Nothing about us without us or have you forgotten?

Is it just me or is something untoward going on concerning disability and social inclusion? Let me explain.

The Minister for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt recently appointed 11 sector champions who are supposed to promote the importance of disability inclusion across the retail, music, leisure, tourism, hotels, media, advertising, airports, buses, banking and gaming sectors.

The aim of this initiative is to drive improvements in the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in each area, helping to highlight best practice and demonstrate to other businesses the merit of making disabled customers a priority.

So what’s wrong with that I hear you say? A couple of things.

The Minister asked the DWP and the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) to find suitably qualified or experienced people. The ‘advertisement’ said that they were looking for “champions who are ambitious, passionate and dynamic, with strong networks and the ability to reach out to a wide range of organisations and create momentum for change”. Anything missing? Well Yes! No mention of the word disability let alone disability-related experience. Presumably disabled people aren’t “ambitious, passionate or dynamic”. To make matters worse there is no mention of the appointed sector champions having any ‘power’, or resources so we must assume that as with so many previous initiatives this one will also disappear. Who remembers John Major’s Citizen’s Charter, Anne McGuire’s Equality 2025 Committee and most recently David Cameron’s Big Society?

Disabled people have campaigned for years to be included but on their own terms. The idea that non-disabled people should champion our cause smacks of the old days when patronisation and charity were commonplace. Does no one in the Minister’s office or the ODI remember the slogans ‘Nothing about us without us’ and “Rights, not Charity”? The fact that some of the appointed champions are disabled people is more by accident than design?

I’m sure the Minister is well intentioned but why is the DWP involved in a customer focussed initiative? Where is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIZ)? They are responsible for “making sure consumer law is fair for both consumers and businesses, and that consumers know their rights and can use them effectively.”

Disabled customers already have some protection through legislation which is designed to protect them from disability discrimination. I would urge the Minister to consult with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, BIZ and the ODI to explore ways of supporting and encouraging disabled people to assert their legal rights as consumers.

Finally, if the Minister wants to make a real difference, she will ensure that Disabled People’s User Led Organisations have the necessary resources to expose poor practice and discrimination and where necessary take appropriate action against the perpetrators.

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Here are some other disability-related stories which might be of interest.

Minister appoints Sector Champions http://bit.ly/2mhXCaq

EHRC puts 18 accessibility questions to Premier League Clubs http://bit.ly/2mi674Y

Peer pressure sees minister finally announce date for taxi access laws http://bit.ly/2midYj5

No chance of halving employment gap without tackling independent living, says DPO http://bit.ly/2mi3uQN

So much going on!

I make no apologies for the length of this Blog as so much seems to have been going on! I suppose December 3rd being the International Day of Disabled People might have contributed something to the flurry of stories.

As chair of RADAR it was a busy week. We held our “Summit” entitled Future Proofing Equality which focussed on a number of key issues that affect disabled people for example Leadership, Finance, IT, Access and 2012 and Independent Living. The event attracted close on 150 people drawn from all sectors; business, public and 3rd. This was followed by our People of the Year Awards celebration. We had 600 people in attendance with Frank Gardener acting as host. I got home at 2:30 am and when I left people were still dancing! A brilliant evening with some amazing individuals and organisations picking up awards. Well done to all at RADAR for putting together such a fantastic day and evening. It was also the week when I’m pleased to say that the EHRC has decided to launch an enquiry into harassment and hate crime provoked in part by the tragic case involving Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francceca. Let’s hope that some good will come out of this appalling tragedy. There is a report on this announcement below.
Disabled Person’s Organisations recognised in awards ceremony

Two disabled activists have won prestigious awards that recognise their work with pioneering disabled people’s organisations.

Mike Adams, chief executive of Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ECDP), said he was “honoured” to win RADAR’s person of the year award.

Adams has helped create a “beacon” user-led organisation that empowers disabled people to influence local services.

ECDP also provides high quality services to disabled people across Essex, and increasingly influences policy, both locally and nationally.

Since he took the post in 2007, Adams has overseen an increase in ECDP’s funding by 53 per cent, staffing by over 25 per cent and membership from 80 to nearly 1,500.

He said: “Our challenge is to make it the business of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations everywhere to lead the change required to enhance the everyday lives of disabled people in Essex and beyond.”

RADAR’s lifetime achievement award was won by Julie Jaye Charles, who has built up Equalities National Council (ENC), a national movement for black and minority ethnic (BME) disabled people and carers, since founding it in 2000.

Charles has helped develop advocacy, promote the take-up of direct payments in BME communities and helped tackle race discrimination in mental health services.

She said she was “still in shock” and “very humbled” by the award and hoped it would push the needs of BME disabled people higher up the agenda.

She said: “My pride comes from the amount of service-users that actually want to be part of ENC, who continue to knock on our door, just to be part of something that recognises their needs.”

The disabled young person of the year award was won by Riam Dean, who triumphed in a high-profile discrimination case after taking on the might of the American clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch.

Other winners at the annual People of the Year Awards included the Association of Disabled Professionals, which won the careers award for its work in providing advice, peer support and networking opportunities for disabled people in professional and managerial positions.

And the efforts of a group of people with learning difficulties to encourage other disabled people to register to vote for the first time was recognised with RADAR’s access award.

Members of Promote the Vote, run by Cambridgeshire-based Speaking Up, have led 50 workshops explaining to other people with learning difficulties why they should vote, and have set up an accessible website to spread the word. (If you’d like to know more just visithttp://www.radar.org.uk/radarwebsite/tabid/265/default.aspx)
Equality watchdog to launch inquiry into violence and harassment

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has announced a major inquiry that aims to discover the true extent of the harassment and violence experienced by disabled people in England and Wales.

The commission announced in April that it would review how public bodies – such as local authorities and social landlords – were meeting their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act to take action to address violence and hostility targeted at disabled people.

But it has become so concerned by evidence it has heard since then of incidents of violence and harassment across the country that it has decided to hold a formal inquiry.

After the inquiry ends, the EHRC could decide to take legal action to force public authorities to comply with their duties.

The commission has pledged to put disabled people and their organisations at the heart of the inquiry, and there are likely to be public sessions around the country at which they can give evidence.

Neil Crowther, the EHRC’s disability programme director, said: “At its heart there needs to be a very strong involvement of disabled people and public authorities in a conversation about what needs to change.”

And he said there would probably be parts of the country where disabled people were at greater risk of harassment and violence than others.

Disabled anti-hate crime campaigners have welcomed the inquiry.

Anne Novis, who leads on hate crime issues for the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, said it was long overdue, and hoped the EHRC would work closely with disabled people and their organisations, which have been raising concerns around hate crime for “many years”.

And Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, said the inquiry was a “good first step” in tackling the problem.

The inquiry’s results are likely to feed into a major EHRC report, due in 2011, in which it will analyse the UK government’s progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The announcement follows a string of high-profile cases of targeted violence and harassment against disabled people, including the death of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca following a sustained hate campaign by a local gang.

Mike Smith, the EHRC’s new disabled commissioner, said: “There have been many well-documented cases where targeted hostility, bullying and antisocial behaviour has escalated into more serious violence, murder or the death of disabled people.”

He said the Pilkington tragedy showed the importance of early intervention and preventative action, and warned that disabled people experiencing harassment can become “conditioned to hostile treatment”, are told to ignore it, or go to “enormous lengths” to avoid putting themselves at risk.

Draft terms of reference are expected early in the new year, with the inquiry likely to begin in early February and report within a year.
Home secretary attacked by MPs over McKinnon extradition

MPs and campaigners have attacked the home secretary’s latest refusal to halt the extradition of disabled computer hacker Gary McKinnon to the United States.

Alan Johnson MP had been considering new evidence relating to McKinnon’s mental health, which suggested that he was highly likely to try to kill himself if extradited.

McKinnon’s lawyers have now been given until 10 December to lodge papers seeking a judicial review of Johnson’s decision. If that fails, they could also appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

McKinnon, from north London, who has Asperger’s syndrome, faces a trial for allegedly hacking into US defense department computer systems, and a possible prison sentence of 60 years if convicted.

During an emergency debate in the Commons, McKinnon’s MP, David Burrowes, accused Johnson and the government of being “spineless” and said the new medical evidence showed that “suicide is now a real probability and will be an almost certain inevitability should he experience extradition”.

He said: “Putting it more bluntly, how ill and vulnerable does Gary McKinnon need to be not to be extradited to the United States?”

A string of other MPs from across the political spectrum attacked the home secretary’s failure to halt the extradition.

But Johnson told MPs he had “looked at every single word submitted by Gary McKinnon’s lawyers on the evidence of his medical condition” and his decision was that extraditing McKinnon would not breach his rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.

He added: “There are legitimate concerns about Mr McKinnon’s health, and the United States authorities have provided assurances, which were before the high court in July, that his needs will be met.”

And he said it was “clear” there was “no real risk” that McKinnon would serve any of his sentence in a “supermax” prison, if convicted.

He added: “Should Mr McKinnon be extradited, charged and convicted in the US and seek repatriation to the UK to serve his sentence in this country, the government will progress his application at the very earliest opportunity.”

The Royal Association for Disability Rights (RADAR) condemned the home secretary’s decision and said many disabled people had expressed their “outrage” at a decision that “flies in the face of justice and human rights”.

The National Autistic Society, which has provided emergency care for McKinnon – detailed in the new evidence – said it was “bitterly disappointed” by the home secretary’s decision.

News provided by John Pring atjpringnews@googlemail.com

In which RBS loses and the EHRC is under fire yet again!

Disabled people’s access needs received a boost this week when RBS lost the argument over whether it should or should not improve access for a wheelchair using customer. Also in the news the EHRC is under fire yet again this time because of an apparent u-turn by the government.
RBS loses loses appeal over ‘landmark’ access ruling

A bank will have to install a lift at a city centre branch after a disabled customer won an appeal court victory in a landmark discrimination case.

The Royal Bank of Scotland will have to carry out the building work – at an estimated cost of £200,000 – in order to make its Sheffield city centre branch accessible to wheelchair-users.

The case was brought by teenager David Allen, an electric wheelchair-user, who could not access the branch because the entrance was at the top of four steps.

Allen was forced to discuss personal details about his account in the street outside the branch.

Lord Justice Wall, one of the three court of appeal judges, said there were “reasonable steps” the bank could have taken to make the branch accessible.

He added: “The bank did not take those steps, giving as its reason, not the disproportionate cost of carrying out the work, but simply the fact that it would lose the use of an interview room.”

The bank had appealed against a decision by Sheffield county court in January that it had breached the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – the first time an injunction had been granted ordering work to be carried out to make business premises accessible.

The county court had rejected the argument that Allen should use internet banking instead, ruling that it was not the same service.

Sheffield Law Centre, which helped Allen bring the case, with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the appeal court judgement stressed that services for disabled people must be as close as possible to those provided to the general public.

Allen’s compensation of £6,500 was the highest awarded for a failure to make reasonable adjustments under part three of the DDA, which relates to goods and services.

Allen was awarded an extra £3,000 compensation for ongoing discrimination, as the lift will not be installed until August 2010 – the total award of £9,500 is now the largest by a court under part three of the DDA.

After the judgement, Allen said: “I’m glad the bank finally had to apologise in court and acknowledge they treated me badly.”

But he added: “They just failed to understand anything about the need for privacy and dignity.”

Douglas Johnson, of Sheffield Law Centre, said the judgement would “make it easier and simpler” for courts to deal with complaints of disability discrimination.

He added: “The real access issue is about people and attitudes, not ramps and steps.”
Mystery over appointment of equality watchdog commissioners

The government has been unable to explain why it has performed a U-turn on cutting the number of commissioners appointed to the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Last week, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) announced the names of eight new commissioners, and two reappointed commissioners.

They will join five other EHRC board members who did not have to seek re-appointment, including the chair, Trevor Phillips.

But in July, the GEO said the number of commissioners would be cut from 15 to a maximum of 10 to “reflect a more streamlined and cost-effective board focused on delivering the equality bill”.

This week, a GEO spokesman insisted the U-turn was due to the “strong and impressive” field of more than 600 applicants.

He said: “In the summer we said that the board would be restructured with a new focus on delivery, and to ensure the commission has the right mix of skills for the next phase.

“Our priority was to ensure the recruitment of the best possible field of commissioners, bearing in mind our stated need for the board to be more tightly focused on delivery, with the right mix of skills, covering all the equality strands and more business expertise.”

But he said the strength of applicants allowed the GEO to appoint a “very strong board” who would “join the existing commissioners to create a stronger team to take forward the EHRC and help put the flesh on the bones of the equality bill”.

Meanwhile, the EHRC has announced the names of 61 community and voluntary organisations that will receive nearly £10 million in grants, as part of its strategic funding programme.

Several disabled people’s organisations secured large grants to develop advice, guidance and advocacy services.

They include Breakthrough UK, which secured £140,000; Darlington Association on Disability, which will receive £210,000; £150,000 for Disability Action Waltham Forest; and £300,000 for Disability Hackney.

Other recipients include Glasgow Disability Alliance, which secured £225,565 to develop the “next generation of disabled leaders”, in conjunction with Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living; and Living Options Devon, which has been given £351,306 to test a new, Deaf-led, rural advocacy, information and peer support service.

News provided by John Pring at jpringnews@googlemail.com

The Future of EHRC

We have been concerned to hear of the departure from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) of two major disability leaders, Jane Campbell and Bert Massie; and our members have raised queries and worries with us about difficulties at the Commission reported in the media.

The Commission is vitally important to the 11 million people in Britain living with ill-health, injury or disability. Disabled people campaigned for decades for disability rights law and a Commission to promote and enforce it. The EHRC has the remit to achieve greater equality and human rights for disabled people – in a context of equality and human rights for people from all parts of British society.

I urge the Commission to work with the disability sector over the next year and to show the steps it is taking to achieve greater equality and human rights for disabled people in practice. We are also asking our members to tell us what they most want the Commission to deliver, given its strategic objectives and priorities. We are seeking to work with the Commission and to hold it to account.

I am also writing to the Commission’s Chair to find out what the plans are to replace the disability expertise that Jane and Bert brought to the Commission. Delivering the Commission’s remit demands that the overall governance of the Commission attracts a high level of disability leadership.

I hope that disabled people will voice your priorities clearly, so we can together work to ensure the Commission delivers on its mandate for disabled people from all communities and in all our diversity. RADAR believes that as a minimum the Commission should:

  1. Use the Disability Equality Duty (and expected Equality Duty) to make a measurable difference on the ground to what public authorities and all the services they commission do to reduce the entrenched inequalities between disabled and non-disabled people. This includes positively tackling the disability employment, skills and pay gaps; and promoting equal participation through the social care, support and health systems. This requires the Commission to use all the levers it has – from promoting the value to Britain as a whole of full inclusion to taking strong action against those that do not comply.
  2. Tackle the endemic bullying and harassment experienced by disabled people on a day to day basis. Work to achieve the right to safety in practice, with public bodies (schools, housing bodies, local authorities, police) and extend advocacy and safe reporting centres with and for disabled people. 
  3. Effectively engage with diverse people living with ill-health, injury or disability – those for whom inequalities bite hardest – including those of us living with multiple impairments, mental health conditions, learning difficulties, neuro-diverse issues and people from excluded BME and faith communities.
  4. Let people know their rights, support significant legal cases and interventions and publicise the results so individuals know their rights and those with duties understand why and how to take action. 

We are conscious that the Disability Committee and Commission staff have already delivered some very good work on disability that is not necessarily well known, for instance:

  • Intervening in a House of Lords case and successfully challenging a Crown Prosecution Service decision to stop a prosecution in relation to a man with a mental health condition not deemed a ‘reliable witness’. He had been viciously attacked; and the judge ruled that the decision to stop the court case added insult to injury and was an infringement of his human rights. This is an important precedent setting judgement. 
  • Supporting other important legal cases, including one that required a major bank not just to compensate an individual denied access (he was expected to undertake his banking on the pavement, due to lack of wheelchair access); but also required action to achieve accessibility.
  • Producing major research on ‘targeted crime’ – that sets out recommendations on public bodies to tackle the grinding, day to day bullying and harassment that disabled people face, by using positive public sector duties and a human rights framework.
  • Agenda setting work on social care and support – From safety net to springboard – setting out ways forward that promote participation for disabled people, older people, carers/family and friends, women and men.

We urge the Commission to work with the disability sector to build on this early work and to engage with disability stakeholders and communicate results to us.

RADAR’s CEO is a member of the Disability Committee and will, with other Committee members, work strenuously to put the rights and aspirations of disabled people centre stage in Commission work, working with people from the other equalities areas to create integrated approaches where needed. The Disability Committee, made up of disabled people, has statutory powers including deciding on legal cases.

I will seek to assure myself that momentum in the Commission on disability is strong and RADAR will take its responsibility to hold the body to account in the interests of disabled people very seriously. I look forward to hearing from RADAR members and friends so we can work together to achieve this.

Phil Friend

Chair, RADAR