DLA cuts, UKDPC resignations, Website accessibility, Banks must do more, Legal Aid Cuts,

If you have the time to read on you’ll come across another article raising serious concerns about web accessibility particularly affecting those using screen readers. It would seem that price comparison sites fall well below the standards expected and are potentially excluding hundreds of thousands of potential disabled customers. More fool them! The Employer’s Forum on Disability suggests that disabled people have around £80 billion to spend after they’ve paid their regular bills, presumably some of that spend could go via price comparison sites if they were made accessible?

With access firmly in mind the more observant among you will have noticed significant changes to my site. These changes are all designed to make the site more accessible and to freshen up its appearance and I’m extremely grateful to Graeme Whippy for his help in revamping the site. If you have any thoughts or comments about the’new look’ or anything else please let me know.

News Round Up

True impact of DLA cuts ‘could wipe out planned savings’

The knock-on effects of the government’s huge cuts to spending on disability living allowance (DLA) could wipe out every penny of the savings it is hoping for, according to a new report.

The Disability Rights UK (DR UK) report, Impact Assessing the Abolition of Working Age DLA, accuses the government of ignoring the effects on disabled people’s lives of cutting working-age DLA spending by 20 per cent, or £1.4 billion a year by 2015/16.

The report analyses the likely impact on disabled people’s ability to work, and their extra need for NHS services and local authority support.

It says that the government’s claim that there will be no such knock-on effects is a “falsehood” and describes its failure to carry out a proper analysis as “irresponsible”.

DR UK estimates that the extra costs could wipe out any planned savings, and even its lowest estimates add up to more than a third of the government’s intended savings. The report’s estimates range from about £600 million a year to as much as £3 billion.

DR UK also points to last month’s report by the joint committee on human rights, which warned of a “significant risk” that the government’s welfare reforms and cuts to disability benefits and services could put disabled people’s right to independent living at risk.

DR UK is among about 20 organisations examining potential legal challenges to parts of the new Welfare Reform Act, which will see working-age DLA replaced by a new personal independence payment (PIP), among many other cuts to benefits and sweeping reforms to the welfare system.

Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “It is a very real prospect that the government will see a challenge to the Welfare Reform Act, or multiple challenges.”

The new report uses figures from a survey carried out last year, which found 56 per cent of disabled people with jobs said they would have to stop or reduce that work if they lost their DLA, while one in six would be forced to make more use of the NHS, and one in seven would need to make greater use of council services.

It uses these figures to estimate the cost to the government of lost tax and national insurance, and extra payments of out-of-work benefits.

It also estimates the cost of obtaining independent medical evidence from GPs and consultants as part of the new PIP assessment process, and of extra spending on GP appointments and hospital stays as a result of reduced support.

Finally, the report adds in the possible costs of extra council support at home or in residential homes, due to disabled people being less able to live independently.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman disputed DR UK’s figures and said the reforms had been “open to an unprecedented level of examination from stakeholders, members of the public to politicians” and that DWP had consulted widely with disabled people and their organisations.

Asked by Disability News Service whether it would now carry out an analysis of the knock-on effects of the cuts, she said DWP had “already committed to publishing more information when it becomes available”.

She added: “The changes to DLA will make sure support goes to those who need it most, with more support going to a higher proportion under PIP.”

Cuts protest brings traffic chaos to central London

Disabled activists have again brought traffic chaos to central London by chaining their wheelchairs across busy pedestrian crossings in protest at government cuts and welfare reforms.

The focus of the two-hour protest in Trafalgar Square was on the demand for the government to scrap its controversial new Welfare Reform Act, which includes plans for heavy cuts to disability benefits.

It was the second such protest this year in London’s tourist heartland by the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), with support again from the mainstream anti-cuts movement UK Uncut, following a similar action in late January at Oxford Circus.

The protest started at about 2pm yesterday (Wednesday) in Leicester Square, with activists marching along Charing Cross Road towards Trafalgar Square.

Lines of wheelchair-users then blocked two of the main roads at the southern end of Trafalgar Square by chaining themselves to pedestrian crossings, a tactic also used successfully in the Oxford Circus protest.

Within minutes, buses, cars and taxis were backed up along all the roads in and out of Trafalgar Square.

Although police officers soon moved in to cut the chains, they made no attempt to physically move wheelchairs from the road, and many of the protesters continued to block the roads for two hours.

John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, who travelled from Scotland for the protest with three other members of the campaign group, said: “Disabled people do not like to inconvenience the citizens of London, but we had to get out on the streets of London and let the people know what is happening in their name.”

Linda Burnip, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said protests would continue until the government listened to their demands.

Adam Lotun, another DPAC member, and one of the wheelchair-users blocking the roads, warned that protests were likely during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, although Burnip said they would be unlikely to disrupt sports fans attending London 2012 events.

Lotun admitted there was a chance the public could turn against protesters if they disrupted London 2012, but added: “There is a risk, but we have to make a stand. We have been ignored and we are treated as second-class citizens.”

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP), who also took part in the protest, warned that disabled people would only feel the worst of the impact of the cuts over the next couple of years.

He said: “My main message to the government is: ‘You are in trouble. This is just the beginning of the fight.’”

He said the presence of NCODP and other disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) at the protest showed that they were “the voice of disabled people and are out there leading the fight against this government and attacks on their human rights”, even though the future of DPOs like NCODP were at risk.

He said: “While companies like Atos and A4E make millions in profit off the back of disabled people, disabled people are suffering and DPOs are going to the wall.”

He insisted that it was realistic to fight for the Welfare Reform Act to be scrapped, and compared the campaign to the successful battle against the poll tax more than 20 years ago.

Another of the wheelchair-users who blocked the roads, Sue Elsegood, from Greenwich, said she was protesting because she was “really concerned about the cuts to disabled people’s benefits and services, particularly the Independent Living Fund”.

She added: “I think [the protest] is about disabled people having their voices heard and saying they won’t accept this kind of treatment.

“If enough people speak out, the government will have to listen. There are people committing suicide about this issue.”

Another wheelchair-user, Maz, from Sussex, said disabled people were “petrified” by the planned cuts, with some killing themselves because of cuts or the fear of cuts to their support, while others had died while waiting for their appeals against being found “fit for work” by assessors working for Atos.

He said: “People fear that they are going to lose their independence, their homes, their carers.”
UKDPC shrugs off trustee resignations

Four disabled activists have resigned from the board of the UK’s leading disabled people’s organisation following a disagreement over its future direction.

The trustees who resigned from the UK Disabled People’s Council’s (UKDPC) national council – Mark Harrison, Anne Novis, Tara Flood and Rachel Hurst – had played major roles in renewing and restructuring the organisation over the last four years.

All four declined to explain why they had resigned.

Harrison is chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People and was chair of UKDPC’s international committee, Novis is a leading authority and campaigner on disability hate crime, Flood is director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, and Hurst is a veteran activist and former director of Disability Awareness in Action.

UKDPC is now seeking up to 12 new disabled trustees – including five from under-represented groups – to be co-opted onto its national council until an election early next year.

Newman paid tribute to the four former trustees, and said: “They have given a lot of years of hard and good service and have been a significant part of keeping the organisation going and developing.

“I wish them well and recognise the hard work they have put in over the last four-and-a-half years to stabilise, renew and reorganise the organisation.”

Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, said: “The organisation’s agenda has been slowly developing over the last four or five years and it has reached a point where it is looking at its objectives, at the people involved and its strategy, and the resigning officers felt that they no longer had a role in the future direction of UKDPC.

“We are now looking to recruit new trustees to take the organisation forward into the next stages of its development.”

He said the resignations came at a point when UKDPC was recruiting a new member of staff to boost membership, and for the first time seeking member organisations from among disabled-led businesses, although they will not have voting rights.

UKDPC is also playing a leading role in monitoring the UK government’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

And it is organising a high-profile international disability arts festival in the Paralympic borough of Newham, to coincide with the London 2012 Paralympics, from 29 August to 9 September.

Newman said: “This is a very exciting time. It is genuinely a time of growth for UKDPC.”
Websites suffer in comparison with decent access standards

Leading price comparison websites are ignoring their legal obligations to make their sites accessible to disabled people, according to a new report.

The disability charity AbilityNet, which analysed the accessibility of five sites for its report, said disabled people should be a significant market for any retail website, because they “often have less cash and less opportunity to shop around the physical high street”.

The charity tested the accessibility of Compare the Market, Go Compare, mySupermarket, Kelkoo and Confused.com.

Not one of the five achieved the three-star rating that indicates a basic level of accessibility for disabled people.

It found four of them – with one star each – were potentially breaching the Equality Act, while Kelkoo – the only site to gain two stars – only satisfied some legal accessibility requirements.

One blind user of screen-reading software who tested the mySupermarket site said they would rather “starve” than use it to buy groceries.

Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, said: “Like everyone else in these hard times, the country’s 12 million disabled people want to get the best deal when they’re shopping, whether that’s for insurance, groceries or anything else.

“But these cash-strapped shoppers are losing out due to badly-designed web pages that prevent them from shopping around and accessing the online bargains they need to make ends meet.”

He added: “It is just as illegal to bar disabled visitors from accessing your goods and services online as it would be to keep them out of your shop in the ‘real world’.”

A Compare the Market spokeswoman said: “We are always looking at ways to improve what we do and we have taken AbilityNet’s report very seriously.

“We are reviewing the report and looking at their findings and after that process has concluded we will see what changes we can make.”

Chris Simpson, chief marketing officer for Kelkoo, said his company would “look carefully at the findings of this research and, where possible, review our practices to improve this experience for disabled people”.

He said: “We are certainly open to further talks with AbilityNet to understand more about the study and how we can improve our score going forward.”

A Gocompare.com spokeswoman said: “We’re keen that Gocompare.com should be easily accessible to as many users as possible.

“We welcome this report and will be looking carefully at the findings to see where improvements can be made.”

No-one from Confused.com was able to comment, and mySupermarket did not reply to requests for a response to the report.
Banks must do more on access, says charity

A disability charity is calling on the banking industry to do more to make its services accessible to blind and partially-sighted people.

RNIB issued the call as it published a new guide offering advice to the financial industry on how to improve services for almost two million people living with sight loss in the UK.

RNIB research from 2009 found less than a third of blind and partially-sighted people could manage their finances independently, while nine in ten told a survey last year that they found it difficult or impossible to use a cash machine on their own.

The new guide, The Banking Experience, also says that more than a third of blind and partially-sighted people still do not receive their bank statements in their preferred format.

Lesley-Anne Alexander, RNIB’s chief executive, said: “Being able to manage your money is an essential component to leading an independent life.

“It is shocking that the majority of blind and partially-sighted people aren’t able to independently use ATMs [cash machines], and that a significant number still do not receive financial information in accessible formats.

“We hope this new guide will help banks to better meet the needs of their blind and partially-sighted customers.”

The new guide – due to be launched next week in the City of London – points out that clearer signage, better support from staff, and improved online services would also benefit older people and disabled people with other impairments.

It offers advice on areas such as customer service and disability awareness training; physical access within bank branches; the accessibility of over-the-counter services; online and telephone banking; and access to information.

The guide also calls for more banks to introduce talking cash machines, an issue RNIB has been campaigning on since last September.

One of the blind and partially-sighted people RNIB talked to for the guide said: “I’m desperate for ATMs [cash machines] to be made more accessible to blind and partially-sighted people.

“It would make such a difference to be able to draw out money in this way without having to reply on my fiancé and would enable me to feel so much more independent.”

The guide has been endorsed by the British Bankers’ Association and Martin Lewis, founder of the website MoneySavingExpert.com.
Government forces legal aid cuts back into bill

Coalition MPs have overturned changes to government legislation that would have made it easier for many disabled people to apply for legal aid.

They backed a government amendment to the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which reinstated plans for all those seeking legal aid to be forced to use a telephone helpline as their first point of contact.

The government wants to cut about £350 million a year from the £2 billion legal aid budget for England and Wales by 2014-15, but the telephone helpline measure would save less than £2 million a year.

Last month, the disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson spearheaded a successful amendment to the bill, which meant disabled people would have been able to access the system in the most accessible way for their own needs, such as a face-to-face meeting.

But Conservative justice minister Jonathan Djanogly told MPs, when the bill returned to the Commons this week, that using a telephone helpline as the first point of contact would “modernise the system and bring it up to date”.

He said that phone-based advice had often been shown “to be more convenient and accessible than face-to-face advice, particularly benefiting those living in remote areas or those who have a physical disability”.

But the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes criticised his own government’s plans and said he was “not persuaded” that a telephone route was “right for everybody”, such as those with mental health conditions or learning difficulties.

And Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the problems of many people with learning difficulties, mental health conditions or communication impairments could be “compounded” by having to explain their problems over the telephone.

There was a partial government concession on another area of the bill that had concerned disabled campaigners.

Last month, peers passed an amendment which would have ensured legal aid was retained to cover the initial appeals of people with complex benefits problems.

But justice secretary Kenneth Clarke told MPs this week that the government could not afford the £25 million a year cost in what was a “relatively low priority area”, as welfare benefits problems “should not generally require specialist advice”.

He did though offer a concession that would allow legal aid for benefits decisions that were being challenged “on a point of law” if those appeals reached the upper tribunal, court of appeal and Supreme Court.

He said the Ministry of Justice was discussing with the Department for Work and Pensions how this could also be extended to initial “first-tier” tribunal hearings for benefits appeals, again only for cases involving legal issues.

But Labour MP Jenny Chapman said social welfare law advice was vital to correct cases in which disabled people had been “blatantly wrongly assessed”.

She said Freedom of Information Act requests showed 32 claimants of employment and support allowance a week were dying after being found “fit for work” by the government’s much-criticised contractor, Atos Healthcare.

Chapman said: “Once internal reviews and first-tier tribunals are exhausted, further appeals can only be on points of law and not on the facts of a case.

“The government’s acceptance of higher courts and not tribunals is like saying, ‘Here’s a penthouse, but we’ve locked the staircase and lifts.’ Far too many disabled people will not get the help they need.”

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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