Motability Scheme under threat

As you may be aware, The Daily Mail (5th February and 18th February) published articles accusing Motability of “hoarding £2.4 billion and paying its boss £1.7 million” here’s a link to the article http://dailym.ai/2Cp2jUF and http://dailym.ai/2CpQbT2. Both Motability and Motability Operations have now published letters setting out clarifications of some of the accusations made in the debate, and these are on their websites http://bit.ly/2HBmYZv
 
Following this coverage, a parliamentary select committee initiated by Esther McVey, formerly the Minister for Disabled People and now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is to undertake an “investigation”.  Frank Field MP will chair the committee.
 

I’d like to spend a moment or two remembering the Motability journey if you’ll pardon the pun. I remember the days of the infamous three-wheeled invalid carriage and the feeling of being treated like a second-class citizen regarding personal transport, travel and independence.  Buses, trains and taxis were mostly inaccessible, and many severely disabled people relied on the goodwill of others to get around.

Picture of a Tippen Delta 2 invalid carriage
Tippen Delta 2 1962
 
The Motability Scheme began back in 1977, and it made a difference, but for a long time, it wasn’t great. Back then it felt like the staff were doing you a favour by allowing you to lease a car, rather than recognising that you chose to hand over your Mobility allowance to get it. The Scheme was bureaucratic and complicated, if, for example, you scratched your car while loading your wheelchair, you were penalised. It seemed back then that the focus was on the car rather than the disabled person.
 
Since his appointment over ten years ago, the current CEO of Motability Operations, Mike Betts, and his team have entirely transformed the organisation, and as a result, the Scheme has seen a massive increase in its disabled customers. Motability Operations is now a commercial organisation with a real understanding of the needs of disabled people. It has a supportive infrastructure and an enlightened business model. This approach has resulted in a better deal for its 600,000 disabled customers, with excellent customer service that’s available to all. The Daily Mail has chosen to mislead and confuse these facts in its story quite deliberately.
 
I should declare an interest at this point. I have been a long-time supporter of the Motability Scheme, and I’m a satisfied customer.
 
It wouldn’t be overdramatic to say that some of these recent accusations amount to an attack on the Scheme, and the way it is run.  We need to ensure that everyone is made aware of the facts and that we demonstrate our support for the values of the Scheme, personal, choice, independence, control and outstanding customer service.

What price independence?

Those of you who know me reasonably well will know that I’m a bit of a petrol head. I simply love driving! I know that’s not terribly cool theses days given the effects on the planet, but I blame my obsession on the fact that I’m a wheelchair user and as a result, I love the freedom that driving gives me.

In my time I’ve driven some pretty incredible motors. My journey started way back in the 1960’s with the appropriately named Tippen Delta 2 a three-wheeled invalid carriage supplied by the then Ministry of Health which preceded the Motability Scheme. I managed to overturn my aptly named “Tippen” on several occasions. These vehicles were primitive, unreliable and eventually banned from Britain’s roads in 2003 as they were deemed to be too dangerous! Those of us who survived this unique driving experience used to wonder whether this was a secret initiative designed to reduce the population of disabled drivers!

Picture of a Tippen Delta 2 invalid carriage
Tippen Delta 2 1962

After seven years of crashing around in invalid carriages, I bought my first “proper” car a used two-seater sports car the MG Midget; a Porsche-engined VW Beetle followed, then a Saab Aero. I ended this extravagant period of my life with a BMW 5 Series, a Mercedes E class estate and finally a Range Rover!

The invalid carriage was an ill-equipped, unreliable and dangerous vehicle but I loved it. I still remember the pleasure and excitement of being able to go out when I pleased; I could go where I wanted and most of all I had control and choice. The Range Rover provided all of the same benefits but with leather seats!

As I’ve got older and my physical abilities have waned I’ve moved from walking on crutches to using manual wheelchairs and now to powered wheelchairs. This physical deterioration has had a profound effect on what vehicles I am now able to drive. The observant among you will quickly realise that you can’t fit a large powered wheelchair into most saloon cars. My solution has been to use wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV) supplied via the Motability Scheme. So the wheel has turned full circle!

MG Midget Sports Car
MG Midget Sports Car

The Motability Scheme is a far cry from the old invalid carriage days and has provided complete driving solutions to hundreds of thousands of severely disabled people for years; incidentally, they celebrate their fortieth anniversary in May.  I’ve variously leased through the Scheme a Chrysler Voyager, a VW Transporter and currently a VW Caddy. All accomplished, reliable vehicles but not quite BMWs although the costs including adaptations are not that different.

For many severely disabled people, their only real option for independent travel is the Motability Scheme, but the government’s recent changes to the benefits system are having a profound negative effect. Since 2013 51,000 people have had to return their Motability vehicles because they failed to satisfy the new criteria used to qualify for higher rate personal independent payments (PIP). It is estimated that the final figure will be closer to 150,000 returned vehicles. What lies behind these numbers are individual human stories. Disabled people are potentially losing their jobs because they can’t get to work, being prevented from seeing family and friends, stopped from going on holiday, reliant on others for medical appointments, shopping and leisure pursuits.

The Motability Scheme plays a vital role in ensuring that disabled people can live independently. For many of those who use the Scheme, it is the only way they can afford to lease an appropriate vehicle for their level of impairment. The draconian measures being used to reduce the benefits bill are having a devastating and disproportionate impact on the lives of many disabled people, for those who rely on PIP in order to fund their personal transport, the future looks very bleak indeed.

It’s one thing to have less money to spend, most of us have been through that,  it’s quite another to also lose your ability to live independently.

 

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

Planes and Boats and the search for winter sun

I’ve just returned from a lovely break in the Carribean. Winter in the UK or somewhere nice and warm? Not a difficult decision! Two weeks cruising on a luxury liner being spoilt rotten sounds like a good idea. Well like everything there is another side.

First you have to get to the Carribean. This usually involves a long haul flight of around eight hours on an aircraft that lacks accessible toilets. One of the fundamental rules of flying long distances is to drink plenty of water. Not advisable if you can’t visit the bathroom. Our flight out to Barbados was nine and half hour long, the seats lacked and any form of adjustment and were extremely uncomfortable. Once we landed I had to wait an hour to be off-loaded from the plane. We were then taken straight to the ship, bypassing customs and the airport terminal toilets; the journey lasted another forty-five minutes. Embarkation took around half an hour, so I went eleven and three quarter hours without using the loo! Much self-control and crossing of legs is the name of the game

Cruise liners are brilliant from an access point of view, and P&O’s ship the Azura is no exception. She has spacious wheelchair accessible cabins with roll in showers,  lift access to all decks, swimming pool hoists making swimming possible for the most severely disabled passenger.

Picture of cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic
Cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic

The trouble begins when you go ashore. Our ship was able to berth in all the places we visited, so there was no need to use tender boats. To appreciate the Caribbean islands you need to venture inland, unfortunately, very few tour buses are wheelchair accessible. The result is that mobility impaired people are forced to stay close to the port to while away their time in endless identical shopping malls. P & O do provide a list of available tours but on our cruise, the accessible buses that were available only had one wheelchair space. I saw, at least, a dozen wheelchair users so this provision was wholly inadequate. In one location they had provided a shuttle bus to get passengers from the ship to the town. Unfortunately, those people using wheelchairs, but who could walk a little, were refused access because there was nowhere to store the wheelchair. It seemed a little ironic that the very people the shuttle was designed to help were excluded from using it.

I do understand some of the places we visited do not have the resources to provide the kind of accessibility we have come to expect in the UK but what I find puzzling is why P & O won’t do more to cater for the increasing number of mobility impaired passengers. The last straw was we

Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours
Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours

left the ship in St Maarten to see a kiosk a hundred yards from the port entrance advertising wheelchair accessible tours.

Many disabled people find cruising one of the best ways of taking a holiday, it is possible to see places that you might not otherwise be able to visit. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences so please send me your comments and I will do my best to see they are passed on.

To end on a more positive note the sun shone beautifully, my tan has improved, my waistline has expanded as a result of the food being plentiful and excellent, and we met some fascinating people.

Here are some links to this week’s other news. I hope you find them of interest.

Government agrees four more years of ILF transition cash for councils

Maximus ‘has falsified results of fitness for work tests’, says MP

Anger at Osborne’s working-age benefits freeze

Police duo jailed over failure to protect disabled murder victim

News provided by John Pring at

www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

Work Choice, NCIL votes Yes, Human Rights Fears, Welsh Railway Station Access, Miller Savaged

Another interesting week like so many others of course. You’ll be delighted to hear that I’ve finally shaken off man flu. As you know it is awful and the only treatment is complete unquestioning sympathy from everyone dealing with the sufferer!!

Perhaps more important has been the initial responses to the government’s proposed spending cuts. Many disability organisations are really concerned about the impact on their stakeholders and the current media attention, which seems to focus on two main issues. First cutting benefits is about fairness! Disabled people claiming housing benefit should have it reduced because non-disabled people can’t afford £20,000 a year rent on their salaries and that’s not fair. All that is required is for non-disabled people to acquire MS, Cancer or Parkinson’s disease and they might then qualify for the reduced housing benefit!! Second everyone claiming incapacity benefit is clearly work shy or a malingerer and need to be reassessed in order to get them back into work. What is interesting here is that people tend to become disabled while working so what is being done to help employers retain staff? Perhaps an employee and employer should be assessed together to see what adjustments are required to keep people off benefits. Rant over I hope you enjoy this weeks selection of news items.
Government admits Work Choice numbers ‘are lower’

The government has admitted that its new work programme, aimed at providing intensive support for those facing the highest employment barriers, will help far fewer disabled people than it previously suggested.

Launching Work Choice this week, the government said the voluntary programme would support 23,000 “severely disabled” people every year.

But in a written answer to Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said the government expected “around 79,000 people” to have access to Work Choice by 2015.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman admitted that “many customers” would be on the scheme for more than a year and so only an estimated 79,000 people would be helped, an annual average of less than 16,000 over five years.

On the day the government launched the scheme, Miller told a joint meeting of disability-related all party parliamentary groups that Work Choice would “deliver far simpler and far more effective support for severely disabled people”.

She said the programme would provide “pre-employment support for disabled people so they can get the best jobs they can do and post-employment support so they don’t just fall out of the job when things get a bit tough”.

Miller said the government wanted to give more than one million disabled people the support they needed to get off benefits and into work, through Work Choice and the new Work Programme.

But a series of speakers questioned where the government would find these jobs.

The disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson cast huge doubt on where the jobs would come from, because of the “underlying discrimination against disabled people trying to get into work”.

She said she knew of disabled people who were applying for 50 or 60 jobs and were “being turned away for a whole host of really bizarre reasons”, when “the real reason was that they are disabled”.

She said it was “really painful that these people are being targeted as scroungers when they absolutely, genuinely want to be in work”.

Tom Clarke MP, who chairs the all party parliamentary group on learning disability, told the minister that the jobs “just aren’t there” and for people with learning difficulties “that becomes an even bigger problem”, particularly because of the lack of advocacy.

Nigel Meager, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, also cast doubt on the government’s plans.

He said: “If the Labour government couldn’t achieve a significant reduction in the number of people on these benefits when the economy was booming, then the new government’s approach…may have to run very, very hard just to stand still.”
NCIL members vote for merger to ‘keep independent living alive’

The National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) has taken a large step towards a merger with two other leading disability organisations, after members were warned it was unlikely to survive on its own.

Despite several concerns raised by disabled activists at NCIL’s annual general meeting (agm) in London, none of its member organisations voted against plans to move towards a merger with RADAR and Disability Alliance (DA), with possible unification next summer.

In NCIL’s annual review, its chair, Mike Smith, said the decision to aim to merge next year was mainly taken because “the present political and financial situation pose serious threats both to disabled people’s rights and to the financial position of our three organisations”.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, an NCIL board member and one of its co-founders, gave an emotional speech at the agm in which she warned: “Quite frankly, I believe if we do not do it, within six months there will be no NCIL.”

She said NCIL’s campaigning was “the reason that many of us have direct payments in this room today”, but she believed NCIL would be “safe” with RADAR, which had gone through “a phenomenal change over the last few years” and “will support us to continue our work”.

John Evans, her fellow NCIL co-founder, said: “My heart and my gut and my independent living background say we shouldn’t do this…we need our identity, but I don’t see an alternative given the financial situation.”

But he added: “Independent living has to be at the heart of the organisation and it has to be in the name, without a doubt.”

Smith said: “It’s not about creating one organisation for disabled people. It’s about making sure independent living as a concept and as a movement has a future and has longevity.”

Sue Bott, NCIL’s director, said the move was “actually very, very positive” and would “give us a bigger voice”, and added: “It does give us a better chance to support our members because we can bring in the experts and knowledge of all three organisations.”

But Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), pointed out that UKDPC had put itself in “special measures” three years ago and was now “strengthened” and “growing”.

She warned of the danger of an organisation setting itself up to be the only voice of disabled people and of disagreements within a movement that has “already been driven apart by conflict over the last 15 years”.

She said UKDPC would “politely decline” an invitation to join the coalition but would “continue to support NCIL” – which was originally part of BCODP, the former name for UKDPC – and pledged to “work alongside you and the new organisation if that is the direction you go in”.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, whose members have already backed the merger plans, promised the agm that it would be a “partnership on an equal basis”.

But Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of the LGBT disabled people’s organisation Regard, said she believed an independent NCIL would fit the government’s “Big Society” plans better than a “big super-organisation”.

Earlier in the day, she had raised concerns that the merger could undermine the work of UKDPC, which is leading on work around the UN disability convention.

After the agm, Gosling said she believed the merger was “completely unnecessary”, and added: “I can see how it benefits RADAR but I can’t see how it benefits NCIL.”

But Sayce said the history of the disability movement showed how it had “come together and been united” at difficult times.

She said the new organisation would play a crucial role in influencing national policy, supporting local DPOs and influencing local decision-making in “very difficult circumstances”.
Human rights fears over detained patients

Hospitals could be breaching the human rights of mental health patients by keeping wards permanently locked and imposing blanket bans on mobile phones and internet access, according to a report by the care watchdog.

The concerns were raised in the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) first annual report on the use of the Mental Health Act (MHA), which focuses on how services are using their powers under the act to treat patients detained in hospital or subject to community treatment orders.

The report found 45,755 people had been detained in hospital for assessment or treatment – higher than ever before.

And it raises concerns about the excessive use of control, restraint and seclusion by hospitals.

Cynthia Bower, CQC’s chief executive, said: “We recognise the importance of ensuring people’s safety, but more hospitals are keeping psychiatric wards locked at all times, even though they often accommodate voluntary as well as detained patients.

“In some places there are blanket bans on mobile phones and internet access. These sorts of measures could compromise patients’ privacy or dignity, hold back their progress and even breach their human rights.”

CQC said it was also concerned about the number of patients certified as consenting to treatment, but who appeared to be refusing consent or to lack the capacity to do so. It called for “significant improvement” in this area.

And it said improving patient involvement in assessing their own needs and planning their care should be “a major priority for many services”.

The report also raises concerns about the use of Community Treatment Orders (CTOs), after it found 4,107 were used in 2009/10 – more than ten times the number predicted by the Department of Health before their introduction.

CTOs are aimed at people who do not comply with treatment, to avoid having to detain them in hospital, but campaigners warned during Labour’s battle to force through its Mental Health Act in 2007 that they could be overused.

The commission found 30 per cent of people on CTOs had no history of refusing to co-operate with their treatment, while black and minority ethnic groups appeared to be over-represented among those on CTOs.

Bower said CQC had found “too much poor and unacceptable practice” and would “use our powers to ensure that care providers address these issues and make real improvements”.

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of the mental health charity Rethink, said the report suggested professionals were “sometimes opting for the easier option instead of prioritising patients’ best interests”.

He added: “This could be breaking the law and breaching the human rights of people with mental illness. It is almost certainly causing distress and hampering recovery.”
Welsh station access is ‘unacceptable’, say assembly members

Access to railway stations in Wales is “unacceptable”, with more than half of the 221 stations across Wales not fully accessible, according to a new report by a committee of politicians.

The report by the Welsh assembly’s equality of opportunity committee said there were “significant shortcomings” in access, with a third of stations having no wheelchair access to platforms and 89 per cent of stations having no wheelchair-accessible toilets.

But the report fails to recommend a “full upgrading” of all stations, because it says the cost would be “prohibitively expensive”, and instead recommends a “process of prioritisation”.

The report also warns that there has been a failure by industry and government to reach a consensus on what level of accessibility to aim for.

Among the problems highlighted in the report are footbridge-only access to platforms, unreliable lifts, large gaps between trains and platforms, understaffing and a lack of clear audio-visual information.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission passed the committee examples of complaints it had received from disabled people, including a passenger told he could not travel by rail from Swansea to London unless he gave 12 hours’ notice to open the gate leading onto the station, and a wheelchair-user told he might not be able to travel from Pembrokeshire to Cardiff if the ramps were being used on another platform.

The Neath Port Talbot Disability Network told the committee that a wheelchair-user who wanted to travel into Port Talbot Station at 6pm on a Sunday evening would have to travel to either Neath or Bridgend and then use a taxi to get to Port Talbot.

And research by the MS Society found 83 per cent of all stations in Wales were unstaffed, with only six staffed 24-hours-a-day.

The Welsh Assembly Government does not have full control over the Welsh railway network, with stations owned by Network Rail and leased by Arriva Trains Wales, which also runs many of the train services, and much of railway policy controlled by the UK government’s Department for Transport.

But the report calls on Welsh ministers to use the powers they have to increase funding, and to lobby the UK government to prioritise access improvements when it sets targets for Network Rail for 2014-2018.

The report also calls for a greater involvement of disabled people in planning and monitoring access improvements, and more access information to be displayed in stations.

And the committee wants the Welsh government to encourage councils and other public bodies to work with the rail industry to encourage the take-up of disabled people’s railcards.
Miller savaged over cuts to disability benefits

Furious politicians and disability campaigners have attacked the minister for disabled people after she tried to justify the latest round of government cuts to disability benefits.

Activists, and MPs and peers from more than 10 disability-related all party parliamentary groups – including those on disability, learning disability and autism – were particularly angry about government plans to remove the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from council-funded residents of care homes.

Maria Miller MP claimed the move was a “tough decision” but was taken because the money to pay for people’s mobility was “duplicated” in the support provided by local councils through care and support packages, a claim greeted with disbelieving laughter by campaigners.

Lord [Brian] Rix, a crossbench peer and president of Mencap, drew loud applause when he told Miller: “I can’t tell you the anger I felt…at the removal of the mobility allowance.”

He said this would affect 60,000 people with learning difficulties who “rely on the mobility allowance” to get out of their care setting “to go anywhere”.

He added: “To say local authorities are going to help – local authorities are cutting back, charging for everything. It’s an impossible situation.”

Lord Rix also drew applause from the audience when he said that the government’s claim that everyone would suffer equally from the cuts “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever”.

And a representative of the disability organisation SeeAbility drew further loud applause later in the meeting when he pleaded with the minister to “think again” on cutting the mobility component.

He said the move was “the wrong choice” and that cutting it would make a small saving but would make a “huge difference” to disabled people’s ability to “do things that they will not be able to do if you withdraw that benefit”, such as accessing the community or visiting a loved one.

Miller appealed to those at the meeting to “look at the totality of the measures” the government had introduced around disability.

She said that by “simply picking on one element like that” people were “not really grasping what we are trying to do”.

She added: “We are offering more support than ever before to disabled people to get into work. You do need to look at those different issues side by side.”

But she promised: “We will absolutely make sure that we watch carefully how this is implemented but this is a tough spending review but it is not going to be without pain and I understand people’s concerns about this.”

Anne McGuire, the co-chair of the all party parliamentary group on disability and a former Labour minister for disabled people, who herself has a long-term health condition, said she was disturbed by the decision to impose a one-year time limit for those people who claim the “contributory” form of employment and support allowance and are in the “work-related activity group”.

She said they would be likely to be “distant from the labour market” and that “for some of these people a year will just not be sufficient to re-engage with the labour market”.

Miller said the government had “thought long and hard about how we can make the savings needed”.

And she claimed: “Even in the teeth of a massive challenge we have married a real appetite for reform with a determination to support those people who need our help.”

She added: “It is important that we look at the ways that different changes in the benefits system are introduced and that they do not deliver a disproportionate effect on particularly vulnerable groups of people.”

Miller was also asked by the disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins how the government would ensure that the £1 billion social care grant announced in the spending review – which was not ring-fenced – would actually be spent by councils on social care.

But disability campaigners laughed again when Miller said that “that is what our local authority elected representatives are there to do”, and that by freeing up local councils to make their own spending decisions the government would ensure disabled people secured the right support packages.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said she was concerned at the government’s plans to cut housing benefit by ten per cent for anyone who had been on jobseeker’s allowance for a year, in the light of continuing “employer prejudice”.

Miller said: “It is a point it is important to look at and make sure how that is going to impact on different groups of people.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disabled Volunteers, Equality Threat, Treasury Website under attack

First an apology last week several of you contacted me because my blog was returning a “browser limitation” message whatever that means. Suffice it to say the problem has been rectified so I hope this posting is ok for you. I’m just about to head up to Northumberland for a few days break. Regularly readers will no doubt recall the wheelchair debacle the last time I tried this and you can rest assured I’ll tell all on my return! So far the wheelchair is performing well after the repair but who knows what lies in store.

Finally I had several messages of condolence regarding my father in law’s sudden death. The cremation and service were extremely moving and all who attended were reminded of what a lovely man he was. We will all miss him but recognise that he left a wonderful legacy in the way that he supported and cared for his family. I live with one of them and am tremendously grateful to him.

I’ll be in touch on my return in the meantime I hope you find these news items of interest.
Disabled volunteers ‘will play key 2012 role’

Recruiting thousands of disabled people to volunteer for the London 2012 Paralympics will play a vital part in the success of the games, according to one of Britain’s greatest Paralympians.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals, was speaking as the capital prepared to mark two years until the opening ceremony on 29 August 2012.

She said it was vital that disabled people signed up, and suggested that she would like at least five to seven per cent of volunteers to be disabled people.

She said: “I think we would have done well if we can get that. [Disabled people] will be able to give that much more practical advice that you can’t teach in any training session.

“It’s quite hard to train somebody in what it is like to travel around London as a wheelchair-user.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who is vice-chair of the 2012 organising committee’s sports advisory group, said having thousands of disabled volunteers would also “help break down people’s attitudes to disability and impairment”.

She said she would hold her fellow disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell to her pledge to volunteer.

Another major challenge, she said, would be ensuring the stadia for Paralympics events were full, or at least “fullish”.

Chris Holmes, who won nine Paralympic gold medals and is now director of Paralympic integration for LOCOG, the 2012 organising committee, said the “greatest challenge” was to secure the same level of “excitement and engagement” as with the Olympics.

Holmes said that having so many elite Paralympic athletes in London would “phenomenally change people’s attitudes” and “ripple out” and improve education and employment opportunities for disabled people.

But both former athletes said there would need to be some realism about how far access to transport and services in London such as theatres, restaurants and hotels could be improved in time for 2012.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “I think it is still going to be a challenge. We are not going to make the whole of London accessible.

“It is how in games-time we can be as smart as possible in how people are advised to get around London.

“LOCOG can’t go round telling people to make their business wheelchair-accessible, but any smart businessman will make it happen.”

London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has announced that live coverage of the Paralympics will be screened in Trafalgar Square, which will also host performances – building on the annual Liberty disability arts festival – showcasing some of the best disability arts alongside mainstream arts groups.

For information on 2012 volunteering and tickets, visit:www.london2012.com
Government plans ‘make mockery’ of equality goal

New government plans for how public bodies should promote equality are an “enormous setback” in the battle for disability rights, according to horrified disabled people’s organisations and activists.

The Government Equalities Office consultation describes how public bodies such as councils, health trusts, police forces and government departments should eliminate discrimination and harassment and promote equality under the new Equality Act.

But campaigners have reacted with horror to the draft regulations, which describe the act’s “specific duties”, most of which will come into force in April 2011.

Under the government’s plans, councils and other public bodies would no longer have to set out how they plan to achieve their disability equality objectives.

They would merely have to publish at least one equality objective –which would not even need to be disability-related – with no duty to achieve it or explain how it would be achieved.

They would also have to publish statistics showing progress on equality issues, which the government claims will allow groups and individuals to “apply public pressure to drive a faster pace of change”.

The government also wants to scrap the legal duty for public bodies to consult with disabled people in advance about what action they plan on disability equality.

The Government Equalities Office said its new approach would “encourage public bodies to concentrate on achieving outcomes, rather than describing processes”.

But Caroline Gooding, an equality consultant and a former director with the Disability Rights Commission, said the draft duties were an “enormous setback” and would “put the brakes on the progress that we had begun to see”.

She has been examining research on the current disability equality duty – which will be replaced by the new laws – and has found that “time and time again it says the requirement to involve disabled people has been hugely productive in plans to promote equality”.

Instead of having to describe the actions they will take on equality, public bodies such as the Department of Health will now just be able to “pluck out of the air” a single equality objective.

Gooding added: “It will make it much harder for people working within public authorities to argue that effective action needs to be taken.”

Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the proposals “abandon the principle of mainstreaming equality” and “reduce to an absolute bare minimum the requirement of public authorities to take action to advance equality for disabled people”.

She said: “Authorities could take no more than one equality objective across all functions and all equality groups over a four-year period and then still take no action to achieve it.

“It makes a mockery of the idea of the goal of advancing equality for disabled people.”

RADAR said it was “extremely concerned” by the government’s plans. It said the existing specific duties had “empowered disabled people and disability groups to hold public bodies to account” and placed disabled people “at the heart of policy making and service development”.

Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, said: “We do not share the optimism of the coalition government that public sector professionals will do the right thing.

“Whilst some organisations will continue to build on the good work that they have been doing in the last few years, many others will fail to deliver disability equality without the steer that comes from the existing duties.”

The Scottish government and Welsh assembly government will issue their own consultations on the specific duties.

The consultation ends on 10 November. To take part, visit:www.equalities.gov.uk/news/specific_duties_consultation.aspx
EHRC asks government again for equality proof on cuts

The equality watchdog has asked the government for a second time to prove it is fulfilling its legal duty to consider the impact of spending cuts on disabled people, minority ethnic groups and women.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it could take legal action if the Treasury and other government departments fail to provide “robust evidence” that they have met their public sector equality duties on disability, race and gender.

If the government fails to comply with these duties, the EHRC has a range of powers, including a judicial review or formal inquiry, although the EHRC says such serious measures are “a long way away”.

The EHRC’s comments came as disability organisations denied reports that they were seeking their own judicial review.

A number of organisations, including Disability Alliance and Disability Law Service (DLS), had been considering a legal challenge, but both have now ruled out such a move.

Wonta Ansah-Twum, head of disability discrimination and employment for DLS, said: “We do believe the budget will have an adverse effect on disabled people and we do not believe there was a disability impact assessment.

“We wish we were in a position to mount a challenge, but because of limited resources we are not in a position to seek a judicial review because of its cost implications.”

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, added: “We would support a legal challenge but we don’t have the resources to do so.”

The EHRC said it was concerned about spending cuts announced in June’s emergency budget as well as any further cuts announced in October’s spending review.

The EHRC originally wrote to the Treasury and other government departments in June to ask for “reassurance” that they would comply with their legal duties.

Trevor Phillips, the EHRC chair, and Neil Kinghan, its director general, “re-registered” their concern at a meeting this week with Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury.

Phillips and Mike Smith, who chairs the EHRC’s disability committee, have also met with Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, to stress the importance of assessing the equality impact of spending decisions.

The EHRC said it wanted to ensure the government’s decisions were “evidence-based, fair and transparent”.

Kinghan said: “It is for the Treasury to demonstrate that it has complied with the legislation and assessed the impact of its decisions on vulnerable groups.

“If it cannot do so, then the commission will have to consider appropriate enforcement action.”

A Treasury spokesman said: “Departments consider the impact of the budget measures on gender, race and disability as they develop and implement the policies. This is in line with their legal obligations.”

Meanwhile, new research shows the impact of the economic crisis on disabled parents and parents of disabled children in Scotland.

A survey by the Parenting Across Scotland Partnership found 53 per cent of disabled parents and 64 per cent of parents with a disabled child found it more difficult to pay their bills than last year.
Website sparks wave of Motability hate comments

A flood of comments posted on a government website that call for the Motability car scheme to be scrapped or drastically cut back as a cost-cutting measure has left disabled campaigners bemused and angry.

The Treasury’s Spending Challenge website has received more than 44,000 suggestions from the public for how the government could save money, and is now asking people to rate which ideas they like best.

Many suggestions posted on the site focus on disability living allowance (DLA) and the Motability car scheme, and appear to show no understanding of the purpose of DLA or how the car scheme works.

One person who used the website called the scheme a “scam”, while another said it was a “waste of money and should be scrapped for all but the most essential users”, while a third said the scheme was “just a fiddle by at least 80 per cent of disabled people”.

Another complained that if disabled people can drive “they can afford to buy and run their own car and not sponge off the hard working taxpayers”.

Helen Smith, director of policy and campaigns for the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise, said she found it “really difficult to understand” the “bigoted and angry” comments that had been posted on the Treasury’s site.

She added: “I sincerely hope that the views of these people are not going to be taken seriously [by the government] because they obviously have no idea what they are talking about.

“A lot of people are using these cars to enable them to go to work and be tax-payers and take part in education and better themselves.”

Disabled activist Anne Novis said: “I am extremely disappointed that the Treasury has allowed these ideas on the website.

“They have allowed derogatory and offensive ideas to remain online to allow people to vote on.”

Disability News Service forwarded five examples of offensive public suggestions about the Motability scheme to the Treasury’s press office.

A Treasury spokesman said that three of them were “probably offensive” and so would be removed from the site.

He denied that the Treasury was breaching its public sector duty to promote disability equality and eliminate harassment by asking the public to vote on disablist and offensive suggestions.

He said: “The Spending Challenge website sought to encourage open debate but we were always clear that offensive ideas were not welcome.

“As the website makes clear, if anyone sees anything that they think is offensive or inappropriate, they should flag the content immediately and it will be removed asap if it does not comply with our moderation policy.”

A Motability spokeswoman said: “Having access to a safe and reliable vehicle gives disabled people the freedom and independence to play an active part in society.

“It allows them to pursue educational and employment opportunities and hobbies, as well as doing day to day chores and attending medical appointments.”

But she declined to comment when asked for the charity’s views about the comments posted on the website.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.co

New Legislation, Routemasters, Accessible stations

So here we are refreshed by another short bank holiday which I hope you enjoyed. As you all know there has been an incredible flurry of activity coming out of the new government and we have already lost one senior figure! I’ve tried to provide some interesting insights into the government’s proposed legislative programme and I hope this is useful. Some interesting information around London’s buses and access to stations.

Just to let you know that I will be on holiday from 8th of June for two weeks one week of which is to be spent on a fully accessible narrow-boat. I will certainly let you know just how accessible it was when I return! So there will be no blog for a couple of weeks.
Triple alarm bells ringing over welfare reform

Campaigners have warned of a “triple-jeopardy” facing disabled people, after the government launched its plans for welfare reform.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary, pledged to fight poverty, simplify the benefits system and improve incentives to work.

Announcing his determination to “build a fairer society” and stressing his “personal commitment to equal opportunities for all”, he confirmed that the government would press ahead with plans to put all those currently claiming old-style incapacity benefit (IB) through the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) in order to test their “readiness for work”.

Duncan Smith said those people found “immediately capable of work” would be moved on to jobseeker’s allowance, which is paid at a lower rate than IB.

He also confirmed that the government would move towards a single welfare-to-work programme, scrapping Labour’s jobs programmes such as Pathways to Work, which aims to find work for disabled people.

He will also chair a new committee on social justice, which will include fellow Cabinet ministers across government.

But Disability Alliance, the disability poverty charity, said the government’s plans had “sparked widespread fear” among disabled people and their organisations.

It said the WCA – introduced for new claimants of out-of-work disability benefits in 2008 – had proved to be “seriously flawed”, with an “incredibly high” number of appeals against decisions, and nearly two-fifths of appeals successful.

This week, Citizens Advice Scotland released a report that concluded that the WCA was “seriously flawed” and was “heaping unnecessary misery” on thousands of disabled people. It called for a major overhaul of the system.

DA also said it was unclear how a single work programme would meet disabled people’s needs and that a “‘one size fits all” approach does not always work for disabled people and may mean “additional barriers to work”.

It was also concerned that government plans to cut access to tax credits could contribute to higher poverty for disabled people in work, while a planned review of employment and workplace laws could lead to “a watering down” of employers’ obligations to level the playing field at work for disabled people.

Vanessa Stanislas, DA’s chief executive, said: “The commitment to improving the living standards of people living in unacceptable poverty is welcome, but much of the impact of the new government’s welfare proposals will be hardest felt by disabled people who already face multiple disadvantage.

“Disabled people now face the triple-jeopardy of inappropriate and inaccurate assessments of work ability; cuts to programmes to help find work; and reduced support in work, which may leave many more families at risk of poverty.”

The mental health charity Mind also raised serious concerns about the government’s reforms.

Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, said the WCA was “not up to the job of measuring whether people with mental health problems are fit for work”.

He said: “We urge our new government to review the benefit assessment before rolling it out to millions more claimants, so that people aren’t deprived of their benefit and forced to look for work they can’t do.”

He also questioned government plans to sanction those on out-of-work benefits who turn down “reasonable” job offers.

He said that people “should not be forced to accept work that risks damaging their mental health, putting them back on benefits and back at square one”.

Farmer added: “Until we tackle stigma and discrimination in our workplaces, people with mental health problems will struggle to find work, whatever stick the welfare system beats them with.”
Government cuts raise fears

Disabled activists have warned that the £6.2 billion spending cuts announced by the government this week could have a severe impact on disabled people’s lives.

David Laws, (no longer Ed. Note) the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, announced heavy cuts to the budgets of nearly every government department, and warned: “The years of public sector plenty are over.”

He promised to “cut with care” and said the government would “protect the vital public services which we all depend upon, and those in our society who are least able to bear the burdens of national austerity”.

But Inclusion London, the capital’s new Deaf and disabled people’s organisation, warned that cuts on this scale were “likely to mean job losses and restrictions in service provision or quality”.

And Marie Pye, former head of public sector delivery at the Disability Rights Commission, and now a Labour local councillor in east London, said the prospect of cuts to public services was “really, really scary”.

Services such as providing social care and making buildings accessible were expensive, she said.

But Pye said that public bodies that carried out good quality equality impact assessments when making difficult spending decisions would be able to minimise the impact on disabled people.

She said that “disability-confident” public bodies would ensure that “fairness in services gets protected”, while those that were not would cause “difficulties” for disabled people.

Campaigners across the disability movement are stressing that the impact of the cuts on disabled people – both as public sector employees and as service-users – is still unclear.

A clearer picture is likely to emerge after the emergency budget on 22 June and the results of the government spending review, due this autumn.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “We are all aware the cuts in spending are inevitable, but we shall be monitoring those cuts very carefully to ensure that the cuts do not have impact negatively on people who already have higher levels of poverty and disadvantage.”

Among the cuts Laws announced were reductions of £1.165 billion in the annual grants made to local government.

Richard Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, welcomed a government decision not to cut the grant used to support moves towards the personalisation of care services, or any other adult social care grants.

The government also said it would stop its payments into child trust funds, while spending the extra contributions that would have gone to disabled children – £20 million a year – on 8,000 week-long “respite” breaks a year for the families of disabled children.

Laws also announced cuts of £600 million to the cost of quangos (non-government public bodies).

The following day, the Queen’s speech contained details of a bill to give ministers powers to abolish or merge quangos, with the government pledging: “The cost of bureaucracy and the number of public bodies will be reduced.”

Among those likely to face cuts is the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has faced repeated criticism over its performance since its launch in October 2007.

Last autumn, Mark Harper, then the Conservative shadow minister for disabled people, said his party would be watching the performance of the EHRC closely in the lead-up to the general election.

And he suggested it would need to improve its performance if it was to survive in its current form under a Conservative government.
Mayor failed to consult DPOs over new Routemaster design

Transport for London has admitted failing to consult with disabled people’s organisations on the final design of its new Routemaster bus.

The old Routemasters were scrapped by the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone, largely because they were not accessible.

Unveiling the “final design” of the new bus, the current mayor, Boris Johnson, said it would become an “emblem of 21st century London” and swooned over the “green heart beating beneath its stylish, swooshing exterior”.

The bus will feature two staircases, two conventional doors and an open platform at the rear, allowing the “hop on, hop off” feature of the old Routemasters.

But when asked what consultation had taken place with disabled people, the mayor of London’s transport advisor, Kulveer Ranger, said: “Consultation has already taken place with London TravelWatch [the watchdog representing all transport users] and later this year a full mock-up of the bus will arrive in the capital, which will provide a good opportunity for groups representing disabled people to see the bus for themselves and feed back their opinions.”

Faryal Velmi, director of the campaigning accessible transport charityTransport for All, said she was “not impressed at all” with the lack of consultation.

She said there should have been “genuine consultation” which would have allowed disabled people’s “hard practical experiences”, as London’s buses have become more accessible, to be incorporated into the new design.

Andrew Little, chief executive of Inclusion London, the new organisation representing Deaf and disabled Londoners, said: “Designs for a new Routemaster should have involved consultation with disabled people from the outset.

“The mayor has a duty to pay due regard to disability equality and how can he do that without involving disabled people?

“Inaccessibility was central to why the old Routemaster was discontinued. Rather than wasting time and money on a vanity project to resurrect it, disabled Londoners need a mayor that puts equality first.

“The many millions of pounds spent could and should be used to fund the changes needed to make the Tube accessible and affordable – changes that Boris Johnson’s new transport strategy has cut.”

Ranger said the new bus would be “fully accessible” and its designs “already meet the stringent standards that have been laid down for London’s bus fleet”.

He said: “The iconic Routemaster that inspired the appearance of the new bus was criticised for its lack of accessibility.

“However, the mayor’s version will be fitted with a wheelchair ramp on the central door, a wheelchair bay, step-free low floor on the lower deck and Ibus onboard audio announcements.”
Government stays silent over rail access budget cuts

The Department for Transport (DfT) has refused to say whether it has slashed the budget of national schemes to improve access at railway stations.

The alleged cuts were first exposed in a letter written before the election to the DfT by the Scottish government’s transport minister, Stewart Stevenson.

Stevenson criticised the DFT’s decision to cut spending this year on the “small schemes” part of its Access for All budget from £7.9 million to just £3.9 million.

The DfT said previously that it could not comment because of the election.

It also refused to say whether the budget for the larger element of the Access for All scheme had also been cut. That part aims to improve access at the busiest stations and is about five times bigger than the small schemes fund.

But now the election is over, with a new coalition government, the DfT is still refusing to say whether Access for All has been cut.

A DfT spokesman said: “The question relates to a previous administration.”

He said “no decision was ever announced” and added: “The current position is we have a new government and all transport is being looked at.”

When asked whether the last government cut the Access for All budget, he said: “It is not appropriate to comment on speculation like that.”

Faryal Velmi, director of the campaigning accessible transport charity Transport for All, said: “It does seem that disabled people are bearing the brunt of cuts as usual. The rail network desperately needs to be made accessible.”

She said there had been some improvements, but added: “There is a lot to be done, especially in London, which is completely inaccessible.

“Access for All showed a commitment and if that is going to be subsumed and eaten up that is a big matter of concern.”

One announcement by the Labour government several weeks before the election suggests the DfT did slash the Access for All budget.

On 1 April, Labour rail minister Chris Mole announced a £2.9 million “funding boost” to improve access at 42 stations across England and Wales through the small schemes fund.

Although the announcement did not explicitly state that this was the entire allocation for 2010-2011, if it was, it would suggest – once funding for Northern Ireland and Scotland had been added in – that the budget had been cut to about £3.9 million.

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee – the government’s advice body on accessible transport – said it was unable to comment.

Reserved Posts, Accessible Taxis and Forced Marriages!

A real mixed bag this week. Which I hope is of interest. As I was writing this I’ve just listened to Ray Gosling a BBC broadcaster and journalist talking about how he suffocated “his bit on the side” who was terminally ill with AIDS. Given my comments last week on the assisted suicide debate this is frightening! Let’s be clear though from the litte we know at this stage it seems that murder is a better description and I understand that Nottinghamshire Police have started an investigation. Watch this space as they say. Link to story http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/nottinghamshire/8516499.stm
Government adds confusion to Eagle’s reserved posts comments

The Government Equalities Office has added to the confusion caused by a government minister who told MPs that it was illegal to reserve jobs solely for disabled people.

Maria Eagle, an equalities minister and former minister for disabled people, told the communities and local government committee two weeks ago that it was illegal to reserve posts under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and would remain so under the equality bill.

She has now been forced to write to the committee, after it wrote to her “seeking clarification” of her comments.

During questioning from the committee about the equality bill, Eagle said that “positive action” – favouring the disabled person when faced with two equally qualified job candidates – was legal and would stay legal under the bill.

But she also said that only allowing disabled applicants to apply for a particular job was illegal and would remain so in the new bill.

Reserving posts for disabled people is a widespread practice, both by disabled people’s organisations and across the disability sector, and campaigners were left bemused by her comments.

A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman said: “Everybody has the right to be treated fairly and employers are not allowed to discriminate when hiring staff.

“However, there is an exemption where a particular characteristic is a requirement of the job – for example, an organisation providing counselling services for young deaf people might require its counsellors to be deaf in order to share life experiences and use British Sign Language with their clients.

“This is the case under the DDA and the equality bill will not change this. Maria Eagle has written to the select committee to make this clear.”

But the spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether Eagle was admitting she had made a mistake, or whether she stood by her evidence.
Equality bill amendment ‘will boost number of accessible taxis’

Delighted campaigners have welcomed proposed new laws that will force many local authorities to allow more wheelchair-accessible taxis onto the streets.

The new amendment to the government’s equality bill was proposed by the disabled peer Baroness Wilkins and backed by a string of fellow peers – and accepted by the government – during the bill’s committee stage.

The amendment will mean that local authorities that have introduced policies to control taxi numbers will not be able to refuse a licence for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle if the area does not have enough accessible taxis.

Baroness Wilkins, a wheelchair-user herself, said provision of accessible transport was “essential for equality of opportunity” but councils with “quantity-control policies” and relatively few or no accessible taxis can refuse licence applications for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

She said this can leave wheelchair-users who travel to such areas by train “stranded” once they arrive.

She added: “One must also think what it means for those living in the area when they need to get to an urgent appointment or visit friends and have a social life.”

For the government, Baroness Thornton said: “It is unacceptable that a licensing authority which controls taxi numbers can routinely refuse applications for wheelchair-accessible taxis when it has very few wheelchair-accessible taxis in the district or, indeed, none at all.

“This new clause provides an ideal means of enhancing accessible taxi provision in these areas.”

She said the government would consult before deciding on the minimum proportion of taxis in a local authority area that should be wheelchair-accessible.

Geraldine Des Moulins, chief officer of Brighton and Hove Federation of Disabled People, welcomed the amendment and said it should make it easier for wheelchair-users to find taxis.

She said researchers had found that a wheelchair-user in Brighton waits four times as long as a non-disabled person for a taxi.

Her organisation persuaded Brighton and Hove City Council to announce a review of taxi services for disabled people last month.

Des Moulins said: “We have disabled people who will not go out because they do not know if they will get a taxi to get home again.”

She said the new laws would help, but there also needed to be a “culture shift within the taxi trade”, with drivers often refusing to pick up wheelchair-users.

The equality bill has now completed its committee stage in the Lords, with the report stage due to begin on 2 March.
Government research follows ‘increasing concerns’ on forced marriage

The government is funding new research into disabled people who are victims of forced marriages, following increasing concerns about the scale of the problem.

News of the research emerged after a man was jailed for trying to sell his disabled sister, who has learning difficulties, into a forced marriage.

Michael Wright, 22, from Swindon, was arrested by officers from the UK Border Agency as he arrived with his sister for the ceremony at Reading Register Office with would-be groom Ligang Qiao last August.

Wright had agreed to let Qiao marry his sister – in exchange for £8,000 – to aid his application to stay in the UK once his visa ran out.

Wright pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to assisting unlawful entry into the UK, and perjury, and was jailed this week for four years. Qiao and two other Chinese nationals were jailed for between 15 months and two years each, and will be deported at the end of their sentences.

Detective Inspector Andy Cummins, of the UK Border Agency, said it was a “despicable crime” and Wright had “attempted to exploit a member of his own family for his own financial gain”, while the other gang members “sought to take advantage of a vulnerable woman”.

A Foreign Office spokesman said its Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) – run jointly with the Home Office – had seen “a number” of cases where disabled people were forced into marriage, either by families trying to provide a disabled relative with a long-term carer or for visa reasons.

He said: “Accurate statistics for forced marriage are very difficult to compile, given its often-clandestine nature, but the incidence among people with disabilities has been the subject of increasing concern over recent years.

“The FMU are funding research to look into this area, and to compare best practice in responses. The findings will inform the unit’s future work.”

Meanwhile, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is preparing to investigate the problem of disabled women who are forced into marriage.

The EHRC’s disability committee will look at the issue as part of the commission’s Violence Against Women programme.

Anyone who is worried that they might be forced into marriage or is worried about a friend or relative can call the Forced Marriage Unit in confidence on 020 7008 0151.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

One Door Closes and Another One Opens!

It now seems quite a while since Sue and I were sailing round the Norwegian fjords living in the lap of luxury. I have to say it was an extraordinary trip. I’m usually very sceptical about how accessible things are when people tell me that they are very accessible! I could not find fault with the ship (Ventura) and everywhere that non-disabled people went I was able to go to. (Sounds a bit like the nursery rhyme involving Mary!) During our voyage we spent four days in various ports along the coast of Norway notably Bergen and Stavanger and two ports inside the fjords themselves. All except one of these was fully accessible. On this occasion the ship had to anchor in the middle of the fjord and passengers were taken by tender boat from ship to shore. It was not possible for wheelchair users who cannot transfer from their wheelchair to the boats to go ashore at this destination. We knew this was going to happen as it was clearly stated in the accessibility instructions which were sent to us before we sailed. We were therefore able to enjoy a day on board doing a variety of other things while at shipmates went on seven-hour coach trips which by all accounts were very beautiful but very tiring. The accessibility of the vehicles that were used to take people on excursions did present some difficulties a number of them could accommodate wheelchair users but given the number of disabled passengers the great British queue was much in evidence! I’m sure that over time this will improve.

It was great to see so many visibly disabled people on the trip. I stopped counting when I got to 30 wheelchair users and I saw at least nine sight impaired people with white canes. In my experience it is extremely rare to have to queue behind numbers of wheelchair users in order to get a table in a restaurant! The only other times when I’ve come across this has been when I’ve been living in an institution or waiting for an accessible vehicle! Clearly P&O have got something right. It was also good to see so many younger families on board; given the variety of entertainment available this was clearly no accident. There were a large number of older people on board but it does seem to be something of a myth that cruises are the preserve of older people. As you have probably gathered this trip was a huge success for both of us so when the brochure came out announcing P&O’s world cruises Sue and I did not resist and promptly booked a trip from January to March 2011. All we’ve got to do now is save the money to pay for it.

Well the 31st July 2009 will be a momentous day for Simon and me. This is the day that the Minty & Friend Ltd closes its doors for the last time. As many people know this has largely come about because of our mutual desire to develop our interests in different directions. It has been a tremendous 10 years and we have done some pretty amazing things together. I’d like to think that we have contributed a number of innovative ideas to help drive the agenda of disability equality forward. I guess most notably concepts like Dining with a Difference, Acting on Disability, Abnormally Funny People, the Reasonable Adjustments Assessment Service they are all projects which Simon and I have both thoroughly enjoyed and are very proud to have been involved with.

It will also be very sad not have quite the same level of contact with those of you who have been on the journey with us. We both intend to stay in touch and any work that comes our way which would be more appropriately done by one of you we will of course pass in your direction. If you have projects which you think Simon or I might be able to help you with we’d be delighted to explore this with you.

So you soon

Phil