I’ve never seen such a damning report than the one the AJTC has put out about ESA. It is something that the claimants feel very strongly and it is something people write to us about and get the feeling that perhaps the government is a bit complacent.”
2012 hotel shortage risks global damage to London’s reputation
An investigation by young disabled campaigners has raised new fears of a shortage of accessible hotel rooms when thousands of disabled visitors descend on London for the 2012 Paralympics.
The investigation also highlighted flaws in Inclusive London, a website launched this summer by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the Greater London Authority (GLA).
Johnson has promised that London will host the “most accessible and inclusive Olympic and Paralympic games ever”, and his website details the access features of London hotels, as well as restaurants, pubs, tourist attractions and 2012 venues.
But the investigation found that, although Inclusive London lists the access features of more than 1,500 hotels, only 12 per cent have been fully audited, while 27 per cent have been audited by the hotel itself or a member of the public, and 61 per cent have no access information at all.
Many of the hotels were not even aware they were on the website.
The investigation was filmed by the award-winning production companymarkthree media – which is owned and run by disabled people – and screened on the BBC’s Inside Out London strand this week.
The company, which enlisted volunteers from the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners to help with its research, concluded that the information on the website could be “misleading”.
One of the hotels – a boat – was now moored in Nigeria, another was just a building site, while some were not hotels at all but the headquarters of hotel companies.
And about two-thirds of the audited accessible hotel rooms they researched from the website averaged a price of well over £100 a night.
Presenter Martyn Sibley, co-founder of the website Disability Horizons, concluded: “I honestly think that the GLA are hiding from this problem. And with just 10 months to go before the games, I really can’t see them having enough time to resolve it.”
A GLA spokesman told Disability News Service that the programme’s figures “seem about right”, although he said the number of audits may have risen slightly since the research was completed.
He said the website was a unique resource but was “a work in progress”, and that it was “too early to say” whether there would be a shortage of accessible hotel rooms during London 2012.
He appealed for disabled people to review hotels on the website, and for businesses themselves to add their information.
The GLA is to launch a disability awareness training programme in January for staff and managers of hotels, bars and restaurants across the city, which will include advice on improving access.
The GLA spokesman said it was clear there were “some hotel groups and some individual hotels that are more committed to accessibility than others”, while the GLA would “strongly encourage hotels at the top end or the bottom end to make any improvements that they can and invest in something that is not only in their customers’ interests but in the interests of their business”.
But leading disabled activists have warned that time is running out to make the necessary access improvements.
The actor and broadcaster Mik Scarlet said 2012 was now “too close for comfort”, while there had been “almost no campaigns to promote the need for more accessible hotel accommodation”.
He said: “It has been left to the various hotel chains themselves, and the cheap and smaller hotels just don’t have the ability to become accessible in such a short time, both because of cost and timescale.”
He said the issue of access had been “ignored almost throughout the capital”, with public transport, buildings and hotels all “woefully inaccessible”.
He added: “I think that many visitors that come here in 2012 are going to be massively disappointed and this will damage our reputation on a global scale, as well as affecting future tourism.”
Scarlet helped persuade the International Olympic Committee that London would be a more accessible city by 2012, but said he now felt “let down” because commitments made by London’s 2012 bid team had not been met.
He said: “We wanted London to become a much more inclusive place to live and visit, but instead we got one small area on the outskirts being redeveloped with most of the inner city seeing little or no change.”
He was working closely with David Morris, the mayor’s disability adviser, who was on secondment as 2012’s external access and inclusion coordinator at the time of his death last year.
Scarlet said: “When he died, all work in this direction stopped and no one took over from him for nearly a year, by which time it was too late. I don’t think anyone can over-estimate how much his loss affected the legacy for disabled people [from the games].”
Three months ago, disabled activists angry at the failure to put access and inclusion at the heart of London 2012 launched their own website,Inclusive London?, which they say allows disabled visitors to see “how inclusive and accessible London really is”.
“Spasticus”, the anonymous disabled activist leading Inclusive London?, said: “Anyone who has tried to find an accessible hotel room in London knows just how hard it is whatever your budget – and how inaccessible the majority of so-called ‘accessible’ rooms are to a wide range of disabled visitors.
“The mayor and LOCOG [the 2012 organising committee] are in complete denial about the city’s accessibility compared to other major cities worldwide, and seem determined to expose London to criticism and ridicule rather than acting now to achieve the necessary change.”
A spokesman for the mayor said: “With more than five million hits since its launch, Inclusive London has proved to be a really valuable resource for people with access needs who are planning a trip to the capital.
“Investing in accessibility is in everyone’s long-term interests and we urge all hotel operators to look seriously at making improvements and publicising them through the site.”
A London 2012 spokeswoman said: “LOCOG is committed to making sure that as many disabled people [as possible] can be part of and enjoy the London 2012 games.
“We are working closely with stakeholders to ensure that disabled people are aware of accessible hotel rooms in London and can have a fantastic games-time experience.”
Authorities praised over haircut hate crime sentence
Police, prosecutors and magistrates have won praise for using hate crime legislation to increase the sentence imposed on a hairdresser who shaved an offensive word into the hair of a man with learning difficulties.
The man had visited the Jam Cut salon in Stapleton Road, Bristol, to have his hair cut, and thought hairdresser Michael Campbell was shaving a pattern into the back of his head.
But the man later attended church and was told the word “fool” had been shaved into his hair.
Campbell was arrested and later convicted of common assault. He has now been sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work, and has been ordered to pay compensation and court costs.
The sentence was increased by magistrates through the use of section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for stricter sentences for disability hate crimes.
Campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the failure of the courts, police and prosecutors to take advantage of section 146 to impose harsher sentences for disability hate crime.
Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of the ground-breaking Scapegoat, which investigates disability hate crime, said: “I’m really heartened by the fact that Avon and Somerset police treated this degrading attack as a disability hate crime and that the perpetrator received a stiff sentence.”
She said that too many disabled people were seen as “fair game for ridicule”, and added: “This kind of crime is unacceptable and it’s good to see that police and prosecutors treated it seriously.”
Detective Constable Mai Wong, of Avon and Somerset police’s hate crime unit, said: “Avon and Somerset police take hate crimes extremely seriously and will thoroughly investigate all reported incidents.”
But she said that some hate crimes were not reported because the victims did not have the confidence to contact the police.
She added: “I hope that this case will encourage victims and their carers to report incidents, knowing we will listen to them and thoroughly investigate their concerns.”
Barry Hughes, south west chief crown prosecutor, said: “The Crown Prosecution Service identified this as a disability hate crime when we made the charging decision and made sure we highlighted it as such when we prosecuted it in court.
“We are pleased that the court recognised this offence as a disability hate crime and that the sentence was uplifted accordingly.
“The CPS will robustly prosecute offenders who target disabled people in this way. We will draw this to the court’s attention as an aggravating factor under general sentencing principles, which allow for a more severe sentence in these circumstances.
“Harsher sentences send a clear message that disability hate crimes are serious offences which will be punished accordingly.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com