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?
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.”
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