London Councils pose questions on welfare reform, Failure to treat Eddie Kidd attack as a hate crime, NHS backs GP comments on fitness to work, BBC failure on Humphrys documentary

I’ve just spent a very pleasant afternoon sitting out in the garden. My next door neighbour, who is a very keen gardener, recently “qualified” as a bee keeper and has a new bee hive. Since he acquired it and populated it with bees I’ve noticed that we seem to have a lot more of the little creatures flying around in our garden. A very welcome sight given the concerns about falling numbers of bees. Of course it might just be a coincidence or we simply acquired a lot of new neighbours.

As I watched the bees working on our lavender plants I singled out one for closer scrutiny. He/she worked away on a number of flowers but never revisited one that had already been visited. How on earth does a bee work that out? The bee didn’t appear to think “did I do that flower properly? Perhaps I ‘d better just check”. He/she did it right first time and moved on!

I think my brain is bigger than a bees but I find myself revisiting stuff all the time. If the computer starts misbehaving I keep trying the same key strokes in the vain hope that this time I will get a different result! Are you a bit like that? I like the bee’s approach do it properly in the first place and then move on or if what you’re trying to do isn’t working trying something different.

Finally a reminder that our book “Why are you pretending to be normal?” provides ideas and tips on how disabled people, family, friends, managers can start doing things differently in order to manage disability more effectively. More information atwww.philandfriends.co.uk/book

News Roundup

London councils set to pose question DWP fears to ask

Local authorities in London are set to do what the government has refused to do, and commission research into the impact of the coalition’s welfare reforms on disabled people.

The research will look at the impact of three of the government’s major welfare reforms: universal credit, the “bedroom tax” and the benefit cap.

The decision by London Councils, which represents the capital’s local authorities, to commission the research raises new questions about the refusal by work and pensions ministers to investigate the cumulative impact of their own reforms and cuts to benefits on disabled people.

Only last month, Mark Hoban, the Conservative minister for employment, said that a cumulative impact assessment would be “so complex and subject to so many variables that it would be meaningless, helping neither individuals nor policy makers, and it would soon be incorrect and out of date”.

Although the London Councils research will not look at the impact of all of the many benefit cuts and reforms, the three it will be examining are central to the government’s welfare agenda and will have a significant impact on disabled people.

Universal credit, which is gradually being introduced, will see key means-tested benefits and tax credits combined into a single payment, but a report published last year, Holes in the Safety Net, concluded that about 450,000 disabled people could eventually lose out under the changes.

The “bedroom tax” housing regulations came into force on 1 April and financially punish tenants in social housing who are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes, with campaigners warning that it is leading to disabled people across the country facing the risk of eviction.

And the benefit cap, currently being rolled out across the country, restricts the total amount of benefits working-age households can receive to £500 per week, with many families set to lose hundreds of pounds a month.

Because of exemptions and other measures aimed at disabled people with higher support needs, all three reforms are set to hit those with lower support needs hardest, matching the prime minister’s pledge to target government funding at those who are “most disabled”.

Marie Pye, former head of public sector delivery at the Disability Rights Commission and now a Labour councillor in Waltham Forest and lead on equality for London Councils, said: “We need to understand across London what the impact of these three changes is on disabled people. We need to look at the reality of what they are doing to disabled people’s lives.

“We also need to try and identify the best practice among authorities that are trying to mitigate the impact and support disabled people, so we can all learn from that.”

Pye said London Councils had decided not to look at the impact of cuts and reforms to disability benefits, but to examine instead the impact of the government’s wider welfare reform agenda on disabled people, many of whom would not qualify for benefits such as the new personal independence payment.

London’s high rent levels also mean that measures affecting housing benefit – as all three of the reforms do – are particularly significant to disabled people in the capital.

Pye added: “I think it is absolutely essential that any analysis of the impact of welfare reform specifically looks at the impact on disabled people as a wider group, on all of us in our different situations.”

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the decision to carry out the research was “brilliant news”.

She said: “It is very welcome and we would be really keen to be involved.”

And she added: “We think it is very interesting that London Councils are doing it but the government is still insisting that it is too complex to do.”

A London Councils spokesman said the report was “currently at the commissioning stage”, with officers “writing up the criteria for shortlisting” researchers to carry out the work, and the report itself likely to be published “around Christmas”.

But he later sent a statement claiming – despite his own comments and those of Marie Pye – that “no final decision has been made on whether to go ahead with the research as it is still in the pre-commissioning stage”.
Questions for judge over failure to treat Eddie Kidd attack by wife as hate crime

A judge failed to treat a series of assaults on former motorcycle stuntman Eddie Kidd by his wife as disability hate crime, even though she called him a “fucking spastic” during one of the attacks.

Samantha Kidd was jailed for five months last week after admitting four counts of assaulting her husband.

But it is the latest in a string of cases in which the criminal justice system has ignored what seemed to be clear examples of disability hate crime.

Sussex police treated the crimes as both domestic violence and hate crime from the beginning of their investigation, while the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) also argued that the language used by Samantha Kidd made the case a disability hate crime.

But despite Kidd calling her husband a “fucking spastic” as she assaulted him, Judge William Ashworth made it clear that he was sentencing her on the basis of domestic violence against a “vulnerable” person, and not for a disability hate crime.

Crimes which are dealt with by the courts as hate crimes result in higher sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Brighton magistrates court had heard how Kidd punched, slapped and kicked her husband, and had to be pulled away after being found with her hands on his throat.

On another occasion last year, she kicked him after a care worker struggled to help him from his car and into a wheelchair.

She was arrested after the couple split up and the incidents were reported to the police.

A CPS spokesman said: “This case was flagged by the CPS as a disability hate crime. At the sentence hearing, we argued that the language used by the defendant towards the victim made this case a disability hate crime.

“Although the defence argued that the defendant was not motivated by hostility towards the victim’s disability, we maintained that the language still demonstrated hostility.”

A spokesman for Sussex police said the officers investigating the offences had recognised them as potential disability hate crimes, had asked Samantha Kidd about “hate comments” when she was interviewed, and had discussed the hate aspect of the case with CPS lawyers.

Eddie Kidd was one of the world’s most famous stunt performers through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, also working as a stunt double in films such as Goldeneye and The Living Daylights, and was the first rider to jump the Great Wall of China.

He became disabled after crashing his motorcycle during a stunt in 1996, which left him with brain damage and severe physical impairments.
NHS backs GP over ‘inflammatory’ comments on ‘fitness for work’

The NHS is refusing to take any action over a GP who made “inflammatory” comments about claimants of incapacity benefits in his national magazine column.

Dr Phil Peverley, who works at a practice in Sunderland, made the comments in Pulse, the weekly magazine for GPs.

He told his readers that Atos Healthcare – the firm which carries out “fitness for work” tests on behalf of the government – “nearly always gets it right”, apparently ignoring the huge number of successful appeals against benefit decisions made as a result of Atos recommendations.

Peverley complained that “entire surgeries could be filled with the disgruntled unworking well, full of indignation at being considered reasonably healthy”, and that a “proportion of punters are hell bent on trying to prove they’re really ill, and need us to confirm it”.

He said he had even considered putting up a picture of the renowned disabled scientist Professor Stephen Hawking in his surgery, with a caption that says: “This bloke is not on the sick.”

The column led to news stories in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, both citing his remark about Hawking.

There was also a stream of supportive comments from GP readers of Pulse, with one doctor claiming that he was “going to get a photo of Prof Hawking up on the wall as you suggest”.

Another said: “Atos gets it right nearly 100 per cent of the time, personally I would like to shake them by the hand and say job well done. The fact is everyone can work no matter what their illness is.”

The column, and the follow-ups by the Mail and Telegraph, led to a joint statement from the user-led campaign groups Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Black Triangle, who said Peverley’s “inflammatory” column had been reported to the General Medical Council (GMC).

They said the column was “an insult to all those that suffer the misery and anxiety of Atos within the regime designed to remove support from disabled people” and to those who have died “shortly after being declared ‘fit for work’”.

They pointed out that the British Medical Association voted last year to demand that the work capability assessment be ended with “immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause unavoidable harm”.

And they said the comparison with Hawking was “beyond bizarre”, as he has “the funds to ensure a network of PA support, home adaptations and technical aids – something far out of the reach of the majority of disabled people – where even a basic level of support is becoming increasingly unlikely in the current slash and burn climate”.

A spokeswoman for NHS England (Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear) said: “Dr Peverley has his individual views which he expresses clearly in the column.

“GPs are accountable to the GMC for their professional conduct and, if anyone has any concerns relating to this, the GMC can be approached direct for further advice.

“NHS England, through the local area team, would only get involved if it was proven that Dr Peverley’s views were affecting his ability to provide an appropriate clinical service for the NHS.”

The magazine also stood by Peverley, describing him as “one of Pulse’s most valued, multiple award-winning columnists”.

Editor Steve Nowottny said: “His monthly column does not necessarily speak for Pulse, or the majority of GPs, but represents his own personal perspective as a hard-working, coalface GP seeing patients day in and day out.”

He said the column had tackled an “important and difficult question around the role GPs should play, if at all, in sickness certification” and had “clearly provoked an intense and healthy debate”.

He stressed that it was only the latest in a series of articles Pulse had run on the impact of benefits assessments on GPs and patients.

Nowottny pointed to other opinion articles, for example a piece by Dr Martin Brunet and another by Dr Graham Kramer, which had taken “a very different stance”.

He added: “We aim to fully represent the broad spectrum of opinion within the profession, and sickness certification is clearly an area which requires further debate.”

A GMC spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether they had received any complaints about Peverley, and added: “We are not able to confirm if there are any investigations ongoing. We do have a duty of confidentiality.”

A spokesman for Professor Hawking at the University of Cambridge said: “Professor Hawking does not wish to comment thank you.”
BBC fails to solve mystery over Humphrys documentary complaints

The BBC has refused to explain exactly what happened to nearly 50 disability-related complaints about a controversial documentary that was accused of “scapegoating” benefit claimants.

Last week, the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee published its findings on two appeals over complaints about The Future State of Welfare, a BBC2 documentary fronted by the BBC journalist and Today presenter John Humphrys.

The committee partially upheld one complaint on the grounds of accuracy and impartiality, but failed to address any of the many concerns raised about the way the documentary seemed to misrepresent the government’s cuts and reforms to out-of-work disability benefits.

Disabled activists flooded Twitter on the night of the broadcast in November 2011, criticising Humphrys for “scapegoating” benefit claimants, with one saying he was “disgusted at lack of rigour with factual claims” (@MasonDAutistic) and another describing it as the “scariest piece of #Tory propaganda seen since 80s” (@Quinonostante).

But despite up to 50 complaints about the way the documentary addressed disability benefit reform, none of these issues were dealt with by the trust, the BBC’s governing body.

Disabled people who viewed the programme were furious at its claim that government figures showed “three-quarters of new claimants who were tested were deemed not to merit” employment and support allowance.

In fact, government figures showed that of those tested through the work capability assessment (WCA), and once the many successful appeals were included, only just over half of new claimants had been found fit for work.

The committee did refer to this complaint in its report, but said only that it “did not qualify to proceed to appeal”.

The programme also failed to mention the widespread criticisms of the severity, inaccuracy and inflexibility of the WCA.

Instead, Humphrys told viewers that “more stringent” tests had been brought in to “try to flush out people who are claiming on health grounds when they should not be”.

Humphrys also failed to point out that government figures showed incapacity benefit (IB) fraud was just 0.3 per cent of spending.

Other viewers were unhappy that the programme had asked pollsters Ipsos MORI to put a leading question about IB to members of the public, asking them if they agreed with the statement: “We need stricter tests to ensure people claiming IB because of sickness or disability are genuinely unable to work.”

None of these complaints were addressed in last week’s ruling by the BBC Trust’s committee.

The disabled activist and blogger Sue Marsh, a leading campaigner for WCA reform, welcomed the trust’s ruling, which she said showed the programme had been “biased”.

She said: “I thought it was literally the most unbalanced, biased piece of reporting on the reforms I had seen. I was staggered that it went out as it did.”

But she added: “It is strange that there was nothing in the trust’s report about the people who had complained from the disability community.

“I had so much feedback from people saying they had complained, and I would be very surprised if they were satisfied with any explanation that didn’t apologise.”

In 2011, a BBC spokesman told Disability News Service (DNS) that the programme could not be described as disablist because “those who are genuinely unable to work through disability or incapacity should not be impacted by the change in policy we examine”.

This week, a BBC News and Current Affairs spokeswoman said that all complaints relating to the programme had now been dealt with.

She said the “overwhelming majority” of the 144 people who complained about the programme had been “satisfied” with the BBC’s initial response, while “a handful” had appealed to the editorial complaints unit, the next stage in the complaints process.

She said these other complaints were now all “resolved”, with everyone “happy” with the response they had received, with the exception of the two the trust ruled on last week.

The spokeswoman said: “We won’t comment further on the detail of the complaints as that is a private matter between the complainant and the BBC.”

But she said that requests to film the WCA process for the documentary had been refused and Humphrys had spoken during the programme to a disabled person who had undergone an assessment, and “clearly outlined how distressing she had found it”.

She said the claim that three-quarters of new claimants failed to secure ESA was “based on figures released by the Department of Work and Pensions”.

One of the disabled activists who did complain about the programme has told DNS he believes the BBC deliberately obstructed his complaints for more than a year.

The activist, who blogs as Mason Dixon, Autistic, was forced to abandon his complaint last December because he had “no faith left in the corporation to be fair and uphold even their own written standards”.

He said he had assumed that the BBC would be “keen to preserve its journalistic integrity and the authenticity of its reputation” and that there would be “pro-active interest in correcting errors”.

Instead, he said, he encountered “dismissive indifference and stone-walling”, and was repeatedly “fobbed off” when he asked the BBC to make reasonable adjustments for him during the complaints process.

He finally called a halt to his complaint for impairment-related reasons after trying for more than a year to convince the BBC to address his concerns about the programme.

He added: “What I’ve encountered from the BBC suggests it is rotten from the inside-out; no scruples, no remorse, no concern for ethics or standards.”

The committee found last week that the documentary failed to provide the “crucial” information that nearly half of the increase in the benefits bill mentioned by the programme was due to an increase in spending on pensions, while out-of-work benefits – the subject of the documentary – were responsible for a much smaller proportion of the increase.

It also concluded that the statistics that were provided by the programme “all tended to provide the Government’s perspective”.

And it decided that the failure of accuracy had led to a breach in impartiality, although it cleared Humphrys of presenting “a personal view on a controversial subject”.

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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