The Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning has just announced that the Independent Living Fund (ILF) will close on 30 June 2015. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the ILF, and whether it fully supports the needs of severely disabled people, it is yet another example of this government’s lack of understanding regarding the law of unintended consequences.
The government’s strategy is to get disabled people back to work. If severely disabled people are to work then they need to be able to get up, get dressed and be ready to travel to work. The ILF provides crucial finance for this kind of support and the disabled person has control over the way the money is spent in order to deliver the support they need. It is highly debatable whether, once these budgets are devolved to hard-pressed local authorities, disabled people will have the same level of control.
I know a severely disabled man who begins the process of getting up for work at 6am and by 8:30 he’s ready to leave the house. His support workers are there for 2 ½ hours and he controls what time they arrive and what time they leave. He has already been told by his local authority that this will not continue if they have to fund it. As a result it is highly likely that he will lose his job. How does that fit in with the government’s employment strategy?
‘Brutal’ new death sentence for ILF, but activists vow to fight on
Disabled campaigners have vowed to fight on in the battle to save the Independent Living Fund (ILF), despite the government deciding to go ahead with its closure.
Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, told MPs today (6 March) in a written statement that he wanted to close ILF next year, despite the government admitting that most of the 18,000 users now faced the “real possibility” of a cut in funding.
Penning’s decision was greeted with dismay, anger and frustration by ILF-users and disabled activists.
Many campaigners believed the battle had been won when five ILF-users secured a high-profile court of appeal victory last November over the government’s decision to close the fund.
But despite the court ruling that Esther McVey, the then minister for disabled people, had breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, the judgment meant only that the government had to reconsider its decision, this time paying “proper attention” to its legal obligations.
Penning told MPs today that he had now “taken time to reflect on the court of appeal’s decision” and had decided to go ahead with the original decision to close ILF, although he would delay the closure by three months until 30 June 2015.
Stuart Bracking, one of the five ILF-users who defeated the government in court, said Penning’s decision had been “greeted with dismay by some ILF-users involved in the campaign to save the fund”.
He said they could not understand how Penning could go ahead with closing ILF – a government-funded trust which helps more than 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently, by topping up their local authority-funded support – given the court of appeal decision.
But Bracking said that he and other ILF-users would fight on.
He added: “The fact that more than 400,000 disabled people are currently in residential and nursing care speaks volumes about the limitations of local authority funding – a figure greater than when ‘care in the community’ began more than 30 years ago.
“At a time when local authorities are making cuts of more than one third to their social services budgets [comparing 2010 to 2015 and the years afterwards], it is a brutal decision by Penning to continue with the fund’s closure.”
In 2015-16, ILF funding will be passed by the government to local authorities, and the devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, but this money will not be ring-fenced.
The Department for Work and Pensions has also been criticised for not saying whether this transition funding will be repeated in future years.
Anne Pridmore, another of the five who succeeded in the court of appeal, said she was glad she had taken the legal action, but was not surprised by Penning’s decision.
She said: “With this government it doesn’t matter what you do, they seem to do whatever they want.”
She said disabled people should have “made more fuss” in 2010 when the government decided to close the fund to new claimants.
The disabled performer, writer and activist Liz Carr, an ILF-user herself, said the closure news was “devastating”.
She said a future without ILF was “terrifying”, and closing it would “inevitably lead to the erosion of independence, inclusion and freedom for disabled people who have high levels of need”.
She said the fund enabled her to “pay people to do the things I physically can’t do which enables me to get up in the morning, work and have the same kinds of opportunities as everyone else”.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the decision was “a cut masquerading as a reform”, and was made with no thought about the “impact of the closure on the lives of disabled people”.
She added: “Through the legal challenge it became clear that the likelihood of the government funding ILF support after 2016 was very small.
“It is equally clear that the mainstream social care system operated by local authorities – that the government said would be able to take over meeting the needs of ILF-users – can do no such thing.
“This is a service in crisis that is failing to provide even the most basic of personal care to increasing numbers of people.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which supported the legal challenge, said the fight to save ILF had to continue, because local authority support “was already failing to meet the needs and rights of disabled people under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.
She added: “The strength and resolve of grassroots disabled people got us this far and we are not giving up now.”
One ILF-user did publicly welcome the closure.
Simon Stevens, a consultant and campaigner, said closure was “the only choice available to move the social care agenda forward, as opposed to keeping it in the past” and maintaining a “two-tier social care system”.
He said: “I have discussed the closure with many disabled and non-disabled colleagues, who agree the fund should close and that it represented a level of elitism that does not fit well into the notion of equality.”
He said the closure would help in the move towards an “integrated social care system that supports people in fulfilling their outcomes in a manner that is responsive, effective and value for money”.
Penning told MPs he accepted that many ILF-users believed that closing the fund “will affect their ability to continue to live independently in their own homes, to pursue educational and employment opportunities, and to participate in social activities”.
But he added: “I do not believe that continuing a separate system of support, operating through a discretionary trust and outside the statutory mainstream adult social care system, is the right approach.”
A new equality analysis of the government’s decision says it is “almost certain that closure of the ILF will mean that the majority of users will face changes to the way their support is delivered, including the real possibility of a reduction to the funding they currently receive”.
This could mean that current users will no longer be able to employ a personal assistant, it adds.
Some of the responses to a consultation carried out in 2012 by the government on its original decision to close the fund paint a chilling picture of the impact that closure could have on ILF-users.
One respondent said: “Before I was introduced to the ILF I was looked after by the local authority. I had no life at all, just a horrible existence.
“I didn’t get out of bed for months at a time. I was not encouraged to take part in life with the children. My care was extremely basic – to be kept clean, fed and medicated.”
Another said: “ILF allows me to do, as closely as possible, what normal human beings do. I do not do ‘activities’ or ‘access the community’ – I go out for a drive, for a picnic, to visit people, the kind of things ‘real’ people do.”
Faruk Ali: ‘Attack’ on disabled man by police ‘may have been a hate crime’
An alleged attack on a disabled man by two police officers may have been a disability hate crime, the local police and crime commissioner has told Disability News Service (DNS).
Faruk Ali, who has autism and learning difficulties, was allegedly assaulted as he stood outside the family home in Luton early on 20 February.
Faruk was grabbed by one of the officers, pushed to the floor, and thrown against some wheelie-bins, before being chased screaming into the house.
The officers from Bedfordshire police later claimed they thought Faruk was attempting a “robbery”, even though he was wearing his slippers as he stood by the bin.
The incident was witnessed by neighbours, while members of Faruk’s family saw the alleged assault continue inside the house, where they say one of the officers punched Faruk.
A public meeting in Luton organised by the family this week heard that the two officers did not immediately report the incident to their superiors.
There was anger at the meeting over Bedfordshire police’s refusal to suspend the two officers while the incident was being investigated. The investigation will be carried out by the force itself, but “overseen” by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The meeting also heard that Faruk had been the victim of a similar incident involving the police in 2012, again near his home.
Olly Martins, Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner, told DNS after the meeting that addressing disability hate crime was one of the priorities in his police and crime plan, and that he was concerned about under-reporting.
He said: “My agenda is about trying to get confidence to people to report hate crime.
“When you have something like this, which on the face of it could be presented as a hate crime, it undermines the role I am trying to do in terms of improving the outcomes for victims and giving them the confidence to report in the first place.”
But he insisted that such police-related incidents were “exceptional” in Luton.
He said that disabled people in the town were safe from police, despite the two incidents involving Faruk, and the death last year of Leon Briggs, who died after he was restrained by police, detained under the Mental Health Act and taken to Luton police station.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said it appeared that the case had “some very serious underlying disability hate crime issues”, and should therefore be investigated as a disability hate crime.
He said that Bedfordshire police and IPCC “need to firmly grasp this case and investigate, particularly given the highly intense feelings of the community”.
Government’s Zero scores raise UN convention questions
The rights of disabled people in the UK have slid sharply backwards over the last year, according to new international research backed by the government.
The Zero Project Report 2014 details the progress made by 130 countries towards implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Last year, the Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, triumphantly used the findings of the 2013 report to defend her government from accusations that its Paralympic legacy hung in the balance because of cuts to disabled people’s support.
Referring to the report, McVey told MPs last September that, out of the 55 countries covered by the 2013 report, the UK was “leading in all 23 indicators”.
The UK was actually leading in only 15 of the 23 Zero Project Report indicators and even on those categories many other countries shared the same score.
McVey had failed to point out that the Zero Project Report gives each country a green (yes), amber (yes, with qualifications) or red (no) rating for each question/indicator, which meant there were a number of countries “leading” on each indicator.
But an analysis of this year’s report by Disability News Service (DNS) shows the UK’s performance has fallen back in areas such as the accessibility of new buildings, inclusive education, and the lack of public funding for an umbrella group representing disabled people’s organisations.
Looking at the 20 indicators that are directly comparable to last year’s report, the UK has scored just five green ratings, compared with 14 last year, and is in the leading group in just five of the 20 indicators, again compared with 14 out of the 20 comparable indicators last year.
Among the indicators where the UK has dropped from green to amber are the existence of safeguards to ensure that disabled people are free to leave institutional care; the right to free, mainstream, primary education; and whether there is a legal time frame for existing public buildings to become accessible.
The UK is doing even worse in the area of accessibility, the particular area the Zero Project has focused on for its 2014 report.
Out of 12 accessibility indicators – which look at areas such as television and radio programmes, public procurement and taxi services – the UK is in the leading group for just one of them.
Asked whether Mike Penning, the current Conservative minister for disabled people, was concerned about what appeared to be proof that the UK was falling behind other countries in implementing the UN convention, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman claimed the report showed the UK was “among the very best of this enlarged group of 130 countries”.
DNS also asked if the fact that the UK’s “score” was worse than last year’s in 12 of the 20 comparable categories, and better in just two, was due to more accurate reporting this year or because the government was “de-implementing” parts of the UN convention because of austerity measures.
The spokesman failed to answer the question, but said that “independent reports consistently show that we are world leaders in support for disabled people”.
And he said the UK government continued to spend “around £50 billion a year on disabled people and their services and our reforms will make sure the billions spent give more targeted support to those who need it most”.
Deadline looms over ‘shadow’ report
Members of the disability movement believe they still have time to produce a solid, well-researched report on how the UK is implementing the UN disability convention, despite a looming deadline.
Funding and technical problems, and the near-collapse of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), have delayed efforts to produce a single “shadow” report on behalf of the disabled people’s movement.
Any reports have to be submitted to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) by the end of June.
CRPD will be finalising a list of questions to send to the government this autumn – based partly on various reports submitted by the UK – with a public “constructive dialogue” between the committee and the government due to take place next April, just weeks before the general election.
But despite disabled activists carrying out extensive, detailed research on how the UK government has implemented the convention, and on the impact of its austerity programme, there is no funding to pull that work together into a single shadow report.
Disabled people’s organisations, members of the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, and leading disabled figures such as Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, as well as charities such as Scope, and Neil Crowther, the former director of human rights at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have all been involved in a range of discussions about producing a shadow report.
Meanwhile, UKDPC has pulled together the responses to a survey of disabled people, launched last spring under its Disability Rights Watch banner.
A report on the responses – delayed for several months because of software problems – has built a picture of what life is like for disabled people across the UK, and of the country’s progress towards making the rights contained in the convention a reality.
But this research still has to be incorporated into a full shadow report before it can be submitted to CRPD, while plans to open the research up to comments from UKDPC members and the wider disability movement have yet to be finalised, again because of a lack of funding.
Separate research has been carried out by a group of organisations including the Alliance for Inclusive Education, Transport for All, Inclusion London, Equal Lives and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).
Baroness Grey-Thompson told Disability News Service that the shadow report was “a great opportunity for people to work together to have an impact”.
But she added: “There will need to be some compromises, which is always a challenge.”
Debbie Jolly, a co-founder of DPAC, said: “It is vital that we, as disabled people, put together a robust shadow report as an answer and further challenge to this government on their continuous decimation of disabled people’s rights.”
She pointed to issues such as the closure of the Independent Living Fund and the “desperate crisis” in local authority funding for social care.
She said: “This government has committed grave and systematic violations of the UN convention – it is crucial that these are documented.”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the shadow report provided a “rare opportunity” for the disabled people’s movement, but there was now “huge deadline pressure”.
She said: “We are just one organisation of a few that are trying to coordinate a definitive, effective shadow report that genuinely is the voice of disabled people and genuinely communicates the impact of people’s experiences, and where disabled people are.
“There is loads of work out there, a lot of research being done. The key challenge is trying to find the capacity to pull that all into one report.”
She said there were “a number of obstacles” to producing an effective shadow report, including a lack of funding.
Lazard said the disabled people’s movement would look “frankly pretty silly” if it produced more than one shadow report.
She said: “It would be very counter-productive. I hope everybody will realise that and as a consequence all pull together on this.”
She said her group approached the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) late last month to ask for funding to produce the shadow report.
She said: “We will be pursuing that in the hope that they recognise that DPOs will need money to produce an effective report.”
EHRC no longer has a grant-making arm, while its budget has been slashed by the government.
An EHRC spokeswoman said: “We are in the process of responding to this letter and are unable to share that with you until they have received it.”
Golden Hannah lights the way to Sochi
The UK’s position as the birthplace of the Paralympics was celebrated this week with a ceremony that “created” part of the flame that will burn throughout the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi.
Hannah Cockroft, a double gold medal-winner from London 2012, generated the flames that were then used by Caz Walton, who competed in eight Paralympic Games, including Tokyo in 1964, to light a torch and cauldron.
The flame created during the ceremony was later flown to Russia, where it was merged yesterday (5 March) in Sochi with flames created by all eight Russian federal districts.
In all, parts of the flame visited 45 Russian cities and Dezhneva Cape (Russia’s easternmost point), as well as Stoke Mandeville.
It was the first time there has been an international leg of a Paralympic torch relay, and a similar ceremony will now take place in Stoke Mandeville before every future winter and summer Paralympics, mirroring the role of Greece in the Olympic Games.
The ceremony was directed by Bradley Hemmings, the disabled co-artistic director of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
It included an animated film by the disabled artist Rachel Gadsden, Stoke Mandeville Stadium’s artist-in-residence, and film-maker Abigail Norris.
Cockroft had been suspended in the centre of the Armillary Sphere, a six-metre tall model of stars and planets, and lit the flame by propelling her wheelchair.
The sphere – designed by Jon Bausor to represent a constellation in the night sky that celebrates the Paralympic Games – will be used for future flame-lighting events in Stoke Mandeville.
Following the ceremony, four disabled people – each one representing a different aspect of disability sport – travelled to Sochi to take part in the torch relay.
Tim Reddish, retired Paralympian and chair of the British Paralympic Association (BPA), was joined by disabled student Andrew Norman, from Valence School in Kent, wheelchair basketball player and coach Andy White, who also volunteers with wheelchair sport charity WheelPower, and wheelchair fencer Gemma Collis, who competed at London 2012.
Reddish said: “The BPA is very proud that our nation is recognised as the birthplace of the Paralympic movement and we showed the world how passionate about Paralympic sport we are in the UK in 2012.
“The moment the cauldron is lit is always very special for the athletes as it signifies the start of the games that they have all worked so hard for.
“This time around, knowing that a part of it was created in the UK will make the ParalympicsGB athletes about to compete in Sochi especially proud.”
Cockroft said: “I’ve said before that the most fantastic moments of my life were winning gold medals for ParalympicsGB in 2012, but this is definitely up there with London 2012.
“I just can’t put into words how proud I am to have been involved in such an historic moment for the Paralympic movement in this country.”
Campaign aims to boost England as destination for disabled tourists
A new campaign aims to position England as a leading destination for disabled tourists.
VisitEngland, the national tourist board, hopes that its Access for All marketing campaign will both champion and improve accessible tourism across the country.
It has published guides highlighting accessible attractions and accommodation across four destinations: Bath, Brighton, Leicestershire and Newcastle-Gateshead.
The national marketing campaign is funded by £100,000 from the government’s Regional Growth Fund, along with some private sector funding.
Each of the venues appearing in the four guides has completed VisitEngland’s Access for All programme.
Key members of staff have taken disability equality training courses, and hotels have been assessed under VisitEngland’s National Accessible Scheme, which rates the accessibility of visitor accommodation throughout England.
The venues in the guides have also been audited by a tourism access advisor, as well as being visited by a disabled “mystery shopper”.
The resources created for the scheme are available for any tourism business to use.
Carrie-Ann Lightley, information service manager for Tourism for All UK, the national accessible tourism charity, welcomed the new investment.
Lightley, who took part in a focus group for the campaign, said: “It’s all very well having accessibility, but you need to tell people about it.
“There is no one place in England where everything is wonderfully accessible, so the good thing that this shows is that anywhere can have good hotels and good places to visit in terms of accessibility.”
She added: “I think it’s a really good sign that VisitEngland are putting together a campaign like this, which is the first of its kind in the country.”
Lightley said she believed that accessibility within the tourism industry was improving.
She said: “The people who work in the industry… are coming around to the opportunities that the market presents.”
The guide to Leicestershire focuses on attractions such as the Richard III exhibition at Leicester’s Guildhall and the National Memorial Arboretum.
In Bath, the guide includes information on the renovations to the Roman Baths, and the city’s Fashion Museum.
Brighton’s guide offers attractions such as the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.
And Newcastle-Gateshead includes the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, and one of the world’s top music venues, Sage Gateshead.
James Berresford, chief executive of VisitEngland, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase these particular locations as shining examples of best practice; to build on the legacy of the 2012 Paralympic Games and encourage tourism businesses to make the most of the accessible tourism market, which has enormous potential for growth.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com