Miller faces questions, hate crime figures drop, Universal credit fears, Mckinnon verdict gives hope, Legacy in jeopardy, SEN reforms frustration, ILF closure, Disabled Agency workers win, New EHRC chair, Failure to assess cuts impact.

It seems like a long time ago since I wrote something for the blog. A persistent and very painful stomach thingy recently struck me down. Of course I am a bloke so it was clearly catastrophic and only life saving treatment in the Bahamas was acceptable. My partner Sue while concerned and considerate might describe it as a ‘little tummy bug’ no matter I’m back!

A lot happens when you’re away for a short time. The Hillsborough families look like they might finally get justice and the BBC and other institutions are in the dock over the Jimmy Savile child sex abuse allegations. I met him many years ago at Stoke Mandeville. He was compiling his Savile’s Travels programme and seemed to have complete freedom to go where he liked and to talk to whomever he liked. I think it is fair to say that I along with several of my team mates found him sleazy and unpleasant and I never understood why he was so popular. Well the genie is well and truly out of the bottle now and perhaps those who have lived with what he did to them will also get some kind of closure.

Now on with this editions news and there is a lot of it.


News Roundup

Miller faces questions after new minister admits Access to Work spending has plunged

The government have finally admitted that spending on its Access to Work (AtW) employment support programme for disabled people has plummeted since 2010.

Disability News Service (DNS) has repeatedly reported on figures showing the number of disabled people receiving funding through AtW falling sharply since the coalition came to power.

Despite the figures, ministers continued to insist that the government was investing more in AtW, which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support to make workplaces more accessible.

But this week, the new minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, told the Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz that AtW spending had fallen from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12.

McVey said she was unable to say how much spending would be for this year and the next two years because the figures were “subject to further change”.

Three months ago, Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, questioned Maria Miller, McVey’s predecessor, about the falling numbers of AtW claimants, but was told she should “check her facts”.

Miller insisted then that AtW was “actually spending more money than ever before in supporting disabled people across the country”.

A DWP spokeswoman also insisted to DNS in July that the government had “invested more money than ever before into the scheme”, even though its own figures showed the number of people claiming funding fell by more than 5,000 to 30,690 in 2011-12, a drop of nearly 15 per cent on 2010-11.

McGuire said she had now asked work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith “to clarify the two contradictory pieces of information on spending”.

She said: “When I challenged Maria Miller on the decline in spending on Access to Work and the drop in numbers of disabled people being supported through the programme, I was astonished when the minister said I had to check my facts.

“Well, the facts are there for all to see, and they show a significant decline in spend. I think the government are saying one thing while the reality is different.”

A DWP spokeswoman said this week that Miller did not believe she needed to apologise to MPs over her comments in July.

She said: “The figures that [Maria Miller] quoted were right at the time she appeared in the house and referred to the latest published Access to Work spending from the 2010-2011 financial year.

“Since then, 2011-12 figures have been published – these were provided to Mark Lazarowicz MP as requested.”

A review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, called last year for the number of disabled people receiving AtW to double, so the scheme could change from being the “government’s best-kept secret” into a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.

But the numbers claiming AtW have instead continued to plunge since Sayce handed her report to the coalition.
CPS and police clueless over sharp drop in disability hate crime prosecutions

Both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police have been unable to explain a sharp drop in the number of prosecutions for disability hate crime.

The CPS released its annual hate crime report today, which shows the number of disability hate crimes referred to the CPS by police fell to 643 in 2011-12 from 690 the previous year.

The report has caused confusion within the CPS and among senior police officers, as official reports of disability hate crime are continuing to increase every year, partly due to greater efforts to encourage reporting of hate crimes by disabled people.

The report says that the number of completed disability hate crime prosecutions fell even more sharply than referrals, from 726 to 621, while the number of successful prosecutions also plunged, from 579 to 480, and the prosecution success rate fell from 79.8 per cent to 77.3 per cent. The worst regional conviction rate (at just 71 per cent) was in London.

The total number of hate crime cases referred to the CPS also fell, by five per cent, while the number of hate crime cases charged fell by three per cent, and the number and proportion of successful prosecutions also fell slightly.

Dale Simon, director of equality and diversity at the CPS, said she did not yet know why referrals and prosecutions had fallen.

She told Disability News Service: “It is the first time we have seen this happen. It is not for lack of commitment. If I had the answer I would be doing something right now to change it.”

But she added: “We can only deal with the cases referred to us [by the police].”

Simon said she would be meeting with those leading on hate crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), and had contacted the chair of the cross-government hate crime strategy board to ask for a meeting to discuss the report’s findings “at the earliest opportunity”.

She said the figures had “nothing whatsoever” to do with the impact of spending cuts on the CPS.

She added: “Over the last two years, we have put significant resources into tackling disability hate crime, launching an innovative schools pack designed to tackle issues at the point attitudes are formed.

“We have also held workshops across the country for those that offer support services to people with disabilities and those workshops are set to continue.”

An ACPO spokeswoman said: “We do not know at this stage what the [reason for the] discrepancy is… between the number of referrals and the number of recorded hate crimes.”

She said they would discuss why hate crime referrals from the police were falling while recorded hate crime was rising when they met with the CPS.

Courts to be asked to declare government’s ILF consultation unlawful

Six disabled people have launched a legal action over the government’s decision to scrap the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

They will ask the courts to declare that the coalition’s public consultation on the proposed closure – which ended last week – was unlawful, and that any decision based on the consultation would also be unlawful.

The case follows a series of high-profile judicial reviews of other such decisions by government departments and other public bodies to slash services and spending due to the coalition’s deficit reduction plan.

The proposed closure of the ILF will see funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But last week, councils admitted that when ILF-users transfer into the local authority system in 2015, the pot of money they are awarded by their council to meet their support costs will probably be lower than they currently receive, with some forced to rely on relatives or charities.

Anne Pridmore, a leading disabled activist and one of the six ILF-users taking the legal case, said: “I didn’t expect to be doing this in my 73rd year.

“Sometimes I think to myself ‘why am I doing this?’ because I probably only have two years left in my own home. They will put me in residential care because there is no way the council will pay the other half of my care package [the half currently covered by ILF].

“I just feel if I didn’t do it I would be letting people down and letting myself down. I am getting to the end part of my life but there are a lot of younger disabled people who should be able to apply for the ILF and they have not been able to and will not in the future if something is not done to stop it closing.”

Activists say the plans to close the ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs – are a huge threat to disabled people’s right to independent living.

They say the money will not be ring-fenced when it is passed to local authorities, while the government’s consultation paper offered no details on how councils would be able to meet the extra costs of disabled people with high support needs who previously received ILF money.

Lawyers for the six ILF-users taking the case will argue that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had failed to explain why the only option it offered in its consultation was to close the fund.

And they will say that the consultation document did not provide enough information about the difference between the ILF – which enables people to be independent, work and be full citizens – and local authority assessment and provision, which focuses on basic needs.

They will also argue that the government breached the Equality Act by failing to assess the impact of the closure on disabled people.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We acknowledge the action being taken in relation to the recent consultation on the future of the Independent Living Fund by some of its users. The department will follow the correct procedure and respond in due course.”
Universal credit ‘could drive hundreds of thousands over the edge’

Campaigners are involved in a stand-off with the government over a major new report that warns hundreds of thousands of disabled people could find themselves driven “over the edge” by welfare reforms.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson led the inquiry by Disability Rights UK, Citizens Advice and The Children’s Society into the impact of “universal credit” on disabled people, which included surveys of almost 3,500 disabled people and their families.

The report, Holes In The Safety Net, concludes that about 450,000 disabled people could eventually lose out under the planned changes, which will see key means-tested benefits and tax credits combined into a new, simpler universal credit, which will start to be introduced next year.

The government insists that “transitional protection” will ensure that no-one moving onto universal credit will see their benefits cut in cash terms.

But the three organisations say this will not apply if there are any changes in personal circumstances – for example if someone moves to a new home – while the payments will not be uprated every year to take account of inflation. The transitional protection will also not apply to new claimants.

The report says 100,000 disabled children could lose up to £28 a week, with two-thirds of those surveyed who would be affected saying such cuts would mean they would have to reduce spending on food, while more than one in 10 said they could be forced to move home. Lone parents would be even more badly affected.

The report also concludes that up to 116,000 disabled people with jobs, who have been found “fit for work” by the government’s benefits assessors, could lose up to £40 a week, which could prevent many of them working because of the extra costs they face in the workplace.

And it warns that nearly a quarter of a million disabled people with high support needs who do not have a carer to assist them could eventually receive between £28 and £58 a week less due to the abolition of the severe disability premium, and that without this money “these disabled people would be unable to meet their most basic of needs”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said the “clear message” of the report was that many disabled people were “already struggling to keep their heads above water” and that reducing support for them risks “driving many over the edge in future”.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told the report’s parliamentary launch that she found it “astonishing” that the family of a disabled child born just one day after the cut-off point for transitional protection could find itself £1,300 a year worse off.

She said: “We are talking about significant losses to people who are already on the financial edge.”

But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has repeatedly told newspapers and broadcasters this week that the three charities were “scaremongering”.

A DWP spokeswoman told Disability News Service that the charities had used “extreme examples” and “worst case scenarios” while failing to stress the transitional protection available.

She said the figures recognised by the government were those in an equality impact assessment (EIA) on universal credit, published last November, which showed that “250,000 individuals in households with a disabled person” would be lifted out of poverty.

But the same EIA also states – without including any figures – that “some disabled people could be entitled to less under Universal Credit” although “the government believes this is justified as it is targeting funding at the most severely disabled”.

The DWP spokeswoman said there had been a long “consultative process” over universal credit and that Baroness Grey-Thompson had already raised her concerns in the Lords.

She said Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, had met with many stakeholder groups over the summer, and she added: “It has been very much a process of back and forth, with feedback, and that continues. To say we are not listening [to the concerns] is totally ludicrous. We have been listening from the very start of this process.”

McGuire told the packed launch event that the government had spent the entire day trying to “rubbish” what was an independent report, led by a crossbench peer.

She said the government should have shown “a lot more humility” and instead of “denying what is happening” should look at ways to fix universal credit.

She said: “We want simplification of the benefits system but what we cannot have is simplification on the backs of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in society.”

Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, welcomed the “timely” report, and said: “The government’s view is that nobody loses out. From this report and the research we have carried out, that is clearly not the case.”

She said it would be only “a matter of years” before no-one on universal credit was receiving any transitional protection.

And she said disabled people who live on their own – and probably value their independence more than most – seemed to be the group that would be hit hardest by the changes.
End of McKinnon’s 10-year ordeal raises new questions

Autistic rights campaigners have welcomed the government’s decision to end the 10-year extradition ordeal of Gary McKinnon, but say his case raises key questions for other disabled people within the criminal justice system.

Theresa May, the Conservative home secretary, announced this week that McKinnon would not be extradited to the United States because of the risk that he would commit suicide.

McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, faced a trial for allegedly hacking into US defense department computer systems in search of evidence of extra-terrestrial life, and a possible prison sentence of 60 years if convicted in the United States.

The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, will now have to decide if McKinnon should be prosecuted in the UK.

May told MPs she had concluded that extradition would “give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights”.

Janis Sharp, McKinnon’s mother, said she was “overwhelmed and incredibly happy” and that when her son heard that he would not be extradited he “literally couldn’t speak, then he cried”.

She said: “It is so emotional, a culmination of 10 years and seven months. It will take time to go back to normal life.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil liberties organisation Liberty, said it was “a great day for compassion and common sense”, but that May’s decision was only possible because of the “much-maligned, much-misunderstood Human Rights Act of 1998”.

The decision not to extradite McKinnon was widely – although not universally – welcomed.

But some politicians and activists have begun to ask how May’s decision will affect other people with mental health conditions who are threatened with extradition.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, pointed to the case of Haroon Rashid Aswat, who is facing extradition on terrorism-related charges and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Others highlighted the case of Talha Ahsan, who also has Asperger’s syndrome and is said by his supporters to be suicidal, but was extradited to the US earlier this month to face terrorism-related charges.

Roderick Cobley, an autism rights campaigner, said the McKinnon decision was “a breath of hope to other people with invisible impairments like autism who are caught up in the criminal justice system”.

And he said the similar circumstances of Talha Ahsan meant there was “an excellent case for reversing that decision and having him brought back to the UK”.

But Larry Arnold, a prominent member of the National Autistic Society (NAS), said he was concerned that the McKinnon decision and “the assertion that we have diminished responsibility is something that might have implications for our autonomy or credibility to act and think for ourselves”.

But he said he agreed that the pressures placed upon McKinnon “and the threats of major injustice put him at a very real risk of suicide”, and that “Asperger’s syndrome may have contributed to that, but so would so many other things”.

Arnold said there had been “mixed opinions in the autistic community” about the case, with some wanting to see McKinnon extradited because they believed that if he had committed a crime, he should face the consequences.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, also said that reaction to McKinnon’s case from people with Asperger’s syndrome had been “mixed”.

He said: “I think there are people out there with Asperger’s syndrome who maybe felt that it was inappropriate that on the face of it Asperger’s syndrome was being used as an excuse.”

But he said the “vast majority” of people had been supportive of McKinnon, while the case highlighted the need for the criminal justice system to improve its understanding of hidden impairments, and for “better support for autism, and better understanding of the adaptations required in a range of public services”.
Trio tell new minister that coalition is jeopardising London 2012 legacy

The new minister for disabled people has been told by a disabled activist, a disabled peer and a Paralympic torch-bearer that her government is jeopardising the legacy from this summer’s Paralympic Games.

Esther McVey faced the trio of blunt warnings at her first appearance before the all party parliamentary disability group, for a meeting to discuss the legacy of London 2012.

Kush Kanodia, a director of the equality consultancy Choice International, told McVey that taking part in the Paralympic torch relay this summer had been a “life-changing experience”.

And he said that “the active involvement and integration of disabled people in UK society” would be a “wonderful legacy” from London 2012.

But he said the government’s “three-pronged attack” on disabled people, through cuts to benefits and to services and the “general lack of opportunities”, was “jeopardising the legacy”.

The disabled Labour peer Baroness Wilkins told McVey that she had a “major mountain to climb” with London 2012’s legacy.

She said McVey’s predecessor, Maria Miller, had “defended the government against disabled people” rather than being a “minister for disabled people”.

And she said she feared McVey would be “leaned on” by senior ministers to continue to support government policies that acted “against disabled people”, when “we desperately need you to fight for disabled people”.

Baroness Wilkins was one of several leading disabled figures who pleaded with McVey to distance the government from the “scrounger rhetoric” that has led to disabled people being targeted incorrectly as benefit cheats.

Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, challenged McVey to “look into my eyes” and insist there was a “a real lasting legacy” from the games when her government was responsible for “savage and brutal cuts” to welfare – with another £10 billion cuts to come in 2015-16 – as well as cuts to council social care funding, and the “whittling away of rights and the sale of the NHS”.

He said: “The legacy on the ground for disabled people is that it is tough now and it is going to get a lot tougher.”

McVey said that spending per year on “disability support and benefits” was “remaining at £40 billion”, while spending on disability living allowance was “remaining at £13 billion”, which was “a fifth higher than anywhere else in Europe”, and she insisted that Britain was “a global leader” in supporting disabled people.

McVey had earlier told the meeting: “I cannot speak for people who went before me but what I will guarantee is I will be a champion [for disabled people].”

She said she would be holding a summit with the media to address its portrayal of disabled people, and would ask all 100,000 Department for Work and Pensions employees to take part in a social media project on 3 December, the International Day of Disabled People, to promote disabled role models.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, the record-breaking retired Paralympian who worked with the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG, said the games had “completely exceeded all my expectations”, and pointed to the huge crowds and how LOCOG’s chair Lord Coe had treated the Olympics and Paralympics as equals.

She said the organising team preparing for the 2016 games in Rio had been “terrified” of what they had to live up to after witnessing London’s Paralympics.

But she also said there was “a lot of work to be done” to encourage greater participation by disabled people in sport at school and at grassroots level, which was the only way Britain could “continue to have elite success” in Paralympic sport.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, co-chair of the all party group, said disabled people had gone “from scroungers to heroes” as a result of London 2012 “and we don’t want to go back”.

She said London 2012 had “really showed the world the true meaning of participation” and highlighted how disabled people – including managers, access consultants and artists – had been “everywhere”, which “felt really great to me”.

She highlighted gains such as positive attitudes towards disabled people promoted by the television coverage, the “large numbers of accessible homes” that will be available once the Paralympic Village has been converted from athletes’ accommodation, and the use of disabled presenters by Channel 4.

McVey said the games were “seen globally as a huge success” and provided a “fantastic platform” but “from there we have to ensure there is a permanent impact”.
Support for SEN reforms, but frustration continues over funding for segregation

The coalition has received some backing from disabled people’s and disability organisations for its proposed special educational needs (SEN) reforms, but has been warned that key concerns remain over its funding for segregated schools.

Support for the reforms, which will be included in a new children and families bill early next year, came at this week’s meeting of the all party parliamentary group for children.

Edward Timpson, the new Conservative education minister, who now has responsibility for SEN reform, told the meeting that he wanted to move away from the current “fragmented and fractured” SEN system.

Among the plans laid out in draft legislation last month, SEN statements will be replaced with a single assessment process that will lead – from 2014 – to a new education, health and social care plan for disabled children from birth to 25.

Timpson, who was making one of his first appearances as minister responsible for SEN, said he was “very much committed to seeing through the reforms” started by his predecessor, the Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather.

He added: “I want to move the focus away from the bureaucracy and the tick-boxing of assessment into very much ensuring the right outcomes for children with SEN.”

Timpson left soon after his speech, but Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, told the meeting – including Department for Education civil servants – that ALLFIE welcomed the government’s decision to take a more positive approach to inclusive education than in last year’s SEN green paper.

But she said this contrasted with the increasing amounts of government funding for segregated education.

She told Disability News Service after the meeting: “Government policy is all about funding and supporting segregated education. What are they doing to support the capacity of mainstream schools and colleges?”

John Dickinson-Lilley, parliamentary vice-chair of the Special Educational Consortium (SEC), whose members include ALLFIE, Sense and RNIB, said SEC “broadly welcomes” the “principles” and the “general direction of travel” of the government’s reforms.

But he said the consortium was concerned about the 25 per cent of disabled young people who may not have SEN – including children with long-term health conditions such as epilepsy – and who were not “explicitly” included in the government’s plans.

Two Mencap “young ambassadors”, both involved with the Redbridge branch of the charity’s Changemakers programme, told the all party group that they wanted the government to provide more support for young people with learning difficulties like them with the transition from school and college into work and adult life.

Glen, a teenager who has interviewed other young people involved with Changemakers – which helps young people with learning difficulties make an impact within their local communities – said: “Everyone thought they couldn’t manage if the support was taken away. About half of the young people thought they would do better if they had more help.”

He said he wanted to work, to have his own money, and “one day live on my own with my friends or a girlfriend”.

Scott Mills, who is also involved with Changemakers, told the meeting: “I believe colleges and schools should support people with job skills and help people to be more independent and they should focus on how to get a job and also warn people about the stereotypes that people with learning disabilities may face.”

he believes that there needs to be a change in the way of thinking of MPs, their work in their constituencies and also their work in parliament”.

He added: “British democracy is in crisis. The cause is a precipitous decline in respect for members of parliament and for the governments they form.”

He said: “I need DLA for my care. I do have additional expenses so I am glad I receive the mobility component.

“But given how tough so many other people’s lives are, whether somebody in my position can make a case for keeping it where there are pressing requirements for government expenditure is another matter.”

He said it would hurt if he lost his higher rate mobility component of DLA – at more than £50 a week – but if somebody else lost that money “they would be housebound”.

He added: “I am being given a financial contribution to my mobility from the taxes of people who earn a quarter of what I do. There are people who need that money more than I do.

“It would be lovely if we could afford to indemnify every disabled person against all the costs they suffer as a consequence of their disability. Our deficit tells us that that is not the world we live in.”

Meanwhile, a Treasury spokeswoman has stressed that new plans to allow workers to swap some employment rights for shares in the company they work for would not result in an assault on discrimination laws.

She said the plans – announced by Osborne – would see the new “employee-owners” give up rights on unfair dismissal, redundancy, and the right to request flexible working and time off for training, but would not affect legal protection from discrimination at work.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission declined to comment because it has “not seen any formal proposals”.
Councils admit ILF closure could force reliance on families and charities

Local authorities have admitted that government plans to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015 will probably see a cut to the support received by most of its users, with some forced to rely on relatives or charities.

Plans to close the fund, and transfer resources instead to local authorities in England and devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, have led to protests by ILF-users, who believe the plans threaten their right to independent living.

They warn that a government consultation on the plans offers no details on how cash-strapped councils will be able to meet the extra costs of disabled people who previously received support from ILF, a government-funded trust which helps about 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs, most of whom receive both ILF and council funding.

This week, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) warned in a joint response to the consultation that ILF-users usually receive “a significantly higher level of funding” than disabled people who rely solely on a local authority support package.

They said that when ILF-users transfer into the local authority system in 2015, the pot of money they will be awarded by their council to meet their support costs will “generally be at a lower level” than the funding they received previously.

John Nawrockyi, joint chair of the ADASS physical disabilities network, said this was because councils may feel – according to the government’s Fair Access to Care Services guidelines – that they have to ensure ILF-users do not receive more generous support than other service-users with similar levels of need.

Nawrockyi, also director of adult social services for Greenwich council in London, said: “If you take this dispassionately… the ILF-holder should be treated the same as a non-ILF-holder.”

But he said it was “not impossible” that some councils could take a “more sympathetic” approach and “take account of people who have built their lives around a certain amount of ILF”.

The ADASS and LGA response says local authorities could offer “periods of protection” to ease former ILF-users towards a new smaller support package, but they warn that councils will need to balance such offers against the need for “equity in resource allocation”.

Councils are likely to offer former ILF-users “other forms of support, other community resources or more cost-effective ways of providing services”, the consultation response adds.

Nawrockyi said this could mean support from families or charities, but insisted that it should not mean ILF-users being forced into residential care.

Stuart Bracking, a DPAC member and ILF-user, was highly critical of the ADASS and LGA response.

He pointed to the admission in the response that ADASS and LGA had “made a significant contribution to shaping [the government] consultation document”, and he questioned why they had “produced a consultation response to their own document”.

He said ADASS and LGA clearly supported the closure of ILF, a process that would affect thousands of disabled people.

He said: “ADASS have a professional responsibility to protect and safeguard severely disabled people. This consultation response was exactly the opposite.

“One of the reasons why ILF had to be set up in the first place was the abject failure of local authorities to meet the needs of severely disabled people who had been institutionalised.

“It was only with the establishment of ILF that a whole generation have been able to be workers, parents, care-givers, volunteers, students, campaigners…

“If ILF is closed it will crush the lives of thousands and in effect close the door to any meaningful chance of a whole layer of disabled people to live independent lives in the future.”

“I think that privilege is insidious and you simply cannot understand what it is like to exist in a world without it when you have always had that.”
Tribunal win could plug legal gap for disabled agency workers

A disabled woman sacked by a council from her temporary post after taking time off with depression has won an employment tribunal case – after a three-year legal battle – that should help other agency workers fight discrimination.

Camden council in north London had tried to argue that Corrie Pegg had no right to protection from disability discrimination laws because of the way she had been signed up through a recruitment agency as a contract worker.

But with the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Pegg won an appeal that should clarify the law for other agency workers.

An employment appeal tribunal ruled in April that the council did owe her legal duties under the Disability Discrimination Act, which was still in force at the time she was sacked from her job as a school travel planning officer.

Following that appeal win she finally had her case heard by an employment tribunal last month.

Pegg had had depression since 2003 and had managed her condition well, but she became unwell after a series of bereavements.

After seeking treatment in her own time, she spent a week in a mental health respite centre in June 2009.

Two months later, she was admitted to hospital, and then received visits at home from the community mental health team.

She was told 12 days later over the telephone that she had been sacked because of poor attendance and punctuality.

She later obtained information from the council, under the Data Protection Act, that revealed her health had been discussed in emails with staff members who had no need to know about it. She also suspected that her mental health had become the subject of office gossip.

Last month, an employment tribunal concluded that the council had failed to make the necessary reasonable adjustments for her mental health condition, and that she had been subject to harassment through internal emails discussing her mental health.

The level of compensation will be set at a hearing in February.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “This case could start to plug the current and worrying gap in the law in respect of agency workers’ rights.

“There was an urgent need to be able to clarify the legal position of agency workers with regard to discrimination claims as so many people are affected and this case has now gone some way towards achieving that.”

A Camden council spokesman said: “All parties involved in this case are currently awaiting the written reasons for this ruling. The council will be in a position to respond… once these reasons are received.”
New EHRC chair faces tough task to repair watchdog’s ‘damaged house’

The government’s choice to be the new chair of the equality watchdog faces a tough task to repair an organisation that is damaged almost beyond repair, according to the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

The government announced this week that its “preferred candidate” to take over from Trevor Phillips as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was Baroness Onora O’Neill.

Baroness O’Neill is a crossbench peer and was previously principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, is an honorary professor of philosophy at Cambridge, and is said to have written widely on equality and human rights.

But Sir Bert Massie, the DRC’s only chair throughout its seven-year existence – before it was merged with other equality organisations to form the EHRC in 2007 – compared her task to “removing the debris” when “part of the house has fallen down and the wind is blowing in”.

The EHRC is planning to cut staff posts from about 250 to just 150 by the end of 2012, down from as many as 525 people after its launch, and its budget is set to fall to £18 million by 2014-15, down from £62 million in 2010-11.

Sir Bert questioned what the EHRC had achieved on disability discrimination, and pointed to levels of unemployment among disabled people that are now seven per cent higher than when the DRC was dismantled.

He said: “The EHRC has lost a lot of its powers, it has lost a lot of its budget, and it has lost a lot of its functions. It is fairly hard to compare it with the DRC, which always was a much more dynamic organisation.”

He added: “A lot of disability groups supported the merger [in 2007]. Those who were more cautious thought disability might be downgraded. But what has happened is that the whole EHRC has been downgraded.”

The EHRC’s budget is currently just a few million pounds more than the DRC’s, he said – following government cuts – even though it is dealing with nine different equality strands.

He said he was not convinced that the government “really believe in having an equality commission”.

Sir Bert served as an EHRC commissioner for two years, before resigning in 2009 over concerns at Phillips’ leadership.

He said Phillips had been a good public speaker, and worked well with the media, but had been a flawed chair, and had failed to stand up to the government.

He also pointed to salaries paid to top EHRC staff that had been twice as high as those paid by the DRC.

But he said the Labour government had also put too many of its own supporters onto the commission’s board.

He said at the time of his resignation that the EHRC had failed to take up the agenda developed by the DRC, had not allocated sufficient resources to disability, and had done too little on human rights.

Sir Bert said he did not know Baroness O’Neill but was “encouraged” by her background in human rights.

But he said disabled people would need the new chair to be able to talk not just about human rights, for issues such as health and social care, but also equality, for employment and education, and would need to be “robust enough to stand up to the government”.

He said: “I wish her well but it is going to be difficult.”

The EHRC is also seeking a new deputy-chair and five commissioners, one of whom will chair the commission’s disability committee and will be its disability commissioner.

The decision to recommend Baroness O’Neill was taken by the new Conservative culture secretary, Maria Miller, who until last month was minister for disabled people.

The parliamentary joint committee on human rights will now hold a “pre-appointment scrutiny hearing” at which it will question Baroness O’Neill.

Miller said the committee’s conclusions would be “considered carefully”, before a final decision was reached on whether to appoint her.

She said: “This is a really important time for the EHRC – strong leadership is vital and the new chair will play a crucial role in ensuring that it remains the valued and respected national institution it was always intended to be. I warmly commend Baroness Onora O’Neill to the committee for this role.”
McGuire attacks ‘reprehensible’ failure to assess cuts impact

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has attacked the government’s “reprehensible” failure to carry out an assessment of the overall impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people.

Anne McGuire said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had “refused point blank” to carry out such an assessment, despite the wide range of reforms and reductions in disabled people’s benefits and services over the last two years, such as cuts to social care, employment and support allowance (ESA), disability living allowance (DLA) and housing benefit.

Speaking at this week’s Labour party conference in Manchester, she said: “They are sitting there with more expertise in the DWP than you can shake a stick at.

“We are not the only ones who have asked for it. Disabled people have asked for it. And they are totally ignoring it. I just think that is reprehensible.”

In June, the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell asked Maria Miller, at the time the minister for disabled people, why the government had still not carried out an assessment.

That followed a similar call in a report on disabled people’s right to independent living, by the joint committee on human rights.

McGuire also suggested this week that her party would not scrap the government’s “fitness for work” test if it regained power, despite repeated claims by disabled campaigners that it had caused lasting and serious damage to thousands of disabled benefits claimants.

The work capability assessment (WCA) was introduced in the last 18 months of the Labour government, but disabled activists say it is still fundamentally flawed, pointing to links between the test and health relapses, episodes of self-harm and even suicides and other premature deaths, among those being assessed.

Last month, the mental health charity Rethink published a survey which found that more than eight in ten GPs said they had patients who had developed mental health problems because of the WCA. And in June, the British Medical Association voted to “demand” an end to the WCA because of concerns over its impact on patients.

McGuire said most disabled people accepted that there needed to be an assessment of some kind to determine eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

She said that “the principle of an arms-length assessment is not wrong” but that it needed to be managed properly, and her party was “quite clear” that the WCA “isn’t working”.

She said the government had failed to implement many of the recommendations of the independent reviews of the WCA carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington.

McGuire is helping to lead a year-long review of the party’s disability policies, which is including a series of round-table discussions across the country – they have taken place so far in Glasgow and Manchester – and “trying to engage with as many disabled people as possible”.

She said there was no point pre-empting the conclusions and recommendations of the review on the WCA. “We have to talk to disabled people and their organisations because they are the ones in the front line on this.”

She said disabled people had “no confidence” in the way the assessments were being carried out by Atos, the government’s private sector contractor, and said there had been “some horror stories” from disabled people assessed by Atos.

But she said that she and her colleagues wanted to receive “concrete” and “chapter and verse” evidence of what was happening with the WCA and Atos.

But McGuire said she did not want to let DWP ministers “off the hook”, because they were responsible for deciding the detailed content of the WCA and the new assessment for personal independence payment, the planned replacement for DLA.

And she said there was a “real, genuine fear out there about what is happening,” with an “across-the-board undermining of the financial support for disabled people”.

She said: “You could be in a position of losing disability living allowance, living in a house that is too big for you [for housing benefit purposes], being taken off ESA [the new out-of-work disability benefit] after a year, the impact [of cuts] on your social care package…”

She said MPs were beginning to see a “significant rise” in the number of disabled people attending their advice surgeries with financial problems.

And she said there was “anecdotal” evidence to suggest that “very few people” were being awarded DLA, six months before the government begins to replace it with the new personal independence payment.

She said: “People are saying it is almost impossible to get DLA at the moment. That has to be challenged with the government, whether or not that is a fact.”

been forced to ask strangers passing his house to tie his laces for him.

Hawkes said the consequences of the government failing to find a funding solution would be “incredibly serious”, with thousands of disabled people left unable to wash, dress, or leave their homes.

He said it was necessary to ask “whether we want a country that treats older people and disabled people with dignity and respect, or a country that simply keeps them alive”.

Elsewhere at the conference, Yvette Cooper, the shadow women and equalities minister, and shadow home secretary, pointed in her speech on equality to the examples of gold-medal winning Paralympians such as Ellie Simmonds, Hannah Cockroft, Jonnie Peacock and David Weir.

She said their success showed “how much more all of us can achieve, whatever our circumstances, when we support each other, rather than leaving people to sink or to swim, alone”.

She said: “It is a vision of a society that supports those who care for children or for elderly relatives, who are getting older, or who have a disability, to do all they can do. Be all they can be.”

And in his conference speech, Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said it was “morally wrong” that more than 70 per cent of the prison population had two or more mental health conditions.

He told delegates: “We’ve replaced the Victorian asylum with the Victorian prison.

“Festering in prison with serious mental health problems that can and should be treated is morally wrong.”

He said the next Labour government would “open a new front in the war on re-offending” by giving a justice minister “specific responsibility for rooting out mental health problems in our criminal justice system”.

disabled people who have had to stop work, or even to pay part of their salary while they are too sick to do their job.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, had told the fringe meeting that disabled people were “being forced out of the workforce” because schools did not want to fund the reasonable adjustments they needed.

Hodgson told DNS that the lack of disabled teachers was raised “a number of times” by disabled people and other contributors to the party’s SEN review this summer.

The review will also call for trainee teachers to take a mandatory SEN module in their training, and for one of every five “inset” training days that working teachers have to take every year to be on inclusive SEN practice.

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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