In Awe of the NHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t wait for May!!

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

Capita faces fresh call to be stripped of PIP contracts

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

Fears over government links as equality watchdog launches welfare probe

Government ‘must see disabled people as innovators and contributors’

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

All news provided by John Pring Disability News Service

Planes and Boats and the search for winter sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government agrees four more years of ILF transition cash for councils

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

Anger at Osborne’s working-age benefits freeze

Police duo jailed over failure to protect disabled murder victim

News provided by John Pring at

www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

How are you?

How long has it been? A year has turned, Christmas has passed and I have a new website. We have been working on the new site for a couple of months, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

I’d be particularly interested to hear about any accessibility issues. As you know, websites are never perfect for everyone, but I’m determined to make mine as welcoming and as accessible as possible so do let me know.

Graeme Whippy MBE doing what he loves
Graeme Whippy MBE doing what he loves

My thanks to Graeme Whippy who built my previous site and who I see was awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours list, See what happens if you design my website! Tricia Howey from Narus Productions designed this one so you’d better get ready for a Dameship Tricia!

Susan Scott-Parker OBE
Susan Scott-Parker OBE

I spent a very happy evening on Thursday celebrating the work of Susan Scott-Parker, who, as many of you will know by now, has moved from her role with the Business Disability Forum and is now the CEO at Business Disability International. Kate Nash (not the singer!) organised an informal get-together of past and present colleagues and associates, and we all shared a story or anecdote that spoke about our work or involvement with Susan. A mixture of funny and moving tales but all very entertaining. Susan has done so much to change the landscape for disabled people and employers, so it was a very fitting tribute and thoroughly deserved. 

Severely damaged wheelchair
Severely damaged wheelchair

Once I’ve finished writing this I’m going to start focussing on packing for my Carribean cruise. Yes, I know it’s a hard life! I don’t know about you, but I’m heartily sick of the weather. I’ve not seen as much rain since our house was flooded a couple of years ago. So the Carribean here we come. The only concern I have is whether my wheelchair will arrive in Barbados and if it does, will it be in one piece. You might have seen my recent Twitter post about a severely disabled athlete who had his £20,000 wheelchair demolished by baggage handlers. Fortunately, the story attracted a great deal of attention on Facebook, and the airline was ‘shamed’ into paying compensation. Here’s a link to the story Airline forced to pay compensation
I hope Barbadian baggage handlers are a little more careful with mine. Now where’s the suntan cream, better take the Factor 50? Will tell all on my return.

Now here is this weeks news which I hope is useful to you.


Maximus-owned Remploy slashes pay of disabled experts by half 

The care watchdog has allowed a US outsourcing giant to slash the pay of disabled people by more than half when it takes over two contracts to manage service-users who work as expert advisers on care home and hospital inspections. 

Council’s ‘wicked’ care cuts are‘like social cleansing’, say service-users

Disabled and older people have compared a council’s plans to cut £5 million from its adult social care budget to “social cleansing”, and have accused it of “treating people no better than animals in Longleat”. 

Disabled people are falling through holes in local welfare safety net, warn MPs

A committee of MPs has called on the government to stop local authorities discriminating against disabled people who need financial help following the introduction of the “bedroom tax”.The work and pensions select committee’s report on the local welfare safety net – which focuses on England – warns that many councils are failing to follow government guidance when deciding whether disabled people should be awarded discretionary housing payments (DHPs).

 Disabled MP’s jobs warning to government: ‘Do not under-estimate prejudice’

A disabled Conservative MP has warned the government not to underestimate the difficulty of achieving its aim of halving the disability employment gap, because of the extent of “prejudice” faced by disabled people. 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

UN investigators begin taking on ‘rights violations’

UN investigators begin taking on ‘rights violations’, Government hides information on death of Michael O’Sullivan, WRAG cuts will ‘lead to more tragedies’, Activist loses appeal over’ 20 metres PIP consultation, Shocking survey results

How are you all? On good form I hope. As I write, celebrations are beginning to take place in the USA to mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our own legislation, previously called the Disability Discrimination Act, will be 20 years old in a few weeks time. This got me thinking about the changes that have occurred in that time, but rather than just focussing on some of the major improvements that have taken place, I’ve been reflecting on some of “smaller” but no less significant things that have changed.

Back in 1995 the smartphone hadn’t been invented, the Blackberry came along in 1997. Email was still in its infancy and letters and memos were the usual way to correspond. The Internet was only five years old, Google launched in 1998, so we visited the library to do our research. We used acetates and overhead projectors for presentations; PowerPoint was an expensive and somewhat unusual alternative. Projection equipment lagged behind the software.

It was quite acceptable for organisations to expect disabled people to provide talks or presentations for free. In fact, for many, it was quite a shock to be asked for money! We often arrived to give a presentation, only to find the venue or the stage itself was inaccessible. Sign language interpreters were a rarity at such gatherings. Audiences were still surprised to see a disabled person providing the speech and were even more surprised when the disabled person’s facilitator did the talking. We talked about disability awareness not disability equality or confidence.

So much has changed, today disabled people are more likely to travel on trains and buses, have access to many more buildings, stand a better chance of getting a job, independent living is seen as a right rather than a luxury. The technologies may have changed, our expectations have certainly increased but as you’ll see from this week’s news, the need to change hearts and minds continues.

Have a good week and here’s to the next twenty years!

News Roundup

UN investigators begin taking evidence in UK on ‘rights violations’
A team of United Nations investigators has this week begun a two-week visit to the UK as part of an inquiry into allegations of “systematic and grave” violations of disabled people’s human rights.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed in August 2014 that the UK appeared to have become the first country to face a high-level inquiry by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD).

The committee said last summer, when approached by DNS, that it was not allowed to say whether the inquiry was underway, and that level of secrecy has continued with this month’s visit, with those giving evidence asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

But some details of how the inquiry into breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is proceeding have emerged.

DNS understands that a team of about six UN staff has arrived in the UK, including two disabled CRPD members, and will visit London, Bristol and Manchester, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

They are due to meet parliamentarians, disabled people’s organisations, civil servants, representatives of local authorities, academics and senior figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

They will also hear direct evidence from scores of individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, including former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), whistleblowers and disabled activists.

Among the issues being raised are believed to be the government’s decision to close ILF; cuts to legal aid; benefit cuts and sanctions, including the impact of the discredited work capability assessment; the severe shortage of accessible, affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people; cuts to social care; and the rise in disability hate crime.

Anne Pridmore, a disabled activist and former ILF-user who did not sign a confidentiality agreement but was due to give evidence about the impact of the ILF closure, said: “I am going to say that I am pissed off with being messed around. It is affecting my mental health.”

Nearly four months after the ILF closure, she still does not know if she will be able to stay in her own home, and cannot tell the six personal assistants who work for her whether they will soon be out of a job.

She said: “It is all because of this dreadful government who have stopped the ILF and put nothing in its place. Social care is in a terrible mess.”

Pridmore praised the role played by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which triggered the inquiry after becoming increasingly concerned by the disproportionate impact of the coalition’s cuts on disabled people.

She said she hoped the inquiry “embarrasses the government”, and added: “Hopefully it will give people confidence that something is being done to support them.”

Another disabled activist said: “I’m really happy that someone is listening, yet absolutely horrified by my own and so many other people’s situations and health conditions worsening and the lives being devastated as a result of the closure of the ILF and all the other cuts being made as a result of the ‘welfare reforms’ and the lie of ‘austerity’.

“Some of the stories I’ve been hearing are absolutely shocking and utterly heart-breaking.

“Knowing the UN are investigating is making me feel hopeful, despite everything.

“I really hope the UN will not just gather enough evidence to prove this government is guilty of human rights abuses but that it will then be able and willing to act decisively in order to help bring an end to this cruelty and abuse.”

She also praised DPAC, as well as Inclusion London, which has been closely involved in organising parts of the two-week visit.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We strongly reject the allegations made by DPAC.

“The UK has a proud record of furthering the rights of disabled people, with the principles of the UN convention at the heart of its approach. We continue to spend around £50 billion a year on disabled people and their services.”

The inquiry has taken place under the convention’s optional protocol, which allows individuals and groups who are victims of a violation to submit a complaint to the CRPD about any state, like the UK, that has signed up to both the convention and the protocol.

The deadline for evidence submissions to CRPD is believed to be 31 October.

Government hides information on death of Michael O’Sullivan

The government is refusing to release information that would reveal which ministers and civil servants decided how to respond to the death of a man who killed himself as a direct result of being found “fit for work”.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last month that a coroner had demanded government action after an inquest into the death of Michael O’Sullivan, from north London.

The coroner, Mary Hassell, wrote what is known as a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report, and sent it to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), because she said there was “a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”.

O’Sullivan had severe mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, and expressed suicidal thoughts in his ESA application, but medical evidence from three mental health professionals was ignored in the benefits assessment process.

It is believed to be the first and only time a coroner has used a PFD report to draw attention to flaws in the discredited work capability assessment (WCA) system, and the only time a coroner has directly blamed that system for a death.

In its response to Hassell’s report, DWP said it planned to issue a reminder to staff about guidance on such cases, but appeared to make no further suggestions for how to prevent further deaths.

After uncovering the report, DNS submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act, asking for the name and job title of the most senior DWP civil servant to read and act on the PFD report and the action they recommended, as well as the names of ministers who were shown the report, and the action they took.

In response to the request, a civil servant in DWP’s ESA [employment and support allowance] and WCA policy division confirmed “that we hold information falling within the description specified in your request”.

But he or she said it would be too expensive to comply with the request, because it would take the equivalent of one civil servant more than three-and-a-half days to produce the necessary information.

After receiving that response, DNS asked DWP’s press office to explain why it would take so long to produce such basic information (the case has received wide publicity over the last month, and has been mentioned in parliament and across mainstream media).

A DWP spokeswoman said: “People can ask for a review of the response to their FOI.”

DNS has now asked the DWP to review its freedom of information response.

Meanwhile, two opposition MPs have raised concerns about the Michael O’Sullivan case in parliament.

Their comments came in a debate on the government’s welfare reforms, secured by the Labour MP Carolyn Harris, but which was not attended by a single Conservative backbencher.

Jim Shannon, the DUP’s shadow spokesman on health and equality, said the case had shone a spotlight on the “utter disgrace that is the work capability assessment in relation to people with mental health problems”.

He said: “Despite providing reports from three doctors, including his GP, stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia and was unable to work, Michael O’Sullivan was taken off [incapacity benefit] and placed on jobseeker’s allowance.

“At the inquest last year, it was found that he killed himself as a direct result of that decision.

“According to the coroner, Mary Hassell, ‘the intense anxiety which triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions as being fit for work and his view of the likely consequences of that’. That cannot be allowed to happen again.”

Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP’s shadow Westminster social justice and welfare group leader, said the death of Michael O’Sullivan was not an “isolated case”.

She pointed to the death of Ms DE, whose suicide in 2011 was the subject of an investigation by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland.

She took her own life after scoring zero points in a WCA “made in the absence of an ESA50 [application] form and without any additional information from her clinicians.

“The only information her assessor had about her condition was a single word, ‘depression’, which in her case masked a long and very complicated psychiatric history.

“Both her general practitioner and her consultant psychiatrist considered her unfit for work at the time of her death, even though she had worked for most of her adult life and wanted to go back to work.

“The distress caused by her benefits assessment may have played a role in her suicide. The investigation concluded that there was ‘no other known trigger’ for the events that took place.”

Whiteford said there were likely to be other cases like those of Ms DE and Michael O’Sullivan.

The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, did not mention the cases of Ms DE and Michael O’Sullivan in responding to the debate.
WRAG cuts will ‘lead to more tragedies’, says Abrahams

Planned cuts to out-of-work disability benefits will lead to more “tragedies” in which disabled people will lose their lives, Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people has told fellow MPs.

Debbie AbrahamsDebbie Abrahams, a former public health consultant, was speaking as she and fellow opposition MPs
failed in their first attempt to throw out plans to cut support for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance (ESA) by nearly £30 a week from April 2017.

Abrahams pointed to the government’s own figures, which showed that the death rate of people on out-of-work disability benefits had increased – in comparison with the general population – from 2003 to the period between 2011 and 2014.

She pointed out that people in the WRAG were 2.2 times more likely to die than the general population.

She said: “The innuendo that people with a disability or illness might be ‘faking it’ or are ‘feckless’ is quite frankly grotesque and belies the epidemiological data.

“Incapacity benefit and ESA are recognised as good population health indicators. I can say that as a former public health consultant. I have experience of this and I have worked in this field.

“The release of the government’s own data, which show that this group are more likely to die than the general population, proves that point.”

Abrahams said the government had “continually maligned, vilified and demonised” benefit claimants, while its use of words like “shirkers” and “scroungers” had led to these terms being used far more often in the media.

She said: “This group of people are vulnerable and need care and support, not humiliation, from us.

“Once again the cart is being put before the horse: make cuts in support and cross your fingers that something turns up for disabled people.”

Priti Patel, the employment minister, said the work-related activity component was introduced by the last Labour government “as an incentive to encourage people to participate in employment”.

She said: “Clearly, we know that that has not happened. We are therefore reforming our approach with DWP, through our jobcentres and work coaches, to support individuals to get back into work.”

She added: “Through all our welfare reforms we have made it clear that we will continue to protect and support the vulnerable.

“That of course includes those who have terminal illnesses or people with progressive illnesses who are unable to work.”

During discussion of a related clause of the bill, Patel added: “It is very easy for Labour members to claim that the [WRAG] measure is about taking money away.

“It is about providing the right kind of support for people with health conditions and disabilities.”

After Labour MP Naz Shah asked her if “the number of people who have committed suicide after sanctions have affected their mental health problems is acceptable”, Patel said that there was “no causal effect at all”.

Neil Coyle, a newly-elected Labour MP and a former director of Disability Rights UK, told Patel: “Some 440,000 disabled people have to pay the bedroom tax… and benefit rates have been frozen, including the vast majority of employment and support allowance benefit paid to disabled people.

“We have also had the change to disability living allowance.

“It is very frustrating to hear ministers continue to claim that disabled people have been protected when they clearly have not.”

Abrahams said the cuts to WRAG payments would affect 500,000 disabled people, according to the government’s own estimates, and she pointed to a “whole host” of other cuts to social security support for disabled people since 2010, as well as cuts to social care.

She said the UK was currently ranked only 19th of 32 European states on how much it spends on disabled people (1.3 per cent of GDP), and that, by 2021, about £640 million a year will have been cut from disabled people’s support through the WRAG cut, while only £100 million a year of that would be spent on “unspecified” assistance to help them into work.

She told the committee: “With this cut to the ESA WRAG support without anything to replace it, the government are condemning more people with disabilities and their families to living in poverty, and I predict, unfortunately, that more tragedies will undoubtedly happen.”

The SNP’s Hannah Bardell said the proposal to reduce the WRAG payment by just under £30 a week was “completely immoral and makes absolutely no sense”.

She said: “ESA claimants have always received a higher rate than those on JSA, because they typically take longer to move back into work, as they face additional barriers.”

She said: “The Conservative manifesto committed to halving the disability employment gap, but it is my party’s contention that the reduction in the ESA WRAG component will in fact present more barriers to those with disabilities who are trying to get back to work.”

The part of the bill that will cut the WRAG payment was passed by the committee by nine votes to eight.

Activist loses appeal over ‘unfair’ 20 metres PIP consultation

An activist has lost his bid to prove that a public consultation on plans to tighten eligibility for the new disability benefit was unlawful, but says his legal case has still exposed the government’s “callous disregard for disabled people”.

The court of appeal ruled this week that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had carried out a proper consultation on its plans to slash the qualifying distance for the higher rate of mobility support from 50 metres to just 20 metres.

Campaigner and blogger Mx Sumpter failed last year in a judicial review of the consultation process, but appealed that decision.

The appeal was heard in July this year, and this week the court of appeal ruled that DWP’s consultation was not unfair or unlawful.

Sumpter, who can only walk a few metres with a stick, and otherwise uses a wheelchair, was assessed as eligible for the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA), and uses that to lease a car through the Motability scheme.

But Sumpter fears losing the higher rate entitlement when transferring to the new personal independence payment (PIP), and consequently losing access to a Motability vehicle.

Under DLA, someone is eligible for the higher rate if they cannot walk more than 50 metres, but under the new rules for PIP – which is gradually replacing working-age DLA – this walking distance criteria has been set at just 20 metres.

DWP consulted on the introduction of PIP in 2012 but did not mention its plans to cut the criteria from 50 metres to 20 metres until after the consultation had closed.

Last year, a judge suggested that if the consultation process had stopped at this point, he would probably have found it unfair and unlawful.

But after Sumpter’s judicial review was issued, the disabled people’s minister Esther McVey carried out a second consultation, limited just to looking at the 20 metres measure.

When McVey’s ministerial successor, Mike Penning, published his response to the consultation, he made it clear that the walking distance criteria would remain at 20 metres.

Sumpter’s legal team argued that this second consultation was irrelevant because the decision had already been made.

But the court of appeal concluded that the government had approached the second consultation “with an open mind”.

Lord Justice McCombe, one of the three appeal court judges who heard the case, said in the judgment that Sumpter’s argument would prevent decision-makers in the government’s position from “trying to put right errors in consultation processes that are pointed out to them by looking again at the areas of criticism”.

He added: “As I understand the law, consultation has to be fair; it does not have to be perfect.”

Sumpter, who blogged about the judgment today (Thursday), told Disability News Service: “I am disappointed that we were unable to change anything about PIP, but I am glad that we tried.

“The DWP imposed a cruel trade-off on disabled people in increasing support for some disabilities only by cutting help for those with physical impairments.

“In forcing the government to defend this we exposed their callous disregard for disabled people and our ability to go about our lives.

“It certainly does not fit in to their mantra that disabled people will work their way out of poverty, since for many people the loss of support will mean they can no longer work, or even leave their homes.”

Alastair Wallace, a specialist public lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, who acted for Sumpter in the case, said: “Our client originally challenged the consultation during the creation of the PIP system and while our challenge was unsuccessful, we still believe that the current proposals are unfair.

“We are disappointed by this outcome and our client’s focus will now be to ensure that the new scheme is properly implemented.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We are pleased that the court of appeal has unanimously endorsed the decision of the high court that the consultation process was fair and lawful.

“We remain committed to the full rollout of PIP, a benefit which helps disabled people to live independently by ensuring support is focussed on those who need it most.”

Only five individuals out of the 1,142 organisations and individuals who took part in the second consultation agreed with the government that the walking distance criteria should be set at 20 metres.

Government figures predict that, with the criteria set at 20 metres, the number of people receiving higher rates of mobility support – and therefore eligible for a Motability vehicle – will plunge from 1,030,000 (if DLA had not been replaced by PIP) to just 602,000 by 2018.

They also predict that 548,000 of the 892,000 working-age people who were receiving the higher rate of the DLA mobility component in February 2013 will not receive the enhanced mobility rate of PIP once they are transferred to the new benefit.

Shocking survey results show ‘yawning gap’ between Care Act and real life

Nearly half of disabled people receiving care and support from their local authority say their quality of life has fallen in the last year, despite major new legislation designed to boost their well-being, choice and control.

The survey of 399 disabled people was carried out by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG) – some of whose members were part of the independent living movement in the 1970s – as part of a report assessing the impact of the Care Act 2014 on choice and control.

The group was set up by a broad range of disabled activists and disability organisations concerned about the potential impact of welfare reform and cuts to public services on independent living, and the government’s failure to follow through on its 2010 pledge to monitor the implementation of Labour’s independent living strategy.

Members of the group include Baroness [Jane] Campbell, the leading activist John Evans, the Spinal Injuries Association, Inclusion London, Scope and Disability Rights UK.

Their report was funded and published by In Control, the charity which helped develop the idea of personal budgets*.

ILSG members wanted to find out how local authorities were following “the spirit and letter of the Care Act and its statutory guidance in seeking to optimise choice and control”, which they say is “fundamental” to the Care Act’s “core purpose” of helping people achieve the outcomes that matter to them.

More than 45 per cent of those surveyed said their quality of life had reduced over the past year, including 18 per cent who said it had fallen significantly.

Almost 30 per cent said they had experienced a reduction in choice and control over their support in the past year, while only eight per cent said it had increased.

And nearly 30 per cent of respondents said restrictions had been placed on their use of direct payments or personal budgets.

The report warns that social care spending by local authorities had already fallen by £4.6 billion from 2010-11 to 2014-15 – a real terms cut of 31 per cent – while the government’s imminent spending review had “opened the door to even deeper cuts in the years to come”.

Some councils have introduced restrictions on how disabled people can spend their personal budgets, such as banning them from using them to pay for gym memberships, or for personal assistants to accompany them on outings.

Others have imposed a “cost ceiling”, which means the council will pay no more for independent living than the cost of a residential care placement, despite Care Act guidance making it clear that such practices are unacceptable.

The report calls on central government to ensure that funding to local authorities is “sufficient to enable them to meet their statutory obligations as a minimum, let alone the broader goals and aspirations of the Care Act in respect of prevention and well-being”.

But it also says that there are many things councils can do, “irrespective of their financial position”, to promote choice and control and “strive to meet the letter and spirit of the Care Act 2014”.

Jenny Morris, one of the report’s authors and another ILSG member, said the survey results were “very shocking”.

She there was a “yawning gap between the welcome principles of the Care Act 2014 and what is actually happening to older and disabled people”.

She said: “The whole value system behind personal budgets is incompatible with the massive reduction in expenditure on social care which local authorities are facing.

“There are some local authorities where a significant proportion of social workers and managers are not signed up to the choice and control agenda, but any progress is being made almost impossible by the massive reductions in the funding available.”

She said: “Personal budgets were supposed to enable everyone who needed social care support to have the kind of choice and control that was previously only open to those receiving direct payments.

“Instead, they have been rolled out in the context of a major financial crisis facing adult social care, and the result is not only a reduction in choice but also a decrease in the quality of people’s everyday lives. This is the government’s responsibility and they must act.”

She said ILSG would continue to monitor the state of independent living, including through future surveys.

And she called on councils to “make it clear to government that the current financial climate is incompatible with what they are required to do, according to the Care Act and the statutory guidance that accompanies it”.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, added: “Local authorities might argue that it is early days in the implementation of the Care Act, but if you don’t start as you mean to go on then the spirit of the act will never be implemented.

“This report demonstrates, and the calls to our advice line also show, that disabled people are being denied choice and control over how support needs are met and that independent living is being fundamentally undermined.”

*A personal budget is a sum of money allocated by a local authority to meet a person’s care and support needs, while direct payments allow a disabled person to take such a care package as a cash payment

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

IDS announces fitness to work U Turn

IDS announces fitness to work U Turn, Choice and Control plunge, Deaths of Benefit claimants data released, NHS caps on continuing healthcare

So how was your summer? The August Bank holiday is done and dusted and youngsters will be back at school within days. It all goes so quickly!

Two things to tell you. First Sue and I visited the Edinburgh Fringe, we drove up in our motorhome and camped, along with many others, on a site in the suburbs. My good friend Simon Minty and his pal Steve Best returned to the Fringe to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Abnormally Funny People (http://www.abnormallyfunnypeople.com/. The show has new acts as well as some from the original 2005 line up, including Liz Carr and Tanyalee Davis. We had a great night with plenty of laughs and not a little angst. Great to see the new acts and remember how it all began.

One major change since the first show in 2005, we travelled to and from our campsite on a fully accessible scheduled Lothian bus! Couldn’t have done that ten years ago! Nice to sit on the bus at midnight surrounded by other bleary eyed Fringe goers, I felt like a proper commuter for once in my life.

The second snippet for you. I’ve just bought a Batec from Cyclone (http://www.cyclonemobility.com/batec) it’s an electric powered wheel which fixes to the front of my manual wheelchair and turns it into a trike, (see picture) which is capable of speeds of up to 20 kilometres an hour. On my first trip out, with our new dog Crumble, I managed to lose the dog and control of the Batec. I attempted to drive the bike up a short muddy incline in pursuit of the dog but only succeeded in turning the whole thing over. I ended up lying on a muddy track with the bike and chair on top of me. Nothing hurt except, of course, my pride.

Fortunately a group of people, out walking their dogs came to my rescue. They produced the classical opening remark, which I’ve heard so many times before and always baffles me, “Are you alright mate?”. I should have said “Yes of course, I love lying face down in the mud with a wheelchair on top of me!” I managed to restrain myself. Their second question was spot on “What would you like us to do?” They lifted me and the chair upright and then gave me a push up the slope. I thanked them for their kindness and then met Sue coming towards me with Crumble who had returned home having decided she was safer there than with me! Quite right too as it turned out!

Have a great week and take a look at this weeks news.

News Roundup

IDS announces ‘fitness for work’ U-turn that was five years in the making

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith appears set to scrap the “fitness for work” test championed by successive Labour, coalition and Conservative governments, but there are fears that its replacement could prove even more damaging to disabled people.

Duncan Smith – in comments not included in a written version of a speech reported by mainstream media – said that employment minister Priti Patel would lead a review of the out-of-work benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).

And he also appeared to promise that the work capability assessment (WCA), the much-criticised eligibility test for ESA, would be scrapped.

He was speaking just three days before his department finally published complex new figures on the number of people who died after being found “fit for work” following a WCA.

Tory, Labour and coalition governments have repeatedly given their support to the ESA system, since it was launched under Labour in 2008.

But Duncan Smith said, in the speech delivered this week to the thinktank Reform, that there was a “fundamental flaw” at the heart of ESA.

He said: “It is a system that decides that you are either capable of work or you are not capable of work.

“Two absolutes equating to one perverse incentive – a person has to be incapable of all work or available for all work.”

He added: “Someone may be able to do some work for some hours, days or weeks, but not what they were doing previously, when they first became ill.”

Duncan Smith said that ESA – and particularly the WCA – was at odds with the government’s new simplified working-age benefit system, universal credit.

He said: “The more personalised approach under universal credit… sits alongside a work capability assessment which sets the wrong incentives.”

He said a new system should be “better geared towards helping people prepare for work they may be capable of, rather than parking them forever beyond work”, and should be “focussed on what a claimant can do and the support that they need to be able to do it – and not just on what they can’t do”.

Duncan Smith’s comments appear to signal a major retreat from his party’s support for ESA and WCA over the last five years.

And they come less than two months after George Osborne announced, in his summer budget, that from April 2017 he was scrapping the extra financial support for new ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group, a loss of about £1,500 a year per person, as part of measures that would cut £13 billion-a-year from the social security budget by 2020-21.

If Duncan Smith’s comments do mean an end to the WCA, it would mark a victory for disabled activists who have campaigned for five years for the assessment to be scrapped, despite repeated government insistence that it was fit for purpose.

Over the course of five independent reviews aimed at improving the WCA, Tory ministers have insisted that the WCA must stay.

In the government’s response to the second independent review of the WCA, in 2011, employment minister Chris Grayling said they would “make further improvements to the work capability assessment to ensure it continues to be fit for purpose”.

In his response to the third independent review of the WCA, in 2012, employment minister Mark Hoban said the goal was “continuous improvement”, and added: “We agree that the WCA ‘remains a valid concept for assessing… eligibility’ and that there is no evidence to suggest that the system is fundamentally unsound.”

Early in 2014, Mike Penning, then the minister for disabled people, responded to the fourth WCA review by welcoming the conclusion of the independent reviewer, Dr Paul Litchfield, that the WCA did not need to be scrapped.

Penning said: “In line with the government’s view, he has instead reflected that we need to make further changes but that these reflect our strategy of continuous improvement rather than radical overhaul.”

And just three months before May’s general election, responding to the fifth and final review, Mark Harper, Penning’s successor, insisted that the WCA was “integral to the government’s commitment to ensuring that as many people as are able to do so engage in employment and that those who cannot work receive the appropriate support”.

But now, in this week’s speech, Duncan Smith appears to have concluded that his government was wrong all along to support the ESA and WCA system.

He told the Reform event: “I want to place people at the heart of a system, and make the system work around them, rather than the other way round, as has been the case.

“It was this back-to-front approach which we had inherited, a system that people crashed into, and struggled to figure out too often.”

Disabled campaigner and researcher Catherine Hale, who wrote a well-received review on the failure of the ESA system to increase the number of disabled people in paid work, said: “I’ve always welcomed the idea of an assessment geared to what kind of work a person could do and what support they would need to do it, as Labour was promising before the election.

“But it would have to be based on the real world of employment, not the fantasy world of the current WCA, involving moving empty cardboard boxes and picking up pound coins from the floor.

“However, I’ll eat my hat if this government, after all its policies and rhetoric of blame and punishment towards disabled people, actually intends to perform a U-turn and empower us instead.”

Michelle Maher, of the WOWpetition – which calls on the government to assess the overall impact of its cuts to support and social care on disabled people – said she believed Duncan Smith’s speech signified a plan to cut the number of people receiving out-of-work disability benefits.

She said: “I firmly believe they thought the WCA would reduce numbers and that people were fraudulently claiming or making a ‘lifestyle’ choice.”

But when ministers realised this was not the case, she said, they decided to scrap the WCA and replace it with something “innocuous but deadly”, with more sanctions and even more “frightening and stressful” for ESA claimants.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “What Iain Duncan Smith has said is interesting, but the mind boggles about what he is going to replace it with. He is a slimy snake and I wouldn’t trust him.”

Nick Dilworth, co-founder of the New Approach campaign group and welfare benefits specialist forthe website ilegal, said the speech had left many people “bewildered”.

He agreed that Duncan Smith appeared to have announced plans to scrap the WCA, but said he had provided no clue as to what he would replace it with.

He said: “I would warmly welcome reform if it was in the right direction.”

But he added: “I think it would be an absolute crying shame for that opportunity to be lost by Iain Duncan Smith spinning forth a load of rhetoric to get people onside and then doing the absolute reverse. That is what I think he will do.”

Dilworth said he believed that Duncan Smith would make it harder for disabled people to enter the support group of ESA – or the equivalent under universal credit – and said: “When he talks about reform, I am all for that, but I just don’t trust him.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “IDS’s latest pronouncements are a signal that a fresh attack on the fundamental human rights of sick and/or disabled people is in the preparatory stages.

“You can’t help disabled people by impoverishing them through brutal austerity cuts as your guiding policy.

“IDS has realised that his disastrous social security cuts have failed to ‘make savings’, even on their own terms, so now he is fumbling around seeking new ways to justify further assaults on our welfare state.

“He’s a proven liar and is both dangerous and breathtakingly incompetent to boot.

“If the UK was still a civilised society – in a week when the DWP has been forced to reveal just how many thousands of sick and/or disabled people have died in abject penury after unjustly being found fit for work – IDS would have been summarily dismissed.

“Dying in poverty and neglect is now just a fact of life in what remains of our social security system, thanks to this man. It is intolerable.”

Disabled activist Caroline Richardson, from the Spartacus online campaigning network, said: “The evolution of universal credit has shown it to be now a system of sanctions, where a person has to continually increase their hours/wages under threat of not just losing the ‘amount a person needs to live on’ but also their housing and other benefits.

“Abolition of ESA reduces the ‘indicator flag’ that clearly differentiates people. I fear that assessments will increase in frequency, and be linked to the number of hours the assessor believes a person could work.

“Anyone with any capacity at all would be effectively on jobseeker’s allowance, even if their claimant commitment obligation for hours to be worked is very low.”
Choice and control have plunged under Tories, say government figures

The government is facing an embarrassing slump in one of the key measures of the success of its disability strategy: the proportion of disabled people who feel they have choice and control in their lives.

The results were included in the latest report from the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) on progress “towards the vision of disabled people living fulfilling lives”, through the Fulfilling Potential disability strategy.

They will be particularly embarrassing for the government, because “choice and control” is one of the strategy’s six major themes.

When the Office for National Statistics began collecting the figures, in 2008 – two years before the Conservative-led coalition came to power – it found that 76 per cent of disabled people said they frequently had choice and control over their lives.

But the new report, published on 21 August by ODI – but not publicised with a press release – showed that figure plunging to just 65 per cent last year, a fall of more than 14 per cent (or 11 percentage points) in just six years.

Three years ago, the government said it wanted its Fulfilling Potential strategy to “tackle barriers to realising aspirations and individual control” for disabled people”.

A progress report published last year said that the proportion of disabled people who believed they frequently had choice and control over their lives had been fairly stable from 2008 until 2012, but started to fall in 2013.

Disability News Service has now asked the Department for Work and Pensions for more detail on how the proportion of people enjoying choice and control changed between 2009 and 2012.

The figures are likely to add fuel to concerns that the Tory austerity programme – including cuts to out-of-work disability benefits, disability living allowance cuts and reforms, the introduction of the bedroom tax, cuts to social care, and the closure of the Independent Living Fund – has damaged disabled people’s chances to achieve independent living.

Other figures in the report will also raise concerns, with the proportion of disabled people who said their employer was very supportive falling from 57 per cent in 2013 to 53 per cent last year.

And the proportion of disabled people who said their work colleagues were very supportive also fell, from 65 per cent in 2013 to 59 per cent in 2014.

Just 40 per cent of disabled people said the protection provided by the Equality Act was effective (a slight rise on the 39 per cent of 2013).

There was also a sharp drop in the proportion of disabled people who said they had no difficulties with public transport, from 74 per cent in 2013, to 67 per cent in the latest report.
Long-awaited deaths stats ‘do not tell the whole story’

The long-delayed release of government figures on the deaths of benefit claimants has added fuel to years of concerns about the impact of aggressive welfare reform on sick and disabled people.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released two sets of data today (Thursday), one showing mortality statistics for out-of-work disability benefit claimants, and another showing death rates for all out-of-work benefit claimants.

Activists had been calling on DWP to publish updated statistics since November 2012, in an effort to prove that the work capability assessment (WCA), the eligibility test for employment and support allowance (ESA), was so damaging that it was causing deaths.

The information commissioner finally ordered DWP to release the figures after an appeal by Mike Sivier, a freelance journalist and carer who runs the Vox Political blog.

But many activists and commentators warned that the figures released by DWP today “do not tell the whole story”, and would require detailed analysis before any conclusions could be reached.

The figures reveal that, of the two million people who had gone through a work capability assessment and had received an ESA decision between 1 May 2010 and 28 Feb 2013, nearly 41,000 had died within a year of that decision.

The reports also show that, between December 2011 and February 2014, 81,140 people died while claiming ESA or incapacity benefit (IB).

And 2,650 ESA and IB claimants died soon after being found “fit for work” as a result of an assessment.

Another 7,200 died after being placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), for claimants the government had decided were well enough to move back towards work.

Other figures show age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs), which allow for comparisons between the proportion of those dying while in different ESA groups and the general population.

These figures show that, in 2012, those placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of ESA were more than twice as likely to die (481.1 of every 100,000 people) as the general population (238.5 of every 100,000 people).

The following year, in 2013, the figures were 532.4 per 100,000 people for the WRAG and 240.4 for the general population.

DWP insisted that it was not possible to assume any “causal effect between benefits and mortality” from the “isolated figures” it had published, which “provide limited scope for analysis”.

It insisted that “nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the WCA”.

Despite this, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had announced – just three days before the figures were published – that he wanted to scrap the WCA, and said there was a “fundamental flaw” at the heart of the ESA system.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the figures showed the WCA was “not fit for purpose”, although it would take time to analyse them properly.

DPAC’s statement said the figures “do not tell the whole story”, as they ignore those disabled people found fit for work but unable to claim jobseeker’s allowance because of its strict conditionality.

DPAC said the figures also ignore the thousands of disabled people sanctioned every month; those disabled people “portrayed as scroungers by the media”; and the “suffering and the humiliation of disabled people who have to prove their impairment/long-term health issues over and over again to DWP staff who don’t believe them”.

The disabled social affairs journalist Frances Ryan wrote in the Guardian that death had become part of Britain’s benefits system.

She said: “That is not hyperbole but the reality that the stress caused by austerity has led us to.

“Shredding the safety net – a mix of sanctions, defective ‘fit for work’ tests, and outright cuts to multiple services – has meant that benefit claimants are dying; through suicide, starvation and even being crushed by a refuse lorry when a 17-week benefit sanction forced a man to scavenge in a bin for food.”

Philip Connolly, policy and development manager of Disability Rights UK, said: “It is not just the charities but the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing who have deplored this medical test for fitness for work.

“Now the evidence of the cruelty and stress involved in this test can be seen by everyone else too and not simply by the families of the dead. We need a completely new approach.

“This time it must be one that starts by supporting those who want to work to exercise their right to work – with encouragement and evidence-based support, not threats of poverty and inadequate programmes.

“And it must be one that disabled people, our representative organisations and health, social care and vocational rehabilitation professionals view as acceptable.

“It must be evidence-based. It must link assessment of needs to support. It must be fair.”

Frank Field, the Labour MP and the new chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, said the figures were “distressing”, but added: “The key factor is whether the number of deaths are above what would normally be expected from claimants not deemed fit for work.”

He said he had written to Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, to ask if he would answer this and other questions, and “take this analysis further”.

The grassroots campaign group New Approach, which is dedicated to replacing the “toxic” WCA with a fairer system, said it was too early to conclude what the figures really showed, and added: “We will go through today’s figures in detail over the coming weeks and respond to them by issuing a further statement when our findings are complete.”

Among others warning not to read too much into the figures was Ben Goldacre, a doctor, academic, campaigner and writer, whose work focuses on uses and misuses of science and statistics.

He said: “Fit for work assessments may well harm people. These DWP figures do not give us the answer.

“Journalists and politicians claiming they can see any information one way or another in these figures are displaying their ignorance and wishful thinking.”

He said that the figures which could answer this question would be ASMRs for people on IB or severe disablement allowance who had been reassessed through a WCA and found fit for work.

Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said ministers had been trying to suppress the figures for more than three years.

She said: “The delay and the lack of transparency in publishing this information is a disgrace and has caused huge distress to the families and friends of those affected.

“These figures should be a wake-up call for the government. Ministers need to focus on sorting out the assessment process so that everyone can have confidence in it, and providing support for disabled people who can work in order to help them do so.”
NHS caps on continuing healthcare pose new threat to former ILF-users

Disabled people with complex health needs are at increasing risk of being forced into nursing homes by cash-strapped NHS commissioners unwilling to fund packages to support them to live independently in their own homes, campaigners fear.

At least two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – Mid Essex and Enfield – have already introduced rules that refuse to fund home-based packages of support for those eligible for NHS continuing healthcare if the cost is more than 10 per cent above the cost of a place in a nursing home.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) has raised concerns that such moves to impose an artificial cap on home support packages could impact on former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), which closed at the end of June.

Faced with responsibility for an influx of service-users with high support needs, it is feared that local authorities will argue that many former ILF-users should instead be funded by the NHS.

If CCGs then cap the cost of support packages, it could force some ILF-users into nursing homes.

NHS continuing healthcare was introduced in 2007, and refers to packages of ongoing care for people with complex health needs that are arranged and funded solely by the NHS.

Earlier this month, the board of Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group approved new guidelinesthat allow new patients to receive NHS continuing healthcare at home only if that support costs a maximum of 10 per cent more than equivalent care in a nursing home.

A consultation on the plans saw only 22 per cent of 75 respondents backing one of two options to impose a cap.

Responding to the consultation, the user-led Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) warned that such a policy could breach both article eight – the right to a private and family life – of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and article 19 – on living independently – of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

SIA said the policy “strongly implies that the individual will be physically placed in a residential care home against their will”, which would be a “fundamental and material interference with their right to a private life”.

It pledged to support members who challenge the policy in the courts.

The SIA response added: “In summary, SIA wishes to make it clear that it rejects as unacceptable the proposals to restrict the cost of ‘care at home’ packages, and will support its members in opposing any attempts to coerce the CCG’s spinal cord injured patients into residential care.”

When asked if the policy would lead to fewer disabled people with high support needs living independently, a Mid Essex spokesman said: “This policy is intended to ensure that NHS continuing healthcare provision in mid Essex is an equitable process for all residents.”

He said Mid Essex had “sought legal advice prior to the consultation taking place to ensure we are meeting our legal obligations”.

Asked if the policy could impact on former ILF-users, he said: “The policy applies to all new patients.”

Enfield CCG has already introduced a similar policy for people assessed as eligible for NHS continuing healthcare, and will now “only consider the provision of ‘care at home’… where the total cost of providing care is within 10 per cent of the equivalent cost of a placement in an establishment”.

Enfield’s policy was introduced in October 2013 and is currently being reviewed.

A spokeswoman for Enfield CCG said that so far the policy had not been invoked, as colleagues had managed to “look at each individual’s needs and have worked the package around what is best for them”.

But she said the policy could still be invoked in the future, because Enfield CCG was a “financially-challenged organisation”.

She said Enfield does not “have any concerns” that its policy could breach the ECHR or the UNCRPD, and believes it is consistent with the government’s framework on NHS continuing healthcare.

But Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said she was “very concerned” that CCGs had begun to introduce such policies.

She said: “I think we will be looking to find out as soon as we can how many CCGs have got this policy.

“It is a direct threat to disabled people and there is a real worry that people could end up in a nursing home against all the principles of independent living.

“It is just not acceptable for people to be institutionalised, which is what it amounts to, in this way against their will.

“We will be campaigning and getting our allies to ask questions in parliament and we will be seeking some reassurance from ministers that disabled people are not going to face this threat.”

Bott said the new policies posed a threat to former ILF-users, as some local authorities were now referring them to CCGs for NHS continuing healthcare because of their own lack of resources.

Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said policies such as those in Enfield and Mid Essex were “very regressive” and were “taking disabled people’s rights to independent living backwards, basing it not on independent living but purely and simply on cost”.

But she said it was very difficult to know what impact these and other such policies would have on people’s care in the future, until the results of the chancellor’s spending review in the autumn.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Labour leadership trio cause fury

Labour leadership trio cause fury, Disabled voters take legal action, Tanni needs 10,000 signatures, Benefit scrounger rhetoric linked to hate crime, Equality watchdog faces tough questions, Premier League faces Lords anger, Mental health review dismissed

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

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

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

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

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

News Roundup

Labour leadership trio cause fury after late leap onto ILF bandwagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Councils apologies over ILF delays

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Roundup

Labour leadership trio cause fury after late leap onto ILF bandwagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Harper backing for mental health sanctions, In-work discrimination and hardship, LibDem bus horror, Greens agree to debate assisted dying, NHS wasted years, Trailblazers are back

Hello once again. Just after a pleasant bank holiday and now it’s nearly time to vote! I don’t know about you but I will be glad when it’s over. If I hear the terms ‘hard working families’ or ‘our country’ one more time I’m going to take a hammer to whichever piece of kit is broadcasting this platitudinous rubbish. I feel better now!

Talking of broadcasting kit I’ve recently been involved in a number of webinars and podcasts. (Here are a couple of links Abnormally Funny People Podcast and Disability Now Podcast).

A lot of fun to do and a great way to maximise the use of time and the technology that is out there. I’m a big supporter of tech, as many of you know, but there is a downside.

I joined a webinar recently that was providing a training course on how use a particular piece of software. The presenter was based in Canada and about a hundred people, from all over the world, were tuned in. The hour-long session was entertaining and informative and I watched and listened while sat in my pyjamas! (My camera was turned off by the way). A really efficient use of my time and a great way to learn. On reflection I’ve now realised that the session was completely inaccessible to sight impaired people. There were lots of slides and real time demonstrations all of which were visual.

The podcasts were perfectly accessible to sight impaired people as they relied primarily on audio but deaf people were excluded unless the presenters decided to provide a script. I’m not sure that many of those using these communication tools have got their heads around these issues. So it’s another example of two steps forward and one step back for disabled people. Any thoughts?

Enjoy the news and enjoy the post election shenanigans that are sure to follow.

News Roundup


ELECTION 2015: Harper suggests backing for mental health treatment sanctions

The Tory minister for disabled people appears to have accidentally admitted what many disabled activists feared: that a Conservative government would cut the out-of-work benefits of people with mental health conditions if they refused treatment.

In a debate broadcast on local radio, Mark Harper strongly suggested that people with mental health problems would be among the group with “long-term yet treatable” conditions who could be sanctioned if they refused treatment.

The pledge to review whether such sanctions should be introduced is included in the Tory manifesto, under a promise to “review how best to support those suffering from long-term yet treatable conditions, such as drug or alcohol addiction, or obesity, back into work”.

It adds: “People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work.

“If they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.”

But the party has refused to confirm that people with mental health conditions would be among this group facing potential sanctions.

Disabled activists have described the plans as “wild, stupid”, “unconscionable”, and “highly dangerous”, while the Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, who chaired the Commons health select committee in the last parliament, has said on Twitter that sanctions linked to medical treatment would be “unethical”.

But this week, at an election hustings event hosted by the BBC in Harper’s Forest of Dean constituency, the minister for disabled people appeared to confirm that people with long-term mental health problems would be among those facing sanctions.

He told the audience: “For people who are long-term sick… sometimes people simply can’t return to work and we need to make sure we support them, which is why we have systems in place.

“The most beneficial thing we can do though is to deal with the disability that they have got and particularly with those people with mental health problems, most of which are treatable, is to get the support in place so they can get back to work, which is what most of them want to do.”

So far, neither Harper nor the Conservative party have been willing to comment on Harper’s apparent blunder, which came after Tory ministers repeatedly ducked out of opportunities to defend their disability-related policies and their record over the last five years.

Last week, Harper himself cancelled an appearance on Newsnight, when he was due to debate benefit reform with representatives of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

And this week, employment minister Esther McVey was reported to have pulled out of a planned live interview with the radio station LBC.

The party has said it would cut social security spending by a further £12 billion a year if re-elected, but has yet to say how it will find most of these “savings”.

Disability News Service has already reported how the Tories declined invitations to take part in three national disability-related hustings events organised by the Alliance for Inclusive Education,Learning Disability Alliance England, and the British Deaf Association.
ELECTION 2015: Coalition has led to in-work ‘discrimination, harassment and hardship’

Disabled workers have faced deteriorating attitudes from employers, cuts to their legal protection, and “disintegrating” long-term job prospects under the last four years of the coalition government, according to new research.

The study by the Public Interest Research Unit (PIRU), a small research charity, concludes that the unpredictability of zero hours contracts and higher levels of workplace ill-treatment is having “damaging effects” on the health of disabled workers.

It also says that unlawful discrimination, including harassment and unlawful dismissal, appears to have been increasing, and concludes that “being disabled appears to have, in general, put disabled workers at particular risk of being made redundant or otherwise dismissed”.

The study says its research appears consistent with “widespread and frequent breaches of anti-discrimination laws; and with there having been a general increase in such breaches during the last four years”.

In 15 of the public, private and voluntary sector organisations examined for the study, the proportion of disabled people in their workforce had fallen since 2012, while it rose in just seven.

Government rhetoric about disability benefit cheats appears to have “spilled over” into the workplace, with some line managers now regarding impairments (particularly mental health conditions) as exaggerated or “faked”, the study adds.

One respondent said that the coalition’s weakening of the public sector equality duty meant disability equality training was now “all but non-existent”, with recruitment of disabled staff lower than it was before 2010.

And public sector spending cuts appear to have led to a decreased willingness to make adjustments for disabled staff, with disability equality now sometimes regarded as an unaffordable “luxury”.

Some public sector workers who had been made redundant, or whose jobs had been outsourced, “appear to have moved from situations in which there was reasonable support for workers with disabilities to private sector ones in which there was little or none”, the study adds.

The study also suggests that the government’s repeated reference to legal protections as “unnecessary red tape” could be leading some employers to take these obligations less seriously.

The study identifies 22 significant cuts to equality and employment law protections since 2010, which are starting to have “adverse impacts” on disabled workers, who are finding it “hard or impossible” to enforce their remaining rights, partly because of the introduction of fees for employment tribunals.

The study collected information from 137 disabled workers and looked at documents from 141 public sector organisations, and was produced for the grassroots campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Debbie Jolly, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “While more research is needed, the initial findings here show a woeful regression of support for those disabled people able to seek work.

“The recent cap on Access to Work adds to this, exposing the coalition government rhetoric to the stark realities and discriminations disabled people face.”

Rupert Harwood, the report’s author, said: “The study suggests that disabled individuals have been the hardest hit in work as well as out of work.”

He points out that his findings should be used as the basis for only “tentative conclusions” about UK disabled workers as a whole because his samples of workers and organisations were not designed to be representative.

But he added: “However, despite these limitations, it seems fairly safe to conclude… that many disabled workers have experienced considerable disadvantage and hardship which has been in part at least the consequences of coalition government policies.”

The Conservative party failed to respond to a request for a comment in time for the Disability News Service deadline.

But Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the report made “depressing reading”.

She said: “It shows the work chances and experiences of disabled people went backwards under the Tory-led government, thanks to the scrapping of employment rights, lack of support from important programmes like Access to Work, and a rising climate of hostility towards disabled people, fed by a negative language that focused on ‘scrounging’, which has influenced employer attitudes.”

She said Labour “believes disabled people have the right to decent work and the support they need to do so”.

She said: “We’ll introduce a specialist programme of work support to replace the failing Work Programme that’s got just 10 per cent of disabled people into jobs.

“We’ll take action to ensure that Access to Work supports disabled people to work and to progress in employment.

“We’ll scrap fees for employment tribunals, and ensure that disabled people’s rights are respected.”
ELECTION 2015: Lib Dem president’s bus horror ‘proves need for new law’

The disabled president of the Liberal Democrats has complained of her “outrageous” treatment by a conductor who refused to ask a young dad to move his child’s buggy from the wheelchair space on a near-empty London bus.

Baroness Brinton, a wheelchair-user, was told by the bus conductor on one of mayor Boris Johnson’s new Routemaster buses that she would have to wait for the next bus.

The disabled peer said the female conductor “refused to engage” with the young man in charge of the buggy.

Baroness Brinton said: “The driver was turning round and calling ‘can you make space?’ but the guy just turned his back. It was quite bizarre.”

The incident took place as she tried to travel on bus route 24 from Euston station to an election meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ central London headquarters on Tuesday (28 April).

She was eventually left “very angry” on the pavement, with passengers waiting for other services who had witnessed the incident and were “frothing at the mouth” at the way she had been treated.

She was able to take a later bus, and when a passenger with a buggy boarded during the journey, they were both able to travel comfortably side-by-side in the wheelchair space, with the help of the conductor.

She said: “They were two completely opposite experiences and that is not on. It comes back to training. It’s all about the attitude.”

Baroness Brinton said the incident illustrates why her party has included a pledge in its manifestoto give wheelchair-users priority over children’s buggies on buses.

She said: “It is obvious that it is a major problem [if this happens] on a virtually empty bus. It was just outrageous.

“Just a week before polling day is not the best time to be delayed on the way to work.”

If her party is unable to secure enough influence to force government legislation on the issue, she pledged to try to secure debates in the next parliament, and attempt to bring forward a private member’s bill that would ensure wheelchair-users have priority use of the spaces on buses, and that accessible parking spaces for blue badge-holders can also be enforced.

Baroness Brinton said she had now received a “grovelling apology” from Transport for London, which had told her that both the driver and the conductor would receive fresh training from the bus operator Metroline.

But her experience mirrors that of disabled campaigner Doug Paulley, who is being backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in his legal bid against another bus company, First Bus, to ensure that wheelchair-users have priority in the use of dedicated wheelchair spaces over parents with pushchairs.

Paulley told DNS: “This just goes to show that sadly my experience is not uncommon and we very much need to achieve a binding judgment on the issue.”

Chris Fry, managing partner of Paulley’s lawyers, Unity Law, said: “Baroness Brinton’s experience illustrates exactly why we need a definitive legal ruling on this issue.

“It’s not acceptable that disabled people can only reply on the goodwill of non-disabled passengers to vacate wheelchair spaces.

“We need the Supreme Court to hear Doug’s case as soon as possible, so that bus drivers, passengers and wheelchair-users all know exactly who has priority over the space.”

Transport for London (TfL) said Metroline was investigating the incident.

Mike Weston, TfL’s director of buses, said in a statement: “I’m very sorry about Baroness Sal Brinton’s experience.

“Our guidance to bus drivers clearly states that wheelchair-users are to be given priority access to the dedicated space on our buses, even if it is occupied by a buggy or other passengers.

“Drivers are asked to use the on-board automated announcement system to make it clear when the wheelchair space is needed and, if necessary, to ask buggy-owners to share the space, move or fold their buggies.

“In a case where another passenger will not make space, the bus driver should explain the situation to the wheelchair-user.

“If the next bus is not already there, the driver is under instruction to contact his or her garage so that the next bus can be notified to pick up the wheelchair-user.”

A TfL spokesman later confirmed to DNS that if a passenger refused to move, a conductor or driver would not take any further action to clear the space, such as refusing to continue the journey until the buggy was moved.
ELECTION 2015: Greens agree to debate their backing for assisted suicide

The Green party has agreed to take part in a public debate with disabled activists on its pledge to legalise assisted suicide.

The challenge to debate the issue came from a leading member of the anti-assisted suicide campaign group Not Dead Yet UK, Dennis Queen, who said that she and many other members “who might well usually vote Green” would not do so now because of the party’s manifesto support for legalisation.

She also said that disabled people who were long-term members of the party were considering leaving the Greens because of their stance.

One of them, NDY UK member Simone Aspis, said she was “just hanging in there” with her membership, because she was “deeply concerned” with the party’s position on assisted suicide.

She said she was considering not voting for the Greens at Thursday’s general election, but said there was “no alternative” because of other parties’ past support for policies based on eugenics.

She said the Greens’ position on assisted suicide was “pretty outrageous” when it was also saying that it supported the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Aspis said: “The party is saying it supports disabled people’s rights to independent living and to mainstream education and yet hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that assisted suicide is open to abuse and it actually undermines disabled people’s rights to everything else.

“The UN convention is thinking about disabled people’s right to life, not to be killed.”

The party’s manifesto says a Green government would “provide the right to an assisted death within a rigorous framework of regulation and in the context of the availability of the highest level of palliative care”.

But it also promises that the Greens in government would enforce the UNCRPD, although it does not explain how this would be implemented.

Queen said: “I’m not sure there’s an article in the UN convention which isn’t broken by supporting the further legalisation of assisted suicide, and making it more easily accessible to people who are sick and disabled.

“Try sentence one article one [‘The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity’].”

She added: “I challenge the Green party to have a public debate with Not Dead Yet UK on this subject.

“We are not enjoying equal rights and freedoms if some of us are given special consideration leading to dissolved rights under the law.”

A Green party spokeswoman said: “The vast majority of opinion within the Green party’s disability and equalities group seems to be that it is right to support the UN disability convention, as well as the right to assisted dying within a rigorous and agreed framework.

“We do not see these things as incompatible.

“Our disability spokesperson, Mags Lewis, has said she is more than happy to agree to a meeting or public debate about this issue after the election.

“However, the Green party agrees policy at conference, where all members have an equal voice and vote, so that would be where policies are debated and amended.”

The challenge to the Green party stance came as the Scottish parliament’s health and sport committee published its report into proposals to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.

The assisted suicide (Scotland) bill has been brought forward by the Green MSP Patrick Harvie, following the death last year of Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who introduced it in November 2013.

But the committee has now concluded that the bill contains “significant flaws” that present “major challenges as to whether the bill can be progressed”.

A majority of the committee do not support the bill’s “general principles”, but have chosen to make no formal recommendations to parliament because the issues are “a matter of conscience”.

The full Scottish parliament will now debate the bill and decide whether to agree to its general principles. The debate will take place by 29 May.

Meanwhile, a disabled woman has secured the right to challenge in the courts a decision by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales that she believes will make it easier for healthcare professionals to assist someone to kill themselves.

Lawyers for Nikki Kenward say that Alison Saunders, the DPP, exceeded her powers last year when she “clarified” the guidelines on when to prosecute a doctor or nurse for assisted suicide.

Saunders said in October 2014 that the section of the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines that explain when prosecution of a healthcare professional would be more likely refers only “to those with a specific and professional duty of care to the person in question”.

The anti-legalisation campaign group Care Not Killing said this would mean that doctors “who have made a name for themselves by assisting suicides in various ways whilst not being the patient’s primary care giver, are less likely to be prosecuted”.

There will now be a full judicial review of Saunders’ decision.
NHS ‘has wasted more than a year’ on latest bid to improve wheelchair services

The NHS has been accused of spending more than a year on its latest bid to improve wheelchair services, while producing nothing but two conferences and a series of working groups.

Critics also fear that NHS England’s wheelchair services improvement programme has paid lip-service to the views of service-users.

They say the process is in danger of becoming the latest in a long line of failed bids to improve a service that struggles with lengthy waiting-lists and leaves many disabled people without the right wheelchairs.

There are also concerns about the influence of the disability charity Whizz-Kidz on the reform process.

NHS England organised a “wheelchair summit” in February 2014 – more than 14 months ago – with a second summit following on 27 November.

In a bid to inject some momentum into the process, NHS England set up the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance, chaired by the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.

Its first meeting was in January, with the second taking place this week.

The alliance has been told by NHS England to produce a one-page “wheelchair charter”, but there is concern that it has not pushed for tough new standards for NHS wheelchair services.

Sir Bert Massie, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission and himself a wheelchair-user, said he was concerned and mystified by the wheelchair improvement programme.

He told Disability News Service (DNS): “I think there is something very distasteful about this.

“I can’t work out what is going wrong. I can’t work out why it takes nearly a year to write a charter.”

He chairs the Community Equipment Code of Practice Scheme (CECOPS) social enterprise, which has already drawn up a code of practice for the community equipment industry across the UK, backed by the Care Quality Commission, the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, the Health and Safety Executive, the Royal College of Nursing and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, among others.

Sir Bert said he was frustrated by NHS England’s refusal to adopt CECOPS, which would provide a set of national standards for wheelchair services.

He said: “We have done the standards for them. They are here. What’s their problem?

“Several of the alliance members personally support our standards and have recommended their adoption, so I don’t understand NHS England’s and NHS Improving Quality’s reluctance.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who has only been involved in the improvement programme since November, agreed that “not a lot” had happened in the 14 months since the first summit, while the alliance had only just secured final approval from NHS England for a new website to promote its efforts.

Speaking to DNS at the Naidex 2015 independent living exhibition at Birmingham’s NEC, where she spoke about the alliance, she said: “We probably needed the second summit because of the limited movement since the first.

“Why stuff didn’t happen [before], I don’t know really. It is even difficult to pinpoint how many times people have tried to change this… because it’s ‘lots’. I don’t know if the political will wasn’t there.”

She admitted that a one-page charter was not going to improve wheelchair services on its own, but added: “The charter is a wish-list. We need a really convincing argument behind it about why it needs to change.”

She agreed that there was a need for standards, and said she did not want to “reinvent the wheel”, but insisted that there was a need to go through both an internal and public process before deciding on any standards.

According to NHS Improving Quality, an estimated 15 per cent of wheelchair-users wait more than 12 months for their NHS chair, while up to half of all people who use wheelchairs will develop a pressure sore at some point in their life.

The cost of treating the worst pressure sores can be as much as 16 hip replacements.

For every 182 wheelchair-users not able to work because of incorrect equipment or delays, the social security bill can increase by up to £1 million, compared with an economic contribution of up to £4.7 million if those wheelchair-users are able to work.

Critics of the improvement programme have pointed to a blog written by Liam Dwyer, a former building manager in the construction industry, who has motor neurone disease (MND) and uses an electric wheelchair and communication devices, and was one of the disabled people asked to attend the first wheelchair summit in February 2014.

Subsequently, he was asked to join one of six “work streams” that were set up at the summit.

After an initial meeting, he says in his blog, he did not receive any further information until he received an invitation to the second summit, in November.

He says he and other service-users were treated like “dog muck”, and “as if they don’t have a brain”.

Dwyer says in his blog: “About 30 per cent of my friends and fellow MND sufferers would be dead by now since the time the first summit took place.”

He adds: “I don’t know how long I have left on this planet and I am not prepared to sit back and let this appalling behaviour and great waste take place at the expense of dying and needy patients, especially where it impacts upon the lives of people just like me who rely totally upon equipment, not for social reasons, but just to live.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson said she would be “really upset” if service-users had not been listened to, “because they are the ones we are doing it for”.

She plans to meet with Dwyer to discuss his concerns, and added: “We do need to reinvigorate some of the work streams.”

But there are also concerns about the influence of the disability charity Whizz-Kidz on the process.

The charity, which has close links with the former NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson, is believed to have had about 10 representatives and service-users at the first wheelchair summit in February 2014 – an event that was chaired by Sir David – even though it was attended by less than 80 people.

Whizz-Kidz also has representation on both of the new sub-groups set up by the alliance, as well as a seat on the alliance itself, which has 12 members.

Sir Bert said: “Whizz-Kidz are on the alliance and have a very clear vested interest because they want to compete for services. There is a real conflict of interest.

“My fear is that they are leading the agenda and I think there needs to be a different agenda.

“The agenda should not be about who provides the services but which organisation has the competency and how to measure that competency and what is their accountability to disabled people.”

Christine Anderson, from Lancashire, whose son Christopher is a wheelchair-user, said she had noticed an “imbalanced” Whizz-Kidz presence at the first summit.

But she said: “I was filled with hope that something was going to change and people were listening.”

So far, she said, she has seen “no change, no benefit” from the process, with some disabled children still being told they have to wait three years for a powered wheelchair.

Following the first summit, she was placed on the improvement programme’s commissioning and procurement work stream, but was asked to attend just one meeting.

She said it appeared that NHS England was favouring Whizz-Kidz ahead of other organisations, without going through the necessary processes.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said she accepted that Whizz-Kidz potentially had a lot to gain from the reform of wheelchair services, and that she had to be “mindful” that one organisation did not exert too much influence over the process.

Last October, at the Conservative party conference, Ruth Owen, chief executive of Whizz-Kidz, told her charity’s fringe meeting that the NHS “does not procure in an effective and efficient way”.

She spoke of her own struggle to obtain a wheelchair through the NHS, a process she described as “tortuous”, and told DNS after the meeting that the service was “crap”.

Whizz-Kidz is believed to have partnerships with 12 NHS trusts, which aim to improve local wheelchair services – for adults as well as children – and its work was praised by health secretary Jeremy Hunt in his keynote speech to October’s party conference.

Owen told the fringe: “There needs to be more choice because this area of the NHS do not want choice, change or to listen to the customer. They don’t want to believe there is a problem, and there is a problem.”

DNS asked Whizz-Kidz for a response at noon on 29 April, but by the end of today (30 April) a spokesman said he had not had time to answer a series of questions.

Instead, he released a short statement, saying: “Whizz-Kidz is delighted to be part of the Wheelchair Alliance along with a number of other organisations, as we see wheelchair reform as vital for disabled children and young people in this country.

“Whizz-Kidz’s focus is centred on supporting young disabled people to ensure that they receive the right mobility at the right time in their lives and we’re thrilled that NHS England are driving transformation in this area.”

An NHS England spokesman said in a statement: “NHS England is supporting improvements in wheelchair services to ensure wheelchair-users and their families can lead full, independent and active lives.

“Since the first meeting, NHS England has been leading three national pieces of work which will lay the foundations for further improvement, including a new national wheelchair dataset, a new national tariff, and support and resources for commissioners.

“These are not ‘quick fixes’ and each of these pieces of work requires extensive testing and engagement to ensure maximum impact and success.”

As far back as 1986, a report by Professor Ian (later Lord) McColl called for major improvements to wheelchair services.

Five years later, responsibility for wheelchair provision was devolved from national level to local health authorities and trusts.

And in 1994, the former disabled people’s minister Alf (later Lord) Morris told MPs that thousands of disabled people saw themselves as “victims of state-sanctioned discrimination” because of the failure to provide them with powered wheelchairs.
Six years on, Trailblazers go back undercover on buses, trains and taxis

Young disabled campaigners are to go undercover across the UK to find out whether access to public transport has improved since they carried out a “damning” study six years ago.

Members of the Trailblazers network will check out buses, trains and taxis, and will examine access to stations, bus ramps, journey times, staff training and attitudes, and even the behaviour of fellow passengers.

Six years ago, another undercover Trailblazers investigation found that disabled people were struggling to use public transport, because of problems with safety, reliability and cost, as well as a lack of basic facilities at stations and on trains, and inflated prices for accessible taxis.

It concluded that “many young wheelchair-users and people with mobility difficulties face serious challenges when accessing public transport”, and it called on the government, local authorities, and transport providers, to review their accessibility policies.

The 2009 report was the first of Trailblazers’ Inclusion Now series of three investigations into public transport, education and leisure.

Now, six years on, Trailblazers will be asking whether transport providers kept their subsequent promises to improve services, particularly in the wake of the London 2012 Paralympics.

Sulaiman Khan, a member of Trailblazers who lives in London and uses a wheelchair, said: “I experience problems on a regular basis, just trying to get from A to B on public transport.

“A lot of train stations just don’t have the facilities for disabled people and I often find myself having to make my way to another station in the opposite direction of my destination, just so I can physically board the train.

“This not only adds to journey time, it also increases the cost of my ticket.

“Accessibility isn’t the only issue – poor staff knowledge and public attitudes towards disabled people are still commonplace.”

He pointed to the high-profile legal case taken by wheelchair-user Doug Paulley, who was refused access to the accessible space on a First Group bus, after a mother refused to move her pushchair.

In February, the Equality and Human Rights Commission decided to support Paulley in his bid to appeal to the Supreme Court, after he lost his case against First Bus in the court of appeal.

A spokesman for Muscular Dystrophy UK, which runs Trailblazers, said: “We want to hear from young people across the UK on their experiences using public transport.

“We want to find out whether promises from transport providers and local authorities are truly making a difference on the ground.”

To take part in the investigation, which will take place over the next three months, visit theTrailblazers website.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DWP Secret reviews, Disabled students to sue government, Disabled people designed out, Mayor defends Liberty date switch, Mobile revolution makes disabled people more appealing

The start of another week and maybe, just maybe spring has finally sprung! To celebrate we’ve decided to have two of our upstairs bedrooms redecorated.

All of our children have flown the nest and we have an opportunity to decorate using colours schemes we actually like. This has required some delicate negotiations with the grown up offspring but these have now been successfully completed.

Given that I have never actually been upstairs, conversations with my wife about colour schemes and wall coverings have been an interesting experience. It is very difficult to appreciate the subtleties of space and light without the actual experience of being in the room. Here’s where modern technology and, in particular the ubiquitous IPhone comes to the rescue.

Using the Face Time app to link our phones, Sue became a TV Make Over presenter and gave me a real time tour of the bedrooms and I was able to see first hand what needed doing. I was able to direct her to show me particular features or views and although not perfect, it worked really well.

The colours are chosen and the painters are in and Sue goes upstairs each evening clutching her IPhone and shows me the progress the guys are making. I can also check on the quality of their workmanship! Hoorah for technology I say.

Have a great week and here’s the latest news.


News Roundup

Secret DWP reviews called for improvements after benefit deaths

The government has admitted that more than 30 secret reviews carried out following the deaths of benefit claimants called for improvements in how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) operates locally and nationally.

The “appalling” statistic has added to pressure on DWP to publish the reviews, and is the latest in a series of revelations to emerge through Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests, which disabled activists say “should be setting alarm bells ringing at Westminster”.

Last night (5 March), a member of the Commons work and pensions select committee demanded that DWP finally confirms what changes it has introduced as a result of the reviews, and reveals how many of those who died had had their benefits sanctioned.

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams said: “I have repeatedly asked for information from ministers and been met with a wall of silence.

“And that’s because, frankly, certain ministers have too much to hide and too much to lose.”

The latest FoIA figures featured in a Dispatches documentary on the government’s benefit sanctions regime, which was broadcast on 2 March on Channel 4.

Dispatches revealed that, of 49 secret “peer reviews” carried out since February 2012, 33 contained recommendations for improvements in procedures at either national or local level within DWP.

Dispatches also revealed that 40 of the 49 internal reviews had been carried out following the suicide or apparent suicide of a benefit claimant, information that came from a response to an FoIA request from Disability News Service (DNS).

Despite a series of FoIA requests from DNS to DWP, the department has refused to publish the reviews, or their summaries, recommendations or conclusions, even with personal details removed.

DNS has now appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office over DWP’s refusal to release this information.

The FoIA response said that any national recommendations were “referred to the Customer Journey team for inclusion in their regular reviews”, while local recommendations were “referred to the appropriate office to be taken forward”.

DWP ministers and officials have been repeatedly criticised for their attempts to avoid releasing key information about the peer reviews.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “In an open and democratic society, the public must be able to scrutinise the actions of public authorities in order to hold them to account and if the DWP are refusing to reveal the recommendations from these 33 cases, it will make that an impossibility.

“We call on everyone now to demand that the DWP releases the summaries of the reviews. We really need to know what these recommendations were.”

He said there was “no reason” why DWP could not anonymise the details of the deceased claimants, as theMental Welfare Commission for Scotland had done in the case of Ms DE, when it concluded that the assessment of her “fitness for work” and the subsequent denial of the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA) was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”.

Bob Ellard, from Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The FOI response that ‘recommendations have been referred to the Customer Journey team for inclusion in their regular reviews’ might be appropriate for missing copier paper, but is not acceptable for reviews into avoidable deaths of human beings.

“Did anyone at DWP ensure that recommendations got turned into action to prevent more claimant deaths? Were ministers informed? Did ministers take responsibility for the prevention of further claimant deaths?

“These continuing revelations should be setting alarm bells ringing at Westminster.”

Ellard said there was a need for “full transparency” and yet the DWP was “stalling”, while Labour’s frontbench had been “silent” on the issue.

Despite the silence from Labour’s frontbench, Abrahams is pushing ministers to release evidence that the government has been to blame for any of the deaths, or that DWP’s actions had been “inappropriate or incorrect”.

She told DNS: “It’s taken an FoI, but it’s good that the government have had to acknowledge publicly that at least 33 people who have died whilst in receipt of social security support have done so in circumstances that merited a change in the way the DWP operates at both local and national levels.

“What we need to know now is how they are changing the system to ensure that these appalling statistics don’t rise. We also need to know how many of these people were, or had been, sanctioned.

“The fact that the DWP is making it so difficult to get straight answers to questions about what they’re doing to ensure vulnerable people are treated appropriately whilst on social security is appalling.”

The latest FoIA responses came as a coroner found that a disabled woman killed herself after receiving a letter warning that she could lose her disability benefits.

Julia Kelly, from Kingsthorpe, Northampton, who had chronic back pain after two serious car accidents, died in November after previously having to attend three tribunals to overturn decisions to remove her ESA.

She had reportedly received a letter from DWP asking her to pay back £4,000 in benefits because she had failed to declare some savings.

The coroner, Anne Pember, recording a verdict of suicide, said she believed that the “upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are with the family of Julia Kelly.

“ESA is a means-tested benefit and entitlement depends on the amount an individual has in savings or capital.

“If a claimant exceeds the threshold, with thousands of pounds in savings, they may no longer be entitled to the benefit.”

But she refused to say whether the case would be the subject of a peer review.

She said: “Peer reviews are private documents containing extremely personal information. It would be inappropriate for us to make these public and we do not intend to provide a running commentary on their existence or progress in specific cases.”

Rick Burgess, co-founder of New Approach, which is dedicated to scrapping the work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for ESA – said the coroner’s verdict showed that Julia Kelly had killed herself “because of the threats made to her by the DWP”, and that it was “no wonder” the department “uses every means to cover up evidence of its crimes”.

He added: “As with child sex abuse and murder, we have an entire establishment that will not police itself when it commits grievous crimes.”
Disabled students win permission to take government to court

Two disabled students have won permission to launch a legal case against the government, over plans to restrict funding for the support and equipment that helps them attend university.

They say they have been “ignored” by the government in a consultation on its plans to reform the disabled students’ allowance (DSA) system.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) admitted last October that its planned cuts and reforms to disability-related higher education support would have a “negative impact” on disabled students, and increase the chance of them facing discrimination at university.

Now law firm Irwin Mitchell has secured permission for a judicial review of the proposals, to challenge whether it was unlawful for BIS to consult only with a “select group” of stakeholders.

DSA is a non-means-tested grant that assists with the extra costs a disabled student faces during higher education study, but the BIS proposals only apply to students from England.

It is currently awarded to more than 60,000 disabled students, with spending of nearly £150 million on undergraduates in 2012-13.

The government wants to force individual universities to step in and fill the gaps in support that will be left by the DSA cuts, through their duties to provide reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.

The legal action is supported by the National Deaf Children’s Society and Ambitious about Autism, while The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) has been coordinating the gathering of witness statements from disabled students.

ALLFIE, which has supported the two students taking the case, welcomed the decision to allow it to proceed to judicial review.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said: “We are pleased that Zanna’s and Joseph’s judicial review case will be heard in the courts.

“From our view it is not only the lack of consultation that is at issue, but also that the DSA reforms will have a significant impact upon disabled students.”

She said that universities had told the government that they do not have the resources to provide the support disabled students need “in order to flourish in higher education”.

Aspis said: “As far as we concerned, the DSA reforms are just another attack on disabled students’ support to enable them to access higher education.

“We already know that disabled people are less likely to be thinking about university and that admissions tutors will be asking how much it will cost them to provide support.”

Although BIS has postponed some of the DSA changes until 2016-17, many will still be introduced from the start of the academic year in September. The consultation on the government’s plans ended last month.

Both the disabled students taking the case say they have “major concerns” about the consultation process, and believe the proposals could prevent many other disabled young people from starting or completing a university education.

Zanna Messenger-Jones, 17, from Cumbria, who is deaf, is applying to study art and design or fashion design at several universities.

But without DSA she is not sure that she will receive the support she needs to follow group discussions and conversations between teachers and other students.

Her college and audiology centre currently provide her with specialist equipment and software, but she cannot take it with her to university, and she will also need adaptations to her university student accommodation, such as a flashing fire alarm, which would currently be paid for through DSA.

She said: “I’m really worried that if I don’t receive the appropriate support in terms of DSA at the beginning of the academic year it could seriously impact my studies.

“To not have been asked about the changes is not right and I want to be informed about what is proposed and have my views heard.”

The second student is 19-year-old Joseph Bell, who has autism, and began studying physics, astrophysics and cosmology at Lancaster University last October.

DSA funded an assistant to support him with adjusting to university life when he started his course, and continues to provide him with vital assistance.

He said: “Just because I made it to university, does not mean I’ll cope without support.

“Without DSA, the trivial things would become impossible for me. This also applies to many future disabled students, who are being ignored by the government.”

Alex Rook, from lawyers Irwin Mitchell, who is representing the two students, said: “Thousands of students are reliant on this support to enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding higher education, but the proposals mean there is a real concern many could be left without the help they need.

“We believe the student community should have been given the chance to have their voices heard on this matter, prior to any decision being made, and we are delighted to have been given permission to proceed with a judicial review.”

A BIS spokesman said he could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings, but confirmed that permission for the judicial review had been granted.

On Monday, Greg Clark, the Conservative minister for universities, science and cities, told a hustings event in Westminster*: “I don’t want to do anything that would put off a single disabled student from going to university, quite the reverse.”

But he said – in response to a question on DSA from Aspis – that there was “a challenge for universities” to meet their duties to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students under the Equality Act, “just as any other employer [sic] has to” to make sure their premises are accessible.

He said he could not comment on what his party would do if it won the next election, because BIS was still consulting on its plans, but he said: “I want to work consensually with disabled students and their representative groups to get it right.”

*Watch from one hour, 12 minutes
Two city buildings ‘design out disabled visitors’ by scrapping blue badge spaces

Two major cultural institutions in Manchester have been criticised for “designing out disabled people” by removing all of their on-site blue badge parking spaces during multi-million pound renovation programmes.

Manchester Central Library and the Whitworth art gallery, part of the University of Manchester, both offered several off-road blue badge spaces outside their buildings before huge new redevelopment projects.

But the library has now paved over spaces both in front of and behind the building, while the gallery has removed four accessible spaces that were previously within its grounds.

Both projects received millions of pounds of public funding, with the £15 million extension to the Whitworth – funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England – opening earlier this month, and the£50 million library redevelopment reopening nearly a year ago.

But both institutions are now less accessible to disabled people who need to arrive in their own cars.

The Whitworth expected the city council to place three new blue badge spaces – with drop kerbs – in a street beside the gallery, Denmark Road, but they have been delayed by pedestrianisation works to nearby Oxford Road.

One wheelchair-user, Guy, is now unable to visit either building without a carer or personal assistant, and said that both redevelopments had “designed out disabled people”.

He was previously a frequent visitor to the central library and the gallery because of his work as an artist, and even had his first date with his partner at the library.

He said: “They have designed out disability access. It’s all very well putting a ramp in, but if you can’t get to the building you can’t get to the ramp.”

He added: “I have visited the library a few times since the opening, but I have had to have someone with me to help me get into my chair on the busy streets, and to just stop me getting mowed down.

“As an independent wheelchair-user, I can never go in there alone again.”

A council spokesman said it planned to provide 16 new disabled parking bays on Peter Street and Mount Street, which both run past the library, but this had been delayed due to ongoing improvement work around the area.

He said: “Disabled badge-holders are also able to park for free and with no time limit in any pay and display bay, such as those which can be found on a number of streets very close to the library.”

But Guy said: “The original disabled spaces were off-road, giving safe, secure space to unload a wheelchair and manoeuvre without the risk of being hit by a car.

“That’s precisely why they were put there in the first place. Disabled people have now been placed in significant danger due to their removal.

“It appears that the very last thing to be built in the entire project is the disabled access parking.”

He said he feared the provision of the 16 new bays “may still be years away”, while parking for free in regular pay-and-display bays was often suggested as a sub-standard alternative to dedicated disabled bays.

He said: “As an independent wheelchair-user, to use a regular parking space I have to wheel myself along the middle of the road until I find a drop kerb, usually at a junction. That is, if I have a death wish.

“Disabled people come last, are placed in danger, and are asked to lose good access for the sake of design. They should have designed it better. It’s a public building and I paid for it as well.”

Guy said that he cried in his car when he realised what had happened with the Whitworth spaces.

He said: “I told the Whitworth that I go in there at least once a week. I know the people in there, it’s an important part of my life.”

When he arrived outside for a recent visit, he called the gallery to tell them where he was and they had to send staff out to carry him onto the pavement and then help him across the road.

He said: “If you can’t get your car there, you can’t get in, but 99 per cent of disabled people with wheelchairs use the car.”

He said the three accessible bays that would eventually be installed in Denmark Road beside the gallery would not be available exclusively to gallery visitors, while the road itself was “probably not wide enough to accommodate extra wide parking to get a wheelchair out of a car”, and the pavement was “uneven and is not wide enough”.

A spokesman for the Whitworth said the council’s highways department would be painting double yellow lines on Denmark Road as a temporary solution. This would allow three hours free parking for blue badge-holders.

But he admitted that there were currently no dropped kerbs, and said: “I think the initial temporary solution is to get the double yellow lines in and then continue the pressure for the bays and changes to the kerb.”

He added: “At the moment we will have staff on hand each week to assist disabled visitors who need a drop-off point.

“We have posted a contact number on our website so that any disabled visitor requiring assistance can contact us in advance of our visit.

“We sincerely apologise to any visitors who have been inconvenienced by the current situation.”

But Guy said that offering a drop-off point would mean he would not be able to visit as an independent disabled person.

He said: “Once again, good, off-road disabled access has been removed without any thought to the replacement.

“I am told by the gallery that I must park on double yellows, am only allowed to stay for three hours and must place myself at greater risk.

“As an independent wheelchair-user, I have tried now on two occasions and cannot gain access to the gallery.

“The options that are supposed to be in the pipeline are years away, won’t be sufficient and so I will be excluded again forever.”

Meanwhile, two government ministers – the Liberal Democrat communities minister Stephen Williams and the Conservative minister for disabled people, Mark Harper – have backed a new industry action plan, which aims to make buildings and public spaces more inclusive.

The two ministers chaired a meeting of representatives from the construction and design industries to review the plan, which includes measures on vocational and professional training, promoting industry awareness, and supporting cross-industry collaboration on research and innovation.

John Mathers, chief executive of the Design Council, which hosted the round-table meeting, said: “Our goal is to ensure that creating inclusive environments for everyone becomes the standard approach to planning, design, construction and management practice.”

Organisations including the Construction Industry Council, English Heritage, the National Register of Access Consultants, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Access Association have signed up to the action plan.

Williams said: “In October last year we issued a challenge to key players in the construction industry to create buildings, places and spaces that work better for everyone by making inclusion a key part of their work.

“The action plan we have seen today is a great start in making a more inclusive built environment a reality.”
Mayor defends Liberty date switch

London’s mayor has been forced to defend the decision to change the date of the capital’s annual disability arts festival, and to move it from a Saturday to a Sunday.

Some disabled artists fear that the move could damage visitor numbers, particularly as this year’s event – on 26 July, rather than its traditional date in early September – will coincide with the International Paralympic Committee’s Athletics Grand Prix Final.

When Liberty was held for the first time in 2003, it was held in Trafalgar Square, before being moved eight years later to London’s South Bank.

It established itself as a vital date on the capital’s disability arts calendar, and became a tourist attraction in its own right, playing a major part in raising awareness of disability rights and boosting the profile of some of the country’s most talented disabled artists.

But for the last two years, it has merged with National Paralympic Day (NPD), and is hosted by the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, east London.

This year, as well as the athletics, Liberty will be competing for visitors’ attention with Paralympic medal-winning swimmers competing in the London Aquatics Centre, also part of NPD.

The swimmers will be competing just days after their IPC World Championships take place in Glasgow.

The athletics and swimming will be ticketed, but the other events will be free, including Liberty, and the chance to try out disability sports.

The British Paralympic Association is also planning events in at least two other cities to mark NPD.

Last year, Liberty struggled to compete with the attractions of NPD. A low-key line-up on the main stage, combined with the public interest in Britain’s Paralympians, put the arts festival even further into the shadows than in 2013, when it merged with NPD for the first time.

Lengthy queues for autographs from London 2012 stars and medal-winning Sochi 2014 Paralympic skiers Kelly Gallagher and Jade Etherington contrasted for most of the afternoon with rows of empty seats in front of the main Liberty stage.

Dr Ju Gosling, artistic director of the disability arts, culture and human rights organisation Together! 2012, which is based in east London, said she had been frustrated by the decision to schedule Liberty on the first weekend of the school holidays, when more people – including personal assistants (PAs) and carers – leave town “than any other weekend of the year”, while PAs were always much harder to book on a Sunday.

She said Liberty had been “dumped” on “the worst day of the summer for events organisers”.

But following a meeting with the organisers of Liberty and NPD to discuss the concerns, she said they were able to “have a full and frank exchange of views”.

She said: “As a result, we hope to be able to work together to maximise local engagement, as well as to research barriers to participation that will assist with the continuing growth of the festival in future years.

“Together! 2012 remains committed to supporting the Liberty festival in east London.”

Tracey Jannaway, director of Independent Living Alternatives, the company set up by Liberty’s late founder, David Morris, was critical last year of the decision to merge Liberty with NPD, and the lack of promotion for the arts festival.

She said: “So Liberty will be shifted to July. If this is with the usual lack of publicity I’ll be surprised if anyone turns up for the arts side of the event.”

A spokesman for the mayor, Boris Johnson, said: “We are currently finalising plans for the Liberty festival, which is one of the most important showcases of disabled artists in the country and a key cultural event for the capital.

“Last year’s event in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park attracted bigger crowds than previous events in Trafalgar Square and with the improved access it offers we hope even more people, whether disabled or otherwise, will attend this year.”

He said the park was “one of the most accessible public spaces in London, with good transport links and parking available for disabled people”.

And he said that bringing together “leading artists and top sports stars is a great opportunity to celebrate and showcase talented people in two important fields”.

The spokesman said that Liberty was “a family-friendly event that offers a great free day out at the start of the holidays”, and organisers hoped there would be “sufficient notice for anyone who has personal assistance requirements to plan ahead”.
Mobile revolution ‘is making disabled people more appealing as employees’

The mobile computing revolution is heling to make disabled people more “appealing” to potential employers, as well as to providers of goods and services, according to a leading disabled telecommunications analyst.

In a new report, Digitising the Disabled Billion: Accessibility gets Personal, Chris Lewis says the technology is “increasingly available” to draw a “significant proportion” of the world’s estimated population of one billion disabled people into the “digital age”.

He says that the “explosion” of mobile and laptop-based applications, combined with some specialist equipment, has made accessing business systems easier.

His report says: “As the sophistication of accessible design permeates through the majority of personal and business applications, the value of that disabled person in the company increases.

“Consequently, barriers to using all of the facilities and systems, and communicating and interacting with fellow colleagues, suppliers and customers, decrease dramatically.”

Lewis says in the report that disabled people will increasingly use their mobile devices and apps to “help live their daily lives”, just as other people do, with apps becoming accessible as companies “build accessibility” into their mobile devices.

He adds: “Mainstream apps will become accessible, and specialist apps focused on specialist needs of disabilities will be developed to top up the existing digital life styles.”

Lewis says in his report that the “age of assistive equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars” has mostly been replaced by “algorithms designed to interpret images, sounds and gestures (but perhaps not yet brainwaves)… as academia gets closer to mimicking the human”.

And he says: “If a car can have hundreds of sensors helping it drive around successfully, why can’t I, as a visually-disabled person, have a similar level of sensor-based help to help me navigate my way through life?”

The market in equipment and apps has “accelerated” in the last few years, according to his report, pointing to how someone who is paraplegic can now fly a drone around their garden “through the eye movement captured by a set of goggles”, while virtual reality headsets allow someone to “virtually feel a product created in front of them”.

“Fundamentally,” the report says, “technology in many forms is allowing sensory replacement for both input and output from a disabled person.”

Lewis, who is blind, says the development of the smartphone has changed his life, giving him access to “a wealth of services”.

His report says innovation is now coming from “a much wider range of sources”, with companies often developing “disability oriented solutions alongside mainstream ones” without the need for any “special encouragement”, while it adds: “We are also beginning to see the disabled community itself producing apps appropriate for their peers.”

Mainstream apps are becoming increasingly accessible, says the report, and are “literally life changing, as people get access to services hitherto completely out of reach to different disability groups”.

Lewis adds: “A simple but powerful example would be the ability for me, as a blind person, to hail a cab from my smartphone where I was previously unable to do so from the pavement.”

Discussions with technology companies and disability organisations, as well as polling of disabled people for the report had shown that “momentum is building within different disabled communities to seek to learn the benefits and ways of joining in the digital economy”.

Lewis, the founder and chief executive of Lewis Insight, warns that – although the technology is increasingly available at an affordable price – it will be vital to provide the right training and education.

His report is the second in a series sponsored by the Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica on how disabled people can use accessible technology to improve their lives.

Lewis concludes: “The technology is increasingly available to deliver this future. The need to educate both the disabled and the people helping them identify the solutions available is the biggest challenge we face.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Life in the PIP queue, Cornwall under the spotlight again. Lottery awards £5 million, NHS Long Stay closures, Brothers Cambridge Union Speech , A Boards a problem

Hello once again! Well I survived! The washing, hoovering and ironing were all done and the house shone like a new pin when Sue returned from India. I became very fond of big bowls of Alpen while she was away, no preparation and very little washing up. My two brilliant daughters cooked for me on a couple of occasions so starvation was narrowly avoided.

Our house is very wheelchair accessible but the kitchen has not been adapted so it does present some interesting challenges. Sue had left a variety of things out for me, a dinner plate, a pudding bowl and a Chelsea mug plus other bits and pieces. I got thoroughly sick and tired of using the Chelsea mug everyday, strange but true!

The fortnight didn’t pass off without a couple of noteworthy moments. The day I took Sue to Heathrow the gas central heating packed up. A call to the installer and a bit of jiggery pokery got it working again. A few days after that I returned home to find I had no electricity. I tracked down the fault to the office plugs but no amount of fiddling around resolved the issue. No power meant no landline or Wi-Fi, and therefore, no Google to look up emergency electricians. Where would we be without a smart phone? Eventually a call to London Electricians produced two very skilled, and friendly Polish men who sorted things out inside an hour. I will definitely vote to stay in Europe.

As long as I’ve lived on the planet I’ve been with other people, hospitals, special schools, home and family. I’ve learned that I don’t like being on my own, in my own home. How do people cope with living alone? If it is by choice well fair enough, but if it’s forced on you, that’s a very different matter. At least I can go out and my family are close by, but for many people, particularly older people, this is not generally the case. I suppose the fact is that we will all end up on our own at some point. I’ve decided to put my name down for a place in a local collective just in case!

Enjoy the news.

News Roundup


Life in the PIP queue: Woman’s ‘wicked’ 14-month wait… just to be assessed

A disabled woman has told how she has been forced to wait more than 14 months to be assessed for the government’s new disability benefit, just days after a Tory minister praised his own performance in cutting waiting-times.

Hannah Wells, from Ascot, Berkshire, told Disability News Service (DNS) that she put in her application for personal independence payment (PIP) in November 2013, with her claim logged by Atos Healthcare early the following month.

It is the longest wait yet by a PIP claimant to be reported by DNS.

She has already had two assessments at the Atos centre in Reading cancelled this year – the first one in January 2015, and the second one this week – because of staff sickness.

And she has been told by Atos that she is “not the only one waiting for an assessment from 2013”.

Debt-collectors are now “knocking on the door”, she is unable to afford the healthy diet she needs (she has type one diabetes, among a number of health conditions), and she cannot afford to run her car or to move to more appropriate housing.

She is also unable to apply for other linked support from her local authority because she is not yet receiving PIP, and is surviving on out-of-work disability benefits, having been placed last November in the employment and support allowance support group, for those with the highest barriers to work.

Wells said: “The system is torturing disabled people who are severely dependant on what they are legally entitled to.

“I worked for more than 20 years and paid into the system. It is torture, making you jump through hoops to get what you are entitled to. It is absolutely wicked.

“It has left me financially crippled. My car is left rotting outside and there is nothing I can do.

“If I get my backdated PIP, I can pay off all the bills and get back to having a real life.”

She tried complaining to DWP, but was told there was nothing they could do to pressure Atos.

And now she fears that she will have to wait even longer, as a disabled friend who himself has been waiting more than six months for an assessment in Reading has been handed a date in April.

An Atos spokeswoman apologised for the latest cancellation but refused to comment on the wait of 14 months.

She said in a statement: “We are now conducting over 2,000 PIP assessments every day and people are being seen as swiftly as possible.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We apologise for the length of time Ms Wells has had to wait. Any PIP award agreed for Ms Wells following her assessment will be backdated.

“We have made significant progress in reducing waiting times.”

Mark Harper, the Conservative minister for disabled people, defended the PIP reforms when he gave evidence to the work and pensions select committee on 28 January.

He said the government had “made a lot of progress compared with where we were in the unacceptable period last summer”, although he said he was “not satisfied with where we are”.

He added: “When the prime minister asked me to do this job, he said this was the top priority for me to sort out, and I have said that consistently since, and it has been and I think we have made considerable process.

“We have hit the secretary of state’s ambition to get the process functioning now in the shape that is acceptable, but we still have more work to do.”

New DWP figures released just before the hearing showed that although the average waiting-time for a PIP assessment had fallen from 30 weeks to 14 weeks, one in 11 of those who had lodged a new PIP claim since the benefit’s launch in April 2013 was still waiting to be assessed, and had been waiting longer than 16 weeks.

Those figures suggested that just under 50,000 claimants had – like Hannah Wells – been waiting longer than 16 weeks for an assessment.

Harper declined to tell MPs on the committee the length of the current longest wait for an assessment.
Cornwall under spotlight again after latest abuse scandal

An “incompetent” council apparently failed to take disciplinary action against any members of staff following allegations of serious ill-treatment and neglect of disabled people at a day centre.

A serious case review, published last week, described incidents of alleged “humiliation, ostracising, favouritism, inappropriate communication, rough handling” and the “deliberate exposure” of a service-user to “an item of which he was known to be phobic”.

It also found that windows had been boarded up so no one could see into the office, while the building was “in a state of disrepair, toilets were broken, there was dried faeces on one of the toilet walls, and old, used incontinence pads piled in a corner in one toilet area”.

But Cornwall Council seems to have failed to take any disciplinary action against any of the staff at the John Daniel Centre in Penzance, following allegations made by a whistleblower in 2011.

The serious case review also suggests that the contents of an internal council report into the alleged abuse led in March 2014 to the collapse of a court case, in which three members of staff had been accused of ill-treatment and neglect under the Mental Capacity Act.

But it was not the first time there had been allegations made about the council-run day centre, which at times was catering for up to 80 adults with learning difficulties at a time. Similar concerns had been raised in 2006.

And concerns were also raised about another of Cornwall’s day centres, Morley Tamblyn Lodge, in Liskeard, in 2007, and again in 2013, with the cause of the problems considered to be “cultural and systemic”.

The council does not appear to have taken disciplinary action against a single member of staff over any of these four series of allegations.

The council’s safeguarding lead, Jack Cordery, declined to say whether any member of staff had faced disciplinary action, but said: “Appropriate management action was taken to investigate the allegations, to learn lessons and put in place measures to prevent the same things happening.”

Reg Broad, former chair of East Cornwall Mencap, who visited the John Daniel Centre after the concerns were raised in 2011, said: “The whole culture in the place must have been absolutely appalling.

“They were being allowed to get away with anything and it was just being covered up.

“It was the denial of any sort of rights. You couldn’t complain – if you did, it was covered up. Nobody from outside was going in regularly.”

The John Daniel Centre is just the latest in a series of high-profile scandals in which Cornish institutions have been criticised for their failure to uphold the rights of disabled people, including the notorious disability hate crime murder of Steven Hoskin in 2006.

A serious case review into his death later found that every part of the adult protection system in Cornwall had been guilty of “significant failures” in dealing with the torture Hoskin – who had learning difficulties – had been experiencing at the hands of a group of young people who had targeted him.

In the same year that Hoskin died, a report by the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection into “years of abusive practices” at homes and hospitals run by Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust detailed allegations including “staff hitting, pushing, shoving, dragging, kicking, secluding, belittling, mocking and goading people who used the trust’s services, withholding food, giving cold showers, over-zealous or premature use of restraint”, as well as a lack of care, dignity, respect and privacy.

No member of staff was ever prosecuted over the Cornwall Partnership abuse.

And in 2013, a Cornwall councillor shocked and outraged disabled campaigners across the world after suggesting – in an interview with Disability News Service – that there was a good argument for killing some disabled babies with high support needs, because of the cost of providing them with services.

The disabled people’s organisation Disability Cornwall said this week that it was “very concerned that our county has had to bear yet another situation involving the potential abuse of people with learning difficulties, which has required subsequent investigation”.

A spokesman for Disability Cornwall said: “In light of previous scandals in Cornwall, it appears there have been missed opportunities to learn, or to improve upon, essential services which can have enormous impacts on the quality of a person’s life.

“At the centre of this unacceptable situation appears to be a lack of competency by the commissioning and provider functions of our council, which seems to have led to an appalling deterioration in standards at a centre previously held in high regard by the people who used it, their families and carers, its staff and the wider community at large.”

Broad, who was closely involved in exposing the Cornwall Partnership abuse, said: “The biggest problem is the attitude of the authorities. The attitude is always that people with learning disabilities do not count.

“I almost go so far as to say that they believe they are subhuman. They don’t have any rights.”

Broad said that the “Collin Brewer attitude” was “in the council, both in the officers and the members”, and he added: “To me, that attitude is why we have got this report.”

Cornwall Council says there have been “significant improvements and changes in the services delivered through the John Daniel Centre” since 2011.

And Cordery denied there was a lack of respect for disabled people’s human rights across Cornwall’s institutions.

He said: “Whilst the council accepts that standards of care were not at an acceptable level and there were individual instances of unacceptable behaviour, it does not accept that there is a culture of disrespect for the rights of disabled people.

“When these matters have come to light the council has been open about them and taken appropriate action to address them.”

He also denied that the council, and other institutions, had failed to learn lessons from the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust scandal.

And although the council admitted that “some aspects of local practice were allowed to develop that fell short of standards, and some unacceptable staff behaviours were not challenged effectively” at the John Daniel Centre, it claimed that independent regulation of council-run day centres – which currently lie outside the remit of the Care Quality Commission – was not the answer.

It insisted that it was “sound management accountability and systems that safeguard adults, not national regulation”.
Lottery awards £5 million for user-led independent living research

Four of the UK’s leading pan-disability organisations have secured £5 million in lottery funding for a major series of research projects on independent living.

The Big Lottery Fund has given the money to Disability Action Northern Ireland, and its research partnersDisability Rights UK, Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland, for the Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) project.

The four partners said the project would “significantly strengthen our future capacity to influence decision making about independent living” and would “inform the policies, manifestos and campaigns of the disability sector for many years to come”.

The project will be spread over the next five years, with research carried out both across the UK and in each of the four countries.

The first task will be to work with disabled people and their organisations to decide on research priorities.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said she was “really thrilled” with the funding, and said: “This is a real opportunity in Wales to drive forward the disability research agenda.”

She said she hoped the project might even lead to a university setting up the first disability studies department in Wales.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said: “We are thrilled to be working with our sister organisations across the UK to push the boundaries of research based on what matters to disabled people’s lives.”

She said the research would be “unique in starting from the priorities that come from disabled people, and will be designed to impact on policies and practices that make a difference in people’s lives”.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s director of policy and development, said: “It is very exciting because we are going to be able to get some really robust research to back up our campaigning on the issues we are really concerned about.

“Otherwise you have to just wait and persuade some academics to be interested. This way, disabled people are really in the driving seat.”

Disabled people will co-produce the research, she said, which should provide an example to other research organisations, develop the careers of existing disabled researchers, and “upskill disabled people interested in acquiring research skills”.

The results of the research will be shared widely with disabled people and those responsible for policy and practice.

Sayce said: “We hope the research will underpin new work to foster the full participation of disabled people in a rapidly changing world – including people from different communities and backgrounds, living with a wide range of mental and physical health conditions and impairments.”

Bill Scott, director of policy for Inclusion Scotland, added: “The solution-focused research will also provide the evidence that we (disabled people’s organisations) need to influence the shape of future Scottish government policy and public service provision so that they support disabled people to reach their full potential and be involved in all aspects of Scottish economic and community life.”
NHS long-stay closures ‘are too little and too late’

A leading self-advocate has described the announcement that NHS England is to close some of the remaining hospitals that provide in-patient mental health beds for people with learning difficulties as “long overdue” and still not good enough.

The surprise announcement by Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, came as he and three other Department of Health civil servants gave evidence this week to the Commons public accounts committee.

Members of the committee had been expressing concern at the lack of progress in moving people with learning difficulties out of so-called assessment and treatment centres and into community settings.

They were examining the progress made since a BBC Panorama programme in May 2011 exposed abuse of people with learning difficulties at Winterbourne View, a private unit on the edge of Bristol.

The government subsequently promised that – by 1 June 2014 – anyone with a learning difficulty and challenging behaviour who would be better off supported in the community, should be moved out of hospital.

But a National Audit Office (NAO) report published last week found that, in the nine months to June 2014, there were 300 more admissions to hospital than there were discharges.

NAO said there were 2,615 people with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour in hospital in England in March, 2,601 in June 2014, and 2,600 in September 2014.

The latest figures show that for every seven patients being discharged, six more are being admitted.

And they also show that the average length of stay, including admissions and readmissions, in four hospitals visited by NAO was 17 years and four months.

Anne McGuire, the Labour MP and former minister for disabled people, asked whether the four civil servants understood the “cynicism” of families of people still in the units, because the targets had been “pretty badly missed”.

Stevens told the MPs: “None of us should be sitting here defending the indefensible. I think people have been badly let down.”

He said there needed to be a “permanent shift away from the residue of institutional care models,” although he pointed out that the 12,600 in-patient NHS beds for people with learning difficulties in the mid-1990s had fallen now to about 1,500, with another 1,500 in the independent sector.

He said: “The time has come to say that some of those remaining facilities are going to have to close and care is going to have to be provided in a more radical way.

“It’s the imbalance in power [in the health and social care system] which explains why we allow these things to be perpetuated, and that’s got to change.”

Stevens said there would now be a “planned transition programme” of NHS closures, particularly in the north-east and north-west of England and “some parts of the Midlands”, while there would need to be efforts made by commissioners not to allow a situation where “we reduce NHS provision and it just flows over into third-party providers that expand on the back of it”.

But Gary Bourlet, co-development lead for People First England, said afterwards that he was unhappy that the NHS would only be closing “some” of the units.

He said: “There will still be lots of people left in these units. We have been trying to close long-stay institutions for a long time.

“Closing institutions has been talked about since the 1940s. I think it is long overdue. I think that we will [still] be saying this in the next 10 years, still closing long-stay hospitals or institutions. It’s all too slow.”

He added: “I have got past the frustration and anger stage. These people can’t or are too frightened to speak up for themselves and can’t fight back.

“These people with learning difficulties and autism and other disabilities should be supported to live back in the community, near families, with more community learning disability nurses.”

He said there should be a “buddying system”, which provides them with extra support, while advocacy should play a “huge part in helping people re-establish themselves back into the community”.

Bourlet added: “Having people locked and staying in buildings should be a thing of the past.

“All the money wasted on these type of buildings should go back into the community and supporting people to live there.”

He said he was still waiting for a promised meeting on the issue with the Liberal Democrat care and support minister Norman Lamb.

Campaigners have been attempting to persuade the government to close long-stay hospitals for people with learning difficulties since the late 1940s.

In 1951, the National Council for Civil Liberties released a report describing the regime brought in by the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act – which would eventually confine hundreds of thousands of people with learning difficulties to long-stay NHS hospitals – as “one of the gravest social scandals of the twentieth century”.

And the Department of Health and Social Security announced in a white paper as far back as 1971 that long-stay hospitals should gradually be closed down.
Brothers’ Cambridge Union speech contrasts UK with US ‘hostility and bigotry’

The disabled woman hoping to become the first transgender person to be elected to parliament has spoken of her battle to win an apology from The Sun newspaper, in a speech to an historic university debating society.

She was speaking as part of the bi-centennial celebrations of the Cambridge Union – the oldest continuously running debating society in the world – which this term will also hear from speakers including former US vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, journalist Jon Snow and composer Stephen Sondheim.

Brothers focused for much of her talk on the need for effective press regulation, following offensive remarks made about her by Sun columnist Rod Liddle, and The Sun’s refusal to apologise, after she had come out in the media as a gay woman with a transsexual history.

She told the union yesterday (11 February): “Regulation must be independent, effective, authoritative, above all fair.

“It needs to recognise that individuals can often be isolated by powerful vested interests.

“In my case, I’m trying to balance the expectations of people from the transgender community and wider public who are concerned, whilst grappling with a powerful newspaper and reassuring a political party which would rather not have one of their candidates in conflict with The Sun just before an election.”

She also said that she had been impressed by the UK reaction to her coming out about her gender history.

But she said that her story had been received in the US – in online comments on an interview with the website The Daily Beast – with “hostility and bigotry”.

Brothers said after her speech, and a subsequent question and answer session, that it had been “really encouraging to hear so many young people talking passionately about mainstream politics as well as embracing LGBT issues”.

She said: “I was particularly struck by the younger generation being focused on non-gender binary issues, with quite a few of them neither identifying as male nor female.”

She added: “This is the new frontier for equality that I think will seriously gain traction in coming years.

“I look forward to observing progress, whilst hopefully helping in some small way to bring about a greater understanding and acceptance for this group.”

Brothers will be standing for Labour against the Liberal Democrat former minister Paul Burstow in the Sutton and Cheam constituency in south-west London in May’s general election.

She told Disability News Service last year that she has experienced far more discrimination as a blind person than she has as a transgender woman – she began living full-time as a woman in March 2007, and received a gender recognition certificate in October 2009.

Brothers is a former programme head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, where she specialised in health and local government, previously worked at the Disability Rights Commission and RNIB, and is a former president of The National Federation of the Blind.
Council criticised after dodging A-boards ban

Disabled campaigners have criticised a council’s refusal to ban all advertising boards from blocking its city’s pavements.

City of York Council’s cabinet decided this week to introduce only a partial ban on so-called A-boards – free-standing, A-shaped boards used to advertise goods and services – even though campaigners had warned councillors that they obstructed many disabled people and were a “barrier for participation in public life”.

York Independent Living Network (YILN), York Blind and Partially Sighted Society and RNIB all back a total ban, similar to the one introduced by Hackney council, in London.

In a briefing note for councillors, YILN argued that banning the use of A-boards would give disabled people, particularly those with visual impairments, the confidence to move around the city freely.

But YILN said that introducing only a partial ban would increase anxiety and could keep people away from shopping areas, while it would reward traders for “bad behaviour”, rather than supporting those who followed best practice and refused to use A-boards.

One council manager had previously argued that while a total ban “would benefit the appearance of the city and the safety of the partially-sighted, there would likely to be an adverse consequence to the small business community”.

A group of councillors who subsequently carried out a review, recommended allowing the use of A-boards under “strict criteria”, but banning them from streets with narrow pavements.

That report acknowledged that it was “essential for all people including those in wheelchairs or with pushchairs, and the blind and partially sighted to have a clear route along a pavement”.

It added: “Without this, many people will walk into A-boards and injure themselves, or inadvertently walk into the road whilst attempting to avoid an A-board.”

But the council’s cabinet agreed this week to commission new guidelines on the use of A-boards across the city, including a ban on their use in areas with narrow pavements, but rejected calls for a total ban.

A council spokeswoman said the decision not to go ahead with a total ban had been taken “due to the difficulties in enforcing previously agreed guidelines”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com