Ministers silent, Byrne lacks understanding, McVey wants accessible beaches, Sports legend Hallam dies.

Sad news this week concerning the death of a wheelchair racing legend Chris Hallam. Chris was the inspiration for many of today’s paralympian sports heroes including David Weir and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Recent pictures of Chris in his heyday racing in the 1987 London Marathon, which he won, highlighted the enormous difference between the track chairs Chris raced in and those used by todays wheelchair athletes. All of us who rely on wheelchairs for our daily mobility owe much to those who wanted to make the things go faster!

Today’s kit is certainly light, strong and sexy! Compare that to the front wheeled, wooden chairs with rafia seats and solid tyres of not so many years ago! Those of us who remember basket weaving and rafia work as occupational therapy had no idea we might actually be making seats for own wheelchairs!

So the technology has changed and so has the price. A severely disabled individual today, who needs an all singing, all dancing powered chair can expect to pay at the bottom end seven or eight thousand pounds with a fully specced chairs costing as much as eighteen thousand pounds. My son’s new car costs less. I’d love to hear from any powered wheelchair manafacturers about how they justify these prices. Enjoy your week and don’t forget to get a copy of my book “Why are you pretending to be normal?” www. philandfriends.co.uk/book which is a lot cheaper than a wheelchair!

News Roundup

Ministers silent after being caught ‘pulling lies out of thin air’

Ministers have refused to apologise after being caught “pulling lies and false information out of thin air” in a bid to justify their cuts to spending on disability benefits and services.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week refused to comment on new information provided by Disability News Service (DNS) that shows ministers have repeatedly used figures that give a misleading impression of the comparative level of spending on disabled people in the UK.

At least two Conservative ministers have said in parliament and elsewhere that the UK spends “almost double the OECD average” on disabled people, spending 2.4 per cent against the OECD average of 1.3 per cent in 2009.

They claim that only two of the other 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries spend more than the UK on disability, with the figures even included in the coalition’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy document, published earlier this year.

But the OECD figures they have been quoting refer to spending on only one element of disability benefits, and ignore expenditure on employment and support allowance (ESA) and incapacity benefit (IB).

A DWP press officer claimed that this was because DWP statisticians had decided that some of those people on ESA and IB “will not necessarily be disabled”.

But DNS pointed to comments made publicly by both Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, and Esther McVey, the minister for disabled people, in which they use the OECD percentages and then link them to the UK’s £50 billion a year spending on disabled people.

According to a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) response to DNS, that £50 billion includes expenditure on disability living allowance, care services… and IB and ESA.

This means ministers are claiming – wrongly – that the £50 billion a year the UK spends on disabled people is almost double the OECD average.

But when it comes to total spending on disability, including “benefits in kind”, such as social care support and rehabilitation services, OECD statisticians have confirmed to DNS that the overall OECD average – including countries such as Mexico, Chile, Greece, South Korea and Turkey, which spend very low amounts on supporting disabled people – is 2.4 per cent, against 2.92 per cent in the UK.

And when a comparison is made between the UK and all of its immediate OECD neighbours – Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Ireland – the UK’s spending is actually lower than average, 2.92 per cent against its neighbours’ 3.29 per cent.

But despite DNS passing this information to DWP press officers, they have refused to put the new numbers to departmental statisticians, stating repeatedly that they “stand by the use of those figures”.

Because of this refusal to comment on the new information – and the apparent willingness to leave misleading statistical information uncorrected – DNS has now filed a complaint with DWP’s director of communications, John Shield.

Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “This government’s continued attacks depend on being able to peddle these myths to the public.

“They are extremely accomplished at pulling lies and false information out of thin air, but this time they’ve been caught out, and their silence is telling.

“The public need to start holding ministers to account. We want action over this, we want answers. And those found to be responsible for initiating this need to go.

“It has gone on too long. Disabled people around the UK need to take action, and stand up to these lies and attacks.”
Byrne’s speech reveals ‘major gaps’ in understanding of disability

A major speech on social security reform by Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary has revealed “major gaps in his understanding” of the issues affecting disabled people, say campaigners.

Liam Byrne, and his leader, Ed Miliband, have been criticised by disabled campaigners over the last two years for mirroring some of the hostile rhetoric that has come from sections of the media and the coalition.

Some activists saw an improvement in tone and content at last year’s Labour conference, although Miliband again used his main conference speech to suggest that many disabled benefit claimants were choosing a life on social security rather than finding jobs.

This week, Byrne said the government’s social security reforms were in “crisis”, and that a future Labour government would aim to “bring costs down and keep the system affordable for the long term” and reform the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).

He delivered the speech at the headquarters of Chance UK, a charity which provides mentoring programmes for young children with behavioural difficulties.

Byrne repeated his party’s backing for a long-term cap on “structural” social security spending – benefits expenditure that is not caused by short-term fluctuations in the economy – an idea now adopted by the coalition.

He said the “welfare revolution” promised by the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had “collapsed because of a failure in basic delivery”, and he pointed to Duncan Smith’s “failing” Work Programme, the “incompetence and cruelty” of the “bedroom tax”, and the implementation of universal credit, which he said had been a “disaster”.

But Byrne also devoted a large chunk of his speech to incapacity benefit reform.

He criticised the government for rolling out the WCA – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits and was “pioneered” by the last Labour government – before it was “fit for purpose and ready to fly”.

He spoke of the “human misery” caused by the WCA, with the cost of tribunals increasing by two-fifths last year, but he saved most of his criticism for Atos Healthcare, the company chosen by Labour to carry out the assessments.

Byrne said Atos must be forced to improve the accuracy of its assessments, clear the heavy backlog of tests, and “radically” change the culture of its assessment centres.

He added: “They should be given weeks to get back on track. And if they cannot deliver, the process should start to get them sacked and replaced – without disruption to tests.”

But Jane Young, an independent consultant and coordinator of the We Are Spartacus online network of disabled campaigners, said Byrne’s speech showed some “worrying gaps in his understanding”, even though he has “some good ideas to support disabled people”.

She said Byrne appeared to be ignoring the “rampant discrimination” faced by disabled people in the job market.

She said: “The labour market needs proper reform, so that disabled people can get and keep meaningful, long-term employment.”

Young said Byrne did not seem to understand that ESA “should be a sickness benefit, for those who are too sick to work – not for those who are ‘disabled-and-well’.

“The way to reform ESA is not to bash Atos – although they do need to do better – but to reform the basis of the benefit – the descriptors, the statistical norms and the assessment process – so that it correctly identifies and supports those who are too sick to work.”

The Conservative party dismissed Byrne’s speech as a “last ditch attempt” to keep his job in the shadow cabinet.

A party spokesman said: “Same old Labour is in the wrong place on welfare. They want people on benefits to make more money than the average hard-working family earns. They want unlimited amounts of benefits to be a basic human right.

“Labour have even gone as far as to ban the word ‘welfare’ in the hopes we all forget they are The Welfare Party. The taxpayer supports what we’re doing on welfare. Ed Miliband has got it wrong yet again.”
McVey calls on councils to smooth the way to accessible beaches

The minister for disabled people has written to every local authority in England to try to persuade them to do more to make their tourist hotspots more accessible.

Esther McVey said she wanted councils to ensure that disabled people could enjoy tourist areas such as beaches and countryside beauty spots.

McVey is encouraging councils to work with local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) through the government’s new Disability Action Alliance (DAA), which brings together more than 180 DPOs, disability charities and other organisations to try to improve disabled people’s lives.

She said councils could benefit from disabled people’s spending power by considering how to make “beaches and other tourist hotspots” more inclusive.

McVey said: “As well as the importance of equal access, it makes good business sense to ensure – as the tourist season reaches its peak – local areas of beauty and interest can attract as many people as possible.”

She added: “Often a small change can make a big difference to disability access and so we’d encourage councils to continue working in partnership with disabled people and their organisations, as they know what works best in their local areas on the ground.”

McVey pointed to the successful Countryside Mobility South West scheme, in which DAA member Living Options Devon works with councils and organisations such as the RSPB, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission to improve access to the countryside across the south-west.

James Maben, project manager for the scheme, said: “It’s impossible to describe the feeling of suddenly having the ability and freedom to go into the countryside again. And with the unusually warm weather this year we have never been busier.”

Carrie-Ann Lightley, information service manager at the charity Tourism for All, which describes itself as the UK’s voice for accessible tourism, welcomed the minister’s call for improved access in tourist resorts.

She said the market for accessible tourism in the UK was worth £2 billion a year, and added: “We always encourage destinations that come to us and want to improve their accessibility to get in touch with local disabled people’s user groups because they will get a better idea of everybody’s different needs, as opposed to just box-ticking.”

She said: “It may be easier for some disabled people to travel within the UK rather than worrying about planes and ships, because it is less hassle and a more accessible way to transport yourself to your destination.”

Lightley said that not only was improving access important, but so was “letting people know that these places are accessible” through marketing.

She reviewed access in Blackpool a couple of years ago and found a mixed picture, with some of the attractions boasting “wonderful” access – the town’s Sandcastle Waterpark won an accessibility gold award from Visit England this year – but fully accessible accommodation only to be found in hotels that offered institutional-type full care packages.

Lightley said: “Accessibility obviously should be a priority for any destination but for a seaside resort like Blackpool where the majority of income comes from tourism, accessibility should be very high up the agenda.”
Sports world mourns Chris Hallam, ‘a pioneer and a legend’

The disability sports world is mourning the death of one of the pioneers of professional wheelchair racing, Chris Hallam.

Hallam won medals in both swimming and wheelchair racing, and competed at four Paralympic games, in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996, winning gold, silver and two bronze medals.

But he is probably best known for his appearances in the early London wheelchair marathons, twice winning the event, in 1985 and 1987, and setting a course record on both occasions.

The prime minister, David Cameron, said via Twitter that Hallam had been “a true pioneer of disabled sport and an inspiration to athletes everywhere”.

Disability Sport Wales said Hallam was “always striving to improve his personal performances” and to promote disability sport at a time when its profile was still low.

In 1986, Hallam raised funds for the first accessible sports centre in Wales by pushing 400 miles around the country in 11 days with his close friend and fellow Welsh wheelchair athlete John Harris.

They reached the fund-raising target in 1997 by pushing a further 600 miles in 37 days, raising enough money for the centre to be built in Cardiff.

Harris said Hallam was his “hero” and “the first of the true professionals in Paralympic sport”.

He said: “He was the consummate athlete who prepared for every event down to the smallest detail. He was a larger-than-life character that you just wanted to be near to.”

After retiring from competitive sport, Hallam coached other wheelchair racers within the Disability Sport Wales academy system.

Jim Munkley, a Disability Sport Wales board member and one of Hallam’s team-mates at the Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta Paralympics, said he would be remembered as “a true legend of Paralympic and Welsh sport”.

He said: “Not only was he a true competitor in every sense of the word, but he was also a great character to be around and to have known.

“Disability sport in Wales owes much to Chris and I have no doubt that we would not be where we are today without the huge contribution that he made to the development of our sport.”

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson described Hallam on Twitter as a “wheelchair sport ‘icon’” and said he was “the reason we are where we are in wheelchair racing”.

Another iconic figure of wheelchair racing, David Weir, said on Twitter that Hallam had been one of his heroes and a “legend”, while fellow London 2012 wheelchair racing gold medallist Mickey Bushell said he had been a “true hero and a legend of the sport”.

The Canadian former wheelchair athlete Jeff Adams said Hallam had been “one of a kind”, “a fierce competitor”, and “one of the building blocks of the sport”.

The British Paralympic Association said Hallam had been “an inspiration to many and contributed to the development of the Paralympic movement” in Britain.

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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