DLA, Transport Cuts, ATOS, Care Inspectors, Autism

As I write this there seems to be a lull in the rioting that many of our cities have recently endured. We all have a view about what might cause these terrifying episodes of violence and looting. We all have a view about what needs to be done to stop this ever happening again. Everything from conscription to birching has been suggested.

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s I worked with young people in residential settings, particularly young offenders. I learned that they need to be set clear boundaries and have a structure around them. Those of us charged with the task of looking after and supervising them knew that we had to set a good example, so our own behaviour had to be beyond reproach. They would pounce on anything that to them appeared to be a double standard. Adults who say one thing but do another commanded little respect.

In recent months we’ve seen politicians stealing expenses, police being paid to provide information, journalists hacking into people’s phones, bankers lying and cheating and a sense that everyone is “at it”. Not exactly great examples to our young people and something that we all have to reflect upon.

There can be no excuse for the violence we have just witnessed, I do not condone it, but we do need to reflect on the causes and once understood develop strategies which promote respect and tolerance while providing a structure which we all trust and uphold.
Figures undermine government’s case for DLA cuts

New official figures have undermined one of the government’s key justifications for reforming and slashing spending on a vital disability benefit.

The disability living allowance (DLA) statistics were only passed by the government to selected newspapers this week and led to stories highlighting what was described as a huge rise in the number of claimants over the last eight years.

But a close examination of the figures suggests the growth in claimants has been far lower than the government has previously claimed, an increase it has used to justify plans to replace DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP) and to cut spending on working-age DLA by 20 per cent.

In the government’s consultation on DLA reform, it argued that the number of claimants had risen by 30 per cent in eight years, a growth rate which it suggested was not “affordable and sustainable” in the long term.

But its new figures show that the number of DLA claimants up to the age of 65 has risen by just 23 per cent over those eight years. And seven per cent of this rise is due to “demographic factors”, such as population changes.

Excluding children gives a figure for the growth in the number of working-age claimants of DLA of just 13 per cent in eight years, far lower than the 30 per cent increase used by the government to justify its sweeping reforms and cuts.

The Department for Work and Pensions refused to comment when asked whether the figures fatally undermined the government’s justification for working-age DLA cuts and reform.

Anne Kane, policy manager for the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London, said: “Even if DLA figures had risen by the 30 per cent government claimed, it would be no justification for the savage cuts that are planned and which will condemn many people to greater poverty and disabling barriers.

“But if government is spinning the figures to create an impression of significantly greater levels of rising claims than is actually the case, that is of additional great concern – particularly given the prejudicial media coverage that’s already appeared and the role that ministers should be taking to prevent damaging stereotypes.”

The government’s statistics were used this week by newspapers such as the Daily Mail for inaccurate stories that are likely to stir up further hostility towards disabled people.

Less than two weeks ago, disabled activists criticised newspapers and the government over the “appalling” coverage of new statistics on claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

In the wake of those stories, Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, wrote to employment minister Chris Grayling to ask him to contact newspaper editors “to ensure that the reports they carry… are factually correct and that they avoid pejorative terms such as ‘shirkers’ and ‘scroungers’ which are irresponsible and inaccurate”.

This week, the Mail took the new DLA figures and described the increase in claimants as “shocking”, stressing how much the benefit costs the tax-payer.

The Mail said the growth in the number of young men claiming DLA “strongly suggests” that the benefit has “been abused by those who are fit to work”. What it failed to say was that DLA is paid to those both in and out of work.

The Mail also pointed to the growth in the number of young people “living off their disabilities”. But DLA actually covers just some of the extra costs disabled people face because of their impairment.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which refused to speak out in the wake of the coverage two weeks ago, has also declined to comment on the latest Mail story.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “It is not an issue we are looking into at the moment. They are entitled to what they want to write. They do it every day. It is just not an issue that we are dealing with at the moment.”

When asked why the commission was not speaking out on this issue, she added: “That’s the way it is at the moment.”
Cuts to bus services are raising access barriers, say MPs

Extensive cuts to bus services are making it harder for disabled people to access employment, education and voluntary work, according to a new report by a committee of MPs.

The transport select committee said the cuts to rural, evening and weekend services were affecting the lives of disabled, older and young people, and were also damaging their ability to reach shops and healthcare facilities.

In its report on the impact of government spending cuts on bus services in England – except for those in London – the committee says most local authorities are cutting funding for bus services, while there are likely to be even deeper cuts next year.

The English bus industry, it says, is probably facing a fall of £200 to £300 million a year in revenue, which is its “greatest financial challenge…for a generation”.

The report says 70 per cent of councils have cut funding for bus services, while some have decided to withdraw all their subsidised services.

Only last week, the campaign group False Economy released research showing how charities have lost out through council funding cuts, which included a series of Dial-a-Ride services that have either faced cuts or have had their council funding removed completely.

The committee’s report backs the government’s commitment to protect free bus travel for older and disabled people, but points out that the scheme does not apply to most of England’s 1,700 community transport providers — most of which are independent charities that provide transport such as dial-a-ride bus services.

The committee calls on the government to introduce new laws that would allow the concessionary bus pass to be used on a wider range of community transport services.

The report welcomes the extra £10 million funding from the Department for Transport to encourage the growth of community transport in rural areas, but says such schemes are “unlikely to replace more than a small fraction of withdrawn local authority-subsidised bus services”.

The report also calls on local authorities to carry out proper consultations on any further cuts to bus services.

Douglas Gilroy, vice-president of the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK), who has yet to read the full report, said: “For blind and partially-sighted people, public transport is an essential part of their ability to move about society. They have little alternative or access to a private vehicle.

“I think it is unreasonable and unacceptable for travel connections to be withdrawn without any prior consultation or notice.”

He said NFB UK hoped to hear from a speaker from the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK at the charity’s annual general meeting in London on 3 September, and added: “I am sure this topic will come up.”

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, said that nearly four-fifths of bus services outside London do not rely on direct funding from councils, while the government had “protected the concessionary travel scheme in full and provided £10 million of extra funding for community transport in rural areas”.

He said the government “accepts that the overall funding settlement for local authorities is challenging” and is “keeping a close eye on whether councils are approaching this imaginatively, finding savings in procurement and back room staff, or just reaching for the axe and cutting front line services”.

The government will respond formally to the report this autumn.
Atos forced to investigate after employee’s ‘parasites’ comment on website

Two employees of the company that carries out the controversial “fitness for work” tests for the government have been caught making offensive comments about their disabled customers on a social networking website.

Atos Healthcare, the company that conducts the work capability assessments (WCA) on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has launched an investigation.

The comments – posted on Facebook – were spotted by activists opposed to government efforts to cut the number of disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits by forcing them through the much-criticised WCA, which tests eligibility for the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

The incidents are particularly significant because disabled people forced to undergo the assessments have repeatedly complained about the attitude of Atos staff.

One of the two Atos staff members now being investigated says on his Facebook page that he is an administrator at one of the company’s medical examination centres.

Describing his job, he says he does “everything office-wise and having to put up with parasitic wankers at the same time”.

The other staff member caught out is a nurse, who says on her Facebook page that she carries out WCAs for Atos.

She has repeatedly posted messages that refer to disabled people who attend her assessment centre as “down and outs”.

On one occasion, she writes: “Thank god it’s Friday last day in this god forsaken place with the down and outs!”

In another post, she says: “Oh god another day here with the down and outs. Arggggg! Help me.”

Disabled activist John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, a group set up to campaign against the unfair use of the WCA to reclassify disabled people as “fit for work”, said the behaviour of the two Atos employees demonstrated that the company’s culture was one of a “systematic violation of the human rights of disabled people”.

He said doctors and nurses working for Atos were “just there to lend this company a veneer of credibility”.

He added: “It is the culture of a conveyor-belt in a factory, absolutely without any humanity. This is the dehumanisation of care and concern for one another.”

An Atos Healthcare spokeswoman said: “Atos Healthcare is investigating the claims made about inappropriate comments written by a couple of its employees on a social media website.

“Atos Healthcare is committed to providing a high quality, professional service to the DWP and expects the same of all its employees. Where it is found that these standards are not adhered to, this is taken very seriously and appropriate disciplinary action taken.”

A DWP spokeswoman added: “We take any allegation of inappropriate conduct amongst our subcontractors very seriously and expect Atos Healthcare to investigate this matter thoroughly.”

A complaint about the nurse’s comments has also been lodged with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats are to debate a motion calling for major changes to the WCA, at their party conference in Birmingham next month.

The motion has been proposed by Liberal Youth (LY), the party’s youth and student wing. The motion, together with a subsequent amendment also backed by LY, calls on the coalition to improve the assessment and ensure it is “less stressful”.

The amended motion also calls on the government to scrap its proposed “arbitrary” time limit on how long disabled people can claim the “contributory” form of ESA – just a year for those in the “work-related activity group” – a measure that has been subjected to heavy criticism from many disabled campaigners.

The motion also notes that 70 per cent of those who appeal after having their ESA claims rejected have that decision overturned, although this figure is lower for those who do not have expert representation at the tribunal. It calls for all claimants to have “adequate support and legal representation” for their appeals.
New recruits will boost service-user army of inspectors

More disabled and older people will be paid to play a vital role in inspections of social care and health services, thanks to three new partnerships.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates health and adult social care in England, this week announced the first three partners of its new Acting Together scheme.

Each partner organisation will help CQC find “experts by experience” (EBE), current or former service-users who take part in inspections of care homes and hospitals, and play a role in consultations, reviews, studies and CQC events.

More EBE are needed because the number of services regulated by CQC has risen sharply.

A CQC spokesman said EBE were “a cornerstone to everything we do” and the new partnerships would allow the commission “more flexibility” and the ability to send EBE on more inspections.

The number of EBE available to take part in inspections and other CQC activity is likely to rise from about 140 to more than 200, as a result of the new scheme, although it is not clear yet what impact this will have on the frequency of EBE attending inspections.

One of the new Acting Together partners is a consortium of disability and advocacy organisations – led by the social care charity Choice Support – which will find disabled people to work as EBE.

Some will have learning difficulties or autism, while others will have physical or sensory impairments, experience of being detained under the Mental Health Act, or mental health conditions.

The consortium includes the disability organisations Inclusion North, Living Options and Skills for People, and advocacy organisations VoiceAbility, Advocacy Alliance Bedford and Advocacy Experience.

Choice Support’s bid was based on its own successful Quality Checkers scheme, through which people with learning difficulties help to monitor the charity’s own services, and those of other organisations.

Kim Arnold, the national lead for the Choice Support consortium and Quality Checkers, said: “One of the key things that we have learned from Quality Checkers is that they learn so much within the first half an hour.

“They see what really is happening and that can be from the moment they ring the doorbell.

“It has been clear that the people who use the services have told the Quality Checkers important information that might never have been picked up by anyone else.”

Samantha Clark, chief executive of Inclusion North, one of the consortium’s members, said she believed Acting Together would bring “new impetus” to EBE and had “real potential to make a difference”.

She said: “People with learning difficulties are sometimes more likely to tell something to another person with a learning difficulty than they are a person who they see as in a professional role.”

She added: “I think it’s a real opportunity for CQC to work with people and family members in a spirit of collaboration.”

The disabled people who are recruited by the consortium will be paid £17 an hour. More than 70 – nine of whom have experience as Quality Checkers – have already signed “casual” contracts.

In addition to the Choice Support consortium, CQC has signed up Age UK to provide service-users and carers with experience of older people’s services, and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation to find family carers of people with learning difficulties and high support needs.
Disabled boy faces Wicked discrimination in West End theatre

The case of a boy with autism who was asked to leave his seat in a London theatre during a performance of a hit musical has raised new questions about the capital’s readiness to welcome tens of thousands of disabled visitors to next year’s Paralympics.

Gregor Morris, who is 12 years old, was enjoying a performance of The Wizard of Oz prequel Wicked with his parents and sister at the Apollo Victoria Theatre when they were told he was causing a “disturbance”.

A staff member at the Apollo had approached Gregor’s family after concerns were raised by a colleague.

Gregor’s parents, Glyn and Jennifer, who live near Inverness, in Scotland, were shocked and mystified, as none of their fellow audience members had shown any signs of being disturbed.

Gregor’s family have been taking him to the theatre three or four times a year since he was four years old, including a successful trip to watch Mary Poppins on New York’s Broadway.

Glyn said that Gregor had been hugely enjoying Wicked and making no more noise than many other children in the audience. A theatre manager admitted there had not been a single complaint from a member of the audience.

Glyn chose to take Gregor back to the hotel the family were staying in, after being offered the chance to watch the show from behind a glass partition or squatting on a flight of stairs and watching through the banisters.

The incident came just as a new website was launched by disabled activists, which aims to highlight the “shameful” failure to put access and inclusion at the heart of next year’s London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Their unofficial visitor guide, Inclusive London?, raises a string of concerns about the capital’s readiness to welcome so many disabled visitors to the city’s facilities, services and tourist attractions.

There are now more than 4,000 members of a Facebook group (“greenwicked”) set up to raise awareness of the incident at the Apollo. The show itself tells the story of a sorcery student who faces discrimination and bullying.

Glyn Morris, who works in the entertainment industry himself, said: “The support has been incredible. No-one who has had any contact with Gregor could believe what happened.

“The only thing is that he has a hearty laugh, but it is always in context when he laughs. It certainly wasn’t causing any disruption to the audience.”

The Apollo Victoria is part of the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), the UK’s largest theatre owner, which runs a string of theatres across London’s West End and has now “apologised unreservedly” for the treatment Gregor received.

Julia Potts, the group’s head of learning and access, said the incident had gone “horribly wrong” and that “with greater training there are different things that should have been done”, while all the staff involved were now “feeling absolutely terrible”.

She said the theatre accepted that Gregor was “as entitled as anyone else to sit and enjoy the show”.

She said: “As soon as it was discovered that Gregor has autism and his response is related to his condition and he was having a perfectly happy time, they should have been left to watch the show.”

As a result of the incident, ATG is now reviewing its training, and has also asked the user-led arts organisation Shape to run a training session for senior staff from its West End theatres, focusing particularly on customers with autism.

But it has also decided to carry out a special audit of access in its West End theatres in advance of the 2012 Paralympics, and examine what measures it can take during London 2012, such as offering more audio-described, signed and captioned performances.

‘Spasticus’, the anonymous disabled activist running the Inclusive London? website, said the incident with Gregor Morris “underlines the fact that a great deal more needs to be done before London can be described as an inclusive city”.

‘Spasticus’ said: “It is unsurprising that 50 per cent of disabled people don’t attend a single arts event in the course of a year; we know that we are often unwelcome even when a venue is theoretically accessible to us.

“Treatment like this – which is actually extremely common – shows that we need a complete change of attitude, not simply more ramps.”

Glyn, along with many other supporters, has emailed London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, about the incident.

The Morris family have received more than 2,000 emails from well-wishers, many of them from other families who have children with autism, detailing similar discrimination and “a lack of understanding” in theatres, restaurants and cinemas.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Author: PhilFriend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) himself a wheelchair user, is acknowledged as the UK's foremost consultant on disability matters. A powerful and highly popular communicator, his company – Phil & Friends – has provided consultancy to many of the country's best-known companies. In addition to his professional activities, he is also a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general, where his special blend of humour and direct speaking has won admirers from around the world.

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