Hello to you all. So now we are living in holiday let number two having spent a week on a campsite in our motorhome. You’ve guessed it the saga of the February flood continues! For those of you who’ve followed every twist and turn of this epic, our house now has bare walls and will shortly have the floors lifted! We don’t anticipate being back home until mid August. Noah had the right idea, if you think you might be flooded start building an accessible ark right now. We are currently living in a fully accessible holiday cottage just outside Hertford. The lady who owns the place runs a riding stables and has converted some old out buildings into four accessible units, one of which is equipped with a ceiling hoist. It turns out that her late father had Parkinsons and she couldn’t find any accessible accommodation for him so decided to build her own! She now has a thriving holiday let business, while we’ve been here we’ve seen a family with a severely disabled youngster settle in for a short break. If this is of interest here is a link http://www.petasfieldcottages.co.uk/
On a very different note some of you will have seen the recent ruling from the Supreme Court which, once again decided that helping someone to die is illegal. They went on to suggest that parliament should revist the issue. Lord Falconer is to reintroduce his assisted dying bill into the House of Lords on the 18th July. As a campaigner against a change in the law I am deeply concerned that such a change will mean that current safeguards designed to protect us all will be eroded. You will have your own view on this very difficult subject but I’d urge you to read this article from the USA to understand some of our concerns http://www.politickernj.com/75621/assisted-suicide-just-too-dangerous
Have a good week.
MP calls for government contract ban for Atos
An MP has called for Atos to be stripped of the right to bid for government contracts, after an inquiry concluded that it appears to have used “potentially misleading” information to win disability assessment contracts worth nearly £400 million.
Fiona Mactaggart, the Labour MP for Slough and a former Home Office minister, spoke out after the Commons public accounts committee used evidence provided by Disability News Service (DNS) to show how Atos used inaccurate and exaggerated information to win the two personal independence payment (PIP) contracts.
Atos had stated in a tender document that it had a network of 740 assessment sites across London and the south of England, but after the contract was signed it only managed to secure 96 assessment centres, including not a single one covering a vast sweep of north London, and only one in Suffolk and one in Cambridgeshire.
Because there are so many fewer centres, thousands of disabled people are facing delays in being assessed, and longer and more complicated journeys to reach their assessments, often by inaccessible public transport.
Mactaggart has already written to Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to tell him how her constituents in Slough were facing lengthier, more difficult journeys to reach their assessments, because of the “misrepresentation” by Atos in the tender.
She said: “I have encountered a number of people in Slough who have conditions which make travelling to Reading impossibly challenging for them, so they don’t go to their assessment.”
She has spoken to two constituents who, as a result of PIP delays, have been “living on no money, borrowing from equally poor friends, and living on food parcels, and once you get three food parcels you are just expected to starve”.
Now she has called for Atos to be banned for a certain period from bidding for future government contracts, while she believes the government should also fine the company and use the money to improve the PIP assessment service.
Mactaggart, a former member of the public accounts committee, said: “It is completely clear that their original bids were untrue and that they let down some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
“The problem is that the government structures contracts in such a way that rewards companies like Atos that are clever at bidding but bad at delivering.
“I think we are going to see it across all outsourced public services that companies like Atos, G4S and Serco, whose expertise is winning contracts rather than providing services, will trump the ability of bespoke, client-focused [organisations].”
She added: “My genuine belief is if the government doesn’t take a genuinely punitive attitude to one of these companies, like banning them from bidding, they will just carry on.
“Atos is probably the most extreme of the lot and it would be right to make an example of them.”
The crossbench peer Lord Alton, who has been prominent in raising concerns in the Lords about how Atos won the contracts, asked the welfare reform minister Lord Freud this week whether he had any plans to re-examine the Atos tender documents, and whether he believed that Atos should be able to bid for future DWP contracts.
But Lord Freud said that Atos had won the contract in “fair, open competition and we have no plans to reopen that process”.
Anne McGuire, Labour’s former minister for disabled people and now co-chair of the all-party parliamentary disability group and a member of the public accounts committee, said: “Even if the DWP ministers are not going to re-open the process, as indicated by Lord Freud, I hope that they seriously consider whether in the award of any future contract, the final agreement should be more closely tied to the claims made in the tender document.
“Otherwise, the tendering process is meaningless and companies could promise the earth to get on a bidder’s shortlist, only to pull back on proposals during subsequent negotiations on the final contract.”
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said ministers “urgently need to explain why they took the decision to award the PIP contract to Atos”.
She said DWP must explain what impact the decision to select Atos for two of the four PIP contracts had had on the “appalling record of delays that PIP claimants have experienced”.
But she said ministers should also explain “what they are doing to recoup the additional cost to the taxpayer that this has incurred”.
Concerns about one of the Atos PIP tender documents were first raised in a joint investigation by DNS and the disabled journalist Richard Butchins.
Atos had boasted of its “extensive” network of 16 NHS trusts, two private hospital chains, and four physiotherapy providers, all of which it said would provide sites where the PIP tests would take place across London and the south of England.
But in the months after the contract was awarded, all but four of the NHS trusts and both of the private hospital chains dropped out.
This week, Atos repeated its claim that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was not misled during the tendering process.
An Atos spokeswoman said: “The [DWP] made clear that they were not misinformed during the tender process, that at the point of go live they knew our capacity, our partners and the number of centres we would be using.
“We completely refute any allegation of misinformation during the procurement process for [PIP].
“Not only have we written to the [public accounts committee] to clarify our position but we invited the National Audit Office in to scrutinise our documentation.
“That we could not have binding contracts in place before we signed a contract with the DWP is simply common sense and in no way misleading. What we did have were detailed written proposals from the suppliers.”
But the Atos spokeswoman refused to explain why it was not misleading to promise to provide 740 assessment sites in London and the south, and only produce 96.
She was also unable to explain why Atos stated in the tender document that its 22 “partners” had “contractually agreed” to provide assessment centres, when they had not done so and many of them did not subsequently deliver any centres.
And she was unable to say how Atos offering less than 13 per cent of what it had promised had not increased journey times and delays for disabled people.
Supreme Court’s assisted suicide ruling ‘is just prelude to big debate’
The Supreme Court has ruled against three legal challenges that would have relaxed the laws on assisted suicide, but the complicated series of judgments has done little to reassure disabled activists fighting the threat of new legislation.
The three appeals were heard by nine Supreme Court justices, a sign of the complexity and importance of the legal issues at stake.
Their nine separate judgements came less than a month before peers are due to debate the second reading of the Labour peer Lord Falconer’s private member’s bill, which would allow doctors to help end the lives of those they judge to be terminally-ill.
Disabled campaigners from Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), backed by other disability organisations, are to hold a demonstration against the assisted dying bill outside the House of Lords on 18 July, the day of the second reading.
They believe the campaign to legalise assisted suicide “reinforces deep-seated beliefs that the lives of sick and disabled people are not worth as much as other people’s”.
NDY UK said that legalising assisted suicide would be “profoundly dangerous”, posing a “very grave risk to thousands of disabled people who have been made vulnerable by cuts in health and social care services and welfare benefits, making some feel they would be better off dead and no longer a burden on their family and friends”.
NDY UK strongly welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling, but warned of the risk of “sleepwalking into state sanctioned killing”.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, founder of NDY UK, said: “We can only hope that parliament will heed the wisdom of the court by rejecting Lord Falconer’s very dangerous assisted dying bill.”
But the judgements appear to have added to pressure on peers and MPs to back the bill, with lawyers for the British Humanist Association – which backs legalisation of assisted suicide – saying the majority of the judges had given “a strong signal to Parliament to review and potentially bring new legislation forward”.
He refused nutrition, fluids and medical treatment after the high court dismissed his case in 2012, and he died of natural causes less than a week later. His wife then took on an appeal on his behalf.
Paul Lamb, who is almost completely paralysed after a car crash, was seeking the same change in the law as Nicklinson.
The third appeal was by a disabled man known as Martin, who is virtually unable to move following a stroke, and would only be able to end his life with the assistance of a third party.
He wants to travel to die at the notorious Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, but his family and friends will not help him to do so, so he wants to enlist the help of a care worker, healthcare professional, or volunteer from a pro-euthanasia group.
Martin had asked the courts to order the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to change the existing assisted suicide guidelines, to make it clear that such people would not be prosecuted if they helped him to die.
The court of appeal had narrowly ruled that the DPP’s guidelines were not clear enough, whereas Nicklinson and Lamb both lost their court of appeal cases.
The Supreme Court this week dismissed the appeals of Nicklinson and Lamb – by a margin of seven to two – and unanimously allowed the DPP’s appeal against Martin’s court of appeal victory.
But five of the nine judges also ruled that the Supreme Court had the powers – potentially – to declare that existing assisted suicide laws were incompatible with human rights legislation, although three of the five said that this did not apply in these particular cases.
The other four judges concluded that parliament was better qualified than the courts to assess this question.
One of them, Lord Sumption, delivered a detailed argument explaining that some people may have reasons for deciding to kill themselves “which reflect either overt pressure upon them by others or their own assumptions about what others may think or expect”.
He warned that legalising assisted suicide would be followed by its “progressive normalisation”, in a world where suicide was regarded as “just another optional end-of-life choice”, while the pressures on sick and disabled people to kill themselves “are likely to become more powerful”.
He said: “I very much doubt whether it is possible in the generality of cases to distinguish between those who have spontaneously formed the desire to kill themselves and those who have done so in response to real or imagined pressure arising from the impact of their disabilities on other people.
“There is a good deal of evidence that this problem exists, that it is significant, and that it is aggravated by negative modern attitudes to old age and sickness-related disability.”
He argued that the question of whether relaxing the current laws would involve “unacceptable risks to vulnerable people” was “a classic example of the kind of issue which should be decided by Parliament” because of the “social and moral dimensions of the issue, its inherent difficulty, and the fact that there is much to be said on both sides”.
The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who has spoken out against Lord Falconer’s bill, said it was not clear which campaigning side had gained most from the Supreme Court’s ruling.
But she said she was looking forward to the chance to debate the bill, and agreed that the Lords was “the right place to debate it”.
She said: “I don’t want to see anyone suffer but it is really naive to say there are loads of safeguards and no-one is going to feel pressure [to opt for an assisted suicide].
“If one person dies when it is not their free choice, that is unforgivable.”
She added: “I am not against assisted suicide per se… [but] I am not sure right now I could ever see enough safeguards.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson said she had received hundreds of letters accusing her of lacking compassion by opposing new assisted suicide laws, and telling her: “I want choice, it is my right to die at a time of my choosing”.
But she has received another couple of hundred letters from people saying: “I am worried about being encouraged to make a choice that is not mine. I am worried that people think I am worthless.”
ILF reports overwhelming success, as DWP prepares to scrap it
More than 99 per cent of disabled people who use the Independent Living Fund (ILF) believe that it improves their ability to live independently, just as the government is preparing to abolish it.
The coalition is planning to close ILF in June 2015 – with non-ring-fenced funding passed instead to local authorities – even though the minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, has admitted that some ILF-users could be “adversely affected” by its closure.
ILF’s new annual report says that more than 97 per cent of ILF-users are satisfied with how the fund operates, while more than 97 per cent say it improves their quality of life, and more than 96 per cent say it allows them more choice and control in their life.
Only two per cent of ILF revenue is spent on administering the fund, through 124 staff, and 92 self-employed independent assessors who visit ILF-users in their own homes every two years to assess their needs.
The annual report was published as the response to a freedom of information request revealed just 244 allegations of ILF fraud were investigated over the four years from 2010-11 to 2013-14.
And of those 244 allegations, only seven cases were referred to the police, and just three led to successful prosecutions.
ILF is a government-resourced trust which helps more than 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.
Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, insists that passing ILF funding from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to local authorities would be an improvement on the current two-tier system, in which some disabled people with high support needs receive ILF support and some do not.
Last week, Penning said that some of the “scare stories” about the closure of ILF that have appeared in the media were “unfounded”, and he claimed that disabled people with high support needs who have been unable to join ILF since it was closed to new members in 2010 have had their needs met by local authorities.
But ILF-user Stuart Bracking said that little more than a decade ago, ILF – with the support of the Labour government and DWP – set up a specialist team to encourage social workers from local authorities with a low ILF take-up to increase their number of ILF claims. That led to thousands of new applications.
Bracking said: “In particular, the fund’s individual assessment of need and flexible approach to the costing of care packages helped to meet people’s critical needs in a way local authority social services could not.”
He said he believed the problems facing ILF now stem from the concerted push towards using “resource allocation systems” and “personal budgets” to “organise the scant resources in social care at a local level”.
He said: “As part of this ‘personalisation’ policy, the closure of the fund has been pursued single-mindedly by the DWP with the active support of a layer of academics, social care professionals and disability organisations (who should have known better) that support ‘personal budgets’ and the location of all independent living support within local authorities.
“This layer is not satisfied with the ILF as the fund’s continued existence undermines this development which has now been placed on a statutory footing in England through the Care Act.”
Fellow ILF-user Debbie Domb said she believed that ILF should be kept open, opened back up to new users, and run in co-production with ILF-users.
Although her current satisfaction levels with the fund are not high – due to problems in securing the increased support that was recommended by the ILF independent assessor and her council social worker – her previous satisfaction level was good.
This compared with her experience with social services, where there “doesn’t seem to be much awareness about what ILF is or the concept of independence for disabled people”.
She added: “Mike Penning clearly demonstrated in the recent Westminster Hall debate on the future of the ILF that he does not understand the role of ILF in our independent living, and more crudely doesn’t give a toss anyway.”
DWP is currently facing a fresh legal action being brought by Bracking and two other ILF-users, who are seeking a judicial review of Penning’s decision to close the fund.
DWP silent over Access to Work lies
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to explain why it lied about its use of figures that downplay the economic benefits of the Access to Work (AtW) scheme.
Disability News Service (DNS) reported last week that senior civil servants were claiming that for every £1 spent on the scheme, the Treasury receives only £1.18 back in taxes and lower benefits.
But DWP denied last week that it was using this number, and insisted that it still recognised long-standing figures that show that the Treasury receives £1.48 for every £1 spent on AtW.
It insisted that while it was carrying out work to update the £1.48 figure it was “not using or quoting any alternative figure”.
The figures are important because disabled campaigners fear the government could be looking for excuses not to expand spending on AtW, or could even be planning to make cuts.
DWP has already refused – in response to a Freedom of Information Act request – to say whether the £1.18 figure is being used internally by DWP or how it was calculated.
But this week, DNS confronted DWP with evidence that two of its senior civil servants – Helen John and Rilesh Jadeja – had been using the £1.18 figure.
John, a DWP deputy director, used it in a speech at a seminar, and Jadeja, head of AtW delivery, stated in a meeting on 16 April that DWP was now using the £1.18 figure internally.
Despite this evidence, the DWP spokeswoman said: “DWP has not formally published or announced any figures regarding Access to Work’s return to the Exchequer. We are looking at estimating the figure but it is still in development.”
When DNS asked why John and Jadeja had been using the £1.18 figure, the DWP spokeswoman said: “We still assert that DWP has not formally published or announced any figures regarding Access to Work’s return to the Exchequer.
“Any reference to a specific figure made by an official to a stakeholder does not represent a formal announcement or a final conclusion and should not be taken as such.”
The £1.48 figure only refers to immediate savings through higher taxes paid and fewer benefits claimed, and doesn’t include the wider economic benefits of AtW, such as reduced hospital admissions and lower use of other health services.
Cable given food for thought on disabled entrepreneurs
Business secretary Vince Cable is to consider what action the government can take to boost the number of disabled entrepreneurs.
Cable was speaking during a visit to a university laboratory today (26 June) as a guest of Disability Rights UK (DR UK).
Philip Connolly, DR UK’s policy and communications manager, who organised the visit to University College London to discuss the value of disabled entrepreneurs, said Cable was “open and amenable and he offered ongoing dialogue”.
He said: “I think he will have learned that disabled people do not just need to feature in the supply side of the economy in terms of jobs, but they can also create economic activity and lead to the recruitment of other disabled and non-disabled people.”
Connolly said: “We are now hoping for a concerted and coordinated response from the government in terms of helping disabled people becoming even more entrepreneurial.”
He said government figures showed that only about 100 disabled people claiming Access to Work support also claim the New Enterprise Allowance, which can provide money and support to help a benefit claimant start their own business.
He said: “What we would like to see is almost a strategy from the government on how they can be more responsive in this area – helping disabled people themselves, but also helping the businesses that supply and meet their needs.”
He added: “Disabled people are highly resourceful people and often as a result of having to find new ways of doing things that others take for granted are creative and inventive thinkers and doers.
“These qualities are valuable in an economy needing resilience and constant innovation.”
During the visit, Cable was shown a demonstration of the university’s Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA), an “adjustable platform of paving surfaces combined with cutting-edge lighting and sound technology”, which offers researchers insight into how pedestrians interact with their environment by replicating real-world conditions.
Street furniture can be arranged on the platform, with lighting used to simulate different lighting conditions.
Cable also met one of the two winners of RNIB’s Blind Bit of Difference competition, Jun-Woo Kim.
Students who took part in the competition were asked to develop business plans that would create employment opportunities for blind and partially-sighted people.
Jun-Woo Kim and Jihun Kim, students at London Business School, won with a service that would train people with sight loss to teach conversational English to office workers and students across the world via the internet.
Activist’s plans would see single funding stream for support
The entire system of disability benefits and other support should be swept away and replaced with a single funding stream and assessment process, according to a new discussion paper published by a disabled consultant and activist.
Simon Stevens said that witnessing the “emotional distress” caused to disabled people by the government’s “fitness for work” system, cuts to social services and the closure of the Independent Living Fund had made him “passionate to design a better system”.
He also believes that the needs of older people “dominate the agenda, pushing working aged adults aside”.
The paper focuses on England but could – he says – be easily adapted for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
He says in the paper: “The desire is to move away from a welfare system that is passive, requiring little action from disabled and older people, to one that is proactive to ensuring and maintaining their inclusion as fully contributing citizens.”
Assessments would be carried out by local organisations – many of which would be user-led – which would be independent of local authorities, but there would be national standards.
Stevens argues in the paper that disability support such as the new personal independence payment (PIP), disability living allowance (DLA), social services funding, the Independent Living Fund, Access to Work, Disabled Students’ Allowance, and the disability-related element of employment and support allowance, should all be scrapped.
He wants to see them replaced by a single, integrated system that would assess people’s needs and allocate assistance and support.
Rather than focusing on a person’s condition or impairment, as many assessments still do, his system would focus on desired outcomes, such as enabling volunteering, paid work, or a university degree.
The paper says: “The primary criteria to consider in relation to outcomes should be to fulfil an appropriate, reasonable and meaningful contribution to their community and society in any way they can.”
But he adds: “Individuals should fully understand that by claiming their rights to assistance and support they have responsibilities to fulfil any expectations [that] are made upon them.
“The framework should not appear hostile, unhelpful or ‘mean’ but rather fair, honest and open, acknowledging the opportunities available as well as the realities of any resource-limited funding process.”
His new system would help disabled people who need support and assistance in education, employment, housing, transport, with personal assistance, and in accessing community activities, and would be available to anyone, including those in hospital for long periods, and disabled prisoners.
But it would also bring many more disabled people within the responsibility of social workers, including many of those disabled people who currently claim PIP and DLA but not social services funding.
Stevens told Disability News Service: “I believe by better supporting issues like mental health, drug abuse and alcohol dependency for example in a social work – not DWP – setting will stop people being parked on DLA and failed by the system.”
The policy would be overseen by a new Office for Assistance and Support, part of the Department of Health (DH), with management and regulation of the assessment and allocation system by a new DH agency, Support England.
Because the new system would merge a number of organisations and structures into one, costs should be lower, allowing the opportunity to plough savings back into providing support and assistance.
But Stevens also says that the system should be accompanied by “major investment” in accessible infrastructure such as public transport and dropped kerbs, which should reduce demand for support.
He said reaction to his paper within the disability movement had so far been positive, and he was now hoping to persuade the Labour party to flesh out his plans with costings and incorporate them into a white paper.
He added: “The evidence is pointing to the fact the whole disability funding system is in crisis and this is the opportunity to get it right.”
Blunkett calls time on parliamentary career
The disabled Labour MP and former home secretary David Blunkett has announced that he is to leave parliament at the next election.
Blunkett told local party members in a letter that, after 28 years as an MP, it was “by far the most difficult political decision I have ever made, in a lifetime of extremely difficult decisions”.
He spent eight years serving in Tony Blair’s Labour cabinet – and suffered two high-profile resignations – but said that the leadership of the party clearly now wished to see “new faces in Ministerial office and a clear break with the past”.
He added: “For me, being in a position to make decisions and thereby make a difference, has always been paramount, and I hope in future to continue to promote our success and values, and to make a continuing contribution to public service and the social and voluntary sector.”
He said he had been privileged as a member of the cabinet to lead on “ground-breaking policies”, including the introduction of universal early years and nursery provision and the “transformation of education in our schools” as education secretary, and the “security of the nation post the 11th September attack in the United States in 2001” and overseeing the “the most substantial fall in crime in recent history” as home secretary.
But he also suggested that he had played a part in some of the most controversial policies introduced by the current coalition government.
He told party members: “Many of the seeds I was able to sow, from welfare reform to lifelong learning and from the new challenge of cyber security to the debate on values and citizenship, are only now bearing fruit.”
Blunkett’s political career began when he was elected as a councillor in Sheffield at the age of 22, before leading the city council in the 1980s, and becoming an MP in 1987.
After Labour’s win in the 1997 general election, he became education and employment secretary, then home secretary in 2001, and work and pensions secretary in 2005.
Since leaving government, he has published his diaries, and – among other pieces of work – has completed a review of the future role of the community and voluntary sector, chaired a review of school transport, and reviewed police accountability for the Home Office.
Between June 2013 and May 2014, he led a review for Labour into local oversight of schools and the raising of standards.
Blunkett was out of the country this week and unavailable for interview, but he said – in an interview for the Government Equalities Office earlier this year – that his advice to other disabled people wishing to enter politics was to “have the confidence to be yourself”.
He added: “Take me as I am or leave me has always been my attitude to life and remains so today.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com