How was your Christmas? Nice food, nice gifts, family reunions, all sweetness and light? Well that’s what it looks like in the movies.
Another year and it’s likely to be a tough one. 2013 began for me with a cataract operation; this is usually pretty routine, anaesthetic drops, snip, tug, and job done in fifteen minutes. If only! Mine took an hour and involved stitches and other scary things. The following day a trip to Moorfields to check all was well and it is, thank goodness.
It’s moments like these when you realise just how lucky you are to have an NHS. Yes there was queuing, yes the coffee machine was ‘out of order’ yes the waiting area resembled a war zone, I’ve never seen so many people with eye patches! That said the pre-op procedures were very thorough, the doctors and nurses all made me feel that they welcomed my questions, even though they were under real pressure. The surgery didn’t quite go according to plan but that was nobodies fault. After the operation the surgeon was reassuring and really keen to ensure that we both understood everything. All very impressive, there is however, one teeny-weeny little gripe. For the hour I was in theatre my wife waited patiently in the recovery area but no one explained why my operation was taking so long even though four patients had come and gone during that time. Worse, when I finally arrived I was offered a cup of tea and the customary biscuit. No one had thought to offer these to my wife while she was waiting. Come on NHS I know the patient comes first but don’t forget the poor old relatives.
Motability refuses to lobby for disabled customers on DLA cuts
The head of the Motability car scheme has admitted his organisation has made no attempt to persuade the government to soften its disability living allowance (DLA) cuts and reforms.
Government figures suggest that more than 400,000 fewer disabled people will be eligible for a Motability vehicle in 2018 as a result of the reforms, which will see DLA replaced with the new personal independence payment (PIP).
Declan O’Mahony, director of Motability, said he knew that some of his more than 600,000 current customers would lose their cars over the next five years.
But he said that Motability was “not a lobbying organisation” and therefore was not trying to persuade the government that its customers needed their vehicles, even though he accepted that “what the government is doing to disability benefits is one of the most significant changes in decades”.
He said: “We are not responsible for the government’s choices about policy. We are not in a position to wave a wand for any customer who loses their eligibility.
“All we can do is manage that impact with that customer as best we can and we are working on a package of transitional measures for such customers.”
Only those who receive the “enhanced” rate of the mobility component of PIP will be eligible to stay on the Motability scheme. Reassessment of existing working-age DLA claimants will begin this October, although those with a lifetime DLA award will now not be reassessed until at least October 2015.
In an interview with Disability News Service (DNS), O’Mahony also declined to estimate how many of his customers would be forced to hand back their cars as a result of the reforms.
He said: “We can cope with whatever the next few years brings. What we can’t do is say for certain how big the scheme will be in two years’ time or five years’ time.”
He added: “I think forecasting these big scheme numbers is a futile exercise until we see how the reassessment process operates in reality. The real story for us is what is happening customer by customer.
“What we don’t want to do is frighten customers to no good effect… also, we are not the DWP: it is not for us to tell people how the benefit system works.”
O’Mahony said Motability’s own research had found that “having an affordable, reliable car for many of our customers hugely enhances their opportunities in life”.
He said that Motability was therefore in the “awkward position” of knowing this but having to accept that some of those customers would lose those opportunities as a result of the government cuts and reforms.
He said this was why Motability was developing “transition measures” for customers affected by the changes.
Motability has previously suggested – during a workshop at a Disability Rights UK conference last November – that up to 100,000 of its customers could lose their eligibility for the scheme in the three years to 2016.
But O’Mahony said he did not believe Motability had enough information to make any accurate estimates.
He also said he was not in a position to comment on last month’s government announcement of a further tightening of the eligibility criteria for the enhanced rate of the PIP mobility component.
He said: “It’s really not for us to guess, second guess or judge the degree of somebody’s disability.”
He said he believed that many of those Motability customers who lost their eligibility to be part of the scheme would instead be forced to make do with much older, second-hand vehicles, rather than the new vehicles provided by Motability.
Many former customers are also likely to be forced to rely on cheaper third-party insurance, rather than the fully-comprehensive version they enjoy as part of Motability’s all-inclusive package.
Report suggests spread of academies is undermining inclusion
A report has given new weight to concerns that the rapid spread of “academy” schools is undermining the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream education.
Inclusive education campaigners say the concerns raised in the report by the Academies Commission confirm evidence that disabled children are increasingly being pushed into segregated academy settings.
The report, Unleashing Greatness: Getting the Best from an Academised System, describes how parents are reporting being unable to gain places in academy schools for their disabled children, and are expressing concerns about the level of special educational needs (SEN) support provided by academies.
Campaigners told the commission how some academies were setting up alternative, segregated provision for children with SEN, often for those labelled as having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD).
In their evidence to the commission’s inquiry, they also raised concerns about the trend for academies not to appoint their own SEN coordinator.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said it had been highlighting since 2010 how the introduction of special academies would “attack disabled children’s rights to good inclusive educational provision within mainstream schools”.
ALLFIE said the Academies Commission’s report showed “the growing evidence that mainstream academies are not using their resources to build and develop inclusive education practice but are instead excluding and segregating pupils into alternative provision”.
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said academies were increasingly transferring those children who were not going to achieve a certain level of academic success into new “alternative provision” academies, or – increasingly – new special academies.
Many of these are children with BESD or unidentified SEN, such as pupils on the autistic spectrum or with communication disorders, she said.
The report reveals the scale of change under the new government: in May 2010 there were 203 academies but by the halfway point of the coalition in November last year, there were 2,456.
The report says more than half of all secondary schools and a growing number of primary and special schools have now become, or are set to become, academies.
The Academies Commission was set up by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and the Pearson Think Tank to examine the impact of the “mass academisation” of state schools.
The commission report concludes that one of the three “imperatives” for the improvement of the academy system is to ensure it is “fair and equally accessible to children and young people from all backgrounds”, particularly in supporting fair access to all schools for children with SEN.
Disabled peers defend watchdog from latest assault on equality
A disabled peer has warned that government plans to scrap a vital piece of legislation would leave the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) less able to uncover scandalous violations of rights and equality.
The coalition wants to use its enterprise and regulatory reform bill to remove “section three” of the Equality Act 2006, as part of plans to simplify regulation and reduce “unnecessary red tape”.
Section three is the commission’s “general duty”, describing how the watchdog should encourage and support a society where there is respect for human rights and the dignity and worth of every individual, mutual respect between groups, and where “each individual has an equal opportunity to participate”.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, one of the EHRC’s founding commissioners, told fellow peers during the committee stage of the bill this week that scrapping section three – in addition to other government reforms – would turn the EHRC into a mere “enforcement factory”.
Proposing an amendment that would keep section three in the Equality Act 2006, Baroness Campbell said removing the general duty suggested the government believed the commission should not “draw our attention to rights, risks, violations, discrimination or inequality, or propose to us how these might be remedied”.
She said: “Uncovering scandals in society that we would not otherwise know about and need to put right is the hallmark of a modern commission.”
Her fellow disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, said the removal of section three was part of a “sustained attack on the equality agenda in our society and the institutions which exist to promote it”, and that the government had decided to “throw the dismantling of the EHRC as a bone to their right wing”.
He said section three was “a road map” used by the courts to interpret the Equality Act, and that removing it would “undermine the historic unification of equality and human rights law”, weaken the commission’s vital “A” status as a national human rights institution, and make its actions “more liable to judicial review”.
Lord Low said the coalition had already removed the commission’s ability to award grants, its helpline and its conciliation service, and slashed its budget, while the bill proposed to remove its duty to promote good relations between different groups.
Among a string of other peers who spoke in favour of Baroness Campbell’s amendment, the Labour peer Lord [Bill] Morris said repealing section three was “equivalent to the referee blowing the final whistle before the match has ended” because “we have not abolished discrimination on grounds of race, gender, disability or otherwise”.
But Lord Lester, the Liberal Democrat peer, argued that section three was “unenforceable and purely aspirational”, and removing it would have no impact on “all the commission’s powers and statutory functions”.
And Baroness Stowell, the Conservative women and equalities spokeswoman, insisted that the commission would “still be an agent for promoting change”.
She said the commission “should not be an impassioned lobbyist leading emotive campaigns”, but instead its role should be as “an expert witness, to make recommendations on the basis of the facts”, and to “raise awareness of people’s rights under equality and human rights law and to ensure that the law is working as Parliament intended”.
She said that repealing section three would “neither stop nor impair the commission’s ability to fulfil its important equality and human rights functions”, and that the duty was simply “a political statement with no clear legal effect”.
She added: “We are seeking to repeal the general duty on the commission because it creates unrealistic expectations, positive and negative, about what it on its own can achieve.”
Baroness Campbell withdrew her amendment, but suggested she would reintroduce it at the report stage of the bill, if the government failed to amend its proposals.
Government silent on ‘draconian’ PIP mobility plans
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to admit that it plans to tighten eligibility for support for people with the highest mobility needs, despite proof in its own documents.
Last month, DWP published the final assessment criteria that will decide eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
The documents showed the government has tightened eligibility for the top – “enhanced” – rate of the mobility component of PIP.
Previous drafts of the criteria stated that a claimant who could not walk at least 50 metres would be entitled to the enhanced rate, making them eligible to lease a Motability vehicle. But this has now been slashed to just 20 metres.
Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the former Disability Rights Commission, has described the change as “extremely disturbing” and “draconian”, while Helen Dolphin, of Disabled Motoring UK said the “last minute” changes were “pretty outrageous”.
Jane Young, coordinator of the WeAreSpartacus network, has described how she and fellow campaigners were “shocked and stunned” when they saw the final PIP criteria and realised how many more people would lose the cars they lease through the Motability scheme.
These and other changes will – by 2015 – see 20,000 fewer disabled people eligible for the enhanced rate than under the previous version of the PIP regulations, with this gap rising to 51,000 by 2018.
But DWP insisted last month that it was merely “clarifying” the regulations and that the number of people receiving the enhanced rate as a result of the change from 50 metres to 20 metres will remain “broadly the same”.
When Disability News Service attempted this week to confirm the impact of the changes, DWP refused to add to its original statements.
A DWP press officer said: “You have put your point-of-view forward and we have put ours. It is for those organisations and the public to make up their minds.”
He refused to comment further on the new criteria.
DWP blocks vital detail on ILF consultation
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to say how many disabled people who took part in a major public consultation were opposed to its decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, confirmed last month that ILF would close in April 2015, with funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, although this money will not be ring-fenced.
DWP has admitted that a “significant majority” of individuals who responded to the consultation were opposed to closure, but it is refusing to say exactly how strong that opposition was.
This mirrors its decision to block the release of individual responses to its disability living allowance consultation, which disabled activists say was also to prevent the true scale of opposition from becoming known.
DWP has admitted receiving about 2,000 responses to the ILF consultation, including 96 written responses from disabled people’s organisations, 78 from local authorities and 14 from other organisations.
There were hundreds of other responses from individual disabled people, including more than 400 from ILF-users and their representatives who attended consultation events.
But in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from disabled activist Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, DWP claimed most respondents to the ILF consultation provided “lengthy, detailed and nuanced responses” and so it was “not possible to provide meaningful statistics on how many responses held particular beliefs or raised particular arguments or opinions”.
Burnip said: “How can they say the outcome of the consultation is that the ILF is going to close when they can’t give us any quantitative data to say how many people or local authorities were in favour of transferring the money to local authorities?
“I think this reinforces the case that government consultations are a total sham, and that the government makes the decisions beforehand.”
Many activists believe the plans to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,000 disabled people with the highest support needs – threaten disabled people’s right to independent living.
They say the government has offered no details on how councils would be able to meet the extra costs of people with high support needs who previously received ILF money, most of whom receive both ILF and council funding.
The government’s failure to provide a proper account of the ILF consultation is now likely to be used as evidence in a legal action being taken by ILF-users who want the courts to declare the consultation unlawful.
A DWP spokesman said: “Respondents were free to respond to the questions with any answer they wished and were not constrained to simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers.
“The overwhelming majority of respondents chose to provide longer responses with many expressing mixed feelings about the proposals or laying out conditions on which they would support it.
“Such responses cannot be simply categorised as ‘supportive’ or ‘opposing’ nor is it always clear when a respondent is intending to provide a ‘mixed’ response.
“We have provided in the government’s response a qualitative assessment of the opinions and arguments expressed by respondents with a high level assessment of the strength and extent of support for them.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com