Mobility U-Turn, Disability Strategy, Cuts, Equality Act Fears, NHS Refusal

So the winter has finally arrived a pity really I was getting used to seeing the roses in full bloom in our garden!! Quite odd given it’s now December.

A pretty hectic week. Up to Nottingham for a presentation to senior police officers and staff re disability equality and hate crime. Then later in the in the week off to BT to help celebrate International Day for Disabled People the Paralympics next year and then meetings about Part M of the building regulations. Good fun now time for a lie down!
Mobility component u-turn: Government accused of ‘incompetence’

The government has been accused of “incompetence” after it finally abandoned plans to remove mobility support from disabled people in residential homes.

The decision was announced today by Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, following months of criticism and campaigning by disabled activists.

The plan to save £160 million by removing the mobility component of the personal independence payment (PIP) – the planned replacement for disability living allowance (DLA) – from 78,000 people in state-funded residential care was one of the most controversial of the coalition’s package of welfare reforms.

Miller had already announced that the removal of the mobility component of DLA would not go ahead as originally planned in October 2012, but she had refused to confirm whether the measure would be applied to the new PIP on its introduction in 2013.

She said she reached the decision following “months of consultation” with disabled people and disability organisations, and had taken into account a review of mobility in residential care that was fronted by the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low.

Miller had argued that the reason for removing the mobility component was that many disabled people already received mobility funding through their council care packages.

Announcing the u-turn, she insisted that local authorities dealt with mobility in “very different ways” but claimed she had “always been clear” that she “would not make any change that would stop disabled people from getting out and about”.

But Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “The change in the government’s position demonstrates a certain level of incompetence in the initial decision to target this bit of DLA for cuts.

“The fear we have is that that same lack of understanding is replicated in the broader cuts to disabled people’s support.”

Ju Gosling, co-chair of Regard, the national organisation of disabled lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, welcomed the government u-turn.

She said: “Without mobility allowance, LGBT disabled people would have faced being completely cut off from their communities.”

But she added: “We are delighted that the government has finally seen sense. However, this underlines the fact that the months of appalling worry caused to both current and future care home residents could have been avoided.”

The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg also welcomed the announcement as “the right decision”, but added: “They shouldn’t have made the original decision in the first place.”

And she said she feared the energy of campaigners had been diverted from opposing other “quite nasty” measures in the welfare reform bill.

Anne McGuire, the shadow minister for disabled people, said: “This particular issue should never have been included in the welfare reform package. It was obvious right from the beginning that the government’s position was unsustainable.”

She added: “I hope this success will not allow the government to get off the hook on some of the other major issues which will impact on disabled people in the welfare reform legislation.”

Disabled activists will now turn their attention to some of these other deeply unpopular measures in the welfare reform bill, particularly around DLA reform, including cuts of 20 per cent to DLA spending, and cuts to employment and support allowance.

Meanwhile, Miller has been rebuked by the Commons speaker, John Bercow, for announcing the mobility component u-turn in an interview in The Times newspaper, days before informing MPs.

Bercow said that “policy announcements should first be made in the House and not through the newspapers. I understand the very real concern that exists on this matter because it is shared by me…”

The next stage of the welfare reform bill – the report stage in the House of Lords – is due to begin on 12 December.
Minister seeks ideas for coalition’s disability strategy

The government is urging disabled people to suggest measures they would like to see included in its new disability strategy.

A discussion document, Fulfilling Potential, was launched today by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI), outlining three main areas: ensuring appropriate support, increasing individual choice and control, and changing attitudes and behaviour towards disabled people.

Now the government is asking disabled people to suggest “practical ways of making a real difference” to their lives.

The discussion document provides few clues on what the government plans to include in its disability strategy, while Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, warns in its introduction that there is “a challenging economic climate so we have to think about what our priorities should be”.

The ODI says it wants to build on disability strategies produced under the Labour government, including the Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People report, the Independent Living Strategy, and the Roadmap 2025.

It also says it plans to build on the UK’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The three-month consultation ends on 9 March 2012, with the government aiming to publish its new disability strategy next spring.

Miller, who has faced steady and angry criticism from the disability movement over her government’s cuts and reforms to disability services and benefits, claimed the coalition was “committed to enabling disabled people to fulfil their potential and have the opportunity to play a full role in their community”.

She said: “Some of the barriers in society which stop that happening have been removed over the past 40 years but there is far more to do, even at a time when the country’s finances are under great pressure.

“Working with disabled people, I now want to ensure that there is a clear focus in place across government so that the money that is available takes full account of disabled people.”

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, which is being formed by the merger of RADAR, Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living, called on disabled people and disability organisations to take part in the consultation.

She said: “Disabled people face significant change in the support and services we use. One unified disability strategy from government would be very welcome to shape the changes and help measure success.”
Chancellor’s statement spells warning of new cuts ahead

Disabled people could face fresh cuts to spending on social care and other services and benefits in future years, campaigners fear.

The concerns were raised after the chancellor, George Osborne, announced that cuts to public spending would continue for an extra two years beyond the end of the current parliament in 2015.

Osborne said in Tuesday’s autumn statement that there would be real cuts of 0.9 per cent to public spending in both 2015-16 and 2016-17, although he has not announced how those cuts would be spread among government departments.

There was better news for disabled people claiming benefits, with Osborne announcing that most working-age and disability benefits will be “uprated” by 5.2 per cent in April, as will pensions.

This increase is in line with this autumn’s consumer prices index (CPI). There had been fears that Osborne would announce an increase beneath the level of the CPI, but he told MPs he wanted to “protect those who are not able to work because of their disabilities and those who, through no fault of their own, have lost jobs and are trying to find work”.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said that “one of the biggest fears” was that the government would look to make further cuts to local government spending from 2015-16, on top of the cuts in government funding of local authorities of 26 per cent by 2014-15. Councils spend a significant amount of their budgets on social care.

Coyle said it would be “catastrophic” to ask disabled people to accept any further cuts, as they were already the “hardest hit” by the government’s spending reductions.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said an analysis of the autumn statement by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed the measures would mean “even more people would be pushed into poverty”.

She said: “This is obviously of grave, grave concern because we know disabled people are more likely to be poor than non-disabled people.”

Meanwhile, a report from the NHS Information Centre (NIC) has revealed that spending on adult social services in England had fallen even before the spending cuts introduced by the coalition government last year.

Spending rose slightly from £16.8 billion in 2009-10 to £17.0 billion in 2010-11, but after allowing for inflation this was a fall of two per cent.

The figures also reveal that the number of service-users receiving support after a community care assessment by their local authority fell by seven per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Councils told NIC the fall was due to stricter eligibility criteria, the decision by some councils to scrap some types of services, and other reasons such as “data cleaning”.

The number of people receiving community-based services also fell significantly, from 1.46 million in 2009-10 to 1.34 million in 2010-11, a drop of eight per cent.
Fears over Equality Act threat in ‘sickness absence’ report

Recommendations in a major government-backed report on “sickness absence” have placed a worrying question-mark over vital new equality laws that protect disabled job-seekers from discrimination, say campaigners.

The health at work report was published last week, and has already secured backing from the prime minister, David Cameron.

But hidden in the report is a recommendation to “reconsider” the new ban on employers using health questionnaires to discriminate against disabled job applicants, which was introduced through Labour’s Equality Act.

The measure only became law in October 2010 and was welcomed by disabled people’s organisations as a major step forward for disability rights.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said she would be “very concerned” if the government moved to scrap the measure, which she said would be “incredibly retrograde”.

The ban was first recommended by the Disability Rights Task Force in 1999, and Sayce said there had been a “huge amount” of discussion and research that showed the need to ban the use of such questionnaires.

She said: “This is not the time for reconsideration of proposals designed to enable more disabled people to get into employment.”

Sayce said there were “some positive things” in the report, particularly its focus on reducing the annual flow of 300,000 people who leave their jobs due to ill-health or disability.

But she said she had concerns about one of the report’s key recommendations, for the government to fund a new “independent assessment service”, to which employers or GPs could refer people who have been on sickness absence from work for more than four weeks.

Sayce said it would be crucial that any such service “understands the adjustments that people need, the support that might enable people to work”.

She said: “It must not be a clinical, medical assessment. It must be something that is much more social model.

“If it is only about checking up on people then it will not work well. People need something that is quite supportive.”

The report was written by Dame Carol Black, the government’s national director for health and work and a former president of the Royal College of Physicians, and David Frost, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. The government will publish a response to their review next year.

The report also calls on the government to scrap the 13-week “assessment phase” for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the new replacement for incapacity benefit – because of delays in completing the work capability assessment, which tests ESA eligibility.

The report says 11 million employees a year take sick leave, with about 300,000 going on to claim ESA. The authors claim their recommendations would cut the number of new ESA claims byhalf.
NHS trust refuses to say where abuse scandal doctor is working

An NHS trust is refusing to identify the surgery where a doctor is working, even though his negligence allowed scores of disabled people to be raped, drugged, assaulted and neglected at two residential homes.

The primary care trust has admitted that Dr X* is working within its boundaries in NHS facilities – possibly as a locum – but it says data protection laws prevent it from identifying the surgery or surgeries where he is working as he is not a partner or salaried GP or a trust employee.

The trust believes the doctor’s current patients have no right to know about the allegations Dr X faced in connection with his time as GP for the notorious Longcare residential homes in south Buckinghamshire in the early 1990s.

The homes were run by a former social worker, Gordon Rowe, who instigated an horrific regime of violence and abuse, which saw adults with learning difficulties raped, sexually assaulted, punished with brutal beatings, neglected, drugged and deprived of food and toiletries for more than 10 years.

The regime was finally exposed in the autumn of 1994, after a council report detailing the abuse was leaked to newspapers.

Dr X was the GP for the two residential homes from 1990 until after Rowe and his wife were forced to leave the company. Dr X is now practising in a different NHS area.

The allegations are detailed in a new book, Longcare Survivors: The Biography of a Care Scandal, by John Pring, editor of Disability News Service.

The book describes how Dr X repeatedly over-prescribed powerful sedatives for residents, failed to spot signs of neglect and ill-treatment such as severe weight loss and bruises, failed to act over signs of sexual abuse, such as vaginal discharge and anal bleeding, and kept almost no records of treatment, even though he visited the homes every week.

There were also serious concerns about his repeated prescriptions of contraceptive injections for a number of women who were at the time being raped by Gordon Rowe.

One former member of Longcare staff remembers watching Dr X line up Rowe’s favoured female residents and delivering the injections one after the other, without even talking to the women and while continuing to chat to Rowe, who was in the reception area.

June Raybaud, the aunt of one of the former residents of the homes, Janet Ward, who was repeatedly raped by Gordon Rowe and has now died, said she believed the doctor’s failure to act was “the biggest scandal of all”.

Raybaud said: “This doctor apparently saw them all every week. He could have noticed how they were losing weight… a lot of the women had discharges and the men had bleeding from the anus.

“A lot of people had similar things wrong with them. They were obviously suffering from malnutrition, boils and things wrong with their feet and teeth.

“He could see how poorly they were dressed, how their hygiene was bad and he never did anything about it. He really didn’t care.”

Slough’s Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart has raised concerns about the General Medical Council’s (GMC) failure to conduct a proper investigation into the care provided by Dr X at Longcare.

In January 2011, she wrote to the GMC, stating that the documents shown to her by Pring “raise very serious issues about [Dr X’s] fitness to practice”, andasking it to investigate.

The GMC had already refused three times to carry out a full and proper investigation into the allegations against Dr X. It told Mactaggart that it would “not… be appropriate” to open another investigation.

Mactaggart has now asked the government what its policy is on the rights of patients and members of the public to know where a locum GP is working within the NHS.

But the Conservative health minister Simon Burns stated only that “the place of work of locums can and does change frequently depending on who has contracted for their services”.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said this week: “PCTs are not required to reveal where any of their staff, whether directly employed or engaged through commissioning arrangements, work.

“The PCT’s remit is to ensure that they are commissioning and delivering the most effective services for their patients. We cannot comment on individual cases.”

The primary care trust declined to comment.

Rowe committed suicide in 1996 before he could be charged, but three former members of Longcare staff – including Rowe’s widow Angela – were convicted of neglect and ill-treatment. Angela and another former Longcare manager were jailed in 1997.

*His name is currently being withheld by Disability News Service

News provided by John Pring

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 – has provided 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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