White Christmas??

It must be Christmas there is snow on the ground! Although I do recall not that many years ago when we had snow at the beginning of the cricket season! So this is the final blog until 30 December by which time many of you will have gained a few pounds, questioned the amount you spent and be preparing for the new year resolutions! I hope that you all have a really good time over the Christmas period and you are able to relax for some of the time!

Now down to business! This week we’ve seen developments concerning the Equalities Bill, Hate Crime and Assisted Suicide.
Disabled peers ready for battle on equality bill

Three disabled peers say they will fight to ensure that the equality bill does not lower the level of protection for disabled people currently provided by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins and Lord [Colin] Low were speaking during the second reading of the bill in the Lords.

Each welcomed the bill – which streamlines existing equality laws – but warned that parts of it provide less protection than the DDA.

Baroness Campbell said the bill could “genuinely transform opportunities over time” but gains made through the DDA must not be “lost in translation in the equality bill”.

She said she was particularly concerned that the public sector duty to promote equality would be weaker on disability equality than the DDA.

And she said the bill fails to make it “absolutely clear” that service-providers cannot charge to provide reasonable adjustments.

She also expressed concern that an immigration measure in the bill could lead to seriously-ill disabled people being denied entry or leave to remain in the UK “in contravention of the most basic human rights”.

Baroness Wilkins said she was disappointed the bill had not adopted a more “social model” definition of disability, to improve on the current situation where discrimination can only be proved if an impairment has lasted a year.

She said it was “a travesty” that so much tribunal time was wasted “arguing about how disabled someone is, rather than focusing on the discrimination that may have taken place”.

But she said she was “delighted” the bill would make it illegal for landlords to prevent reasonable requests from disabled tenants to make physical alterations to communal hallways and entrances, so they are not “imprisoned in their own home”, something she has campaigned for since 2004.

Lord Low said parts of the bill were “particularly welcome to disabled people”, including its reversal of the 2008 Lewisham v Malcolm Lords ruling, which “threatened to wreak so much havoc with the concept of disability-related discrimination”.

But he said several parts “remain of concern to disabled people”, including a clause that “explicitly authorises an exam system that disadvantages disabled candidates” and says minimising this is “merely desirable, not necessary”.

And Lord Low said he would table an amendment to “introduce an explicit duty to provide accessible information”.

Baroness Royall, for the government, said she was “carefully” considering the comments of the three peers, and others, on the public sector equality duty, and would discuss further the issue around reasonable adjustment costs.
Still no justice on disability hate crime, say professionals

The criminal justice system is still failing to take the issue of disability hate crime seriously enough, according to a poll of professionals.

Nearly 50 delegates from local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service, police forces, central government and voluntary organisations attended theOvercoming a Crisis of Justice conference on disability hate crime.

During a voting session at the conference – organised by Westminster Briefing – nearly four-fifths of delegates said the criminal justice system failed to take disability hate crime as seriously as other hate crimes.

Nearly seven in ten said the court process was “unfriendly and inaccessible” to disabled people.

And 86 per cent said they believed that not enough was being done to ensure that disabled people were seen as targets of hostility, and not just “easy targets”.

But nearly half the delegates said that tackling disability hate crime was high on the agenda in their local area.

Katharine Quarmby, author of the Getting Away With Murder report on disability hate crime, who spoke at the conference, said there was a feeling of “real disappointment and frustration” that the criminal justice system was still failing to treat disabled people equally.

She said: “It was an audience of very highly-skilled professionals with a really good understanding of what’s happening on the ground.

“If they are so disappointed in the criminal justice system, it really shows that the system hasn’t changed.”

Quarmby said the conference also underlined the urgent need for research to discover what motivates offenders to target disabled people in hate crimes.

But she said she was encouraged that criminal justice agencies appeared to be much clearer that lower-level harassment of disabled people often develops into something much more serious, such as hate crime murders.

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, who chaired the conference, said he was encouraged that delegates had recognised the importance of taking such harassment seriously and “looking more systematically at this lower level of crime”.
Guidance on assisted suicide law ‘must be toughened’

New guidance aimed at clarifying the law on assisted suicide must make it clear that nearly everyone who helps a person to kill themselves will be prosecuted, according to leading disabled activists.

Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK) was responding to a public consultation on interim guidance published by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) in September.

The DPP laid out interim guidelines for England, Wales and Northern Ireland after the Law Lords backed Debbie Purdy’s demand for the law to be clarified.

Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, wanted to know in which circumstances her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her end her life at the Dignitas assisted suicide centre in Switzerland.

But NDY UK – whose members are disabled people campaigning against assisted suicide – says pro-euthanasia campaigners are trying to use Purdy’s case to “change the law by the back door” by “creating the impression that those who assist in a suicide will be immune from prosecution”.

NDY UK’s views have been endorsed by a swathe of influential disabled people’s organisations, including the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, RADAR and the National Centre for Independent Living.

Many disabled campaigners were angered by the interim guidance, which lists factors to be considered in deciding whether to prosecute.

It says a prosecution is less likely if the victim had a terminal illness, a “severe and incurable physical disability” or a “severe degenerative physical condition”.

But NDY UK says in its response to the consultation that a presumption that anyone assisting in a suicide would be prosecuted would protect those who feel pressured to kill themselves and reassure them that society valued their lives.

It would also send a message to those working in palliative care and hospices that their work was valued and “put the brakes on a growing negative culture, which does not value the lives of all people equally”.

And it would ensure the policy does not discriminate against disabled people, sending out “a very clear message that all people should be protected under the law, in the same way, with the same respect”.

NDY UK says the DPP should only be able to decline to prosecute if the suspect only assisted after “protracted and persistent pressure from the victim”.

NDY UK says this is the “only potentially acceptable factor against prosecution”, although there should be evidence that the suspect resisted this pressure and sought help from professionals to try to avoid the suicide.

A final policy is expected in the spring.

News provided by John Pring at jpringnews@googlemail.com

Mental Health Initiatives Launched

A week of little excitement news wise however two important initiatives affecting those who have a mental health impairment and employers. Let’s hope these developments lead to a reduction in the appallng unemployment figures for this dsadvantaged group of people.
Mental health launch: intensive support will boost numbers in work

Prejudice, low expectations and a lack of support are denying people with mental health conditions the chance to work, according to a major new review.

Realising Ambitions – commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – says more than a million people with mental health conditions are claiming welfare benefits, with probably twice as many out-of-work.

It was one of four reports around mental health launched by the government on 7 December.

The review, led by Dr Rachel Perkins, a mental health service-user and a director at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, examines what can be done – outside the benefits system – to help people with mental health conditions into work.

The report calls for intensive, specialised support, based on the individual placement and support (IPS) approach Perkins has pioneered in the UK, in which people are helped to get a job and there is long-term support for both employers and employees.

Perkins said there should be “quite significant” changes to the access to work (ATW) scheme, so people can discover their eligibility before applying for a job, and employees and employer can call on support when needed.

Currently, less than one per cent of ATW claimants have a mental health condition.

The review also says small businesses should be able to use ATW to fund temporary cover if an employee is on long-term sick leave for an impairment-related reason.

And it recommends further changes to the “permitted work” rules, which allow people to work part-time while still receiving benefits so as to ease their path towards full-time work.

The government already allows those on employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit to earn £93 a week for up to a year without their benefits being affected.

But the review says this should be extended to all who could benefit, including many people with mental health conditions on income support or jobseeker’s allowance.

Perkins said she was also “very concerned” at the lack of connection between employment services and health and social services.

Other recommendations include: more focus in the welfare-to-work system on assisting people with mental health conditions, and regular monitoring of their job status by health, social services and the DWP; employment specialists to be “embedded” in all mental health and social services teams; and Jobcentre Plus to arrange internships to ease people’s transition from benefits to paid work.

The review concludes that the government and public sector have often “lagged behind” the private sector in providing jobs for those with mental health conditions.

Perkins said she was “really pleased” that the government had appeared to accept the ATW recommendations, but hoped it would go further on permitted work.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said the review, if implemented in full, would “make the right to work real for hundreds of thousands of talented people”, ending injustice and reaping “huge dividends for our economy”.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it knew that IPS can be “effective and cost-effective” and the review had formed a “blueprint” for local areas to put it into practice.
Mental health launch: strategy ‘will replace prejudice with opportunity’

The government has launched a new “over-arching” mental health strategy for England, with the twin aims of providing better services and improving the nation’s mental health.

The cross-government New Horizons strategy was launched alongside three linked publications around mental health and employment.

New Horizons promises that services for people with mental ill health will be “safe, accessible and personal” while “opportunity…will replace prejudice”.

But it warns that all plans arising from New Horizons would be “subject to a review of affordability”.

The strategy includes 120 cross-government actions, with measures to improve services for younger people and the transition to adult services, boost personalisation, and improve the physical healthcare of people with mental health conditions and the mental health of those in the armed forces and service veterans.

There will also be a “refreshed” strategy on suicide prevention.

A section of the strategy is devoted to tackling stigma, including a planned “summit” meeting of ministers to discuss cross-government action, and funding for a website that will allow the public to praise or complain to journalists writing about mental health.

Health secretary Andy Burnham described the strategy as “a bold statement of intent” and a “radical new approach” which “lays the foundation for further action” after a decade of record investment in mental health services.

And the prime minister, Gordon Brown, said the strategy combined “service improvement with a new partnership of central and local government, the third sector and the professions”.

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of the charity Rethink, said New Horizons could “revolutionise” services and the lives of people with severe mental health conditions, but warned that mental health budgets were vulnerable to cuts in a recession and called for government funding guarantees.

Mind said New Horizons had “broken new ground” and was “a turning point that no new government can turn back from”, but that its aim to “improve everyone’s wellbeing” should not draw attention from the poor services and lack of support in many areas.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said investment in adult mental health services had increased in real terms by 50 per cent, or £2 billion, since 2001-02, and “we cannot depend on that scale of extra investment being repeated”.

But she said the strategy demonstrates “how we can make enormous progress” through prevention, earlier intervention, innovation, collaboration and improved productivity.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, has given the strongest sign yet that the government will act to remove a law that saysMPs sectioned for at least six months must lose their seats.

He said: “It is an anachronism and it needs to be dumped. We need to find the right legislation to attach it to. I am sure that that is what we will do.”

News provided by John Pring atjpringnews@googlemail.com

So much going on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disabled anti-hate crime campaigners have welcomed the inquiry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News provided by John Pring atjpringnews@googlemail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News provided by John Pring at jpringnews@googlemail.com

RADAR searches for leaders of the future

A disability organisation is looking for 100 ambitious disabled people to help become future leaders in the public, private and charity sectors.

RADAR’s new leadership programme will bring together aspiring disabled leaders and provide them with the skills and personal development training they need.

Government figures show that only one in 20 appointees to the boards of the UK’s 1,200 public bodies are disabled or have a long-term health condition.

The government aims to increase this to nearly one in seven new appointments (14 per cent) by March 2011.

RADAR secured funding over three years for the new programme from the Department for Communities and Local Government, following its previous leadership work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Disability Rights Commission.

David Stocks, RADAR’s empowerment manager, who is a graduate of one of its previous leadership schemes, said it was “of the utmost importance” to “help disabled people realise their potential as leaders”.

He said: “Disabled people are not getting enough input into the way the country is run and their voice is not being heard.

“It is time to tap into the great pool of talent that is waiting to be realised within those living with ill-health, injury or disability.”

RADAR is particularly looking for applications from disabled people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and those with learning difficulties, neuro-diversity conditions and mental health conditions, as all four groups are particularly under-represented in leadership positions.

A senior civil servant from the Office for Disability Issues will mentor those in each of the four groups.

All 100 successful applicants will be invited to four leadership development days between January and April 2010 in Manchester and Birmingham, with coaching, mentoring and workshops, and additional telephone support between the four events.

To find out more, visit:www.radar.org.uk/leadership/downloads.aspx

The closing date for applications is Monday, 7 December.

News provided by John Pring atjpringnews@googlemail.com

More Concerns Regarding Disability Hate Crime

Union boss calls for action on disability hate crime

A leading union boss has called for more to be done to recognise and stamp out disability hate crime.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public sector union UNISON, told his national disabled members conference that he wanted discussion of hate crime to be included in the national curriculum.

UNISON also wants criminal justice agencies and local authorities to do more to address disability hate crime, he said.

And he called for more “third party reporting centres”, which allow disabled people to ask someone else to report a hate crime on their behalf, in order to “stop disabled people living their lives in fear”.

Prentis said: “Disablism is rife within our society and attacks against disabled people are common, yet there is very little being done to record or prevent this type of hate crime.

“If crimes are perpetrated against a gay person, or someone from a minority ethnic or religious group, there can be little doubt that these would be investigated as possible hate crimes – the same attitude needs to be taken towards disability hate crimes.”

Jonathan Shaw, minister for disabled people, told the conference that there was “no place in our society for disability hate crime” and that the government was addressing the issue through its new hate crime action plan.

Paul Hardisty, a disabled communications officer with Kent police, who has himself been the victim of a hate crime, said: “We need to continue recording and monitoring these disability hate crimes, so we can see it for the huge problem it is.”

And fellow disabled delegate Margie Hill, who has also been the victim of a hate crime, said: “Disability hate crime needs to be acknowledged and stamped out.”

Prentis also told the conference that a new union survey had revealed that more than a third of disabled members who responded said they had been bullied at work in the previous six months.

His speech came as the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) revealed that nine per cent of disabled people who responded to a national survey said they had been the victims of a disability hate crime.

John Knight, LCD’s director of policy and campaigns, said the figure was “deeply worrying”.

He said: “There is a clear need for more robust identification and recording of disability hate crimes, better support for disabled people who are victims of crime and improved access to justice.
Sharp rise in calls to disability hate helpline

Reporting of disability hate crimes to a hotline more than trebled last year and is set to rise sharply again this year, a conference has heard.

Calls about disability hate crime made to the helpline rose from 26 in 2007-08 to 93 last year, with 80 calls already received in the first half of this year.

The figures were revealed by the anti-hate crime charity Stop Hate UK, which runs the helpline and attributed the increase to rising awareness among disabled people.

Crime reduction minister Alan Campbell told the national hate crime conference, organised by the London Borough of Havering, that the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca had focused attention on the “torment” that can come from “systematic” abuse.

An inquest in September found that Pilkington committed suicide and unlawfully killed her daughter, Francecca, after a ten-year hate campaign led by a local gang, much of it directed at Francecca, who had learning difficulties.

Campbell said: “We need to work together to make sure that offenders are dealt with, but also crucially that victims are protected and supported.”

He said new guidance for Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships, to be issued as part of the government’s hate crime action plan, would help deal with “campaigns of prejudice and hate” such as that experienced by the Pilkington family.

But he said it was crucial to “build confidence” so victims of hate crime “feel able to come forward”.

Mark Brookes, a senior policy worker at the learning difficulties charity Values Into Action, said: “People with learning difficulties should act together to break the silence and learn about hate crime.”

He said more must be done to ensure people with learning difficulties know what a hate crime is and are confident enough to report such crimes.

But he called for “action and not strategies” and said he was tired of “just repeating and repeating” the hate crime message.

He said he himself has had eggs and tomatoes thrown at him and is afraid to leave his house after 8pm, as are many other people with learning difficulties.

Abigail Lock, Scope’s head of advocacy and campaigns, called for joined-up inter-agency working, for tackling disability hate crime to become a mainstream issue, and for investment in third-party reporting centres.

And Bennett Obong, project manager of the Metropolitan Police Authority’s hate crime forum, said: “It is actions that make a difference…communities need to see that there is a response from the agencies that have a responsibility.”

News provided by John Pring at jpringnews@googlemail.com

Shadow Minister tries to reassure on Incapacity Benefit

The Conservative shadow minister for disabled people has laid out some of the key differences between his party and the government on the heated and controversial issue of incapacity benefit (IB) reform.

Mark Harper MP has expanded on the radical welfare reform programme outlined during the party’s annual conference in Manchester earlier this month.

His comments come as many campaigners have expressed alarm at the prospect of a contest between the Conservatives and Labour over which party can sound toughest on IB reform.

Harper says he is “well aware” of the “anecdotal evidence” of problems with the operation of the work capability assessment (WCA) – the test for all new claimants of out-of-work disability benefits, which has just passed its first anniversary – particularly for those with mental health and other fluctuating and long-term conditions.

There has been a series of warnings from campaigning organisations that the new system is inflexible, riddled with errors and fails to reflect disabled people’s daily lives.

Harper says: “The principle of having a test is sound, but it needs to deal with those more complex and fluctuating conditions.”

But he says he cannot pledge to change the test until he has a greater depth of information about how it is working. His party has tabled parliamentary questions to try to secure this data.

He says: “First of all we just need to look at what the data says about the test.

“If the testing that is going on is not properly dealing with certain groups of people then clearly we need to address that.”

Both his party and the government are now proposing to test everyone on IB through the WCA over three years from 2010.

There are concerns that so many assessments – possibly as many as three million when taking into account new claimants over those three years – could expose disabled people to even more mistakes and hardship.

Harper says he is “very well aware of the concerns that groups have got” with how the WCA is already working.

But he says: “This is doable. We are not inventing a new process. We want to do it fast because we want to make sure those people get the help.

“It clearly is a challenge. It’s not going to be a walk in the park. But not doing it means saying to those people we are not going to provide you with the help and support you need to get into work.”

Although he does not accept that it could easily take longer than three years to test everyone on IB, he does not rule out this possibility either.

He says: “We will need to see how fast we can do it. At this point, we don’t know.

“We want to be able to reassess the existing IB claimants as soon as practically possible.

“Clearly if we find that is not practical we may have to go back to it.”

Harper also defends his party’s plan to scrap all the government’s individual back-to-work programmes, such as the New Deal for Disabled People and Pathways to Work, and replace them with one single welfare-to-work scheme.

He says one of the key differences with government policy is that a Conservative government would refer everyone on out-of-work benefits to a welfare-to-work provider for targeted, personalised help.

Everyone on IB or the new employment and support allowance (ESA) would be referred to a welfare-to-work provider “immediately”, he says.

This is possible, he says, because the Conservative treasury team has agreed that expected benefits savings secured by finding people jobs can be used to pay for an expanded back-to-work programme.

He says this would mean that disabled people who should have been on ESA but end up on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) instead could still secure support to find work, although he accepts that they will be receiving a lower rate of benefit.

He says: “For most of the people on IB at the moment, [the government] do not have anything to offer them almost for the whole [of the next] parliament. That’s the single biggest difference [between the parties].”

He says the government’s Invest to Save pilots, which will also use benefits savings to fund work programmes, would help only a small proportion of those on IB.

Another key difference between the two parties, he says, is that a Conservative government would ensure bigger rewards for welfare-to-work providers who find jobs for those people who are the hardest to help into work.

There would also be a “more robust” emphasis on ensuring that those jobs are sustainable, which would be of “particular help” for people with fluctuating conditions.

Harper also claims that a Conservative government would address the workplace barriers that disabled people face, for instance through mental health anti-stigma campaigns and ensuring that the NHS provides better support for employers taking on new staff with health conditions.

And he tries to quell fears that disabled people who fail the WCA and are forced onto JSA might have their benefits cut, for instance if they refuse inappropriate jobs.

He says: “If you assume people on JSA are capable of work, they should not have the option of not working and continuing to claim benefit.”

But he says welfare-to-work providers would be “expected to provide” the support those people needed.

Rights and Wrongs

What’s grabbed my attention this week? Well a couple of things. Many of you will have heard the rumours about DLA and whether its to be cut. Well Andy Burnham the Health Secretary has made a statement which I’ve copied below. We’re not out of the woods but perhaps the news is a little less gloomy. I’ve also included a story about some younger disabled people who are about to expose access and I guess other barriers which prevent them from enjoying themselves in the ways that non-disabled young people do their thing! Pubs clubs and museums will form the basis of their enquiries. Good luck I say! Have a great weekend.
Minister promises DLA is safe – but only until you are 65

Health secretary Andy Burnham has promised that the government will not scrap disability living allowance (DLA), but only for disabled people under the age of 65.

Speaking at the national children and adult services conference in Harrogate, Burnham said he wanted to “close down” the debate and controversy over the future of DLA.

But he suggested that the government had previously been considering scrapping DLA, and that scrapping DLA for those aged over 65 was still an option.

Disabled people over 65 can currently receive DLA, as long as they claimed the benefit for the first time before they reached 65.

Burnham said: “We recognise that this is an important benefit for disabled people, and I can state categorically that we have now ruled out any suggestion that DLA for under-65s will be brought into the new National Care Service.”

He said this was because “the majority of the people needing care in the future will be older people”.

Questioned afterwards about the future of DLA, a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “No decision on that has been made yet for those over 65.

“It is still open to consultation. Depending on what they say we will make a decision.”

Concerns over the future of DLA, a key disability benefit, which is not means-tested and is intended to cover the extra costs of an impairment, were raised after the government published its care and support green paper in July.

The green paper said the government was considering “integrating” some disability benefits, including attendance allowance (AA), to help social services fund means-tested personal budgets.

Thousands of disabled people have protested about the threat to DLA and AA.

More than 13,000 people signed up within five days to a campaign launched by the Benefits and Work website, while many disabled people expressed their concerns on the government’s Big Care Debate website.

And a petition calling on the prime minister to save AA and DLA, launched on the Number 10 website by members of the Disability Charities Consortium, has secured more than 18,000 signatures.

Burnham also repeated the threat to AA, saying that the government was still considering “bringing together elements of some disability benefits, such as attendance allowance, with social care funding, to create a new care and support system to provide for the needs of older and disabled people”.

He said anyone receiving any of the relevant benefits at the time of reform would continue to receive an “equivalent level of support and protection” under the new system.
Trailblazers set their sights on discrimination in pubs, clubs and museums

Young campaigners are to investigate whether cinemas, football grounds and museums are breaching the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), in their latest probe into the access barriers facing young disabled people.

Volunteers will conduct undercover investigations into leisure facilities in villages, towns and cities across the UK and will give star ratings to access at local facilities in their area, such as pubs, clubs, theatres and leisure centres.

Up to 150 young people will be involved in the investigation.

The latest study is the third part of the Inclusion Now! campaign run by theTrailblazers network of young volunteers, which is part of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign (MDC).

Already this year the Trailblazers have investigated the barriers in securing a university education and using public transport.

Now they hope to highlight barriers, present solutions and highlight good practice in the leisure industry, and name and shame the worst offenders.

And they have not ruled out taking legal action against leisure providers that refuse to improve poor access.

Leisure, transport and higher education were selected for investigation after being highlighted by Trailblazers as areas where they were facing access barriers.

Some wheelchair-users had been branded a “fire risk” at cinemas, and were refused entry to sports and music venues.

Trailblazer David Gale, from Carlisle, said he encounters “vast differences” in access at the football grounds he visits.

He said: “The DDA says that ‘reasonable adjustments’ need to be made to make sure venues and leisure attractions are fully accessible.

“This investigation will ask whether this law is being broken.

“I hope this investigation will expose what some places are doing right and how others can improve to make sure everyone can enjoy them.”

Philip Butcher, MDC’s chief executive, said: “Many people take for granted the ability to watch a film, to visit a museum or to support their local football team.

“This simply is not an option to some disabled people if leisure facilities fail to conform to the DDA.

“The Trailblazers are determined, motivated and passionate about making society more accessible and I’m sure this report will have impact.”

To take part in the investigation, including the chance to fill in an online survey, visit: http://www.mdctrailblazers.org/campaigns/185#

Musings of the Week

Concerns over first government work test figures

The first official figures showing how the government’s work capability assessment (WCA) is working have revealed only a small proportion of those applying for out-of-work disability benefits are “passing” the strict new test.

Of about 175,000 people whose claims were completed between October 2008 and February this year, only about 32,000 –18 per cent – were placed on the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

Of the 32,000, just under a third were placed in the support group, for those who do not have to engage in work-related activity.

But about 69,000 of the claimants were pronounced “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, while 74,000 stopped claiming before their assessment was finished.

The assessments – carried out by the government contractor ATOS Healthcare – are supposed to test whether someone requires personalised support to find work and so qualifies for ESA, which has replaced incapacity benefit (IB) for new claimants.

The government is to start rolling out the WCA to existing IB claimants next year.

The new figures also reveal that, by the end of August, 4,900 claimants had completed appeals against a decision that they were “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, but only 1,500 were successful.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for the disability poverty charity Disability Alliance, said the WCA was “too rigid” and often failed to reflect disabled people’s daily lives.

He said the figures suggest the government’s welfare reforms could fail to secure work for many disabled people, which would be “deeply disappointing”.

He added: “The concern is that too many disabled people are not getting access to ESA and are put on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), where they do not get tailored support.

“Meanwhile, there are less jobs, more competition for work and rampant employer discrimination, particularly against those with mental health problems.”

He said this risks alienating disabled people and forcing them into poverty, as JSA is paid at a lower rate than ESA (up to £64.30 a week for JSA, compared with up to £89.80 for ESA).

Meanwhile, the government has announced a new Fit for Work scheme, which will encourage employers, GPs and councils to help people who become ill at work to manage their condition and stay in their job so they do not end up on benefits.

Ten pilot schemes will encourage local partnerships to pool funds to develop new services, bringing together support in areas such as health, employment, skills, housing and debt advice.
Government adviser ‘wary’ of legal right to independent living

A senior government adviser has dismissed calls for rights-based laws that would give disabled people a nationally-guaranteed entitlement to independent living support.

Dr Steve Feast, a senior health and wellbeing adviser in the Department of Health, said he would be “very wary” of writing such legislation and then waiting for the results to “trickle down” to disabled people.

Speaking in a debate on independent living organised by the disability charity RADAR following its agm, Feast said he was a “strong believer” in giving council leaders discretion in how they spend their money.

And he said he believed there should be a move away from “big government” and towards flexibility, local innovation, “empowered individuals” and a “needs-based approach”.

But Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said legislation was needed so that “your ability to live a dignified life…to raise your kids, to love, learn, live and work” was not dependent on your local council.

She said such rights were “far too important to leave to local discretion” and that she had been “really struck with the number of people I have met recently who have had their care packages slashed”.

She added: “We are fed up to the back teeth of postcode lotteries and we are certainly fed up of professionals telling us what we need and how we should be living our lives.”

Disability consultant Haqeeq Bostan said disabled people’s organisations need to show they can deliver services themselves, with ring-fenced funding from central government.

Otherwise, he warned, “we will face fundamental cuts in the services we receive, in the support we have and the means to make the choices we want to”.

The motion they were debating stated that the government’s “vision for social care and support” would only be delivered through “rights-based legislation extending national entitlements” and that relying on local decision-making was a “recipe for disaster”.

Only Feast and Hackney councillor Nargis Khan – who also spoke opposing the motion – voted against it, while 25 people voted in favour and there were eight abstensions.

The debate took place just four days before Lord Ashley’s independent living bill – a private members’ bill that would give disabled people a legal right to independent living – was due to receive its second reading in the Commons.
12 October 2009 Government adviser ‘wary’ of legal right to independent living

A senior government adviser has dismissed calls for rights-based laws that would give disabled people a nationally-guaranteed entitlement to independent living support.

Dr Steve Feast, a senior health and wellbeing adviser in the Department of Health, said he would be “very wary” of writing such legislation and then waiting for the results to “trickle down” to disabled people.

Speaking in a debate on independent living organised by the disability charity RADAR following its agm, Feast said he was a “strong believer” in giving council leaders discretion in how they spend their money.

And he said he believed there should be a move away from “big government” and towards flexibility, local innovation, “empowered individuals” and a “needs-based approach”.

But Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said legislation was needed so that “your ability to live a dignified life…to raise your kids, to love, learn, live and work” was not dependent on your local council.

She said such rights were “far too important to leave to local discretion” and that she had been “really struck with the number of people I have met recently who have had their care packages slashed”.

She added: “We are fed up to the back teeth of postcode lotteries and we are certainly fed up of professionals telling us what we need and how we should be living our lives.”

Disability consultant Haqeeq Bostan said disabled people’s organisations need to show they can deliver services themselves, with ring-fenced funding from central government.

Otherwise, he warned, “we will face fundamental cuts in the services we receive, in the support we have and the means to make the choices we want to”.

The motion they were debating stated that the government’s “vision for social care and support” would only be delivered through “rights-based legislation extending national entitlements” and that relying on local decision-making was a “recipe for disaster”.

Only Feast and Hackney councillor Nargis Khan – who also spoke opposing the motion – voted against it, while 25 people voted in favour and there were eight abstensions.

The debate took place just four days before Lord Ashley’s independent living bill – a private members’ bill that would give disabled people a legal right to independent living – was due to receive its second reading in the Commons.

News provided by John Pring at jpringnews@googlemail.com

Hate Crime against disabled people must stop!

After multiple campaigns by Police Forces and the Crown Prosecution Service to spread the message that crime targeted at disabled people will be taken seriously, the fact that for a decade the pleas for help of Ms. Pilkington and her disabled daughter were ignored, until a group of thugs was able to drive the Pilkingtons to their deaths, and that those thugs have suffered no consequences of their actions, will strike many disabled people as a staggering betrayal of trust.

The evidence that disabled people, and people with learning disabilities in particular, are disproportionately affected by bullying and harassment has been produced thick and fast over the years. In its own policy document on disability hate crime, the Crown Prosecution Service quotes research by Mencap (Living in Fear, 2000) which found that one third of people with learning disabilities were facing bullying on a daily or weekly basis. These facts are well known to Police Forces, Prosecutors and Local Authorities alike.

There is, therefore, no excuse for the abject failure by Leicestershire Police to take any action to protect Ms Pilkington and Francecca from the systematic abuse and harassment which led to their deaths. All the outreach work in the world will not persuade people with disabilities to trust their police force to take their complaints seriously when they see cases like this. If anyone from the police or local authorities had taken Ms. Pilkington seriously, she and her daughter might still be alive today.

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of RADAR, said:

“It is extraordinary that in 21st Century Britain people still taunt and torment people just because they are different. In April of this year I myself took part in the launch of a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into targeted violence against disabled people, the findings of which were stark.”

“We need strong police response to hate crime, as this tragic case demonstrates. But we also need schools, local authorities, housing organisations and others to take positive action to tackle bullying and harassment before it ever gets to major hate crime. Disabled people tell us that they suffer bullying day in day out – people with learning disabilities in particular – and this is unacceptable.”