Tonight I shall chair the Radiate Network’s discussion on the Paralympic legacy and I’m really looking forward to an interesting evening. The word ‘legacy’ now seems to be everywhere. I decided to check it out, thank goodness for good old Google. It seems we have a couple of definitions “money or property left through a will or something handed down from one person or generation to another”.
Well I think we can disregard the first definition! Cuts in benefits, local authority services and the NHS certainly do not suggest that disabled people and their families are about to receive some kind of windfall. The second definition seems to have greater potential. People or generations’ handing something on has certainly been evidenced by the Games. As disabled people we have all seen what might be achieved if we work hard and dedicate ourselves to achieving a particular goal. What has not been so obvious and is absolutely crucial has been all the background support; coaches, trainers, medical professionals, dieticians and of course Lottery Funding without which our paralympians would have found achieving excellence much more difficult. So how are ‘ordinary’ disabled people supposed to play their part in society or achieve their goals without the appropriate financial support and the equivalents of trained coaches, support services, good health care etc.?
Former DWP medical boss makes WCA pledge to protesters
A former Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) medical director has pledged to speak out about the government’s “fitness for work” test if he finds it is “not proper”, after he was ambushed by campaigners at a conference.
Professor Sir Mansel Aylward had been delivering a keynote speech on the controversial issue of the different “models” used by professionals to explain disability, to the International Forum on Disability Management in central London.
The biennial forum brings together delegates from across the world to discuss how to “manage” disability in the workplace, with those attending including employers, senior figures in the insurance industry, and government and union officials.
Sir Mansel is closely associated with the biopsychosocial (BPS) model, which campaigners say puts much of the blame for disability on the disabled person, rather than the social model explanation, which says disability is created by the barriers of attitude and environment disabled people face.
A small group of protesters delivered a copy of a letter written to the Guardian newspaper – signed by 420 disabled people, including many leading activists – to Sir Mansel, outside the hall where he had given his speech.
The letter claims the BPS model is “nothing short of a creation of the insurance industry”, and is being used to deny disabled people the support they need through the benefits system.
It also criticises the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) for organising the conference and lending “an aura of legitimacy” to the “pseudo-scientific approach” of the BPS model.
The protesters told Sir Mansel that the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) – used to test eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits, and introduced in 2008 – was based on the BPS model and had been heavily influenced by the insurance industry.
Sir Mansel admitted that the assessment was developed from the “all work test” he introduced himself in 1997 while at the DWP.
He surprised protesters by claiming that he could not comment on the WCA because he did “not know enough about it”, but pledged to “make myself aware based on what you have told me”.
He added: “I think I am a man of integrity. If I think the WCA is not proper I will speak out against it.”
Sir Mansel said he sympathised with the protesters, and himself now found the BPS model “unsatisfactory” and believed it “no longer addresses the real needs of disabled people and the exclusion of disabled people from society”.
He said the “social” element of the BPS model had been “neglected” and that he had a personal “distaste” for the medical model, which focuses on people’s impairments as the cause of their disability.
The issue of which explanatory “model” to use is important partly because the government’s welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, has said that the new assessment of disabled people’s eligibility for personal independence payment – the replacement for disability living allowance – will be based on a BPS approach and not the social model.
Earlier this year, Lord Freud quoted analysis which stated that – as defined by the BPS model – disability was “best overcome by an appropriate combination of healthcare, rehabilitation, personal effort and social/work adjustments”.
During his speech, Sir Mansel, who was the DWP’s chief medical adviser and medical director from 1996 to 2005, said he was “no longer satisfied” with the BPS model.
But he also claimed there was “a bit of a paradox” between the rights rhetoric of disabled activists and the protests connected with the WCA, which he said saw disabled protesters arguing that “because we are sick we cannot work”.
He also said there was “extensive clinical evidence that beliefs aggravate and perpetuate illness and disability” – a key element of the BPS approach that causes anger among many disabled people – and that “how people think and feel about their problems influence how they deal with them and their impact”.
And he claimed that although the social model was “still very relevant”, it was “not well understood” by the “fanatical elements” of the disability movement.
Sir Mansel is now director of the Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research (CPDR) at Cardiff University, which is particularly controversial because of its previous sponsorship by the insurance giant Unum.
He talked with protesters for several minutes after his speech and told them that Unum was a “participant” in the conference but not a “sponsor”, even though the welcome pack for delegates thanked companies – including Unum – that had supported the three-day event, while the USB flash drives handed out to delegates had Unum’s logo written on them.
Sir Mansel, who chairs the forum’s “core committee group”, also pointed out that Unum had stopped sponsoring his CPDR about four years ago.
Unum is the UK’s largest provider of “income protection insurance” (IPI), and tougher welfare rules – such as those that are seeing incapacity benefit (IB) replaced by employment and support allowance, with a new, tougher, assessment – could persuade more people to take out IPI, boosting Unum’s profits.
Mounting evidence suggests Unum has been trying to influence government policy on IB reform for nearly two decades, claims the company has repeatedly denied.
Last year, Unum launched a major marketing campaign to promote the need for IPI, just as the coalition began its three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing claimants of IB through the new, stricter test.
Unum has also admitted there has been widespread criticism of its past actions in the US, mainly over its refusal to pay out on large numbers of genuine insurance claims by disabled people.
John McArdle, one of the protesters and a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, asked Sir Mansel about Unum’s past history in the US.
Sir Mansel said he could not speak for Unum, but that he had seen the BPS model as a “stepping stone” to “get rid of the medical model”.
Protesters also raised concerns aired last week in the Commons by the Labour MP Kevin Brennan that the chief medical officer of Atos Healthcare – the company that carries out WCAs – is Professor Michael O’Donnell, who was previously Unum’s chief medical officer.
Brennan told MPs that the insurance commissioner for California had described Unum in 2005 as an “outlaw company” that had “operated in an unlawful fashion for many years, running claims denial factories”.
He added: “Is that the kind of person that the government should allow to be in charge of a work capability assessment system?”
McArdle told DNS that protesters were concerned at this “revolving door”, which saw senior DWP officials and Atos and Unum figures move from one organisation to the other, which he said created “a clear conflict of interest”.
He said campaigners were worried that the health insurance industry had “undue influence on our public health and social policy”.
The letter the protesters handed to Sir Mansel called for an “urgent and thorough independent public inquiry” into the links between senior Unum, Atos and DWP staff in creating the current “government disability assessment regime”.
An RSM spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that Unum was one of the sponsors of the IFDM.
“The sponsorship arrangements were agreed by the sponsorship team in early August while Sir Mansel Aylward was out of the country.
“In the busy build-up to the conference Sir Mansel remained unaware of the sponsorship arrangements with Unum, hence his incorrect answer to the question asked on Tuesday.”
She said the conference was one of more than 400 “educational meetings” RSM was involved in every year.
She added: “The RSM is not a policy making body and does not issue guidelines or standards of care. It is a charity focused on providing high quality education.
“It is non-partisan and provides a multi-disciplinary forum for discussion and debate amongst medical and allied healthcare professions.”
Protesters bring ‘terrifying’ battle to save ILF to new minister’s front door
Disabled people with high support needs who protested outside government offices have described the “terrifying” reality they face if the coalition pushes ahead with plans to abolish the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015.
Protesters from Disabled People Against Cuts – many of them ILF-users – gathered outside the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Caxton House building in Whitehall today (Thursday), and delivered a letter to the new Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey.
The letter asks for a meeting with the minister and stresses the vital role ILF plays in the lives of those who use it, allowing them to “live in the community, to go to university and in many cases work and pay taxes”.
The DWP is consulting on the closure of ILF, which will see non-ring-fenced funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Protesters believe the plans to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs – are a huge threat to their right to independent living.
They say the government’s consultation paper offers no details on how councils – already facing huge financial pressures – will be able to meet the extra support costs of disabled people who previously received ILF money.
Comedian and performer Liz Carr, an ILF-user and one of the protesters, said she will lose half of her care package when ILF closes, the equivalent of three-and-a-half days of assistance a week.
If that happens, she will have to use the remaining support for essentials such as personal care.
She said: “I am absolutely terrified about that magic number 2015 and I am equally absolutely terrified for people who don’t have a voice and don’t realise what is going to happen and don’t have somebody fighting on their behalf.”
She said she had no idea what her life would look like when ILF closed because of the many other areas where disabled people were being “squeezed” financially.
But she said: “I know the freedom and independence I have will not exist when ILF is removed. I think residential care will be the only option for many, many disabled people.
“I am going to make sure myself and my friends go down fighting.”
Sam, another protester, a wheelchair-user who is also a recovering alcoholic, said he believed he would end up back on the streets if he lost his ILF money, because he would lose his personal assistant and the rest of his support network.
He said: “If I felt isolated enough in my house, I would feel what else would I have and would go back to where I have got friends, on the road.”
Earlier, a Commons meeting organised by DPAC – and attended by Labour MPs Dame Anne Begg, John McDonnell, Dame Joan Ruddock and Katy Clark – heard that lawyers had taken the first step in a possible judicial review of the government’s failure to conduct a proper consultation on the ILF closure.
Stuart Bracking, a DPAC member and ILF-user, told the meeting that the government’s decision to set up ILF in 1988 had been a result of 20 years of campaigning by the disability movement, and had “revolutionised the social opportunities of a generation of disabled people… and that is what is at stake”.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said local authorities were already “cutting support to the bone” and were tightening eligibility and “increasing rationing”, so would “not have the resources” to fill the gap left by the ILF closure.
She said the costs of administering ILF were far lower (at two per cent) than for the care and support provided by social services (16 per cent).
Clark, the MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, told the meeting: “It is absolutely appalling that this government has proceeded with these proposals which must be going to have an absolutely devastating effect.
“Local authorities are not going to be able to take up the slack, even if they wish to.”
Atos gets it wrong on one in five ‘fit for work’ recommendations
New government figures show that one in five decisions to find someone “fit for work” made by the company that carries out the controversial disability benefit test is wrong.
The statistics, released this week by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), show that “healthcare professionals” employed by Atos Healthcare are far more likely to make a mistake when finding someone fit for work than when finding someone not fit for work.
Of the claimants Atos found fit for work (for claims starting between October 2008 and November 2011), 20 per cent of those decisions were overturned either by DWP staff or appeal tribunals.
This means that, of the 771,100 people Atos decided were “fit for work”, 150,500 were later found – whether by DWP officials or a tribunal – to be eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit.
Of those 150,500 people, 13,800 disabled people were placed in the support group, for those disabled people with the highest support needs, who are not expected to carry out any work-related activity at all.
But Atos has been much more accurate with its assessments when recommending that claimants should be placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) – for those disabled people eligible for ESA but expected to move gradually towards work – with 97 per cent of its decisions found to be accurate, and when placing people in the support group (99 per cent accurate).
The figures suggest that Atos is straining to find as many disabled people fit for work as possible.
Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, said: “This is evidence that whatever is happening, whether it is the contract [between Atos and DWP] that is at fault or indeed the way the [assessment] is being interpreted by Atos staff, they are getting it wrong in a very high proportion of cases.
“And to find out that almost 14,000 people were found fully fit for work when they should have been in the support group… that is a lot of people.”
An Atos Healthcare spokeswoman said: “All benefit decisions are made by the DWP. We apply their criteria and policy to all of the assessments we provide which is why they are in line with the final decisions made in the majority of cases.”
The DWP has so far not been able to say whether it is concerned by a failure rate of one in five.
But a DWP spokesman said: “As the table shows, 80 per cent of Atos fit for work recommendations are agreed with at the final outcome.
“The final outcome figures include both the decision maker making a different decision and the decision being overturned at a tribunal. Previous appeals figures have shown that, overall, 15 per cent of all fit for work decisions are overturned at a tribunal.
“Very few people would appeal a support group or WRAG decision, so there is bound to be a difference in the numbers.”
Atos has faced repeated complaints and protests by disabled activists over its performance in carrying out the contract to perform work capability assessments, first introduced in October 2008.
Campaigners and some Labour politicians have criticised Atos for finding many people with serious health conditions “fit for work”, and so ineligible for ESA.
Last month, the user-led grassroots campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts held a week-long series of protests to complain at Atos’s sponsorship of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
National newspapers ‘add fuel to the hate crime fire’
Disabled people increasingly believe that coverage of welfare reform and other disability issues in national newspapers is helping to fuel hate crime, according to a new report.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which published the report this week, called on the press and the government to change the language they use to describe disabled people.
Many of the 331 people who responded to a survey for the DR UK report – most of whom were disabled people – blamed rising hostility towards them on “government spin and distortion” and “rhetoric from the government about scroungers and benefit cheats”.
And nearly every one of them (97 per cent) thought reporting of disability should have been a key topic in the Leveson inquiry into press standards.
More than nine in ten linked the negative portrayal of disabled people in the press to rising hostility and hate crime towards disabled people, and an even higher percentage believed the national press were unfair in their portrayal of welfare and other disability equality issues.
One disabled respondent told how – after a headline about “free” Motability cars for disabled people – their car was vandalised. They have not displayed their blue parking badge since, and have been “yelled at, sworn at and insulted” and had their crutches kicked.
Following articles calling disabled benefit claimants “scroungers”, another respondent said: “I was followed by a group of youths in the street and called ‘a scrounging disabled bastard’.”
One said that “daily hounding in the press” had “made me feel suicidal”, another that coverage in the Sun had “made me feel like I was an outcast”, while another said reports in the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Mirror “makes me feel scared to go out”.
Yet another who replied to the survey said coverage in the Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Sun “completely devalued and totally undermine my efforts to live as fully and independently as possible”.
The report, Press Portrayal of Disabled People: A Rise in Hostility Fuelled by Austerity?, calls on the government’s Office for Disability Issues to play a bigger part in shaping how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communicates with the media and the public.
Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “The report shows that disabled people believe the government agenda has driven the hostile press coverage. It is hard to disagree that that is likely to be the case.”
He added: “It is important that the government improves how it communicates on some of the welfare changes, how it talks about disabled people.”
He said the ODI – which is part of the DWP – was the right body to lead that work because of its cross-government role.
A DWP spokeswoman denied the government was responsible for rising press negativity and hostility towards disabled people, and pointed to Challenge it, Report it, Stop it, its new hate crime action plan, which “includes challenging the attitudes that drive hate crime”.
She said: “We are very conscious of the language we in government use, as it’s clear that the benefit system itself has trapped many people in a spiral of welfare dependency.”
She said a key area of the government’s forthcoming disability strategy would be “promoting positive attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people to enable them to participate in community life and wider society, tackling discrimination and harassment wherever they occur”.
Anger as editor tells Motability-users to ‘hang heads in shame’ after London 2012
The editor of a local newspaper has angered disability hate crime campaigners by telling users of Motability vehicles that they should “hang their heads in shame” in comparison with medal-winning Paralympians.
Two editorials written in consecutive weeks by Toby Hines, owner and editor of the weekly Helston News and Advertiser in Cornwall, are the first examples seen by Disability News Service (DNS) of public figures using the exploits of Paralympians to attack disabled benefit claimants.
In an editorial on 4 September, Hines attacked “fake disabled” people, who he says have “a Motability car, blue badge, extra £100 per week of benefits, got a limp or mahoosive (sic) fat gut”.
He said such “fake” disabled people “do not work or contribute to society one iota and just sponge and bitch all day while sitting at home eating cream cakes watching Loose Women”, and compared them with Paralympians, who were “genuine people with some bad disabilities but not giving into them and actually trying to overcome them”.
Hines, who has a disabled son, added: “You can tell someone has a real disability as they deny it.”
In the second editorial, this week, he praised former racing driver Alex Zanardi, who won a Paralympic hand-cycling gold medal last week, and added: “Fascinating comparison to the people I see climbing out of motability (sic) cars in town and at Tesco who should hang their heads in shame.”
Steve Paget, chair of Disability Cornwall, said his organisation had complained several years ago to Hines about his “vitriolic and misinformed” editorials.
He said: “Having an understanding of one disability, whether yours or your child’s, does not give you a deeper insight into other conditions, so it would be interesting to know how Mr Hines feels he can spot what he terms a ‘faker’?
“In all the years that Disability Cornwall have been working with local disabled people, we can only ever recall one solitary case where it was felt the person we were advising may have had a somewhat dubious claim for a disability benefit.”
He added: “The next edition of our lifestyle magazine, Discover, features the alarming fact that hate crimes against disabled people are soaring across the country.
“Ill-judged comments such as that peddled by Mr Hines is just the sort of misinformed hysterical rhetoric we never need to see in print. A retraction is the very least Mr Hines should now be considering.”
Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime, said it was “extremely worrying” to read the two editorials.
She said: “Journalists should understand that they have a responsibility to report stories without sensation and with context – for example, pointing out that the levels for disability benefit fraud are extremely low.
“I am worried that such reporting could incite violence against disabled people and I would encourage this journalist to refrain from making claims about fraudulent claimants he cannot substantiate…”
Hines told DNS he was “quite notorious” for having a low tolerance of “false claimants”, but said he should have made it clear these were the people he was attacking in his second article.
He confirmed that he was not medically qualified, and accepted that many people with Motability vehicles had jobs.
When asked whether he was aware that many Paralympians also have Motability vehicles, he said: “I have no problem with anyone with a disability who takes what they are entitled to.
“I would be angry with people who swing the lead, exaggerate the situation, take benefits where they are probably not quite entitled or not entitled to, but then cast doubt or make it difficult for people with genuine situations.”
He said he would be “very careful not to repeat” his comment about people with Motability cars having to “hang their heads in shame”, which he said was “a mistake” that he would correct in the next edition of his newspaper.
He added: “Obviously, any Paralympian isn’t [in] a fake situation. They are a genuine illness person.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com