Welcome! I hope your week is going well.
Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Lord Jack Ashley of Stoke, Jack to those of us who had the privilege to know him. Held at Church House just round the corner from both Houses of Parliament where Jack spent so much of his time, the memorial contained a mix of contributions from parliamentarians, work colleagues and of course his family. Everyone who spoke remembered Jack’s integrity, warmth, humour, empathy and his passion for justice and fairness.
I met him several times in my capacity as chair of RADAR and at meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group, which he chaired.
I vividly recall one such meeting at the House of Lords when he arrived to welcome me riding his mobility scooter. He suggested that tea and scones would be just the ticket. We set off in convoy on route to the tearoom. If you’ve ever been in the House of Lords you’ll know that its full of little corridors, different levels accessed by tiny lifts and vestibules with inadequate signage. After meandering up down corridors for quite some time punctuated by frequent stops for him to say hello to various people Baroness Thatcher included! Jack stopped his scooter and turning to me he said, “I’m completely lost have you got any idea where the tearoom is?” After the intervention of a helpful policeman we arrived at our destination and Jack was once again transformed into the sharp, perceptive, incisive, campaigning politician I’d come to know and respect. We will all miss him and disabled people throughout the land owe him a great deal.
DWP dismisses concerns over specialist job scheme
Serious concerns have been raised over the government’s specialist disability employment programme, after new figures suggested it has helped only a few hundred disabled people with high support needs into jobs.
Work Choice was launched in October 2010 and aims to provide intensive in-work support to those disabled people with the greatest barriers to employment, but figures for its first 18 months show that only half of those on the programme were claiming any kind of disability benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has also been asked why it has no record of the “primary disability” of nearly two-thirds of those who have started on the Work Choice programme.
There are also concerns that fewer than five per cent of those who have started on Work Choice have “moderate to severe” learning difficulties, and less than 0.5 per cent have “severe” mental health conditions, despite both categories being key to how the DWP will measure the success of the programme. The figures show that only 310 of 2,730 people on Work Choice who claim both disability living allowance and incapacity benefits have so far found a job. The overall statistics for the programme are slightly better, with one in seven finding a job.
Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, said it was unclear from the figures exactly who the programme was helping, but that the statistics “certainly do not look particularly impressive”.
She said: “It does not appear that the group I had assumed would be targeted by Work Choice are the group who are being helped into sustainable work by it.” She said she had assumed that it would focus on disabled people in the support group of employment and support allowance (ESA) – those on out-of-work disability benefits who face the highest barriers to work – and some of those in the ESA work-related activity group.
Dame Anne also said she found it “very hard to understand how you could qualify for Work Choice and not be on a disability benefit.” She said she had believed that Work Choice was for those disabled people who “should not be written off but in order to get work needed a great deal of help and support” as a result of their impairment and the barriers they faced.
She added: “From those numbers, it does not look as though that is the group that is on Work Choice.”
Richard Currie, an executive member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said one of the concerns about the “payment by results” model used by the government was that it gave the organisations delivering Work Choice the incentive to spend more time and resources finding work for those who were easiest to help. He said: “The fear is that those furthest away from the Labour market and in most need of a higher level of support will not be supported in the correct way, and that the providers will cherry-pick those closest to the job market.”
The British Association of Supported Employment (BASE) said it also believed providers were “cherry-picking” people who were easier to help into work, at the expense of those with higher support needs. And it said it was “astonished” that DWP was unable to describe the main impairment of 65 per cent of those who started Work Choice. BASE described the low numbers on the programme of those with mental health conditions and learning difficulties and high support needs as “unacceptable”.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “It is early days for this programme. We are working to address issues and improve performance across the programme to support more disabled people.” She said Work Choice was designed for disabled people who need significant support to enter the labour market, but was “a voluntary programme” and those taking part did not need to be claiming a disability benefit. She said that changes being made to give providers more flexibility over the length of the initial stage of the programme may be “particularly helpful” for those with “moderate to severe” learning difficulties or “severe” mental health conditions.
She admitted that details of people’s impairments had only begun to be captured by the computer system from May 2011. And she said Work Choice had been designed to prevent “cherry-picking”.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat education minister Sarah Teather today announced details of a £3 million trial of supported internships for 16-25-year-olds with higher support needs, set to begin in September at 14 colleges across England.
The programme – part of the package of special educational needs reforms Teather announced last month – could be adopted by all further education colleges from September 2013.
Doctors demand end to ‘fitness for work’ test
Britain’s doctors have voted to “demand” an end to the government’s controversial “fitness for work” tests, and to work with disability charities to campaign for it to be scrapped. The vote came today at the British Medical Association’s (BMA’s) annual representative meeting. It followed a vote last month at the BMA’s annual conference for GPs, which called for the work capability assessment (WCA) to “end with immediate effect”.
But today’s motion was even stronger than the one debated by GPs, as it called on the BMA to “demand” that the WCA – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – should end immediately.
Doctors want the WCA replaced with “a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to patients. The motion said the computer-based assessments “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long term sick and disabled persons”. Today’s meeting also called on the BMA to work with “disability groups and political parties” to change WCA policy, another addition to the motion approved by GPs last month.
London GP Louise Irvine, who proposed the motion, said the test had left many patients “in a state of high distress” with “thousands of long-term sick patients wrongly characterised as fit for work”. She said the implementation of the WCA, introduced by the Labour government in 2008, had been “disastrous”, while the test was “simply not capable of assessing ability to work in any meaningful way”. She criticised the way the “clunky, insensitive” system had led to the “McDonald’s-isation” of doctors who carry out the assessments on behalf of the company Atos Healthcare.
David Snashall, a London consultant in occupational medicine, opposed the motion and pointed to the “objective” process he said was in place to make the necessary improvements to the WCA. He said any blame should be attached to those healthcare professionals who apply the tests, rather than the computer-based assessment itself. The assessment has caused mounting anger among disabled activists and benefits claimants since its introduction.
John McArdle, a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, from which the original motion originated, said they were “absolutely delighted” with the BMA vote. He said that both the coalition and the previous Labour government had been “complicit in the continued operation of this barbaric assessment regime” which had “led to the avoidable deaths of dozens of disabled people” and “caused enormous harm and misery to hundreds of thousands more”. He said the BMA should now call for a full boycott of the WCA. McArdle added: “Our doctors have shown the world where their true priorities lie – and that is with the interests of the patients and the NHS above and beyond everything else.”
The Department for Work and Pensions refused to comment on the vote.
A BMA spokeswoman confirmed after the vote that it was now BMA policy to demand that the WCA be scrapped, although it was too early to say how this policy would be carried out. She said she could not yet comment on the demand for a boycott.
Channel 4 picks non-disabled team for Paralympic torch relay
Channel 4 has been criticised for its “absurd” and “very disappointing” decision to choose five non-disabled people – and not a single disabled person – to take part in the London 2012 Paralympic torch relay.
The broadcaster, which has the UK television rights for this summer’s Paralympics, was allowed to nominate five people who embody the Paralympic values of “courage, determination, equality and inspiration”.
Channel 4 selected five non-disabled people, picking two Paralympic coaches, a Channel 4 producer, and two parents of disabled people.
A Channel 4 spokesman said the five “absolutely embody Paralympic values” as they are “courageous, determined and inspiring people with equality at the heart of what they do”.
The Paralympic torch relay will be much shorter than the 70-day Olympic version, with the torch to be carried by teams of volunteers on a 24-hour relay from Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, to the Olympic Stadium in east London in time for the opening ceremony on 29 August.
Richard Currie, an executive member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said selecting five non-disabled people for the relay was “very disappointing”, and a missed opportunity to show disabled people working together with their non-disabled allies to bring about changes in society. He said the decision “goes against all of the good work that Channel 4 is trying to do to increase its diversity and equality in its programmes”.
A disabled person who is set to take part in the torch relay, but asked not to be named, said: “Channel 4’s decision not to select disabled people for its team in the Paralympic torch relay is absurd and shows what a muddle the whole relay event has become.” He said he believed that, because “Paralympics stands for parallel Olympics”, the Paralympic torch relay should have taken place at the same time as the Olympic torch relay.
He added: “Surely by combining the two you’re showing that disability sport is a worthy equal. You would also give disabled torchbearers the chance to be saluted by their own communities. “What we have been given is a very poor tokenistic version of the Olympic relay conducted over a single 24-hour period with the vast majority of the UK’s population asleep for half that time. How bloody convenient!”
Channel 4’s decision comes after London 2012 sponsor Sainsbury’s admitted using a panel of four non-disabled employees to select about 140 people to take part in the Paralympic torch relay.
Deborah Poulton, Channel 4’s project leader for the London 2012 Paralympics, said the five nominations had come from members of the team who had worked on its London 2012 programmes over the last two years.
She said: “We asked them to nominate the people who they felt truly embodied the Paralympic values and who impressed them the most.
“The five people we have chosen have shown admirable commitment to their work with disabled athletes and sport, and, importantly, have brought the Paralympics to a wider audience. “We didn’t actively seek out disabled or non-disabled people – we sought out people who would be the most inspirational and deserving participants. We are very proud of the team we have chosen.”
The five chosen are: Jackie Bullen, mother of a member of Britain’s goalball team and Goalball UK’s press officer; Stacey Burns, series producer of Channel 4’s That Paralympic Show; Jenny Archer, coach of wheelchair athlete and double gold medal-winning Paralympian David Weir; Tony Larkin, head coach of Britain’s blind football team; and Heather Hodge, volunteer with a disability charity and mother of an eight-year-old disabled boy who made his own video that helped raise awareness of Paralympic sport.
Baroness Campbell brings portability bill back to Lords
A disabled peer has re-introduced a bill that would allow disabled people to retain their council-funded support when they relocate to a different part of the country.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell’s social care portability bill received its first reading in the House of Lords this week. Baroness Campbell only returned to the Lords earlier this month after six months recovering from serious health problems. Her private members’ bill – which reached the first reading stage when it was introduced last summer – would provide continuity of support for disabled people who relocate to another local authority area in England or Wales.
The bill would place duties on councils to work together to ensure disabled people have equivalent care and support in place when they arrive at their new home, rather than having to renegotiate their package from scratch.
The government has said that it wants to see greater “portability of assessment”, but this would only ensure that disabled people do not need to be reassessed when they relocate and not that they would secure the same level of support in their new home.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said the bill would provide a practical solution that should form part of a wider package of social care reform.
The government is expected to publish its long-awaited adult social care white paper next month. DR UK said the lack of portability was a “significant breach of basic human rights, depriving people of choice and control over their lives, denying them job and education opportunities or the chance to live closer to family or friends”.
Liz Sayce, DR UK’s chief executive, said the charity had heard from disabled people who had had their support cut in half after moving to a new area, while others had been told to move into a residential home rather than employing a personal assistant. She said: “Employers will not keep a job open indefinitely nor will colleges delay the start of the academic year while a disabled person battles out their care package with the council. This is a huge waste of potential. “Social care is in crisis and we urgently need a simpler legal framework and sustainable funding.”
She added: “We call on the government to support Baroness Campbell’s bill and to give disabled people greater security of support when they move.”
Meanwhile, the government has launched a 12-week consultation on whether to extend its Right to Control (RTC) pilot scheme by another year.
Right to Control, introduced through Labour’s Welfare Reform Act and launched in seven pilot areas in England in 2010, puts support from six sources, including council-funded care, into single pots of money for disabled people to use as they wish.
The pilot was due to end in December 2012, but an interim evaluation found that – despite many examples of good practice – more evidence was needed about its impact.
Last October, Baroness Campbell told the Conservative minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, that disabled people were concerned that RTC was “going off the boil”.
The previous month, Disability News Service had reported concerns that Newham, in east London, one of the councils piloting RTC, was using the scheme as a cover for implementing cuts to disabled people’s support packages.
Healthy rise in sporting activity could be London 2012 legacy
The proportion of disabled people playing sport regularly has increased by more than a fifth since London won the right to stage the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, according to new figures.
Increasing disabled people’s participation in sport, and addressing the barriers that prevent them taking part, are key elements in the government’s plans for a lasting legacy from London 2012.
The latest results from Sport England’s on-going Active People Survey show the percentage of disabled adults playing sport every week has risen from 15.1 per cent to 18.2 per cent since October 2005, an increase of more than 20 per cent. The number of disabled adults participating regularly has risen from 1.32 million to 1.66 million. The figures also show a rise over the latest period (comparing October 2010-October 2011 with April 2011-April 2012), from 17.7 per cent to 18.2 per cent.
The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS), which aims to increase participation in sport and physical activity, welcomed the “significant increase”.
An EFDS spokeswoman said it was vital that the sport sector used the momentum provided by London 2012 to continue to increase participation in future years.
She said the London 2012 Paralympics had “definitely had an impact” on disabled people’s participation in sport, but she added: “We want that legacy or momentum to last much longer than 2012.” She said disability and mainstream sports bodies were now working more closely together, while disabled people were increasingly able to find information about sporting opportunities on the internet.
EFDS said it was pleased that the “priority sports” it had been working with over the last year – football, swimming, wheelchair tennis, cycling and athletics – had all shown growth.
Sport England said participation rates were likely to have been helped by sports bodies’ increasing efforts to “put sport in the shop window” in the lead-up to London 2012.
A Sport England spokesman said: “Ever since we won the bid [in 2005] there has been a huge focus on seizing the opportunity and making the most of it.”
Meanwhile, ParalympicsGB has announced the 18-strong para-cycling team that will compete at London 2012. Cyclists won 20 medals for Britain at the Beijing games, including 17 golds, and several of the top performers from four years ago will be defending titles in London. The team includes multi-gold medallists Sarah Storey, Darren Kenny, Aileen McGlynn and Jody Cundy, and Beijing gold medallists David Stone and Rachel Morris. Storey will defend two titles in a bid to add to her 18 Paralympic medals, 16 of which were in swimming. For more details, visit the ParalympicsGB website.
ParalympicsGB has also announced its eight-strong rowing team, which includes reigning Paralympic champion Tom Aggar, who competes in the “arms and shoulders only” single scull. The team will enter three events at London 2012. For full details, visit the ParalympicsGB website.
Weary activists call again for action after Winterbourne View abuse report
Leading self-advocates have called once again for government action to improve care standards for people with learning difficulties, but say they are not surprised by a report highlighting how many services are failing national standards.
The report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) was ordered by the Liberal Democrat care services minister Paul Burstow in the wake of a BBC documentary exposing abuse at Winterbourne View, an assessment and treatment unit near Bristol, in May 2011.
CQC inspected 72 assessment and treatment units, 39 secure units and 34 residential care homes, and found fewer than one in four were fully compliant (with no minor concerns raised) in the two areas inspectors were checking, care and welfare, and safeguarding.
Nearly half failed to meet one or both of the standards, because of moderate or major concerns, while independent healthcare services were twice as likely to fail to meet these standards as NHS providers.
The report concludes that some assessment and treatment services admit people for “disproportionately long spells of time”, while many are placed in services far from their families and homes.
The report also says there is an “urgent need” to reduce the use of restraint by staff.
Each of the CQC inspections included an “expert by experience”, a disabled person or carer with personal experience of the care system.
Gavin Harding, co-chair of the National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties, said he was “not surprised” by the report.
He said staff needed to “change the culture they work in… putting the person with learning disability first, leading how they want to live their lives instead of staff leading the way”.
He said he wanted to see better monitoring of how services were commissioned and more resources for CQC.
Harding said that sending a person with learning difficulties to a service out of their own area was “a disgrace”, while he warned that people were also being abused by staff in their own homes in the community.
Andrew Lee, director of People First Self Advocacy, said the scale of the problem was not a surprise, and that he had expected the evidence of poor standards to be even greater.
He said: “We have had loads of reports, loads of recommendations, and nothing actually seems to get better.”
He said he wanted CQC inspectors to be given more powers to act immediately over staff use of restraint.
Lee said there did not seem to be the motivation – the “inner heartbeat” – to drive those in authority “to make sure that people do have choice and actually have control, the right support and a good quality of life”.
He called for “stronger consequences” for abusers, but also better monitoring and accountability of local authorities and CQC.
He added: “The politicians need to take it a heck of a lot more seriously, rather than giving it lip service.”
And he said he was concerned that continuing cuts by local authorities were affecting the vital advocacy and other support provided by self-advocacy organisations run by people with learning difficulties.
Laura Broughton, who took part in the CQC inspections as a paid expert by experience, through the charity Choice Support, said: “Some of the people I met should have more help in getting a better life.
“They were often bored and distressed and staff talked to them not as adults but as though they were children. Some of the people weren’t treated as individuals and certainly not in a person centred way.
“I felt some people didn’t get the opportunities they should have because they couldn’t speak or because others felt their behaviour was challenging.”
Independent experts who worked on the CQC report said there was a “notable similarity between the concerns expressed” and the findings of a national audit carried out by the Healthcare Commission in 2006.
In his own interim report on the fall-out from Winterbourne View, Burstow said the CQC inspections showed an “insufficient focus on personalised care planning” while “too often the care which people receive is poor quality”.
Among 14 national actions announced by Burstow, he called for more surprise inspections by CQC inspectors, and said the government would promote “open access” to care settings for families and other visitors, and encourage service-users to be involved in reviewing their own care.
The BBC Panorama programme aired last year in the same week as the publication of John Pring’s* book,Longcare Survivors: The Biography of a Care Scandal, which is based on his 17-year investigation into the notorious and brutal regime of abuse of adults with learning difficulties at the Longcare homes in Buckinghamshire. Pring said the flaws in the system exposed by Winterbourne View were worryingly similar to those that emerged from the Longcare case nearly two decades ago.
These include a callous indifference in society to the rights of people with learning difficulties; the use of large, isolated, institutional settings; poorly-trained and low-paid care workers; the failure of inspections to spot abusive cultures; agencies failing to communicate with each other and share information; a lack of advocacy for service-users; and authorities failing to take complaints of abuse seriously and ignoring whistleblowers.
*John Pring is editor of Disability News Service
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com