Equality Bill and Social Care legislation passed

Another week has flown by and it’s now week two of electioneering! Are you bored yet! Anyone saying anything we’ve not heard before? I suspect the answer is influenced by how old you are! I’ve been through more election campaigns than I care to remember and it’s amazing to see how old messages are given new treatments. Anyone remember the Citizen’s Charter? Reminds me a bit of the suggestion that communities need to be more involved in running things as suggested by Mr Cameron. Anyway the really good news is that the tulips are out in my garden and the Wisteria is showing definite signs of life!! Enjoy the blog!
Personal care bill becomes law

A bill to provide free personal care to disabled and older people with the highest needs has become law, after government concessions were approved by peers.

Health secretary Andy Burnham last week described the personal care at home bill as the first of three stages of reforms that would lead to a national care service based on the principle of free personal care for everyone who needs it.

The government made two key concessions on the bill – delaying its implementation until April 2011, and agreeing that MPs and peers would have to approve its implementation after it became law.

Peers approved the new version of the bill today (8 April), and it later received royal assent.

The Personal Care at Home Act is now set to provide free personal care at home to an estimated 280,000 disabled and older people with the highest needs (although this figure includes about 170,000 people who already receive free personal care).

It will also provide intensive “re-ablement” support for around 130,000 people who need home care for the first time.

The second stage of Burnham’s care and support reforms, from 2014, will see those staying in residential care for longer than two years receiving free personal care.
Equality bill set to become law, but work remains

Disabled peers and other campaigners have welcomed the major improvements to the equality bill they helped to secure before it cleared its final parliamentary hurdle.

The bill is now set to become law after MPs approved amendments made in the Lords, many of them around disability rights. It is now just awaiting royal assent.

Three disabled peers – Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins and Lord [Colin] Low – played a key role in persuading the government to accept the disability amendments.

Baroness Campbell said the bill – which streamlines existing equality laws – was “not in good shape” when it entered the Lords, when compared with the rights contained in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

She praised the efforts of her fellow disabled peers, as well as the support given by the Disability Charities Consortium (DCC), former legal experts from the Disability Rights Commission and the disability charity RADAR.

She added: “It was a truly collective effort – something that the disability movement is renowned for and good at.”

Baroness Campbell said the number of amendments relating to disability that were passed by the Lords was “out of all proportion to the rest of the bill”, with 12 amendments either preventing “regression” from rights gained through the DDA – such as those around reasonable adjustments, accessible information and education – or securing new rights for disabled people.

The new rights include a ban on employers using health questionnaires to discriminate against disabled job applicants, stronger protection on reasonable adjustments, new laws on accessible taxis and new rights toauxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils.

Baroness Campbell said the “area of biggest disappointment” was that the bill’s new public sector equality duty does not provide strong enough protection for disabled people, despite some improvements secured by peers.

A government policy statement has indicated that the new duty will be “much weaker” than the current disability equality duty (DED), she said, while there is no way of ensuring that public bodies comply with the new duties.

She and other campaigners now face “an uphill struggle” with lobbying the next government on the regulations that will set out public bodies’ specific duties.

Marije Davidson, RADAR’s senior policy officer, said the act now “provides an opportunity to generate new energy and momentum behind disability equality”.

She said: “The new government needs to take forward implementation of the equality bill as a matter of urgency, including drafting and consulting on regulations related to the public sector equality duty and taxi accessibility.

“We will press for a robust enforcement of the rights of disabled people as well as raising awareness amongst disabled people of their rights.”

Scope said it was “delighted” that many of the changes it campaigned for as a member of the DCC found their way into the bill.

It described the bill as a “positive step forward” for disabled people, but warned that “much will depend on the guidance that accompanies the bill and how it is enforced”.

John Knight, director of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD), another DCC member, said it too was “delighted” with many of the key improvements.

He said it would now be vital “to make sure that the act works for disabled people up and down the country, and that disabled people are aware of their rights, and are able to challenge discrimination when they face it”.

LCD will release a report next week on how to ensure disabled people can use the Equality Act to challenge discrimination.

Most of the measures in the new act will come into force on 1 October, although the DED will not be replaced by the single public sector duty until April 2011.
Tories back out of agreement on disabled candidates

The Conservative party appears to have backed out of a cross-party agreement to publish reports on how many parliamentary candidates are disabled people.

The proposal was a key recommendation of a cross-party “conference” headed by the speaker of the House of Commons, which aimed to increase the number of disabled, female and ethnic minority MPs.

All three main parties backed proposals to produce regular reports on how many of their parliamentary candidates – including those who are not selected to stand for parliament and those who do not become MPs – are disabled, female and from an ethnic minority.

The proposal to publish reports on the diversity of candidates was also backed by an amendment to the government’s equality bill.

But in the final Commons discussion on the bill, the Conservative shadow minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, said that both the Liberal Democrats and Labour agreed that – because of difficulties in identifying disabled candidates – “it probably makes sense to start off with reporting on gender and ethnicity”.

He added: “We can see how that works and whether it drives the necessary change before we consider reporting in other areas.”

But a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: “I am not sure where he has got his information from, but categorically it is not true for the Liberal Democrats. We will definitely be monitoring disability.”

And Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference, said both Labour and the Liberal Democrats were already collecting such data and neither had raised any objections to reporting on disability.

She said: “I think the Tories are backtracking now. It does concern me. It is concerning simply because we have a long way to go.”

Begg pledged that, if re-elected, she would focus on helping to correct the “enormous” historical imbalance in the number of disabled MPs.

She added: “In terms of gender and ethnicity we seem to have made big strides, but I think we have got a long way to go with disability. Where gay people were in 1992 is probably where disabled people are now.

“If I get back in then those are the kind of issues I am going to pursue from the perspective of the disabled person in a way I have never done before.

“When the political parties select the next cohort of candidates [after the election], we have to make sure they are from more diverse backgrounds.”

No-one from Mark Harper’s office was available to comment.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Work Capability Assessment, Senior Disabled People research findings, National Care Service announcement

So that’s Easter over then! Very nice too, plenty of good company and lots of nice food! Unfortunately the Easter eggs appear to have had a very strange effect on my waist line! My granddaughter had her first Easter egg! A momentous occasion followed by a massive cleanup operation! Chocolate is an interesting substance to remove from things!!

So we now have an election date. It will be very interesting to see how much attention those seeking our votes will pay to the needs of disabled people. I have a feeling I know the answer but being an optimist I’ll hope for the best. Here are the last stories untainted by election fever before we get inundated with election spin!
Work test plans ‘could blight lives of hundreds of thousands’

Government plans to start using its controversial work capability assessment (WCA) to test all those still receiving incapacity benefit (IB) could “blight” the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people, say critics.

Work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper confirmed that the government would start testing the 1.5 million people still receiving IB from October, building up to more than 10,000 tests a week, with IB phased out by April 2014.

Since October 2008, new applicants for out-of-work disability benefits have had to undergo the new test – repeatedly criticised as too strict and inflexible by campaigners – in order to qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for IB.

This week’s announcement came as the government revealed minor changes to the WCA, following the long-awaited publication of an internal review.

The assessment should now be easier to understand and more sensitive to fluctuating conditions such as ms and mental illness, while some people, such as those awaiting chemotherapy or with severe mental health conditions, will be exempt from the test.

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) welcomed the exemptions but said the review does not reflect the problems the WCA is causing many disabled people, and the test remained “inflexible”, failed to recognise the impact of some impairments and “prevents people accessing tailored support to get work”.

A DBC spokesman added: “The Disability Benefits Consortium was asked to contribute to the review but is frustrated that concerns over the stringency of the assessment have largely gone unaddressed and opportunities for improvement have been missed.”

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, a consortium member, said the review’s findings were “unacceptable” and failed to recognise the high levels of workplace discrimination that make it even harder for many disabled people to find jobs.

He added: “What is most worrying is that this pretence that [the WCA] is effective is going to blight potentially hundreds of thousands of people’s lives when you see migration from IB.”

Cooper also announced a series of other measures around welfare reform and disabled people.

There will be extra support for those who have been on IB for many years and are pronounced fit for work after taking the WCA, with compulsory jobs or work placements for those who don’t find work after two years on jobseeker’s allowance.

There will also be a guaranteed place on Work Choice – the specialist disability employment programme that will replace Workstep from October – for those on ESA who do not find a job after two years.

Those receiving ESA and considered able to take part in work-related activity will receive personalised support alongside a strict regime of requirements they will have to meet to continue receiving the benefit, with most expected to move off ESA within two years.

From April 2011, a new employment support programme for disabled people will replace Pathways to Work – which the government said was “not flexible or cost effective enough”.

And changes to the access to work programme will see larger employers pay a higher contribution towards workplace adjustments, subsidising the costs of smaller employers.

Cooper said: “This is a ‘something for something’ approach which gives people more help alongside a responsibility to take it up so that no one who is fit for work is left to a life on benefits.”

The DWP said it expected that its reforms to IB and ESA would produce over £1.5 billion savings over the next five years.
RADAR finds disabled people achieving high-flying success

A groundbreaking report has concluded that disabled people working in both the private and public sectors can and do reach the highest levels of seniority.

The disability charity RADAR heard from more than 900 disabled people in a survey of high-achievers, of whom more than 100 earned at least £80,000 a year. More than half of these high-earners had been disabled for over 20 years.

Despite the evidence of success, the survey – which also heard from more than 500 non-disabled people – found that non-disabled people were more than three times as likely as disabled people to earn over £80,000 a year.

The survey found that high-earning disabled people were likely to have benefited from mentoring and support from senior colleagues throughout their careers, but disabled people were less than half as likely as non-disabled people to receive such support.

The Doing Seniority Differently report also says that people with mental health conditions are less likely than other disabled people to earn more than £80,000 a year, less likely to be board-level executive directors, and less likely to believe they had had the same career opportunities as other employees.

And of those disabled people who could hide their impairments, only one in eight is open about it to the board or senior management team.

RADAR also carried out in-depth interviews with some of the disabled high-achievers, who said they believed disabled people could bring skills such as empathy, creativity, resilience and flexibility to their leadership roles.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, who wrote the report, said these high-fliers had tried to improve their organisations and educate colleagues, “not waiting passively for access or cultural improvements”.

Sayce said: “When employers believe in talented disabled people, throw off risk-averse approaches, create cultures of openness, and offer mentoring – then many disabled people do indeed ‘fly high’.

“However, there is still a chasm of inequality between disabled and non-disabled people and it’s alarming that so many people feared that [if they were] open about their health condition or disability their careers would be jeopardized.”

Baroness [Jane] Campbell said the report “breaks new ground” by showing disabled people “what is possible” and offering “real learning on how to enable more disabled people to succeed”.

RADAR also launched Radiate, a network set up to allow disabled people working at senior levels to share skills, develop their talents and provide role models. The network is sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group, which supported the research.

For more information, visit www.radar.org.uk/doingsenioritydifferently
National Care Service white paper: government unveils plans

The government has laid out plans for a “National Care Service” (NCS), based on the principle of free personal care for everyone who needs it.

Although many of the proposals in its Building the National Care Service white paper drew praise, the government was fiercely criticised for postponing a decision on how its reforms would be funded.

Health secretary Andy Burnham described the proposals as “bold and ambitious”, an “historic announcement” and “the biggest change to the welfare state since 1948”.

He pledged “nationally consistent” criteria that will state at which point a person becomes eligible for support, and “portable” assessments, so disabled people could move to a different part of England and not face a reassessment of their needs.

Burnham said care would be free at the point of use for everyone who needed it, giving disabled and older people “choice and control over their own care and their own lives”.

He also promised to “push forward” with the personalisation of services. By April 2012, everyone approaching a council for support will receive a personal budget.

And he said the government would not help fund its reforms by scrapping attendance allowance (AA) and disability living allowance for those over 65 – at least for the lifetime of the next parliament.

Burnham said this was because of the strong opposition to such proposals from disabled people and other campaigners during the government’s “Big Care Debate”. The white paper’s equality impact assessment goes even further and says the NCS will be built around AA and DLA, “maintaining these benefits as a flexible form of support”.

Other pledges include “accurate, relevant and accessible” information about entitlements and assessments, and easier access to both social care and disability benefits.

The first stage of reform will be introducing free personal care at home for those with the highest needs, through the personal care at home bill.

The government hopes that two key concessions on the bill – delaying its implementation until April 2011 and agreeing that MPs and peers would have to approve its implementation after it became law – will be enough to secure its passage through the Lords.

The second stage of the reforms, from 2014, will see those staying in residential care for longer than two years receiving free personal care.

The government will also set up a commission to recommend the “fairest and most sustainable” way to fund the NCS and a “leadership group” of “expert stakeholders” to advise on implementing its reforms, and introduce an NCS bill early in the next parliament.

The final stage of reform will be the full introduction of the NCS with a new funding system, soon after the next but one general election.

The white paper is at www.dh.gov.uk

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Equality 2025, Access to Work, Work Test concerns and Equality Bill amendments. Happy holiday!!

Sorry I’m a little late this week! Easter is upon us and therefore just like you I’m trying to tie everything up before the break! Somebody once told me that if we were as efficient as we are just before going on holiday we’d be the most productive nation on the planet!! Some truth in that I think! Anyway I hope you enjoy the bank holiday and we get some hint of the spring! Enjoy!
Minister announces new line-up for smaller Equality 2025

The government has announced the 10 disabled members of its new, smaller network of disability equality advisers.

Equality 2025 was set up in 2006 to advise the government on achieving equality for disabled people by 2025.

But the government decided last year to cut its membership of more than 20 disabled people and turn it instead into a “high-level advisory group”.

The plans caused some concern among disabled activists, who also called for the body to be given a higher profile and “more clout”.

Equality 2025 members have defended their work and say they cannot publicise the vital advice they give to government departments on disability equality because of the need for confidentiality.

Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, announced the reappointment of five Equality 2025 members, as well as the chair, Rowen Jade, a respected disability equality consultant, campaigner and writer.

The other members reappointed are: Haji Saghir Alam, a human rights and diversity expert and member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) disability committee; Nick Danagher, a consultant, trustee of the Independent Living Fund and director of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People; Miro Griffiths, a student at Liverpool University and former chair of Whizz-Kidz’s children’s board; Andy Rickell, chief executive of The Vassall Centre Trust and former chief executive of the British Council of Disabled People; and Fiona Wallace, chair of People First Mid Lothian, who has been involved in the Scottish self-advocacy movement since the late 1980s.

The four new members of the body are: Diane Mulligan, another member of the EHRC’s disability committee and social inclusion and disability advisor at Sightsavers International; Dr Rachel Perkins, a clinical psychologist and author of a well-received review for the government on helping people with mental health conditions into work; Tracey Proudlock, a human resources and recruitment expert who runs her own disability and access consultancy; and Colin Young, a former researcher with Capability Scotland with experience of advocating for young people.

All 10 will begin their three-year terms on 1 April.

Jade said: “I am looking forward to working with all of the Equality 2025 members at a time when so many government proposals and decisions are having such a significant impact on disabled people.”

Shaw said the 10 members would “bring a mix of experience, skills and enthusiasm to the job”.
Change to equality bill is access warning to service-providers

Disabled peers have again ensured that parts of the equality bill that protect disabled people from discrimination are as strong as similar measures in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Changes agreed by the government will mean that the bill – which will replace the DDA and other equality legislation – does not weaken the existing legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments in the DDA.

The amendment clarifies the steps a service-provider or employer should take to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments if a physical feature is causing a disabled person a “substantial disadvantage”.

Concerns had been raised at an earlier stage of the bill by the disabled peers Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell.

Baroness Thornton, for the government, said the amendment sets out “key considerations that should be taken into account when the duty to avoid the disadvantage caused by a physical feature is being addressed – whether by an employer, someone providing services or someone delivering public functions.”

Baroness Campbell said: “The duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people lies at the heart of the DDA, and it is particularly important in relation to physical barriers that prevent disabled people accessing services, receiving public benefits or enjoying club facilities.

“It is a matter of exclusion or inclusion. While there have been huge improvements in accessibility in the past few years, all too many providers still do not understand their duties, or blatantly choose to disregard them.”

She said that using some of the “language” from the DDA in the equality bill – as the government had done – was “very important” and would confirm that the intention was to mirror the protection offered by the DDA “and not, as some providers think, to dilute the law” or make it easier for them to “disregard their duties”.

Baroness Thornton later paid tribute to the contributions of Baroness Campbell, Lord Low and their fellow disabled peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins in promoting the rights of disabled people through pushing for amendments to the bill as it passed through the Lords.

The bill has now been passed back to the Commons to approve the amendments agreed in the Lords – the final obstacle before it becomes law.

The personal care at home bill has also returned to the Commons, for MPs to consider amendments passed in the Lords.

A number of amendments approved during the bill’s report stage in the Lords would delay the implementation of free personal care at home for disabled and older people with the highest needs.
Access to work breakthrough for councillors

Disabled local councillors who need access adjustments to allow them to do their jobs have achieved a breakthrough in their fight for financial support from the access to work (ATW) scheme.

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas questioned the government last autumn after activists at the Liberal Democrat party conference told her that disabled councillors could not claim ATW support.

One county councillor told how he had been refused an ATW grant after he was elected because he was told he was not in a paid job, forcing the council to pay for the adjustments he needed.

He warned that disabled councillors from minority parties could be prevented from doing their jobs if their councils’ ruling groups refused to approve the necessary adjustments.

Baroness Thomas then asked the government to clarify the rules on whether councillors could apply for ATW support to help them carry out their council duties.

Her intervention followed earlier questions asked by her fellow Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Scott.

The government initially said that councillors could only apply for ATW funding if they received at least the national minimum wage for their council work.

But last week, Lord McKenzie, the work and pensions minister, told Baroness Thomas in a written answer that the government had reviewed its ATW guidance and agreed it was “unclear”.

He said the guidance had been revised and now states that any councillor receiving anything more than just meal and travel expenses will be treated as if they are in a job and can therefore apply for an ATW grant, even if they receive less than the minimum wage for their council work.

Baroness Thomas said: “We now have an absolute assurance from the government that disabled councillors who receive allowances as well as expenses are entitled to apply for the ATW scheme.

“This means no disabled person should be put off standing for office because of uncertainty over what support they can apply for. This is great news for disabled councillors all over the country.”
Report raises ‘grave concerns’ on work test

A new report has raised “grave concerns” about the impact of the government’s new work capability test on disabled people.

The Citizens Advice report says seriously ill people are being subjected to the work capability assessment (WCA), while the test fails to measure fitness for work effectively, and many of those assessed are subjected to poor quality medical assessments.

The WCA was introduced in October 2008 to test those claiming employment and support allowance, which replaced incapacity benefit for new claimants.

But there have been mounting concerns about the test, particularly over its inability to deal properly with people with fluctuating conditions.

The report, Not Working, is backed by 18 other voluntary organisations, most of which represent disabled people.

It calls for a full, independent review of the WCA, an assessment of its impact on health, and research into its reliability “as a matter of urgency”, and suggests that WCA reports should be sent to claimants so they can correct mistakes.

The report includes a string of cases in which medical examiners carried out hurried medicals, missed vital details, made “unjustifiable assumptions” or failed to place enough emphasis on the impact of mental health conditions on people’s ability to work.

It says Citizens Advice staff across England and Wales have reported “high numbers” of “seriously ill and disabled people” found “fit for work” after taking the assessment.

Many people who might have been able to work with the right support are effectively “written off” by being found ineligible for ESA. Many of them are also ineligible for jobseeker’s allowance or cannot cope with its strict conditions and so “end up with no work and very little income”.

So far, 69 per cent of those who complete assessments have been found “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, far higher than the government’s prediction of 49 per cent.

David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We are seeing cases where the government’s aim of moving people into work is being totally undermined.”

He said disabled people were being “severely let down” by the WCA’s “crude approach”, and called for a “much more sophisticated approach” that also considers supporting medical evidence, fluctuating conditions and the external barriers disabled people face in finding work.

Citizens Advice Bureaux across England and Wales have seen a rise of more than 40 per cent in people needing help with out-of-work disability benefits since ESA was introduced – in the last quarter of last year, more than 22,500 people sought advice about ESA.

Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, insisted that the WCA was working and that “for the first time disabled people are receiving the support they need to get back into work”.

He added: “We are already adapting the test and will continue to work with organisations like [Citizens Advice] to make sure their concerns are addressed.

“We want to be sure that the assessment fully takes into account all conditions, including autism and learning disabilities.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Personal Care Bill – More Disabled MP’s – Single People to nominate “next of kin”

So here we are with another week underway!! Some of you will have been amazed to see a large orange thing in the sky last week! Known as the “sun” it might reappear this week!! My garden could certainly do with a little warmth. As always I hope these stories are of interest and contact me if you have any comments.
Personal care bill receives damaging setback

Peers have delivered a damaging blow to government plans to introduce free personal care at home for disabled and older people with the highest needs.

An amendment added to the personal care at home bill during its report stage in the Lords means implementation would be delayed until after April 2011, rather than the planned date of 1 October 2010.

The disabled peers Baroness Wilkins, Baroness Masham, Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell all backed the amendment, which received support from all parties and was easily passed.

Three other successful amendments – including one to force an independent review of the costs of the bill – would also delay its implementation.

The bill would provide free personal care at home to an estimated 280,000 disabled and older people with the highest needs (although this figure includes 170,000 people who already receive free personal care).

There have been widespread criticisms from opponents who say the bill will be far more costly than the government has estimated, will have “unintended consequences” and will cause “administrative chaos” in councils.

But the bill has received widespread backing from disability, older people’s and carers’ organisations, many of which see it as a first step towards the goal of free universal social care.

The government said the amendments could “jeopardise the timetable of the legislation” and delay the promised support.

Commentators were doubtful that there would be enough time for the government to overturn the amendments in the Commons and force the bill through under its original timetable, because of the imminent election.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the government was “determined to make this a reality for those people in most need and secure this bill as a first step in the transformation of the care and support system”.

When asked whether the government was hoping to overturn the amendments and complete the bill’s progress before the election, she said: “We will consider next steps in due course.”

If the bill is lost, it would also mean the loss of a breakthrough in the battle for “portability” – allowing disabled people to bring their support packages with them when they move to a different part of the country.

Regulations agreed by the government would ensure that those receiving free personal care would be “guaranteed seamless support in the event of moving from one local authority to another”.

Baroness Campbell told fellow peers that the bill would provide an “opportunity to test how we can deliver portability in practice”, and detailed negotiations between herself, the disability charity RADAR and the government had led to “clear and robust enforceable regulations and directives”.
Parties back key measure on disabled MPs

The three main political parties have all backed a proposal to set up a fund to make it easier for disabled people to become MPs.

The proposal was a key recommendation of the speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation, which reported in January on how to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

In its final report, the conference said there was “overwhelming evidence that shortage of money and the necessity of additional expenditure to support disabled people through candidacy, make finance a particularly significant barrier to elected office for disabled people”.

In their official responses to the report, all three parties backed the idea of a ring-fenced fund to support disabled parliamentary candidates, an idea first proposed by the disability charity Scope.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said it would consult widely on the proposal and other measures to support the development of “talented individuals from under-represented groups”.

There was slightly weaker support for proposals for each party to publish regular reports on how many of their potential parliamentary candidates identified as disabled people, as well as information on their gender and ethnicity, and possibly their impairment and sexual orientation.

Although all three parties backed the idea, the Liberal Democrats and Labour raised some concerns about right to privacy and data protection, while the Conservatives said they did not believe information on sexual orientation should be published.

The GEO said an amendment it had added to the equality bill committed it to discussing how this proposal would work with political parties, the Electoral Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

There was also cross-party backing for proposals to publish a statement after this year’s general election on how many of each party’s MPs were disabled, female or from an ethnic minority.

But the Conservatives suggested they might not favour going further and publishing targets for how many of their MPs they would like to see in each category by 2015 and 2020, as it was “impossible to predict accurately the future make up of any parliamentary party”.

The Liberal Democrats said it was far more difficult for them to make “commitments” on future representation because they had no “safe” seats.

But the Labour Party said it believed targets were “important benchmarks against which to measure progress and provide an incentive to faster, more effective action”, although it suggested it would only publish them if other parties also agreed to do so.

Abigail Lock, head of advocacy and campaigns at Scope, said: “It is very encouraging that all the main political parties recognise the need for extra financial support for disabled people wishing to enter public life.

“Scope first recommended an access to public life fund three years ago – to help cover the additional costs faced by disabled candidates. We hope all parties will work towards introducing this much needed support as soon as possible.”
Campaigners demand next of kin rights for singles

Disability rights campaigners are calling for new laws to make it easier for single people to choose a person to speak up for them if they become too ill to make their own decisions.

The campaign by Regard – which represents disabled lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) people – follows the death last month of a woman with ms, whose friends spent two years trying unsuccessfully to enforce her wishes and her right to independent living.

Regard says the Mental Capacity Act treats a person’s nearest relative as their next of kin if they are not married or in a civil partnership. This can mean their wishes are not respected if there is a dispute over their care or treatment.

Regard says this is a particular issue for LGBT people, as they are more likely to experience physical or mental health problems because of homophobia and HIV, are less likely to live in traditional family units and are more likely to live far from their relatives.

Using a lasting power of attorney is too complex and expensive, says Regard, particularly for disabled and older people, and is designed for situations where people have advance warning of poor health.

The Sue’s Law campaign has been named after Sue W, who died this February.

She was estranged from her family and had no long-term partner. After being treated in hospital for an infection at the age of 50, she was moved to a care home for older people, against clear instructions she had made in a living will.

Despite having appointed a friend to make decisions on her behalf, the authorities refused to contact her friends – who had no legal status – and passed responsibility instead to her estranged father.

Her friends then failed with an application to the court of protection, because they could not afford legal representation.

Regard and Sue’s friends campaigned for two years to move her to the hospice of her choice, but this only happened last September when her father finally dropped his opposition.

Regard said the case shows the law should be changed to allow single people to name their next of kin via a simple legal declaration.

Julie Newman, acting chair of the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council and a Regard member, said Sue’s friends were “totally distraught” at what happened because “not only was Sue rendered powerless but they were as well”, even though she had “taken meticulous care to ensure that she could determine her life choices as her impairment progressed”.

She said: “The UK needs to make good the rhetoric about a fair and equitable society.

“It is neither fair nor equitable to place people against their will into situations which ultimately amount to incarceration.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said that every adult should consider making a lasting power of attorney, to choose someone to act for them if they ever become unable to make decisions for themselves. She said new, simpler forms were launched last October.

And she said that decisions regarding the appointment of a deputy to make decisions about a person’s property and affairs were “entirely a matter for the courts, based on the individual circumstances”.

But Newman said the new forms were still “quite complex” and “very costly” and applying to the court of protection was impossible for those who were seriously ill or did not have much money.

She added: “The errors that occurred in managing Sue’s case are not unique. Surely it is in everyone’s best interest to have a standard, affordable way of designating who is empowered to make critical decisions during life threatening events.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Bullying and Harassment of Disabled People plus Election Fever and Reserved Posts!

In the light of yet another disabled person’s death being attributed to continual bullying and harassment the anti-social behaviour figures recently released by police make disturbing reading. It does seem that vulnerable learning disabled people are being targetted by certain groups in our communities and often feel ignored or unsupported by statutory bodies or local people. The EHRC which has figured in the headlines for the wrong reasons this week is carrying out an enquiry into hate crime and their report can’t come enough soon.
Police figures reveal new concerns

More than one in five victims of repeated anti-social behaviour are disabled people, new official figures have revealed.

The statistics are contained in a report published by the chief inspector of constabulary, Denis O’Connor.

He also said that more than half of police forces across England and Wales did not have IT systems capable of automatically identifying people who were victims of repeated anti-social behaviour when they called police for help.

A survey by the inspectorate of 765 people who had reported suffering repeated anti-social behaviour found that 22 per cent described themselves as disabled people. The inspectorate said it would investigate this issue further.

But the survey also found that the police failed to attend nearly a quarter of these incidents.

Repeated anti-social behaviour targeted on disabled people has been a high profile issue since an inquest last September into the death of Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca.

Pilkington killed herself and her daughter after a ten-year hate campaign led by a local gang, much of it directed at Francecca, who had learning difficulties.

Last November, crime reduction minister Alan Campbell told a hate crime conference that their deaths had focused attention on the “torment” that can come from “systematic” abuse.

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, said the inspectorate’s survey backed up reports that were being sent to the network’s new Facebook group.

He said: “People do not get abused once – it goes on and on and on.”

And he called for all police forces to introduce software used by Lancashire police, which allows it to recognise repeat victims.

Brookes said it was “not acceptable” that other forces were failing to ensure their IT systems could recognise such people, and added: “People’s lives are being put at risk because of a software issue.”

An Association of Chief Police Officers spokeswoman said there was “ongoing work in relation to this particular area” but it was “complex” and “not a quick fix”. She said Lancashire police was “trialling” the software.

She added: “Fiona Pilkington is a really horrible tragic case but that is not happening every day. It’s an extreme case. A lot of anti-social behaviour is being dealt with effectively.”
ELECTION 2010: Speaker pledges to ‘champion disabled people’

The Speaker of the House of Commons has pledged to be the “disabled person’s champion” in the battle to improve access to democracy.

John Bercow MP, who has a track record of campaigning on disability issues, was speaking to a joint meeting on accessible democracy, held by several all party parliamentary groups, including those on disability, autism and learning disability.

He was speaking two months after the historic speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation – which he chaired – reported on ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

He told the meeting, which was packed with campaigners with learning difficulties, that he wanted the next parliament to “hit the ground running from day one” in improving access, through the induction packs given to new MPs, in the development of accessible facilities in the Houses of Parliament and in the way the House of Commons operates.

He added: “For as long as I am Speaker, I will try to be the disabled person’s champion.

“I hope you will take me at face value and judge me on my record.”

Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference, said political parties had started to “get their house in order” but not all of them yet recorded whether their parliamentary candidates were disabled.

Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, told the meeting that providing equal access to polling stations for disabled voters was “fundamental to democracy”, but added: “I know we are not there yet.”

She said the commission’s research had found dissatisfaction with the voting process was higher among disabled people.

And she said the commission would use its guidance on the accessibility of voting materials to push for change, and would produce a report on access to polling stations at this year’s general election.

She said: “For large parts of our community, voting is anything but accessible. Things are getting better but I want to reassure you that we will keep this under review.”

Eve Rank, a consultant and campaigner with a learning difficulty and a former commissioner with the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), said the DRC had found four years ago that people with learning difficulties living in residential homes were having their voting cards thrown away by staff. She said she couldn’t understand why this was still happening.

Watson said the EC wanted to know if and where this was happening, and if local authorities were not putting people with learning difficulties in residential care on the voting register.
Eagle quells fears over reserved posts

A government minister has finally quelled fears that reserving jobs solely for disabled people might be illegal, following evidence she gave to a committee of MPs in January.

Maria Eagle MP, an equalities minister and former minister for disabled people, told the communities and local government committee that it was illegal to reserve posts for disabled people under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and would remain so under the new equality bill.

Her comments caused consternation among disabled campaigners, as reserving posts is a widespread practice both in disabled people’s organisations and across the wider disability sector.

Following concerns raised about her comments, the committee wrote to the minister asking her to clarify her evidence.

The committee has now published Eagle’s response, in which she says she is “happy to clarify the position in detail which a short verbal exchange could not really cover”.

In her letter, she says that the equality bill, as the DDA does, makes it clear that it is not direct discrimination to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person.

She adds: “What this means is that the [equality bill] would not prevent posts being advertised as open only to disabled applicants.”

Eagle also says that the equality bill’s “positive action” measures would allow employers to encourage job applications from people with a particular impairment, for example those with mental health conditions, if they believed that group experienced “particular disadvantage” and their numbers in the workplace were “disproportionately low”.

The bill would also allow an employer to recruit someone with a particular impairment if that was necessary because of the nature of the job, for instance an organisation providing counselling services for young Deaf people that was seeking to recruit a Deaf counsellor because of their “shared life experiences” and use of British Sign Language.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Capability, Equality and Big Brother

Hello to one and all

I hope the week is going well. Some interesting bits and pieces this week particularly concerning the new work capability test. The Equality Bill continues its passage through the Lords but some issues remain. Channel 4 in a bit of bother with Big Brother and the use of language!! At least the words used were more than four letters which for most Big Brother house residents makes a pleasant change!! Enjoy!
Campaigners say government must release work test figures

Frustrated campaigners have called on the government to release crucial statistics about its controversial new work capability test.

They spoke out after new research for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed that both benefits staff and disabled people who have undergone the test had major concerns about the work capability assessment (WCA).

The WCA was introduced in October 2008 to test applicants for employment and support allowance (ESA), the government’s new out-of-work disability benefit.

But disability organisations and other campaigners have repeatedly raised concerns about the number of disabled people being found fit for work after taking the tough and “inflexible” WCA.

The researchers talked to staff working on the ESA, and ESA applicants, between May and July last year.

Staff expressed concerns at the “stringency” and “lack of flexibility” of the WCA and that many people who were told they were fit for “work-related activity” had “unexpectedly severe health problems”.

The research also reported concerns about a “large backlog” of appeals against WCA results.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the research backed up what campaigners had been telling the government.

He said the government was refusing to provide statistics showing how disabled people with different impairments were being treated under the new system.

He and other campaigners say the WCA is too inflexible to cope with fluctuating conditions such as mental ill-health, ME or MS.

Coyle said: “Disability organisations cannot assist the government in improving the WCA or ESA without more information about what the barriers are within the system. It is going to cost a fortune in appeals unless the WCA is improved.”

Coyle said some disabled people were being assessed as fit for work and not eligible for ESA – and told to apply instead for jobseeker’s allowance – but after winning appeals were placed in the ESA “support group” for those who are too disabled to undertake any work-related activity.

Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, said: “This research was carried out some time ago soon after the benefit was introduced and we have made considerable improvements since then.

“We continue to see where improvements and changes are needed to ensure that ESA is working as it should be.”

A DWP spokesman said they were “currently unable to provide the data” that Disability Alliance has called for as it was “not held centrally and we are not confident at this stage that it is robust enough to consider publication”.

He added: “We are working on collating and quality assuring the data and will consider publication in due course.”

Meanwhile, Shaw has announced new targets that aim to help more people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties to stay in work through the access to work (ATW) scheme.

From next month, 2,000 people with learning difficulties and up to 1,500 people with mental health conditions will be guaranteed ATW funding.

Shaw said a “disappointingly low number of people with severe mental health conditions or learning disabilities” were receiving ATW funding, and the government recognised it needed to do more to help them find and stay in work.

Last year, more than 32,000 disabled people received ATW funding to provide support in the workplace, but the latest figures show that fewer than one per cent gave mental health as their main impairment.

The government has promised to double the ATW budget to £138 million by 2013/14.

Shaw announced the targets at a House of Commons exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.
New improvements to equality bill, but concerns remain

New legal duties to provide accessible information should be a “major step forward” for blind and partially-sighted people and others with “print disabilities”, according to a disabled peer.

Lord [Colin] Low was speaking after the government introduced a new amendment to its equality bill, as the bill completed its report stage in the House of Lords.

The new duty makes it clear that businesses and public bodies would have to take “reasonable steps” to provide information in an accessible format so as to avoid disabled people being placed at a “substantial disadvantage”.

Baroness Thornton, for the government, said: “It is important that all kinds of organisations consider the information they provide to their audiences and what steps they may need to take to bring themselves into line with the duty.”

She said the amendment “could be a turning point for people with information disabilities”.

Lord Low said the move was “potentially a major step forward for anyone with a print disability of any kind” and provides “a much more solid basis for robust enforcement action by regulators, advocacy organisations and disabled people themselves”.

He said that businesses and public sector bodies would now “need to think carefully about what they need to do to comply with this duty and promptly take action, as I expect this duty to be vigorously enforced”.

The government also accepted two other amendments that should strengthen disabled people’s protection from discrimination.

One set of amendments, introduced by Baroness Wilkins, would strengthen the duty to provide reasonable adjustments in education – making it clear that the duty is “anticipatory”, so schools would have to predict the adjustments that future disabled pupils might need, rather than just reacting to a request from an individual pupil.

The other amendment defines the term “substantial disadvantage” – when dealing with the duty to make reasonable adjustments – as “more than minor or trivial”.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, welcomed the three changes and said there had been “major progress” on the bill in recent weeks.

But she said there were still major concerns around the bill’s public sector duties to promote equality, which were currently “vague and unenforceable” and would lead to legal challenges if not tightened by the government.

She said there was a “very real risk” that the duties would be weaker than the current disability equality duty.

Meanwhile, the government’s personal care at home bill completed its committee stage in the Lords. Its report stage is due on 17 March.
Disabled protesters march on Ofcom over ‘offensive hate language’

People with learning difficulties have marched on the offices of the communications watchdog Ofcom in protest at its failure to condemn the use of offensive, disablist language on a Channel 4 show.

Footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones caused outrage when he “joked” on Big Brother’s Big Mouth that presenter Davina McCall walked “like a retard”, with McCall laughing and replying: “I do not walk like a retard.”

Channel 4 eventually apologised after receiving complaints about the incident in late January.

But campaigners were shocked when Ofcom failed to uphold their subsequent complaint.

In its decision, Ofcom said the use of the word was part of “light hearted banter” and “not directed at someone with a mental or physical disability” and so was “not used with the intention to describe or offend members of society with learning difficulties”.

It also said the use of the word was not “entirely at odds with the established nature of this programme, which is known for its lively and outspoken content”.

Ofcom merely advised Channel 4 that the repetition of the word by McCall was “unfortunate” and it would have been “more appropriate to move on rapidly instead of discussing it further”.

Furious at the decision, disabled protesters – backed by the charities Respond and The Elfrida Society – this week delivered letters to the chair and chief executive of Ofcom.

The letters were signed by nine people with learning difficulties, eight of whom are involved in running London’s successful Wild Bunch club nights. Most of them took part in the protest.

Their letter says: “We feel let down by Ofcom, which is perpetuating a negative image of disabled people, by not condemning guests and presenters who use hate speech on TV – thereby signaling to viewers that this is acceptable.”

The letter says Jones’s “walk” mirrored the actions of the young thugs who persecuted Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca. Pilkington killed herself and Francecca, who had learning difficulties, after they were the victims of a sustained hate campaign.

Jackie Ryan, one of the protesters, said they were “really annoyed” with Ofcom’s decision not to uphold the complaint.

She said: “I think it’s out of order. Ofcom should do something about it.

“We were extremely cross. They need to look at themselves in the mirror and see how they feel.”

And she said Vinnie Jones and Davina McCall should be forced to apologise on television.

Ofcom said it was now reviewing its decision.

Channel 4 said it regretted that McCall had not “admonished” Jones for his comment and apologised to viewers at the time.

And she said the comments had been removed from the video-on-demand version of the programme.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Judges need training; Pathways to Work; Work Assessments

Just spent 5 days in snowy Birmingham and returned to find the garden flooded! I’m now building a wheelchair accessible Ark!! Enjoy your week.
Judges must change attitudes on disability

A leading disabled barrister has called for a “sea change” in the attitudes of judges towards disabled people.

John Horan said judges should be forced to undergo diversity training that includes a section on disability discrimination, because of their lack of knowledge and awareness.

He was speaking as a new report – commissioned by the government – called for a “coherent and comprehensive strategy” to increase the number of disabled judges and those from other minorities.

The report by the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity says the legal profession must do more to promote diversity at all levels and support applications from talented candidates from all backgrounds.

The panel, set up last April by the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, points to the “virtual invisibility” of disabled judges and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for reasonable adjustments for disabled judges, the promotion of flexible working and “open and transparent selection processes that promote diversity and recognise potential”.

And it says members of the Judicial Appointments Commission’s (JAC) interview panels should receive regular equality and diversity training.

Horan, an expert in disability discrimination law, said he “absolutely” agreed with the need for training.

He said: “I really welcome the report of the advisory panel but I wonder whether judges can take it seriously because it involves a sea change in their attitudes towards disabled people.”

He said he would not consider applying to become a judge until “attitudes have changed”.

Baroness Neuberger, who chaired the panel, said there could be “no quick fix” but implementing their recommendations would deliver “real change”.

Her panel also called for a new judicial diversity taskforce to oversee an action plan and publish an annual report on progress.

Although the report rules out diversity targets or quotas for judicial appointments, it says the JAC should make use of the positive action measures in the government’s equality bill that will allow it to appoint a minority candidate if two or more applicants are “essentially indistinguishable”.

And the report says the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Institute of Legal Executives should set out timetables for improving the diversity of their own members who are suitable for appointments “at all levels”.

Straw, who welcomed the report and accepted all of its 53 recommendations, said: “I am determined that race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability should be no barrier to those with ability joining the judiciary and progressing within it.”
Pathways contracts mean many get ‘bare minimum’ help

New research shows that paying providers of employment support according to how many disabled people they place in jobs leads to a “bare minimum” service for those less ready for work.

The research into the effectiveness of paying private and voluntary sector providers of Pathways to Work based on how many clients find work comes as the government is reviewing its work support programmes, including Pathways.

The report by the Policy Studies Institute for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says its research “reinforces concern” that providers given “outcome-based contracts” do not work with the “harder to help”.

It suggests that more funding should be available for organisations working with “clients with more complex needs”.

And it calls for more to be done to allow disabled clients to provide feedback on their Pathways experiences.

The Pathways providers covered in the research – three private sector and one charity – complained that the recession and a decline in job vacancies had “exacerbated the financial risks” in trying to reach their job targets, which were “not considered to be feasible”.

Internal targets set for advisers working with disabled clients had been lowered because of the recession, while advisers were frustrated that managers’ focus on clients who were “job ready” caused them to spend less time with those “further away from work”.

This meant that “creaming” (working intensively with clients closer to the job market) and “parking” (giving other clients a “bare minimum” service) were seen as “appropriate practice”.

The report did find some measures that helped advisers work with “clients not labelled as job ready”, but it also found that any innovations by providers were largely based on cutting costs.

The report came as Rebecca Sudworth, deputy director of the DWP’s disability and work division, told the all party parliamentary disability group that the number of clients found jobs had “been much lower than providers themselves felt might be possible”.

She also admitted that in some employment programmes there was “insufficient enthusiasm” to work with disabled people furthest from the labour market.

A briefing prepared for the meeting by the Disability Benefits Consortium concluded: “The funding system of payment by in-work results only has encouraged a concentration of effort on to those people regarded as easier to support into work.”

But Jonathan Shaw, minister for disabled people, said in a statement that Pathways had helped “nearly 190,000 people who face complex barriers into work” since it was first piloted in 2003.

He added: “We pay our private providers by results – if they don’t get people into sustainable employment, they don’t get the full payment.

“But we know we need to do more to help disabled people into work, which is why we have committed through our employment white paper to review our support programmes, including Pathways to Work. Our findings will be published in the spring.”
Work assessment test under fresh fire

The government’s strict new work test for disabled people has come under fresh attack at a meeting of MPs and peers.

The criticisms of the work capability assessment (WCA) came after the all party parliamentary disability group had heard a presentation by three senior civil servants from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

David Evans, vice-chair of the charity Deafblind UK, said some of the things he had read about the WCA – which tests those applying for the new employment and support allowance – “beggars belief”.

He criticised the “stupidity” and “insensitivity of the people making decisions about people’s lives” and said he was “very concerned” that the aim was to get “as many people into work as possible”.

He also raised fears that disabled people were giving up on the welfare system after failing the WCA and were having to survive solely on DLA instead.

He added: “A huge number of people are not getting the right benefits, creating more work for people trying to work with them, like Citizens Advice Bureaux.”

His comments came a week after new job statistics provided evidence for his fear that disabled people failing the WCA were dropping out of the welfare system.

The figures showed the number of people giving “long-term sickness” or “temporary sickness” as the reason for being neither in work nor available for work had risen by 33,000 in a year.

But Rebecca Sudworth, deputy director of the DWP’s disability and work division, said the government kept the WCA “under review” and it was “very much not the case” that it was about “shoving people into work regardless” of their circumstances.

She said the test was “designed to think where people are on that ability to work spectrum”, and added: “We may not always get it right but we put an awful lot of time and effort into developing the assessment and checking how it is working.”

Cath Hamp, the DWP’s head of employment and support allowance policy, said current reviews of the WCA and the government’s disability employment programmes – such as Pathways to Work – were “very timely”, with the government due to start rolling out the WCA to the 2.5 million people on incapacity benefit this October.

She said: “We want some of the things at either end of that process to be as good as they possibly can be when that process starts.”

She added: “The object of the change is to avoid that group of people being written off as they have been over the last ten years because there has been very little contact with them.”

News supplied by John Pring

Work Assessments, Baywatch and Prison Discrimination

I’m working in Birmingham all week so thought I’d better get this out there before I go. As some of you will know I run a three day personal development programme for disabled people with a colleague Dave Rees. The idea originated with Lloyds Banking Group several years ago, and has also now been taken up by Accenture, it is proving to be a huge hit with those who attend. I find it incredibly rewarding and I’m always amazed at how totally brilliant so many disabled people are!! I guess I would say that wouldn’t I! My own personal view aside Lloyds have undertaken a study of the programme and the results are very encouraging. Course attendees stay longer, achieve more promotions and are seen more positively by the line managers.

I hope you find the news useful and feedback is alway very welcome.

New fears over impact of work assessment test

New job statistics provide worrying evidence that disabled people are dropping out of the welfare system after failing the government’s strict new work assessment test.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show the number of people who say they are “economically inactive” – neither in work nor available for work – has risen to 8.08 million, its highest ever level.

And the number giving “long-term sickness” as the reason for being economically inactive has risen in one year by 25,000 to 2.01 million, while those giving “temporary sickness” as a reason has risen by 8,000 to 177,000.

Mark Baker, policy chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said these figures could have been boosted by disabled people who fail the work capability assessment (WCA) and so do not qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit.

He believes many then decide not to apply for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) because they cannot cope with its tougher regime and stricter conditions.

He said: “The JSA regime just alienates people. They will just want to survive on disability living allowance.

“JSA is a much tougher regime and it simply wasn’t designed for disabled people.”

He said there were serious concerns that many disabled people were being “left in the space between work and welfare”.

He added: “We are extremely worried about it and our suspicion is that many of the people are just falling out of the system.”

Citizens Advice said it was “very concerned” at the large numbers of disabled people and those with serious illnesses being found fit for work after taking the WCA.

A Citizens Advice spokeswoman said: “By being found ineligible for ESA, some move onto JSA, which offers considerably less support. Others are moved off benefits altogether, with no support at all.

“We had understood that the aim of ESA was to move people into work, not simply off benefits.

“Both of these groups are being let down by the system and find themselves much further away from a situation where they may be able to return to sustainable work in the future.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted that those who move to JSA after failing the WCA receive “immediate back to work support”.

He said disabled claimants and those with health conditions can discuss limitations on their availability.

Their condition or impairment is also taken into account “when discussing and agreeing jobsearch activities”, while Jobcentre Plus offers additional support through disability employment advisers.

But he could not say whether the government believed more disabled people were becoming “economically inactive” because of concerns about the JSA regime.

Baywatch survey provides more evidence that fining works

A national survey of supermarket carparks appears to provide further proof that fining motorists who misuse accessible parking spaces cuts levels of abuse.

But the survey by more than 550 disabled supporters of the Baywatch campaign also found levels of abuse in two of the big four supermarket chains had increased since the previous survey in 2007.

And the new survey found some disabled shoppers were experiencing threats and verbal abuse when they challenged motorists who were misusing accessible spaces.

The best performer in the survey was Sainsbury’s, with nearly half of surveyors who visited their carparks last September reporting no abuse of any accessible bays.

More than half of those who visited Sainsbury’s also reported seeing signs warning that people using accessible bays without displaying a blue badge would be fined.

Although 16 per cent of Sainsbury’s total spaces surveyed were being used by a vehicle that was not displaying a blue badge, this was an improvement of two percentage points since the 2007 survey.

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “Last year we introduced a nationwide scheme of monitors to help keep our disabled bays open for those who need them. It is great to hear that they are having a real impact.”

The worst performer was Tesco, with nearly one in four bays abused, a slight increase in misuse since 2007.

According to Baywatch, Tesco has started to enforce bays at some of its supermarkets, but “only a measly 10 per cent of people reported any sign of this”.

Asda – the first supermarket to introduce widespread fining for abuse in 2008 – saw misuse of its bays fall from 23 per cent in 2007 to 19 per cent.

But Morrisons, which failed to follow Asda’s lead on fining, saw abuse rise from 13 to 17 per cent of bays.

Helen Smith, director of policy and campaigns for the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise, which runs the Baywatch campaign with the British Polio Fellowship and Disability Now magazine, said the survey showed that fining bay abusers works.

She added: “In order to see real improvements for their disabled customers, supermarkets need to do more than just put up signs – they need to practice active enforcement as well.

“It’s not acceptable for supermarkets to pass the buck on to their disabled customers by refusing to monitor their bays.

“Instead, supermarkets should ensure that disabled customers can come in and shop – without fear of intimidation.”

Prison service breached disability discrimination laws, says court

A court has ruled that the prison service breached disability and race discrimination laws in its treatment of foreign prisoners in the UK.

The High Court ruling came in a case taken by the Equality and Human Rights Commission against the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which delivers prison and probation services in England and Wales.

The EHRC launched the judicial review after NOMS implemented a new policy of transferring foreign prisoners between prisons, but failed to consider its impact on disabled or ethnic minority prisoners.

Public bodies such as prisons are legally required to carry out assessments of how their policies will affect disabled people, ethnic minorities and women.

The EHRC said the failure took place despite “widespread documentation” by the prisons inspectorate of “significant discrimination and disadvantage” faced by disabled and ethnic minority foreign prisoners.

The court found NOMS failed to carry out any formal assessments, and described its reasons for failing to do so as “unconvincing”.

After the EHRC started legal proceedings, NOMS carried out retrospective equality impact assessments, which the court said satisfied the law.

EHRC commissioner Kay Carberry said the ruling sent “a clear message” to all public bodies, which should “take the lead in this area and not wait for legal action before seeking to comply with the law”.

She added: “We expect the prison authority to monitor the impact of the policy to make sure that foreign national prisoners are treated in the same way and have the same access to support and rehabilitation courses as all other prisoners.”

The disability charity RADAR welcomed the ruling and said transfers can have a “major impact” upon disabled prisoners, as many of Britain’s prisons are “elderly institutions”.

Last May, RADAR condemned the treatment of two disabled prisoners at HMP Parkhurst, who were left without proper washing facilities for months because of inaccessible bathrooms.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “I hope this judgment will go a considerable way towards preventing any further unequal or inhuman treatment of disabled prisoners.”

But a Prison Service spokesman said: “We regret the fact that the EHRC chose to challenge a policy designed to improve services provided to foreign national prisoners.”

He said the policy – designed to locate foreign prisoners in fewer prisons – remained in place, but could not say whether the government would appeal.

He said the policy was “not a blanket process and individual circumstances will be taken into account before any prisoner is allocated or otherwise moved between jails”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Reserved Posts, Accessible Taxis and Forced Marriages!

A real mixed bag this week. Which I hope is of interest. As I was writing this I’ve just listened to Ray Gosling a BBC broadcaster and journalist talking about how he suffocated “his bit on the side” who was terminally ill with AIDS. Given my comments last week on the assisted suicide debate this is frightening! Let’s be clear though from the litte we know at this stage it seems that murder is a better description and I understand that Nottinghamshire Police have started an investigation. Watch this space as they say. Link to story http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/nottinghamshire/8516499.stm
Government adds confusion to Eagle’s reserved posts comments

The Government Equalities Office has added to the confusion caused by a government minister who told MPs that it was illegal to reserve jobs solely for disabled people.

Maria Eagle, an equalities minister and former minister for disabled people, told the communities and local government committee two weeks ago that it was illegal to reserve posts under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and would remain so under the equality bill.

She has now been forced to write to the committee, after it wrote to her “seeking clarification” of her comments.

During questioning from the committee about the equality bill, Eagle said that “positive action” – favouring the disabled person when faced with two equally qualified job candidates – was legal and would stay legal under the bill.

But she also said that only allowing disabled applicants to apply for a particular job was illegal and would remain so in the new bill.

Reserving posts for disabled people is a widespread practice, both by disabled people’s organisations and across the disability sector, and campaigners were left bemused by her comments.

A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman said: “Everybody has the right to be treated fairly and employers are not allowed to discriminate when hiring staff.

“However, there is an exemption where a particular characteristic is a requirement of the job – for example, an organisation providing counselling services for young deaf people might require its counsellors to be deaf in order to share life experiences and use British Sign Language with their clients.

“This is the case under the DDA and the equality bill will not change this. Maria Eagle has written to the select committee to make this clear.”

But the spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether Eagle was admitting she had made a mistake, or whether she stood by her evidence.
Equality bill amendment ‘will boost number of accessible taxis’

Delighted campaigners have welcomed proposed new laws that will force many local authorities to allow more wheelchair-accessible taxis onto the streets.

The new amendment to the government’s equality bill was proposed by the disabled peer Baroness Wilkins and backed by a string of fellow peers – and accepted by the government – during the bill’s committee stage.

The amendment will mean that local authorities that have introduced policies to control taxi numbers will not be able to refuse a licence for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle if the area does not have enough accessible taxis.

Baroness Wilkins, a wheelchair-user herself, said provision of accessible transport was “essential for equality of opportunity” but councils with “quantity-control policies” and relatively few or no accessible taxis can refuse licence applications for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

She said this can leave wheelchair-users who travel to such areas by train “stranded” once they arrive.

She added: “One must also think what it means for those living in the area when they need to get to an urgent appointment or visit friends and have a social life.”

For the government, Baroness Thornton said: “It is unacceptable that a licensing authority which controls taxi numbers can routinely refuse applications for wheelchair-accessible taxis when it has very few wheelchair-accessible taxis in the district or, indeed, none at all.

“This new clause provides an ideal means of enhancing accessible taxi provision in these areas.”

She said the government would consult before deciding on the minimum proportion of taxis in a local authority area that should be wheelchair-accessible.

Geraldine Des Moulins, chief officer of Brighton and Hove Federation of Disabled People, welcomed the amendment and said it should make it easier for wheelchair-users to find taxis.

She said researchers had found that a wheelchair-user in Brighton waits four times as long as a non-disabled person for a taxi.

Her organisation persuaded Brighton and Hove City Council to announce a review of taxi services for disabled people last month.

Des Moulins said: “We have disabled people who will not go out because they do not know if they will get a taxi to get home again.”

She said the new laws would help, but there also needed to be a “culture shift within the taxi trade”, with drivers often refusing to pick up wheelchair-users.

The equality bill has now completed its committee stage in the Lords, with the report stage due to begin on 2 March.
Government research follows ‘increasing concerns’ on forced marriage

The government is funding new research into disabled people who are victims of forced marriages, following increasing concerns about the scale of the problem.

News of the research emerged after a man was jailed for trying to sell his disabled sister, who has learning difficulties, into a forced marriage.

Michael Wright, 22, from Swindon, was arrested by officers from the UK Border Agency as he arrived with his sister for the ceremony at Reading Register Office with would-be groom Ligang Qiao last August.

Wright had agreed to let Qiao marry his sister – in exchange for £8,000 – to aid his application to stay in the UK once his visa ran out.

Wright pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to assisting unlawful entry into the UK, and perjury, and was jailed this week for four years. Qiao and two other Chinese nationals were jailed for between 15 months and two years each, and will be deported at the end of their sentences.

Detective Inspector Andy Cummins, of the UK Border Agency, said it was a “despicable crime” and Wright had “attempted to exploit a member of his own family for his own financial gain”, while the other gang members “sought to take advantage of a vulnerable woman”.

A Foreign Office spokesman said its Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) – run jointly with the Home Office – had seen “a number” of cases where disabled people were forced into marriage, either by families trying to provide a disabled relative with a long-term carer or for visa reasons.

He said: “Accurate statistics for forced marriage are very difficult to compile, given its often-clandestine nature, but the incidence among people with disabilities has been the subject of increasing concern over recent years.

“The FMU are funding research to look into this area, and to compare best practice in responses. The findings will inform the unit’s future work.”

Meanwhile, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is preparing to investigate the problem of disabled women who are forced into marriage.

The EHRC’s disability committee will look at the issue as part of the commission’s Violence Against Women programme.

Anyone who is worried that they might be forced into marriage or is worried about a friend or relative can call the Forced Marriage Unit in confidence on 020 7008 0151.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Assisted Dying – A Different View!

Like a lot of you I watched the recent Panorama programme which focused on the subject of assisted suicide. The central issue concerned whether Kay Gilderdale should have been prosecuted for assisting her daughter Lynn to commit suicide. The programme used every technique imaginable to ensure the viewer was sympathetic to Kay’s terrible plight. What it didn’t go into was what kind of support, if any, Kay and her family received in order help them and Lynn. We didn’t hear from others with a similar condition putting their point of view. Some of the filming as I understand it took place while Lynn was alive but there was no interview with her. As a programme it singularly failed to inform the debate.

RADAR, of which I am chair, has always taken the (unpopular) view that Kay Gilderdale should have been investigated. However, before writing to the editor or posting comments denouncing us for our inhumanity, please note we have never said she should have been convicted. Our position is that when one person is found to have had a hand in the death of another, that person should be forensically investigated and called to account, in accordance with the law which protects us all. The death, therefore, of a profoundly disabled person should be investigated with the same vigour as that of a non-disabled person. Anyone involved with that death should have to account for their actions in a court of law. This sounds reasonable to us, and yet the majority, apparently, do not agree.

Those campaigning for assisted suicide wish to change that most fundamental of laws. This will effectively create a class of people from whom that legal protection can be taken away, whether by Act of Parliament or by decision of a tribunal. The Gilderdale case has created as great deal of public attention, promoted by many as proof positive of the need for a change in the law. The Inglis case, however, has been somewhat neglected by those who call for such a change, and I think I can demonstrate the reason why.

Tom Inglis suffered severe brain damage in a fall from an ambulance. He became profoundly disabled, and could only interact by blinking or by squeezing hands. His mother Frances became convinced (“obsessed”, a relative suggested in court) that he was suffering intolerable pain, in spite of medical opinion to the contrary, and that Tom, who had been an active young man, would not want to be a “vegetable”. Foiled in one attempt to kill him, Frances, determined that he should die, disguised herself as an aunt, gained access to his room, barricaded the door and then injected him with heroin. What if Tom did not, at the moment his mother gained entry to his room, want to die? If that is the case, then he was the victim of a brutal, calculated premeditated murder. The fact that Francis Inglis was tried, convicted and sentenced for the crime at least provided justice for Tom.

Frances Inglis provides evidence of why the “loving-mother-knows-best” school of thought, which tends to assume that relatives will always have the best interests of a profoundly disabled person at heart, is dangerous and somewhat misguided.

Sir Terry Pratchett in his Dimbleby Lecture talked about allowing people the right to request death for themselves, at a time of their own choosing. For those like him who are able to communicate their desire and can articulate it and have the financial resources to manage their situations this may seem reasonable. They are far less likely to feel they are a burden or a nuisance and are in many ways spared the possibility of feeling pressured to die.

As for Kay Gilderdale, she has now been acquitted, but the point about people such as Lynn Gilderdale and many other profoundly disabled people is that they are so utterly dependent upon others. They are often placed in situations where other people have a great deal of power and influence over them, and an awful lot of unsupervised access to them. To exempt such individuals from legal scrutiny if they assist the person in their care to commit suicide would open the door to abuse and leave already vulnerable people at ever greater risk. Precisely because they have such power and responsibility, people who assist in a suicide should be subjected to full forensic scrutiny, and their assertions as to their motives and the course of events should not simply be taken at face value.

The issues surrounding these cases are extraordinarily complex – levels of support, palliative care, effective pain management, access to activities and peers, attitudes of relatives, benefit levels, presence or absence of mental health conditions – to allow a one size fits all law to be passed, and setting up tribunals which grant a license to kill at a point in the future open the door to various abuses – what if the person changes their mind, but the person assisting them doesn’t? Simply assuming that in the case of terminally ill and disabled people friends and relatives will always act in their best interests is naive and dangerous.

Finally in a recent interview for a book on Holland’s euthanasia law, Els Borst, the minister who campaigned vociferously for the law, admitted that Holland should have sorted out palliative care first, and that levels of palliative care have subsequently declined. The United Nations Committee on Human Rights has expressed worries over Holland’s euthanasia laws, and there are grave concerns about unreported cases, as there are in Oregon.

Rather than change legislation which is designed to protect vulnerable people shouldn’t we ensure that the individual and their family are given all the support that it is possible to provide? Perhaps then their quality of life would be enhanced making assisted suicide a less attractive option.
Manufactured goods ‘must be included in new EU laws’

Campaigners have called on the government to back demands for manufactured goods to be covered by new European Union (EU) anti-discrimination laws.

The draft equal treatment directive would extend protection from discrimination on the grounds of disability, age, sexual orientation and religion or belief to the provision of goods and services across the EU.

Currently, the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act does not force manufacturers or designers of goods to make reasonable adjustments for different access needs, and neither will the new equality bill.

But campaigners are lobbying the government to push for such a measure to be included in the EU directive.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Labour MP Roger Berry – co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary disability group – have written to the government, asking it to back calls for manufactured goods to be included.

But at a meeting of the group this week, Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said: “We have had a rather unsatisfactory response from Jonathan Shaw (minister for disabled people) saying the government view is regulation is not the way forward. We beg to differ.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Leonard Cheshire Disability are among other organisations to back the inclusion of manufactured goods, according to a new government report that summarises responses to a consultation on the directive.

The report says evidence submitted to the consultation pointed to current access problems such as the lack of DVDs with subtitles, instruction leaflets that were difficult to understand, and inaccessible LCD screens on an increasing number of white goods such as washing machines and microwaves.

In its submission, Disability Law Service said new laws to ensure goods were as accessible as possible have a “significant impact” on enabling disabled people to “truly participate in society”.

But the government said many respondents had “grave concerns” about the proposal.

It said the CBI, the business lobby organisation, “was just one organisation to argue that not only would the cost be too huge a burden to bear for manufacturers, but that it would also do disproportionate damage to UK competitiveness”.

The government has not published its conclusions about the consultation responses because of the risk of “compromising” EU negotiations.

Additional News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com