ATOS accused, Equality Watchdog review risks, Cuts lead to fewer coach trips, New rights for volunteers? £300 million boost for specialised housing, Winterbourne hate crime confusion, Minister offers little hope re cuts.

Our dog Blake is terrified on Bonfire night. He’s a total disgrace to the Labrador breed, after all he’s supposed to be a gun dog and should associate loud bangs with excitement and retrieving etc. Instead Blake tries to get behind or inside the flat screen TV, he shuts himself in the toilet and then eats the door or he is sometimes found tunnelling under the beds. We’ve tried a number of remedies. Calming collars, desensitising CD’s and this year diazepam a drug well know to people with mental health conditions! As a result Blake spent Bonfire night dressed in a kaftan, sitting cross legged listening to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, his favourite being Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, with his tongue hanging out and a silly grin on his face!

Bonfire night always reminds me of my special school. The villagers used to donate fireworks to the school and when the display was over me, along with the other disabled youngsters lined up and shook hands with the villagers and thanked them for their generosity. One villager stopped by the fourteen year old me and asked whether there was anything else I’d like. I asked whether I could go out with his daughter. (I’d spotted her in the church choir.) On hearing this I was unceremoniously plucked from the line and given a severe dressing down in the head teachers study. I learned something that day, charity is great so long as you don’t ask for something you really need.

News Roundup

Three more disability charities suggest Atos misled its way to PIP contracts

Three more charities have suggested that Atos Healthcare used misleading claims about them in a document it used to win two lucrative disability assessment contracts.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that Labour had called for an “immediate investigation” into the claims about contracts to assess disabled people for eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance.

Atos suggested in two tender documents that it would be working closely with organisations “such as” Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), Disability Cornwall (DC) and ecdp (formerly Essex Coalition of Disabled People) if it won the contracts, worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

And it suggested that such organisations would help it to design “disability awareness training” for its staff, and communicate with PIP claimants.

But all three disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) were horrified last week when told by DNS that they had been mentioned in Atos’s tender documents, first unearthed by a supporter of the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts.

Now the other three disability organisations Atos mentioned in the tender document as possible partners – DIAL Weston-super-Mare, Disability North and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) – have confirmed that they had also had no discussions with the company about the PIP assessments.

Debbie Marriner, a welfare rights worker for DIAL Weston-super-Mare, said that any suggestion that her organisation had discussed the contracts with Atos was “completely false and erroneous”.

She said: “We have no interest in working with Atos and actually I have had extremely negative dealings with them, and so have my claimants.”

Dianne Cowen, manager of the user-led independent living service Disability North, said her organisation “does not have a relationship with Atos and has never discussed working with them either before the tender document or after its submission”.

SAMH also confirmed that Atos had not approached it to discuss working together on PIP, although it said that it was “prepared to consider doing so if we are approached directly”.

The three further confirmations mean that all six disability organisations mentioned by Atos in the two tender documents as examples of “claimant representative groups” it could work with have now denied having any discussions with the company over a possible partnership.

This should increase pressure on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the new Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, to investigate the claims that Atos misled the government in the tender documents.

DWP is also likely to face fresh questions itself after denying that references to disabled people’s organisations in the tender documents had had any impact on Atos winning the contracts.

A DWP spokeswoman told DNS: “The mention, or not, of any particular organisation in the bids to deliver PIP was not material in the evaluation. This had no impact on the result and there is no reason to review the competition.”

But this response appears to contradict a statement made in the DWP’s own Touchbase e-magazine in September, which stated that the “successful bidders… demonstrated close working with disabled people’s representative groups”.

The DWP has so far failed to comment on this apparent contradiction.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow disabled people’s minister, Anne McGuire, has told the Guardian that her party will ask the Commons public accounts committee to refer the Atos concerns to the National Audit Office if there are no “rapid answers” from DWP.
Review risks ‘watering down’ disabled people’s influence at equality watchdog

A review of the equality watchdog’s disability committee could slow down further progress on disabled people’s rights, campaigners have warned.

The warning came after the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced that it had appointed Agnes Fletcher, formerly director of communications at the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), to carry out the review.

Fletcher’s appointment has been welcomed by current and former committee members, but they have also warned that the review risks reducing disabled people’s influence within the EHRC.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “The risk of a review is that it will water down disabled people’s lead role in the commission and slow down any further progress on disabled people’s rights.”

She added: “Whilst the EHRC is now experiencing stringent cuts, and hasn’t always pursued disabled people’s rights as strongly as we all want, it has done some useful work led by disabled people.”

She pointed to last year’s inquiry report into home care, which she said “started from a human rights perspective”, and the From Safety Net To Springboard report in 2009, which “argued that social care should enable us as disabled people to participate fully and follow our aspirations”.

She said such successes were largely due to the disabled members of the disability committee.

Sayce, a former member of the committee herself and another former DRC director, suggested that Fletcher was well placed to carry out the review, and added: “We can only hope that the review will lead to strong measures to ensure disabled people’s leadership and real commitment to future years of progress on our human and civil rights.”

Mike Smith, who chairs the disability committee, has already warned that government cuts to the EHRC’s funding threaten the committee’s future.

EHRC is planning for its budget to be cut to £18 million by 2014-15, compared with £55m in 2010-11.

Smith said the committee had achieved “some amazing things for disabled people” in its first five years.

He pointed to a number of successes, including convincing the EHRC to support key legal cases such as those of Elaine McDonald – who was denied the night-time care she needed by her local authority – and Jane Cordell, a profoundly Deaf diplomat who was told by the government that the lip-speakers she needed to do her job in a new foreign posting were too expensive.

The committee has also led the EHRC’s work on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and headed a major inquiry into disability-related harassment.

Smith added: “Much more goes on which positively contributes to the work of the wider commission. I hope this valuable guidance by committed disabled individuals will not be lost.”

He also praised Fletcher and said she “completely understands the issues facing disabled people today”.

The committee has powers to make decisions within the EHRC on matters solely concerning disability, while the commission also seeks its advice “on all matters which relate to disability in a significant way”.

The Equality Act 2006 stated that a review had to take place after the committee had been in operation for five years.

Fletcher is an equality consultant, a trustee of the advocacy agency POWhER and the disability arts organisation Shape Arts, and a former vice-chair of RADAR and a former member of the government’s disability employment advisory committee. She said she was “both challenged and pleased” by her appointment.

As part of the review, there will be a three-month consultation with disabled people across England, Scotland and Wales, probably from early December.

Fletcher has been asked to report back to the commission’s board by the end of March.

The commission will hand its own conclusions to culture secretary Maria Miller, the former minister for disabled people, who will decide what amendment should be made to the Equality Act.
Government cuts lead to one million fewer cheap coach journeys

Disabled and older people will make a million fewer cheap coach journeys this year as a result of government cuts, say campaigners.

On 1 November last year, the government abolished the financial support that funded half-price, long-distance coach travel for disabled and older people in England.

The concessions – a 50 per cent off-peak discount and a 30 per cent discount at peak times – had been in place since 2003 and were funded through a government grant handed to coach operators.

After the government funding was removed, National Express – the biggest and most accessible coach operator – introduced a new scheme offering one-third off coach fares for disabled and older people who buy a £10 discount card.

But in a financial statement released last week, it announced that the withdrawal of the government funding was likely to lead to one million fewer concessionary journeys on its coaches in 2012.

Disability Alliance (now part of Disability Rights UK), Age UK and the Campaign for Better Transport raised concerns last year about the likely impact of the funding cut.

The fall in journeys would be more than a third of the 2.9 million concessionary trips made on National Express between April 2010 and March 2011.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) pointed to National Express figures which showed that on 18 of its routes, between one third and half of all passengers had been using the old concessionary scheme, while the axing of government support had led to some routes being abandoned.

Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “Sadly, disabled people are once again the hardest hit by a rushed decision that failed to consider the impact on disadvantaged people.”

He said the Department for Transport (DfT) had failed to consult with disabled people over the withdrawal of funding – first announced in 2010 – and could have breached its duty under the Equality Act to assess the impact of its decisions on disabled and older people and other disadvantaged groups.

Coyle added: “We hope DfT is now monitoring the effect of the abolition of concessionary fares which failed to take into account the full value of the scheme for health, economic activity and wellbeing of older and disabled people.”

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, said: ”The decision to end the coach concession grant was a difficult one but it has meant that the department has been able to continue the national bus concession for older and eligible disabled people.

“By giving coach operators 12 months’ notice of the scheme ending, it was expected there would be sufficient time for them to plan for the removal of the grant and to give their customers reasonable notice of any changes to their concessions.

“All coach operators are free to continue to offer discounted travel to older and eligible disabled people on a commercial basis as indeed I understand National Express are doing.”

A DfT spokeswoman added: “The department is in regular contact with groups representing disabled and older people and we listen carefully to the points they raise.”
Discrimination case ‘could lead to new rights for volunteers and benefit claimants’

A Supreme Court hearing this week could lead to important new protection from discrimination for thousands of disabled volunteers, and benefit claimants forced into government work experience programmes.

A disabled woman – referred to as X – is asking the court to provide legal protection for volunteers who face discrimination.

But her lawyers have made it clear that, if she is successful, her victory will also provide new rights for disabled and non-disabled people carrying out work experience or working as unpaid interns.

Andy Williams, X’s solicitor, from the legal firm Charles Russell, said such legal protection could, for example, help disabled people facing the withdrawal of benefits for failing to co-operate – for impairment-related reasons – with a government work experience placement.

He said: “If you have anyone in your operation carrying out duties without being paid – including work placements and returning unemployed people to work – it would be giving those people rights as well.”

X, who volunteered part-time for Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau, gave advice on welfare law but claims she was told to leave her role when she made the organisation aware of her HIV status.

Although X was unpaid and did not have a contract, she had a law degree and a post-graduate qualification and hoped to secure a training contract with Citizens Advice (CA) so she could qualify as a solicitor.

But the Court of Appeal ruled last year that she and other volunteers were not entitled to protection from discrimination under equality laws.

X’s lawyers argued in the two-day Supreme Court hearing this week that she and many other volunteers should be protected by equality laws because of rights provided by the European Union’s directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation.

Williams said that if – as is possible – the Supreme Court sends the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), any resulting ruling would affect several million volunteers in the UK and another 100 million across the European Union.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which “intervened” in the case as an independent third party expert, said it was only right that the government’s “Big Society” vision should offer protection for volunteers.

John Wadham, EHRC’s general counsel, said: “This is especially important for many disabled or older people for whom volunteering may play an essential part in helping them live independently and be included in their local community.”

A CA spokeswoman said the case had “potentially profound implications for the entire voluntary sector”.

She said CA was “strongly committed to promoting an environment in which everyone is treated fairly and with respect, regardless of whether they are a paid worker or volunteer”, while there were “specific equality and dignity policies for volunteers with which all bureaux are expected to comply”.

She added: “Any complaint or breach of these policies is taken very seriously, thoroughly investigated and acted upon.”

A ruling is expected later this year.
Government offers £300 million boost to specialised housing

Housing providers will be able to bid for money from a £300 million fund to help boost the provision of specialised housing for disabled and older people.

The government had announced a new £200 million housing fund as part of its care and support white paper in July, but it could now invest as much as £300 million over the next five years.

Providers such as local authorities and housing associations were told this week that they could start bidding for a share of the funding, which the Department of Health believes could result in up to 9,000 new or modernised homes.

Bids will initially be focused on properties for affordable rent and shared ownership, including wheelchair-accessible housing.

The housing schemes for disabled people will include both independent and semi-independent living arrangements.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, said: “Our £300 million fund will help create thousands of homes, providing people with more choice and an alternative to residential care.”

Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK, said the new money was “very much welcomed”.

But she warned that to make the funding effective there needed to be “more joined-up government”, and pointed to cuts to housing benefit that “may prevent some disabled people and older people from being able to take advantage of this initiative”.

The funding bids will be assessed by the Homes and Communities Agency and, in London, by the Greater London Authority.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said: “Quality housing for older and disabled Londoners is in short supply and there is a pressing need to meet increasing demand.

“By allowing people to move to well-designed, accessible homes, it will also help to give older and disabled Londoners renewed independence and dignity.”

He added: “I’d like to see some truly innovative proposals coming forward, ones which set new standards in design and that can provide a benchmark for how this type of housing should be delivered.”

Next summer, the government will launch a second phase of the fund, which will be open to private specialised housing providers.
Winterbourne View: Confusion reigns again over hate crime sentencing

The sentencing of 11 former employees of a private hospital for abusing people with learning difficulties has become mired in confusion, with the government unable to say whether the judge treated the offences as disability hate crimes.

The sentencing of the former staff of the Winterbourne View private hospital for people with learning difficulties, near Bristol, secured wide coverage in the media.

Six of the former employees of Winterbourne View were given prison sentences at Bristol Crown Court, ranging from six months to two years, while another five were handed suspended sentences.

The convictions followed last year’s screening of an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama, which exposed a regime of “appalling and systematically brutal” abuse at the hospital, and was followed by a second Panorama investigation this week.

But none of the media coverage suggested that judge Neil Ford QC treated the offences as motivated by hostility towards disabled people, even though the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) stated that it had viewed them as disability hate crimes that were “based on ignorance, prejudice and hate”.

Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 says a judge must treat the fact that an offence was a disability hate crime as an “aggravating factor” in deciding a sentence, and must state in open court that he has done so.

The Judicial Communications Office, the CPS and the Courts and Tribunals Service have all been unable to say whether the judge accepted the CPS view that the regime of abuse was motivated by disability-related hostility.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice declined to comment.

In May, another judge, Jonathan Gibson, was criticised after he refused to treat a three-year campaign of cruelty against a man with epilepsy and learning difficulties – in which he was beaten by relatives with a stick, had a jump-lead clamped to his nose, was headbutted and whipped, and was referred to as “the clown” or “the mental case” – as a disability hate crime.

And last year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Hidden in Plain Sight report concluded that public bodies were guilty of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise disability hate crime.

A follow-up report published last week found that actions taken to prevent and tackle harassment had been “patchy”, with some public bodies “doing nothing or very little at all”.

The CPS insisted that the Winterbourne View sentences sent “a clear message to those who believe there will be no consequences for their abuse of disabled people”.

But leading members of the self-advocacy movement disagreed.

Andrew Lee, director of People First Self Advocacy, said his reaction on hearing the sentences was one of “rage”, while he said the sentence of just two years in prison for Wayne Rogers, recognised as the ring-leader of the abusers, was “woefully inadequate”.

Gavin Harding, co-chair of the National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties, said he did not think the sentences would act as a deterrent to other abusers.

To read a blog on Winterbourne View by John Pring, editor of Disability News Service and author of a book on the institutional abuse of people with learning difficulties, visit the DNS website.
New minister McVey offers little hope on benefit cuts

The new minister for disabled people has agreed to consider fresh demands for the government to assess the full impact on disabled people of all of its cuts and reforms to benefits and services.

But Esther McVey, who replaced Maria Miller as minister last month, offered no suggestion that she would attempt to soften cuts to spending on disability benefits, particularly to working-age disability living allowance (DLA).

McVey, who was appearing at a joint meeting of disability-related all-party parliamentary groups to discuss the impact of welfare reform on disabled people, claimed that DLA spending had risen “exponentially”.

She said that spending on disability benefits was one fifth higher than the European Union average, while the government spends about £50 billion a year on disabled people.

But McVey said that while she was “happy to meet with people, listen to the concerns”, she said she would also explain to those lobbying her the “conditions and constraints we are working under”.

Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said she believed that the concerns revealed by The Tipping Point – last week’s report by The Hardest Hit campaign alliance on cuts to disability benefits – were just “the tip of the iceberg”.

She warned McVey that there were “high levels of anxiety and high levels of concern” among disabled people about the cuts to their support.

And she said that she had been “stunned” to discover that 85 per cent of those claiming DLA who responded to the survey did not currently receive social care from their local authority.

She said this showed that a “significant number” of the 500,000 people set to lose their working-age DLA in the reforms would as a result need to rely on council-funded social care instead, even though those councils were already facing significant financial pressures.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson repeated concerns she raised in another report earlier this month that the government’s cuts risked “ghettoising” disabled people in segregated settings, with many fewer in work.

McVey told her: “That’s for me to make sure that people do not think that we are going backwards.”

The disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins called again for McVey to order an assessment of the overall impact on disabled people of the government’s cuts and reforms.

She said the DLA cuts would not save money but would instead cause “a huge cost to the public purse” through unnecessary face-to-face assessments and reassessments, increased social care costs, and the loss of income tax receipts from disabled people forced to give up their jobs.

McVey said there had so far been 55 weeks of consultations during the development of personal independence payment, the planned replacement for DLA, but she promised to consider Baroness Wilkins’ request, and said: “I will take that away. We are looking at other assessments I am doing [and] I will take that away.”

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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