A busy week ahead which is why this is being written on a Sunday just after a very tasty Sunday roast. All I want to do is put my feet up and sleep but must resist the temptation and press on!
I have just had an article published on the BBC News Ouch website www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-25006133 and it has provoked a certain amount of interest. Several correspondents have suggested that employers should do more. I don’t disagree with this assertion but I believe the process for getting disabled people into work should be a joint exercise. The employer is clearly responsible for barrier removal a la social model but the disabled person may need assistance to become confident enough to take on the challenge of getting back to work. Resources should be invested in peer to peer and personal development programmes which focus on the needs of the disabled individual. Past experience suggests these may have more success than the current Work Choice Programme or Disability Confidence Conferences. Enjoy your week.
Disabled activist could become first MP to use Independent Living Fund
A Labour campaigner and disability rights activist could be set to become the first MP who uses the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
Pam Duncan is seeking to be selected by her local Labour party to fight the Falkirk seat at the next general election in 2015. It is believed that if she is successful and is elected, she would also be only the second full-time wheelchair-user to become an MP.
A report in one Scottish national newspaper suggested that Duncan was the front-runner in the race to represent Labour in Falkirk, which was formerly a safe seat before the controversial MP Eric Joyce resigned from the party last year and became an independent after pleading guilty to assault in a Commons bar.
Candidates to fight the seat for Labour in 2015 will be interviewed and shortlisted by the local party on Tuesday (26 November), with the selection meeting on 8 December.
Duncan’s selection to fight the seat, if successful, could help push ILF even higher up the political agenda, as she has been campaigning against its closure in Scotland.
It comes at a vital time for the fund’s future, in the wake of three court of appeal judges upholding an appeal challenging the government’s decision to close the fund in 2015.
The Conservative minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, is currently rethinking the closure decision, made by his predecessor, Esther McVey.
Duncan has been a user of ILF for 13 years and says the support from personal assistants (PAs) that it provides has been “absolutely pivotal” in her life.
She said: “If I hadn’t had support from ILF, I wouldn’t have PAs with me and so I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed, and I wouldn’t have been able to campaign, get a job, go to the shops…”
ILF acts as a top-up to social care provided by local authorities, and ensures that more than 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs can live independently in the community.
Duncan said she was strongly in favour of keeping ILF open, but also – like many disabled activists – would like to see social care dealt with in the same way as healthcare: free at the point of need, and funded from general taxation.
Duncan, a policy officer with Inclusion Scotland, has already experienced Westminster working life, having enjoyed a spell as an intern with Baroness [Jane] Campbell at a time when the disabled peer was working on the joint committee on human rights inquiry into the implementation of disabled people’s right to independent living.
Duncan said she wanted to fight for disabled people in the face of the government’s “pernicious” policies, and “ensure that Labour party policy is focused on the rights of disabled people”.
She said it was important to have more disabled MPs, and added: “I think it is essential that we get a politics that looks more like the people it represents.”
Asked how – if she was elected – she would balance her commitment to disability rights with the needs of her constituents, she said: “I am a disabled woman. I am proud to be a disabled woman, and I have campaigned for the human rights of disabled people and will continue to do that.
“I am not standing because I am a disabled person, I am standing because I think I am the best person for the job.
“I would want to see disabled people’s rights championed at that level and would do everything in my power to do that.”
But she also said that everything she had achieved so far was “because of peer support from disabled people, so I absolutely will not forget that”.
She added: “I want to change the world for disabled people but I also want to stand for the hard-working people who have suffered at the hands of a Tory government.”
As well as campaigning to save ILF, Duncan has been prominent in fighting the government’s “bedroom tax”.
She told Labour’s Scottish conference earlier this year: “Has there ever been such an unintelligent, nasty, heartless solution to overcrowding?”
She also told the conference that the coalition was attacking the Equality Act “with a glee unseen since Thatcher’s assault on gay people in the 1980s”.
The Falkirk selection race is mired in controversy after allegations that the Unite union tried to fix the selection of their favoured candidate, Karie Murphy.
Murphy has now withdrawn from the race, despite being cleared by an internal inquiry, and Duncan is viewed by many as an attractive “unity” candidate, with her slogan: “A new voice for Labour. A fresh start for Falkirk.”
In a campaign video, Duncan says: “If we are to turn the page in Falkirk, we need a candidate who has overcome all odds. That’s why I’m standing. I’ve battled for everything I have in my life, and this election will be no different.”
She adds on her website: “At the age of 18 months my family discovered that I had juvenile arthritis and by the age of five I was using a wheelchair.
“My mother and father never allowed me to feel downhearted – they taught me that a disabled child can reach the same heights as any other.”
She said she had “fought hard” throughout her life “first to stay in a mainstream school with my friends, then to get the support I needed to go on to university, graduate with a degree in psychology and a masters in health, then to enter the voluntary sector advocating for those disabled people who felt they had no voice”.
Independent Living Fund: Government should be ‘held to account’ on UN convention
The government should be “held to account” over its failure to meet its independent living obligations under the UN disability convention, according to a leading disabled peer.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell said that disabled people would be “stuffed” if the government went ahead with plans to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015 and pass the non-ring-fenced money to local authorities instead.
She spoke out as the government continued to debate its next move, in the wake of three court of appeal judges upholding an appeal challenging the decision to close the fund.
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said in a statement: “The court of appeal judgment is being considered carefully and any plans will be announced in due course.”
But Baroness Campbell, a leading campaigner on independent living, although not an ILF-user, said she particularly welcomed the decision by Lord Justice Elias, one of the three judges, to refer to the UK’s “specific obligations” under article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Lord Justice Elias stated that article 19 meant the UK government should “take effective and appropriate measures” to “facilitate” the right for disabled people to live in the community, a duty “which would require where appropriate the promotion of independent living”.
He added: “There was no evidence that any of these considerations were in the mind of the minister.”
Baroness Campbell secured a similar recommendation when she sat on the joint committee on human rights (JCHR), for its investigation into the implementation of article 19.
She said: “That was one of my recommendations when I did the JCHR inquiry into article 19. [The closure of ILF] came up then as a major threat and that the government should do something to maintain that independence.”
The JCHR inquiry, which reported last year, concluded that it was “extremely concerned that the closure of the Independent Living Fund to new applicants, with no ring-fenced alternative source of funding, may severely limit the ability of disabled people to participate in society”.
Baroness Campbell said the government could not ignore the UN convention.
She added: “We should see it as a success that this challenge has been made because we now have the opportunity to hold the government to account over its breach of the UN convention, so let’s use it and hold them to account and say, ‘What are you going to do?'”
Meanwhile, Jenny Morris, the writer and campaigner, and retired academic, published a blog this weekwhich also pointed to the UN convention, which she said had “the right to independent living at its heart”.
Morris, who advised the last Labour government on its influential independent living strategy, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, wrote in her blog: “Far from abolishing the ILF we need a system which builds on the way it has enabled thousands to lead ‘ordinary lives’.
“We need a system which funds the additional costs that disabled people have – of all ages, and across the whole range of impairments and long-term health conditions.”
She said the system needed to be free of any postcode lottery and means-testing.
She also said that the five disabled ILF-users who fought the court case had “shown us that we need something worth fighting for – and the current tinkering with the social care system is not it”.
The new minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, has yet to respond to calls for a face-to-face meeting with ILF-users.
The DWP spokesman said: “Requests for meetings with the minister are handled through the ministerial office in the usual way.”
There was also reaction to last week’s calls for Ester McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people at the time the decision was made to close the fund, to resign from her current post as employment minister.
Mark Wilson wrote on the Promove website that he understood that it was hard as a disabled person not to read the criticism of McVey’s actions in the judgment and “see resignation as the way to make amends”.
But he said he believed that it was the “culture and style” of decision-making in government that needed to change, or else “ill-thought-through decision-making at the highest levels will continue to weaken our society and reduce still further the trust we have, or don’t have, in our politicians”.
Government continues softly-softly jobs approach with first of seven conferences
The government has hosted the first of seven conferences aimed at “showcasing the talents” of disabled people and highlighting their “huge value” to the economy.
The first – fronted by Paralympian Sophie Christiansen – took place today (Thursday) in Birmingham, with delegates from companies such as Santander, Sainsbury’s, Boots and E.ON.
The government says it wants the conferences to increase confidence among employers in recruiting and retaining the 3.6 million disabled people not in work.
The events are part of the Disability Confident campaign, launched by the prime minister at the government’s Working Together conference in July.
That conference was attended by 300 businesses and disabled entrepreneurs, but was criticised for its “non-confrontational” approach.
One Working Together delegate pointed out that it was difficult to encourage businesses to take on disabled staff when the government was suggesting through its welfare reforms that disabled people were all “wasters” and would be “completely unsuccessful” in work.
Mike Penning, the new Conservative minister for disabled people, said this week: “Research shows that more disabled jobseekers cite employers’ attitudes as a barrier to work than transport, which is why we’ve arranged the first ever national roadshow to support employers to become more confident about hiring disabled people.
“Although the employment rate for disabled people has increased gradually over the years, we know that all too often the talents of disabled people in the workforce are left untapped.”
Simon Weston, the Falklands veteran and businessman, said: “What I want employers to take away from this conference is that disabled people can be some of your best employees.
“We’re some of the most determined workers, who go the extra mile to secure results. To overlook the skills and talents of people because they have a physical or mental disability could ultimately cost you money.”
Phil Friend, a leading disability consultant, welcomed the conferences, but said he believed it was time to shift the focus from training employers to supporting disabled people themselves to be “confident”.
In a guest blog on the BBC Ouch website, he wrote: “Disabled people need to be better equipped to support themselves, to know what helps and what hinders, and to understand how to sell their abilities and to manage and mitigate the impact of their impairments.
“With knowledge and new confidence under their belt, disabled people will become motivated and less frightened about how they will cope in the workplace.”
The disabled activist David Gillon (@WTBDavidG) was less positive about the conference.
He told Disability News Service via Twitter: “I don’t need my talents demonstrated… I need my disability to not be an issue. Disability+talent is irrelevant, the issue is disability and employer competence.”
Oliver warns of fakes and false friends, in first speech for 10 years
Disabled people must beware of the “fakes” and “so-called friends” who try to jump on the independent living “bandwagon”, according to one of the disabled people’s movement’s key figures, in his first speech on disability in 10 years.
Professor Mike Oliver, the disabled academic who first defined “the social model of disability”, was speaking in public about disability for the first time since his retirement in 2003.
He warned that recent victories that will slow the implementation of the new personal independence payment and could delay the closure of the Independent Living Fund might prove to be only “pyrrhic victories”.
He told the London launch of UK Disability History Month 2013 (UKDHM) – which this year is celebrating the struggle for independent living – that there were six “lessons from history” that disabled people must learn in their continuing struggle for independence.
Oliver said the first lesson was “never to forget where we came from”, and described how he and his wife had visited a luxurious retirement village that 40 years earlier had been a crowded, shabby, deeply institutional Cheshire Home, where the residents had to queue in corridors to be bathed and toileted.
He said that disabled people must remember that “we were the ones who escaped from our isolation and segregation, whether we were in homes or our families”.
He added: “No-one else did it for us. We created a strong and powerful disabled people’s movement which promoted independent living as one of the central planks of our struggles for full inclusion into society.”
Oliver said the second lesson was that independent living did not mean “living on our own” or “doing everything for ourselves”, but was about “having choice and control in our lives” and “autonomy and self-determination”.
He said the third lesson from history was to beware of “the fakes who seek to jump on the independent living bandwagon”, such as the big charities who “claim to promote and support independent living and yet continue to run residential homes and even export the residential model to other parts of the world”.
Oliver said the fourth lesson was to be suspicious of the movement’s “so-called friends”, particularly those who had hijacked the direct payments initiative and were using it to replace the welfare state with the “individualistic” personalisation agenda.
He said that direct payments had been intended as a way of “giving disabled people control over our lives and getting professionals to work with us on our terms and agendas, not theirs”.
Oliver said the next lesson was to “honour the many disabled people who never managed to escape from the isolation and neglect of earlier times, or those who died on the journey towards independent living”.
The final lesson, he said, was not to collude with the attempts of governments to “turn our ideas into their own agendas”, warning that the economic meltdown had allowed the coalition to “cut our services virtually unchallenged because they can claim they are giving us what we have asked for: independent living”.
He added: “The problem is that they don’t mean giving us the support to enable us to exercise our autonomy and self-determination, but to be independent from them and the state.”
Award-winning film has echoes of Remploy closures
An award-winning documentary has highlighted the need for a more flexible employment market and a more inclusive society, according to disabled campaigners who attended a screening of the film by the UN.
A Whole Lott More follows the progress of the employees of a sheltered workshop in Toledo, USA, originally set up by parents of disabled children, and funded by the local authority.
The film charts the progress of two disabled employees of Lott Industries, the workshop’s non-disabled manager, and the disabled son of another employee, as the local authority decides to “restructure” the business and then close the factories completely.
There are strong echoes of the decisions taken by both the Labour and coalition governments in the UK to withdraw subsidies and close the sheltered factories run by Remploy.
In a discussion held after the screening, the disabled writer and performer Penny Pepper praised the film, and how it was documenting disabled people’s stories.
She said: “I think employers need to be much more radical. They need more than nudging, they need clouting.
“We need a more flexible working system. We won’t fit into little nine-to-five holes.”
She said that disabled people needed respect and understanding of the barriers they faced in the workplace.
But she said that the UK government’s “terrible rampant ideology” was making the idea of steady employment for disabled people seem like something from “another planet”.
Disabled activist Zara Todd pointed out that none of the disabled people featured in the documentary had been in “control of their destiny”.
She asked the panel, which included the broadcaster and Paralympian Ade Adepitan and Victor Buhler, the film’s director and producer: “What can be done to support disabled people to be in control and making decisions and their position as decision-makers be protected?
“In that film the disabled people in that company were at the whim of the managers, who were not disabled.”
Mansoor Ahmad, a disabled masters student who was formerly a manager at the accountancy giant Price Waterhouse Coopers, said disabled people must accept that they lived in a world where they had to compete and that they “may need to work a lot harder than others”.
He said: “For me in some ways closing down the factory was a good thing because what it epitomised was the marginalisation of disabled people.
“I didn’t see any sign of coaching or development programmes given to these people. As soon as they were made redundant they were not any more employable than they were when they started the job.”
He highlighted the need for disabled people’s inclusion from a very early age. “We need to ensure that from the grassroots level that disabled people are integrated and included, because if they are not included at that grassroots level, at infant school, junior school, then people in society will not become accustomed to dealing with people with disabilities.”
Philip Connolly, policy and communications manager for Disability Rights UK, pointed to the similarities between Lott Industries and Remploy, and said that one of the reasons for Remploy’s decline was its employees’ lack of “commercial skills”.
He said: “I do think there are solutions but we need to get more people involved in the debate, we need to get the universities involved, we need to get people with business skills involved, we need to look at disabled people and find the strength in their disabilities and not their weaknesses.”
Adepitan said he believed that sheltered employment was “possibly a thing of the past”, but the closing down of facilities like Lott Industries and the Remploy factories “was only a good thing if there is something else afterwards”.
If the disabled people who worked there were left “in limbo” with no jobs, he said, that was “no solution”.
He said society was only tapping into a tiny proportion of what disabled people could do. “I certainly thought it was a message to employers and people out there to look at the capability of people with disabilities.”
Buhler said he began working on the film after a car accident left him temporarily disabled for two years.
He said that the segregated employment shown in the film did seem “antiquated”, but he also said that the primary goal of the disabled people featured in the film was to get a “well-paid job”, while the environment they were working in was of “secondary” importance.
The screening was arranged by the United Nations Regional Information Centre and the non-profit film foundation BRITDOC.
Dima Yared, a human rights officer at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “One thing we can take away from the film is that the link between the right to work and the right to independent living and the right to education – all these rights are inter-linked.
“The notion of independent living, moving away from segregated institutions, moving them more into an inclusive community, isn’t just about promoting independence, it is also about promoting the links with your community.”
Disabled peer seeks support from MPs on key human rights battle
A disabled peer is fighting to prevent the government overturning a key piece of human rights protection for disabled and older people in private sector and charity-run residential homes.
Last month, Lord [Colin] Low secured a rare parliamentary victory over the government when his amendment to the care bill was approved in a Lords vote.
A loophole in human rights law previously meant that service-users in voluntary and private sector-run homes had no protection under the Human Rights Act (HRA), for example if they suffered abuse or neglect.
Although the Labour government tried to close the loophole in 2008, there remained a “grey area”, where those disabled and older people whose care was arranged through the National Assistance Act 1948 are probably protected under the Human Rights Act, but those whose care was arranged under different legislation might not be.
Lord Low’s amendment states that all organisations regulated by the care watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, are “exercising a public function” and therefore protected under the act.
All of this protection could now be lost if the government attempts to overturn the amendment when the bill is debated in the House of Commons.
A date has not yet been set for the bill’s second reading in the Commons, but Lord Low is focusing his efforts on persuading Liberal Democrat MPs to back his amendment.
He said: “The amendment is of importance to disabled people because it will help to protect them against arbitrary oppressive treatment by private homes and will also apply to domiciliary care.
“As regards the first, we heard in the debate about people who were given four weeks to leave simply because they alienated the home staff with the views they expressed.
“They took legal advice, but were told that as things stand there was nothing they could do legally. My amendment would change all that.”
Sanchita Hosali, deputy director of the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR), said: “The amendment is quite a neat solution. It says that any care that is regulated should be considered to have human rights obligations.
“It is really important. We work on the ground with advocacy groups and service-providers and do outreach work and we constantly hear how important human rights are to people receiving care services.
“When you are treated in a really bad way, you don’t just say, ‘this is really unfair,’ or ‘this is not very nice.’ Instead, you can say: ‘Do you not realise you have an obligation to respect and protect my rights?’ That is a very powerful, and very different, conversation.
“When services realise that they have legal obligations and need to think about people’s rights, that is very powerful for changing cultures.”
BIHR toured the UK this year, visiting 15 towns and cities to raise awareness of the importance of human rights and how to apply them in everyday life.
Hosali said that this “odd gap” – the lack of protection for older and disabled people in privately-funded care homes – was raised repeatedly by those attending the tour events.
BIHR is now hoping that people will contact their MPs – of all parties – to ask them to support Lord Low’s amendment.
She said: “This is the kind of issue that is really real to the people they represent. It is about the everyday experiences of their constituents. it is about whether the people they represent are being treated with dignity and respect.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We are still reflecting on the amendment that Lord Low made and we are not in a position to give any further update at the moment because the [second] reading is so far away.”
She said the second reading of the bill in the Commons was likely to take place in late November or early December.
Earl Howe, the Conservative junior health minister, has already warned peers that the amendment would represent “an unprecedented change to the scope of the Human Rights Act”, and would capture “purely private arrangements, such as a privately arranged social care contract between a private care home and a private individual”.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com