Sorry for the little pause! I’ve been away and unusually busy so I’ve provided you with a bumper news edition!
A recent trip to York provided a unique experience for me, I travelled on a Park and Ride bus. Might not sound like much to you but I really enjoyed myself. First the bus terminus was extremely modern and well equipped, very accessible and nice toilets. Buses arrive every ten minutesa so no real hanging around. I boarded via a manual fold out ramp so no chance of a mechanical failure I just relied on the bus driver leaping out and unfolding it. Once safely onboard I sat with lots of other damp shoppers and experienced a bus suspension system for the first time! We all bounced around on the way into the city centre and the driver, whilst helpful in the extreme, seemed to have a problem with his right foot! We shot away from traffic lights and stopped abruptly and violently whenever the need arose. It was a bit like having a workout at the gym without moving your body! The final irony was that Sue had her concessionary card so she paid 60p and I had to pay the full fare. For the first time in our married lives she had the concession and I was her support worker! Nice!
Shadow Minister calls on Leveson to rethink disability decision.
Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has called on Lord Leveson to rethink his decision to prevent disabled people giving oral evidence to his inquiry into press standards.
Disabled campaigners want to give evidence about national newspapers that have stirred up hostility towards claimants of disability benefits, but say they have been sidelined by the inquiry.
Anne McGuire MP told Disability News Service (DNS) that she was “really disappointed” that Lord Leveson had decided not to take any of this evidence in person.
She said: “Given the onslaught against disabled people that has appeared in the media over the last number of months, you would have thought this would have been something that ought to be aired properly in public at the inquiry.”
She added: “The way in which disabled people have been vilified in the press from my point of view is every bit as important as the way in which politicians and media personalities have been treated.”
McGuire said that the way the media was “misrepresenting the lives of disabled people” was causing many of them “distress” and “beginning to impact on the confidence” of many disabled people.
Disabled people’s organisations – including Inclusion London, the UK Disabled People’s Council and the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) – told DNS last November that they wanted to give evidence to the inquiry, set up in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
They believe there is strong evidence that disabled people are facing an increase in targeted hostility and hate crime as a result of stories that have been published in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, particularly on the subject of disability benefits.
They say that headlines such as “Disabled Benefit? Just fill in a form” (in the Daily Mail) and “75% on sick are skiving” (in the Daily Express) are leading to the “demonization” of disabled people, while “fair and accurate reporting, particularly in relation to disability benefit fraud, has gone out the window”.
But although the inquiry has accepted their written statement, it has refused to allow disabled people to give evidence in person.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, wrote last month to Lord Leveson on behalf of 18 disabled people’s organisations and campaigners to ask him to reconsider his decision, but the inquiry has turned down their request.
A Leveson inquiry spokesman said: “The inquiry has responded to a large number of pieces of correspondence and the position is the same as it was.
“If the shadow minister has other points that she wants to make she is more than entitled to write to the inquiry.”
Miller pledges expansion of ‘best kept secret’
Reforms to the scheme that provides funding for disabled people to make their workplaces more accessible could help end its reputation as the government’s “best kept secret”, according to a minister.
Among the “first steps” in reforming Access to Work (AtW) announced this week by Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, was a “targeted marketing campaign” aimed at encouraging more people with mental health conditions and more young disabled people to apply for support through the scheme.
The campaign will include efforts to raise its profile among those still at school, and it will focus on regions where AtW is not widely used, such as Wales, and promote the scheme with employers who are unaware of how it can help them recruit or retain a disabled employee.
Miller also announced that AtW would be available to young disabled people carrying out work experience through the government’s new Youth Contract, and to young disabled people taking part in the Department for Education’s supported internships scheme.
Miller told MPs: “We do not think it is right for Access to Work to be a hidden success and expanding, strengthening and modernising this programme will make work and choice of work possible for many more disabled people.”
But there are continuing concerns over the availability of AtW to new claimants, with numbers plummeting since the coalition came to power in 2010.
Liz Sayce, whose review of employment support for disabled people last year focused heavily on the need to expand and improve AtW, said she was “deeply concerned that numbers of new claimants are going down”.
If the current trend continues, the number of disabled people helped for the first time through AtW is set to dip below 10,000 in 2011-12, compared with a peak of 16,540 in 2009-10.
Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, suggested this was partly because so few people knew about the scheme, and partly because of restrictions on what was covered by the “standard list” – items which AtW will not cover because they are seen as standard equipment, business costs or health and safety requirements.
Sayce said this list “should be torn up” because it “causes immense frustration and bureaucracy for disabled people”.
Her review called on the government to double the number of disabled people receiving ATW, so that the scheme could change from being the “government’s best-kept secret” into a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.
But there were concerns that further much-needed reforms to the AtW scheme could be delayed, after Miller also announced a new “expert advisory panel”, to be chaired by Mike Adams, chief executive of ecdp (Essex Coalition of Disabled People), which will advise the Department for Work and Pensions on the best way to take forward Sayce’s recommendations on AtW.
Miller said the new panel would also make its own recommendations on “how to significantly improve” the scheme, and would report to her early next year.
When the government responded to Sayce’s report last July, it warned that her AtW recommendations could put “additional pressure on funding at a time when resources are limited”.
Sayce welcomed the decision to set up the panel, but warned that “action must come fast because right now disabled people are not getting into jobs or getting onto the career ladder or staying in their jobs after acquiring a health condition or impairment”.
Asked whether she was concerned at further delays to implementing her recommendations, she said: “Some of my recommendations are being implemented straight away, others are being phased in, with advice from the expert panel on the most effective implementation of each policy change.
“As far as I’m concerned the proof of the pudding will be in strong and rapid implementation and I’d like to see an action plan with timescales.”
Tougher action needed on digital inclusion
Stricter enforcement of the Equality Act, better education, and even boycotts of companies and websites are needed to secure better access for disabled people to information and communication technology, according to a leading expert.
Leonie Watson, director of accessibility at the digital agency Nomensa, told a parliamentary seminar – organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and the all-party parliamentary disability group – that many disabled people were still being “refused access to the digital world”.
Watson said there was a need to “educate young people in the ways of digital inclusion”, and to challenge producers of new technology “to do a better job”.
She said that more rigorous enforcement of the Equality Act “could make an incredible difference” to digital inclusion, but would probably require government funding.
Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion for the disability charity AbilityNet, said information and communication devices were becoming “more powerful and inclusive”.
He said that companies such as Apple that had led the way on inclusive technology had reaped financial rewards, with products such as the iPad and iTouch being bought “en masse” by the education sector in the US because of their inclusivity.
Christopherson, who, like Watson, is blind, said that if it wasn’t for the sort of technology that he demonstrated to the seminar on his iPhone, he would “probably be one of the people who are out of work”, would not have met his wife – who lives near his place of work – and would not have his “two gorgeous children”.
He said: “I would not have literally everything I have got.”
Rory Heap, a member of the disabled experts reference group for the BSI (British Standards Institution), accepted the progress made in inclusive technology, but warned that much of it was out of the reach of many disabled people.
He said: “I believe we live in a world where many, many people, both in-work and out-of-work, are still very seriously excluded by digital progress. Some people do not have £50 a month to pay for an Apple iPhone contract.”
And he warned of the move towards “self-service environments where most devices are touch-screen, without speech output”.
He said it was “really important” to recognise advances in technology but “also recognise that manufacturers are not all like Apple and Panasonic” and that disabled people still need to remind manufacturers, government departments, local authorities and others “that all in the garden is not necessarily rosy and the bits that are not rosy still need to be attended to”.
Meanwhile, a new campaign – Go ON Gold – is aiming to help disabled people access the internet and technology such as smartphones and digital TV.
More than four million disabled people in the UK – an estimated 43 per cent – have never been online, which means more than half of all UK citizens who have never used the internet are disabled people.
Martha Lane-Fox, chair of the new digital inclusion charity Go ON UK, which is supporting the campaign, said: “Full access to the internet can be hugely empowering and even transformative for people with disabilities, whose mobility may be compromised or who lack the resources to get out and about as much as they would like.”
Organisations backing the campaign so far include AbilityNet, RNIB, Disability Rights UK, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Memorial hears tributes to ‘passion and integrity’ of ‘wonderful’ Jack Ashley
Friends, family, colleagues and other admirers of the deaf peer Jack Ashley have paid tribute to the integrity, determination and “bloody-minded passion” of “one of history’s great civil rights leaders”.
A memorial event in Westminster that celebrated the life and achievements of Lord Ashley – who died in April – was attended by many of the country’s most influential disabled figures, and addressed by both the Labour leader Ed Miliband and his brother David, a close family friend of the Ashleys.
The family also announced that the Commons speaker, John Bercow, was setting up an annual Jack Ashley lecture on disability issues, with the first one set to take place this autumn in Speaker’s House, his official Commons residence.
Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds, a thalidomide survivor, said she and fellow survivors would be “forever indebted to him” for his commitment to securing compensation for her and the other “thalidomide children”, and that he would be remembered with “great affection”.
She added: “Above all, Jack Ashley, Lord Jack Ashley, was, is and always will be a man for all people.”
Ed Miliband called Lord Ashley an “extraordinary man” who displayed “extraordinary courage and determination”, and said: “I don’t think that you could imagine somebody who embodied more of the qualities you would want in somebody who would be an MP, a peer, a councillor, or indeed a friend.”
He said there were “millions of people who are living and will live better lives” because of Jack Ashley’s campaigning.
His brother David, a friend of the peer’s daughter Caroline for nearly 30 years, paid tribute to his “passion, integrity, honesty and humanity”.
The memorial heard how Jack Ashley had lost his hearing and begun to experience severe tinnitus in 1967, initially announcing that he would step down as an MP, only to be persuaded by his constituents to stay on.
He learned to lip-read, and rebuilt what had been a promising political career with the support of his wife, Pauline.
The memorial event heard that, as a result of his work on Alf (later Lord) Morris’s chronically sick and disabled persons bill, Jack Ashley set up the all-party parliamentary disability group (APPDG) in 1969, and later worked closely as chair of the group with the disability charity RADAR (now Disability Rights UK).
Agnes Fletcher, who was a researcher for the APPDG and was director of policy and communications at the Disability Rights Commission, said Jack Ashley was a campaigner “from his heart to his head and his fingertips”.
She said: “Jack rejected sentimentality – he wanted action and not words.”
She described him as “patient and persistent”, a “consummate communicator” who could be “lacerating in his righteous indignation” and was “adored” by all the researchers who worked with him.
Fletcher said he was “inviting disabled people into the corridors of power” through the APPDG “long before the concept of co-production” was adopted by politicians.
She concluded: “This wonderful man changed for the better the lives of many thousands of people. We owe it to Jack to defend and build on the legacy with blood-minded passion and persistence. That will be our tribute and our thanks.”
Ashley worked as a profoundly deaf MP for 25 years, and later partially regained his hearing through a cochlear implant after he became a Labour peer.
Lord [Neil] Kinnock, the former Labour leader, said Jack Ashley was “a hero”, paid tribute to the “tenacity, vitality” and “raw courage” that “gave him the lifelong will to achieve liberating victories for others”, and described how he had fought against “the way that ordinary people are hurt by the misuse of power”.
He also described how Jack Ashley’s campaigning work on the chronically sick and disabled persons bill in 1969 pulled him “out of the isolation and exile of deafness… He became a projectile against the causes, the effects, the privations and deprivations of disabilities.”
He concluded: “He established foundations to be built on here and emulated across the world.
“He was one of history’s great civil rights leaders and among the finest parliamentarians of any age.”
Lord [Bernard] Donoughue, a close friend of Jack Ashley’s for 50 years, said he had been “most struck by his integrity, dedication and determination to change things for the better” and that at their last meeting earlier this year he was “still funny, still no-nonsense, never a victim, always a champion”.
Another close friend and fellow peer, Lord Morris, described Jack Ashley as “a peer and yet peerless”, and said: “The world is a poorer place for his passing.”
David Livermore, former chair of RNID, said he was “an inspiration to deaf people, a deaf person right at the centre of the political life of this country”.
Lord Ashley’s daughter Jane said her father was “like a silver bubble rising up in the water that just could not be pushed down”.
Lord Ashley’s grandchildren read extracts from his 1992 autobiography, Acts of Defiance, and some of the tributes that have been left on the website set up by the family to celebrate his life.
Among the leading disabled figures who attended the memorial service were Sir Bert Massie, Dr Rachel Perkins, Phil Friend, Liz Sayce, Alice Maynard and Lord [Colin] Low.
High-ranking members of the Labour party who attended included Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman, Jack Straw, Douglas Alexander, Frank Dobson and Chris Smith.
There were also politicians from across the political divide, such as the Liberal Democrats Stephen Lloyd, himself a deaf MP, and Baroness [Shirley] Williams, the crossbench peer Lord [David] Owen, and the Conservative ministers Jeremy Hunt and Chris Grayling.
Fears confirmed as government announces ILF will close in 2015
The government has finally confirmed that it wants to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) entirely in 2015.
A long-awaited consultation paper on the future of ILF was published the day after the government published its care and support white paper and draft bill.
Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, announced in December 2010 that ILF – the government-funded trust which currently helps 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently – would remain closed permanently to new applicants, while the packages of current users would be protected until 2015.
But in this week’s consultation paper, the government makes it clear that it also wants to close the ILF to existing users from April 2015, with funding passed instead to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The consultation document says existing ILF-users will have their eligible care and support needs met through personalised budgets and direct payments, but warns that the services available will be “in line with local priorities”.
Last December, in a letter signed by many of the country’s leading disabled activists, the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts wrote that ILF enabled thousands of disabled people to “live independently with choice and control over their lives”.
Linda Burnip, a member of DPAC’s steering group, warned then that many ILF-users “fear that if ILF closes without a similarly ring-fenced budget for independent living then they will either end up in much more expensive residential care homes or without any quality of life”.
Several months earlier, giving evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, John Evans, the veteran disabled activist and co-founder of the National Centre for Independent Living, said that if the government closed ILF completely in 2015, he would probably be forced to move into residential care.
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said this week: “The government believes that the care and support needs of existing ILF users can and should be met within one cohesive social care system, in a way that is consistent with our commitment to localism, with funding and services integrated around individuals’ need through personal budgets.”
The ILF consultation ends on 10 October.
Care and support white paper : Activists’ anger over funding failure
Disabled activists have reacted angrily to the government’s decision to delay reforming the funding of adult care and support.
The Conservative health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said it was an “inescapable conclusion” that final decisions on funding the changes recommended by the government-commissioned Dilnot Commission could only be made as part of the next spending review, expected in 2013 or 2014.
Although the coalition’s decision to delay reforms suggested last July by the commission was no surprise, there was still widespread anger.
Professor Peter Beresford, chair of the user-led Shaping Our Lives network, said social care policy was in an “unbelievably chaotic state”.
He said he was not surprised by the government’s failure to produce a funding solution because it was “ideologically committed to reducing public spending” and was “ruthlessly using the concept of austerity and the public deficit” to justify regressive policies.
He criticised the refusal of politicians from all parties to consider a fully integrated health and social care system that was free at the point of use and funded – in the same way as the NHS – from general taxation.
Members of the WeareSpartacus campaign said further government delay in reforming funding would see more local authorities developing the kind of radical cost-cutting policies that were set to push young disabled people into residential care in Worcestershire.
The disabled-led campaign group published a new report this week into proposals put forward by Worcestershire County Council.
They said the government’s commitments to ensuring disabled people had choice and control over their support – outlined in this week’s white paper – were “well meaning and useless” without a “clear funding source”.
Dr Sarah Campbell, one of the report’s authors, said: “Knowing that the government promotes choice and independence is of little comfort if confronted with compulsory entry into residential care as a young disabled adult with no prospect of returning to the community.
“The government must urgently clarify funding reform so that such proposals do not see the light of day.”
Under Worcestershire’s plans, new service-users – or existing service-users whose needs change – who have a support package where the costs exceed a certain limit will be told to either meet the shortfall themselves, find a cheaper means of support, or “receive their care in a residential or nursing home”.
Many of the social care reforms that were announced by the government did win some support among disabled activists.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell told fellow peers that – “temporarily ignoring the social care funding elephant in the room” – she welcomed much of the content of the white paper.
The disabled crossbench peer said the white paper “concentrates on independent living, empowerment strategies, and supporting people to stay at home and contribute to their communities instead of the current safety-net crisis interventions. That has been my life’s work.”
But she was unable to secure a definitive answer from the Conservative health minister Earl Howe on whether the government’s plans to improve the “portability” of disabled people’s care if they move to another local authority area would guarantee an equivalent level of support from the new council.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said the government’s announcements would “progress some much-needed proposals for reform of the social care framework”.
DR UK welcomed the publication of a draft social care bill to replace the current “complex cat’s cradle” of legislation, and the moves towards a more “portable” system of care.
But it said it was “very disappointed” that the government’s announcements failed to address the crucial issue of care funding.
Sayce said: “It is essential to disabled people, older people and carers that the funding of care and support services is resolved as soon as possible.
“The government must set a timeframe to deliver this aim – or will face an explosion in longer-term costs as disabled people are forced to rely on more expensive NHS services or residential care and more disabled people and carers are forced out of work.”
Lawyers for four young disabled people battling cuts to care in west Berkshire welcomed the government’s proposals to introduce a new national eligibility threshold for care and support.
The four young disabled people, all with high support needs, are taking a legal case against West Berkshire Council, one of only three local authorities in England that restricts council-funded care to those with critical needs – the highest of the four eligibility bands.
Anne-Marie Irwin, a public law specialist at Irwin Mitchell, which is representing the four, said: “West Berkshire’s ‘critical only’ policy is an example of why the proposals put forward by the government are so desperately needed.”
New political fund ‘could create legacy of disabled MPs’
Disabled people who want to overcome the barriers they face in seeking elected office will now be able to apply for financial support from a new £2.6 million government fund.
The fund, open for applications until the end of March 2014, will help meet the additional costs a candidate might face, such as taxi fares or British Sign Language interpreters.
It will offer grants of between £250 and £10,000 to disabled people who want to be selected as candidates, or who are standing for election.
Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister, said the fund was “an important step towards levelling the playing field” for disabled people, who were currently under-represented in public life.
The first to benefit from the fund will be candidates seeking election in November as one of the coalition’s new police and crime commissioners.
David Buxton, chief executive of the British Deaf Association, has been campaigning for such a fund since the early 1990s, following his own experiences of being elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor and standing twice for parliament.
He had to find thousands of pounds to pay for communication support during his campaigns.
He said: “With the right support, people just see an able person, not my deafnesss. This new fund will empower Deaf individuals with political ambitions to be able to get more involved in their political parties and become prospective candidates at the next election.
“One day we believe there will be a Deaf BSL member of parliament. The only concern is whether the grants made will be enough to cover all the costs. But at last this is a start.”
Abigail Lock, the disabled campaigner who has played a leading role in securing the new fund, said she was “absolutely delighted” by the announcement.
She said: “I think it is going to create a legacy for future generations if we can get more disabled people into parliament, because they have been so woefully under-represented.
“It is fantastic that the government has done this but if nobody knows about it, it is not going to work. Disabled people must go out and apply.”
The fund will be open to candidates for UK Westminster elections, English local elections, Greater London Authority elections, English mayoral elections and those seeking to be police and crime commissioners.
The government has also launched an online training course, which details the skills needed in standing for office, includes advice and tips from disabled politicians, and is aimed at supporting disabled people interested in a political career.
The fund and online training are part of the government’s access to elected office strategy, which includes a small number of nine-month paid internships for disabled candidates on the speaker’s parliamentary placements scheme.
The scheme provides an opportunity to work with an MP and gain experience across different departments in the House of Commons.
The new measures are the latest to come from the three main political parties in the wake of the cross-party speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation, which reported in 2010 on ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.
Blue Badge scheme ‘will focus on physical mobility’
The government looks set to maintain the current focus of the blue badge parking scheme in England on disabled people with significant physical mobility problems.
The Department for Transport (DfT) proposals are contained in a new consultation on how eligibility for a blue badge will change when working-age disability living allowance (DLA) is replaced by the new personal independence payment (PIP).
The Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker has suggested that automatic eligibility for a badge should not be extended to all those claiming the enhanced rate mobility component of the new PIP.
This would have included many people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties who can walk but have problems planning and following journeys. They will now have to apply instead to their local council for an assessment of their mobility needs if they need a blue badge.
PIP is due to be introduced for new working-age claimants from April 2013, and will begin to replace DLA for existing claimants from October 2013.
The new consultation is the latest in a series of reforms aimed at improving the blue badge scheme, and cutting fraud and misuse.
Baker told MPs in a written statement that he favoured granting automatic eligibility to those who “score” eight points or more when assessed on the “moving around” activity within PIP, as it was the option that was “most similar to the current scheme”.
This option would mean that anyone who cannot move more than 50 metres – or cannot move up to 50 metres without using a wheelchair or other mobility aid – would be automatically eligible for a blue badge, and so would “restrict eligibility to those applicants who are unable to walk or have very considerable difficulty walking”.
Baker said in his written statement that he was “committed to ensuring that the Blue Badge scheme continues to be focused on those people who will benefit most from the parking concessions that it offers, and that it is sustainable in the future”.
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK, said: “I can understand why the government has looked at this particular criteria because that is what is most akin to the current blue badge scheme.”
But she said people who were not able to claim automatic eligibility could apply instead through the local authority assessment route, and added: “I would hope it would not be excluding anyone who was genuinely in need.
“I would encourage people to respond to the consultation, especially if they have concerns.”
A DfT spokeswoman said the option favoured by the government “is the option we think will have least impact on the number of people receiving automatic blue badge eligibility”.
She added: “We are consulting, so we want people to come back to us and tell us who they think will be impacted by the different options. We will be very glad to receive any evidence from groups and organisations that may have done work on this.”
At present, about a third of blue badges are issued – automatically – to claimants of the higher rate mobility component of DLA, with about 900,000 badges in England on issue to people on higher rate mobility.
An alternative option included in the consultation document – but one not backed by Baker – would mean no-one receiving PIP would be automatically eligible for a blue badge, with everyone between the ages of 16 and 64 needing instead to apply to their local authority.
Another alternative option would create automatic blue badge eligibility for all those who receive the enhanced rate mobility component of PIP, including many people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.
The consultation ends on 2 October.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com