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

Assisted Suicide – the ongoing debate!

Slightly late posting this weeks news items. Two or three reasons for this, probably better described as excuses! First my grand-daughter had her first birthday this weekend so lots of celebrations as you might expect!! Anna was totally bemused by all the fuss and in line with other one year olds concentrated entirely on the wrapping paper, not the presents!! Second reason the b…..y car broke down again and is being removed by the RAC as we speak! Third reason, and the most serious, trying to respond to the flurry of programmes and editorial copy surrounding the assisted suicide debate. As chair of RADAR I have been trying to put across the point that until we can be completely sure that we are providing the very best support and palliative care services available to terminally ill people and their families the discussion about helping them to die is hugely premature! I don’t know if any of you caught the Channel 4 programme about Mo Mowlem. An interesting portrayal of someone and their family trying to cope with a terminal illness. Never any question that Mo wanted to end it all! However it seemed that she and her husband could avail themselves of a great deal of support which made her sad passing the more dignified. Not so for most families trying to deal with the same very difficult situation. Let me know what you think. Have a good week.
Campaigners fight again to hold the line on assisted suicide

Disability organisations have had to line up yet again against any weakening of the law on assisted suicide, following two high profile court cases and the publication of proposed new laws in Scotland.

Kay Gilderdale, from Stonegate, East Sussex, was cleared of attempted murder, having admitted a charge of assisting in the suicide of her disabled daughter, Lynn, who had chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). She was given a conditional discharge.

Frances Inglis, from Dagenham, east London, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life, and a recommended minimum of nine years in prison, after a court heard how she used a heroin overdose to kill her disabled son Tom, who had brain damage, because she felt his life was not worth living.

And Margo MacDonald MSP, who has Parkinson’s disease, published her end of life assistance (Scotland) bill, which would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify.

The disability charity RADAR said it was committed to the principle that “those who have a hand in the death of another person, regardless of that person’s disability or the stated motivation of the perpetrator, should have to answer for their actions before a court of law”.

It said that Tom Inglis’s impairment “did not give another person, even his mother, the right to take his life based on their own judgements”.

And it said that he had “the same rights to legal protection and justice as anyone else, and the prospect of setting out circumstances in which people whose lives are deemed by others to be intolerable can be stripped of those rights is chilling beyond measure”.

Caroline Ellis, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, whose teenage son has CFS, said: “Singling out individuals for legalised killing based on their medical condition or prognosis would be discriminatory and repugnant.”

She said the “real outrage” was the lack of effective treatment or support for people with CFS and that she never wants her son to “feel like society is giving up on him”.

She added: “The idea that the law could be relaxed in future to encourage people to give up sends chills down my spine.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has yet to finalise its position on assisted suicide, but Mike Smith, the new chair of its disability committee, said he personally did not believe there were “adequate safeguards to protect disabled and older people to allow assisted dying”.

He said: “It is too easy for society to view disability as a negative thing and whilst that is the case there will be coercion and in the current world we live in and the negative views of disability, I have very grave reservations about relaxing laws on assisted dying.”

Alison Davis, national co-ordinator of No Less Human, which campaigns for disabled people’s right to life, said “sick and disabled people living in Scotland will immediately be viewed as suitable candidates for death” if MacDonald’s bill becomes law.

She said this would “inevitably” make it easier for similar laws to be passed elsewhere in the UK.

A poll last year for the Care Not Killing Alliance in Scotland found 65 MSPs were opposed to legalising assisted suicide, with 18 in favour and 24 undecided.
Improvements to equality bill will safeguard ‘holy grail’

A disabled peer has hailed improvements to the public sector equality duty – the “holy grail” of the equality bill – as a “huge breakthrough” in the fight to maintain disabled people’s protection from discrimination.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell introduced the amendments to strengthen the equality duty in the bill so it did not provide a lower level of protection than the Disability Discrimination Act’s disability equality duty.

Her amendments make clear that public authorities – such as local councils or NHS trusts – must not only have “due regard” to eliminating discrimination against disabled people but in doing so must take account of people’s impairments, even if that means treating them more favourably than non-disabled people.

Baroness Campbell said: “Reasonable adjustments tailored to our particular disability-related needs lie at the heart of disability equality. Without them, we are marginalised at the fringes of society.”

The bill as it stood previously could have led to public bodies “thinking that they need to do less to take account of the needs of disabled people than they do under the current disability equality duty…the consequences of that would be disastrous.”

Baroness Thornton, for the government, said it would “under no circumstances” want public bodies to “misinterpret the new duty as imposing lesser requirements than the existing disability duty”.

She said the government was happy to accept the amendments, which were agreed as the bill continued its committee stage in the House of Lords.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said the public sector duty was the most important part of the bill for disabled people, and that the amendments were “absolutely vital” as they ensure that public authorities know that disability “is different to all the other strands”.

Earlier this week, another disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, failed to persuade the government to remove the blanket ban on disabled people serving in the armed forces.

Lord Low told the Lords that the blanket ban was “based on a very narrow and outdated stereotype of disability”, that impairments such as severe disfigurement, diabetes and controlled epilepsy would not “necessarily disable a person from active service” and that “everyone should be considered on their merits”.

Baroness Royall said the government would “perhaps” work on his suggestion of drawing up a code of practice on employing disabled people that would meet the concerns of armed services chiefs. But she stressed that this would not be as a part of the equality bill.
Report finds nearly a third of disabled people in poverty

An independent report on income inequalities – commissioned by the government – has concluded that nearly a third of disabled people are living in poverty.

Official statistics previously estimated about a quarter of disabled people were in poverty, but An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK says the figure is probably more than 30 per cent.

This is because the report’s authors believe official measures of poverty should not count those disability benefits – such as disability living allowance – that help cover the extra costs of an impairment.

The report also concludes that there appears to be “straightforward discrimination in recruitment” affecting disabled people, particularly in the private sector.

It says recent experiments suggest that “those disclosing a disability are less likely to be called for interview than those with otherwise identical CVs”.

And it calls for a stronger government focus on boosting the employment of disabled people, particularly those with mental health conditions.

The report says the problem “is most intense” for those with low or no qualifications, and that employment rates for disabled men with low or no qualifications have “fallen considerably” in the last 25 years.

Nearly a third of working age adults who are disabled according to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – and also have a condition that limits the work they can do – have no qualifications, compared with 12 per cent of non-disabled adults.

The report says the average (median) weekly income of men who are both DDA-disabled and have a work-limiting condition is less than half that of non-disabled men (£157 compared with £316 per week). The corresponding figures for women are £131 and £198.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomed the report. Neil Kinghan, its director general, said: “The value of this report is how it pinpoints the combinations of circumstance that create the most acute instances of disadvantage: that as well as socio-economic class, race, gender, disability and other factors still matter very deeply.”

The commission will soon publish research on how employers can improve workplace support for disabled people, for example through reasonable adjustments, and particularly focusing on those with mental health conditions.

Susan Scott-Parker, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability, said the findings were “a stark reminder” of the barriers disabled people can face, and showed that employers must ensure their appraisal and promotion processes do not discriminate against disabled people.

But she warned that “any work to tackle inequality through employment policies needs to position employers as part of the solution, not the problem”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Winners and Possible losers

Last week was a pretty good one. I attended two evening events the first launched the “OneVoice for Accessible ICT Coalition” a programme aimed at making IT more accessible to disabled people. The other arranged by the Employer’s Forum on Disability demonstrated real progress regarding the portrayal of disability on television. Clips from Eastenders and Hollyoaks plus interviews with producers and actors showed how far things have moved over the last decade.

Sadly the old adage that we take two steps forward and then one back seems true based on this weeks clippings. The Equality Bill has been enhanced after vigourous campaigning but entitlement to disability benefits seems to be more difficult to get based on the latest figures. Drop me a note if you want more information.
Equality bill amendments ‘will transform rights’

Campaigners and disabled peers say two key sets of government amendments to the equality bill will transform disability rights in employment and education.

One series of amendments will tighten the ban – added to the bill at an earlier stage – on employers using health questionnaires to discriminate against job applicants with hidden impairments.

The amendments, added during the bill’s committee stage in the Lords, mean there will be fewer exceptions to the ban and will allow the Equality and Human Rights Commission to enforce the new laws.

The mental health charity Rethink said the amendments “could mark a turning point in equal opportunities”.

They were also welcomed by the disabled peers Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who said she felt “very strongly” about the amendments, “having gone through many interrogations from interview panels in the past”.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, which has campaigned for more than ten years to outlaw the questionnaires, said banning them was “probably the single biggest difference and improvement that could be made through the equality bill” on employment of disabled people.

She said: “It will build confidence amongst people with HIV, mental health conditions and other hidden disabilities that they will be judged fairly, on merit.”

The second set of amendments lays out new measures to give disabled pupils the right to support at school through access to auxiliary aids and services – such as computer technology to help visually-impaired pupils, or adaptive keyboards – another key, longstanding demand of disability rights campaigners.

Education secretary Ed Balls had pledged to bring in such laws after they were recommended by the Lamb inquiry on special educational needs.

Baroness Royall, for the government, said it was “right and proper that all members of our society…have access to education and the educational aids they need in order to thrive as individuals and to participate as full members of our society.”

The disabled peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins said: “Too many disabled children face barriers to participation in learning and school life, because if they do not have a statement of special educational needs, they have no enforceable entitlement to extra support.”

She said the amendments would “provide many thousands of disabled pupils, and their parents, with the confidence to get the practical support they need to take part in school life”.

The amendments were also backed by Lord Low and both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

Caroline Ellis, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, described the new measures as “a big gain” and “a very practical way of boosting inclusion”.
Figures show thousands missing out on employment support

New government figures have confirmed that only a small proportion of people applying for out-of-work disability benefits are “passing” the strict new test, the work capability assessment (WCA).

The government claimed the figures showed that “thousands of people are now moving towards work rather than being left to claim sickness benefit”.

But of the 326,500 people who completed new claims between October 2008 and May 2009, only about 59,000 (18 per cent) were found eligible for the new employment and support allowance (ESA). Of these, about 18,000 (5.5 per cent) do not have to take part in work-related activity.

More than two in five (about 135,000 people) were found to be “fit for work” and so ineligible for ESA and the personalised support it would have entitled them to through the government’s Pathways to Work programme.

The remaining 133,000 claimants stopped claiming before completing the WCA.

Those who “fail” the WCA are placed on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), and receive £25 less a week, although the Department for Work and Pensions said some JSA “customers” with health conditions can volunteer to be “fast-tracked” to receive “much more intensive help and one-to-one support to improve their employability”.

Campaigning organisations have repeatedly warned that the WCA is inflexible, riddled with errors and fails to reflect disabled people’s daily lives.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “We are aware that too many disabled people are being misassessed in an overly rigid system and failing to access the support arrangements that could help them find work.”

But he said he was “hopeful” that the current government review of the WCA would “lead to a more effective system able to identify the needs of disabled people”, with Pathways to Work offered to more people.

Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, said the government was reviewing the WCA to “see where improvements and changes need to be made to ensure that it is working as it should be”.

The government will start rolling out the WCA to existing incapacity benefit claimants this October. It is also reviewing the effectiveness of Pathways and aims to publish proposals this spring.

The new figures also reveal that, by the end of November 2009, 8,800 claimants had completed appeals against a decision that they were ineligible for ESA, and 3,300 were successful (37.5 per cent).

Previous figures suggested less than a third of claimants were winning their appeals.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

From Cars to Make-Overs!

Welcome! I sense that we are now heading back to something like normal as the snow thaws and temperatures return to the seasonal average!

I’ve just spent two weeks without my car! What really annoys me about this is the fact that today’s reliance on technology, seems to remove good old common sense! Whenever the technician (!) plugged the car into the all knowing computer it returned a fault that nobody had seen before! I say bring back mechanics in blue overalls with grease under their fingernails and Biro stains above their top pocket? It turned out that the problem was a blocked exhaust system which I suspect could have been rectified inside a couple of hours had the diagnosis been right. Here comes the good news! I had to take my car to a specialist exhaust fitter called Top Gear (no relation to the BBC) based in Aylesbury. On arrival I was pleasantly surprised to see a wheelchair accessible ramp and wide door and on entering was greeted by the owner, who like me was a wheelchair user! Sadly this was an extraordinary moment as I’ve only been served by wheelchair user once before! Anyway enough of this motoring mumble there have been a number of more important and interesting stories in the last week the best of which I’ve posted below. I hope you find them useful.
Government faces criticism over mental health jury ban

The government has refused to explain its failure to fulfil a long-standing promise to reconsider the ban on people with mental health conditions serving on juries.

Under the Juries Act, anyone receiving treatment for a mental health condition from a medical practitioner cannot sit on a jury.

The government promised in 2004 to launch a consultation on removing the ban, but has so far failed to act.

Since the pledge, an estimated 50,000 people have been barred from jury service.

The mental health charity Rethink this week launched a campaign to pressure the government to keep its promise. It wants the blanket ban replaced by a simple test of a person’s capacity.

It comes only weeks after the government launched its New Horizons mental health strategy, with a major focus on tackling the stigma around mental illness, including plans for a ministerial summit meeting on the issue.

Paul Jenkins, Rethink’s chief executive, said: “People with mental health problems should be judged on their capacity, not according to their diagnostic label.”

In a letter to justice secretary Jack Straw, Jenkins says the law “blatantly discriminates against people affected by mental illness”.

He says the quality of justice would be improved if juries included people with direct experience of mental illness, as mental health awareness in the court system is often poor.

Writer and broadcaster Stephen Fry, who has bipolar disorder, backed the campaign, and said such exclusion was “unfair and discriminatory, and eliminates a whole tranche of law-abiding, competent individuals who should be entitled to play their part in the justice system”. The Criminal Bar Association also backed the campaign. Paul Mendelle, chair of the association, said juries should “represent a cross-section of society” and that a blanket ban “seems inappropriate”.

But a Ministry of Justice spokesman said that “any change would need to strengthen our jury system” and “there can be no question of changing the law to allow people to serve as jurors where their ability to do so is in doubt”.

He said about two per cent of people are excluded from jury service because they are receiving mental health treatment, and the government continued to “keep the position under review”.

But he declined to explain why there should not be a capacity test rather than a ban, or how the government justified a ban in the wake of its New Horizons strategy.
Peers call for legal duty on accessible information

A new, explicit legal duty to provide accessible information should be included in the government’s equality bill, according to peers.

The amendments to the bill were proposed by the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low during its committee stage in the Lords.

Lord Low, a vice-president of the charity RNIB, told fellow peers his amendments would impose a duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to avoid “substantial disadvantage” caused by providing inaccessible information.

He said the ability to handle information was “critical to being able to participate effectively in society”, but was largely denied to blind and partially-sighted people and others who are “print disabled”.

He said removing barriers created by inaccessible information was “as important to the inclusion of those with print disabilities as the removal of the barriers created by physical features is to those with physical disabilities”.

And he said a Department for Work and Pensions survey of public bodies found only a quarter of them offered information in large print, eight per cent on disk or CD, and just four per cent advertised the availability of Braille.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell said accessible information was “as important to blind and deaf people as a ramp is to me, a wheelchair-user” and that blind friends “still have to ask, and at times beg, for information in a suitable, accessible format”.

There was also wide backing for Lord Low’s amendments from other peers.

Baroness Thornton, for the government, said she felt “humbled” and “ashamed” that the government and other public bodies were still struggling to provide accessible information, but suggested the emphasis should be on compliance with existing implied legal duties. But she said the government would examine Lord Low’s amendments to see if it could come up with a way of improving access to information through the bill.

The government also introduced a new amendment to the bill – backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – which makes it clear that disabled people should not be charged for the cost of introducing reasonable adjustments.

Baroness Thornton said concerns had been raised by disability organisations, and in a speech during the bill’s second reading by Baroness Campbell.

Baroness Campbell said she was “thrilled” by the new amendment, and Lord Low said he welcomed “the government’s change of heart and their habit of listening and reflecting”.
New scheme will help businesses with their growing pains

A new scheme will help disabled entrepreneurs expand their businesses, and challenge potential investors to see past negative stereotypes.

Enabled4Growth (E4G) hopes to offer free business support to 700 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across London, helping many of them to secure the funding they need from investors.

The programme, being run by Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, aims to help disabled entrepreneurs bring in more than £1.6 million in investment funding over the next three years.

Disabled-led businesses in the capital will be given the support they need to become ready for investment, and then brought together with investors at “brokerage” events to pitch for finance.

LCD will also use these brokerage events to provide disability awareness training for investors, with the long-term aim of trying to level the playing field for other disabled entrepreneurs seeking business finance from banks, private investors and grant-making bodies.

Disabled entrepreneur Amar Latif, who runs Traveleyes, which provides holidays for visually-impaired travellers, said: “It was a real hurdle to get people to take me seriously. I was this blind guy who runs a travel business asking for a loan to expand.

“It is very tough to secure potential investment and from listening to fellow entrepreneurs I hear the same story time and time again.”

Kevin Davey, E4G’s senior business advisor, said much of the investment sector finds it difficult to spot good opportunities when confronted with businesses led by disabled entrepreneurs.

He said he hoped the training for investors would help them to “spot a disabled winner”, and he added: “Over the last decade there are many examples of high growth SMEs led by disabled entrepreneurs.

“Many of them have been able to secure credit lines and various forms of financial support to assist them in their growth, but they have really had to work extremely hard to secure them.”

He said the recession had made the market even more difficult for disabled entrepreneurs. “It is very crowded at the moment and there is a huge queue for credit and we will have to work very hard.”

For more information, visit www.enabled4growth.com
Disabled women take over makeover show

Three disabled women who want to feel better about their bodies and how they look and dress are set to feature in a Channel 4 makeover show.

The three-part “special”, How to Look Good Naked…With a Difference, also takes aim at the failure of high street retailers to use disabled people in fashion and advertising.

The three shows feature a wheelchair-user, a mum-of-three with a prosthetic leg and a blind magistrate, who all have problems with their own “body confidence”.

Presenter Gok Wan also brings 11 disabled volunteers together for a naked group photograph.

He said: “I was very nervous before going in and making these shows because I hadn’t worked with women with disabilities before.

“I didn’t know the language; I didn’t know the approach; so what I did is I said, ‘right, as far as I’m concerned, you’re like any other woman on How to Look Good Naked. I’m here to help you, I’m here to sort out your fashion, I’m here to make you feel better about yourself,’ and then they taught me about their disabilities and I tried to marry those two together.”

He described the group photo shoot – themed as a feast in a castle – as “very debauched, dark, lovely and beautiful”.

The first episode features Tracy Warren, from Leicestershire, who says she hates parts of her body and thinks she can never look sexy in her wheelchair.

As well as the trio of subjects, the three-part special also features journalist Nikki Fox and actress and writer Natasha Wood, both of whom want to see more disabled people represented on the high street, disabled Hollyoaks actress Kelly-Marie Stewart and Paralympic athlete John McFall.

The first episode is on Tuesday, 19 January, at 8pm on Channel 4.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Should we campaign to make snow wheelchair accessible!!

Let me begin by wishing you a very Happy New Year. I hope you had a really relaxing time over the Christmas holiday and are now revitalised and refreshed. That is of course if you have been able to get back to work at all!! Snow maybe picturesque, visually stunning and all that kind of thing but it’s a total nightmare to push through if you use a wheelchair, even worse if you use sticks! I think we require amendments to the DDA to either have all snow ramped or provide snow chains for wheelchairs as a reasonable adjustment!!Any supporters?

On a more serious note this very cold weather has clearly caused major problems for severely disabled people particularly those who are older. What is often overlooked, of course is the additional stress this places on those people who provide care or support to family members or neighbours etc. Where would we be without them! The knock on effect for some employers, of course, is that some of their staff are unable to come into work not because they can’t but because they have additional caring responsibilities which may be unknown to the employer. The recent press coverage of the impact on employers caused by the closure of schools has not picked up on this issue.

I’ve posted a couple of stories that I think might be of interest to you but as always do drop me a note if you want to know more or if you have an issue you think I might help with.

Government launches ‘urgent review’ of Pathways to Work

The government has admitted that its Pathways to Work programme to help disabled people into work is “less effective” than it first thought, and has launched an urgent review.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the programme – first piloted in 2003 – had not helped as many disabled people into work as it had hoped.

An independent study into Pathways to Work pilots had found that disabled people in Pathways areas were about 25 per cent more likely to be in work after 18 months than those in non-Pathways areas.

But a report published last October found that when Pathways – which can offer work-focused interviews, help applying for jobs and managing a health condition, and financial assistance – was rolled out to other Jobcentre Plus areas it had no effect on employment rates, compared with non-Pathways areas.

Now the government has launched an “evidence-gathering review” of the back-to-work support provided by Pathways to people on incapacity benefit and the new employment and support allowance.

It aims to publish proposals on the future of Pathways this spring, but says it wants to move to a “simpler, stronger, more personalised model of support”, with a focus on “rights and responsibilities” and value for money.

Adrian Whyatt, chair of the user group Neurodiversity International, said the government had awarded Pathways contracts to large organisations which failed to involve or understand disabled people, while disabled people’s organisations were too small to bid for contracts.

The contracts failed to ensure providers set up boards of disabled people to control the programmes, so there was a “lack of expertise” at “every stage of the process”, he added.

A DWP spokesman said Pathways had helped more than 173,000 people into work, and helped to “significantly” narrow the gap between the overall employment rate and that of disabled people.

But he said more needed to be done, which was why the government was reviewing Pathways “to explore how we can further support those who can work fulfil that goal”.

He said the government believed that “organisations of all sizes, small and large, from the public, private and voluntary sectors, have an important role to play in helping people back to work”.

He added: “We work continuously with providers to help them find ways to improve and enhance the service they provide to this customer group, actively encouraging prime contractors to engage with niche providers who have the specialist knowledge necessary.”
Seminars will help disabled people become NHS leaders

Disabled people who would like to take up senior roles within their local NHS are being urged to sign up for a seminar to help them make successful applications.

The seminars in Manchester and London are being run by the disability charity RADAR and the Appointments Commission, the independent body that helps government departments and NHS trusts appoint their board members.

Those who attend will be told how to apply for roles as non-executive directors in primary care trusts, ambulance service trusts, acute or foundation NHS trusts, or strategic health authorities, and what their duties would involve if successful.

Government figures show that only one in 20 appointees to the boards of the UK’s 1,200 public bodies is disabled or has a long-term health condition.

The government aims to increase this to nearly one in seven new appointments (14 per cent) by March 2011.

Those who attend the free seminars will meet recruitment consultants and disabled people who have secured senior NHS positions, as well as the chief executives of RADAR and the Appointments Commission.

There are up to 20 places available at each seminar, all for people living with ill-health, injury or disability.

Mark Shrimpton, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, said: “These free of charge events are fantastic opportunities for people affected by ill health, injury or disability to prime themselves to make successful applications to help run their local NHS services in a paid capacity.

“Delegates will get a whole day’s access to the CEOs of both RADAR and the Appointments Commission, as well as other key movers and shakers.”

The Appointments Commission will also provide support in pursuing an appointment after the event for delegates with the right skills and experience.

The all-day seminars take place in London on 11 February and in Manchester on 1 March.

For more information, contact Nisha Patel at nisha.patel@radar.org.uk ortel: 020 7503 6177.

News provided by John Pring atwww.disabilitynewsservice.com

White Christmas??

It must be Christmas there is snow on the ground! Although I do recall not that many years ago when we had snow at the beginning of the cricket season! So this is the final blog until 30 December by which time many of you will have gained a few pounds, questioned the amount you spent and be preparing for the new year resolutions! I hope that you all have a really good time over the Christmas period and you are able to relax for some of the time!

Now down to business! This week we’ve seen developments concerning the Equalities Bill, Hate Crime and Assisted Suicide.
Disabled peers ready for battle on equality bill

Three disabled peers say they will fight to ensure that the equality bill does not lower the level of protection for disabled people currently provided by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins and Lord [Colin] Low were speaking during the second reading of the bill in the Lords.

Each welcomed the bill – which streamlines existing equality laws – but warned that parts of it provide less protection than the DDA.

Baroness Campbell said the bill could “genuinely transform opportunities over time” but gains made through the DDA must not be “lost in translation in the equality bill”.

She said she was particularly concerned that the public sector duty to promote equality would be weaker on disability equality than the DDA.

And she said the bill fails to make it “absolutely clear” that service-providers cannot charge to provide reasonable adjustments.

She also expressed concern that an immigration measure in the bill could lead to seriously-ill disabled people being denied entry or leave to remain in the UK “in contravention of the most basic human rights”.

Baroness Wilkins said she was disappointed the bill had not adopted a more “social model” definition of disability, to improve on the current situation where discrimination can only be proved if an impairment has lasted a year.

She said it was “a travesty” that so much tribunal time was wasted “arguing about how disabled someone is, rather than focusing on the discrimination that may have taken place”.

But she said she was “delighted” the bill would make it illegal for landlords to prevent reasonable requests from disabled tenants to make physical alterations to communal hallways and entrances, so they are not “imprisoned in their own home”, something she has campaigned for since 2004.

Lord Low said parts of the bill were “particularly welcome to disabled people”, including its reversal of the 2008 Lewisham v Malcolm Lords ruling, which “threatened to wreak so much havoc with the concept of disability-related discrimination”.

But he said several parts “remain of concern to disabled people”, including a clause that “explicitly authorises an exam system that disadvantages disabled candidates” and says minimising this is “merely desirable, not necessary”.

And Lord Low said he would table an amendment to “introduce an explicit duty to provide accessible information”.

Baroness Royall, for the government, said she was “carefully” considering the comments of the three peers, and others, on the public sector equality duty, and would discuss further the issue around reasonable adjustment costs.
Still no justice on disability hate crime, say professionals

The criminal justice system is still failing to take the issue of disability hate crime seriously enough, according to a poll of professionals.

Nearly 50 delegates from local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service, police forces, central government and voluntary organisations attended theOvercoming a Crisis of Justice conference on disability hate crime.

During a voting session at the conference – organised by Westminster Briefing – nearly four-fifths of delegates said the criminal justice system failed to take disability hate crime as seriously as other hate crimes.

Nearly seven in ten said the court process was “unfriendly and inaccessible” to disabled people.

And 86 per cent said they believed that not enough was being done to ensure that disabled people were seen as targets of hostility, and not just “easy targets”.

But nearly half the delegates said that tackling disability hate crime was high on the agenda in their local area.

Katharine Quarmby, author of the Getting Away With Murder report on disability hate crime, who spoke at the conference, said there was a feeling of “real disappointment and frustration” that the criminal justice system was still failing to treat disabled people equally.

She said: “It was an audience of very highly-skilled professionals with a really good understanding of what’s happening on the ground.

“If they are so disappointed in the criminal justice system, it really shows that the system hasn’t changed.”

Quarmby said the conference also underlined the urgent need for research to discover what motivates offenders to target disabled people in hate crimes.

But she said she was encouraged that criminal justice agencies appeared to be much clearer that lower-level harassment of disabled people often develops into something much more serious, such as hate crime murders.

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, who chaired the conference, said he was encouraged that delegates had recognised the importance of taking such harassment seriously and “looking more systematically at this lower level of crime”.
Guidance on assisted suicide law ‘must be toughened’

New guidance aimed at clarifying the law on assisted suicide must make it clear that nearly everyone who helps a person to kill themselves will be prosecuted, according to leading disabled activists.

Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK) was responding to a public consultation on interim guidance published by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) in September.

The DPP laid out interim guidelines for England, Wales and Northern Ireland after the Law Lords backed Debbie Purdy’s demand for the law to be clarified.

Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, wanted to know in which circumstances her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her end her life at the Dignitas assisted suicide centre in Switzerland.

But NDY UK – whose members are disabled people campaigning against assisted suicide – says pro-euthanasia campaigners are trying to use Purdy’s case to “change the law by the back door” by “creating the impression that those who assist in a suicide will be immune from prosecution”.

NDY UK’s views have been endorsed by a swathe of influential disabled people’s organisations, including the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, RADAR and the National Centre for Independent Living.

Many disabled campaigners were angered by the interim guidance, which lists factors to be considered in deciding whether to prosecute.

It says a prosecution is less likely if the victim had a terminal illness, a “severe and incurable physical disability” or a “severe degenerative physical condition”.

But NDY UK says in its response to the consultation that a presumption that anyone assisting in a suicide would be prosecuted would protect those who feel pressured to kill themselves and reassure them that society valued their lives.

It would also send a message to those working in palliative care and hospices that their work was valued and “put the brakes on a growing negative culture, which does not value the lives of all people equally”.

And it would ensure the policy does not discriminate against disabled people, sending out “a very clear message that all people should be protected under the law, in the same way, with the same respect”.

NDY UK says the DPP should only be able to decline to prosecute if the suspect only assisted after “protracted and persistent pressure from the victim”.

NDY UK says this is the “only potentially acceptable factor against prosecution”, although there should be evidence that the suspect resisted this pressure and sought help from professionals to try to avoid the suicide.

A final policy is expected in the spring.

News provided by John Pring at jpringnews@googlemail.com

Mental Health Initiatives Launched

A week of little excitement news wise however two important initiatives affecting those who have a mental health impairment and employers. Let’s hope these developments lead to a reduction in the appallng unemployment figures for this dsadvantaged group of people.
Mental health launch: intensive support will boost numbers in work

Prejudice, low expectations and a lack of support are denying people with mental health conditions the chance to work, according to a major new review.

Realising Ambitions – commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – says more than a million people with mental health conditions are claiming welfare benefits, with probably twice as many out-of-work.

It was one of four reports around mental health launched by the government on 7 December.

The review, led by Dr Rachel Perkins, a mental health service-user and a director at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, examines what can be done – outside the benefits system – to help people with mental health conditions into work.

The report calls for intensive, specialised support, based on the individual placement and support (IPS) approach Perkins has pioneered in the UK, in which people are helped to get a job and there is long-term support for both employers and employees.

Perkins said there should be “quite significant” changes to the access to work (ATW) scheme, so people can discover their eligibility before applying for a job, and employees and employer can call on support when needed.

Currently, less than one per cent of ATW claimants have a mental health condition.

The review also says small businesses should be able to use ATW to fund temporary cover if an employee is on long-term sick leave for an impairment-related reason.

And it recommends further changes to the “permitted work” rules, which allow people to work part-time while still receiving benefits so as to ease their path towards full-time work.

The government already allows those on employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit to earn £93 a week for up to a year without their benefits being affected.

But the review says this should be extended to all who could benefit, including many people with mental health conditions on income support or jobseeker’s allowance.

Perkins said she was also “very concerned” at the lack of connection between employment services and health and social services.

Other recommendations include: more focus in the welfare-to-work system on assisting people with mental health conditions, and regular monitoring of their job status by health, social services and the DWP; employment specialists to be “embedded” in all mental health and social services teams; and Jobcentre Plus to arrange internships to ease people’s transition from benefits to paid work.

The review concludes that the government and public sector have often “lagged behind” the private sector in providing jobs for those with mental health conditions.

Perkins said she was “really pleased” that the government had appeared to accept the ATW recommendations, but hoped it would go further on permitted work.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said the review, if implemented in full, would “make the right to work real for hundreds of thousands of talented people”, ending injustice and reaping “huge dividends for our economy”.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it knew that IPS can be “effective and cost-effective” and the review had formed a “blueprint” for local areas to put it into practice.
Mental health launch: strategy ‘will replace prejudice with opportunity’

The government has launched a new “over-arching” mental health strategy for England, with the twin aims of providing better services and improving the nation’s mental health.

The cross-government New Horizons strategy was launched alongside three linked publications around mental health and employment.

New Horizons promises that services for people with mental ill health will be “safe, accessible and personal” while “opportunity…will replace prejudice”.

But it warns that all plans arising from New Horizons would be “subject to a review of affordability”.

The strategy includes 120 cross-government actions, with measures to improve services for younger people and the transition to adult services, boost personalisation, and improve the physical healthcare of people with mental health conditions and the mental health of those in the armed forces and service veterans.

There will also be a “refreshed” strategy on suicide prevention.

A section of the strategy is devoted to tackling stigma, including a planned “summit” meeting of ministers to discuss cross-government action, and funding for a website that will allow the public to praise or complain to journalists writing about mental health.

Health secretary Andy Burnham described the strategy as “a bold statement of intent” and a “radical new approach” which “lays the foundation for further action” after a decade of record investment in mental health services.

And the prime minister, Gordon Brown, said the strategy combined “service improvement with a new partnership of central and local government, the third sector and the professions”.

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of the charity Rethink, said New Horizons could “revolutionise” services and the lives of people with severe mental health conditions, but warned that mental health budgets were vulnerable to cuts in a recession and called for government funding guarantees.

Mind said New Horizons had “broken new ground” and was “a turning point that no new government can turn back from”, but that its aim to “improve everyone’s wellbeing” should not draw attention from the poor services and lack of support in many areas.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said investment in adult mental health services had increased in real terms by 50 per cent, or £2 billion, since 2001-02, and “we cannot depend on that scale of extra investment being repeated”.

But she said the strategy demonstrates “how we can make enormous progress” through prevention, earlier intervention, innovation, collaboration and improved productivity.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, has given the strongest sign yet that the government will act to remove a law that saysMPs sectioned for at least six months must lose their seats.

He said: “It is an anachronism and it needs to be dumped. We need to find the right legislation to attach it to. I am sure that that is what we will do.”

News provided by John Pring atjpringnews@googlemail.com

So much going on!

I make no apologies for the length of this Blog as so much seems to have been going on! I suppose December 3rd being the International Day of Disabled People might have contributed something to the flurry of stories.

As chair of RADAR it was a busy week. We held our “Summit” entitled Future Proofing Equality which focussed on a number of key issues that affect disabled people for example Leadership, Finance, IT, Access and 2012 and Independent Living. The event attracted close on 150 people drawn from all sectors; business, public and 3rd. This was followed by our People of the Year Awards celebration. We had 600 people in attendance with Frank Gardener acting as host. I got home at 2:30 am and when I left people were still dancing! A brilliant evening with some amazing individuals and organisations picking up awards. Well done to all at RADAR for putting together such a fantastic day and evening. It was also the week when I’m pleased to say that the EHRC has decided to launch an enquiry into harassment and hate crime provoked in part by the tragic case involving Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francceca. Let’s hope that some good will come out of this appalling tragedy. There is a report on this announcement below.
Disabled Person’s Organisations recognised in awards ceremony

Two disabled activists have won prestigious awards that recognise their work with pioneering disabled people’s organisations.

Mike Adams, chief executive of Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ECDP), said he was “honoured” to win RADAR’s person of the year award.

Adams has helped create a “beacon” user-led organisation that empowers disabled people to influence local services.

ECDP also provides high quality services to disabled people across Essex, and increasingly influences policy, both locally and nationally.

Since he took the post in 2007, Adams has overseen an increase in ECDP’s funding by 53 per cent, staffing by over 25 per cent and membership from 80 to nearly 1,500.

He said: “Our challenge is to make it the business of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations everywhere to lead the change required to enhance the everyday lives of disabled people in Essex and beyond.”

RADAR’s lifetime achievement award was won by Julie Jaye Charles, who has built up Equalities National Council (ENC), a national movement for black and minority ethnic (BME) disabled people and carers, since founding it in 2000.

Charles has helped develop advocacy, promote the take-up of direct payments in BME communities and helped tackle race discrimination in mental health services.

She said she was “still in shock” and “very humbled” by the award and hoped it would push the needs of BME disabled people higher up the agenda.

She said: “My pride comes from the amount of service-users that actually want to be part of ENC, who continue to knock on our door, just to be part of something that recognises their needs.”

The disabled young person of the year award was won by Riam Dean, who triumphed in a high-profile discrimination case after taking on the might of the American clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch.

Other winners at the annual People of the Year Awards included the Association of Disabled Professionals, which won the careers award for its work in providing advice, peer support and networking opportunities for disabled people in professional and managerial positions.

And the efforts of a group of people with learning difficulties to encourage other disabled people to register to vote for the first time was recognised with RADAR’s access award.

Members of Promote the Vote, run by Cambridgeshire-based Speaking Up, have led 50 workshops explaining to other people with learning difficulties why they should vote, and have set up an accessible website to spread the word. (If you’d like to know more just visithttp://www.radar.org.uk/radarwebsite/tabid/265/default.aspx)
Equality watchdog to launch inquiry into violence and harassment

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has announced a major inquiry that aims to discover the true extent of the harassment and violence experienced by disabled people in England and Wales.

The commission announced in April that it would review how public bodies – such as local authorities and social landlords – were meeting their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act to take action to address violence and hostility targeted at disabled people.

But it has become so concerned by evidence it has heard since then of incidents of violence and harassment across the country that it has decided to hold a formal inquiry.

After the inquiry ends, the EHRC could decide to take legal action to force public authorities to comply with their duties.

The commission has pledged to put disabled people and their organisations at the heart of the inquiry, and there are likely to be public sessions around the country at which they can give evidence.

Neil Crowther, the EHRC’s disability programme director, said: “At its heart there needs to be a very strong involvement of disabled people and public authorities in a conversation about what needs to change.”

And he said there would probably be parts of the country where disabled people were at greater risk of harassment and violence than others.

Disabled anti-hate crime campaigners have welcomed the inquiry.

Anne Novis, who leads on hate crime issues for the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, said it was long overdue, and hoped the EHRC would work closely with disabled people and their organisations, which have been raising concerns around hate crime for “many years”.

And Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, said the inquiry was a “good first step” in tackling the problem.

The inquiry’s results are likely to feed into a major EHRC report, due in 2011, in which it will analyse the UK government’s progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The announcement follows a string of high-profile cases of targeted violence and harassment against disabled people, including the death of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca following a sustained hate campaign by a local gang.

Mike Smith, the EHRC’s new disabled commissioner, said: “There have been many well-documented cases where targeted hostility, bullying and antisocial behaviour has escalated into more serious violence, murder or the death of disabled people.”

He said the Pilkington tragedy showed the importance of early intervention and preventative action, and warned that disabled people experiencing harassment can become “conditioned to hostile treatment”, are told to ignore it, or go to “enormous lengths” to avoid putting themselves at risk.

Draft terms of reference are expected early in the new year, with the inquiry likely to begin in early February and report within a year.
Home secretary attacked by MPs over McKinnon extradition

MPs and campaigners have attacked the home secretary’s latest refusal to halt the extradition of disabled computer hacker Gary McKinnon to the United States.

Alan Johnson MP had been considering new evidence relating to McKinnon’s mental health, which suggested that he was highly likely to try to kill himself if extradited.

McKinnon’s lawyers have now been given until 10 December to lodge papers seeking a judicial review of Johnson’s decision. If that fails, they could also appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

McKinnon, from north London, who has Asperger’s syndrome, faces a trial for allegedly hacking into US defense department computer systems, and a possible prison sentence of 60 years if convicted.

During an emergency debate in the Commons, McKinnon’s MP, David Burrowes, accused Johnson and the government of being “spineless” and said the new medical evidence showed that “suicide is now a real probability and will be an almost certain inevitability should he experience extradition”.

He said: “Putting it more bluntly, how ill and vulnerable does Gary McKinnon need to be not to be extradited to the United States?”

A string of other MPs from across the political spectrum attacked the home secretary’s failure to halt the extradition.

But Johnson told MPs he had “looked at every single word submitted by Gary McKinnon’s lawyers on the evidence of his medical condition” and his decision was that extraditing McKinnon would not breach his rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.

He added: “There are legitimate concerns about Mr McKinnon’s health, and the United States authorities have provided assurances, which were before the high court in July, that his needs will be met.”

And he said it was “clear” there was “no real risk” that McKinnon would serve any of his sentence in a “supermax” prison, if convicted.

He added: “Should Mr McKinnon be extradited, charged and convicted in the US and seek repatriation to the UK to serve his sentence in this country, the government will progress his application at the very earliest opportunity.”

The Royal Association for Disability Rights (RADAR) condemned the home secretary’s decision and said many disabled people had expressed their “outrage” at a decision that “flies in the face of justice and human rights”.

The National Autistic Society, which has provided emergency care for McKinnon – detailed in the new evidence – said it was “bitterly disappointed” by the home secretary’s decision.

News provided by John Pring atjpringnews@googlemail.com