Police keep open mind, End ILF delays says DPO, Doctor recruitment crisis for Atos, PIP lengthy delays, Call for bedroom tax exemptions rejected, Report punctures myths

Sorry about the gap between blogs I’ve been a little distracted! If you read my last post you’ll know that we’ve had water coming into our bedroom. Well a couple of days after the first watery incursion, and event more torrential rain, we awoke to find the bedroom, the study, the living room and the hall all covered in water! (The kitchen escaped). As we live on the ground floor in an all-electric house this was not good news. So we were somewhat reassured when, after a visit from our local fire service they agreed that we were not in any immediate danger of electrocution or spontaneous combustion.

After some mopping up we alerted the insurance company. A few calls later I was left with the distinct impression that they were trying to shift the liability on to us. The trouble is that there is no obvious sign of how the water got in.

My family have since visited and lifted all the soaking wet carpets and underlay which has revealed an interesting patchwork quilt of old tiles, parquet flooring and good old-fashioned lino. A loss adjuster who visited to assess the situation said, and I quote “I’m bamboozled”. A company called in to start drying the house said they were also bamboozled but then discovered that some of the tiles have asbestos in them so they beat a hasty retreat. Samples of the tiles have now been sent to the lab for tests! So here we sit ten days on with damaged flooring, damp walls and no real progress.

What really hit me during this whole unpleasant episode was where on earth would we be without our family close by? They shunted furniture around, cut up and removed soggy carpets, transported belongings up stairs, dried floors, collected industrial machinery to hoover up the water. The list goes on and on. What happens to all those vulnerable disabled people living alone who can’t call on this fantastic support? Who helps them? Answers on a postcard………

Here’s this week’s news.

News Roundup

Police keep ‘open mind’ over motive for ‘brutal’ murder

Police say they are keeping “an open mind” about the motive for the “brutal” murder of a young disabled man who was stabbed to death in west London.

Dean Mayley, from Northolt, died from a single stab wound to the chest, late in the afternoon of Friday 7 February.

The 24-year-old, who had learning difficulties, had been on the way by bus to visit a relative, a journey he had taken on many previous occasions, but newspaper reports suggest that he did not get off the bus at his usual stop.

Staff at a local disability charity where Mayley learned to travel independently on public transport have told Disability News Service of their shock on learning of the murder.

Lesley Dodd, chief executive of Ealing Mencap, said Mayley had received support during the travel training sessions with how to cope with any abuse or violence he might encounter during a journey.

He took part in workshops on “stranger danger” and “safe havens”, and Dodd said he had been doing “wonderfully” since finishing his training a couple of years ago.

She said: “We have supported so many young people to be independent… I would hope that however awful this is that it would not have the effect that people would not want to let their young daughter or son gain as much independence as they are entitled to.

“I have no doubt that [the murder] will come up [during travel training sessions].”

She added: “Dean was able to travel independently. Having spoken to people who knew him, he just wanted to be independent.

“It is awful. We are just very, very sad for Dean’s family.”

Dodd said Ealing Mencap had recently been holding hate crime workshops for young disabled people, in association with police and neighbouring Brent Mencap.

She said: “We are trying to raise the profile [of disability hate crime] and the police are trying to support that.”

Detective chief inspector Matt Bonner, who is leading the investigation, said he was “keeping an open mind as to the motive behind the murder”.

When asked by Disability News Service whether Mayley might have tried to put his training into effect and find a “safe haven” after leaving the bus at the wrong stop, a police spokeswoman said: “In regards to the locations and where he might have gone, [DCI Bonner] is unable to answer those questions at the moment for operational reasons.”

This week, detectives investigating what they have called a “brutal murder” released CCTV footage showing some of Mayley’s last movements.

The 24-year-old is seen alighting from an E9 bus in Ruislip Road East, Greenford, at around 4.25pm last Friday (7 February), and walking away in the direction of The Broadway.

About 50 minutes later he was attacked by a group of three or four males – all described as black and wearing dark, hooded tops – and was stabbed in the chest with such ferocity that his heart was pierced.

He was taken to hospital, but died later that evening.

DCI Bonner said Mayley would have shown “an unusual degree of trust in those who he came across”.

He said: “Those responsible are clearly dangerous and callous and it is critical that we track them down as soon as possible so that they can be held responsible for their appalling actions.”

There have not yet been any arrests.

Anyone with information about the murder is asked to call the police incident room on 020 8358 0200 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has renewed its appeal for witnesses to the events that took place in the weeks leading up to the death of Bijan Ebrahimi in Bristol last July.

IPCC investigators want to speak to witnesses who “were present, saw, heard or know anything in relation to Bijan Ebrahimi’s contact with police and with local residents in the days, weeks and hours before his murder”.

They also want to speak to anyone with information about Ebrahimi’s contact with police in the months and years before his death.

Campaigners believe the murder had striking similarities with some of the most shocking disability hate crime killings, and were appalled that neither Avon and Somerset police nor the Crown Prosecution Service treated it as a hate crime.

Ebrahimi was beaten and kicked to death, and his body then set alight, by 24-year-old Lee James, who lived just a few doors away from him in Brislington, on the edge of Bristol.

James was sentenced last year to life in prison, and must serve at least 18 years, after pleading guilty to murder. Steven Norley, his accomplice, was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to assisting an offender.

The IPCC – which is investigating the actions of Avon and Somerset police in relation to Ebrahimi’s murder – has so far refused to say whether it is treating his death as a disability hate crime.

Anyone with information can contact the IPCC on 0800 096 9075 or via email at:ebrahimiappeal@ipcc.gsi.gov.uk.
End ‘distressing’ ILF delays now, says DPO

Government delays in deciding the future of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) are causing “undue distress” to thousands of disabled people who rely on it to live independently, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation.

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) called today (13 February) for the government to clarify its position on the fund.

It has written to all of Greater Manchester’s MPs, as well as party leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, and the Conservative minister for disabled people, Mike Penning.

GMCDP said the government had yet to make a formal statement on the fund’s future, more than three months after the court of appeal ruled that its decision to close the fund had been unlawful, following a legal challenge by five ILF-users.

Brian Hilton, an ILF recipient and GMCDP member, said: “The only thing standing between me and a nursing home is my care package and now the government wants to take that funding away and with that my independence.”

The fund was set up to allow disabled people with high support needs to live independently in their own homes, rather than be forced into residential care, and now supports nearly 900 disabled people from Greater Manchester, more than 2,700 from across the north-west, and more than 18,000 nationally.

But GMCDP said the government’s delay in responding to the court ruling meant that all those disabled people and their families were now facing an uncertain future, particularly as eligibility for council-funded social care was tightening, with “underfunded home care packages” resulting in disabled people being left “unwashed, underdressed and underfed”.

It said that the average cost of ILF support – at £346 a week – compared “very favourably” with residential care, which can cost thousands of pounds a week.

Anne Rae, chair of GMCDP, said increasing numbers of local authorities were now introducing a “15-minute rule” for home care visits.

She said: “15 minutes to get people who need support to get out of bed, use the toilet, washed [and] bathed, dried, dressed, hair done and have breakfast… It cannot be done.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “In light of the guidance provided by the court of appeal, ministers are still considering the future of the Independent Living Fund based on further advice and will announce a decision in due course.”
Doctor recruitment crisis leaves Atos begging for help

The much-criticised government contractor Atos Healthcare is openly blaming a shortage of doctors willing to work for the company for causing lengthy delays in assessing disabled people for their “fitness for work”.

The recruitment crisis is now so severe that staff on the Atos customer helpline have taken to asking claimants seeking information about their delayed applications if they know any doctors who might be willing to work for them.

Four months ago, Disability News Service revealed that Atos executives had held crisis meetings with civil servants across the country, where they admitted to a drastic shortage of doctors on their books.

Atos is currently performing more than 10,000 work capability assessments (WCAs) a week on claimants of old-style incapacity benefit to test their eligibility for the new employment and support allowance (ESA), as well as assessing thousands of new ESA claimants every week.

Elaena Musitano, from London, said Atos received her ESA application on 19 September last year.

She has now rung up the Atos helpline three times – speaking to three different advisers – to ask why she has not yet been given a date for a WCA.

On the last two occasions, she was told the delays were caused by a severe shortage of doctors, and was warned delays were so long that it had taken one claimant eight months to have their application processed.

Musitano was told: “We are doing our utmost, but they can’t find enough doctors with the right criteria.”

She told Disability News Service: “They can’t get enough doctors, that’s the basic reason for the delays. I was told they had put postings everywhere for these jobs, but they can’t get them.

“The last one I called said: ‘If you know of any, can you please send them our way?'”

Musitano said the delays were “shocking” and “an absolute disgrace”, while the extended period on a lower level of benefit – the same rate as jobseeker’s allowance – had caused her significant financial problems.

She said: “I have ended up selling my jewellery, and I have been starving myself. I haven’t paid my council tax bill for the last couple of months.”

An Atos spokeswoman declined to comment on the shortage of doctors, but said: “We endeavour to see everyone as swiftly as possible in the order in which we receive their claim.

“It is right that we don’t rush people through and focus on quality and giving every individual the time they need in an assessment which is an important part of the ESA claim process.

“This is specialist work and as with other healthcare organisations we cannot always see people as quickly as we would like.”

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said it was “working closely with Atos to ensure they can deliver both the volumes and quality of assessments that we require of them”.

He said Atos was continuing to “successfully recruit health professionals”, and that the WCA was “carried out by a broad range of health professionals, including doctors, nurses and physiotherapists”.

The latest revelations will yet again heighten the sense of doom surrounding Atos, which has been one of the focal points of protests from the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement.

Protesters have accused the outsourcing giant of helping to drive through the government’s “brutal cuts agenda”, devastating the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.

Disabled activists have repeatedly pointed to links between the way Atos carries out the assessments, and relapses, episodes of self-harm and even suicides and other premature deaths among those being assessed.

This week, the Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams obtained a short debate in the Commons about the work of Atos.

He said there had been reports of some disabled people waiting more than six months for their WCA, as well as scheduling problems, last-minute cancellations and difficulty in reaching assessment centres.

Williams, who represents a rural constituency in west Wales, said he had constituents who were facing delays to the appeals process of “months or even years”.

And he said DWP staff were now even referring disabled people to him for help with their appeal or the speed of their claim.

He said: “In one case, a DWP member of staff told my constituent to contact me to complain about the service.”

Williams said he had received an “almost endless series of representations” about Atos and the WCA, and added: “There are concerns about the extent to which the employees of assessment providers are being wholly sympathetic, about the huge backlog of cases that is leading to delays and, frankly, about the instances there have been of administrative incompetence.”

Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said the length of time people were having to wait for their WCA was increasing, but that the government was seeking “more capacity”.

DWP announced last year that it was changing its approach to the WCA, by bringing in new providers – in addition to Atos – to carry out assessments “on a regional basis”.

Penning said that one reason why many cases were having to be dealt with by tribunals on appeal was that the system had been based on assessing as many people as possible as quickly as possible, and “we got too many wrong”.

He said: “We have now improved the quality and ensured that our people spend time with the applicants, but that has caused a backlog. We are addressing that capacity issue.”
First PIP figures ‘confirm reports of lengthy delays’

The government’s first official figures on its new disability benefit appear to confirm anecdotal evidence about lengthy delays with claims, and how strictly the new eligibility criteria are being applied.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) report says that only about 44,000 decisions were made on claims for the new personal independence payment (PIP) by the end of 2013, despite nearly 230,000 claims being lodged between 8 April and 31 December.

The figures – which only cover new claimants, rather than reassessments of existing disability living allowance (DLA) claimants – show that half of the new claims that were completed resulted in a PIP award.

But nearly 100 per cent of claims by people with a terminal illness were successful. And once these “special rules” claimants are removed, the rate of successful PIP claims falls to just 37 per cent.

This compares with approximate rates of successful new claims for DLA – again before any appeals, but taking into account what is likely to be a 100 per cent success rate for special rules claimants – of about 43 per cent in 2008-09 and 42 per cent in 2009-10, although these figures include under-16s.

This suggests that new claimants have so far been about 12 per cent less likely to be successful with a new PIP claim than a new DLA claim in 2009-10, and about 14 per cent less likely than a new DLA claim lodged in 2008-09, although these are approximate calculations.

The report also appears to confirm the strong anecdotal evidence of delays to PIP claims reported by Disability News Service over the last three months.

A DWP spokesman said: “We’ve already said that the end-to-end claims process is taking longer than expected.

“We are working with providers to ensure that all the steps in the process are as smooth as they can be and the benefit is back-dated so no-one is left out of pocket.”

He said that ministers believe the new benefit will “lead to more accurate awards”, but he warned that the new figures relate to “the early stages of implementation of PIP and may not represent longer-term trends in decisions leading to awards”.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the number of PIP claims being turned down was “preposterous”, and showed the new benefit was “already failing in the same way” as the work capability assessment (WCA), which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

She added: “The length of time being taken to process claims means that people are failing to get the support they need, even if they are awarded PIP eventually.”

Meanwhile, members of the Commons backbench business committee have decided that a debate on the WOW petition will be held in the main Commons chamber on Thursday 27 February.

The disabled-led petition – which called for a cumulative impact assessment on the cuts and other reforms affecting disabled people, an immediate end to the WCA, and an independent inquiry into welfare reform – was backed by nearly 105,000 people.
Ministers give no ground as MPs call for ‘bedroom tax’ exemptions

Two Conservative ministers have refused to consider exempting disabled people from the “bedroom tax”, despite new research that suggests many are facing eviction from their homes.

Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, and Kris Hopkins, the housing minister, were giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee about what the government calls its spare room subsidy removal (SRSR) policy.

Their evidence came on the same day that National Housing Federation (NHF) research found two-thirds of housing association tenants hit by the bedroom tax were now in rent arrears.

The NHF survey of 183 housing associations also found that, by October 2013, after just six months of the new policy, more than one in seven households affected by the bedroom tax had been warned they risked eviction.

Under the SRSR policy, tenants in social housing are punished financially if they are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes.

The government now believes that 523,000 households have been affected by the policy, with almost two-thirds of them disabled people.

On the same day as the committee hearing, research by Papworth Trust found that a third of those being refused discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – money paid by a council when it decides a housing benefit claimant needs extra help to meet their housing costs – are disabled people.

Almost nine in 10 of those refused DHPs said they then had to cut back on essentials like food or paying household bills.

The research also showed that while 67 per cent of non-disabled people applying for a DHP were successful, this dropped to 59 per cent for disabled people.

Giving evidence to the committee, Lord Freud repeatedly insisted that disabled adults could not be exempted from the SRSR policy.

He said the government preferred to address the problems faced by disabled people by handing funds to local authorities for DHPs – councils will receive £165 million in 2014-15, compared with £180 million in 2013-14 – and providing guidance on how that money should be used.

But there was anger from Labour’s Debbie Abrahams when Hopkins suggested that many disabled tenants could solve their problems by “behavioural” and “cultural” change, and suggested they were “set in their ways about the way that they spend and they use their money”.

Abrahams told Hopkins that “to suggest that behaviour change will alter a disability is quite shocking”.

Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who chairs the committee, told the two ministers that the group the government had targeted with the policy “were not people who were needing to change their behaviour to move out but were vulnerable disabled people who actually needed that size of house because they can’t share their bed with their wife anymore because she’s incontinent. That’s who has been caught by this policy.”

She added: “I accept that wasn’t your intention, but it is a real problem that shows the real chaos at the heart of the policy that you didn’t realise that behind those figures were real people in situations [where] they couldn’t change their behaviour in order to make it better.

“They can’t move. You have no idea how incredibly difficult it is to get an accessible house.”

Lord Freud said the government had decided to exempt disabled children from the SRSR policy, but not disabled adults, “on the basis that they are adults and in control”.

He said it was very difficult to define the group of disabled people who could be exempted from the SRSR, but that government guidance suggested that those in heavily adapted homes, or cases where it was “clearly impossible” for someone to share a bedroom with a disabled partner, should receive “long-term” DHPs.
Report punctures relationship myths

Some of the myths around disability and dating have been punctured by a new report from a group of young disabled campaigners.

Members of the Trailblazers network set out to provide a balanced, honest account of what it is like to be disabled and single, in a relationship, or married.

But they also wanted to boost the confidence of young disabled people and encourage them to “explore the world of dating and relationships”.

Several of the network describe their own relationship experiences in the report, including a young woman who met her current partner playing powerchair football, a disabled man who lost his virginity to a sex surrogate, and another Trailblazer who met her future husband while holidaying with friends in Magaluf.

Four-fifths of the 100 Trailblazers who completed a survey for the It’s Complicated report said they had never dated another disabled person.

The group – most of them wheelchair-users – began publishing their stories online in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, and were hoping to persuade other young disabled people to share their stories on 14 February itself through Facebook and Twitter*.

Trailblazer Jessica Berry describes in the report how she met her partner Matt online. They have been together for more than 14 months and Jessica gave birth to their daughter in December.

She says: “Being upset about my inadequacies and feeling insecure about my inferiorities compared with an able-bodied girl obviously occur from time to time, after all I am only human.

“Having a relationship with a disability is by no means easy, but it is definitely do-able and worth the effort.”

Zoe Hallam, who met her boyfriend Will at university, says: “You can’t ignore the fact that I’m disabled, as it permeates through pretty much everything we do to some extent.

“However, we are both generally able to take any obstacles in our stride and have become pretty good at predicting where things might get difficult.

“It’s been a learning experience for both of us.”

Trailblazer Carl Tilson opens up about his sex life in the report, describing how he lost his virginity with a sex surrogate.

He says: “I think it’s important to explore your sexual aspirations and it’s only natural to experience sex. I felt a boost of confidence and it helped my self-esteem. The only downside of hiring an escort is you don’t have that closeness as you would have in a relationship.‟

Among the concerns raised in the report, three out of four Trailblazers said the issue of disability and relationships had not been represented accurately in the media.

More than half of Trailblazers who responded said the easiest way to meet someone was online, with two-thirds saying they would reveal that they were disabled from the moment they began communicating with someone online.

But three-quarters of Trailblazers believed that other people’s opinions were an obstacle to forming a relationship, and nine out of 10 said they would feel more confident about dating if other people were more open-minded.

Half of those questioned thought it was easier to meet a partner through friends, while one-third said they would prefer to meet someone when out at bars, cafes or clubs.

Tanvi Vyas, project manager for Trailblazers, which is run by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said: “Young disabled people have seen a number of high-profile portrayals of disability and dating in the media in recent years, but this tends to follow a very narrow line.

“We also encounter a lot of myths out there – that disabled people only date other disabled people and that severe disability is a barrier to a happy relationship.

“In the build-up to Valentine’s Day we have set out to ask people of all ages about their relationship experiences, advice and issues, and to use these stories to get a frank and open discussion going.

“We want to encourage young disabled people to have the confidence to put themselves out there and find out what is right for them.”

*Young disabled people can visit the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Facebook page and also use the Twitter hashtag #itscomplicated on Valentine’s Day (Friday 14 February)

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 – has provided 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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