Services or Swervices?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the struggles that some disabled people seem to have when using or accessing the most basic customer service.

Let me explain; the Guardian recently published a story about Anne Wafula Strike, a Paralympian wheelchair user who was forced to wet herself on a train because the accessible toilet was out of order. (http://bit.ly/2jw0Xzz) A few days later I came across the story that Frank Gardner, a wheelchair user and BBC journalist, had been left on a plane because the equipment needed to help him disembark was delayed. (http://bit.ly/2jvKYkV) Then Socitm which represents IT and digital professionals in the public sector, published research which revealed that one-third of website home pages used by local authorities are not accessible to many disabled people. (http://bit.ly/2jvY41G).

I guess these stories are just the tip of the iceberg and that many of you have personal horror stories about the lack of accessible services you’ve encountered.

What troubles me is that legislation was passed back in 1995 that was supposed prevent these difficulties from arising. So what is going on?

Clearly, financial stringencies have a part to play, but I’m not convinced that this is the main reason. I sense that for some service providers disabled consumers are just a nuisance. They think it is less expensive or less complicated to ignore us and hope that by placing more barriers in our way or by making life harder for us, we will go away. Hence the term “swervices not services.”

Am I being harsh or exaggerating the situation? I don’t think so! We have been complaining about the lack of appropriate customer service and access for years; we have eschewed the benefits of inclusive design for decades; we’ve protested, sued and lobbied and despite all this, our concerns continue to be disregarded.

Perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Doug Paulley’s recent victory in the Supreme Court concerning wheelchair spaces on buses is a pointer to customer service providers that they will have to do more or face serious consequences. (http://bbc.in/2jGj3Bx)

In Awe of the NHS

Hello once again.  The last time I wrote to you I was waxing lyrical about my Caribbean cruise, well, it didn’t take long for me to come down to earth with a bump.

In the final few days of our cruise we learned that my wife’s mother Jean, a lovely 89-year-old was suddenly taken seriously ill. At almost the same time, I took to my bed with the worst case of flu I have ever experienced. Four days under a duvet and then as weak as a kitten for three weeks afterwards. My illness meant that I couldn’t visit my mother-in-law as often as I would have liked.

Sadly after two months of struggle Jean finally departed this life and we were left to remember a loving, supportive, generous, and caring woman. Her passing caused me to reflect on the NHS and the care that she had received from all the staff who looked after her.

A picture of Jean and her granddaughters wedding
A picture of Jean at her granddaughter’s wedding

Jean spent two months in the hospital, first in intensive care and then on surgical and rehabilitation wards. What you notice immediately, when you spend any time in an NHS hospital, is that the doctors and nurses come from all over the world. (Where would the NHS be without immigration?) The second thing that is very obvious is the high number of agency staff working on the wards. The nurses seemed to change on a daily basis so it was rare to see the same person two days running. This inevitably led to things not being followed through, presumably because the handover between shifts with so many ‘temporary’ staff was less than perfect. An example of things falling through the cracks was that monitoring food and liquid intake were sometimes not recorded, this led to increased anxiety for us as we couldn’t tell whether Jean’s lack of physical improvement was due to not drinking or eating enough.

Another significant issue facing staff was the high turnover of patients, this was quite extraordinary and the beds on all the wards that Jean spent time on were never empty for long. Many of the patients were elderly and very confused and the nursing staff in particular needed to exercise extraordinary sensitivity in dealing with some of the challenging behaviours that they exhibited. I was in awe of their professionalism and patience.

As many of you know I have been involved in campaigns to prevent assisted dying being made legal in the UK.  I was concerned that the end of life care that Jean might receive would not be of the highest standard given the demands on the staff and other resources, my concerns were unjustified.

In the final days of Jean’s life, everything that could be done to keep her pain-free and comfortable was done. On the night of her death, she was moved to a side room where we could be with her. Her passing was peaceful and dignified, and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who was involved in making this possible.  We are indeed a fortunate nation to have the NHS and the dedicated people who work in it.

Picture head and shoulders of Blake the black Labrador
Our 13-year-old black Labrador, Blake RIP

Finally just to put a tin lid on what has been a tough few weeks our 13-year-old Labrador, Blake, collapsed, despite the vet’s best efforts there was nothing that could be done to help him. He too departed this life with dignity, and we miss him but differently.

Can’t wait for May!!

Here are the links to the latest news. I hope they are of interest.

Capita faces fresh call to be stripped of PIP contracts

Latest ‘reckless’ DSA reforms could leave disabled students without support

Fears over government links as equality watchdog launches welfare probe

Government ‘must see disabled people as innovators and contributors’

Rail access improvements set for delays… along with nearly £50 million funding

All news provided by John Pring Disability News Service

Councils apologies over ILF delays

Councils apologies over ILF delays, DWP ignores watchdog deadline, Peers to probe Equality Act, Rights campaigners awarded, Walsh appointed by the BBC

Well hello me hearties! Have I mentioned the fact that for the last eight weeks my eldest son his wife and their two young sons have been living with us?

This might explain why there has been a somewhat longer than usual gap in my blog production. I’d forgotten what it was like to be woken up at 5:30am most mornings, to spend the whole day answering the question ”why” and having to dream up endless ways of keeping two little boys entertained during their waking hours. A truly wonderful experience but my goodness me are we both knackered! For all of you out there with very young children you have my sympathies! And now for something completely different.

A good friend of mine John Gillman has just written a paper, which notes the major shift, over recent years in the employment sector, most notably the increase in self-employment and small business start-ups.

Government figures suggest that half a million disabled people are self-employed, making up 15 per cent of all the employed disabled people. This compares with 13 per cent, or 3.2million, of non-disabled people in self-employment.

John suggests that the change in employment patterns has major implications for those who currently provide insurance and pension products to employers. These trends raise important questions for disabled people and for those who provide employee benefits. What kind of pension and insurance products do self employed disabled people need? Who will provide them? Should they be significantly different from those developed for non-disabled people? Who will provide the advice that disabled people need to ensure they have all the protection and benefits they need? Answers on a postcard please?

News Roundup

Labour leadership trio cause fury after late leap onto ILF bandwagon

Disabled activists have angrily dismissed the attempts of three Labour leadership contenders to win support by suddenly voicing opposition to the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

They are furious that Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall are now claiming that they oppose the closure, even though they repeatedly failed to support campaigners before the fund closed for good last month.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) both spoke out in the wake of Burnham’s sudden claim – in response to questions from Disability News Service (DNS) last week – that he was “against the cruel abolition of the Independent Living Fund”.

After reading the comments, DPAC released a YouTube video of Burnham being quizzed about the ILF closure by DPAC’s Linda Burnip at Labour’s spring conference in March.

In the clip, Burnham – the shadow health secretary – does not appear to be well-briefed on the issue, but promises to meet with DPAC and Inclusion London to discuss the closure. That meeting never took place.

DPAC said that Kendall – the shadow care services minister – also “kept cancelling meetings” that were arranged to discuss the closure.

Of the four leadership contenders, only Jeremy Corbyn – the surprise front-runner in the contest – has previously made clear his opposition to ILF closure.

He even co-sponsored an early day motion last December which supported the fight to save ILF. He told DNS last week that Labour should have opposed the closure.

This week, a spokesman for Burnham said: “Andy is clear that cuts to disability benefits will be a red line and he has opposed the abolition of the ILF.

“Before this leadership election, Andy was bound by collective responsibility and this policy was not within his remit as shadow health secretary.

“However, in that role he has fought social care funding cuts and is calling for a National Health and Care Service.”

When asked why Burnham had not kept his promise to meet disabled activists to discuss the ILF closure, his spokesman said: “Since he met campaigners at the Labour spring conference in March, he has been campaigning full time for the general election and now the party leadership.”

A spokeswoman for Cooper said: “Yvette has already said she thinks this is a mistake.”

When asked to provide further details of when she spoke out about the ILF closure and why she did not speak out sooner, Cooper’s spokeswoman said: “I don’t have a specific speech to give you but she has said this consistently since I started working for her two years ago.”

A spokeswoman for Kendall pointed to speeches in which she mentioned the impact of the ILF closure on disabled people’s independent living opportunities, in October 2013 and January 2014.

She added: “As the Independent Living Fund has now been abolished, as leader Liz will pursue an integrated health and social care system, properly funded, which will have support for independent living at its heart.”

But when asked to say whether Kendall had opposed closing ILF – in opposition to official Labour party policy – the spokeswoman failed to respond by 11am today (Friday).

Burnip was scathing about the comments of Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, calling them “utter bollocks”.

She said: “Since neither Burnham nor Cooper nor Kendall have shown any support in the long campaign waged to keep the ILF open, we find their sudden interest in the matter and supposed opposition to its closure somewhat of a surprise.

“We can only assume, however, that they have now reflected on our words when we told them that if they wanted disabled people’s votes in the general election they needed to support keeping the ILF open, and are now jumping on the leadership election bandwagon by suddenly finding this is something they have always secretly supported.”

Brian Hilton, an ILF-user and spokesman for GMCDP, added: “GMCDP appreciated the support of Jeremy Corbyn and the other Labour MPs who publicly and consistently spoke out about the closure of the ILF.

“It’s regrettable that Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall couldn’t have added their voice to those opposing the scrapping of the ILF whilst there was still time to save it.”

The fund helped nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently, but it closed for good on 30 June.

The Department for Work and Pensions will transfer nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced ILF funding through the Department for Communities and Local Government to councils in England, and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.

But the transition process has been littered with reports of delays in reassessments and cuts to individual care packages, as councils take full responsibility for funding the social care needs of former ILF-recipients.

The government has yet to say what funding will be passed to councils and devolved governments next year to support former ILF-users.
Disabled voters take pioneering legal action over election access

A disabled campaigner is one of five blind and visually-impaired people taking pioneering legal action against their local councils over the failure to make voting in elections accessible to them.

Graham Kirwan, who is visually-impaired, has been trying to persuade Dudley council for nine years to make the adjustments that would allow him to vote independently, and privately.

Now he is one of five sight-impaired people who have enlisted legal firm Leigh Day to take up their cases, following complaints they made through the disability charity RNIB about problems they encountered in the run-up to the general election on 7 May.

The five were either unable to vote in the election or had their right to a secret vote compromised.

Kirwan and the other claimants say their councils unlawfully discriminated against them under the Equality Act, and also breached the Human Rights Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and the Representation of the People Act.

Article 29 of the UNCRPD, on participation in political and public life, protects the right of disabled people to “vote by secret ballot in elections”, and aims to guarantee that “voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use”.

The Representation of the People Act requires polling stations to provide a large print version of the ballot paper for reference and a tactile voting device to enable electors with visual impairments to vote independently.

But Kirwan and others say the system does not work in practice because the large print text is often not big enough, and the tactile voting device is not fit for purpose.

Kirwan said Dudley council refused to send him his voting information via email, rather than in the post, and failed to provide CCTV magnification equipment at his polling station that would have allowed him to read information about the candidates, because the large print information available was not large enough for him to read.

Even if that had been available, he believes he would still have been forced to ask someone else to help him cast his vote because the tactile voting device does not always work correctly.

Council threats that he could be fined £5,000 if he failed to fill in its inaccessible forms had already helped cause severe depression and anxiety, for which he is still being treated.

Dealing with the council, he says, changed him from “a confident blind person to one who went into rages, always angry [and] became anxious, could not sleep and found it difficult to communicate with others”.

Kirwan, who represents Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living on accessible information issues, is now 55 years old, and has never been able to vote, because of his impairment.

He told Disability News Service (DNS): “When you vote, it is private. I am denied that right. If I go and try and take somebody with me, somebody else could vote differently on my behalf and I wouldn’t know.

“I have rights to independence, choice and control over my life. That is all I want.”

Kirwan added: “It is just like I am excluded. It caused me stress. I don’t have a say in the decision-making that everybody else takes for granted.”

He says he will not try to vote again unless he can do so electronically.

Although there has been legal action around physical barriers to voting, this is believed to be the first involving the inaccessibility of the voting process to blind and partially-sighted people.

Kate Egerton, a discrimination solicitor in Leigh Day’s human rights department, said: “Some of the five had problems registering to vote, some had problems with the postal vote, and some had problems in their polling stations on the day.

“From start-to-finish, the whole system is inaccessible.”

She said they would be asking the courts to force the local authorities involved to make the voting process accessible to blind and visually-impaired people, in time for next year’s local elections.

Phillip Tart, Dudley council’s strategic director for resources and transformation, said: “Ballot papers are printed in the format as specified by the legislation relevant to each individual election.

“All polling stations are provided with magnifiers and selector templates to aid partially-sighted people to vote independently, [and] electors with disabilities can also be assisted by a companion or the presiding officer.

“Whilst we would be happy to talk with Mr Kirwan to understand his particular issues, for reasons of data protection we are unable to comment further, and we are not aware of any legal proceedings against the council at this time.”

Earlier this month, another legal action taken by Kirwan over the right to accessible information led to NHS England publishing its first accessible information standard (AIS).

The agreement to publish the AIS came after Kirwan took the NHS to court over its failure to provide his health-related information in a format that was accessible to him, via email rather than by post.

DNS first reported on Kirwan’s complaint two years ago, after NHS England agreed to set up an advisory panel to draw up the new “information standard”, as a result of his legal case.

He said the result was “brilliant” and would make a “massive, massive, massive” difference to tens of thousands of disabled people with sensory and learning impairments.

It will mean that all organisations providing NHS or adult social care will have to produce information in a service-user’s preferred format by 31 July 2016, and provide them with communication support if they need it.

Kirwan said: “Many will receive accessible health information for the first time, and most importantly in private. It will save NHS a lot of money in missed appointments.”
Tanni says 10,000 signatures could finally transform wheelchair services

A disabled peer has appealed for more than 10,000 people to put their names to a new campaigning charter, in order to pressure health bosses and politicians into improving England’s much-criticised wheelchair services.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson posed for pictures outside parliament in a wheelbarrow this week to highlight how many disabled people are being provided with inadequate wheelchairs by the NHS.

The retired Paralympian and now crossbench peer was at the House of Lords with other members of the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance (WLA) – which was set up with NHS England funding – to launch a new Wheelchair Charter.

The charter asks service-users, wheelchair-providers, charities, NHS commissioners, healthcare professionals and members of the public to pledge their support for 10 key principles that the alliance believes could transform the service for the 1.2 million wheelchair-users in England.

But Baroness Grey-Thompson told Disability News Service that the alliance’s new Right Chair, Right Time, Right Now campaign needed the support of thousands of people in order to persuade MPs, ministers and England’s new clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to act.

She said: “We are asking people to write to their MPs and to their CCGs. If we could get half the CCGs to be discussing wheelchair services at board level, that would [lead to] an improvement in services.”

But she said the ideal outcome would be for health secretary Jeremy Hunt to agree to include strict standards for wheelchair services in the next NHS Mandate, the annual agreement that describes what the government expects from the NHS.

She said: “We can’t force NHS England to take up recommendations. We need enough evidence and support to get wheelchair services into the NHS mandate.

“At the moment, every area can operate their wheelchair services differently.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who chairs the alliance, now plans to seek backing from health teams across political parties.

Those who sign up to the charter pledge their commitment to principles including: regular reviews with the wheelchair-user; prescriptions which take into account “current and future needs”; the time from referral to wheelchair delivery to be within 18 weeks, with “further substantial improvements by 2016-17”; and “equality of access and provision for all, irrespective of age or postcode and including essential user skills training as standard”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “For too long, wheelchair services have been inadequate and it is time that wheelchair-users are listened to and provided a proper service, rather than being marginalised.

“The huge variation in quality of services across the UK is astounding, and means a huge proportion of wheelchair-users are left immobilised, frustrated and ignored.

“Now we want to get this issue on the radar of people who can influence change and also get them behind the campaign by urging them to pledge their support to the charter.”

Sir Bert Massie, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, who chairs the Community Equipment Code of Practice Scheme (CECOPS), said he feared the charter would not be strong enough to force improvement.

He said that what was needed was “a proper, centralised wheelchair service” with strict standards.

He said: “It’s a nice pledge list, set on the most basic level, but it does not impose standards, it does not guarantee a good service.”

He said there was nothing in the charter about the vital issue of funding, and improvements would not be possible without resources.

Sir Bert applied for a new wheelchair through his local wheelchair service in February, and will not receive it until October.

He said: “That is just a little bit faster than making a baby, which I suspect is more complicated.”

Liam Dwyer, a wheelchair-user who has previously been critical of NHS England’s wheelchair services improvement programme, said the charter was “something that every wheelchair user should want to see”, but he said that “if NHS England and the CCGs don’t get behind it we will have no change”.

Dwyer was one of the disabled people asked to attend the first of two NHS England wheelchair summits, in February 2014. The second summit, last November, led to the leadership alliance being set up.

He said: “We need hundreds of wheelchair users in front of Westminster if it doesn’t work this time. And I’d only give NHS England until October to give us their intentions.”

An NHS England spokesman said it supported the charter, but could not say whether CCGs would sign up to it.

Rosamond Roughton, NHS England’s director of commissioning operations, said: “NHS England absolutely shares the ambition of the [WLA] that wheelchair-users and their families should be supported to lead full, independent and active lives.

“For the first time ever we have set up a rigorous data collection mechanism, and our work to both pilot a tariff for wheelchairs and support commissioners will also help implementation of the charter locally.”

The new set of data will contain information on how many wheelchairs are provided, how much is being spent across the country, and service-users’ experience of wheelchair services.

Personal health budgets (PHBs) are now being rolled out across England, and NHS England also plans to encourage CCGs to explore the possible use of PHBs to obtain wheelchairs, in a bid to provide more choice and control over services.

And NHS England will support up to three areas to redesign and improve their wheelchair services, and then make that knowledge and evidence available to other areas.

The charter and campaign is only the latest in a series of efforts dating back 30 years to improve a service which struggles with lengthy waiting-lists and leaves many disabled people without the right wheelchairs.
Fresh evidence that ‘benefit scrounger rhetoric’ is causing hate crime

Fresh evidence that disabled people are being subjected to disability hate crimes as a result of so-called benefit scrounger rhetoric has emerged from a pioneering survey by a campaigner and author.

More one in six of those disabled people who described in detail in the survey how they had been verbally or physically assaulted (11 of 61) said their attackers had called them “scroungers”, told them to get off benefits, or accused them of being too lazy to work.

When asked about the motivation for the attacks, one disabled person said: “Most of the abuse is from strangers, who now think that everyone who is disabled is lying about being ill. Because this government are spreading so many lies, regarding us.”

Another respondent wrote: “Disability hostility, resentment as think I get money, that I don’t work or worth helping.

“Jealousy of adapted car, irritation as may be in their way on street, young people think it’s funny, therefore worth ridiculing me, some truly believe we are drain on society, should never be allowed to be born or live, others think easy target.”

Campaigning journalist and author Katharine Quarmby, who carried out the small, online survey of 100 people, said it was not clear whether such links between benefits and hate crime incidents had been happening before the coalition’s assault on disability benefits began in 2010.

But she said: “We can definitely say people are being attacked and called scroungers and we didn’t have that much evidence of it before.”

She said the government needed to “send a clear message to society that whether or not they are going to carry on with the benefits crackdown, you do not condone people attacking disabled people on the street”.

She said ministers needed to make it clear that cutting disability benefits did not show that disabled people were scroungers, and that they should realise that “now it looks as if that is having a marked effect on disabled people’s everyday lives, [they] have to do something about it and take responsibility”.

Quarmby set up the survey, on behalf of the user-led Disability Hate Crime Network, after becoming frustrated by the failure of the government to carry out a promise to analyse the motivation of people who carry out disability hate crimes, a recommendation made in a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission four years ago.

She said another key finding from the survey was the high proportion of women who were involved in attacks, and that nearly half of incidents (49 per cent) involved more than one attacker.

Many of the attacks (57 per cent) happened in the street, while others took place on public transport, at home, in schools, as well as in shops and pubs.

She said the survey provided “a bit of an insight into the minds of perpetrators”, but that there was a clear need for more research in this area.

She said: “We need to know more about offenders, because we just don’t know enough about them yet.

“We are just going to keep going round in circles if we don’t have a prevention strategy.”

As well as her voluntary role as one of the coordinators of the network, Quarmby is the author of the ground-breaking book Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People, which investigates disability hate crime.

She is now hoping that her new research can be expanded, with a more detailed, academic survey of disabled people, looking at both perpetrators and survivors of disability hate crime.
Equality watchdog trio face tough questions from peers over Equality Act

The equality watchdog has been forced by a committee of peers to defend its performance on ensuring that disabled people are protected by the Equality Act.

Three senior figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) were giving evidence to the committee set up by the House of Lords to examine the impact of Labour’s Equality Act 2010 on disabled people.

But they faced tough questioning on concerns that the commission had failed to ensure the act was being enforced properly, and to tell disabled people what action it was taking on their behalf.

Baroness O’Neill, the commission’s chair, insisted that its budget was “adequate to fulfill our functions” but that it now needed to look “very carefully at the most effective and affordable ways of intervening in particular cases”.

She said the commission now does more “partnership working”, encouraging other organisations to “pay better and closer attention to their legal responsibilities”.

Last year, of the 41 legal cases it took, 19 were disability-related, she said.

But Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a former commissioner with both the Disability Rights Commission and the EHRC, was critical of the EHRC’s apparent failure to publicise its strategy for enforcing the Equality Act on its website.

She asked Baroness O’Neill: “What strategy do you employ to ensure that the disability provisions of the act are fully enforced and how do you choose the [legal] cases you intervene in and how do you monitor the effectiveness of your approach?

“How well do you think it is working and why don’t we know about it?”

Baroness O’Neill said that the commission was a “strategic regulator” and it was the courts’ job to enforce the Equality Act.

She said: “The tools we have are not the tools of enforcement. We have a strategic litigation policy, which is crucial for decisions about where and how we support cases.

“Naturally, given the budget as it really is there is no question of being able to support every single case that comes up.”

The Conservative peer Lord [Chris] Holmes, the commission’s disability commissioner, said that no disability-related legal case was taken or not taken without consultation with the EHRC’s disability committee, which he chairs.

Lord Holmes said: “No matter how many people any commission had, be it an equality commission or a disability-specific commission, it is ultimately going to come down to the work that happens with our partners, with organisations that need to be on the hook for this.”

He said the commission needed to make “strategic interventions to change a sector or a system or a piece of our society”, and to be “resourceful as well as resource-rich”.

But Baroness Campbell said the Disability Rights Commission had also worked with partners and had been an “empowering organisation”.

She said: “What we are trying to get to the bottom of is why so many disabled people are saying to us, ‘We don’t know what the EHRC are doing. We used to have a dynamic relationship with the predecessor body, we understand they don’t have as many resources and can’t do as many things [as the DRC], but quite frankly we don’t have a feel for what they are doing for us.’

“How do you think that we can re-engage that dynamic approach rather than what seems to be a highly strategic, intangible approach?”

Lord Holmes said he agreed with Baroness Campbell, and said that since taking over as disability commissioner, and recruiting a new disability committee, he had been working on increasing engagement with stakeholders.

He said the new disability committee was “a very high calibre group of people”, but “only came on stream fully in February”.

As part of the committee’s new engagement strategy, it is holding meetings each year in Scotland, Wales and in one of the English regions, whereas previously they were all held in London.

Lord Holmes said: “It is absolutely critical that we do re-engage and I take your point entirely that the voices of organisations, disabled people’s user-led organisations, individual disabled people, we need that intel and I am very committed to that level of engagement.”

He said the first regional meeting was held in Cardiff in May, with another due in Manchester next week, in which the committee will engage with the local council, disabled people’s organisations and other bodies.
Premier League giants face Lords anger over ‘shambolic’ progress on access

A disabled peer is to write to broadcasters and sponsors of football’s Premier League to suggest they should withdraw their support if clubs do not do more to improve access for disabled fans.

Lord [Chris] Holmes, a retired Paralympian and now disability commissioner with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that sponsors should “consider their connection and relationship to football and how that fits with their ethical state” if clubs do not make progress on access.

The Conservative peer was speaking as the House of Lords debated the second reading of a private member’s bill sponsored by the Labour peer Lord Faulkner.

His accessible sports grounds bill would give local authorities the power to refuse a safety certificate to sports grounds which do not comply with accessible stadia guidelines.

One of the reasons for the bill, Lord Faulkner told fellow peers, is that disabled fans do not feel comfortable taking legal action under the Equality Act against their own football club.

Lord Holmes described how disabled fans at Liverpool had received death threats from other supporters when they complained that they couldn’t see the action on the pitch, and how – asreported by Disability News Service last month – an Arsenal supporter in his 80s had his walking stick taken away by Manchester United stewards.

Lord Holmes said the Premier League’s own handbook, which all clubs have to follow, contains pages of provisions that they have to make for broadcasters and other media, but just one line on disability access.

He said: “I believe that what we see is nothing short of shambolic. Feeble excuses begone! They have been used for far too long.

“The Premier League has been in existence for more than 20 years and we do not have even minimal access for disabled fans.

“Yet when it comes to new cameras and media positions the changes are made in a trice.”

Another disabled peer and retired Paralympian, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, described how Manchester United had described her views on the club’s access failings as “uninformed”, despite her attendance at six Olympic Games, seven Paralympics and 11 World Championships, as well as European championships, Commonwealth Games, and other events at venues with far more than Old Trafford’s 75,000 seats.

She said she was persuaded of the need for legislation when she heard how United had told a family with a disabled son “that they should perhaps go and support a smaller club like Stockport, which might be able to accommodate them”.

She said: “Those clubs do not deserve those fans, and that is why we should support this legislation.”

A third disabled peer, Baroness Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, spoke of her experience at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

She was unable to sit with other trustees of UNICEF UK at the opening ceremony because there were no spaces for wheelchair-users in the VIP seats.

Baroness Brinton welcomed new regulations by European football’s governing body UEFA which mean that each club will have to appoint a disability access official.

But she said there had been “disturbing reports” from some of the big Premier League clubs mentioned in the debate that disability access officers “sometimes prevent disabled supporters from getting tickets because they have ‘caused trouble’ in the past” about access arrangements.

Lord Faulkner, who is vice-president of Level Playing Field (LPF), the user-led organisation that works to improve access to sporting venues, said disabled away supporters at 55 of the 92 clubs in England’s top four football leagues are forced to sit with home fans.

He said: “Disabled fans are often asked to hide their team colours and to refrain from celebrating goals. It can be an intimidating and hostile experience.

“They have been verbally abused and threatened, and some have had coins, cigarette lighters, urine and other items thrown at them.”

Another Labour peer, Lord Rosser, also a vice-president of LPF, pointed out that only two Premier League clubs allowed online ticket purchases for disabled supporters.

He said the estimated cost of meeting football’s own minimum standards on access at every Premier League club was less than £8.5 million, and to make the same improvements “to the very highest standards”, with wheelchair-user spaces in the upper tiers of stands and across the stadia, would cost less than £25 million.

The annual wage bill for players at all 20 Premier League clubs in 2013 was £1.85 billion.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the junior culture, media and sport minister, said the government did not back the new bill because sports stadia already had to make reasonable adjustments for disabled fans under the Equality Act.

But she made it clear that equality legislation applied to older stadia and not just newer grounds.

She said the government would be consulting soon on its new sports strategy, which will include a section on access, and “will be asking how to tackle this issue, not just from a narrow safety perspective, as the bill does, but more broadly”.

She said: “We need to do consultative work before considering whether legislation or indeed other measures are necessary, but I am sure that today’s debate will be an important input into this very important process.”

Lord Faulkner replied: “Disabled people do not need yet another period of consultation on what they need when they attend sports grounds.

“Rather, the consultation that has gone on almost without cessation over the last 20 years needs to be taken into account, and action needs to be taken now.”
Campaigners dismiss ‘yet another’ mental health deaths review

Human rights campaigners have criticised plans for an inquiry that will examine lessons from the deaths of people in mental distress in police custody, because they say the government already knows what action it needs to take.

The call came from Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK), which has repeatedly raised concerns about the number of mental health service-users from the UK’s African-Caribbean community who have died in police custody, and has particularly criticised the dangerous and often fatal use of restraint on people with mental illness.

The independent review of deaths and serious incidents in custody was announced in a speech in south London today (Thursday) by home secretary Theresa May.

It will examine procedures and processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents in police custody, including the availability and effectiveness of mental healthcare facilities, the use of restraint and the training of officers.

It will also “identify areas for improvement and develop recommendations to ensure appropriate, humane institutional treatment when such incidents occur”.

But it will not reopen and reinvestigate past cases and will not “interfere” with ongoing inquests, investigations or Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) reviews.

Matilda MacAttram, BMH UK’s director, said: “What is another inquiry going to do? They know the problems already.

“The recommendations have been made in the hundreds. How many more recommendations do we need?”

She added: “There is a sense of inquiry fatigue among many in Britain’s black communities as we have seen a raft of inquiries with supposedly ‘hard hitting’ recommendations after almost every high-profile death of a black man in custody for the past 40 years – but nothing has changed.

“What we need to see is justice, and what that looks like is ending the practice of using lethal levels of force with no accountability – do we need another inquiry to tell us that?”

She said there were clear problems already identified within the criminal justice and mental health systems, such as police officers – often in riot gear – routinely entering psychiatric wards to restrain patients.

And she pointed to a string of inquiries into the use of restraint that have been carried out by the police, the Department of Health, and the IPCC.

She said the authorities had been “looking into it” for the last four decades, and that she would rather funding be spent providing community-based places of safety, crisis care or talking therapies.

MacAttram said: “The people at the top know how the system works. An inquiry is like kicking something into the long grass for 12 months.”

She said there were key measures the government could take instead of holding another inquiry.

One is to ensure that the £15 million funding announced before the election to provide new health-based places of safety – to ensure people in mental distress are not kept in police custody – should be ring-fenced, or given direct to charities to resource community-based places of safety.

MacAttram believes the new funding will otherwise disappear into the black hole of over-stretched local health budgets.

She said: “Right now every provider has a health-based place of safety, but they are not staffed.”

Another measure that could be taken is to outlaw the use of police officers on mental health wards, and instead to resource mental health services properly.

And every time police officers are called onto a mental health ward, there should be an investigation by the IPCC, she said.

Meanwhile, new IPCC figures show the number of deaths in or following police custody in England and Wales rose from 11 to 17 in 2014-15. Eight of the 17 people who died had mental health problems.

There were also 69 apparent suicides following police custody, a fall of just one on 2013-14, but an increase of 30 since 2011-12.

These figures – released on the same day as May’s speech – do not include deaths where police were called in to help medical staff to restrain individuals who were not under arrest.

IPCC chair Dame Anne Owers said that IPCC investigations into deaths in or following police custody “have too often exposed the same issues”, such as inadequate risk assessments; token checks on a person in custody; insufficient handovers between custody staff; and a failure to recognise or properly deal with people with mental health concerns.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Graham Bool tribute, Equality Act, Quango’s to go, Choice and Control

So another week done and the one just passed has been particularly sad for me as it included the funeral of one of my closest friends Graham Bool. Many of you have been kind enough to send me notes of condolence for which I am extremely grateful.

Graham and I first met at a special school in the 1950’s and continued our friendship until his untimely death on the 17th of September.

His working life started out as pretty average. Licking envelopes for the Ministry of Ag and Fisheries!! The whole direction changed when his passion for disability sport in particular wheelchair basketball, and photography led him to manage a photography shop in Piccadilly. Then after setting up his own business he began taking photos of disabled sporting events for Disability Now in 1990’s. He quickly established himself as the photographer of choice for dozens of business and sports clients. Graham was a big man; he had a big warm smile, a big moustache, a big handshake and a very big and generous heart. He was incredibly popular because of his ability to show a genuine interest in others. I will really miss him, I already am and I’m sure that those of you who knew him will also treasure the memory. He leaves behind two wonderful children Jessica and Roger.
Equality Act introduces new rights for disabled people

Major new laws to protect disabled people from discrimination come into force today (1 October), as part of the Equality Act.

The act – introduced and steered through parliament by the last Labour government – brings together nine separate pieces of existing legislation, but also includes a series of new rights for disabled people and other minority groups.

Much of the act has already been implemented, although the coalition government says other measures will be phased in over the next three years.

Among crucial measures introduced already are laws banning employers from using health questionnaires to discriminate against disabled job applicants – a move welcomed by disabled people’s organisations as a major step forward for disability rights.

Other measures which came into force on the 1st October will provide new protection from indirect disability discrimination, and should make it easier to prove that someone seeking protection under the act is a disabled person.

Theresa May, the home secretary and minister for women and equality, said the act would make it easier for businesses to comply with discrimination law by streamlining equality legislation, and would provide more protection for disabled people.

Other major improvements included in the act are likely to be introduced next year, including measures on accessible taxis and the provision of auxiliary aids for disabled pupils.

But disabled people’s organisations have raised major concerns about the coalition government’s plans for how public authorities should promote equality under the act.

In August, activists described draft regulations for these “specific duties” as an “enormous setback” in the battle for disability rights. Most of these duties are likely to come into force in April 2011.
DPTAC and ILF set to be thrown on quango bonfire

The coalition government looks set to scrap its advice body on accessible transport and the Independent Living Fund (ILF) as part of its programme of spending cuts, according to a leaked government document.

A leaked list of quangos set for abolition includes the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the ILF and the Disability Employment Advisory Committee (DEAC), as well as the Disability Living/Attendance Allowance Advisory Board.

But the list appears to confirm that the government will not scrap Equality 2025, its advisory network of disabled people.

The leaked document, published by the BBC, suggests DEAC’s functions could be transferred to Equality 2025, while DPTAC’s role could be “mainstreamed”, with its “remaining functions” transferred to other bodies.

The ILF looks likely to have its budget – currently £359 million a year – transferred to local authorities, although this is “awaiting a final decision”.

In June, the ILF – which is funded by the government and supports disabled people with high support needs to live independently – admitted it would only be able to fund 600 of the 1,000 new awards it had intended to make this year.

The leaked document also says that the future of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is “still to be decided”, although most equality campaigners believe it will not be scrapped but will have its budget cut.

The leaked list says the future of Remploy is also under review. The organisation employs about 3,000 disabled people in 54 sheltered factories, despite closing 29 factories as part of a modernisation programme.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said she feared the impact of the loss of the ILF would be “horrible”.

She said: “I am really, really concerned because we are talking about people with high support needs, and they have got to be met for you to have any chance of being able to participate in life as a citizen

“I really want to urge the government to draw breath and understand what things like the ILF do before reaching these decisions.”

Bott said indications from civil servants were that any funding saved by scrapping the ILF would only be provided by the government to local authorities for three or four years, and after that they would “just be expected to get on with it and fund people from existing resources”.

Alan Norton, a DPTAC member and chief executive of Assist UK, said it would be a “terrible mistake” if DPTAC was to be scrapped.

He said DPTAC – already set to be cut from 19 to just 10 members at the end of this year – was a “real success story” in which disabled people had “influenced change in the country”.

He added: “I really feel it is totally the wrong thing to do. It would put us backwards in many areas.”

Trevor Phillips, chair of the EHRC, told Disability News Service that he would be “a bit surprised” if the commission was scrapped, because “somebody has to do this job”.

But he added: “There is no issue about the idea that we need to do things differently. We are not afraid of change at all. [We have] no problem about somebody saying, ‘You could be better,’ because we think so.”

Marije Davidson, RADAR’s senior policy and parliamentary officer, said she had “concerns” about some of the bodies that could be scrapped, but what was important was how the government planned to replace the vital work they did.

She said there could be opportunities for third sector organisations to take on some of these roles.

And she said it was crucial that the government listened to disabled people when carrying out its equality impact assessment of its plans.

Sue Sharp, head of public policy and campaigns for Guide Dogs, said that scrapping DPTAC would be “a retrograde step”.

Sharp, who previously worked in the Department for Transport’s mobility and inclusion unit, said DPTAC provided a “unique” opportunity for both disabled people and industry to present their cases to government, and that it had a “long record of moving forward the agenda”.

She said this work would “not get done” if DPTAC was scrapped, with the responsibility for such work left to the third sector to fund itself.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The government has made it clear that it is committed to radically increasing accountability and improving efficiency.

“As part of this, work is already underway to make substantial reforms to its public bodies. This work is on-going and an announcement will be made in due course.

“We deeply regret any extra uncertainty for employees that this irresponsible leak has caused.”
Choice and control ‘fault lines’ are ‘true measure of inequality’

Serious “fault lines” are emerging in society between how disabled and non-disabled people are able to enjoy choice and control in their lives, a major report by the equality watchdog will reveal next week.

The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is set to show that inequalities in choice and control are “major issues”, particularly for disabled and older people.

Trevor Phillips, the EHRC’s chair, said the commission’s triennial review – which will be “the most complete map” yet of “non-economic inequalities” – would show why inequalities in “autonomy and choice” were “so important”.

The review, How Fair is Britain?, will be the first major study to bring together all the available evidence in this area, and the EHRC says it will “provide a unique insight into the current state of equality in Britain”.

The commission is required by law to report to parliament every three years on “how far Britain has come towards being a fair society – and how far we still have to go”.

Phillips told a fringe event at the Conservative conference in Birmingham that the “great object of policy must be to close the gaps in autonomy and choice”, which was “a difficult challenge”.

Phillips said he believed there should be “much more” measurement of the extent to which people have “control of how they live their lives” and “the feeling that I today have chosen what I could do”.

He added: “That is much more important than some of the ways we have measured equality so far.”

He said the EHRC’s first attempts at measuring inequality in choice and control were “inadequate” but better than anyone else has managed to date.

He said: “It is absolutely clear that this is a major issue for so many people in our society. I do think it is an area where we really have to apply our minds.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Equality Act, DLA, UN, House Building

Welcome! Amazing weather I’ve never eaten so many salads or barbecued food all very healthy of course. I should just warn you that the weather is about to change as we’ve purchased a small paddling pool for the grandchildren!!

I hope you enjoy, if that’s the right expression, this weeks news. I think it’s a little depressing personally.
Campaigners fear government will water down Equality Act

Campaigners fear that delays in bringing forward key elements of the Equality Act could mean the coalition government is planning to water down parts of the legislation.

The government announced this week that much of Labour’s act – which streamlines existing equality laws and provides new protection in some areas – would come into force this October, as planned.

This will include laws banning employers from using health questionnaires to discriminate against disabled job applicants; providing protection from indirect disability discrimination; and making it easier to prove that someone seeking protection under the act is a disabled person.

But the coalition government has yet to consult on the draft regulations that will describe the specific duties that public bodies such as councils and NHS trusts will have to meet as part of a new single equality duty.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) told Disability News Service this week that the public sector duty and the draft regulations were being considered as part of a review of laws passed by the previous government but not yet implemented.

A GEO spokeswoman said the government was “looking at how the rest of the act can be implemented in the best way for business”.

Earlier this week, Theresa May, the home secretary and minister for women and equalities, said: “A successful economy needs the full participation of all its citizens and we are committed to implementing the act in the best way for business.”

The duties have been a key area of concern for many campaigners. Only when the government publishes the draft regulations will disabled people know how far the government wants public bodies to go in promoting disability equality.

Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said she was concerned about the government’s delay in publishing the draft regulations, and feared that this might signal a weakening of the specific duties.

She highlighted concerns that the government’s comments about business might mean it is planning to water down Labour’s plans for specific duties on procurement.

The procurement duties could force public bodies to consider disability and other equality factors in the £125 billion a year they spend on buying goods and services from the private sector.
Government research finds DLA plays vital role

Disability living allowance (DLA) allows disabled people to maintain control and independence in their lives, and helps them avoid having to move into residential care, according to new government-funded research.

The Impact of Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance report, published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), says there is “a wide range of ways” in which DLA and AA enable disabled and older people to pay for the services and goods they need.

The report’s authors – who carried out face-to-face interviews with 45 recipients of DLA and attendance allowance (AA) – say that working-age recipients were “unanimous in expressing views that DLA made a big difference to them”.

Their report concludes that “while DLA or AA often does not go directly towards paying for personal care, the benefits have a key role in reducing potential demand for formal services”, and help people avoid residential care and in “maintaining or avoiding deterioration in health”.

The findings are likely to be seized upon by disabled campaigners fighting government plans to slash the disability benefits bill, with both the chancellor, George Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, highlighting the cost of the DLA budget in recent weeks.

The report says disabled people use DLA and AA to manage their lives “by being able to afford market prices for housework, laundry, garden maintenance, odd jobs and taxi rides; by buying frozen meals or buying hot meals outside the home; by relying on frequent use of telephones, and by running private vehicles”.

The disabled people who were interviewed said DLA and AA provided a safety net, helped them manage their debts, and allowed them to work, to live at home and to be part of society.

A second piece of research for the DWP reports on the possible reasons for the low number of DLA claimants in work.

The Disability Living Allowance and Work report concludes that DLA recipients are, on average, “more severely disabled than other disabled people, and that they suffer higher levels of disadvantage and lower employment rates as a result”.

But it also says that DLA claimants are “significantly less likely to have a job” than other disabled people facing similar employment barriers.

The report says this could be because receiving DLA “will reduce the financial incentive to take up employment”, that taking a job could put their benefits at risk, and because there is a “widespread perception” that DLA provides compensation for those unable to work because of their impairment.

But the report also says that DLA can help people remain in work, and it calls for more support to help those recently disabled to keep their jobs.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said there was a “perverse incentive” for people claiming DLA not to work because of the risk of a DWP spot check on their eligibility if they take a job.

He added: “Actually, if you are going to go into work you are more likely to need support with travel, work clothes and more personal assistance.”

DA is about to begin new research into how DLA is spent, whether it meets people’s needs, how well it supports them to work and whether it “does the job it was intended to do”.

He said: “We are not saying DLA is perfect. We acknowledge there are issues within DLA that we would like to see addressed.”

But he said the government’s plans were about cutting the number of people receiving DLA by 20 per cent, rather than addressing the problems with how DLA works.
Leap in ESA appeals ‘exposes flaws in system’

The number of disabled people appealing against a decision to refuse their claim for the new out-of-work disability benefit has rocketed over the last year.

New figures released by the Tribunals Service show that in the first quarter of 2009-10 there were about 10,000 employment and support allowance (ESA) appeals.

By the second quarter of the year, this had leaped to 29,000, with a further steep increase to 41,000 in the third quarter, and up again to more than 46,000 in the first three months of 2010.

The figures also show that nearly two-fifths of ESA appeals that were completed at a hearing last year were successful.

ESA replaced incapacity benefit for new claimants in October 2008, with those claiming the benefit being subjected to the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).

So far, 69 per cent of those who complete the assessment have been found “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, far higher than the Labour government’s prediction of 49 per cent.

In March, a report by Citizens Advice said “high numbers” of “seriously ill and disabled people” had been found “fit for work” after taking the assessment.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said the number of appeals had increased because ESA was a new benefit and there were long “time lapses” in the application process, including a 13-week assessment phase and the length of time Jobcentre Plus has to submit an appeal to the Tribunals Service.

She said that, although ESA started in October 2008, there were not significant numbers of appeals until March 2010, while appeals were “now in a relatively steady state”.

But Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the change to ESA “has not been communicated well”, so many people were appealing because they did not understand why their claim had been turned down.

This has added to the problems with the WCA, which was “not doing the job it was intended to do” and was “undermining the changes to the welfare reform system”.

He added: “There really is an imperative to get the assessment right first time and ensure communication is done well, so we avoid unnecessary expenditure [on appeals] at a time when all government departments are being squeezed so significantly.”
Campaigners fear government could bow to building lobby

Campaigners fear the government could bow to pressure from the house-building lobby and delay the implementation of compulsory accessibility and adaptability standards for all new homes.

The Foundation for Lifetime Homes and Neighbourhoods – the accessible housing provider Habinteg, RADAR, Age UK and the Town and Country Planning Association – spoke out as it launched a new version of its Lifetime Homes Standard following a consultation.

The standard is a set of 16 design criteria – key features that should be included in the design of accessible and adaptable housing.

The foundation said it was vital that all new homes were designed according to the Lifetime Homes Standard, with 300,000 disabled and older people living in unsuitable housing.

The Labour government had agreed that all public sector housing in England would be built to the Lifetime Homes Standard from 2011 (it is already a requirement in Wales and Northern Ireland), with a target of 2013 for all private sector homes.

But it backed away from this commitment in last December’s pre-budget report, saying it wanted “a proportionate approach” and that any move to make the standard mandatory for all new homes would not be until 2013 “at the earliest”.

Labour’s review of Lifetime Homes policy is continuing under the new coalition government.

Andy Shipley, the foundation’s Lifetime Homes coordinator, said: “The government has committed to continuing the review but it is still unclear which way they are going to go with it and how committed they are to seeing Lifetime Homes as the way forward.”

And he warned that even the target for Lifetime Homes to be mandatory for all public sector homes by 2011 was now not guaranteed.

He said there was “considerable concern” that the government would bow to demands from housing developers for a “lighter regulatory touch” because of the state of the economy.

No-one from the Communities and Local Government department was available to comment.

The disabled peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, a patron of the foundation, has called on the government to consider “the range of social, health, welfare and economic savings” made by adopting the Lifetime Homes Standard.

During a Lords debate on affordable housing, she added: “In developing their social care policy, will the government include the benefits of the universal adoption of the Lifetime Homes Standard as an efficient way to support care delivery in the home?”

Baroness Hanham, the junior communities and local government minister, said that the Lifetime Homes Standard “remains an aspiration that should be met, even if not for every single home”.
Disabled campaigner nominated for UN role

A leading disabled campaigner has been nominated by the UK government to join the worldwide body that monitors how countries are implementing the UN disability convention.

Diane Mulligan was put forward by Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, as the UK candidate to join the UN expert committee on the rights of disabled people.

If she is elected in 2012, she will become one of the 12 human rights experts who monitor how the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is being implemented around the world.

Mulligan is a long-standing member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) disability committee, and leads its work on the UN convention, representing it in Europe and at the UN.

She was also appointed this year to the government’s network of disability equality advisers, Equality 2025, and in January was recognised with an OBE for nearly 20 years’ work with disabled people in developing countries and in the UK.

Mulligan is a former director of the charity VSO in Indonesia, set up the Sussex Amputee Support Group, and is an advisor on disability and social inclusion for the development charity Sightsavers.

Mike Smith, chair of the EHRC’s disability committee, said: “It’s a huge credit to the work that Diane has done on disabled people’s rights that she is being put forward by the minister as a candidate for the UN committee for 2012.

“She’ll be up against candidates from around the world who are also leaders in this field.”

He said the EHRC, Foreign Office, Office for Disability Issues, disabled people’s organisations and others would support her through the selection process.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com