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