EHRC ignores calls, Government softly softly on jobs, Equality 2025 to go, Progress on Access to Work

So Andy wins Wimbledon, the Lions win down under and the Ashes look like they’re staying here. The temperatures are soaring and all’s right with the world except it isn’t. As you can see from this week’s news disabled people are the likely losers yet again.

The EHRC has decided to scrap its disability committee and replace it with an “advisory group” which will have no statutory powers. This comes at a time when disabled people are facing the most difficult circumstances for a generation.

Alongside this we learn that Equality 2025, a group of disabled people who provide high level advice on disability across government, is going to be closed down. A review is underway to explore ideas for it’s replacement but it seems clear that the voice of disabled people will be missing or watered down in a number of important strategic areas.

The good news is that the DWP organised a major conference in London to encourage employers to recruit more disabled talent. I wonder how much time the conference spent discussing the issue of keeping those who become disabled from losing their jobs. From what I hear there will be new training and internship opportunities for younger people but aside from this positive news little concrete action has been agreed which will ensure that the 45 plus per cent of disabled people currently unemployed will get back into work.

Now an unashamed plug for our book “Why are you pretending to be normal?” It is a distillation of what we’ve learned whilst running our personal development workshops. Historically employers have provided equality training to their managers in order to ensure that they are equipped to “manage difference”. This short book encourages disabled people to take control of their lives and become “experts” on what they need in order to be as effective as possible.

The book is easy to read and provides both disabled people and their managers with interesting ideas and techniques which offer a different approach to managing disability in the workplace.” You can order a copy atwww.philandfriends.co.uk/book or a Kindle version from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-are-pretending-normal-ebook/dp/B00DPKDXYM Let me know what you think if you decide to buy a copy.

News Roundup

Equality watchdog ignored calls to assess impact of cuts on disabled people

The equality watchdog has ignored repeated requests from its own disability committee to investigate the combined impact of the government’s cuts to support and services on disabled people, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

The refusal of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to act emerged in the week that it decided to scrap the disability committee, ignoring the advice of an independent review.

DNS understands that EHRC – the organisation charged with protecting, enforcing and promoting equality for disabled people – has failed to act for at least 18 months on calls from its statutory disability committee to assess the impact of coalition cuts and other policies.

Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the Disability Rights Commission and is a former EHRC commissioner, said: “We need evidence and that is what the equality commission is there for. If it is not doing things like this, what is it there for?

“This would be a very valuable exercise. It could be that I am wrong and these cuts are having a positive impact on disabled people, but we should have the evidence. I don’t believe they are, I think they are negative, but let’s prove that.”

Mike Smith, who chaired the committee until last December, said he remembered carrying out preparatory work for an assessment.

He said: “We were planning a piece of work for good reason. It is not clear to me why the commission wouldn’t do it.”

Disabled activists have been pleading with the government since at least 2011 to carry out an assessment of the cumulative impact of all of the cuts to disability benefits and services, and other disability-related policies.

The Pat’s Petition campaign, led by Pat Onions, drew nearly 63,000 signatures before it closed last November, while the WOW petition, which is also seeking a cumulative impact assessment (CIA), and still has five months left to run, has secured nearly 50,000.

Onions demanded to know why the EHRC had ignored the committee’s call for an assessment.

She said: “We understand that this committee called for [this] 18 months ago, and yet we are only just hearing of this now. We want to know why their request has been ignored.

“Pat’s Petition completely supports the call of the disability committee at the EHRC… and can’t believe that this committee is to be abolished at the present time when disabled people have never needed protection more.”

Onions said: “At Pat’s Petition we believe it is irresponsible to conduct any enormous experiment without attempting to predict or measure the effects.

“It wouldn’t be allowed in any kind of building project, so why is it acceptable to experiment on disabled people without checking for safety?”

Agnes Fletcher, who carried out the independent review of the disability committee, told DNS there were “very significant changes to policy underway, including in education, employment, social security, social care and housing”, and that these changes “will have a major, cumulative impact on many disabled people in the next few years”.

She said that it was “vital” that the committee was allowed to monitor this impact and develop a strategy for the commission to respond to the changes.

She added: “This is something that the committee has asked, and is well-placed, to do.”

An EHRC spokesman claimed that it was not the commission’s role to carry out such a piece of work, but instead that it had to use its powers to ensure the government does so, “and, where appropriate, to undertake appropriate legal action to support cases that address specific areas of discrimination in relation to this”.

Equality watchdog to scrap vital disability committee

Serious questions have been raised over why the equality watchdog has decided to scrap the disabled-led committee that makes some of its most important decisions on disability equality, ignoring the advice of an independent reviewer.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wants to replace its disability committee with an advisory group that will not have the same legal powers to make decisions on issues affecting disabled people.

The decision to overrule the advice of the reviewer came despite a consultation exercise which found that about 70 per cent of the individuals and organisations that responded were in favour of the committee keeping its statutory status, while only 11 per cent thought it should be removed.

Mike Smith, who chaired the committee until last December, said he believed the decision to scrap the committee may have been made by the commission before the review took place.

He said he had been told previously by some commissioners that they believed the disability committee should not exist.

He added: “It was often said to me by senior officers that they thought the commission did a disproportionately large amount of work on disability, and attributed this to the existence of the disability committee.”

It is the second disabled-led committee to be told this week that it faces abolition, after a review of the government’s Equality 2025 advisory body recommended that it should be disbanded.

The disability committee was given significant powers by the Equality Act 2006 to take important disability-related decisions within EHRC, for example allowing it to overrule commission officers on critical and strategically-important legal cases.

Agnes Fletcher, the disabled equality consultant who carried out the review, told EHRC there was a “compelling rationale” for keeping the committee and its statutory powers until at least 2017.

But EHRC ignored her advice and has recommended to Conservative women and equalities minister Maria Miller – who is also the culture secretary – that the committee should be replaced with an advisory group with no statutory powers.

Smith praised Fletcher’s report but questioned why she had not been allowed to see a report the committee had commissioned to analyse its impact on EHRC over its five years.

The commission’s board had not allowed Smith or his committee to see the report last year, claiming there were “problems with the methodology”.

Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and is a former EHRC commissioner, said that abolishing the committee was “a bad decision” for which the commission had offered no explanation.

He said: “I can’t but be suspicious about the motivation because there is no honourable motivation I can see.”

He is to write to Miller, but said he had “no great confidence” that she would ignore the commission’s recommendation.

Sir Bert said that having a committee with no statutory powers would mean its advice could be ignored, and that it could be scrapped at any time, potentially also leaving the EHRC without a single disabled commissioner.

He said: “We may end up with the commission pontificating on disability issues without any disabled person on the commission. That could easily happen.”

He added: “This will mean the equality commission will be even weaker than it has been on disability issues. The commission should be up there fighting hard, and, frankly, it isn’t. If it was abolished tomorrow, how many people would attend the funeral?”

Fletcher, a former DRC director of communications, highlighted the “broad and complex” nature of the EHRC’s work on disability – which has accounted for 43 per cent of its legal cases – and the committee’s new role in supporting the commission to “promote, protect and monitor” the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

And she said there was a feeling that the committee – which costs just £28,000 a year to run – had been undermined by a “lack of support or even hostility” from the commission.

Despite this, she said the committee had made a “valuable” contribution in its first five years, leading on the “ground-breaking and extremely influential” disability-related harassment inquiry, advising on key legal cases, and supporting the commission’s work on the UNCRPD.

She also said there was “almost nothing” about the committee on the commission’s website and that the staff resources it had been given by the commission had “gradually dwindled” over the years.

One of her few criticisms of the committee’s work was that many organisations had claimed it did not have a high enough profile and had met only “sporadically” with stakeholders.

But Smith said that for its first three years, the commission had not allowed any stakeholder events focused only on one equality strand. More recently, it had told the disability committee there was not enough funding to hold such events.

The commission now wants to replace the committee with a “high-level strategic advisory group” – still chaired by the EHRC’s disability commissioner – with a “wider” programme of engagement with disability stakeholders and a funding increase of about 50 per cent.

The commission warns in its response to Fletcher’s review that such a move could be seen as “a change to our commitment to disability issues and potentially pose a risk to the reputation of the commission”.

Fletcher said she was “disappointed” that the commission had not agreed with her recommendation.

She said: “There are very significant changes to policy underway, including in education, employment, social security, social care and housing.

“These changes will have a major cumulative impact on many disabled people in the next few years.

“I believe that an expert statutory body, closely in touch with disabled people’s organisations, focused on monitoring this impact and on developing the commission’s strategy in response, is vital.”

Chris Holmes, the current disability commissioner and chair of the disability committee, said in a statement that his committee was “confident that the commission will ensure that the approach it is proposing will continue to enable the commission to deliver for disabled people”.

An EHRC spokesman claimed the statutory powers were delegated to the committee because of the “newness and complexity of the disability equality legislative framework, and the need to support the then newly formed EHRC to continue the legal and policy work undertaken by the Disability Rights Commission”.

He said this was no longer necessary because the Equality Act 2010 had “strengthened the legislation in relation to disabled people”, while the UNCRPD had been ratified by the UK government, and the commission had “significantly increased officer understanding and expertise on disability matters”.
Government’s softly-softly jobs conference sparks anger

The government has held a huge conference to set out its “non-confrontational” approach to persuading business to employ more disabled people.

The Working Together conference in London brought about 300 businesses and disabled entrepreneurs together, as the coalition launched a two-year campaign aimed at making employers more “disability confident”.

The prime minister, David Cameron, told the conference: “We need to break the myth about the complexities of employing disabled people, or to put it more simply: to give employers confidence.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary, said he wanted to see a society that “uses all its talents”, with businesses sharing best practice on employing disabled people.

But when a delegate asked if tighter equality legislation might encourage businesses to employ more disabled people, Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said: “I am not somebody who would want to tell somebody what they have to do. We have to work with business.”

She told Disability News Service (DNS) later: “This is the start of a two-year journey. How do we get the best out of people? Are we going to be confrontational? Does that make for a better relationship or a worse one long term?

“What we have got to do is go on a journey together, because I want to do it. It is the start of a journey and sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t know.”

Asked what should be done with those businesses that do not want to employ disabled people, she said: “Every journey begins with the ones who are the outliers.”

But she added: “There is statute and law that people have got to adhere to. But we haven’t sort of moved much further on with the legislation that has been there for a lot of years.”

There was criticism of the government’s approach – and the conference – from some of the disabled entrepreneurs who attended.

One delegate won applause after he pointed out that it was difficult to persuade colleagues to take on disabled employees when there were “contradictory messages” coming from the government.

He pointed to the “strong and positive” messages that had been coming from Duncan Smith at the conference, even though his government had been suggesting through its welfare reforms that disabled people were all “wasters” and that they would be “completely unsuccessful” in work.

He said the government’s benefit reforms were making disabled people “less confident and more nervous”.

Neil Barnfather, who has started 19 companies – seven of which have become multi-nationals – and is now chief executive of the web hosting firm eHosting, with 10,000 employees, said: “The message from the last year is that you can be a Paralympian and throw a discus or roll round a track, or you can be a welfare cheat.”

He told DNS later: “We don’t ever tell people what the other options are. I wasn’t even invited to this event. I had to ask them if I could come.”

He said that the efforts big businesses were making to employ disabled people were “pathetic”.

He said: “Everyone in this room will be talking the talk. But no-one walks the walk.”

Disabled activists who followed the conference online took over the government’s #disabilityconfident Twitter hashtag to make their feelings clear about the coalition’s disability policies.

David Gillon, who tweets at @WTBDavidG, said: “This week the government wants us to be #DisabilityConfident, yet last week we were #DisabilityExtremists,” referring to comments made by Conservative MP Paul Maynard in a Commons debate.

Lisa Egan, @lisybabe, added: “I used to be #disabilityconfident. Now I read in the paper every day that I’m a waste of tax payer’s money. That crushes confidence.”

Presenter, broadcaster and writer Mik Scarlet, @MikScarlet, tweeted: “All of society should be able 2 work, but also have all of their care needs met #savetheILF.”

He tweeted later: “Left #disabilityconfident early despondent. Focus on dis ppl in work as good but those out of work as bad hurts us all. Equality 4 all.”

Dr Sarah Campbell, principal co-author of the Spartacus report, who tweets at @spoonydoc, said: “I was inspiring and a role model, got awards for it. The illness progressed more. Now called scrounger. #disabilityconfident.”

Another Twitter-user, @Chaonaut, said: “2015 looms. #DisabilityConfident mainly to create footage/spin for more smear campaigns against workshy sick/disabled. tell me i’m wrong.”

There was more criticism of the content of the conference from @dis_psych, who tweeted: “#DisabilityConfident was interesting mostly for what it failed to cover. For example not one mention of HR practices.”

Another campaigner, @claireOT, said: “Too much #DisabilityConfident concerned our personal attributes, not the structural barriers and oppression we face #DisabilityConfident.”

And @nikwebster tweeted: “I’d be more #disabilityconfident if I didn’t get abused whenever I walked down the street because I ‘walk funny’.”

The Department for Work and Pensions used the event to launch the latest changes to its Access to Work scheme, and new guidance on employing disabled people, which contains advice and links for employers.

The government will also host a series of regional “business breakfasts” to develop plans for a service that will focus on helping business to employ disabled people.

And it says it will support media organisations to increase the representation and portrayal of disabled people in mainstream programmes.

Duncan Smith said: “Today our message to employers is that recruiting and retaining disabled person doesn’t have to be challenging at all.”

He added: “Among many disabled people, there is often a perception that work is simply not an option.”

And he said it was “tragic” that many disabled people thought work would not be good for their health, and that he wanted to ensure there was “no-one left behind”.

But Simon Stevens, a disabled entrepreneur and activist, said the messages from the conference had been about creating “special jobs” for disabled people, rather than securing “normal” jobs for them.

He said: “It is just patronising waffle. This could have been 1993. It hasn’t changed. Disability employment hasn’t changed.

“We all know disabled people can work. We do work. It’s not about us, it’s about them, it’s about inclusion.”

He said: “It’s very easy to create a job for an individual. In the real world in the future we want to be people with impairments that get normal jobs.

“We need a new generation of companies that will employ disabled people, that are more accepting of disabled employees, where that is natural.”

He said the answers were in inclusive education, in improvements in technology, and in improved attitudes to disabled people. “If we haven’t got inclusive education, we will not get disabled people to work.”

And he said there was not yet any support available that “prepares disabled people mentally for work”.
End of the road for Equality 2025

The government has decided to scrap its high-level advice body of disabled people, Equality 2025, followingan independent review.

It is the second disabled-led advice body to be told this week that it faces abolition, following the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to over-rule an independent reviewer and recommend that its statutory disability committee should be disbanded.

Announcing the decision to abolish Equality 2025 in only two months’ time, the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) launched a three-month consultation to find a new way of providing that advice.

Although its nine members will end their terms in September, the chair, Rachel Perkins, will continue to advise the government on policy, strategy and arrangements for replacing Equality 2025, until her contract ends in March 2014.

ODI has made it clear that the replacement for Equality 2025 will not consist solely of disabled people, and will include input from people with “particular expertise on disability issues”.

This would mirror its earlier decision to sideline the Network of Networks, a collection of 12 disabled people’s organisations, and replace it with the Disability Action Alliance, which includes user-led and non-user-led members.

ODI said it wanted to replace Equality 2025 with a list of “expert advisors” to inform policy development across government, as well as a “forum” of 30-40 members, which will provide “engagement on priorities and strategic direction”.

The forum’s work will include “horizon scanning for important future issues which are likely to affect disabled people”, progress on the government’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy, and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Despite this huge increase in the number of people involved in giving advice, ODI said the annual budget would remain at about £80,000.

This suggests that none of those on the forum or the list of advisors will be paid anything more than expenses.

In its consultation document, ODI said it wanted to hear from a broader range of disabled people, including hard-to-reach groups; to “expand co-production and partnership working in all areas of strategy and policy”; and for Equality 2025’s replacement to be more open, transparent and flexible.

In the last year, Equality 2025 has given confidential advice to government departments across 47 policy areas.

But in his review of Equality 2025, Rich Watts recommended that it should be scrapped and replaced.

He said Equality 2025 was not able to provide strategic expert advice in all subject areas, while there was “a need to incorporate more lived experience expertise in policy development which is currently not being delivered”.

Watts, programme lead for mental health at the National Development Team for inclusion, said that engagement with government departments had been “patchy” and that any engagement there had been had often come as because of Perkins’ impressive reputation.

But he said there were “clear instances” in which Equality 2025 had provided “valuable confidential insight and advice”, although the “general view was that there isn’t sufficient strategic expertise across Equality 2025 to fulfil this role in all policy areas”.

He concluded: “Equality 2025 has an important function, but could have been more effective in delivering its functions.

“The role of chair of Equality 2025 has been effective and valued by all who had direct engagement with her, but engagement with the group as a whole has been patchy.”
DWP makes progress on opening up Access to Work

The government has opened up its Access to Work (AtW) scheme to new groups of young disabled people, just days before it is due to release statistics on how many people used the programme last year.

The changes were recommended by an expert panel chaired by Mike Adams, chief executive of the user-led organisation ecdp, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepting nine of his 11 recommendations.

He said: “We were very clear we wanted a system that was much more personalised around the needs of disabled people, and I think we have got a commitment from Esther [McVey, the minister for disabled people] to do that.”

He was particularly pleased that McVey agreed with his recommendation that there should be more flexibility with AtW payments.

Claimants will now be able to apply for up-front payments to allow them to take up or remain in a job, and it will also be possible for them to vary the amount of support they use on a weekly basis – for instance if their working hours vary every week – without having to check every time with their AtW adviser.

But Adams said he was disappointed that the government had not yet accepted his recommendation that claimants should be able to manage their AtW payments online, which he said would have a “huge positive impact on disabled people”.

And he said more needed to be done to help people with fluctuating conditions.

He also said he would have liked the government to do more to reduce the share of AtW payments met by employers.

The government also agreed that disabled people on traineeships, supported internships and work academies will now all be eligible for support through AtW, with the DWP putting aside £2 million a year for such schemes.

Disabled people on work trials arranged through Jobcentre Plus can already apply for AtW, but eligibility is now being extended to disabled people who arrange their own work trial with an employer, if there is a “realistic prospect” of a job at the end of it.

Work trials allow a jobseeker to continue receiving benefits while working for a potential employer for up to 30 days, to test whether a potential job is suitable.

Traineeships will be introduced from August and will offer young people a work placement and work skills training, as well as support to improve their English and maths.

Supported internships – which were launched this week following a trial in 15 further education colleges – offer a structured study programme, based with an employer, which includes on-the-job training, support from job coaches, and the chance to study for relevant qualifications if appropriate.

And work academies provide pre-employment training, a work experience placement and a guaranteed job interview.

The most recent AtW figures, released in April, showed that the number of people using the scheme – which provides funding towards the extra costs disabled people face in work, such as travel costs, adapted equipment or support workers – had started to rise again, after a sustained period when numbers had been falling.

Liz Sayce welcomed the government’s decision to make AtW available for all traineeships and work experience, a recommendation of her review of supported employment, and which she said could “overcome terrible discrimination, especially for young disabled people who couldn’t get a job without experience and couldn’t get any experience for lack of funds for adjustments – a catch 22”.

She said the changes were the results of campaigning by disabled people.

But she added: “We have a crisis of young disabled people’s unemployment. Next, government needs to remove barriers to apprenticeships like unnecessary qualifications; and stop the scrounger rhetoric that gives a disastrous message to employers and damages disabled people’s employment opportunities.”

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said: “Young disabled people tell me how difficult it can be to get a job without experience – and they want the same choice of training opportunities as everyone else to help them into work.

“We’re opening up Access to Work to do just that – so that more young disabled people can get a foothold in the jobs market, get their careers on track and achieve their full potential.”

McVey admitted last October that AtW spending had plummeted from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12, while the number of disabled people claiming funding had fallen from 37,000 in 2009-10 to just over 30,000 in 2011-12.

To find out more about Access to Work, visit: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work

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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