Direct Enquirers, DLA, Work Choice, Hate Crime, ILF Cuts

Welcome! These postings are getting wider apart! I blame it all on the nice weather and a desire to take advantage of it.

A couple of things to share before dealing with the news this week. I’ve just spent a few very relaxing days in the Ribble Valley in our motor home. All was well until my powered wheelchair decided not to be powered anymore. Stuck on a pavement in the middle of Clitheroe with no way of moving is an experience not be missed. Sue, my wife, valiantly suggested pushing the 180 kilo chair with me in it the mile and half back to the camp ground. Enter Transit Van man!! He drove Sue to the site to pick up our ramps and promptly mobilised a few people to push the chair into the van. I sat in the back in total darkness but remembered the chair has lights! We arrived safe and sound and I was decanted onto the grass. The only downside is that I emerged resembling a ghost completely covered in plaster dust! Who cares!! I love Transit Van man!

Another exciting project is now underway in collaboration with Grant Kennedy CEO at Direct Enquiries. After Grant helped my local football team with sponsorship the players have agreed to undertake 350 assessments of the local facilities in Hertfordshire and elsewhere so that anyone using the Direct Enquiries website will be able to get information on accessible venues in the area. The players are really keen to help, standby for good information on nightclubs, bars, restaurants and pubs!! Enjoy the rest.
Employers ‘missing out on young disabled talent’

Talented and highly-educated young disabled people are continuing to miss out on opportunities for training, employment and career progression, according to a new report.

The Right to Work report is the latest investigation by the Trailblazers group of young disabled campaigners – run by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign – and surveyed more than 100 young disabled people.

Two-thirds of them said they may have had job applications rejected by employers because of discrimination. A similar number believed the job application process puts them at a disadvantage, while about 70 per cent said physical access to the workplace was one of the biggest obstacles they faced in obtaining paid work.

One in seven disabled graduates – with an average age of 26 – had never had a paid job, while one in five survey respondents felt they had been forced out of a job due to poor disability awareness.

Some campaigners said interviews or work experience had been called off when the employer realised they were disabled.

Members of Trailblazers also carried out undercover investigations of access at Jobcentre Plus offices and recruitment agencies across the UK.

Now they want the government and employers to set up a national disabled graduates training scheme, promote the business case for employing “talented, qualified and dedicated” disabled candidates, and encourage disability equality training for line managers

They also want to see more accessible facilities at Jobcentre Plus offices and recruitment agencies, and more disabled people employed as disability employment advisers by Jobcentre Plus.

And they called for greater promotion of the Access to Work scheme and for it to be extended to disabled volunteers, interns, and those on work placements.

Jagdeep Sehmbi, a wheelchair-user and multimedia communications graduate from Birmingham, said: “When I was applying for jobs, I noticed that as soon as I mentioned I needed wheelchair access the attitude would change – whereas I had initially felt a conversation was leading to an invite for interview, it suddenly ended with being told they would get back to me, which never happened.”

Bobby Ancil, Trailblazers project manager, said: “More than anything in this report, we were struck by the amount of talented and bright individuals employers are missing out on because they can’t see past disability.

“It is shocking that so many well-qualified people who want to work are unable to find jobs.”

To read the report, visit: www.mdctrailblazers.org
Minister hints that ILF could be scrapped

The minister for disabled people has hinted that the government could be set to scrap the Independent Living Fund (ILF) as part of its spending review.

In a ministerial statement this week, Maria Miller MP attacked the previous government for failing to “take a principled and strategic decision” on the fund’s future.

Miller said an independent review of the fund in 2007 suggested the government should make a decision on its future in 2009-10, “based on the presumption” that ILF support would be merged with local authority funding for personal budgets.

Miller also criticised the Labour government for taking a last-minute decision to cut the ILF budget for 2010-11 by £11 million to £348 million in March this year.

Miller said this move – as well as the “uncertainty and sensitivity” of methods of forecasting spending on the fund – led to the ILF’s decision to restrict new applicants to those in paid work of 16 hours or more, and then later to close the fund to all new applicants for the rest of 2010-2011.

Miller added: “The confusion and uncertainty caused by this chain of events is unacceptable.”

She said the ILF had now put in place a “more robust methodology” for forecasting its spending and had “safeguarded the support allocated to the 21,000 existing recipients of the fund”.

She said: “I have asked the [Department for Work and Pensions] and the ILF to ensure that all the lessons are learned from this situation and that appropriate procedures are put in place to ensure that the fund’s budget remains on track.”

She added: “The coalition government are committed to ensuring severely disabled people receive the support they need and, working closely with the trustees, we will consider and settle the long-term future of the ILF as part of the forthcoming spending review.”

But confusion still surrounds the timing of the Labour government’s decision to cut the ILF budget and how that affected the decision to restrict eligibility.

Disability News Service was told by ILF on 24 March – after it had announced the decision to restrict eligibility – that the budget for 2010-11 would be £359 million.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman was this week unable to clarify exactly when the decision to cut the budget was taken.

And when asked whether Miller’s statement implied that the government was planning to scrap the ILF, he said: “The future of the ILF is going to be reviewed in the autumn. Watch this space. I cannot speculate.”
Work Choice given government go-ahead

The coalition government is to go ahead with plans to launch a new work programme for disabled people with higher support needs.

The Labour government had announced plans to replace specialist programmes such as WORKSTEP with a new scheme called Work Choice this autumn.

But the future of the new programme had been cast into doubt because of the new government’s plans for a single work programme for all people on out-of-work benefits.

Maria Miller, the disabled people’s minister, announced this week that Work Choice would be launched on 25 October and would “sit alongside” the single work programme.

Miller said Work Choice would “help into work disabled people who face the most complex and long-term barriers to employment and who may require high intensity support in the workplace”.

She said it would replace the “existing confusing array” of specialist disability employment programmes – WORKSTEP, Work Preparation and the Job Introduction Scheme.

And she said it would “greatly improve upon the effectiveness of current provision by tailoring support to the needs of each severely disabled individual to help move them into and stay in long-term sustainable jobs”.

There will also be a cut in the number of contracts with employment support providers from more than 200 to just 28.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman denied that the move signalled a rethink on plans for a single, overarching work programme.

He said: “They want provision for the hardest to help groups. It is very important to have that.”

Meanwhile, new DWP figures show that the number of disabled people who received support through the Access to Work (ATW) programme rose from more than 32,000 in 2008-09 to more than 37,000 in 2009-10.

Of those receiving funding to provide adaptations, equipment and other work support in 2009-10, only 390 had mental health conditions, while 1,720 had learning difficulties, 5,450 had hearing impairments and 5,280 were visually-impaired.

More than 11,500 ATW awards were made for aids and equipment, nearly 10,000 for support workers, and 12,700 for travel to work, while 250 were made for adaptations to workplaces, and 270 for adaptations to vehicles.
UKDPC uncovers widespread reports of hate crime deaths

New research by a leading disabled activist has uncovered reports of more than 20 violent deaths of disabled people – many of them likely to be disability hate crimes – over just three months.

The report, by hate crime campaigner Anne Novis for the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), found reports of 141 offences that appeared to involve targeted hostility towards disabled people.

Of these crimes – which include physical assaults, rape, robbery, torture and arson – at least 21 involved the violent deaths of disabled people.

Some of the reports come from trials of people accused of murder and other serious offences, while others were media reports of how disabled people had died violent deaths and where the perpetrators had yet to be arrested.

Novis said she hoped her report would deliver a “wake-up call” on the extent of disability hate crime, but would also help disabled people’s organisations secure funding for their own hate crime projects.

The report has already been submitted as evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into disability-related harassment. A second, wider report by Novis for UKDPC into the extent of disability hate crime over the last three years will also be submitted to the inquiry.

Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, said the crimes collated by Novis were “only the tip of the iceberg” and showed how much work needed to be done by the government to comply with its duties under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

He said: “I think that if the public became aware of the extent of the problem they would be horrified.”

Novis said she believed disability hate crime was increasing “significantly”, and was even more widespread than described in her report, partly because of under-reporting by disabled people.

Her report is based on “informal research” that draws evidence from online articles, disabled people’s blogs and disability discussion forums, and provides a “snapshot” of reports of disability hate crime over a three-month period from March to May 2010.

Novis called for disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to be given funding to carry out formal, detailed research into the extent of disability hate crime.

She said the targeted hostility experienced by disabled people was being aggravated by the debate around welfare reform, the government’s call for cuts to the disability benefits budget and the media focus on disability benefit fraud.
DLA survey results come at perfect time

A disabled people’s organisation has told two government ministers that their cost-cutting disability living allowance (DLA) reforms could be “counter-productive” and make it harder for disabled people to work.

Both the disabled people’s minister, Maria Miller, and the care services minister, Paul Burstow, visited Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ECDP) last week, just as it was about to publish its survey on the government’s planned changes to DLA.

In June, the government announced a major reform of DLA, with tighter eligibility, a new medical test and reassessments for all claimants of working age over the three years from 2013.

The ECDP survey found 93 per cent of disabled people were very or quite concerned about the planned changes to DLA, while more than three-quarters said the changes were likely to have a big or fairly big impact on their everyday lives.

More than half of the 141 respondents feared their DLA could be taken away, while a third thought they might not be able to work if this happened.

Rich Watts, ECDP’s director of policy and development, said: “What we were very keen to impress on [the two ministers] was that our survey said that one in three people said they were unlikely to work as a result of the changes in DLA.

“These changes could be counter-productive to their goal of getting people back in work.

“To both of them we said: ‘Rather than swinging the axe we would like you to talk to disabled people and their organisations on how to approach this and how to minimise the impact on disabled people.’”

Watts said there had been a strong sense of “injustice” among the disabled people who took part in the survey, who believed the government was “picking on disabled people” and “trying to lump us into the same category as benefits scroungers”.

Many were worried about the prospect of another hugely stressful assessment.

He added: “Some people just seemed tired that they worked so hard to get the right care and support but will have to go through this all over again.”

One respondent accused the government of “putting disability back under the medical microscope”.

Another said: “Having endured the form and the medical, I dread having to go through the whole process again along with millions of others.”

And a third disabled person said: “Without my DLA I would lose my adapted car, my independence and my job. DLA supports me to contribute because it enables me to work full time.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Open employment, Football Cat, Euthanasia

Hello once again after a bit of a lull! The garden now looks like a desert and even the rabbits have moved next door. A great pity according to my son who is keen to use the new air rifle purchased to protect the strawberries!! He makes an interesting sight sitting in his bedroom wearing camouflage and a mud covered face. (I should mention he’s 20 not 6!)

Last week I attended a lovely evening hosted by Kay Allen from Royal Mail at the House of Lords. This was to celebrate Lord Morris’s Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which became law 40 years ago. The guests ranged from those who were activists at the time through to people dealing with disability issues in today’s world. Moving tributes were paid to Alf Morris and the evening served as reminder of how far we have come over the last four decades. The clips that follow make the point very eloquently that there is still much to do!
Campaigners face new euthanasia battle

Disabled activists campaigning against the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia are facing yet another attempt to force the government to weaken the law.

Lawyers for Tony Nicklinson, a stroke survivor with high support needs, announced this week that they want the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to issue guidelines stating when it would be in the public interest to prosecute cases of euthanasia.

They said that Nicklinson, who can only move his head and eyes, has made a “clear and settled” decision that he wants to die when ready to do so, but is unable to carry out that wish himself.

He wants his wife to be able to end his life without facing prosecution for murder.

The case is similar to that of Debbie Purdy, who used the courts to force the DPP to list the factors to be considered by prosecutors when deciding whether to charge someone with assisted suicide.

But Nicklinson wants the DPP to issue guidance for cases of euthanasia, in which someone actively takes a disabled person’s life, rather than assisting them to take their own life.

The DPP, Keir Starmer, has refused to issue new guidance because he believes existing guidelines and advice for prosecutors are “sufficient”.

Nicklinson’s lawyers this week issued legal proceedings in the high court seeking a judicial review of the DPP’s refusal to issue new guidance.

But the Care Not Killing alliance – whose members include RADAR – said the current law “acts as a powerful deterrent” and changing the law was opposed by “the vast majority of disabled people and disability rights organisations in our country” and would “contribute to a mindset that the lives of sick or disabled people are somehow less worth living”.

In a witness statement, Nicklinson said he had “no privacy or dignity left” and added: “I am fed up with my life and don’t want to spend the next 20 years or so like this.”

Saimo Chahal, Nicklinson’s solicitor, said: “The law of murder is inflexible and the Law Commission was right when, in 2006, it recommended that the law should be reviewed, particularly in the context of mercy killing.”

A spokeswoman for the DPP said there were “a number of important distinctions between assisted suicide, euthanasia and so-called mercy killing”.

She said: “Suicide, whether assisted or not, and murder are very different acts in that the former requires a person to take their own life, whereas the latter involves a person doing an act that ends the life of another.”
Open employment with support ‘is the ideal’, says RADAR

Disabled people should be supported to find mainstream employment rather than “special” jobs in separate, sheltered workplaces, according to a new report.

The Supporting Sustainable Careers report by RADAR suggests ten “propositions” that would make it easier for disabled people to gain decent pay, career development opportunities, status and inclusion in society, and freedom from discrimination.

It concludes that in general – although not for every disabled person – open employment with the necessary support meets more of these “key factors” than other options, such as sheltered workplaces.

The report was funded by Remploy, which still employs about 3,000 disabled people in 54 sheltered factories, despite closing 29 factories as part of a controversial modernisation programme.

Tim Matthews, chief executive of Remploy, told Disability News Service at the report’s launch that he doubted whether there would be a long-term role for employment settings where there were “100 per cent disabled people congregating together”.

He said that “there may well be a place for sheltered factories in the future” but they would “increasingly” have to fulfil the criteria outlined in the report, such as providing career progression, offering “real jobs” that were not subsidised and being part of an inclusive workforce.

RADAR’s report also says that the continued existence of separate workplaces just for disabled people makes it harder to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination in mainstream workplaces.

And it says disabled people should be offered extra support to keep their jobs – particularly in the light of current public spending cuts – because they face greater risks of long-term unemployment.

The highest priority, says the report, is to enable disabled people to achieve “career security” – building up the skills and experience to move from one job to another.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “In past recessions, disabled people have ended up living on benefits for decades.

“As public sector jobs are cut we need to stop that happening again – by using scarce resources efficiently on the type of employment support we know works.

“That means offering all disabled people the chance of a regular job as jobs come back on stream, help to get the skills the economy needs and pay that is at least the minimum wage. Everyone needs to raise their expectations of what disabled people can do.”

Researchers for the report talked to more than 50 disabled RADAR members, disability organisations, trade unionists and supported employment providers.

Among its other “propositions”, the report says disabled people should have the opportunity to manage and control their own job support, while more social firms should be led and managed by disabled people.

It also says that there is “no place” for sheltered work that contributes to the economy but offers less than the minimum wage, while businesses should only let contracts to social firms or supportive businesses that offer at least the minimum wage to their disabled employees.

And it calls for disabled volunteers to be offered career development support so they can move on to paid employment.
Football cat cruelty advert cleared by watchdog

The advertising watchdog has ruled that a TV advert that features a blind footballer accidentally kicking a cat is not offensive and does not need to be taken off air.

More than 1,000 viewers complained to the advertising watchdog about the advert for the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power – so far seen by an estimated ten million adults – which features two blind football teams using a ball with a bell inside it.

When the ball is kicked out of play, a cat with a bell around its neck runs onto the pitch, and is kicked into a tree by a player who mistakes it for the ball.

Of those who complained, 220 viewers said it was offensive to blind people while more than 1,000 complained on the grounds of animal cruelty.

Paddy Power told the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ad “enabled them to promote and create awareness of a lesser-known sport”, “would enhance appreciation of the skill required by those who participated in the sport” and was “humorous and slapstick in nature”.

The company claimed it had received “extremely positive feedback from the blind and partially sighted community”.

The ASA claimed the ad “featured, and was supported by members of the England Blind Football Team” and that it was “unlikely to be seen by most viewers as malicious or to imply that blind people were likely to cause harm to animals”.

It concluded that the ad was “unlikely to be seen as humiliating, stigmatising or undermining to blind people and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence”.

It ruled that Paddy Power had not breached the advertising standards code, either in its depiction of blind people or in its treatment of cruelty to animals.

A spokesman for the Football Association (FA), football’s governing body, which supports the national blind football squad, said only former international players had taken part in the advert, and so the part of the ASA ruling that said the advert was supported by members of the England team was “not strictly accurate”.

But no-one from the FA was available to comment further on the ASA ruling.

The world blind football championship is due to take place in England from 14 to 22 August.
UK ‘could learn from developing world’ on disability equality

Disability organisations in the UK could learn from developing countries about how to cope with the impact of public sector funding cuts, according to a leading disabled human rights expert.

Diane Mulligan, who leads the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s work on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said many developing countries had been forced to be “creative” in how they promote disability equality.

She told Disability News Service: “With the austerity measures being taken by the new coalition government, we can learn a lot from the global south on how to do things well within a limited budget and resources.”

In using role models to change attitudes to disabled people, some developing countries have focused on everyday disabled people doing everyday things, rather than “over-performers” such as Paralympians or the Labour MP David Blunkett, she said. Other developing countries have developed low-cost accessible latrines.

Mulligan, a long-standing member of the EHRC’s disability committee and a new member of the government’s Equality 2025 advisory network, said the impact of funding cuts on disabled people would become clearer in the autumn when the government starts “spelling out some detail on welfare reform, independent living and social care”.

But she said the “age of austerity” and the lack of resources might prove to be “beneficial”, as it could force disability organisations to come together and cooperate in campaigning for the government to fully implement the UN convention in the UK.

She believes the UN convention will have an impact on disabled people’s rights in the UK, in areas such as independent living, particularly as disabled people will be able to hold the government to account for its decisions, as it has signed up to the convention’s optional protocol.

But she said the disability movement and other disability organisations would have to work together “with a united voice” and “forget our differences” if they want to “make much headway” in ensuring disability rights are fully implemented.

She added: “It is easy to fight your own corner but there is strength in coalitions.”

Earlier this month, Mulligan was nominated as the UK’s candidate for election in 2012 for one of 18 seats on the UN’s expert committee whichmonitors implementation of the convention in those countries where it has been ratified.

She has government funding for her campaign to run for election over the next two years and wants the majority of that money to be spent working with DPOs, so she will know their key concerns.

One area she will focus on in the lead-up to the election is examining why the Labour government ratified the convention with reservations and an “interpretive declaration” – the government’s convention opt-outs – on inclusive education, immigration, employment in the armed services and benefits.

As a member of the EHRC disability committee, Mulligan said she will ask the new coalition government to say when it will re-examine these opt-outs. “I am very interested to know why other countries didn’t feel the need to put reservations or interpretive declarations in place – there needs to be a conversation with the new government about that approach.”

One of the opt-outs concerns the convention’s demand for an inclusive education system.

Mulligan said Cuba was the only country in the world with a truly inclusive education system. “Cuba is not a particularly rich country but they decided that they were going to have an inclusive education system even if it meant there was one-to-one support for three children in a classroom. And it works, and it works really well.”

But she warned: “It is going to cost quite a lot of money. Unless you are prepared to invest, it is not going to happen.”

Mulligan was speaking as the EHRC published a new guide to the UN convention, describing disabled people’s rights and how to use them.

The guide sets out how disability organisations can use the convention in negotiations, in advocacy and in legal cases, and how they can send their own reports to the UN on how the government is implementing the convention.

Mike Smith, chair of the EHRC’s disability committee, said the EHRC would “continue to work with the government to make sure that it is implemented fully”.

He said: “The convention is not just a paper ‘declaration’ without any teeth. It requires government to take action to remove barriers and give disabled people real freedom, dignity and equality.

“Our role is to ensure Britain makes rapid progress towards making the convention rights a reality for disabled people.”

The guide is available at: www.equalityhumanrights.com/UNCRPDguide

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

Benefit cuts, Glastonbury Stevie Wonder, Hate Crime

I have now returned safe and sound for my narrow boat holiday which passed off without too many alarms and excursions! Aside from the platform lift breaking down while I was on it and the remote-controlled steering device failing, everything was bliss! It is a real sign of progress, despite these minor irritants, that people in wheelchairs can now seriously contemplate holidays afloat something that simply wasn’t possible when I was younger. What made the experience even more enjoyable was the fact that the towpaths themselves were very accessible and many of the pubs and shops en route were likewise. One downside of this newfound accessibility was the fact that I was able to get into a pub to watch the dismal England football team draw against the USA, which was a sign of things to come! Enough of this and I hope what follows is of interest. As always drop me a line if you think I can help.
Government to review impact of welfare reforms

The government has ordered a review of how its package of welfare reforms will affect disabled people.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith announced the “strategic review” following growing anger among disabled people at repeated government references to the need to cut spending on disability benefits, as well as concerns about other welfare reforms and threatened cuts to public spending.

Duncan Smith claimed he had ordered the review because he was “committed to ensuring that disabled people and carers receive the support that they deserve”.

The review will look at the impact of scrapping Labour’s employment support programmes and replacing them with a single work programme, as well as reforms around incapacity benefits and disability living allowance, among other measures.

The review was announced during the final day of the budget debate – although it was not publicised by the government – and will be carried out by the Conservative minister for disabled people, Maria Miller.

Duncan Smith said Miller would take a “principled look” at the support provided for disabled people, “to ensure that the effect of all the measures is appropriate and that they work”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said afterwards: “The secretary of state has asked the minister for disabled people to conduct a strategic review of how proposed welfare reforms will impact on disabled people and carers as a key part of her role.

“She will maintain an ongoing dialogue with the secretary of state on this moving forward to ensure that the interests of disabled people are looked after as we make fundamental reforms to the welfare system.”

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), welcomed the announcement. He said DA had called for such a review in its response to last week’s emergency budget.

Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said she hoped the review would be “serious” and that disabled people’s organisations would be able “to make it clear how damaging the impact of these changes threaten to be”.
Conservatives attack DLA spending – again

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has launched another government attack on disability living allowance (DLA), claiming that spending on the key disability benefit had “spiralled out of control”.

Duncan Smith told MPs during the final day of the budget debate that the DLA system had been “vulnerable to error, abuse and, in some cases, outright fraud”.

His comments followed last week’s comments about spending on DLA – using similar language – in George Osborne’s budget statement.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show spending on DLA has risen in real terms from £6.7 billion in 1997/98 to an estimated £11.7 billion in 2009/10.

DWP figures also show that estimated DLA fraud for 2009/10 was £60 million, just 0.5 per cent of the money spent on DLA.

Estimated incapacity benefit (IB) fraud was also just 0.5 per cent, or £30 million.

These figures compare with far higher levels of fraud among claimants of income support (2.8 per cent, £240 million), jobseeker’s allowance (2.5 per cent, £120 million) and carer’s allowance (3.9 per cent, £60 million).

Duncan Smith also confirmed that the government would implement new rules agreed by MPs last year, which will allow severely visually-impaired people to claim the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA, instead of the lower rate.

The new rules will come into effect in April 2011 and should mean an extra £30.90 a week for about 22,000 people.

Later in the debate, Conservative MP Stewart Jackson complained that 6,000 of his constituents “languish” on DLA, and “most shockingly, more than 1,000 of them languished on that particular benefit for more than 12 years”.

Maria Eagle, Labour’s former disabled people’s minister, said: “People who work receive DLA. It is not a benefit that one languishes upon. It is a recognition from society that disabled people need a little extra support to enable them to participate in life.”

She said the introduction of a new medical test for those on DLA “looks like harassment”, and appeared to be a way of cutting the number of people on DLA by a fifth in order to save money.

Following the debate, Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the government had clearly been trying to condition people, including MPs, to accept that cuts to the IB and DLA budgets were “unavoidable” and “necessary”, when they were not.
Briefing throws incapacity benefit plans into confusion

The coalition’s welfare plans have been thrown into confusion after two government departments appeared to be delivering contrasting messages about the speed of its reforms.

The chancellor, George Osborne, told reporters that he wanted to reduce spending on benefits such as housing benefit and incapacity benefit (IB), and its replacement, employment and support allowance, in order to avoid cuts in other government departments.

But several national newspapers also reported that the chancellor wanted to speed up the process of reassessing all those still claiming old-style IB.

The coalition government announced last month that it would reassess a small number of people claiming IB through a “small trial”, starting this October. The trial will take place in Burnley and Aberdeen.

A “national reassessment programme” will run from spring 2011 to March 2014, with the first letters likely to be sent out to disabled people next February.

This is likely to mean about 10,000 people on IB every week being reassessed through the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA), usually at the time their benefit review is due.

A Treasury spokesman said he could not confirm or deny who briefed journalists about the chancellor’s wish to speed up this process.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman denied any plans to speed up reassessment, and said: “There have not been any changes from our end. We are not moving from 10,000 a week.”

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the continuing uncertainty following a string of welfare reform announcements was “extremely unhealthy and unhelpful”, while the government could still speed up the process at a future date.

But he said the key problem was not with the speed of the scheme, but with the need to ensure the system “gets things right”. He said: “The problem is the assessment. The assessment is not effective.”

Employment minister Chris Grayling this week announced changes to the WCA, which will mean fewer people with severe mental health conditions and all those waiting for or between courses of chemotherapy no longer being asked to attend a WCA.

Coyle welcomed the changes and said they could ease the problems in the system, and cut costs.

Grayling also said that an independent review of the WCA – headed by occupational health expert Professor Malcolm Harrington – would be completed by the end of 2010.
New Scottish law is step on road to better access to pubs

A new law which could improve access to pubs and clubs in Scotland has been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The law will force bars to provide details of their access when applying for new licences or major changes to their licensing conditions.

Local councils will publish the statements on their websites, so disabled people can check out access at a pub or club before they visit.

The new law was included as an amendment to the criminal justice and licensing (Scotland) bill, which was passed by the Scottish parliament this week.

The amendment was lodged by MSP George Foulkes, who took up the issue after being approached by wheelchair-user Mark Cooper, from Edinburgh.

Cooper launched a successful Facebook campaign for better access – Barred! – after being told by an Edinburgh pub that it had no accessible toilet, even though it had level access.

Cooper’s campaign was taken up and expanded by the disability charity Capability Scotland, which now employs him as a parliamentary and policy officer.

Cooper said he was “delighted” that campaigners’ hard work had paid off, and said the new law would ensure that “disabled people can make informed choices about where they go to socialise”.

He added: “I think it will make a tremendous difference because it will allow disabled people to plan and enjoy a night out and not have to figure out the barriers that could occur.”

Jim Elder-Woodward, convenor of Independent Living in Scotland, a disabled people’s organisation set up to develop the independent living movement in Scotland, praised the Barred! campaign but said the new law was “only a start” towards making it easier for disabled and non-disabled people to meet and relate to one another.

He said pubs and bars had been “central to the British way of socialising for generations” but “for many disabled people, they have been no-man’s land”.

He said: “The inaccessibility of most bars and pubs has cut off vital resources in disabled people’s attempts to integrate and participate in their local communities.

“Irrespective of the amount of time spent in sharing work or educational experiences, it is only by sharing social time with non-disabled people, that the real barriers between them and disabled people can come tumbling down.”
Stevie Wonder’s Glastonbury access plea

Soul legend Stevie Wonder has delivered a plea to “make the world more accessible”, at the end of his headlining appearance at the Glastonbury music festival.

The singer-songwriter, who is blind, had performed some of his classic hits, including Higher Ground, Superstition and Happy Birthday, in front of an estimated crowd of 100,000 people on the final day of the festival.

But as he finished his set, he appealed to the crowd to “encourage the world to make the world more accessible for those who are physically challenged”.

To a roar of approval from the crowd, he added: “Make it more accessible. Let there be nowhere that I cannot go being blind, or one cannot go being deaf, or someone cannot go being paraplegic or quadriplegic.

“Make it accessible so that we can celebrate the world as well as you can.”

The musician has a long track record of campaigning on civil and human rights issues, and raising funds for disability and other causes.

Elsewhere at the festival, Attitude is Everything (AIE), which campaigns for better access to live music for disabled people, showcased several Deaf and disabled musicians and DJs on one of the open air stages.

Performers included Bug Prentice and La Rebla Fam, both of which have disabled band members, and Deaf Rave DJs MC Geezer, DJ Inigo and DJ Ceri.

Other disabled musicians who appeared at the festival included the Congolese band Staff Benda Bilili and Mystery Jets, whose frontman Blaine Harrison is disabled.

AIE also provided 10 Deaf and disabled stewards to assist disabled festival-goers on the accessible campsite and on the viewing platforms.

Suzanne Bull, chief executive of AIE, said it was too early to evaluate access at this year’s festival, but she added: “Glastonbury work very hard to do the best that they can. They are open to the suggestions and feedback and evaluation that we give them.”

She pointed to notices written by festival founder Michael Eavis on the doors of the accessible toilets, asking non-disabled people not to use them.

She said: “What is changing is that they are asking the question now instead of us bringing it up.”

She added: “They are not just talking about [disabled] audiences anymore, they are talking about artists, too.”
Government’s benefits bashing ‘could lead to hate crime’

Activists have warned that repeated government references to the need to slash the disability benefits bill could lead to a rise in disability hate crime.

The government is making it increasingly clear that the more money it can save from its benefits bill, the less it will have to cut from other areas of spending.

Speaking to journalists at the G20 summit in Canada, the chancellor, George Osborne, highlighted incapacity benefit and housing benefit as two large budgets that the government wanted to cut.

The comments followed his emergency budget, in which he stressed the cost of spending on disability living allowance (DLA).

Anne Novis, a leading national campaigner on disability hate crime, said she was “appalled and dismayed” at the government’s “targeted hostility” towards disabled people.

She said: “The ignorance around what DLA is and how it supports disabled people with the recognised extra cost of being a disabled person is perpetuating a myth that disabled people have it easy, get everything free and have an easy life.

“It reinforces the attitude that some have towards us that we are a burden on the state and should be got rid of or marginalised into more poverty by such extreme measures.”

Novis said the government appeared to have no understanding of the importance of DLA to disabled people and how crucial it was in promoting independent living.

She said disabled people were experiencing increasing physical and verbal assaults “due to everyone believing the myth perpetuated by many MPs and ministers that disability and sickness fraud is extremely high, when this is not the case”.

DWP figures show that estimated DLA fraud for 2009/10 was £60 million, just 0.5 per cent of the money spent on DLA. Estimated incapacity benefit (IB) fraud was also just 0.5 per cent, or £30 million.

These figures compare with far higher levels of fraud among claimants of income support (2.8 per cent, £240 million), jobseeker’s allowance (2.5 per cent, £120 million) and carer’s allowance (3.9 per cent, £60 million).

Stephen Brookes, joint chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and another leading anti-hate crime campaigner, emailed NUJ colleagues this week to say he was becoming “deeply concerned” at the growing numbers of “sensational headlines and stories about disability ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefit cheats’”.

He said the government was spreading the message that “if only they can stop ‘disabled benefits cheats’ then other cuts won’t have to be so bad”.

Brookes warned that such stories could create a “serious discriminatory attitude which will clearly lead to abuse of disabled people”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Assisted suicide, Pathways, Robots

Just about to set off for the accessible narrow boat for a jaunt around the inland waterways but just had enough time to put this together. I hope it’s useful as always and I’ll update you with nautical tales on my return!
Movement unites for new Resistance to assisted suicide threat

Leading disabled activists have issued a “call to arms” to disabled people to fight off new attempts to weaken the law on assisted suicide.

They warned that MPs and peers were already planning a fresh bid to legalise assisted suicide through a private members’ bill.

The call came at the launch of the new Resistance campaign by the disabled people’s network Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK).

Among the disabled people’s organisations backing the campaign at its launch in Westminster were the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council, RADAR and the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL).

Every MP will be asked to sign the new Resistance Charter 2010, which opposes a change in the law, calls for equal legal protection for disabled and terminally-ill people, and pledges to support their access to the palliative care and independent living services they need.

Supporters of the campaign can sign an online petition calling on MPs to sign the charter.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, convenor of NDY UK, told the launch event that MPs and peers were “definitely” preparing to introduce a new private members’ bill to weaken the law, and warned: “I can almost say with certainty that one will come in this parliament.”

She added: “It is tough on disabled people to have to fight yet again for their survival and their support. We want assistance to live, not assistance to die.”

And she issued a “call to arms” to disabled people to persuade their MPs to sign the charter. She said disabled people needed to be “more visible, more vocal and more active” in telling British society that they do not want the law to change.

She also fiercely criticised large sections of the media over its coverage of the assisted suicide debate, and said they were “very used to colluding in our misery, our discomfort and our unhappiness”.

There have been two attempts to legalise assisted suicide in the past four years at Westminster, with another bill currently being discussed by the Scottish parliament.

Mike Smith, chair of NCIL, said the campaign to weaken the law was driven by fear.

He said the many new MPs who have been elected for the first time would not yet be aware of the complexity of the issues around assisted suicide, which was “why this campaign is so important”.

Campaigners say the high-profile disabled people who have tried to have the law changed – including Diane Pretty and Debbie Purdy – are “the exception rather than the rule”.

The event was funded by the anti-euthanasia campaign alliance Care Not Killing, which also launched a new DVD, which includes the personal stories of disabled people arguing for their right to life.

To sign up to the campaign, visit: www.theresistancecampaign.org.uk
Civil servants ‘criticised DWP’ for failing to fund Pathways to Work

Senior civil servants criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for failing to invest enough money in its employment programme for disabled people, it has been claimed.

Disability Alliance (DA), the disability poverty charity, said Cabinet Office civil servants believed the failure to spend enough money on the Pathways to Work programme caused its disappointing results.

DA’s comments came as a report by the public spending watchdog concluded that Pathways had proved “poor value for money”.

Early results from the Pathways pilots that began in 2003 were positive, but the National Audit Office (NAO) said the scheme had had a “limited impact” in reducing the number of people receiving incapacity benefits once it was rolled out across the country.

The report concludes that the voluntary aspects of the support offered through Pathways – much of it provided by the private and voluntary sector – appeared to have had “no impact”, with new claimants just as likely to find a job without it.

The number of people claiming incapacity benefits – including incapacity benefit, income support on the grounds of disability, and the new employment and support allowance (ESA) – has fallen slightly in recent years, but has remained at more than 2.5 million for over a decade.

The NAO report – Support to Incapacity Benefits Claimants through Pathways to Work – says the contribution of Pathways to a fall of 125,000 between February 2005 and August 2009 was probably “modest”.

It concludes that it was probably the prospect of compulsory work-focused interviews and earlier medical assessments that caused the fall, while theemployment support provided through Pathways appears to have had no impact on the number of disabled people finding work.

The report also suggests that the introduction of the new, tougher work capability assessment – set to be gradually rolled out to all old-style incapacity benefit claimants from this autumn – was likely to be a “key instrument” in reducing the number of claimants.

The report also concludes that the voluntary and private sector Pathways providers “consistently underperformed” against their targets.

The new coalition government is planning to scrap all of Labour’s work programmes – including Pathways – and replace them with one single welfare-to-work programme.

But Neil Coyle, director of policy for DA, said it was clear from discussions with the DWP and Cabinet Office that there was a “belief among senior civil servants that Pathways was under-funded”.

He said the Cabinet Office believed that if Pathways had been “fully resourced to meet the needs of disabled people…it may have been as successful as the pilots indicated it could be”.

Coyle said Pathways had helped disabled people who needed dedicated support to find the right job, and DA was concerned that the criticism of Pathways was not being matched by efforts to provide the support disabled people needed to “level the playing field”.

In a prepared statement, the Conservative employment minister Chris Grayling said: “It’s clear that the welfare to work programmes developed by the previous government have failed to deliver real change for people trapped in benefit dependency.

“The new administration will develop a national work programme designed to transform welfare-to-work in Britain for all benefit claimants.”

When asked whether there had been criticism of the DWP by the Cabinet Office, both the DWP and the Cabinet Office referred Disability News Service to Grayling’s prepared statement.
Civil Service recruits record number of disabled high-flyers

New government figures show a record number of disabled graduates have been successful in a recruitment scheme that aims to find the future leaders of the Civil Service.

The Fast Stream annual report for the year to November 2009 shows that 92 of the 629 candidates offered jobs (nearly 15 per cent) were disabled people, a rise of two percentage points on 2008.

In 1998, there were just 12 disabled graduates taken on through Fast Stream, and in 2007 just 33.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, welcomed the figures. She said: “The numbers recruited have gone up which suggests that they are identifying talented disabled people.

“This is great because for so long disabled people have been in the lower echelons of public service and not given the chance to get into the most senior roles.”

The report also reveals a slight fall in the total number of applications to Fast Stream from disabled graduates, from 738 in 2008 (5.1 per cent of total applications) to 697 in 2009 (4.7 per cent).

A Cabinet Office spokesman said it welcomed the rise in successful disabled applicants, which would help in its efforts to produce a more “diverse and representative workforce”.

He said efforts to increase the number of disabled applicants included a Fast Stream summer internship scheme, seen as a stepping stone for those seeking a career in the Civil Service.

But he said the Cabinet Office would “as a matter of course” examine why the number of disabled applicants fell slightly last year.

He also stressed that the freeze on Civil Service recruitment announced by the new coalition government last month would not apply to the Fast Stream scheme.
Robots ‘will help with independent living within five years’

A new report for the communications watchdog OFCOM has predicted that assistive technology could help disabled and older people live “longer and richer lives” at home over the next 20 years.

Within five years, disabled and older people could be using robots at home to perform basic household tasks, according to the report, Assisted Living Technologies for Older and Disabled People in 2030.

The report says technology could deliver better opportunities for entertainment, education and social interaction; help improve fitness; make it easier to work from home; and improve social and health care.

Progress should be boosted by cheaper equipment and mass availability of broadband.

The report also predicts a wider use of internet-based video-calling – providing opportunities for social contact with friends and family – web-based learning, and access to other services on the internet, such as shopping and banking.

And it says more disabled and older people should be able to work or volunteer from home.

There should also be opportunities for improved telehealth services, with technology used to deliver health care, treatment, or monitoring services, while telecare services will be used to monitor people at home, using devices such as sensors that summon help after a fall.

Telehealth and telecare could mean fewer trips to hospital and make people feel more secure at home, as well as giving them more control over their condition, the report says.

But the report also warns that increased use of assisted living technology risks isolation for disabled and older people, and the loss of face-to-face contact. Other concerns include the cost, reliability and accessibility of equipment.

Alan Norton, chief executive of Assist UK, which leads the national network of disabled living centres, said: “I do feel that there is a great opportunity to use technology and make life easier for disabled people to enjoy a full life.

“In most applications that’s great, but you have to be careful about total isolation.

“The risk is that people are isolated in their environment, which may be totally independent, but social interaction needs to be there.”

But Norton said the benefits of new assistive technology would certainly outweigh the risks, while robotics would have a “massive role to play”.

He said that assistive technology needed to be built into everyday objects, such as light switches and cooker controls, and added: “I think technology will be built in and it will become a matter of fact in everybody’s life.”

But he said manufacturers needed to work more closely with disabled people on the design and development of new products.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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.

Welfare Reform, Hate Crime, Landmark Human Rights ruling

Well another bank holiday over and I hope you enjoyed yours! It’s my wife’s birthday this week so we decided to celebrate by taking everyone off to a Point to Point race meeting on bank holiday Monday. To say we all froze is an understatement! The wind howled and hailstones stung our cheeks! To cap it all we all lost the stake money my wife had so generously given each of us!! The one ray of sunshine concerned the provision of two fully wheelchair accessible toilets right in the middle of a field! Well done I say! Have a great short week!!
ELECTION 2010: Key concerns remain over welfare reform

Striking differences have emerged between the Liberal Democrats and the other two main parties over how they would treat disabled people on out-of-work benefits.

Important questions also remain over both Labour and Conservative plans on welfare reform.

Both Labour and the Conservatives plan to reassess every person currently receiving incapacity benefit (IB).

Labour plans to start doing this from October, building up to testing 10,000 people a week through its controversial work capability assessment (WCA).

Both parties appeared to confirm this week that there would be no exemptions from these reassessments for any disabled person, even those who are terminally-ill.

Theresa May, the Conservative work and pensions spokeswoman, confirmed the party’s commitment in a BBC interview that every person on IB would be “reassessed”.

She said: “We will be covering those 2.6 million people on IB. Some of those will not be able to work. All will be reassessed.”

And a Labour spokesman said: “My understanding is because it is going from one form of benefit to another an assessment has to take place.”

But there are also question-marks over the Tories’ figures, with May insisting –as the manifesto does – that a Conservative government would reassess the “2.6 million people on IB”.

In fact, the latest Department for Work and Pensions figures state that in August 2009 there were about 2.26 million on IB and another 375,000 on its replacement, the new employment and support allowance (ESA). This comes to a total of about 2.6 million.

May’s statement – and the manifesto – implies that a Conservative government would retest all those disabled people on ESA who have already taken and “passed” the WCA, as well as those still on IB.

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, put clear water between his party and the other two on the issue.

Also speaking on the BBC, he said that both the Conservatives and Labour were planning to “go through the stock of people” on IB and “reassign” them onto jobseeker’s allowance, which is paid at a lower rate, “essentially as a benefit cut”.

He said: “I fear that under a Labour or Tory administration it is going to be about hitting people on benefits harder and harder rather than supporting them, which is what the Liberal Democrats are proposing.”

Webb outlined what appeared to be a new policy, a “partial capacity benefit” which he said would not be saying “you either work or you don’t work, you’re sick or you’re not sick”.

He said: “It’s based on what you can do, perhaps part-time work, perhaps intermittent work, because at the moment people are afraid to take jobs or to work part-time because they lose benefits.

“We need to work with the grain of people, particularly people who have been on benefits for a long time.”

No-one from any of the parties was available to talk about their welfare reform policies in depth this week.
Serious concerns again over latest hate crime murder

Serious concerns have been raised again about the way the police deal with disability hate crime, after members of a family were sentenced for the brutal murder of a disabled man they had beaten and tortured for years.

Michael Gilbert was held captive by the Watt family in Luton for about 10 years and was regularly beaten, stabbed, tormented, treated “like a slave” and had his benefits money stolen.

Four members of the Watt family, and two of their girlfriends, were sentenced to a total of 93 years in prison for offences connected with Gilbert’s death in January 2009, including causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.

Three of them – James Watt, the ringleader, Natasha Oldfield and Nichola Roberts – were found guilty of murder. Watt will serve a minimum of 36 years in prison, Oldfield 18 years and Roberts at least 15 years.

But court documents make it clear that Bedfordshire police were told on at least three occasions – twice by Gilbert himself and once by his then girlfriend – that he had been abducted.

Lancashire police were also told of similar allegations after Gilbert had escaped to Blackburn but was abducted and brought back to Luton by the Watts.

Other agencies in contact with Gilbert also saw evidence that he was being assaulted.

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, said he was pleased at the “fairly substantial” sentences imposed in the case.

But he said a police force had yet again failed to treat serious violent offences against a disabled person as disability hate crime.

He said: “The police described him as vulnerable. They should have said he was a disabled person who was targeted and brutalised by this mob of thugs.

“What it does prove yet again is that various police forces need to get their act together and work at a common standard level.”

He said it also appeared clear that various agencies had yet again failed to communicate with each other over a disability hate crime.

Paul Fawcett, head of marketing and communications for the charity Victim Support, said that dealing with the justice system “can be a difficult and alien experience for anybody” and that for people with “additional challenges” such as some disabled people “it can be particularly bewildering and difficult”.

He said: “This would appear to be a case, without singling anyone out, where there was a collective failure of the system to identify that somebody was at risk and to intervene and deal with it.”

Bedfordshire police said at a media briefing during the trial that Gilbert had refused police help and so there was “nothing that any authorities could have done”.

It has also emerged that following the latest annual assessment of Luton council’s adult social care department by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the council had to draw up an action plan to “address issues highlighted by the commission relating to safeguarding”.

A CQC spokeswoman said they would be “reviewing what action has been taken when we carry out a full assessment of the service later this year”.

The Luton Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults Board has launched a serious case review “to establish whether there are any lessons to be learned” from the Michael Gilbert case and “if anything could have been done differently by the local professionals and agencies who work to safeguard vulnerable adults”.

Luton council said it could not comment further because of the review, as did Bedfordshire police.
Court case on support is landmark for human rights

A disabled woman was today set to ask a court to prevent a council cutting the support she needs to maintain her dignity, in a case with vital human rights implications for disabled people receiving care.

Elaine McDonald says Kensington and Chelsea council’s decision to cut her care package from more than £700 to £450 per week, reducing her night time support, would breach her right to be treated with dignity.

Douglas Joy, a senior solicitor with Disability Law Service, which is conducting McDonald’s case with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the court would decide whether she has a right to dignity under the Human Rights Act.

McDonald, a former principal ballerina with the Scottish Ballet, became disabled following a stroke in 1999 and needs support because of problems with strength, mobility, vision and spatial awareness.

She had been provided with a weekly package of 22.5 hours of daytime support and another 10 hours of care four nights a week, worth a total of £703.59 per week.

Her council needs assessment found that nighttime care was essential to provide supervision to prevent her falling while using the commode during the night, due to a bladder condition.

But in December 2008, the council said it would cut her care package, saying she could be given incontinence pads instead of an overnight care worker, even though she is not incontinent.

In March 2009, a high court judge refused McDonald permission for a judicial review of the council’s decision, ruling that the issue was one of safety, and that incontinence pads would safeguard her from risk by ensuring she did not have to repeatedly use a commode during the night.

But following a successful appeal, McDonald was given permission for a judicial review of the council’s decision at the court of appeal, with Lord Justice Laws stating the case was “arguable and important”.

Her full support package has been maintained until her case is resolved.

Joy said: “We have come across other local authorities that have relied on the original high court case and cottoned on to this [argument] that all you need to do is safeguard. Hopefully, if we are successful it will right the wrong.”

McDonald’s lawyers were set to argue that the council’s decision to cut her night time support would breach her right to respect for her private life under article eight of the Human Rights Act.

They were also set to argue that her need under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act is for assistance to use the commode at night, rather than an underlying need to be “kept safe”.

And they were expected to say that McDonald has been discriminated against under the Disability Discrimination Act.

A council spokesman said: “When the judgement comes out we will be in the best position to comment.”

The court was expected to reserve judgement until a future date.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Hate Crime, Janet Street-Porter Furore, Welfare Reform, Deaf Student wins Discrimination Case

Sorry the break in the news! I was working away all last week so didn’t get a chance to put anything together. Still at least it gave us a chance to settle down after the election. Just in case you missed it the new title for the Minister for Disabled People is “Parliamentary Under Secretary of State For Disabled People”. Anyway, the post has gone to Maria Miller MP. She’s been MP for Basingstoke since 2005, and has already campaigned for improvements to the Blue Badge Scheme. Mark Harper the previous Shadow Minister is now with the Cabinet Office. By the time you read this the spending cuts will be announced, more on this in the next Blog! Have a great week.
News Roundup

In this article:
Union activists call for public inquiry into disability hate crime
Recession has led to ‘huge rise in discrimination’
Press watchdog launches probe into ‘offensive’ article
Coalition’s plans for government: Welfare reforms ‘will entrench poverty’
Deaf student wins important discrimination victory against university
Union activists call for public inquiry into disability hate crime

Union activists have called on the government to set up a public inquiry into the way the police deal with disability hate crime.

Delegates to the TUC’s annual disability conference unanimously backed the motion, proposed by the University and College Union (UCU), which also called on the government to pressure the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to expand its inquiry into disability-related harassment.

The motion asked the TUC to write to the new home secretary, demanding a “public acknowledgement” that the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick were a “direct result of disability hate crimes”.

An inquest last year heard that Pilkington and her family were subjected to years of sustained harassment and abuse from a gang, much of it targeted at Francecca, who had learning difficulties.

Despite 33 calls to the police, the family’s complaints were not taken seriously and the harassment was never treated as potential disability hate crime.

An inquest jury concluded that the failures of the police and other public bodies contributed to Pilkington’s decision to kill herself and Francecca in 2007.

Sasha Callaghan, from the UCU, told the conference that she and colleagues had been “infuriated” by media references to the deaths being caused by “anti-social behaviour”.

She added: “If we have a public inquiry at least it will go some way to making sense of the terrible things that happened to them.”

She also criticised the inquiry set up by the EHRC. “The EHRC just talks about disability-related harassment. That’s not the reality. It’s hostility, it’s hatred, it’s fear…to talk just about harassment doesn’t go far enough.”

Stephen Brookes, chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists, told the conference that it was the most important motion they would consider.

He said: “It is about stopping something that has caused the deaths of 32 disabled people. Support it and act on it.”

Brookes said that some magistrates he meets at conferences do not even know about the extra sentencing powers they have to deal with disability hate crime offences.

He added: “This is not anti-social behaviour. It is hostility against disabled people.”
Recession has led to ‘huge rise in discrimination’

The recession has led to a huge increase in discrimination faced both by disabled people in work and those looking for jobs, according to a leading union activist.

Diana Holland, an assistant general secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest union, told the TUC’s annual disability conference that thousands of disabled people would lose jobs as a result of the recession.

She said she had seen a “massive increase” in the number of disabled people contacting her with work-related problems since the recession began.

Holland told the conference in London that there had been an increase both in discrimination at work, and discrimination faced by those trying to find jobs.

Because of the economic situation, many disabled people were “fearful” of stating that they have access requirements at work, while employers were ignorant of the Disability Discrimination Act and reasonable adjustments.

Michelle Daley, a consultant and former member of the government’s Equality 2025 advisory network of disabled people, told the conference: “The reality is that the recession should not be – but is – used to discriminate against disabled people.”

Billy Blyth, disability employment analysis team leader for the Department for Work and Pensions, said the employment rate for disabled people had “pretty much plateaued” in the last four or five years, with about 47 per cent of disabled people in work.

He warned that, because disabled people were more likely to work in public administration, health and education, they would be at greater risk through cuts to public spending.

But he said the latest statistics showed disabled people had not so far been “disproportionately” affected by the recession.

But Richard Rieser, a leading disabled rights activist and consultant and a member of the National Union of Teachers, fiercely criticised Blyth’s use of the word “disproportionate” and said what should be driving the agenda was the “quite appalling” level of disabled people in work.

He said that disabled people shouldn’t have to pay for the financial crisis “because we have been paying all our lives”.

Rieser said that if public sector organisations laid off disabled people they would be breaching their disability equality duty – under the Disability Discrimination Act – because their employment of disabled people was already so low.

The conference also approved an emergency motion condemning the threatened closure of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies.
Press watchdog launches probe into ‘offensive’ article

The press watchdog has launched an investigation into a newspaper article in which journalist Janet Street-Porter describes depression as “the latest must-have accessory” for “trendy women”.

The article sparked a torrent of complaints from people with mental health conditions, both on the newspaper’s own website and to the Press Complaints Commission.

The disability charity RADAR described the article in the Daily Mail as “ignorant, offensive and damaging”.

The mental health charities Mind and Rethink and the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change wrote to the editor of the Daily Mail, describing the piece as “offensive in the extreme”.

In her article, Street-Porter says “the latest must-have accessory is a big dose of depression”, which she describes as “a relatively new ailment”.

She says that “at the moment, trendy women are allegedly suffering from ‘depression’, but back in the Nineties the biggest cause of sick leave was backache”.

She concludes: “Every day, loads of women get divorced, lose a loved one, give birth and find out they have a terminal disease.

“But, miraculously, 90 per cent of us don’t get depressed about it, don’t take special medication and don’t whinge about ‘black holes’. That’s life in the real world.”

A string of Mail readers who have experienced depression attacked Street-Porter on the newspaper’s website, accusing her of “prejudice”, and of being “ridiculously ignorant”, “small-minded” and “attention-seeking”.

The Press Complaints Commission said it had received about 100 complaints and would be investigating her article.

RADAR said it felt compelled to respond to the article because it was “so ignorant, offensive and damaging”.

David Stocks, RADAR’s empowerment manager, who has bipolar disorder, said: “Try going into a hospital and speaking to a mental health patient about depression being trendy, and then you would see the stupidity of comments like these.”

Saying that rich celebrities should not have depression was “like stating that they should not get food poisoning or chicken pox: patently and utterly absurd”, said RADAR.

It said many people had kept their mental health conditions secret due to the “ever-present stigma” that was “perpetuated by the nonsense that has dribbled from Janet’s pen”.

No-one from the Daily Mail was available to comment.

Stephen Brookes, chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said the article had “no basis in reality whatsoever”.

An NUJ motion at this week’s annual TUC disability conference – which was unanimously carried – attacked recent media coverage of mental health issues.

It called on the TUC to lobby the Society of Editors, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Office for Disability Issues to produce guidelines on reporting mental health issues.
Coalition’s plans for government: Welfare reforms ‘will entrench poverty’

A leading disabled people’s organisation has warned that the new coalition government’s plans for welfare reform will further entrench poverty among thousands of disabled people.

Inclusion London also criticised the “Orwellian” language used by the government in describing its plans for welfare reform.

The government’s “sweeping” programme of welfare reform is based on measures in the Conservative election manifesto.

In its “programme of government”, the new coalition pledges to provide “help for those who cannot work, training and targeted support for those looking for work, but sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training”.

And it says it will re-assess “all current claimants of incapacity benefit (IB) for their readiness to work”, as promised by the Conservatives during the election campaign. Those found “fully capable for work” would be moved off IB and onto jobseeker’s allowance at a lower rate of benefit.

But Andrew Little, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “The proposal to ‘reassess all current claimants of IB for their readiness to work’ is, in Orwellian-language, a promise to slash the benefits of thousand of disabled people by changing the rules so they can be deemed fit to work.

“The result is predictable: poverty among disabled people will grow yet further.”

There are also question-marks over how the reassessment will work in practice, including whether all those on IB will be subjected to the strict new work capability assessment (WCA).

There was confusion during the election campaign, with senior Tory Theresa May suggesting there would be no exemptions, while her colleague Mark Harper, the then shadow minister for disabled people, saying there would be exemptions, such as for those who are terminally-ill.

The coalition government will also adopt the Conservative policy of replacing all Labour’s welfare to work programmes – including Pathways to Work – with one new scheme.

Campaigners have already warned that “one size does not fit all disabled people” because of their need for more personalised support.

Claimants of jobseeker’s allowance “facing the most significant barriers to work” – likely to include many disabled people assessed as “fully capable for work” under the WCA – will be referred to this new work programme immediately, not after a year, as is currently the case.

In another sign of a tougher welfare regime, the government stressed that receipt of benefits for those who can work would be “conditional on their willingness to work”.

But there has been a positive reaction to the new government’s plans for reforming the access to work programme.

Disabled people will be able to secure access to work funding for any workplace adaptations and equipment they would need before they applied for a job. Currently, they can only apply for funding once they secure a job.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the move was “very, very welcome”.

She said campaigners had been pushing for such reform “for years”, and added: “That’s going to make a big difference, not only to disabled people but it will help reassure employers as well.”

Susan Scott-Parker, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability, agreed. She said the change “should give employers more confidence in recruiting disabled people, as well as giving disabled jobseekers more confidence when applying for work”.
Deaf student wins important discrimination victory against university

A deaf student who accused a university of failing to ensure her degree course was accessible to her has secured an important legal victory.

Durham University has agreed to pay £25,000 in compensation to Rosie Watson, who quit her anthropology degree last year after claiming the university repeatedly failed to comply with an assessment of her access needs.

Watson, a mature student from Darlington, said: “I just wanted to be treated as a normal student but I didn’t get the support.

“Every day there was another attitudinal barrier against me. They just made it impossible for me to continue.”

Watson said she hoped her case would draw attention to the problems faced by other deaf students. She knew two deaf students who quit Durham University because of a lack of support.

In her witness statement, Watson described a string of examples in which tutorials, lectures and assignments were not made accessible even though she kept asking her tutor for help.

Lecturers were not told about her access needs, and frequently failed to supply lesson plans in advance to allow her to plan any assistance she might need.

Videos were shown without subtitles – again without any warning – and one tutor refused to arrange a tutorial group in a circle, which would have been more accessible.

On one occasion, Watson missed the second half of a session because the lecturer had moved the students to another class without checking she had heard where they were going.

Watson also described in her witness statement how she had been exposed to “ridicule and humiliation” in front of fellow students, and that her experiences in the second year of her course had been “completely devastating”.

Her case was taken under the education section (part four) of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and was settled out of court, although the university did not accept liability.

She had sought compensation for tuition fees, the cost of student loans, injury to feelings, loss of career opportunities and damage to her mental health.

Solicitor Chris Fry, of Wake Smith & Tofields, who represented Watson, said it was the first case he knew of in which a student had successfully taken such a case against a university.

Many disabled people were put off by the legal costs they would have to pay if they lost their DDA case, he said.

His firm took on Watson’s case on a “no win, no fee” basis, and arranged insurance to cover the university’s costs in case she lost.

Fry said: “It’s an important case: a disabled person taking on a large establishment for the benefit of others.

“While there has been no formal court judgement, we think there will be a wide response to it across other educational establishments.”

Watson was supported throughout her case by Darlington Association on Disability (DAD).

Gordon Pybus, chair of DAD, said the case showed the need for disabled people to seek support if they were facing discrimination, and the importance of access to qualifications for disabled people to allow them a better chance to find work.

Michael Gilmore, Durham University’s academic registrar, said: “The university has agreed a settlement with Mrs Watson without admission of liability and it would not be appropriate to make any further comment.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

A post election collection

Apologies for the slightly late arrival of this newsletter! Sitting up all night to watch an inconclusive election followed by days of manoeuvring by the three main political parties all conspired to distract me. At least I can now reveal that Jonathan Shaw the former Minister for Disabled People has departed the scene and been replaced by ??? no announcement as I write this but Mark Harper must be a strong candidate for the role. One other snippet before we draw a line under the election and prepare for swinging cuts is the victory in Eastbourne of Stephen Lloyd Liberal Democrat a disabled person and a passionate supporter of equal rights for disabled people. Congrats to him.
Sainsbury’s to sponsor 2012 Paralympics

The organisers of London 2012 have signed up the supermarket giant Sainsbury’s as a headline sponsor of the Paralympics.

LOCOG, the 2012 organising committee, said the deal to become a “tier one partner” was the “largest sponsorship ever” of a Paralympics, although it would not reveal how much the retailer had paid.

Sainsbury’s is the first “partner” to sponsor just the 2012 Paralympics, rather than the London Olympics and Paralympics as a whole.

Sainsbury’s said it would use its network of 850 stores to promote the Paralympics in the run-up to 2012, and would sell merchandise linked to both the event and the ParalympicsGB team.

It will also run a media campaign in 2012 to support the Paralympics, and will be one of two sponsors to have their names on athletes’ shirts.

Sainsbury’s said it would also work with LOCOG’s education team to develop “opportunities” around its own Active Kids programme, which provides sports equipment and coaching to children.

But a Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said it was too early to say how else they might use the opportunity to promote equality for disabled people.

Phil Lane, chief executive of ParalympicsGB, said: “It is a testament not just to the growth of the Paralympic movement but also to the success of the British Paralympic team that a sponsor of the size and profile of Sainsbury’s has signed up.”

Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said: “With such a well-known company becoming an exclusive partner, this will set new promotional opportunities for the Paralympic Games and the movement, leaving a powerful legacy in communities across the UK.”

And Lord [Seb] Coe, chair of LOCOG, said: “The support for the Paralympic Games in the UK is incredible and I’m thrilled that we are now in a position to confirm our first stand-alone Paralympics sponsor.”

Justin King, Sainsbury’s chief executive, said the Paralympics would complement his company’s “commitment to promote a healthy, fitter lifestyle across all ages and abilities”.
Figures show long waits for home adaptations

Disabled and older people have been waiting up to eight years for their councils to carry out the adaptations they need to live independently at home, according to new figures.

The statistics – revealed through Freedom of Information Act requests – show the time taken between an assessment of a request for support, and the adaptation work taking place.

Of the 84 English councils that provided information about their longest delays in 2008-09, 47 admitted their longest waits were at least two years, 28 said they were more than three years and 15 had longest waits of more than four years.

The investigation into the system of disabled facilities grants (DFGs), which fund improvements such as installing a downstairs bathroom, a ramp, or better lighting, was carried out by the Sunday Telegraph.

Staffordshire County Council said its longest delay was eight years, while in the London borough of Barnet it was more than six years, with another seven councils saying their longest delay was more than five years.

A Staffordshire council spokesman said the system was “fundamentally flawed”, with county council occupational therapists responsible for assessments, while Staffordshire’s eight district councils administered DFGs.

But it said it had halved its backlog since 2007 – following an £800,000 investment – with average waits falling by 28 per cent.

A pilot scheme involving one of the districts cut average waits from 80 weeks to 14. The county council is now hoping to roll this scheme out across Staffordshire.

Barnet council said its longest wait of more than six years was an exceptional delay caused by a dispute with the applicant, which failed to “accurately portray the experience of residents in the borough”, where average waits are about 26 weeks.

But the council was unable to provide details of the next longest wait after six years.

Dexter Hanoomansingh, director of Disability Action in the Borough of Barnet (DABB), said six months was still a “disappointing statistic”, while DABB had received reports of lengthy waits just to secure initial assessments.

He said: “We hope more can be done to bring down that waiting time and address need in a shorter time frame.”

He said he believed such problems were shared by councils “up and down the country”.

And he said increasing numbers of disabled people were seeking advice from a solicitor specialising in housing issues – including problems with DFGs – who held a monthly clinic at DABB.

In March, the government announced a seven per cent increase – to £167.3 million – in the annual payments it makes to councils in England to help them fund DFGs.
Rail access budget ‘halved’

The government appears to have slashed one of the budgets for improving access at railway stations by more than half.

The Department for Transport (DfT) had been intending to spend £7.9 million on improving access at stations across Britain in 2010-11 through the small schemes fund of its Access for All programme.

But the DfT has apparently now cut that figure to £3.9 million.

It is unclear whether the DfT has also cut the budget of the larger part of the Access for All budget which is aimed at improving access at the busiest stations. That annual budget is usually about five times bigger than the small schemes fund.

The DfT was unable to comment this week because of election rules.

But its apparent decision to cut the budget of the small schemes fund was attacked in a letter written to the DfT by the Scottish government’s transport minister, Stewart Stevenson.

Stevenson said the DFT had intended to allocate £7.9 million to the fund in 2010-11, but had now cut that to just £3.9 million across Britain, with the amount for Scotland reduced to £390,000, also a cut of more than half.

A spokesman for Stevenson, a member of the Scottish National Party, said: “How can wasting billions on nuclear weapons possibly be justified, while slashing funding by more than half on an excellent programme to improve access to the rail network for disabled people?

“This budget cut must be suspended, so that the issue can be revisited after the UK election.”

The Access for All fund was launched with a £370 million government funding pot in 2006, to improve access at train stations across England, Wales and Scotland.

Organisations such as councils and regional transport bodies can bid for cash but must match any funding they secure.
Protesters call for inquiry into death of disabled woman

Disabled campaigners have held a public protest over the case of a disabled woman who died in despair at her failure to secure the accessible housing and support she needed.

Protesters outside Camden council’s department of housing and adult social care called for a public inquiry into the council’s treatment of Jennyfer Spencer.

Their campaign is led by two disabled people’s organisations, the Campaign Against Care Charges (Camden) and WinVisible, the national disabled women’s charity.

Spencer, a wheelchair-user and former primary school teacher, had spent seven years living in a fifth-floor, inaccessible flat. Her support package of direct payments had also been withdrawn.

Her body was found on 1 March, along with a letter addressed to a local paper detailing her despair at her long battle with the council.

Claire Glasman, a volunteer with WinVisible, said after this week’s protest: “People spoke about how – like Jennyfer Spencer – there are a lot of people being neglected and at risk.

“People are having their direct payments cut or dropping out [of receiving council support] because of charging.

“People are very disturbed about what happened to Jennyfer Spencer and also worried on their own behalf. We all know it could happen to us as well.”

She said she feared that other disabled people could die in similar circumstances unless there was an inquiry.

The council claims that Spencer had a “long history of refusing to engage with services”, and that her direct payments were cancelled because the money was just being left in her bank account.

It said it made repeated attempts to engage with Spencer, including contacts through her legal representative, her GP and the community mental health team.

It said that any suggestion that it had failed to meet the needs of Spencer was “conjecture” and pointed out that no cause of death had yet been established at an inquest.

A council spokeswoman said there were “currently no plans for a public inquiry”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Landmark ruling, Dave Morris obituary; RADAR challenges political parties

What a lovely weekend! The BBQ was trundled out of the garage and ceremonially cleaned! (My granddaughter spotted a spider making a bid for freedom from under the grill. It was last seen climbing the table leg!) There is something about a Sunday in the sunshine surrounded by friends and family I hope you did something equally lovely! The garden is looking stunning with everything bursting into colour! It’s a real pity that the local rabbit population have also discovered the lushness of our plants!! I’ve refused point blank to read Peter the Rabbit to my grandchildren as a way of registering a protest!
Disabled woman secures £125,000 in landmark discrimination case

A disabled woman who secured a ground-breaking discrimination ruling from the House of Lords is to receive £125,000 in compensation.

Elizabeth Boyle, from Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland, had alleged disability and sex discrimination, victimisation and unfair selection for redundancy against her former employer, SCA Packaging.

A vital ruling in the case by the House of Lords last July also meant that more disabled people with fluctuating conditions would be protected by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

The DDA says that someone with a condition that does not currently have a substantial effect on them but varies in severity should still be viewed as disabled if they are “likely” to become substantially affected again in the future.

But the Law Lords ruled that this use of “likely” meant “could well happen”, rather than the previously accepted definition of “more probable than not”.

Boyle had worked for SCA Packaging for 32 years.

She had developed vocal nodules, which she helped to manage by speaking quietly, limiting the use of her voice, and other measures.

But her employer decided to remove partitions near her desk, even though it meant she would have to speak more loudly and risk her condition returning.

In October 2001, she began proceedings under the DDA, alleging she was being discriminated against through her employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Seven months later, she was made redundant and brought further claims, including victimisation under the DDA.

The company argued Boyle was not disabled as her condition no longer had an adverse effect on her life.

But after ruling in Boyle’s favour last July, and finding that she was a disabled person under the DDA, the Law Lords referred the case back to an industrial tribunal.

Boyle and SCA Packaging then agreed on the financial settlement without the case needing to be heard, although the company did not admit liability.

Boyle said: “This has been a nine year battle that caused so much stress to me and my family.

“However, because of the ruling made in my case, other disabled people can benefit too.”

Eileen Lavery, head of strategic enforcement for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said the case had “broadened the protection” to disabled people under the DDA.

She said the Lords ruling was “particularly important” for people with conditions that can be controlled by treatment, or fluctuating conditions that have temporarily ceased to have an effect but are likely to recur, such as arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Movement mourns loss of David Morris

The disability movement united this week to mourn the loss of David Morris, a hugely respected campaigner, artist and pioneer of the independent living movement, who died suddenly on Sunday.

The UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) said his passing left a “major gap in our landscape”, while other leading activists paid tribute to his passion, commitment and “incredible contributions” to equality and human rights.

There was a two-minute silence in his honour on Tuesday at an election hustings hosted by Inclusion London, the new pan-London Deaf and disabled people’s organisation that he helped develop.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said Morris had “helped shape the independent living movement in the 1980s”.

In 1989, he founded Independent Living Alternatives, which supports disabled people who need personal assistance. On its website, he described how disabled people have “an inalienable right to independent living”, but added: “In essence, independent living is a misnomer: as disabled people we should be able to just think about living as anybody else.”

Morris played a leading role in nearly every major development around disability equality in London over the last 10 years, including both Liberty – London’s annual disability arts festival – and the mayor’s Disability Capital event.

He had recently played a key role in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, as the organising committee’s external access and inclusion coordinator, on secondment from his job with the Greater London Authority.

Last September, he told Disability Capital that 2012 was a chance to leave “a real legacy for generations to come” and that London in 2012 would see the largest ever number of disabled and Deaf people in any city at one time.

Kirsten Hearn, who chaired the Inclusion London event, told the audience of disabled activists that Morris would be “the most enormous loss to our community”.

She worked with him after he was appointed senior disability adviser to the then mayor, Ken Livingstone, and said he helped deliver Livingstone’s vision around access to transport, leading to the current fleet of low-floor, “talking” buses.

She said: “Some of the changes and differences that were made in London for disabled people were made because Dave was dogged and persistent in all that he did.

“He was a quiet but vociferous man. He didn’t make a lot of audible noise but he never shut up. He would simply persist. I personally will miss him hugely and I am sure that many of us will.”
ELECTION 2010: RADAR’s plan for new government’s ‘first 100 days’

A campaigning disability organisation has laid out seven “radical but practical” measures the next government should introduce in its first 100 days in office so that it can “blaze a trail for disability equality”.

RADAR says in its election manifesto – launched this week – that introducing the seven policies would immediately improve opportunities for disabled people, “without breaking the bank”.

And it is calling on campaigners to ask their local parliamentary candidates to pledge to support the policies.

Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, said that adopting the seven measures would allow the new government to send out “strong signals” about how it would approach issues such as social care and support, and disabled people leading change.

The seven measures are:
Introducing social care “portability”, so a disabled person could take their support package with them if they moved to a home in a different local authority area.
Giving disabled people looking for work an indication of the access to work funding they would receive if they secured a job.
Setting up a taskforce to develop a strategy for ending disability poverty by 2025.
Changing the local housing allowance rules so disabled people who need an overnight support worker could claim for a second bedroom.
Drawing up regulations to ensure “effective and enforceable” public sector equality duties under the Equality Act.
Repealing the law that says MPs must lose their seat if detained under the Mental Health Act for more than six months.
Send a “strong signal” that disabled people’s leadership aspirations will be met, through issuing statements and giving a high profile to disabled politicians.

The manifesto also includes a wide range of other polices that should be introduced during the next parliament, as well as longer-term measures.

The policies focus on independent living, disability poverty and financial exclusion, access, realising the potential of disabled people, and equality and justice.

They include: a national action plan for inclusive education; an “intensive” campaign to raise awareness among disabled people of the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; stronger and more effective enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation; and the introduction of a national disability hate crime register.

Sayce said: “We have said in the manifesto that factoring disability into mainstream policies just makes for better policies.

“Think of disabled people as contributors, leaders, and think about disability when you are considering schools or housing or anti-poverty, because that will just make for better policies.”
Crow’s Resistance receives US seal of approval

A British disabled film-maker’s acclaimed installation exploring the horrors of the targeted killing of disabled people in Nazi Germany is to be exhibited at one of America’s most renowned cultural venues.

Liz Crow’s Resistance: which way the future? is to be shown at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, even though Crow has yet to find a venue willing to exhibit it in London.

This week, the film installation was brought to Mansfield, where Crow was hoping it would receive similar acclaim as at its launch at DaDa Fest in Liverpool last November.

Crow said it was “hugely exciting” that Resistance would be exhibited by the Smithsonian, but she said she was frustrated at how difficult it had been to find exhibition spaces willing to host the installation in the UK.

She said: “It seems to really connect with people and really get them thinking. My fear is that it will never realise that potential. It would be such a waste if it doesn’t get out there.”

The Aktion T4 programme is believed to have led to the targeted killing of as many as 200,000 disabled people in Germany, and possibly many thousands more, and became the blueprint for the “Final Solution”, through which the Nazis hoped to wipe out Jews, gay people and other minority groups.

Crow’s installation features a short drama about T4, a filmed conversation between three of the actors from the drama, and a series of voices of disabled people talking about their present-day, “sharp end” experiences of both discrimination and inclusion.

It explores the values that permitted the T4 programme to take place but also reveals how people found the courage to resist.

Crow said she tries to draw visitors out of the “historical hopelessness” of T4 into exploring how they as individuals could prevent the kind of oppression that surfaced in Nazi Germany.

She said: “This is an episode of history that is virtually hidden, yet the values that underpinned it still echo through disabled people’s lives today.”

Disablist hate crime, the campaign to legalise assisted suicide and pre-natal screening and abortion all “challenge the worth of disabled people’s lives and even their right to exist”, she said.

She added: “The campaigns that were needed, the resistance that was needed during the Nazi regime, are still needed now. We still need to create change on the same kind of issues.”

Disabled people who have visited the installation tended to be struck by its historical elements, she said, while non-disabled visitors tended to be affected most by the realisation that such oppression was still taking place today.

In the absence of such issues being debated during the election campaign, she said she hoped a tour of Resistance could become a platform for such issues to be discussed.

She said: “I don’t feel like this is a project of mine. I would love it if people took it and used it to create change.”

Resistance is at The Old Library, Leeming Street, Mansfield, from Tuesday 20 April to Saturday 1 May, with public access from Monday to Friday, noon-2pm, and on Saturdays, from 11am-3pm.

For further information about the installation, visit www.roaring-girl.com

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com