The shocking truth about disability benefits: Successful appeals double in a decade

Disabled people are almost twice as likely to win their disability benefit appeal than they were 10 years ago, at the start of almost a decade of Conservative control of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

DWP has this week refused to explain why the success rate for disability benefit appeals at tribunal has nearly doubled in the last 10 years.

The figures, based on Disability News Service (DNS) analysis of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data, cast yet more doubt on personal independence payment (PIP) and how it has been managed by ministers since its introduction.

But they also raise concerns about the overall quality of decision-making in DWP – both on PIP and disability living allowance (DLA) – and the apparent push to remove benefits unlawfully from as many disabled people as possible in the name of austerity.

And they raise fresh concerns about the performance of outsourcing companies Atos and Capita, which are being paid hundreds of millions of pounds to assess PIP claimants.

The DNS analysis of MoJ figures from the last decade shows that the proportion of tribunal appeals that found in favour of DLA claimants was just 38 per cent in 2010-11, the first year of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

But in every year since 2010-11, that success rate has increased, to 40 per cent in 2011-12, 41 per cent in 2012-13, then to 42 per cent, 49 per cent, 56 per cent, 58 per cent, 60 per cent, and finally 66 per cent in 2018-19.

Meanwhile, the rate of tribunal success for claimants of PIP, which was introduced in 2013 to gradually replace DLA for working-age claimants, has risen from 26 per cent in 2013-14, to 50 per cent in 2014-15, to 61 per cent the following year, and then to 65 per cent in 2015-16 and 68 per cent in 2017-18.

The latest figures released by MoJ this month show that 73 per cent of PIP claimants in 2018-19 saw the decision originally made by DWP decision-makers revised in their favour at tribunal.

This is almost twice the rate of success of DLA claimants in 2010-11.

Figures for the latest quarter – April to June 2019 – show the PIP rate of overturn has continued to climb even further, and has now reached 75 per cent, the same as the rate for employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit.

DWP has repeatedly tried to argue that only about four or five per cent of all PIP claims are eventually appealed successfully.

But many rejected claimants do not challenge the benefit decision handed to them by DWP, with DWP’s own research – published last autumn – showing that hundreds of thousands more claimants would have taken further steps to challenge the results of their claims if the system was less stressful and more accessible.

The rate of success is also far higher for appeals against PIP claims that have been completely rejected, with DNS revealing earlier this year that one in seven (14 per cent) of all rejected PIP claims is eventually overturned, either at the mandatory reconsideration stage – where DWP civil servants review decisions, if requested – or at tribunal.

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said the increase in the proportion of successful appeals showed that DWP was “making more and more wrong PIP entitlement decisions”.

She said: “And as mandatory reconsiderations and the hoops that PIP and other claimants have to go through are real barriers to access to justice, the number and percentage of wrong first time PIP decisions have to be much higher.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, showing that not only the assessment in itself is flawed, but DWP staff are not complying with the law.”

Yesterday (Wednesday), DWP refused to offer an explanation for the increase in the proportion of successful appeals over the last decade, and refused to say if the figures showed the department and its contractors had been trying increasingly to find people unfairly ineligible for DLA and PIP in order to cut spending.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want people to get the right PIP outcome as quickly as possible.

“That’s why we have introduced a new approach to gather evidence so that fewer people have to go to appeal, and we have recruited extra staff to help reduce waiting times.”

He said this related to a “new operational approach where we are proactively contacting claimants to gather additional oral and written evidence during a mandatory reconsideration for PIP”.

19 September 2019


DWP’s silence on its own annual progress report on disability… and its string of flops

The government’s own report on its progress in building an inclusive society for disabled people – and the string of failures included in the document – has been ignored by the disability minister, and his department’s press office.

The policy paper was published on the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) website – but not on its home page – and was completely ignored on social media by Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

ODI’s own Twitter account overlooked the progress report’s publication on 12 September, as did DWP’s main Twitter account, while the department failed to issue a press release to mark what DWP described as an annual progress report “on the UK’s vision to build a society which is fully inclusive of disabled people”.

Tomlinson’s refusal to publicise the report could be linked to its potentially embarrassing contents.

The government brags in the policy paper that it is setting up a new regional stakeholder network to improve engagement with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.

But eight months after it first issued a call for applicants, it has yet to announce the names of those appointed, a delay which may be connected to the government’s decision not to pay the members, or even the chairs, of the nine new regional groups.

The report also fails to mention that the government has issued no updates or progress reports on its discredited Fulfilling Potential disability strategy since November 2015, nearly four years ago.

There has been a broad welcome for the decision – announced in June in one of Theresa May’s last announcements as prime minister – that ODI will move in November from DWP to the Cabinet Office as part of a new “equalities hub at the heart of government”.

Tomlinson says in the report that this will bring disability “to the very heart of Government and recognises that disabled people face barriers across a wide range of aspects of their lives”.

He also repeats his pledge that the government will “strengthen the evidence base on disability and improve engagement with disabled people and their organisations”.

But in February, in a meeting with his predecessor, Sarah Newton, disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) repeated their concerns at the government’s continuing failure to understand the principles around engagement with disabled people and DPOs, as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The previous month, campaigners were left “shocked and appalled” by the government’s decision to hold a workshop on the barriers facing disabled people without inviting a single DPO to take part, again in breach of its UNCRPD obligations.

The policy paper was published alongside a second report – which again was not publicised by DWP – that details the government’s progress in responding to a high-profile 2016 UN report which found it had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of the convention by discriminating against disabled people.

Most of this discrimination was as a result of policies introduced by Conservative DWP ministers between 2010 and 2015.

This second report lists government policies introduced since 2016, some of which are also included in the policy paper, but also cover developments on legal aid, disability benefits assessments, disability employment, and disability hate crime.

The policy paper on progress in building an inclusive society also attempts to brag about a string of other government failures on disability.

One of those is the new “Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society”, which was set up 18 months ago.

But Disability News Service (DNS) reported in July that the group met just three times in more than a year.

Another success claimed by Tomlinson is the appointment of “18 Sector Champions”, chosen to “raise awareness of the needs of disabled consumers and encourage their sectors to improve the accessibility and quality of their services and facilities for disabled people”.

But DNS revealed earlier this month that DWP had admitted having no idea how many of the sector champions – there are actually 19, not 18 – are disabled people themselves.

One of DWP’s few successes has been to increase the number of disabled people in paid employment – the policy paper points to an increase of 404,000 between 2017 and 2019 – although research by DPOs showed last year that more than half the increase in disability employment in the previous four years had been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs.

The policy paper also boasts that the government has doubled the number of employment advisers placed within mental health talking therapy services.

But these placements have been hugely controversial and members of the mental health survivor movement last month launched a campaign to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work was an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.

The policy paper praises the government’s Disability Confident scheme, which has so far seen about 12,000 employers sign up since it was launched by the then prime minister David Cameron more than six years ago.

Many critics have argued that it is easy for employers to sign up to the scheme and then continue to discriminate against disabled people, and not even employ a single disabled person while still proclaiming themselves to be “Disability Confident”.

DNS reported last year how the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP – which is itself a Disability Confident “leader” – by its own staff over a 20-month period.

And DNS reported last year that the nearly 7,000 employers that had signed up by then to Disability Confident had promised to provide just 4,500 new jobs for disabled people between them.

There is also a mention in the policy paper for the government’s role in supporting Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day.

DWP’s involvement in the scheme led to calls for a boycott from disabled activists, amid fears that CCTV footage from the event could be used to dispute disability benefit claims.

The policy paper also mentions the EnAble Fund for Elected Office, which helped 19 disabled people win seats at May’s local elections by paying for their disability-related expenses.

But the government has refused to extend the scheme to general election candidates, with one warning last month that this failure had “completely cut disabled people out of the political arena”.

Asked about the failure to publicise the report, and whether this was because Tomlinson was embarrassed about its contents, a DWP spokesperson said: “This government has a strong track record on breaking down the barriers that disabled people can face in every area of their lives.

“This policy paper is an annual summary of improvements made throughout the year – it contains no further information that is not already available in the public domain – and is publicly available on the website.”

Another DWP spokesperson said: “We will be announcing further details of the Regional Stakeholder Network in due course.”

19 September 2019


Lib Dem conference: Party ‘probably overlooked’ working-age disabled people

The Liberal Democrats have admitted that they probably “overlooked” the need for a detailed policy on the care and support needs of working-age disabled people.

The admission to Disability News Service (DNS) by the party’s health spokesperson in the Lords, Baroness Jolly, came after party members criticised its new NHS and social care policy paper for ignoring those needs.

The policy paper refers to the “devastating” impact on health and social care posed by Brexit, and particularly a no-deal Brexit, including the effect on the country’s ability to recruit health and social care staff, and to source medication.

It says the party in government would raise an extra £6 billion to boost spending on social care, public health and mental health.

There are policies on carers and people with learning difficulties, including a pledge to give every person with learning difficulties the right to a named advocate to help them “navigate public services and access health, care and advice services”.

There is also a promise to set a new national target to reduce the gap in life expectancy between people with and without learning difficulties by one year every year.

And there is the promise of a more “ambitious” target for reducing the number of people with learning difficulties forced into assessment and treatment centres.

But despite the spending pledge and a mention of the “postcode lottery” in care, there is no discussion of how the party in government would address the support needs of working-age disabled people.

The failure comes at a time when backing for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) – proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) of disabled people’s grassroots groups – is gaining momentum.

A NILSS would see a legal right to independent living, with support provided free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, managed by central government, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

Baroness Jolly, who chairs the learning difficulties charity HfT, told the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth this week that the only way to secure the future of social care was through setting up a cross-party commission on health and social care.

This, according to the policy paper, would aim to set a “realistic” long-term funding settlement for the NHS and social care, and introduce a dedicated health and social care tax to fund it.

But there was frustration among members who spoke in the debate at the lack of a proper social care policy, with detail about how a Liberal Democrat government would reform adult social care.

Cllr June Greenwell, a Liberal Democrat member of Lancaster City Council, told the conference that she could not endorse the “deeply disappointing” policy paper because social care services were discussed “almost entirely, indeed entirely, through the prism of their effect on the NHS”.

She said: “Social care services matter because the people who need those services matter and they matter whatever the impact on the NHS, and we should be saying so.”

Greenwell said the party had failed to offer “a vision, an ambition to radically improve access to social care services”.

The party’s candidate to fight the North Warwickshire seat at the next general election, Richard Whelan, who himself has a council-funded support package, said the motion “does not go far enough”.

He told members debating the new policy paper: “For someone like me, we need more than just the basic care needs, we need personal assistance.

“We need help to live an independent life. Allowing me to get here today to speak to you… involves not just the care in the home, it involves help outside the home, but it also involves help with getting educational qualifications and getting into work.

“All these things go beyond the remit of this motion and this paper.”

He called for the party to set up a working group to discuss the issue, and to bring it back to conference next year “so that disabled people can live an independent life”.

The policy paper was approved by members and has now become party policy.

But Whelan told DNS after the debate: “It’s frustrating to me that all they have talked about is linking health and social care and care workers.”

He said the party did not seem to have a policy on the support needs of working-age disabled people.

Whelan appeared to support the NILSS idea, and a legal right to independent living, as proposed by ROFA.

He said he was pushing the party to set up a working group to report back with a motion on independent living at next year’s conference, and he added: “We have to do it properly.”

Baroness Jolly told DNS that the issue of the support needs of working-age disabled people was probably “overlooked rather than ignored” by the policy paper and the motion.

She blamed the party’s lack of resources to fund detailed policy work, caused she said by its performance at the last general election, which led to a lower level of funding for its parliamentary work.

She said: “We are a very under-resourced party.”

She said her message to working-age disabled people was: “Lib Dems look forward to the next general election where we would hope to increase the number of Lib Dem MPs which would then give us the capacity to expand our policy base.”

But she said she would also speak to senior people in the party and “ask them to plug the gap in today’s paper and today’s motion”.

Although the health and social care policy paper offered little to address the issue, another paper, on social security, poverty and access to services and skills, said the party wanted to reintroduce “a form of” the Independent Living Fund, which was closed by the Tory government in June 2015.

The social security paper, which has also now become party policy after being approved by members at the conference (see separate story), said a Liberal Democrat government would “reinstate a form of the Independent Living Fund to help people who need it to live independently in their community”.

But it also said it would “increase the role of local authorities in administering the support to ensure that it is properly responsive to local needs”, which could clash with calls for a NILSS.

The idea of a return of a form of ILF was not mentioned in either motion debated by the conference this week.

19 September 2019


Lib Dem conference: Party would keep universal credit… but scrap sanctions

The Liberal Democrats have ruled out scrapping universal credit (UC) if they win power at the next general election, but they have agreed to scrap all benefit sanctions.

At their annual conference in Bournemouth this week, members overwhelmingly endorsed the party’s new policy paper, A Fairer Share For All.

The party says it would “abolish the benefits sanctions system entirely” and replace it with a system of incentives, a policy which currently goes further than Labour, which so far has promised only to scrap the “punitive sanctions regime” and not all sanctions.

It came as reports suggested that Labour was considering scrapping UC if it wins power at the next general election, with the issue almost certain to be discussed at the party conference in Brighton, which starts on Saturday.

A report on UC in June, by Disabled People Against Cuts, contained “harrowing stories of people forced into debt, rent arrears, homelessness, crime, prostitution, hunger, people unable to afford fares to get to food banks, parents unable to get essentials for their babies, child poverty, worsening mental health, ex-service people considering suicide and even cases of actual suicide”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

The Liberal Democrats say they would reduce the much-criticised five-week wait for claimants to receive their first UC payment to just five days, while there would be an investment of at least £5 billion in improving the benefit system.

But the policy paper, which together with a motion approved by members this week is now Liberal Democrat policy, ruled out the idea of scrapping UC, which was introduced under the Tory-led coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It argues that “scrapping it and starting again when millions of people have now moved to the new system is impractical and would see more money spent again on administration rather than supporting people”.

Instead, a Liberal Democrat government would aim to “fix existing problems and construct a new benefits system which provides dignity and respect”.

It would also abolish the bedroom tax and offer instead “a positive incentive for people to downsize” their accommodation.

The paper does not explicitly repeat the party’s pledge made at the last election to scrap the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA), a process which has been linked to countless deaths of disabled people.

Instead, the party says it will bring the WCA “in-house” and ensure it is carried out “fairly and in a sensitive manner”.

But a party spokesman insisted that the policy had not changed and that the Liberal Democrats still wanted to see assessments “performed by the government in a fair and sensitive manner”.

This means scrapping WCAs and “replacing them with locally administered assessment”, he said, which would include “real world tests, so that people are assessed on their ability to do jobs that are available locally”.

Although the policy paper rules out introducing a universal basic income – which Labour has been considering – it says a Liberal Democrat government would pilot a scheme that offered a “guaranteed minimum income” through an “unconditional payment” of the standard UC allowance (currently £318 per month for a single adult over 24).

But Michael Berwick-Gooding told fellow party members during a debate on the new policy that they should “demand better”, including reintroducing the council tax benefit scheme and doing more to restore benefit levels that have been restricted by years of caps and freezes.

Another speaker, Cllr Dean Crofts, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Bedford, said the new policy just “tinkers with the welfare system”, which had already been “tinkered with for too long”.

He criticised the motion for failing to do more to highlight the poverty affecting disabled people, which he said was the group most affected by the government’s welfare reforms.

Ewan Hoyle, a party member from Glasgow who works in deprived communities in the city and who supported the motion, warned of the “dreadful” consequences of benefit sanctions.

He said: “The money given to benefit recipients doesn’t just vanish, it gets immediately recycled into the community within hours of its receipt.

“Every sanction, every five-week delay, is a crack in the fabric of that community.

“When you have no income and no means to feed your children, or heat your home, is it easy to turn away a drug dealer, a loan shark, a pimp, and the income they offer?

“Sanctions are a means to punish people the Daily Mail doesn’t like… I think society is ready for a change.”

He added: “With this motion we are for the many, we are for the few… and we are also for the other few that don’t fit into Labour’s ideal of the worker.

“We are for the depressed, the anxious, the psychotic, the sick, the addicted, the traumatised, the downright unlucky, who haven’t had their break.

“We will support those few, show them that they are not forgotten, and that they are valued members of our society.”

Linda Jack, who will fight the Luton South seat for the party at the next general election, won applause from some party members when she said the Liberal Democrats could not “completely wipe out our responsibility in terms of some of the changes in the benefits system that came about when we were in coalition”.

She said: “We did not make mistakes, we made choices.

“If we really want to get our credibility back and we want to be seen to be honest in this motion we absolutely have to acknowledge those mistakes, stop justifying them, and start apologising.”

Former party leader Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, who moved the motion, said he wanted the country to have “zero tolerance of poverty”, which meant “having a benefit system that works”.

He described the “disgraceful” treatment received by a constituent who had both physical and mental health impairments, and who was rarely able to leave her bed.

He said that the effort she made to reach her WCA was “absolutely heroic”, while she had cried with pain during most of the face-to-face interview.

But the assessor found her fit for work, even though she weighed just five stone, and wrote in the assessment report that she looked healthy and must be fit to work because she had managed to catch a bus to get to the assessment.

Farron said: “I could read a couple of hundred cases like that in Westmorland alone because we have a broken system that breaks those who already feel beaten.

“This is shameful, and it must end, so we will end the contracting out of work assessments and take responsibility back within government.

“Those in need must be treated with dignity, not contempt. We need a benefit system that helps, not hinders; that brings dignity, not destitution.”

One party member spoke in the same debate of a disabled friend whose Motability car was his “lifeline”, but who had had it taken away after a personal independence payment reassessment led to his mobility payment being cut.

After losing his car, he became unable to leave the house, and became depressed and highly anxious, and although he later won his appeal, he died following a heart attack before he could lease a new Motability vehicle.

19 September 2019 


Government faces legal action threat over accessible housing failure

The government is facing the threat of legal action over its failure to take action to solve the crisis in accessible housing.

The housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick has been told that he may have acted unlawfully over his failure to act.

Shortly before she resigned as prime minister, Theresa May announced a consultation on compulsory higher accessibility standards for new housing.

But there has apparently been no mention of the consultation since the announcement.

Now disabled campaigner Fleur Perry has written to Jenrick to raise these concerns and tell him about her own experience of the accessible housing crisis, while her solicitor at law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, Louise Whitfield, has detailed concerns about whether his department’s actions have been lawful.

Whitfield’s letter warns that Jenrick may have acted unlawfully by not complying with his public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

She says: “Given the very obvious lack of accessible housing suitable for disabled people, it is clear that the planning regime is not addressing the needs of this group, and is having an extremely negative effect on the lives of large numbers of disabled people.”

She says there is only “fleeting” mention of the housing needs of disabled people in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework and little or no guidance for councils that makes clear the need for accessible housing and their duties to plan for it.

Whitfield also questions the silence over the consultation since it was announced in June.

And she highlights the lack of guidance to help councils assess the need for accessible housing in their area, which they need to do if they want to set optional minimum requirements for the proportion of new homes that should be accessible and adaptable, and those that are suitable for wheelchair-users.

Research by Disability News Service showed last year that the home-building industry was engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes were built through trying to set such targets in their local plans.

Perry, who uses an electric wheelchair, says in her letter to Jenrick that it took her two-and-a-half years to find accessible housing in her home town of Swindon, a search she described as “like trying to find a needle in Loch Ness”.

She has spoken to disabled people who have been waiting for a decade for accessible housing or have been told by social services that it is pointless to even try to find somewhere.

She says: “There are waiting lists hundreds long seeking accessible council housing, and little being built.”

Perry points out that disabled people are being forced to turn down job offers, delay higher education opportunities or starting a family, while others are forced to live in just one or two rooms of their homes.

She said: “There are people living in houses that simply don’t fit, being exhausted by doing their day to day activities within a space that makes it take several times longer or several times more energy.”

Others are forced into nursing homes, she says.

She adds: “There are people unable to move from unsafe accommodation or abusive relationships, living at risk of or experiencing serious injury or harm because there’s nowhere to go.

“Supply is not meeting demand, and unless central and local government take action, nothing will change.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) spokesperson said the department would respond to the letters “in due course”.

He said: “Everyone should be able to access a home which fits their needs, that’s why we have provided over £2.7 billion to deliver around 280,000 adaptations [through disabled facilities grants (DFGs)] since 2012 to help older and disabled people to live independently and safely at home.

“Our revised planning rules mean councils must consider the needs of the elderly and disabled people when planning new homes.

“We have also given councils guidance on options they should consider, such as housing with improved accessibility, so the most vulnerable get the support they need.”

MHCLG is considering the responses to its social housing green paper consultation and expects to publish its action plan for implementing reforms later this month.

Last summer’s green paper failed to mention accessible housing once, although it did refer to the “key role” played by supported housing and to the DFG system.

The two letters came as accessible housing provider Habinteg released the results of a new survey which showed that only one in five of those asked in England, Scotland and Wales said a wheelchair-user would reasonably be able to access all parts of their home.

One wheelchair-user, Sarah O’Connor, from London, said: “I’ve been forced to physically drag myself up each step into my house, heaving my wheelchair behind me.”

Another, Fi Anderson, from Bolton, said: “My eight-year wait for a suitably accessible property meant my kids were denied the chance to have a normal childhood where their mum could tuck them into bed and read them a book.”

A Habinteg report in June said that under a quarter (23 per cent) of new homes due to be built by 2030 outside London were planned to be accessible, and just one per cent of new homes outside London were set to be suitable for wheelchair-users.

19 September 2019


New group aims to ‘reclaim the true meaning of independent living’

A new group of disabled people and allies in Bristol has been set up to “reclaim the true meaning of independent living”.

Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL), which launched this week, is determined to remind the government and others in positions of power that the principles of independent living, which were developed and fought for by disabled people, are being eroded.

The roots of BRIL were in the fight to save the Independent Living Fund, and members this week remembered one of that campaign’s key members, Daphne Branchflower, who died in May, and who had supported BRIL’s  development.

They heard at the launch that many disabled people were afraid to speak out about the social care crisis for fear of repercussions from local authorities and service-providers, while many did not have the support they needed to speak out.

BRIL’s founders believe that phrases like “choice and control” and “independent living” are being used to justify regressive policies, such as cuts to social care, while the Care Act had not produced the promised “level playing field” across different local authorities.

If anything, the meeting heard, the postcode lottery in support had increased since the act became law in 2014.

Disabled people and relatives at the launch meeting agreed that phrases like “independent living” and “person-centred” had been hijacked and used to justify the removal of support.

They also agreed that independent living was not just about social care, but was also about human rights, connections with other people, and being able to live a good life.

BRIL is supporting the aims of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), which has produced proposals for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS).

The NILSS would run alongside the NHS, and would provide a universal right to independent living, with support provided free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, managed by central government, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

BRIL believes that, without such a radical rethink on social care, the achievements fought for by the disabled people’s movement will be “worn away”.

Mark Williams, one of BRIL’s founders, said that many disabled people across the UK were “having their basic rights curtailed, through a drive to make cuts to care packages, increase charges and to remove support”, while this is then described as “encouraging independence’”.

And he warned that some people supposedly in “supported living” settings were in fact really living in institutions, “with no choice or control over how, where and who they live with”.

He said: “Disabled people have described being ‘told’ they are now independent, so they don’t need support with anything other than basic personal care, meaning they don’t have a life beyond just existing.”

He added: “As with everyone throughout the country, we are facing cutbacks in funding due to government and local authority policies.

“Even for those disabled people who may not be personally facing cuts in funding themselves at the moment, there is always the threat of it happening hanging over them.

“The aims of BRIL are to reclaim the true meaning of independent living – not what those in power are telling us it means.”

One of the reasons for the launch of BRIL is the concern that some disabled people’s organisations and other user-led groups have “moved on from actively campaigning for rights, to putting all their energy into raising funds and taking on contracts, just to survive”.

Williams said: “While we understand that under the current regime of austerity and privatisation of health and social care services, many organisations are forced to seek contracts that do not allow them to challenge policies, BRIL, as an independent group, will be able to challenge anyone we believe is not carrying out their legal or moral duties.”

Rebecca Yeo, a disabled academic who is supporting BRIL, said: “BRIL is calling for services and support for independent living to be available to anyone regardless of migration status.

“We have already seen how when we allow the denial of rights to services and support for disabled asylum-seekers to go unchallenged, it is only a matter of time before similar restrictions are extended to a wider population.”

BRIL has been launched with the support of the Social Work Action Network South West, with the hope that disabled people and social workers will be able to work together on the campaign.

Williams said BRIL wanted to reach out to other disabled people in Bristol with support needs.

He said: “There are many disabled people in Bristol that we do not know about who might have already had their funding reduced or not been offered any help at all.

“BRIL will work with our allies to reach those people, who may feel isolated and unsupported.”

Disabled people or allies who are interested in attending future BRIL meetings can email or call 07505 414319

19 September 2019


Autistic medical student fears ‘discrimination’ could end career before it has started

An autistic medical student has accused her university of discrimination that could end her career before it has started, after she was prevented from starting the fifth and final year of her degree.

Sarah Potts was forced to take a temporary leave of absence from the course last September, because the University of Leeds said she was not well enough to practise as a doctor.

But she says the university took the action without any evidence that she was not fit to practise, and failed to provide the reasonable adjustments she needed to complete the course.

Its own occupational heath assessment recommended that it draw up an action plan to support her, but she says it failed to do so.

Potts says the university also failed to secure a medical report from an expert in autism; and failed to provide her with clear information about the case against her or show her the medical evidence it was relying on.

She says it also refused to make a reasonable adjustment for her by allowing a lawyer to accompany her to a hearing in front of its health and conduct committee.

And she says the university had earlier failed to make a reasonable adjustment for her by refusing to allow her a local placement rather than the residential one she was offered, a failure which caused her mental health to decline.

The university said this week that it “categorically denies” any discrimination.

But her solicitors say the university repeatedly breached the Equality Act by discriminating against her as a disabled person, and that it had no evidence that she was currently unfit to practise as a doctor.

They have also told the university that it failed to deal with her complaint about how she had been treated within a reasonable time period.

The university has rejected her appeal against its decision.

Her solicitors have now told the university that its actions were potentially “career-ending” for Potts, and that it had acted in a “muddled and haphazard way”.

They added: “The decision to dismiss our client’s appeal without obtaining credible evidence in relation to how she could have been and should have been supported, particularly when requests have been made repeatedly for it, is procedurally unfair and unsafe.”

Potts, who also has ADHD and has had experience of mental distress, is still hoping to persuade the university to allow her to take the fifth year of the course and complete her studies so she can qualify as a doctor.

A University of Leeds spokesperson said: “Supporting all students to help them achieve their potential is central to the university’s work and values.

“We have a proven track record of inclusive practice and providing support to help students reach their academic goals.

“We believe it is inappropriate to discuss the personal details of a student’s case.

“More broadly, however, we can confirm that we are satisfied that we are following due process in this particular case; that we are involving the student closely at every step; that we have disclosed full evidence and information as part of the process; and that we are acting in a timely and diligent manner.

“We categorically deny any discrimination, but the student’s concerns are subject to formal investigation.”

The university declined to clarify what this investigation process involved.

19 September 2019


Television industry must do more to employ disabled people, says Ofcom

The television broadcasting industry needs to do more to increase the number of disabled people within its workforce, the regulator has warned, with new figures showing progress has stalled.

In its third annual Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Television report, Ofcom says that the proportion of disabled employees working in the UK-based TV industry remains at six per cent for 2018-19, the same as 2017-18.

It calls for a focus on this “continuing and significant under-representation of disabled people within the industry” and criticises the five main broadcasters for failing to make more progress in the last year.

It is particularly critical of Viacom, which owns Channel 5, and Sky.

Channel 4 leads the way on representation, with 11 per cent of its staff self-defining as disabled people, followed by BBC at 10 per cent, and Viacom at eight per cent.

But ITV (at four per cent) and Sky (at just three per cent) currently trail far behind.

Although the report focuses on the five main broadcasters, Ofcom also found that just one per cent of UK staff of broadcasters not based in the UK are disabled.

And its report says there are “significant gaps” in the monitoring of diversity among freelancers across the industry.

David Proud, a disabled actor, writer and producer, and a member of Ofcom’s new diversity panel, said broadcasters had to “stop thinking about disability as a risk”.

He said: “There’s a lot of unconscious bias… it’s not going to cost you a fortune to have disabled artists on your set, it’s not going to be any more risky for your project, it’s going to add value and it’s going to add authenticity.

“If you have someone with a disability as part of the creative process from day one they are going to be able to guide you and be a friendly ear to how the project’s developing and steer it in a direction that isn’t stereotypical or isn’t offensive.

“It’s the most simple thing in the world. If you want to represent a group of people, engage the group of people that you’re trying to represent.”

He added: “I can’t wait until we have a disabled person as a commissioner… as soon as we get disabled people at the highest level of our industry, it will all just be a lot better.”

The Ofcom report warns that some of the larger broadcasters still lack targets for improving disability representation and collection of data on the diversity of their staff.

And it calls on the industry to “materially improve” the proportion of disabled staff through targeted recruitment and career development programmes.

Ofcom says it is also concerned that fewer broadcasters than last year are providing it with data on disability, with less than a third (29 per cent) of broadcasters with at least one UK-based employee providing a full breakdown on the disability data of their staff.

There is no information on the disability status of 29 per cent of staff across the industry, a “marginal improvement” on last year’s 31 per cent.

But Sky’s “data gap” was 38 per cent, while Viacom’s was “extremely high”, with no information on whether 77 per cent of its staff identified as disabled people.

Ofcom also said that Sky had “yet to set clear targets and develop focused plans for disability”.

But Ofcom said there had been some positive developments.

BBC has promised that disabled people will make up 12 per cent of its workforce by the end of 2022.

Channel 4 has said it will shortly announce a major disability initiative in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, with the aim of supporting 100 disabled people to progress their careers in television.

Channel 4 is also planning to publish its first disability pay gap figures, which the BBC continues to publish annually.

ITV has held a series of disability awareness-raising events in the last year, with a focus on invisible impairments, and has announced a set of diversity targets for 2022 which include increasing representation of disabled people to eight per cent.

ITV is also working with Microlink, the assistive technology company.

And Viacom has continued to work with a consultant to create a more inclusive environment for disabled employees.

Ofcom also praised the five main broadcasters for their “bold and ambitious goal” of doubling the percentage of disabled people working in television by 2020.

19 September 2019

News provided by John Pring at