Anger over Unum sponsorship of ‘Superhero’ triathlon event

A retired Paralympian organising a mass participation disability sports event has defended accepting sponsorship from a company that spent years lobbying the government to make the out-of-work disability benefits regime harsher and more stressful.

Unum has signed up as one of the sponsors of next week’s high-profile Superhero Tri event in Windsor – which will be televised by Channel 4 – and will be “providing lots of staff volunteers”.

But Unum spent years pushing reforms that have been closely linked to the deaths of many claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) and to harming the physical and mental health of many others.

Disabled researchers and activists have previously shown how Unum spent years undermining the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection insurance policies*.

Now it is sponsoring the Superhero Series events launched by marketing specialist Sophia Warner, who competed for ParalympicsGB on the track at London 2012.

Among those disabled celebrities set to take part in next week’s mass participation triathlon event are the BBC’s Frank Gardner, Paralympian Menna Fitzpatrick and TV presenter JJ Chalmers.

When asked by Disability News Service (DNS) if she knew that Unum had spent decades attempting to influence government policy on welfare reform, Warner said: “Yep.”

And when told that disabled activists had questioned Unum’s sponsorship of the Superhero Tri event because of its disturbing lobbying activities, she said: “I’m afraid I don’t really get involved with disabled activists. We’re all about positivity at Superhero Series.”

When DNS suggested that disabled activists were also “all about positivity” through their push for disability rights and equality, she said: “Um… what I’m going to do is I’m going to end this call, and thank you very much.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which has spent nearly a decade highlighting the harmful impact of the reforms promoted by Unum, said it was appalled at the sponsorship and Warner’s comments.

And Mo Stewart, the independent researcher who has done most to raise concerns about Unum’s influence on welfare reform**, said she was “deeply concerned” that Warner had been aware of Unum’s history of lobbying the government on welfare reform and yet still agreed the sponsorship.

She said Unum had been “instrumental in helping to create the preventable harm now endured by the UK’s chronically ill and disabled community who are unfit to work.

“The company have been advising the British government since 1992 on how to limit access to out-of-work disability benefits for those in greatest need, in the expectation that a reduced UK welfare state will encourage the able-bodied community to purchase their discredited disability insurance policies.”

Stewart said the sponsorship was “a very good public relations exercise” for the company and “a distraction from past negative publicity”.

She said: “There have been many thousands of deaths linked to the work capability assessment (WCA), which was introduced in October 2008 and was made possible by the influence of Unum with the British government.

“Those chronically ill and disabled people who died following the flawed WCA weren’t athletes, and it’s most regrettable to learn that some of those who enjoy the peak of physical fitness can disregard the fate of those in greatest need.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Sophia Warner’s understanding of rights and equality is dangerously deficient.

“Had previous generations of disabled people been as blasé about the realities of oppression, we wouldn’t now have Paralympians able to compete on a public stage.

“Her typecasting of activists as negative is ironic given that we are the ones engaged in building a positive future where everyone will be free to develop their personal potential and be valued in society.

“Meanwhile, Warner is actively facilitating a deeply damaging agenda based on denial of opportunity to people with impairments.”

She added: “We anticipate a new promotional campaign pushing Unum’s income protection insurance coming soon…”

Bob Ellard, a fellow DPAC steering group member, said: “The thought of disabled people dressing up in superhero costumes for the ‘inspiration’ of the TV viewing public makes me want to vomit.

“Add to that taking funding from Unum, a company notorious for disability denial and influencing government welfare cuts for disabled people, Channel 4 should be ashamed of themselves and Sophia Warner should be ashamed of herself for this act of deplorable Uncle Tom-ism.”

*Unum’s links with the UK government date back to the 1990s, when Peter Lilley, social security secretary in John Major’s Conservative government, hired senior Unum executive John LoCascio to offer advice on how to cut the number of claimants of long-term sickness benefits. 

A submission to the Commons work and pensions committee in 2002 by a director of Unum – then known as UnumProvident – called on the Labour government to “ensure both that work always pays more than benefits, and more importantly that it is clearly seen to do so”.

And in 2005, Unum bragged in a document that it had “always been at the leading edge of disability assessment and management”, and that government policy was now “moving in the same direction” as “our views and understanding” and was “to a large extent being driven by our thinking and that of our close associates”.

Three years later, in 2008, the Labour government introduced the WCA.

In 2011, Unum launched a major UK marketing campaign to promote the need for income protection insurance policies, just as the coalition began its three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing claimants of old-style incapacity benefit through the new WCA.

Unum has repeatedly dismissed claims that it pushed the government to introduce the WCA system, and three years ago even claimed that it “never has lobbied on the topic of welfare reform or related matters”.

**Stewart’s book, Cash Not Care, details Unum’s influence over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the WCA

8 August 2019


Proportion of flawed Atos PIP assessment reports has soared in last two years

The proportion of disability assessment reports completed by government contractor Atos that were found to be significantly flawed has soared by more than 40 per cent in the last two years.

The percentage of substandard Atos* personal independence payment (PIP) reports rose from about 25 per cent in 2016-17 to more than 36 per cent in 2018-19, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

They show the results of government audits carried out on thousands of Atos reports over the two years from 2016-17.

They were provided to the SNP MP Marion Fellows in May in response to a written parliamentary question, but have only just emerged.

And they show how the performance of Atos – which has been the target of angry protests by disabled activists for most of the last decade over the way it carries out benefit assessments – has worsened over the last two years, despite a public pledge to improve.

The figures emerged after data secured through the Freedom of Information Act by campaign John Slater showed that the proportion of substandard PIP reports completed by the other assessment contractor, Capita, reached 37 per cent in the 2018 calendar year.

In December 2017, a senior Atos executives told a committee of MPs that quality was the company’s “absolute prime target and prime focus” and that he would be “not happy at all until 100 per cent of the cases are deemed to be acceptable and pass those criteria”.

Although the proportion of audited reports that were of such poor quality that they were rated “unacceptable” fell slightly the year after those comments, the figures show Atos is still failing to meet its DWP target of ensuring that a maximum of three per cent of reports are unacceptable, six years after it first began carrying out PIP assessments.

In 2016-17, 4.7 per cent were unacceptable, the following year that rose to 5.3 per cent, and in 2018-19 it fell to 4.3 per cent, still well above three per cent.

But the figures also show how many reports were graded as not being bad enough to be unacceptable but still so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, and those where the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws.

The proportion of reports that were unacceptable, “learning required” or needed amendments rose from 25 per cent in 2016-17, to 32 per cent in 2017-18 and again to 36 per cent in 2018-19.

The Capita figures secured by Slater showed 3.9 per cent of its audited reports in the 2018 calendar year were graded unacceptable, with 17 per cent learning required and 16 per cent needing to be amended, giving a total of 37 per cent substandard (against 36 per cent in 2018-19 for Atos).

Capita has previously refused to say if its audit data showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and if this was deteriorating, and it has refused to comment on the audit results.

Capita carried out about 220,000 face-to-face assessments in 2018, compared with more than 730,000 by Atos.

If the audit results were representative of all the assessments carried out by Atos and Capita, then an estimated 375,000 disabled people would have had their claims decided in 2018 based on assessment reports that were significantly flawed.

And about 40,000 of those would have been decided on reports that would have been declared “unacceptable” if they had been audited.

Slater said: “Considering that Capita and Atos promised to improve the quality of their reports, these figures don’t reflect organisations that have delivered on their promises.

“It’s likely that both have tried to improve the quality of reports but have failed to do so.”

He said he believed this was due to poor retention of assessors, trouble with recruiting staff with the correct attitude and experience, and the need to make its PIP assessment contracts profitable.

Slater said there were also “time pressures” to “keep up with the volume of referrals [from DWP], which means that assessors are put under extreme pressure to turn around reports quickly and so quality suffers.

“This would also explain why retention is an issue as people don’t last long in these environments.”

He added: “Obviously we don’t know what pressure the DWP is applying to Capita and Atos but improving the quality of reports doesn’t seem to be top of the list.”

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “What is revealed by these audit figures is that a large number of unacceptable reports, of reports so bad that learning is required from the assessors who compiled them, or which need to be amended to rectify serious flaws, have been used to inform decisions about disability benefit entitlement.

“That should go a long way to explain why so many PIP initial decisions are overturned by tribunals.

“The DWP should make sure that all reports are of an adequate standard, as the consequences of using sub-standard reports can be devastating for claimants.”

DWP refused to say if it accepted that the quality of PIP assessment reports had deteriorated between 2016 and 2018; why it believed this had happened; and what action was being taken to correct it.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want the PIP assessment process to work well for everyone and are continuously improving the service delivered.

“We set providers challenging targets and regularly monitor their performance in order to ensure that they are delivering to the highest possible standard.

“The majority of people assessed for PIP are satisfied with their experience and the number of complaints received by providers equates to less than one per cent of the total number of people assessed.”

An Atos spokesperson refused to say if the company would apologise for the deterioration in quality since it promised to improve; or explain why this had happened; or what action it would take to improve.

But he said in a statement: “The majority of these cases are deemed as acceptable by DWP and the proportion of cases found ‘unacceptable’ is decreasing, therefore conflating categories that are classed as acceptable with those that are not is unhelpful and misleading.”

*Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK

8 August 2019


Air travel regulator ‘has been doing half a job by ignoring airlines’

By Fleur Perry

The aviation regulator is only doing “half the job” by reporting on access at airports but failing to carry out similar investigations into whether airlines are meeting their legal duties to disabled customers, it has been claimed.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for monitoring UK compliance with European Union (EU) laws on the accessibility of air travel, but it has so far failed to report on whether airlines are meeting these duties.

EU regulations (EC1107/2006) have provided disabled people with a right to assistance at airports for more than a decade.

But the regulations also apply to airlines, which have legal duties to provide assistance on board flights, such as support to and from the toilet, and providing information about the flight in advance in an accessible format.

CAA was appointed by the government to enforce the EU regulations in the UK in 2015, and is tasked with taking the necessary measures “to ensure that the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility (PRM) are respected”.

But although CAA has reported on the accessibility of airports since 2016, it has yet to publish information on how individual airlines are complying with the regulations.

And although it has published guidance (PDF) for airports in complying with the regulations, CAA has failed so far to publish similar advice for airlines.

The regulator’s fourth annual report on airport accessibility, published last month, found more than half of disabled people surveyed said they found travelling by air difficult, with concerns about poor customer service, long waiting times and a lack of awareness of disabled people’s needs.

David Gillon, the disability rights activist who raised the concerns about CAA’s failure to monitor the performance of airlines, said: “Monitoring the performance of UK airports in delivering passenger assistance is a welcome step forward by CAA, one that has revealed that some major airports are probably failing their legal obligations, but that’s only half the job, and the other half of the job is where the worst passenger assistance failures happen.

“Wheelchairs aren’t the only thing at risk when disabled people travel by air.

“There are frequent cases of disabled passengers being left abandoned on empty airliners, or where cabin crew have failed to understand their needs.

“In the worst cases, disabled people have been seriously injured by inadequately trained assistance staff.

“Yet these failures are either the responsibility of the airline, or fall into the grey area where how airports and airlines divide their passenger assistance responsibilities doesn’t match the division within the legislation.

“Again, there is a clear risk of the CAA failing to adequately capture problems even for the monitoring of airports they are doing, and no chance of them recording problems happening in flight, when they simply don’t monitor the performance of airlines.”

There have been repeated examples of disabled people reporting distressing treatment by airlines.

Last month, a local newspaper reported how Thomas Cook apologised for the treatment of a wheelchair-user on a flight to Newcastle from Turkey, after she was left in agony when a member of airline staff tried to pick her up by her legs.

On arrival in Newcastle, she saw her wheelchair thrown onto a trolley, with luggage piled on top of it – leaving it severely damaged – and was left on the plane without any support, before a member of staff shouted at her as she tried to leave the plane by shuffling on her bottom to the exit.

Earlier this year, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how airline Flybe was forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.

And in June, Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan, a wheelchair-user, described how she was left unassisted for 45 minutes during a 12-hour flight from Argentina to Heathrow with no way of contacting a flight attendant.

She eventually resorted to sliding headsets down the aisle to attract the attention of a member of the British Airways cabin staff.

A CAA spokesperson told DNS: “When we were given responsibility for overseeing the aviation industry’s compliance with accessibility regulations, our focus was on airports rather than airlines.

“Airports play a larger role in ensuring a PRM’s journey runs smoothly. It was important for us to ensure airports were in compliance before we turned our attention to airlines.”

He said that “that work with airlines has now begun and we will be publishing further information going forward.

“We are currently working on an airline accessibility framework allowing us to provide further guidance to industry on meeting obligations under EC1107/2006.

“This framework will also assess current compliance and promote best practice. We expect to consult on the framework early next year and publish the guidance after that.”

8 August 2019


Would-be MP ‘motivated to oust Duncan Smith by late mother’s benefits ordeal’

The politician aiming to oust Iain Duncan Smith at the next general election has described being motivated by the need to expose the “heartless” reforms he introduced as work and pensions secretary, and their impact on her late mother.

Labour’s Dr Faiza Shaheen said she wanted to win the Chingford and Woodford Green seat at the next general election in part because of the impact on disabled people of the government’s austerity cuts and reforms over the last decade.

Many of these were introduced by Duncan Smith when leading the Department for Work and Pensions between 2010 and 2016.

She was speaking at an event in central London held to launch a new book* by disabled journalist Frances Ryan, which investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people.

Shaheen said she was also partly motivated in her campaign to win the seat by witnessing her mother – who died in 2017 – spend years fighting for the disability benefits and social care she needed.

She said: “Cleaning up her house, one of the most depressing things was finding all of the letters, just all of the admin in her last few years of her life that she had to do to fight for her benefits, to fight for social care. It was just heart-breaking.”

Shaheen has previously told the Huffington Post how her mother had faced a “fit for work” assessment to decide her eligibility for universal credit, the much-criticised new benefit system introduced by Duncan Smith when he was work and pensions secretary.

She told the Huffington Post last year that Duncan Smith had “wreaked so much havoc on people’s lives” and symbolised “so much cruelty and heartlessness”.

She told Saturday’s event that she was struck by how few people in his constituency knew about “what the Tories have done and specifically what their MP has done”.

She said there was “a lot more we need to do for people to understand and realise just how cruel the state has been”.

Shaheen said on Twitter after Saturday’s event: “Court rulings, damning UN reports, suicides – the welfare ‘reforms’ brought in since 2010, instigated by my rival Iain Duncan Smith, have not only been heartless, but a costly shambles.

“Tories need to be held accountable for this and so much more.”

She added: “Being in this room, listening to the harrowing stories of the impacts of benefit cuts, changes to pip and capability assessments strengthened my resolve to beat Iain Duncan Smith whenever that election comes.”

Shaheen, who describes herself as an “inequality geek”, and is director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), told the event that she had been canvassing in Chingford and Woodford Green earlier in the day and had come across a disabled woman who had fallen in the street.

Shaheen’s husband had waited with the woman when an ambulance failed to arrive.

She told the event: “We were talking to her, someone comes just twice a week, she clearly needs more support, she hasn’t got family.”

She said the lack of social investment in care and support for the woman would now cost the state so much more, while the woman herself had gone through the trauma of falling in the street.

“She was like, ‘Don’t worry, just leave me here in the street.’ It’s so upsetting.”

Shaheen also warned the event that the state was now being viewed as a “punitive army” by working-class people because of the values of the politicians who have introduced those policies.

She said: “Partly it’s about lack of money but unfortunately it’s also about the culture, the culture that has developed.

“I’m not blaming the civil servants, those frontline workers, because they are incentivised in certain ways really to forget about the compassion, to forget about humanising.

“So it is something we need to think very seriously about, how we change the culture, not just more money but also a different set of principles and values.”

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019


Record number of disabled people receive support from Access to Work

A record number of disabled people received employment-related support through the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme last year, new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures have revealed.

It is also the first time that spending on AtW has exceeded the amount spent on the programme in 2010, the year the Conservative-led coalition government assumed power and embarked on a decade of cuts and reforms in the name of austerity.

The scheme funds workplace adjustments for disabled people such as support workers, travel costs and aids and equipment.

Until 2018-19 (£129 million), spending on AtW had been lower every year in real terms than in 2010-11 (£122 million), and it fell as low as £103 million in 2015-16*.

More than 36,000 disabled people received an AtW grant last year, an increase of more than 2,000 on the previous year.

Under the Conservative-led coalition, the number receiving AtW payments fell from a peak of 32,810 in 2010-11 to just 26,460 the following year.

The DWP press release announcing the statistics quoted two disabled employees of Lloyds Banking Group, who both receive support through AtW.

One of them, Ross, a wheelchair-user who has a support worker paid for by AtW, said: “Access to Work has made a massive difference to my life.

“Without it, I wouldn’t have a job. I probably wouldn’t be earning a living, I wouldn’t own my own home, I wouldn’t be able to go on holidays and I wouldn’t be able to follow the hobbies that interest me because I wouldn’t be able to be employed.

“It makes a massive, massive difference to me.”

Another Lloyds employee, Louis, who is visually-impaired, receives AtW support for taxi fares for him and his guide dog to travel to and from work.

He said: “Access to Work is that key enabler which allows businesses to be as inclusive as they want to be.”

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “Having a disability or health condition must not be a barrier to enjoying a fulfilling career – and the support available means there’s no excuse for employers who refuse to be inclusive.

“Access to Work removes the obstacles facing disabled people in the workplace, helping to level the playing field and ensure businesses don’t see employing disabled people as a burden.

“With more disabled people than ever before supported through Access to Work, thousands more employers across the country are benefitting from the skills disabled people bring to the workplace.”

Disabled campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the benefits of AtW and have even branded it “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”.

But they have also highlighted concerns about delays and errors in dealing with claims, and the cap on annual payments (originally set at £42,500 but later increased to £57,200), which they say has had a disproportionate impact on the job and career prospects of Deaf users of British Sign Language and other disabled people with high support needs.

*These are real terms figures at 2018-19 prices, so as to remove the effect of inflation over time

8 August 2019


Research DRILLs down into bullying and social exclusion of disabled pupils

Young disabled pupils have described how they are targeted by school bullies because of their impairments, and are treated as social outcasts, but still do not view themselves as disabled people, according to new research.

Researchers interviewed more than 40 disabled and non-disabled pupils, mostly aged 12 to 14, in both mainstream and special schools across England.

But most of the pupils who took part in the focus groups defined disability according to whether a person used aids, particularly wheelchairs.

They found that few of the young people who had been labelled as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) identified as disabled people according to the social model of disability.

Instead, they viewed disability as “a person-centric problem, rather than a social one”.

In some cases, pupils with SEND rejected any similarities with disabled people they knew, while they were reluctant to discuss their own impairments, or to link them to the support and adjustments they received in class.

The National Lottery-funded research, led by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), found that most of the young people with SEND described being bullied and socially excluded at school, and said their group of school friends was small or non-existent.

One said: “Like I’ll walk into a class and I’m met with horrible comments because I walk differently because I have mobility… I walk with my feet turned out and I’m met with ‘penguin’ or ‘retard’, stuff like that.”

There were also hints of a “culture of bullying denialism” among school leaders, with some pupils with SEND seeing anti-bullying initiatives as insufficient and unhelpful.

Those that did have friends in mainstream schools tended to associate with “fellow social outcasts”, says the report, Special or Unique: Young People’s Attitudes to Disability.

Non-disabled pupils who took part in the research expressed neutral or positive attitudes towards disabled pupils, but were not friends with them.

The report suggests that the failure of any non-disabled pupils to express hostility towards disabled classmates could be because they were aware that expressing positive views about disabled people “is the socially acceptable thing to do”.

And, the report adds, the pupils who took part in the focus groups were selected by their teachers, who may have chosen pupils they thought would provide answers that would reflect well on their school.

Among the report’s recommendations is a call for school leaders to encourage teachers to take more action to address bullying and social exclusion in the classroom, and to promote “greater openness” about disability in their schools.

It calls on the Department for Education to develop SEND-specific anti-bullying guidance, and to include information on the social model of disability, human rights and discrimination in the Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) curriculum.

The report also says that local disabled people’s organisations should work with schools and local authorities to co-develop and co-deliver PSHE curriculum material on disability and provide disabled adult mentors for young disabled people.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s head of policy and research, says in the report: “The research shows that SEND pupils do not consider themselves to be disabled not from the belief that disability is somehow no longer relevant but because of their negative feelings towards disability generally.

“This research should be a wake-up call or else we will find yet another generation of disabled young people experiencing the same negative attitudes and behaviours.

“It’s only when you can accept yourself as who you are, a valued disabled person, that progress can be made.

“Then you can stop apologising for yourself and rejecting the support that helps with everyday life.

“We need disability to be understood and a valued part of the school environment.

“We need more interaction between all young people, and we need young disabled people to have the opportunity to draw support from disabled adults.

“If we fail to have an education system that is truly inclusive of disabled young people, that values disabled young people for who they are, and enables disabled people to reach their full potential then our efforts to realise the human, social and economic rights of disabled people will always be limited.”

Evan Odell, from DR UK, the lead researcher on the report, said: “These findings show that, in some areas, little has changed for disabled children in the last 40 years or so.

“Schools, special educational needs coordinators and teachers have understandably emphasised the need for reasonable adjustments and classroom support for pupils with SEND.

“Now they need to deal with bullying and ensure disabled children have the same chance to develop social skills and share in the experiences that mark out the teenage years.”

The report is the latest piece of research to come out of the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme, which is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, and delivered by DR UKDisability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

It is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.

8 August 2019


Rise of Boris Johnson government is ‘really dark moment’ for disabled people, says author

The rise to power of a new Conservative government under the leadership of Boris Johnson has created a “really dark moment” for disabled people, anti-austerity activists have been told at the launch of a new book.

Frances Ryan, a disabled journalist whose book* investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people, told the event that watching Johnson and his new cabinet take power had affected “everybody who looks different and feels different”.

She said: “These moments can feel particularly scary when you’re reliant on the government to help you with all the basic parts of life, being able to get yourself dressed in the morning or leave the house.”

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, warned the event and those watching via a live online feed that Johnson’s silence on disability and social security policy since taking office was ominous for disabled people and those claiming benefits.

He said: “In all the discussions so far he’s mentioned nothing about social security, and nothing about [working-age] disabled people in any of the announcements that he’s had, and I think that reflects their priorities and the direction in which they are travelling.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, who writes on economics for the Guardian, said that Johnson and his new government “have got a very serious plan and it involves effectively concentrating the resources of this country, our resources, into the pockets of the few”.

He said it was the “most pernicious achievement” of successive Conservative-led governments during the austerity era that “they have made us all feel that actually it’s us against them, it’s ‘me on my own’, it’s ‘dog-eat-dog’”.

Paul Atherton, one of the disabled people whose experiences of austerity are described in Ryan’s new book, and who has been homeless for the last 10 years and lives “pretty much at Heathrow Terminal Five”, described how he was currently “destitute” because of his ongoing struggle to secure the benefits he is entitled to.

He said he had “absolutely no funds coming in whatsoever” after DWP decided to stop all his benefits, while the likelihood of receiving any financial support for the next four months was “pretty slim”.

He told the launch event: “What the state or the government or society expects you to do to survive these periods, I have no idea.

“As a human being, why would you inflict that pain and suffering and degradation on another human being? It’s incomprehensible to me.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, praised Ryan’s book for telling the story of the “human impact” of austerity on disabled people.

And she praised Disabled People Against Cuts – which organised the event, with support from Unite the Union and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity – for ensuring “that the voices of disabled people are being heard and continue to be heard”.

McDonnell praised Ryan, who writes for the Guardian, for “getting the message out about the impact of the last nine years of austerity”.

He said she had been “one of those bright lights we have relied on to get the information out there”, and he said that her book had exposed the “brutality that has been inflicted upon us over the last nine years”.

Ryan said disabled people would need to be “at the front and centre” of any fightback against the loss of their rights.

And she said they would need the political left “to be our allies in this”, and to find ways to “unite and to challenge the dodgy, damaging narratives we have heard in recent years and build a positive, progressive vision for a better society for all of us”.

She said she hoped her book could play “a small part in a much bigger picture of this rallying cry”.

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019


Disabled duo who lost out through universal credit set for third DWP court action

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing another court action over the financial impact of universal credit on disabled people, which legal experts say is costing many claimants thousands of pounds a year.

Two disabled people with high support needs – known as TP and AR – are bringing their third case against DWP over the loss of income they experienced after being “migrated” onto universal credit (UC) when their circumstances changed.

They previously argued successfully in the high court that draft regulations would have left them and others forced onto UC before 16 January 2019 – when an earlier set of regulations came into force – worse off by £100 a month compared with those who did not move onto UC and continued receiving severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP).

This was because they were set to receive only £80 per month in compensation, compared with a top-up of about £180 per month to their benefits they had previously received through SDP and EDP.

In an earlier high court case, TP and AR had successfully argued that DWP unlawfully discriminated against them when their benefits were cut sharply when they moved local authority and were forced to claim UC.

TP had been forced to move to an area where UC had been rolled out so he could access specialist healthcare, following a diagnosis of end stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer.

AR had also had to move to a universal credit “full service” area, in his case because the imposition of the bedroom tax meant his previous home was unaffordable.

Before moving, both men had received SDP and EDP on top of employment and support allowance.

SDP and EDP were designed to meet some of the additional care needs of disabled people with high support needs who live alone with no carer, but these premiums are being scrapped under universal credit.

When they moved home, both men were advised by DWP staff that their benefits would not change, but each of them saw their income drop by about £178 a month when they were moved onto UC.

Now TP and AR have had to write to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd for a third time, after she announced last month that the level of compensation for disabled people who had been receiving EDP and SDP and had moved onto UC before 16 January would be set at £120 for single claimants.

Because of their previous court actions, TP and AR currently receive about £180 a month top-up to their benefits, but the new regulations coming into force may reduce this to £120.

They argue that these “migration arrangements” are still unlawful because disabled people who previously received SDP and EDP and moved onto UC before 16 January 2019 will receive over £50 a month less than those in similar circumstances who were not forced onto UC.

They have given DWP a deadline of 15 August to reply to their letter.

If they receive no satisfactory reply, TP and AR will consider bringing their third judicial review case.

AR said: “Losing £50 will make it even harder to make ends meet. It may not sound like a lot, but it will make a difference.

“Not only that, it is unfair that we will be treated differently to other claimants due to the illogical policy the government has put in place.

“Now I fear it is back to food banks for me, even though I have brought two successful legal cases.”

TP added: “To say that I am extremely frustrated to be fighting essentially the same fight again, now for a third time, is an understatement.

“It is time for the government to take responsibility for their flawed policy and ensure everyone is treated equally.”

A DWP spokesperson declined to comment on the new legal action.

But he said: “We recently increased these payments to reflect the value of SDP that people received before moving to universal credit, taking into account the increased amount available in UC through the limited capability work related activity addition.”

Rudd has estimated that about 45,000 claimants will benefit from the package of support by 2024-25.

Claimants currently receiving SDP will now not be moved onto UC if they have a change of circumstances. This situation will not change until 2021.

Tessa Gregory, from solicitors Leigh Day, representing TP and AR, said: “It beggars belief that our clients are having to go back to court for a third time.

“Amber Rudd has promised to take a more compassionate approach yet, despite losing two legal challenges, she is still seeking to short-change severely disabled people, like our clients, who have lost out on universal credit through no fault of their own.

“We hope that the government will not waste further money fighting this case and will now pay our clients and others like them what they are due.”

Leigh Day is also bringing a separate group legal action against DWP on behalf of disabled people migrated on to UC when their circumstances changed before 16 January 2019 and who also lost their disability premiums.

Leigh Day says a single person in this situation will have lost just over £4,000 in the last year, with a couple losing just under £8,000.

Last month, Disability News Service revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit would affect different groups of disabled people.

DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.

But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.

8 August 2019


Charities ignore Justice for Jodey evidence – Update at the bottom of this article realting to the MS Society 

A dozen disability charities have refused to back demands for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of benefit claimants, despite being reminded of the years of evidence behind those calls.

The 12 charities refused earlier this month to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry**, and makes other demands aimed at securing justice for those who have died and securing improvements to DWP’s policies and procedures.

Last Friday (26 July), Disability News Service (DNS) and grassroots groups supporting the petition used social media to present evidence to the charities from the last decade that showed the links between DWP and the deaths of claimants, and proved the department’s institutional disablism, safety failings and other serious flaws.

The aim was to persuade just one of the charities to change its position and back the petition.

But the charities – Action on Hearing Loss, Epilepsy Action, Parkinson’s UK, Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, the MS Society***, the National Autistic Society, Rethink, RNIB, Scope, Sense, Turning Point – failed to respond to the contact via social media or make any attempt to defend their position.

One manager from Mencap asked on Twitter who DNS had contacted at the charity about the petition, but then failed to follow up her query when DNS asked her to email for further information.

The only other contact from one of the charities this week came from Sense, which emailed a press release to DNS asking for coverage of a series of new fundraising shops.

The non-user-led charities’ refusal to support efforts by disabled people and allies to secure justice for those who have died, ensure DWP improves its record on safety, and enable a recognition that the department is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose angered many campaigners.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, which backs the petition, said: “The lack of response from charities speaks volumes about their priorities and continuing lack of commitment to the lives and safety of disabled people.

“However, we’re sure their CEOs will sleep comfortably in their beds knowing that their own vastly inflated salaries are safe.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “A so-called ‘charity’ that does not stand up and speak out forcefully for our citizens with the impairments they represent can only be described in one way: parasites.

“They are taking pay cheques off the back of the suffering of those whom they were set up to defend.

“We call upon all our people with relevant impairments whom these ‘charities’ pretend to fight for to mount letter writing, petitions and telephone campaigns demanding the resignations of these corporate parasites without delay.

“They are the betrayers of disabled people. Enough is enough.”

Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled city councillor in Liverpool and a former activist with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), said on Twitter: “There is a long history of charities not supporting disabled people’s activism.

“Although they may be happy to take the credit and pretend it was all their doing when disabled people’s campaigns are successful.”

Another long-time disabled activist, artist Tony Heaton, said on Twitter: “The usual suspects… remember the fight for anti-discrimination legislation back in the 1980s…?”

He added: “Too scared to bite the hand that feeds them the crumbs…”

Some claimed the charities’ silence was due to a fear of losing government funding, or because of being “in the pockets of Government”, “feathering their own pockets”, or being “self serving businesses”.

Others suggested it was linked to lobbying laws introduced by the government.

One Twitter-user asked Scope: “I wrote and asked why aren’t you supporting this? You didn’t respond. I emailed, no response.

“Could you respond here on Twitter please? It makes people like myself hesitant to approach you as a charity professing to support disability. Thanks.”

Four days later, Scope had failed to respond to his tweet.

One disabled campaigner said: “By not supporting the inquiry they are just saying their #DutyofCare to their #ServiceUsers is diminished due to gov influence. Hang your heads in shame!!”

Other Twitter users said the charities’ silence meant they were “complicit” in the hostile environment for disabled people created by the government.

Many Twitter users said they would no longer donate to the charities because of their failure to support the petition.

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

But her death was only the latest avoidable tragedy to be linked to DWP’s actions, with previous deaths stretching back nearly a decade.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**Although not supporting the petition, Mencap has said it backs an “independent examination” of DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”. Epilepsy Action supports an inquiry, but also does not back the petition

***The MS Society has asked DNS to make clear that it was not aware of the tweets sent out to the 12 charities on 26 July, due to an error by DNS.

It does not support the petition, and has made clear that the evidence shared by DNS on 26 July would not have persuaded it to change its mind if it had been aware of the tweets.

But the charity says that it does back much of the petition. It believes that DWP should urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority, and it supports the call for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of DWP, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police. However, it says that any recognition that DWP is not fit for purpose and is institutionally disablist should be determined by the inquiry.

Through its MS: Enough campaign, it is calling on the government to make immediate changes to the social security system so disabled people ‘can rely on support when they need it, without unnecessary burden or constant fear of having it taken away’.

DNS has apologised to the MS Society for the error and is happy to put the record straight. — John Pring Editor: Disability News Service Author: Longcare Survivors: The Biography of a Care Scandal Tel: 020 8241 7072, 07776 206595 Email: Website: Twitter: @johnpringdns


News provided by John Pring at