I’ve just spotted snowdrops shoots in my garden and some flowering Hellebore in one of the tubs, this is remarkable given they were all under six inches of snow a few days ago. So spring is clearly on its way and with it comes that sense of renewal and optimism. The country might be going to “hell in a handcart” but good old Boris Johnson London’s Mayor suggests we should “talk things up” and be a bit more optimistic. Easy to say when you’re the Mayor but not quite so easy if you’re watching your services and benefits being drastically reduced.
There are some reasons to be cheerful! A new newspaper has been launched for learning disabled adults called “ Easy News”, comedienne, and soon to be superstar Liz Carr has landed a key role as forensic scientist in “The Silent Witness” and her disability is not an issue! Stephen Hawking is still going strong and recently celebrated his seventy first birthday, The Council for Disabled Children’s Young Ambassadors programme came to a close in December, marking the end of a successful two year campaign by 10 young people to challenge attitudes towards disabled children and young people. You can watch their DVD “Young Disabled and in Control” at http://www.councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/what-we-do/work-themes/participation/young-disabled-and-in-control
So it’s not all gloom and doom so let’s follow the example of my Hellebore and keep our chins up!
Labour’s integration plans could see NHS take over social care
Leading disabled campaigners have welcomed Labour’s plans for “full integration” between the NHS and the social care system, but have raised concerns about putting the NHS in charge.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said he wanted to see “whole person care”, with “one budget, one service co-ordinating all of one person’s needs: physical, mental and social”.
Burnham suggested that the exclusion of social care from the NHS explained why it had never been able to break out of its “medical model” mentality.
He said that giving the NHS responsibility for coordination of both health and social care would allow it to “raise the standards and horizons of social care, lifting it out of today’s cut-price, minimum wage business”.
Burnham pointed out in a speech announcing his proposals that £104 billion a year was spent on the NHS but only £15 billion on social care.
He also launched a major health and care policy review, under the shadow care services minister, Liz Kendall.
Professor Peter Beresford, who chairs the national user-led Shaping Our Lives network, welcomed Burnham’s recognition that calls for integration were “unlikely ever to work so long as they are separate competing organisations, based on different funding systems and fundamentally different principles for access and entitlement”.
He said integration could not come soon enough, because of the “national emergency” intensified by “rising numbers of older and disabled people”.
But he said he was worried that Burnham “seems to be turning to the NHS for the solution” to integration.
He said: “This won’t work. It’ll mean an unhelpful return to a medical model when we know that a social approach is crucial here.”
He added: “It’s time Andy started talking to service users, carers and their organisations. They’ll give him a really helpful steer for developing sustainable policy.”
Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said she was pleased that a national politician was “really trying to get to grips with the crisis that there is in social care”, and said her organisation was “very much in favour” of integration.
But she said she was concerned that the culture in the NHS was “very different” to that in social services.
She said: “Although we often have issue with the attitudes that disabled people experience in social services, nevertheless we would say that there tends to be a much better, empowering culture in social services.”
She said integration would need to be a “genuine coming together”, and added: “If it is simply the NHS taking social services under its wing, then that really is not going to work for disabled people.”
Bott said DR UK would support Burnham’s “whole person” approach, and recognised that the difference between health and social care services was “very arbitrary” and meant disabled people often failed to receive the services they needed.
Burnham also talked in his speech at the King’s Fund in London about the key issue of social care funding reform, but focused on older people and said nothing about working-age disabled adults.
Disability News Service asked Burnham’s spokesman whether the shadow health secretary agreed with proposals from the Dilnot commission on funding reform that social care should be free for all people with “eligible” needs who become disabled before the age of 40.
He said: “Andy’s been clear he supports the Dilnot proposals as an important first step to addressing the crisis in all social care.”
But when asked to clarify exactly what he meant by this, he failed to comment further.
Portas high street review ‘is making life harder for access campaigners’
A review by the government’s “high street tsar”, Mary Portas, has made it even harder to secure access improvements to local shops for disabled people, according to a leading access consultant.
Tracey Proudlock has been trying for more than three months to discuss her concerns with Portas, but has so far had no response.
Last year, the government chose 27 English towns to take part in pilot projects aimed at transforming their high street, the first recommendation taken up from an independent review of the high street’s future, carried out by the retail expert.
But the Portas review failed to make a single mention of disabled people in its 47 pages, although there was a brief reference to the need for older people to have “the same great access to high streets that they have to out-of-town centres”, in a section in which she called for high streets to be “accessible, attractive and safe”.
Proudlock said she fears the review’s focus on deregulation and “freeing up red tape”, and making life easier for retailers, has filtered through to local authorities, who now shy away from telling high street businesses to improve access.
Proudlock, a wheelchair-user, last year asked four retailers near her home in Muswell Hill, north London, to remove a step at the front of their premises while builders carried out “high value work” inside.
All four refused to remove the step, she said, while her local council failed to force the shops to do so as a condition of their planning applications.
Proudlock first wrote to Portas on 12 October last year, telling her how her local Liberal Democrat councillor had said that Haringey council – which is Labour-controlled – “did not want to burden retailers” and so would not campaign with her to remove steps from her high street, because of the Portas review.
She has now written two letters – sent by registered post – to Portas’s office, and made follow-up calls and sent emails.
Proudlock, a member of the government’s own Equality 2025 advisory network of disabled people, but speaking in a personal capacity, said: “I was trying to change things where I live, but Portas was quoted as the reason why it wouldn’t happen.”
Portas has so far been unavailable to comment.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was “committed to supporting the high street so it’s a place for everyone to enjoy”, which was why it had already implemented “virtually all” of the Portas recommendations, doubled small business rate relief for new and smaller shops and “outlined new proposals to re-activate empty shops”.
She said local businesses must comply with the Equality Act and building regulations, but added: “We actively promote good design which is crucial to improving the high street and would urge local authorities to look at locally imposed red tape and byelaws that may have an adverse affect on the high street.”
But when Disability News Service asked whether the government believed the Portas review had made it more difficult to improve access on the high street, she declined to comment further.
Haringey council has so far been unable to comment.
McVey invites ridicule as she dismisses her own PIP figures
A minister has refused to admit that her government has tightened eligibility for support for people with the highest mobility needs, even though her own department’s figures prove that it has.
Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, was giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee for the first time since her ministerial appointment.
She repeatedly insisted that she wanted to provide “clarity” on the replacement of disability living allowance (DLA) with the new personal independence payment (PIP) for working-age disabled people.
But McVey then claimed that the latest changes to the assessment criteria for the PIP mobility componentwould not lead to fewer disabled people receiving the enhanced rate, even though she was told by Labour MP Sheila Gilmore that the government’s own document shows the changes would mean 51,000 fewer people eligible by 2018.
Despite the government publishing them last month, McVey refused to comment on the numbers, saying she was only “accountable” for the reforms until the next election in 2015.
She said the government’s 2018 figures were “hypothetical”, because there would be a review of the PIP reforms in 2014, and added: “I don’t think it’s correct to pursue those incorrect [Department for Work and Pensions] numbers.”
McVey claimed the latest changes provided “clarity” to “what was otherwise a very vague criteria”.
Previous drafts of the PIP eligibility criteria stated that a claimant who could not walk “up to” 50 metres without using a self-propelled wheelchair would be entitled to the enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP, making them eligible to lease a Motability vehicle.
But last month’s final draft of the assessment criteria states that a PIP claimant would be eligible for the enhanced rate if they “can stand and then move more than one metre but no more than 20 metres, either aided or unaided”.
The move from 50 metres to 20 has caused concern and anger among disabled activists, peers, MPs, and a string of disability organisations.
Gilmore told McVey that 20 metres was “a very short distance”, and asked whether it was “purely coincidental” that the numbers who would be eligible for the enhanced rate in 2018 had fallen following the latest changes.
Gilmore said after the meeting that the changes were now “as clear as mud”, accused DWP of being “deceptive” in the way it had consulted people over the changes, and said McVey’s refusal to discuss DWP’s own 2018 figures was “absurd”.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said the sudden change from 50 metres to 20 had “shaken my faith in the whole process”.
She added: “It’s a terrible mess and just shows how stupid they were to alter the regulations at the last minute.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman again declined to admit that eligibility had been tightened.
Meanwhile, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson has warned fellow peers that the “lack of consultation with disabled people and all supporting evidence from experts in disability access as to what distance enables practical mobility and participation mean that there is a real risk that this issue will be open to judicial review”.
Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, insisted that the change “has made it clearer and simpler” and “has not changed the numbers affected”.
But after Lord Sterling, the Conservative chair and co-founder of the Motability car scheme, said there was “concern among disabled people” at the change from 50 metres to 20 – believed to be the first time he has spoken out over the PIP changes – Lord Freud agreed to consider “further communication with the relevant parties” on the issue.
Lord Freud was also asked by peers why the government had left out from the criteria the need to be able to perform the activities laid out in the PIP assessment “reliably, safely, repeatedly and in a timely manner”, another key issue that campaigners have been raising since the final draft was published last month.
Baroness Thomas, her party’s former work and pensions spokeswoman, said the number of appeals would “rocket” and there would be “such a period of uncertainty in so many ways for so many people”, if the words were not included in regulations.
At present the words are included in guidance, which does not have the same statutory force as regulations.
Lord Freud said the government was “urgently” looking at how to put the words into the regulations “in a way that works legally”.
Government stats show most new ESA claimants are not ‘fit for work’
New figures show for the first time that a majority of new claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are – eventually – found not “fit for work”.
Conservative ministers – particularly the former employment minister Chris Grayling – have previously made much of figures that they claimed showed most new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants were able to work and so were ineligible for support.
But the latest Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that – once the results of appeals are fed through – a majority of new claimants are being awarded ESA, which replaces the old incapacity benefit.
The new figures show that – of those whose work capability assessment (WCA) has been completed – 52 per cent of people who started their claim between March and May 2012 were originally found fit for work.
Another 27 per cent were placed in the ESA support group, with 21 per cent in the ESA work-related activity group, for those disabled people expected to move eventually into jobs.
But the figures also show that it appears to take at least a year from when a claim starts for any subsequent appeals to be heard, a large proportion of which – somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent – result in the original decision being overturned.
And figures for July, August and September 2011 – the latest months released so far for which the results of appeals show a significant impact – reveal that less than half of claimants are being found fit for work, with 48 or 49 per cent unsuccessful in their ESA claims.
The tables released by DWP suggest that the proportion found fit for work will fall even further, with even more people given the support they need through ESA, once the results of appeals from claims begun in 2012 are fed into the statistical system.
Disabled activists and many other campaigners are convinced the WCA is still inflexible and deeply unfair, although the new figures suggest that changes to the assessment by the government, following independent reviews by Professor Malcolm Harrington, have improved it to some extent.
Last week, Labour MP Kevan Jones said the coalition had “blood on their hands” because of suicides caused by the WCA.
Former Labour minister Michael Meacher told fellow MPs in the same debate that he could not “begin to do justice to the feelings of distress, indignation, fear, helplessness and indeed widespread anger” at the way people had been treated.
A DWP spokesman referred Disability News Service to a press release in which Conservative employment minister Mark Hoban said the new ESA figures showed “that the improvements we have made since 2010 are making a real difference”.
He compared the 27 per cent of people now being placed in the support group – for those considered unable to work – with between 10 and 11 per cent in the early stages of the WCA, from December 2008 to May 2010.
But when asked by DNS to comment on the figures adjusted for appeals – which give the clearest picture of the numbers eventually being found fit for work – the DWP spokesman said: “Mark has made his comment around the statistics. I don’t think we would comment beyond that at the moment.”
The new DWP figures also show that the proportion of successful appeals against being found fit for work has continued to fall.
For claims begun in 2009, it was as high as 41 per cent, but the latest figures – for claims begun in the autumn of 2011 – show the proportion of successful appeals had fallen to 31 per cent.
Benefits cap will ‘inevitably’ become law
A benefits bill that will see disabled people in 3.4 million households across Britain lose out looks certain to become law.
The welfare benefits up-rating bill was passed by MPs this week and will now be debated in the House of Lords.
It will see many benefits up-rated by only one per cent in 2014-15 and 2015-16, in addition to the one per cent increase already due to be implemented this year, far below the expected rate of inflation.
Although disability living allowance and disability-related premiums will be protected from the one per cent cap, the main element of employment and support allowance (ESA) will rise by just one per cent, as will the extra element for claimants in the ESA work-related activity group, for those disabled people expected to move eventually into jobs.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas , her party’s former work and pensions spokeswoman, told Disability News Service (DNS) that she feared the Lords would be powerless to prevent the bill being passed.
She said this was because the government would inevitably use the much-criticised “financial privilege” procedure in the Commons to overturn any amendments passed by peers, as the changes would almost certainly result in extra spending.
Baroness Thomas said the bill would “come in for some stick” in the Lords, but she said: “I am not going to waste my energies on something we will not get anywhere near.”
She said some of her fellow Liberal Democrat peers would “almost certainly” vote against the government on the bill, but she added: “I personally am not sure I will. I like to pick my fights.”
She and other disabled peers are focusing much of their energy on other key issues, particularly on pushing for changes to crucial regulations that will decide eligibility for the new personal independence payment.
Four other disabled peers, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, Lord [Colin] Low, and Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, all told DNS they hoped to speak against the up-rating bill.
During this week’s Commons debate on the bill, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, said 3.4 million households that include a disabled person would lose out from the one per cent cap by an average of £156 a year, even though the chancellor, George Osborne, had promised disability benefits would increase in line with inflation.
Labour’s shadow employment minister Stephen Timms described it as “a terrible bill that is being rushed through in a disgraceful manner”.
And Dr Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP’s work and pensions spokeswoman, said it was “a sad state of affairs when disabled people who, through no fault of their own, cannot persuade an employer to give them a job, are being pushed further into poverty and are being blamed and vilified for the state of the wider economy”.
But Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary, said the main argument for the bill was “the need to reduce the historic deficit left by Labour”, while the second reason “relates to the issue of fairness”.
He said: “We do not do these things lightly, but we do want to make sure that those paying the tax bill for those receiving it in welfare recognise that their taxes are well spent; we want to ensure that those in work paying their taxes do not see the rises for those on welfare outstripping their own.”
The second reading of the bill in the Lords is due to take place on 11 February.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com