Labour leadership: Nandy pledges ‘truth and justice’ fight for DWP victims

Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has backed calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and has pledged to fight for “truth and justice” on behalf of those who died.

One of four candidates still in the race to be the next Labour leader, she was answering questions from Disability News Service (DNS) on how she would fight for the rights of disabled people if she became prime minister.

Although she announced no striking new policies on disability equality, she stressed repeatedly her promise to involve disabled people in the decisions that impact their lives, and pledged to put them “at the heart of change, hearing their voices and giving them agency”.

She also highlighted her commitment to accessible transport, the need for more accessible housing and to a more inclusive education system, as well as to implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into UK law if she became prime minister.

Of the other three candidates, Rebecca Long-Bailey also responded in depth to the DNS questions, but fellow frontrunner Keir Starmer ignored all but two of the six questions in his brief response. The fourth candidate, Emily Thornberry, has so far failed to respond to the questions.

Nandy described sitting on the same panel as disabled campaigner Joy Dove as she “powerfully” told a fringe event at last autumn’s Labour conference how her daughter Jodey Whiting had taken her own life after DWP wrongly removed her out-of-work disability benefits.

She said: “No one who listens to her story – or the story of Errol Graham [revealed by DNS last month] – can think there isn’t a need for an independent inquiry.

“I completely support calls for one that looks into the links between DWP policy and procedural failings and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.”

She said the last 10 years had shown the “human and moral cost” of a Conservative party policy approach “that uses the power of the DWP to pick on those who are too powerless and too vulnerable to fight back”.

She said: “While Iain Duncan Smith gets a knighthood, fear prevails amongst disabled people and the system he created threatens lives.”

Nandy said that, as prime minister, she would ensure the welfare state provided “dignity and power” to those who need it, with a social security system designed and run by disabled people themselves.

She said: “But before this happens, it is vital that we have accountability and justice for all those who lost their lives over the last 10 years.”

She also told Labour supporters this week that she would scrap and rebuild the much-criticised universal credit benefit system if she became prime minister.

Mirroring the comments she made to DNS, she said: “It is time for a different approach which allows the people who rely on the state for help, with the expertise of advocacy groups, to change it for the better.”

She said she would not wait until the next general election to act. Instead, Labour would run “participatory workshops” that would “bring people together and develop a new system – one that puts people back at the centre.

“Then we’ll campaign for it in our communities and in parliament and use the power of a movement to build a more humane system everyone can believe in.”

On social care, she stressed to DNS the importance of choice and control and said that disabled campaigners had “shown powerfully how government policy has restricted the ability of disabled people to live independently and freely, with many lacking the support to leave their own home or travel around.”

She said that the scale of the challenge meant there was a need for an “ambitious strategy” which prioritised the voices of disabled people, “giving them real choice and agency to design support packages that work”, but she gave no hint of what that strategy might be or how it would be funded.

Nandy also stressed the need for action on accessible transport, an issue she has raised in parliament.

She said: “Disabled people are being forced to spend more on travel, take longer to get to their destination, and face the possibility of being unable to complete the journey.

“As prime minister, I would use the power of government procurement and public subsidy to ensure the changes that need to be made on accessible transport happen, and happen quickly.”

Asked how she would solve the accessible housing crisis, she said: “Our failure to build houses that meet basic accessibility needs is more evidence of our collective failure to build a nation that works for people with disabilities because we’ve not listened to the most important voices on the issue.”

She pledged to ensure that every new home that was built would have to meet “accessible and adaptable standards”.

She said: “Anything less than design standard with core features like step-free access, level thresholds, wide doorways and a toilet on the ground floor as a minimum would not deliver for disabled people.

“There is strong public support for this, and as prime minister I would be committed to delivering it.”

Asked what action she would take to secure a more inclusive education system, Nandy said the Conservative government had prioritised the segregation of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in special schools, and then failed to fund those schools.

She said: “We are failing children with SEND twice: placing them in separate, special schools, and then refusing to fund these places adequately.”

The Wigan MP said she would take action to “end the incentivisation of school segregation where mainstream schools are expected to cover the first £6,000 of support for a child with SEND from their existing budgets.

“As prime minister, I will encourage schools to be more inclusive and deliver the best possible education for every child, but most importantly those with special educational needs.

“We need to embed within schools the wider support services which are necessary for children to flourish.”

Asked how she had personally fought for the rights of disabled people as an MP, she pointed to a traumatised and physically-injured victim of the Manchester Arena bombing she had helped deal with DWP over her benefits, and a wheelchair-user she had helped secure appropriate housing that enabled both her and her two autistic sons to live independently.

She said she had also led local and national campaigns for accessible public transport, particularly on the rail network.

Nandy also said she had campaigned against the closure of the Remploy factories, which were shut by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, “supporting local people on the picket lines because they wanted to protect their jobs”.

The Remploy issue was one that divided the disabled people’s movement.

Despite their continued opposition to the kind of segregated and sheltered employment provided by the factories, many disabled people’s organisations called on the coalition government in 2012 to abandon the closures.

They argued then that shutting the factories and making their disabled workers redundant was the wrong decision at a time of recession.

Nandy said that campaigners’ efforts had initially been successful in Wigan, with the factory remaining open under alternative management, although it had recently been forced to close.

She also backed the Labour party’s election promise to implement UNCRPD into UK law.

But she said the “scale of the challenge” would “require so much more”, so she promised to put disabled people “at the heart of change, hearing their voices and giving them agency”.

She said: “Involving them in the decisions that affect their lives, whether related to the welfare state, transport, housing or other services, is the best way of advancing the rights of people with disabilities.”

She said her priority as prime minister would be to ensure disabled people “have a greater influence over the design of policies that affect them”, and she promised to carry out impact assessments of all government policies, and support campaigners to “hold the government to account for the decisions we make”.

6 February 2020


Labour leadership: Long-Bailey promises policy partnership with disabled people

One of the front-runners to be Labour’s next leader has pledged to work in partnership with disabled people to develop party policy, if she wins the contest.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary and seen as the leading candidate for those on the left of the party, is one of four MPs still in the race to be the party’s successor to Jeremy Corbyn.

In response to questions from Disability News Service (DNS), her answers largely mirrored Labour’s policy positions during the general election campaign.

But she made firm pledges that, if she won the contest, the party would be committed to inclusive education, to solving the accessible housing crisis, and to working with disabled people to develop a national independent living service for England.

And she supported calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the Department for Work and Pensions over the last decade.

But she was also forced to apologise after referring at a hustings event to a constituent with a brain injury she had helped as a “practical vegetable”.

A spokesperson told DNS: “Rebecca wanted to emphasise that the person she helped had suffered a severe brain injury.

“She meant to say that they were practically in a vegetative state, and apologises for her mistake without reservation.”

Of the other three candidates, Lisa Nandy also responded at length to the DNS questions, while frontrunner Keir Starmer ignored all but two of the six questions in his response. The fourth candidate, Emily Thornberry, had not responded to the questions by noon today (Thursday).

Long-Bailey told DNS that successive Conservative-led governments had created a “hostile environment for disabled people” and that it was “shameful” that the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had found the UK government responsible for “grave and systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights.

She said: “That policies, such as sanctions, are implemented despite the government’s own impact assessment acknowledging physical harm will be caused to claimants is the mark of a cruel and inhumane government.

Long-Bailey repeated Labour’s election pledge to scrap universal credit, and went slightly further than her party did on benefit sanctions in the election campaign, promising to end rather than “immediately suspend” all sanctions.

And she promised to work in partnership with disabled people’s organisations to hold the government to account, and “force them to reverse on their reactionary agenda”.

On social care, she said she supported the idea of a national independent living service, although she declined to say if she backed the motion passed at last autumn’s party conference that would commit a Labour government to provide free social care funded by national progressive taxation.

But Long-Bailey said she wanted to work with disabled people’s organisations to develop the party’s policy on independent living, and “ensure the transport, education, housing, venues and indeed the Labour party itself are accessible for disabled people.

“As Labour leader I will work with disabled members, disabled trade unionists and disabled people’s organisations to ensure we take this approach.”

She pledged to ensure that Labour made the provision of accessible housing “central” to its housing programme, enforcing the Lifetime Homes standard as a condition for building homes.

But she had not confirmed by noon today (Thursday) whether this meant that all new homes would have to meet the Lifetime Homes standard on accessible and adaptable homes.

On inclusive education, she said she was committed to ensuring that an “open, accessible, inclusive education system” was “a central tenet of the Labour party’s vision for the country”.

She offered no particular policies to show how she would do this for school-age disabled children, other than providing the “necessary funding”, but she did say that as prime minister she would place a duty on all higher education institutions to ensure their courses were accessible to all disabled students.

Asked for examples of how she had fought for disabled people’s rights, she said she had voted against the Tory government’s welfare reform and work bill in 2015, when acting leader Harriet Harman had called on Labour MPs only to abstain.

The bill included measures that cut payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance placed in the work-related activity group by nearly £30 a week, reduced the benefit cap, and froze many working-age benefits.

Long-Bailey said she had also campaigned for an end to universal credit and opposed cuts to public services.

She added: “I am determined that as Labour leader we will continue to advance the fight for equality for disabled people by continuing to develop policies in partnership with disabled people and their organisations.”

Long-Bailey also backed the Labour party’s election promise to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law, which she said would be done by “working with disabled people every step of the way”.

She said that, as a Labour prime minister, she would “immediately reverse the cruel austerity program imposed on communities, disproportionately affecting disabled people and rebuild our services and society with advancing equality at its heart”.

She added: “The elected Senate I have proposed to replace the House of Lords would be tasked with scrutinising the impact of all legislation towards our goals of improving well-being, environmental sustainability and equality.

“I was proud that our party was the only party in 2019 with a manifesto developed by and for disabled people, with the principle of ‘nothing about you without you’.

“As the next Labour leader and prime minister, I will ensure we embody that principle across the party, empowering disabled people and enhancing their voices and increasing their representation.

“Every policy decision and every pledge will be co-produced by, with and for disabled people.”

6 February 2020


Labour leadership: Starmer dodges questions on housing, care and rights

The front-runner in the contest to be the next Labour leader has refused to answer key questions about his policies on disability equality.

As with all four remaining leadership contenders, Sir Keir Starmer was sent six questions nearly two weeks ago about his policies on social security, independent living, accessible housing, inclusive education, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and his own commitment to disabled people’s rights.

His two main rivals, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, this week produced extensive answers aimed at demonstrating their commitment to disability rights, and offered some of the policies that they would introduce as a Labour prime minister. The fourth candidate, Emily Thornberry, had not responded to the questions by noon today (Thursday).

Sir Keir, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, ignored all but two of the questions, and instead produced a three-paragraph statement that focused on social security, and briefly touched on social care.

He did confirm that he would support an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He said: “The deaths of Errol Graham (see separate story) and other disabled benefits claimants are shocking.

“These were entirely avoidable tragedies which came after repeated warnings to the DWP.

“I fully support the calls for a comprehensive, genuinely independent investigation into deaths of disabled benefits claimants.

“As leader I would continue to oppose the creeping privatisation of our benefits system and the dehumanising work capability and PIP assessments.

“We need a new social security system which treats people with compassion and respect, allowing everyone to lead fulfilling and happy lives.”

Asked how he had fought for the rights of disabled people, he said: “As a local MP, I see first-hand the consequences of the Tories’ welfare policies and have acted on behalf of numerous constituents who have been affected.”

But asked to explain what measures he would take to ensure that working-age disabled people can live independently, he offered no suggestions, and said only: “We must also urgently address the social care crisis, whether that applies to elderly or working age people.

“Labour under my leadership would hold the Conservatives to account on this issue and for their failure to deliver improvements in social care.”

He also failed to explain how he would address the accessible housing crisis, what he would do to ensure a more inclusive education system, and whether he would incorporate UNCRPD into UK law.

His answers were particularly disappointing as he built much of his reputation before he became an MP on his work as a human rights barrister, and has worked for several years to hold DWP to account for the death of his constituent Michael O’Sullivan, who took his own life in September 2013 after being unfairly found fit for work.

6 February 2020


Errol Graham: Vigil will push for change and justice, after tragic death

Campaigners will tomorrow (Friday) take part in a vigil in Nottingham to highlight how the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) led to a disabled man starving to death after his out-of-work benefits were withdrawn.

Disabled activists and allies will join the vigil and protest in Nottingham city centre* – organised by Nottingham People’s Assembly Against Austerity – to remember Errol Graham and try to ensure that his death leads to change, an independent inquiry, and justice.

The event will include a minute’s silence in memory of Graham and other victims of austerity, and speeches by local councillors and Disabled People Against Cuts.

It came as Graham’s MP, Labour’s Lilian Greenwood, confronted Boris Johnson about the case at yesterday’s prime minister’s questions, asking how many more disabled benefits claimants would have to die “before this government start to value their lives”.

In his reply, Johnson said she was right to raise the “tragic case” but he claimed the government had set up an “independent serious case panel” to look at such deaths, even though DWP previously admitted that the panel’s members would all be DWP civil servants so it would not be independent at all.

A DWP spokesperson said today (Thursday) that the panel would now include “members who are independent of the department”, although he declined to provide any further information.

Alison Turner, the partner of Errol Graham’s son, who has led the fight to secure justice and has called for a criminal investigation into the former DWP ministers and senior civil servants she believes are responsible for this and other deaths, plans to attend tomorrow’s vigil in Nottingham if her health allows her to.

She said the support the family had received from across the country and in Nottingham since DNS first reported on his death last month had been “absolutely outstanding”.

She said the vigil would highlight how supportive local people have been and how angry they were that Errol Graham was abandoned without any money by DWP.

She added: “I am ever so grateful [to the vigil’s organisers]. It does mean a lot. It says to me that we are not going to tolerate this happening to people living locally.

“People are saying it is not acceptable and that they are willing to fight for that.”

She added: “It has helped me in a huge way to see the level of support that he has had in his own city.

“I can’t bring Errol back, but what I can do is see that no other family suffers in the way that we did.

“I would never want to see somebody going through what we have gone through. It’s torturous.

“You sit there and question yourself: ‘What else could I have done?’ The reality was there was nothing we could have done.”

She said she hoped the vigil would show DWP “how many people will take time out of their own life to support the change that needs to happen”.

And she said that the ministers and civil servants at DWP who were responsible for his death “have got to take some responsibility” and understand the damage and the “ripple effect” a death like that causes to the family and friends of the person who has died.

A spokesperson for Nottingham People’s Assembly Against Austerity said: “Errol’s family are calling for justice.

“They want the DWP to be held to account for his death, to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

“Errol’s death should shock Britain into awareness of the damage that austerity is doing. Errol was one of us, a citizen of our city.

“If we don’t mark his passing, there will be more Errol Grahams, and austerity will become a permanent feature of British life.”

Last month, Disability News Service revealed how Errol Graham starved to death two years ago after DWP removed his employment and support allowance, leaving him without any income.

A civil servant told an inquest into his death last summer that DWP staff followed departmental guidance and had acted “appropriately” by leaving him with no income.

They had stopped his benefits when they were unable to contact him to discuss why he had not turned up to a work capability assessment.

Deprived of all financial support, experiencing significant mental distress and unable or unwilling to seek help, he slowly starved to death. He was 57.

*The vigil will be held between 5.30pm and 6.30pm tomorrow (Friday) near the Brian Clough statue in King Street, Nottingham NG1 2DT

6 February 2020


Disabled talent calls on film industry to act now on disability

Leading actors and writers have called on the film-making industry to move far more quickly to improve access and opportunities for disabled talent.

Among those calling for change was disabled BAFTA-winning screenwriter Jack Thorne, who said the pace of change within the industry was slower than with other areas of diversity.

Another was disabled actor and activist Adam Pearson, who said the cultural climate had “boiled down the issue of diversity to just BAME and gender”.

They were speaking this week at the British Film Institute’s (BFI) Busting the Bias forum, which aims to break down the barriers facing disabled people in the film and television industries.

BFI announced at the event, on London’s South Bank, that it would support the industry with new guidance on improving the representation of disabled people on screen.

It also pledged to develop partnerships with disabled filmmakers; work with the industry to improve access on film and television sets; and support the call for fair pay for disabled talent.

And it restated its position on “cripping up” – the practice of non-disabled actors playing disabled characters – stating that it will “seek to avoid this practice on all the productions it funds”.

Thorne, whose writing credits include His Dark Materials, Cast Offs, Skins and The Aeronauts, told the forum: “I’ve seen change happening – in the faces and the stories you see on TV as a result of pressure from the broadcasters and commissioners – but this is not happening in terms of disability as the same pressure isn’t there.

“There is also a lot of fear of making mistakes and an enormous amount of ignorance, so addressing the issue is avoided.”

Pearson added: “As our industry continues to evolve, the diversity landscape will evolve to keep pace.

“The more diverse voices that shape that evolution, the better our industry will be for it.

“Disabled creatives don’t want a hand out, we want a hand up – that is the nature of equality.”

Andrew Miller, chair of BFI’s disability advisory board and the government’s disability sector champion for arts and culture, compared the battle to secure change in the industry around disability with the discussions around gender and BAME actors at the BAFTAs and Oscars.

He said: “We view the debate on gender and people of colour with full solidarity, but also with envy, because at least there is a debate, which the disabled community are completely absent from. This must change.”

Disabled actor, writer and director David Proud also spoke out this week, although he was not at the forum.

He praised BFI for taking a stand on the “outdated” practice of cripping up.

He said that an outright ban on cripping up would be “counter-productive”, but he said: “Cripping up historically was used because there was no talent; we now have an abundance of talent, let’s celebrate that.

“The BFI has set the bar, I’d love to see others commit to the same.”

It came as disabled actor Liz Carr told the BBC Ouch podcast that she was to appear in her first Hollywood film, Infinite, alongside Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor, which will be released this summer.

Carr, who has played forensic examiner Clarissa Mullery in Silent Witness since 2012, left the BBC drama this week at the end of its latest series.

She told Ouch: “It’s a great role. I’m ecstatic. I thought, ‘I bet they’re just going to audition wheelchair-users and then they’re going to give the role to Tom Cruise.’”

She said she believed that playing a major character in a successful BBC drama convinced the casting team that she had the experience for the role.

She said: “I’ve gone and had the most incredible opportunity to develop and get better and learn and learn and learn, and there are very few disabled actors internationally who have that experience.”

She said she hoped her success would encourage TV and film-makers to give opportunities to other disabled actors, adding: “Unless you can show how good you are, people aren’t going to see what amazing talent is out there.”

6 February 2020


Thom marks 10 Touretteshero years by looking outwards, despite austerity

It began with “a simple desire to reclaim the laughter associated with Tourettes Syndrome”, but as an activist-art project celebrates its 10th anniversary, its co-founder believes that a decade of government austerity has left her career more precarious than ever.

The work of Jess Thom and Touretteshero has grown and evolved, thanks partly to their belief that “art and humour can be a catalyst for change”.

Its first stage show, Backstage in Biscuit Land, toured internationally, was adapted for television, “opened up conversations around exclusion”, and promoted the idea of “relaxed performances”.

But Touretteshero’s work with Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), in south-west London, has taken this a step further, with BAC preparing tomorrow (Friday) to launch itself as the world’s first “relaxed venue”, a move it hopes will “embed access and inclusivity” across all its work.

BAC is the first to go through Touretteshero’s new “relaxed venue” method for devising creative solutions to the barriers faced by disabled people.

It is based on the social model of disability and takes the principles that guide “relaxed performances” – such as ensuring the provision of accessible information and taking a relaxed approach to noise and movement by the audience – and applies them across an organisation’s services and facilities.

Since autumn 2018, more than 90 per cent of BAC’s performances have been “relaxed”, including a commitment to welcoming diverse audiences, providing a permanent quiet space in the building, and offering ear defenders for audience members who need them.

Tarek Iskander, the centre’s new artistic director and chief executive, says BAC has been “transformed” by the relaxed venue methodology.

“It has completely altered how we think of ourselves and our relationship to the world,” he says. “This will always be a work in progress, not a destination to reach, but as a mark of where we are, over 98 per cent of the performances in our next season are going to be ‘relaxed’.”

Thom wants to see more arts venues offering a wide range of accessible performances for all their shows, and to “notice and take action” when disabled-led work is not part of a new season. She also wants to see a continued investment in disabled leaders.

But, she says, becoming accessible is not a target that can be achieved, it is a “constant process of identifying and removing disabling barriers”.

Although this is “the shared responsibility of disabled and non-disabled people” it must be “informed and led by those with lived experience”.

While Touretteshero is 10 years old, so is the government’s programme of austerity, which has led to “many hard-won equalities eroded, and crucial services scrapped”.

Thom says: “As a disabled person, my quality of life and career feels much more precarious than it did in 2010, and I worry about the impact of this on disabled people and on our wider society.

“Where will the next generation of disabled artists come from if they do not have the services they need to leave their homes?

“I would like all disabled people to have the support they require to live and work in the way they choose.

“I would like to be in a position where, as a disabled artist, I can give all my attention to my creative practice, rather than using up energy resisting and surviving damaging and destructive political policies and educating non-disabled people about that experience.”

Despite the impact of austerity, she has seen some progress in the arts, including a better understanding of the value of neurodiversity, more focus on intersectionality, greater visibility for the work of artists with learning difficulties, and a better understanding of disability culture.

She adds: “A decade ago, when we talked about access in the arts, most mainstream venues only seemed to understand this in terms of audience.

“Now, though, this conversation also includes disabled people as artists, employees and leaders.”

If she was a politician, she says, she would focus on ensuring “genuine equality of opportunity by investing in high quality support for disabled and non-disabled people at every stage of their lives.

“I would like to see independent living protected by law, and a greater focus on ensuring that businesses meet their obligations to be accessible to disabled people.”

Relaxed Venues, she says, make three core commitments to their audiences, artists and staff: to create no new barriers, to ensure equality of experience, and to reduced “fuss” around access requirements.

“I would love to live in a world where our politicians made the same commitments for everything that they do,” she says.

The result of December’s general election was “devastating”, she says, and felt like a missed opportunity to work collaboratively “to build something great together” instead of the “draining campaigning and resistance that has characterised the last decade”.

And although Thom is determined to put that in the past and focus instead on the “tools, action and energy needed for the years ahead”, she has “definitely felt an increase in hostility towards disabled people, both in terms of the support systems that keep me safe and in people’s reactions to me in public”.

But her own experiences, she says, “are only the tip of the iceberg”, and she is aware that she has “privileges” that protect her that are not available to other disabled people.

“At times of pressure,” she says, “it is easy to hunker down, protect yourself and look inwards, but I think it is essential that wherever possible we resist this instinct – look outwards, listen to others and be ready to give and receive solidarity.”

6 February 2020


News round-up: Rail delays, universal credit, BSL, football… and pay gaps

Ministers have given the transport industry permission to use inaccessible vehicles for rail replacement services for another three months.

In December, it emerged that the government was allowing the industry to continue to use older buses and coaches that do not comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 until the end of January, a month past the legal deadline of 31 December 2019.

Accessible transport experts had criticised the industry for failing to prepare for the deadline, despite having 20 years to do so.

Now transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris has offered train operating companies an extension of three more months, which will run until 30 April 2020, because they still cannot source enough accessible vehicles for their rail replacement services.

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that the rollout of universal credit (UC) will be extended by another nine months, in the latest setback to the government’s much-delayed new social security system.

The rollout of the system, which combines six existing working-age benefits into one monthly payment, was due to end in 2023 but will now continue for a further nine months into 2024, adding an estimated £500 million to the cost.

The delay was revealed by the BBC as part of publicity for its controversial new fly-on-the-wall documentary series about UC, which began on Tuesday.

It came after ministers revealed last week that a pilot scheme in Harrogate – which is testing how to move claimants of legacy benefits such as employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance onto UC through what is known as “managed migration” – has so far seen just 13 claimants move onto the new system.

New government figures show that one of the government’s benefit assessment contractors is still failing to meet a key target for the quality of its assessment reports.

The figures show Atos made only a marginal improvement in the proportion of its reports that were found to be significantly flawed, between 2018 and 2019.

The figures, secured by SNP MP Marion Fellows, show the proportion of Atos personal independence payment assessment reports that were found to be of an unacceptable quality following a government audit was 3.9 per cent in 2019, an improvement on 4.6 per cent in 2018 but still outside the government’s three per cent target.

In all, the proportion of audited assessment reports found to be significantly flawed – those that were unacceptable, acceptable but needing to amended, and acceptable but still requiring feedback to the assessor about those flaws – fell only slightly from 36.2 per cent in 2018 to 35.7 per cent in 2019.

The British Deaf Association (BDA) has welcomed the decision of the House of Commons to launch a trial of British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation of prime minister’s questions (PMQs).

The trial began yesterday (Wednesday) with a video stream of a BSL interpretation of the proceedings on the website and parliament’s YouTube channel, while it was also made available to broadcasters.

PMQs take place every Wednesday while parliament is in session, with the prime minister answering questions from cross-party MPs, including the leader of the opposition.

Damian Barry, BDA’s executive director, said: “This is a significant breakthrough for equality and for access to information for Deaf people.

“The BDA welcome this pilot scheme which will enable BSL users to follow prime minister’s questions in the language they use and understand.”

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) is to partner with BT on a research programme that aims to develop a new format of disability football for those who cannot play with their bodies but could potentially “play with their minds”.

BT said it would work on the project with the technology innovation hub Plexal, DR UK and other experts from the accessibility and sport communities.

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “For many disabled people the barriers we experience limit or exclude us from taking part in sport.

“We are excited to be partnering with BT to see how technology can remove these barriers and help us to find ways to participate in sport with our peers and communities, and to be active in a way that works for us.”

BT also announced plans to invest in documentaries and films about para sport, to be broadcast on its BT Sport subscription channel.

The announcements were part of a new football partnership strategy between BT and the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, which are aimed at “boosting support for men’s, women’s, para and disability football from grassroots to elite levels”.

A disabled Tory peer has introduced a private members’ bill that would for the first time force all employers with at least 250 employees to publish information about how the pay of their disabled staff compares with that of other employees.

The bill would extend existing mandatory reporting on gender pay gaps to other protected characteristics, including race, sexual orientation and disability.

A TUC report in November revealed that the average disabled worker receives about £1.65 an hour, or 15 per cent, less than the average non-disabled worker. Disabled women face an even higher pay gap than disabled men.

Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin’s workforce information bill, which had its first reading in the House of Lords on Monday (3 February), would cover England, Scotland and Wales.

6 February 2020


News provided by John Pring at