So here it is again the Christmas holiday. All your cards written? Presents bought and wrapped? What about the mountain of food, all safely in the fridge? Telly programmes researched and the record button on standby? New Year resolutions contemplated and in draft? Post and milkman tipped! Lager left for the dustman? So what has been forgotten? Oh! Yes Peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind.
Have a happy time and think of those for whom Christmas won’t be quite so jolly.
DWP cover its tracks on mobility cuts
The government is facing mounting outrage after planning to restrict eligibility for support for people with the highest mobility needs, without any warning or consultation.
Anger has been growing following last week’s publication of the final assessment criteria that will decide eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
Campaigners have now realised that the documents show the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) wants to tighten eligibility for the top – “enhanced” – rate of the mobility component of PIP.
The changes will – by 2015 – see 20,000 fewer people eligible for the enhanced rate than under the previous version of the PIP regulations, with this gap rising to 51,000 by 2018.
Previous drafts stated that a claimant who could not walk at least 50 metres would be entitled to the enhanced rate, making them eligible to lease a Motability vehicle. But this has now been slashed to just 20 metres.
There was no mention of the alteration in the Commons statement made last week by Esther McVey, the minister for disabled people, or in any of the government’s consultations on DLA reform.
There was some better news within the new criteria, with the government estimating that changes it had made to its draft plans – including the addition of a new “reading” activity – would see an increase in the number of people eligible for the daily living part of PIP.
Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the former Disability Rights Commission, said the alteration to 20 metres was “extremely disturbing” and “draconian”, while he said there had been “no discussion, no forewarning” from the government about the change.
He added: “Esther McVey says there has been consultation with disability groups. I would like to see details of every disability group that has called on the government to reduce the limit from 50 metres to 20 metres. I think it would be a very short list.
“We trust ministers to be accurate and truthful. I can’t reconcile their statements with the [new] regulations.”
He has already spoken to one disabled person who works for a government department, and can walk 20 but not 50 metres, and predicts he will now lose his Motability vehicle and be forced to take early retirement.
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK, said it was “pretty outrageous” for the government to introduce changes “at the last minute” which had not been consulted on.
She said: “Our charity responded to all three consultations and at no point did it say 20 metres.
“The goalposts have been moved so far it seems the only people they want to get the benefit are wheelchair-users, but they aren’t the only people with severe mobility problems.”
Jane Young, coordinator of the WeAreSpartacus network, which has played a prominent role in analysing the impact of government cuts on disabled people, said she and fellow campaigners were “shocked and stunned” when they read the final PIP criteria and saw the change from 50 to 20 metres and realised how many people would lose vehicles they currently lease through the Motability scheme.
Young added: “With no car, they will be unable to go to work, get to the doctor’s, go shopping, take their kids to school or have any kind of social life.
“They will become isolated, their health will deteriorate and there will be significant demands on other public services, particularly health and social care.”
In the light of the new figures, WeAreSpartacus will now be revising its Reversing from Recovery report, which earlier this year calculated a likely 17 per cent reduction in the number of disabled people eligible for a Motability vehicle as a result of the move from DLA to PIP.
But despite the government’s own documents showing the number of people eligible for the enhanced mobility rate dropping by 51,000 by 2018, a DWP spokeswoman claimed: “It is not a tightening of the assessment – our modelling shows that, after this change, the number of people receiving the enhanced rate of the mobility component as a result of the ‘Moving around’ activity will be broadly the same.”
She added: “The intention of the criteria remains the same – to make sure support is targeted at those who need it most, by making sure those who receive the enhanced rate of the mobility component are those who face the greatest barriers to mobility.”
Despite Disability News Service then emailing her links to the relevant sections in her department’s own documents, she replied: “I’ve discussed with colleagues again and there’s nothing more to add to what I’ve explained below about the change you’ve outlined.”
The government documents also reveal that the number of people receiving PIP will be 608,000 lower by May 2018 – a drop of 28 per cent – than the number (2.182 million) who would have been receiving DLA without the government’s cuts and reforms.
The number eligible for the PIP enhanced mobility rate in 2018 will be 602,000, compared with 1.03 million on the upper mobility rate if DLA had not been reformed.
And by 2018, more than half a million current DLA claimants will have had their award decreased after being reassessed, while another 450,000 disabled people will lose their benefit completely in the transition from DLA to PIP.
MP provides prime minister with proof of the fatal impact of welfare cuts
An MP who confronted the prime minister with a suicide note written by a disabled man who killed himself after being found “fit for work” has warned that other such tragedies are likely.
Ian Lavery, the Labour MP for Wansbeck in Northumberland, told David Cameron during prime minister’s questions this week that the note had been written by a constituent who killed himself after his claim for employment and support allowance (ESA) was turned down.
Lavery then joined those who have called on the government to conduct an assessment of the combined impact on disabled people of all of its cuts and welfare reforms.
Cameron said he would “look very carefully at the very tragic case” but then claimed that “the actual money that we are putting into disability benefits over the coming years is going up, not down”.
He said: “I think that everybody knows and accepts that we need to have a review of disability benefits.
“Some people have been stuck on these benefits and not been reviewed for year after year after year. That is the view of the disability charities and it is the view of the government as well.”
The case adds further weight to the arguments of campaigners who have been trying to alert politicians to the deaths of disabled people they say have taken their own lives as a result of the harshness and unfairness of the ESA system, and other welfare cuts.
Lavery told Disability News Service (DNS) that he agreed with disabled activists that his constituent’s suicide was probably not a one-off.
He said: “We will never ever get the data of how many people have committed suicide because of [cuts to] benefits.”
He said he feared people like his constituent “cannot see a future” and are “having things stripped from them and having to go through a test every year and be humiliated in front of people who are not even qualified. It is just a desperate situation.”
He said that the note – which he was handed at his constituency surgery on Friday – was written by a 54-year-old man who had been tested for his eligibility for ESA through the notorious work capability assessment (WCA).
He had killed himself after receiving a letter saying that he had scored zero points in the assessment and so would not be entitled to ESA.
Lavery was not able to discuss the man’s case in detail – although the man’s family gave him permission to raise it in parliament – but he told DNS: “Disabled people are being led to believe that they are scroungers and being led to believe by the government that they should not have benefits. It is an absolute disgrace.
“I had a gentleman claiming ESA and he said he wasn’t even going to appeal [against having his ESA removed] because he was too embarrassed.”
He warned that many disabled people were now too embarrassed to claim disability benefits because they felt “stigmatised”.
He added: “We are seeing more people [in the surgery] on a weekly basis who have got mental health problems, and it is frightening – a lot of these people are on benefits and a lot of them are going to be losing their benefits, and goodness knows how they are going [to cope].”
And he warned that most benefit claimants were still not aware of the impact of the further cuts and reforms that will be implemented in April 2013.
Lavery said he wanted to think during the Christmas period about how he could campaign in parliament on behalf of disabled people facing cuts to their benefits and services.
He added: “I just think we have got to do something.”
Karon Cook, chair and founder of Wansbeck Disability Forum, who herself faces a WCA in 2013, said there were disabled people who now “have to decide whether they have the money to keep their homes warm or they get cold and have something to eat”.
She praised Lavery for the support he had given the forum, and said: “It’s heart-breaking. I have been campaigning with other organisations to raise awareness.
“We try to be so confident in talking to people and try to show them a little light [at the end of the tunnel] but it is getting harder and harder and people don’t know who to turn to.
“When April comes next year, I can see a lot more suicides, I really can, and a lot more homelessness.”
ILF closure is ‘new nail in the coffin’ of independent living
The government has confirmed it is to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in April 2015, and has admitted the decision will have a “potential negative impact” on disabled people supported by the fund.
Outraged campaigners say the move comes despite “overwhelming opposition” from disabled people and their families.
The closure of ILF will see funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but that money will not be ring-fenced.
Local authorities will then have “sole responsibility for meeting the eligible care and support needs of current ILF users” in England, while the devolved administrations will decide how to support those within their own care and support systems.
But the government has admitted – in its response to a consultation on the plans – that ILF users “may face reductions or alterations in their care package due to the reform”.
Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said the government believed that “the needs of current users could be met in a more consistent and effective way within a single cohesive system”.
Local authorities have already stated 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.
The Department for Work and Pensions admitted that a “significant majority” of individuals who responded to the consultation were opposed to closure, although “a significant minority said they would be happy with local authorities taking control of the funding if it could be guaranteed that their care packages would remain the same”.
Most local authorities “expressed strong support” for the closure, according to the government.
But many activists believe the plans to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,100 disabled people with the highest support needs – threaten disabled people’s right to independent living.
They say the government has offered no details on how councils would be able to meet the extra costs of people with high support needs who previously received ILF money, most of whom also receive both ILF and council funding.
Anne Pridmore, a leading disabled activist and one of the ILF-users taking legal action over the way the government consulted on scrapping the fund, said the government’s decision was “no great surprise”.
But she said the move would be “devastating” to her and others, and she pointed out that if it were implemented she would be unable to continue to take part in the many government consultation events she attends.
She said: “I will be able to do none of that in the future if I am relegated to an old people’s home, which seems to be the case.”
In a joint statement, Inclusion London and Disabled People Against Cuts said the confirmation of the closure had left disabled people with the highest support needs “in fear and distress”.
One ILF-user, Jenny Hurst, said she received a package of just four hours support a day before she was referred to the fund, “one hour for getting me up/showered and breakfasted, one hour for housework and lunch, one hour for supper and an hour to do the ‘put to bed’.
“In between times I couldn’t get a drink or use the toilet – let alone do anything meaningful with my life.”
With ILF support she has been able to go to university, secure a full-time job and become a charity trustee.
Kevin Caulfield, chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition against Community Care Cuts, another ILF-user, said: “The announcement of the closure of the ILF is yet another nail in the coffin of the increasing numbers of disabled people being discarded into isolation, social exclusion, deteriorating health and premature death.
“This is more evidence that we are so far from being all in this together.”
Disability Rights UK said the decision to close ILF risked a return to “obligatory residential care home placements”.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We are extremely concerned that the government is now adding to the enormous pressure on local authorities, disabled people and carers without taking steps to resolve the funding crisis.”
But one leading disabled activist – and ILF-user – has backed the decision to close ILF.
Simon Stevens, a disability consultant and trainer, said: “On paper it is the right move as it removes repetition, but the challenge is building a framework in the new arrangements that will stand the test of time.
“It’s what happens in 2018 and beyond we need to worry about when councils have full control.”
ILF will publish a “transition plan” early in 2013 describing “how users will be supported over the next two years in preparation for the transfer”.
Paralympic success breeds golden funding settlement
Britain’s Paralympians have been rewarded for their success at London 2012 with a huge leap in funding to take them through to the next Paralympic Games in Rio in four years’ time.
UK Sport announced the 43 per cent increase in funding for Paralympic sports – to £70.2 million from £49 million in the run-up to London – compared with a rise of five per cent for Olympic sports.
UK Sport said its goal was “to become the first nation in recent history” to win more medals at both the Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games four years after hosting the Games.
It said the increased support – provided through National Lottery and government funding – reflected the “increasing competitive nature” of Paralympic sport and the growing opportunities for international competition.
Funding was announced for 19 Paralympic sports, with the largest increases for athletics, sailing, shooting, table-tennis, women’s goalball, judo, cycling and wheelchair tennis.
There was funding for the first time for canoeing and triathlon (sports that were not part of the London 2012 Paralympic Games), and five-a-side (blind) football, while boccia, adaptive rowing, swimming, equestrian dressage, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby also saw their funding increase.
But both archery and powerlifting were told their funding would be cut, while four sports which had British teams competing at London 2012 missed out on funding altogether: seven-a-side (cerebral palsy) football, sitting volleyball, wheelchair fencing and men’s goalball.
David Clarke, Britain’s five-a-side captain at London 2012, who announced his retirement from the sport after the Games, told his Twitter followers that it was “a proud day for blind football in Great Britain”.
One of his former team-mates, Keryn Seal, tweeted: “Today is a great day for blind football. Tonight I’ll be raising a glass to all the people who’ve brought us to this point.”
Robin Williams, another of the stars of Britain’s five-a-side team, added: “What a momentous, incredible, fantastic day for us and our sport. All of those words in one.”
Jeff Davis, performance manager of Paralympic football, said the money would enable blind football to “make the leap from part-time status to a full-time element”, although the FA has not yet been able to clarify exactly what this will mean.
Kylie Grimes, a member of the wheelchair rugby team that finished fifth in London, tweeted that her sport’s increased funding was the “best news ever for Great Britain wheelchair rugby”.
Martine Wright, who had won a BBC Sports Personality of the Year award only two days before the funding levels were announced, said she was “shocked” by the decision on her sport of sitting volleyball, but also tweeted: “This is the time to be positive about funding. Decisions have been made, so we need to think we’ve done it before and we will do it again!!”
Justin Phillips, a member of the men’s team that finished eighth at London 2012, tweeted that sitting volleyball was one the most watched sports at London 2012, and added: “Legacy? What legacy? A lot of people’s lives and dreams left devastated. UK Sport have a lot of explaining to do.”
Fencer Gemma Collis tweeted that she was “gutted” to hear that her sport had lost all of its UK Sport funding, but added: “Going to be really hard, but determined to still make it to Rio.”
Her team-mate David Heaton added: “Oh well, looks like we will be shaking buckets for a while!!”
And another fencing team-mate, Craig McCann, tweeted: “Life just got very hard but fighting is what I do!”
The British Paralympic Association said the extra funding would help with its goal of ensuring London 2012 was “a springboard onto greater things”, and said it was “delighted that the strong performance of the ParalympicsGB team in London has acted as the catalyst” for the money.
But a BPA spokeswoman warned of an “increasing level of sophistication and investment” in Paralympic sport by other nations and that London 2012 had showed “just how tough the competition is getting”.
Hugh Robertson, the Conservative sports minister, said the “significant increase for Paralympic sports reflects on the extraordinary success and achievements of our Paralympic athletes this summer”.
Experts fear ‘red tape’ review is threat to accessible housing
Experts fear vital accessibility standards could be under threat because of a government assault on housing red tape.
Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat communities minister, commissioned the review of building regulations and housing standards two months ago, and pledged that “essential safety and accessibility protections” would “remain untouched”.
But the Access Association has since written to Foster to express alarm that the accessibility and inclusive design industry was not represented among the 16 organisations chosen to offer advice on the review, part of the government’s controversial “Red Tape Challenge”.
And it has also grown concerned at the “level of hostility” around the review towards access standards and how they are supposedly “hindering house-building”.
The association pointed to comments by one of the four leading industry figures appointed to oversee the review, who was reported to have said that Lifetime Homes standards – key features that should be included in the design of accessible and adaptable housing – were “hindering housing construction”.
Sarah Rennie, president of the Access Association, said: “We are disappointed not to be formally involved in the review because it would have allowed us the opportunity to ensure that proper consideration – rather than ‘lip service’ – is being paid to vital access issues.”
She said the review “must firmly value inclusive design and social inclusion, rather than frame it as a perceived barrier to profit”.
She said: “We have not seen any evidence that access standards are hindering house-building and are concerned about the level of hostility apparent from the way in which they are being presented as the debate moves forward.”
Rennie said the Access Association would “not support any measures which have been motivated solely by a desire to cut perceived ‘red tape’”.
Foster said at the launch of the review in late October: “I want to see a simpler set of housing standards that people can easily understand and that free up developers and councils to get on with the job of building the high-quality new homes we so badly need to get more first-time buyers and families onto the housing ladder.”
Although the Access Association has not been asked to join the review, Rennie said it would be meeting in February with a civil servant from Foster’s Communities and Local Government department to “share the value of our combined expertise in this area”.
The department has so far failed to comment on the concerns raised by the Access Association.
Law Commission review brings tougher hate crime laws closer
The prospect of tougher laws on disability hate crime has moved a step closer, after the government’s advisers on law reform launched a review of how current legislation was working.
The Law Commission will look at two possible changes, both mentioned in the government’s hate crime action plan in March, but will not report until the spring of 2014.
The first possible change will involve looking at how crimes such as assault or criminal damage are currently prosecuted as “aggravated” offences with higher sentences – under the Crime and Disorder Act 1988 – if the offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by racial or religious hostility.
The commission will examine whether these aggravated offences should now be extended to crimes motivated by hostility on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Law Commission will also examine laws that provide protection – under the Public Order Act 1986 – against publication of material intended to stir up hatred against people on the grounds of their race, religion or sexual orientation.
The commission will examine whether those offences should now be extended to disability and gender identity.
The government has already doubled to 30 years the starting point for sentences for murders motivated by hate on the grounds of disability or transgender status – in line with other hate crime murders – after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act became law in May.
But disabled activists have long campaigned for the laws on aggravated offences and stirring up hatred to be extended to disability-related offences.
Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime, said the Law Commission review was “really quite significant”.
She suggested that new laws on inciting hatred of disabled people could persuade newspapers to “think twice” before they write stories that could stir up such hostility, and could put an end to some of the “lazy disablist remarks” often made across the media.
She said: “I think people would be much more careful of causing offence if they knew there was a possible criminal action.”
Southampton Centre for Independent Living (SCIL) also welcomed the Law Commission’s announcement, and added: “SCIL believes that legislation should be reformed to extend protection to all five groups and will be making representations to the Law Commission to this effect.”
Damian Green, the Conservative justice minister, said: “All hate crimes are deplorable; they leave people living in fear of unprovoked attacks and violence.
“We are pleased that the Law Commission has been able to take on this review and look forward to receiving their report.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com