Care watchdog to subsidise Maximus plans to halve pay of disabled experts

The care watchdog wants to use government funds to subsidise a discredited US outsourcing giant’s plans to slash the pay of disabled expert advisors by more than half.
Two of three new contracts to run the Experts by Experience (EbE) programme have been awarded to Remploy, the formerly government-owned disability employment business which is now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus.
The Experts, who all have experience of using care services themselves, are currently paid more than £17 an hour to take part in CQC inspections of health and care facilities, but many were furious when they discovered that Remploy/Maximus plans to cut their pay to just £8.25 per hour (or £9.40 in London) when it takes over the two contracts from 1 February.
Stung by the reaction to those revelations by Disability News Service (DNS), the government-funded watchdog has now – according to Remploy – pledged to subsidise it for the first six months of its contract.
DNS has seen an email from a senior Remploy manager, in which she says that CQC will pay a “buffer” for any existing Experts who have carried out an inspection in the last six months.
This “buffer” will only apply for the number of hours they have worked in the previous six months.
This means that if they had carried out 50 hours of inspection work for CQC in the last six months, CQC would ensure they received £15 an hour for the first 50 hours of their work for Remploy/Maximus.
After that, they will receive the new pay rate of £8.25 an hour, which will be just £1.05 above the new minimum wage – termed the “national living wage” by the government – to be introduced in April.
One Expert* said it was “abhorrent” that CQC had now been forced to subsidise the two contracts after awarding them to a “ruthless American outsourcer” that was set to make millions of pounds from running Experts by Experience.
He said he believed the decision had been taken because of the risk of a “mass exodus” of Experts if their pay was halved, while the way the negotiations had been dealt with “fits perfectly with the model of the American capitalist toxic giant Maximus”.
Another Expert* said such a subsidy from CQC would be adding “insult to injury”, but did not disguise the fact that many Experts were to be paid not much more than the minimum wage, which “completely devalues the individual’s experience, skills and knowledge”.
Remploy/Maximus refused to comment on the email, other than to say: “Discussions with CQC are continuing and nothing has been decided.”
Despite repeated promises to comment, CQC had not done so by noon today (28 January).
Every month, more than 500 experts are sent on CQC inspections across adult social care, primary care and hospitals, and by the end of 2016 the watchdog plans to double that to 950 a month.
Currently, more than 50 per cent of inspections involve Experts by Experience, and CQC wants that to increase to up to 80 per cent in some areas of its work in the next two years.
*They have asked not to be identified
28 January 2016

Justice ministry refuses to probe DWP’s WCA suicide report ‘cover-up’

The Ministry of Justice is refusing to investigate why the Department for Work and Pensions failed to fulfil its legal duty to respond to a coroner’s report that linked a disabled man’s suicide to its “fitness for work” test.
The coroner’s report was written in late March 2010 following an inquest into the death of 41-year-old Stephen Carre, from Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire, who had taken his own life in January 2010*.
Disability News Service (DNS) has seen a series of letters that show that the coroner gave the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) all the information it needed to carry out an urgent review of the safety of key aspects of the work capability assessment (WCA) in 2010.
But that review – ordered by coroner Tom Osborne through a process known as a Rule 43 letter – appears never to have been carried out.
Legislation updated in 2008 makes it clear that a copy of the DWP response to Osborne’s report should have been sent to the Lord Chancellor [whose relevant duties are now covered by the justice secretary].
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) appeared unaware this week that the work and pensions secretary – Iain Duncan Smith** – had a legal duty under the relevant legislation to produce a response to that Rule 43 report and send a copy of it to the Lord Chancellor.
MoJ has so far refused to say whether the Lord Chancellor received a response to the coroner’s report from DWP in 2010.
Instead, an MoJ spokesman insisted that any questions about the report were a matter for DWP.
He said: “It’s for DWP to answer. They will respond to you; they have told me they will respond to you.”
When asked whether he was aware that legislation stated clearly that the Lord Chancellor should have been sent the DWP response, he said: “I really think you need to ring the Department for Work and Pensions press office.”
DNS submitted a series of questions about the Osborne report under the Freedom of Information Act last month, but DWP has now missed its statutory deadline for responding.
When DNS contacted DWP’s press office yesterday (27 January), a spokeswoman refused to answer any questions about the case until her department had responded to the freedom of information (FoI) request.
She said she would “look into where your FoI request is”, although she said the inquest was “obviously something that happened more than five years ago”.
She added later: “Your FoI request is in train and we will respond as soon as possible.”
DWP’s failure to respond to the coroner’s report is important because at the time, in the summer of 2010, ministers were finalising plans to roll out the WCA to hundreds of thousands of existing claimants of incapacity benefit (IB), many of them with mental health conditions.
That summer, employment minister Chris Grayling appointed Professor Malcolm Harrington to carry out an independent review of the “fairness and effectiveness” of the WCA, and later told him he wanted to push ahead with plans to roll out the assessment, despite Harrington suggesting this should be delayed by a year.
Harrington has told DNS that he believes he was never shown the coroner’s Rule 43 letter.
More than three years later, another coroner wrote an almost identical letter warning of similar concerns about the safety of the WCA, this time after the death of a north London man, Michael O’Sullivan, who also took his own life after being found fit for work after a WCA.
Stephen Carre’s father, Peter, has told DNS that he believes the lives of other people with mental health conditions like his son could have been saved if DWP had acted on the coroner’s Rule 43 letter in 2010.
In November, new research concluded that the programme to reassess people claiming IB using the WCA could have caused 590 suicides in just three years.
And a former government adviser told DNS last month how ministers and civil servants had been “ruthless” and “reckless” in forcing through their new “fitness for work” test, and refusing to abandon it even after they were told of the harm it was causing.
*Osborne ruled that the trigger for Stephen Carre’s suicide had been DWP’s rejection of his appeal against being found “fit for work”, and he called in his Rule 43 letter for a review of the policy not to seek medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if the claimant has a mental health condition.
Neither the Atos assessor who assessed Carre, nor the DWP decision-maker who subsequently decided that he was fit for work and therefore ineligible for the new employment and support allowance, had sought information from his GP, his community psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist.
**Duncan Smith took over the post just over a month after DWP received the coroner’s report
28 January 2016

Disabled peers inflict heavy defeat as government loses its WRAG cuts

The government has suffered a crushing defeat in the House of Lords over its plans to cut future support for hundreds of thousands of disabled people found “not fit for work”, thanks to an amendment proposed by a disabled peer.
Lord [Colin] Low’s amendment – to remove the proposed cuts from the welfare reform and work bill – was passed by 283 to 198 votes during the bill’s report stage last night (27 January).
Although the government is likely to reintroduce the measure when the bill returns to the House of Commons, the vote is likely to be seen as a fresh blow to the credibility of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
His proposals would see new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) see their weekly payments drop by nearly £30 a week from April 2017.
Another proposal – also thrown out following an amendment moved by Lord Low – would introduce similar cuts for those placed in the equivalent group of the new universal credit, which is gradually replacing income-related ESA and other means-tested benefits.
Duncan Smith and his fellow ministers and Tory MPs have repeatedly argued that cutting the financial support for sick and disabled people found not fit for work, but able to carry out some work-related activity, would “incentivise” them to find jobs.
But that argument was torn apart during the debate, with only a single Tory peer willing to support the government’s position.
Lord Low said the proposed cuts would see new ESA WRAG claimants facing a drop in their income of £29.05 a week, which would mean a “catastrophic” fall of £1,500 in their annual income and would “push many further towards, or actually into, poverty”.
He said: “The barrier to employment for disabled people is not any financial disincentive created by the ESA premium.
“What stops disabled people getting jobs are things such as employer attitudes, their health condition, illness or impairment, difficulty with transport, and lack of qualifications, experience, confidence and job opportunities.”
Although existing WRAG claimants would be protected from the government’s proposals, he said, they would be hit by the cut if they moved into work and then returned to claiming ESA and were placed back in the WRAG.
Disabled peers Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Celia] Thomas and Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson also spoke out against the government’s plans during the debate.
Pointing to the government’s imminent white paper on employment support for disabled people, Baroness Campbell said: “Disabled people are fearful that the assault on their personal finances does not end with today’s proposals, and I think that they are right to be anxious.
“Frankly, disabled people are worn down by the relentless changes and cuts to their support arrangements and are right to be afraid of what is to come.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson said that the universal credit measure would mean even greater losses for disabled people in work.
She warned that single disabled parents working 16 hours or more, living in rented accommodation and making a new claim for universal credit in 2017, would receive about £70 a week, or £3,500 a year, less than they would receive now through tax credits.
She said the impact of the universal credit proposals on hundreds of thousands of disabled people would be “devastating”.
Baroness Thomas said that “cutting the benefit of those who are fit for work but unemployed might act as an incentive but it will really not work for those who are found not fit for work”.
She said: “It is likely to have the opposite effect, pushing some in the WRAG further from employment.”
The only peer, apart from the welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, who spoke in favour of the proposed cuts was Lord [Andrew] Lansley, the Tory former health secretary.
He said that work was “a valid route out of poverty, a route to dignity and a route for people to be no longer dependent on benefits—and they do not want to be dependent on benefits”, and that it was vital to use the government’s proposals “to change the current situation and make that happen”.
Lord Freud said the government wanted to “recycle some of the money currently spent on cash payments, which are not achieving the desired effect of helping people to move closer to the labour market, into practical support that will make a genuine difference to people in these groups”.
The government plans eventually to spend an extra £100 million a year of the annual £640 million savings from the WRAG cut on improving employment support for disabled people.
Lord Freud said it was “important to stress once again that claimants in the work-related activity group have been found to have ‘limited capability for work’, which is very different to being unfit for any work”.
He added: “That is an important distinction, as this misconception helps drive people further away from the labour market and perpetuates the benefit trap.”
He claimed that some of the universal credit figures mentioned by Baroness Grey-Thompson “do not accurately reflect the situation”.
28 January 2016

Trio seek court backing to fend off council’s DPO ban

Three disabled people are taking legal action against a council that has banned them and other service-users from continuing to use a disabled people’s organisation (DPO) to support them with managing their care packages.
It is believed to be the first case in which service-users have sought a judicial review under the government’s new Care Act 2014.
All three claimants – Haydn Collins, Jenny Bolland and Slade Holmes – have been using Direct Payment Service Users (DiPSU) to support them in managing the direct payments allocated by Nottinghamshire County Council to fund their care and support, and say the DPO has provided them with a high quality service.
But the council claims that a long-running probe by its own trading standards department, including, more recently, allegations of fraud against DiPSU, makes the organisation unfit to be providing services to hundreds of service-users across the county.
DiPSU, which has been running since 2003, insists it has done nothing wrong and that the council has never provided a shred of evidence for its allegations.
Paul Co-Head, chief executive of DiPSU, said his organisation had to resort to legal action twice during 2014 to prevent the council from excluding it from providing direct payments support in the county.
It was only a few weeks after the second failed attempt that the council launched its trading standards investigation, a probe which DiPSU’s lawyers, Irwin Mitchell, have described as “frivolous” and “a fishing expedition”.
Last summer, the council announced that it was now investigating DiPSU for alleged fraud.
It has now sent letters to every one of DiPSU’s direct payments clients, telling them that they must no longer use DiPSU because it was not an “accredited” service-provider.
DiPSU says that only five of more than 500 clients across Nottinghamshire have left the organisation “of their own choice”, but Co-Head said the council was “writing letters which are forcing the rest of our service-users to leave against their will or lose their direct payments for another method of care arranged by the council”.
One of the letters, seen by Disability News Service, tells the recipient that the council has been told that they are “unwilling” to transfer their direct payments support from DiPSU to an alternative provider.
The letter suggests that if they refuse to leave DiPSU, the council could remove their right to receive direct payments.
DiPSU says the council has failed to provide a single piece of evidence of fraudulent behaviour, while independent accountants have examined its accounts and given it a clean bill of health.
Co-Head said: “It is causing a lot of people a lot of stress, but it isn’t about us, it is about disabled people having the right to choose the organisations they wish.”
He said the three DiPSU service-users were now “fighting to have that right to independence, choice and control”, but he warned: “If the council wins this case, it means they have found a way around the Care Act.”
Co-Head believes that it was DiPSU’s efforts to protect service-users from the impact of spending cuts from November 2013 that led to a deterioration in its relationship with the council.
If the council wins its battle to exclude DiPSU, Co-Head said his organisation would probably be forced to close within six months.
He said: “The vast majority [of council staff], especially frontline workers, have worked hard alongside us to promote the rights of disabled people to have independence, choice and control, but we have been bullied, harassed and intimidated by senior officials, and been treated like common criminals.
“The uncertainty of our futures is making us feel physically and mentally ill, but we are doing it for what we think is a very good cause.
“As a disabled person myself, I believe it is our human right to have independence, choice and control over who provides support for us.”
So far, he said, out of about 2,000 clients – employing more than 5,000 staff – who have received support from DiPSU, not one has suffered financial loss as a result of using direct payments, and none of them have been successfully taken to an employment tribunal.
He said: “We think we have a very, very good track record.”
There has only ever been one formal complaint against a DiPSU employee, he said, and that was from a social worker complaining that a DiPSU member of staff had stepped outside their duties by cooking a meal for a client when a personal assistant failed to turn up for their shift.
A spokesman for the county council said it was limited in what it could say, because of the ongoing investigation.
But Caroline Baria, the council’s adult social care and health service director, said: “The county council suspended Direct Payment Service Users Ltd (DiPSU) from its list of accredited direct payment support service-providers in August 2015 due to a major criminal investigation being carried out by trading standards into potential fraud involving this provider.
“The suspension of DiPSU does not relate to the implementation of the council’s direct payment policy and will not prevent the council from carrying out its statutory responsibilities.
“We have had to act to safeguard service-users against potential fraud so we are moving all Nottinghamshire residents who use this service-provider to alternative providers.
“There are currently four accredited direct payment support service-providers within Nottinghamshire [council letters to DiPSU clients suggest there are only three].
“We are starting to work with the first group of 100 service-users on this move and this should be completed by the end of March.”
Lawyers for Collins, Bolland and Holmes say the council’s actions are unlawful because they breach the Care Act 2014; the council’s public sector equality duty under the Equality Act; and the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
They hope to win permission for a full judicial review of the council’s new rules at a high court hearing in Birmingham next month (11 February).
Martin Bridger, solicitor for the three claimants, from legal firm Bhatia Best, said: “It’s quite clear-cut that the Care Act says that local authorities cannot mandate the use of accredited providers.”
He added: “We are saying the decision is irrational, unlawful and unreasonable because it has been taken too quickly, without consulting with the individual claimants… and without disclosing in that consultation all the evidence to say, ‘This is why you cannot use DiPSU.’
“It’s an important case, touching on a piece of legislation that has not been tested by the courts yet.”
A council spokesman said: “A claim for judicial review was issued on behalf of three direct payment recipients in September 2015 seeking to challenge the council’s decision to require direct payment recipients receiving services from DiPSU to move to an alternative support service-provider.
“The council took the decision to safeguard vulnerable people from potential fraud and to protect public funds and stands by that decision.
“Permission to proceed with the claim was refused by the court in November 2015.
“However, the claimants have requested that the court reconsider the issue of permission. This request will be considered by the court in February 2016.
“As is always the case, we will work with the individual people affected by the change and consider all options available to ensure there is minimum disruption to the care and support they receive.
“We are committed as an authority to facilitating choice and control and as an authority have amongst the highest rates of direct payments in the country.”
28 January 2016

Bedroom tax discriminates against disabled children, say appeal court judges

The government’s “bedroom tax” discriminates unlawfully against disabled children, the court of appeal has ruled.
The appeal court, which overturned a high court decision, was hearing the case of two disabled grandparents who care for their disabled grandson in an adapted three-bedroom bungalow in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
The court also ruled that the bedroom tax – or the spare room subsidy removal (SRSR), as it is called by the government – discriminates against victims of domestic violence, after hearing the case of a woman whose home had been adapted to include a “panic room” to protect her from a violent ex-partner.
The appeal court had heard that Paul and Susan Rutherford had been found to be “under-occupying” their home and had their housing benefit cut by 14 per cent, even though their 15-year-old grandson Warren, who lives with them, needs 24-hour care from at least two people at a time.
Two paid care workers stay overnight in their bungalow at least twice a week, but the Rutherfords were hit by the bedroom tax for their third bedroom, which they need for the care workers to sleep in, and for storing disability equipment for Warren.
Although the rules allow for an extra bedroom if an adult claimant or their partner needs overnight care, this does not apply to families with a disabled child.
The court of appeal found that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had unlawfully discriminated against disabled children under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), while he had also failed to have regard to the best interests of disabled children when devising the bedroom tax regulations.
Although the Rutherfords now receive discretionary payments from the local authority to cover the bedroom tax – the council had originally refused their application – the court said there was no guarantee this would continue in the future.
The lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, one of the three judges who heard the case, said in the written ruling that it was “clear” that Duncan Smith “should have had specific regard to the best interests of children in the position of W as a primary consideration when devising the Regulations”.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been given permission to appeal the court’s ruling on the two cases to the Supreme Court.
After the ruling, when asked by Sky News what his message was to those responsible for the bedroom tax, Paul Rutherford said: “I’d say they have no idea what they are doing, I would say they should look closely at Warren, they should look at myself, and they should ask themselves what they are doing, what do you hope to achieve by this?
“What is the ultimate aim? To grind us down even further, is that what you want to achieve?
“Do you want Warren to go into care? Do you want me to have a nervous breakdown or my wife?
“Or do you want us as citizens of your country to just live our lives and give this young man the best that we can.
“That’s what we want to do, and it’s over to them what they want to do now.”
Mike Spencer, solicitor at the Child Poverty Action Group, who acts for the Rutherfords, said: “Instead of putting this family through the ordeal of a further appeal, the government should now think seriously about amending the regulations to protect severely disabled children.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We fundamentally disagree with the court’s ruling on the ECHR, which directly contradicts the high court.
“We know there will be people who need extra support.
“That is why we are giving local authorities over £870 million in extra funding [for discretionary housing payments, although most of it is not for bedroom tax cases] over the next five years to help ensure people in difficult situations like these don’t lose out”
It is likely that the Rutherfords’ case will be heard on 1 and 2 March by the Supreme Court, at the same time as the domestic violence case and another bedroom tax appeal involving disabled people.
That case concerns five disabled adults – including Jayson and Jacqueline Carmichael, from Southport – who all need extra bedrooms for impairment-related reasons.
They lost their case in 2014, after the court of appeal ruled DWP regulations do discriminate against some disabled people, but that this discrimination was justified, and therefore lawful.
Ken Butler, welfare rights officer for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said: “This is a very significant judgment, as the court ruled that the existence of discretionary housing payments does not justify or mitigate against bedroom tax legislation that discriminates against disabled people.
“What disabled people need is the assurance of having their entitlement to housing benefit enshrined in law and not to have the worry and stress of repeated applications for discretionary help that could be refused without the right to independent appeal.”
DR UK said it would write to Duncan Smith to ask him to accept the court’s ruling and respect the right of families such as Warren’s to support that is “respectful of family life” and cheaper than the alternative of residential care.
The charity added: “We will ask the government to bring forward, instead, regulations that will create a new exemption to this discriminatory tax.”
28 January 2016

DWP refuses to back down over annual disability employment report

A disabled peer has failed to persuade the government to publish an annual report on progress towards its target of halving the disability employment gap.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell had proposed an amendment to the government’s welfare reform and work bill during this week’s report stage in the Lords.
She told fellow peers that without such a report there would be “no robust way of analysing what exactly is preventing disabled people from working, and of putting it right”.
Baroness Campbell, whose amendment received widespread support from other peers, including Labour’s shadow work and pensions spokesman Lord McKenzie, said she had seen repeated attempts at solving the “so-called disability unemployment problem” throughout her career.
She said: “We tinker at the edges, running pilots, employer awareness campaigns and support programmes with short-lived funding and we wonder why the figures remain abysmally low.
“Halving the employment gap is a very ambitious commitment, which has not been achieved by any administration in my lifetime.
“It will take a well-informed, cross-government strategy that addresses the barriers specific to different impairment groups to understand what lies behind the barriers to work.”
She said the gap had been more than 30 per cent for more than a decade, with the employment rate for disabled people currently 47.6 per cent, and 80.5 per cent for non-disabled people.
She said: “The government need to radically think again and put a specific reporting obligation in the bill.
“I know that departments will then give it higher priority, and everyone concerned will see that the government’s commitment in its manifesto is genuine.”
She said such a report would “identify those who encounter the biggest barriers to work, ensuring better targeting of resources for support”.
Her fellow disabled crossbench peer, Lord [Colin] Low, supported her amendment and congratulated the government on setting its goal to halve the disability employment gap, but he said it would “take a lot of work to achieve it”.
Lord Low said: “Having targets specific to this objective and reporting regularly on them will be necessary if we are to monitor the progress desired and to take remedial action if required.”
He said that such a report would allow “better analysis of how current support arrangements are working and help the government to better target resources and support where they are most needed”, and enable the government to produce separate data relating to people with learning difficulties, autism, mental health conditions, and visual and hearing impairments.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, who also backed Baroness Campbell’s amendment, said the employment rate for people with learning difficulties was only eight per cent, and just 15 per cent for those with autism.
She said that existing government policies on disability employment had “not been very successful”, while its plan to cut nearly £30 a week from new claimants in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance – proposals which peers threw out later in the week – would be likely to push many disabled people further from the job market.
But Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, said Baroness Campbell’s amendment was “unnecessary”.
He promised that the government would report on progress on halving the disability employment gap within its annual report on full employment.
He said: “There is no need to include a reporting duty in the bill to drive progress or signal commitment in this area.
“We have already said that we will publish a white paper later this year to set out our plans for improving support for disabled people and people with health conditions, to further reduce the disability employment gap and to promote integration across health and employment.”
But Baroness Campbell told him that even a chapter dedicated to disability in the annual report on full employment “will not do what it needs to for disabled people in really beginning to address that 30 per cent gap”.
She said: “Disabled people are complex creatures; we are all so different, and all our support is different.
“Understanding why we are not entering the employment market will take something else – something more than a chapter in a generic report.
“However committed the minister is that it should reflect the situation, I am afraid that it will not.”
She did not ask peers to vote on her amendment and instead asked Lord Freud to tell the Department for Work and Pensions and other government departments: “Okay, this will be part of the generic report, but I want it to be a substantive part, and I want more than a generic report with a chapter on disability that tells us all the things that we already know.”
28 January 2016

MPs call on government to reopen fund for disabled politicians

A cross-party group of MPs have called on the government to reopen a fund that provided financial support for disabled people who want to stand for election to parliament or local councils.
The Access to Elected Office fund – which offered grants to disabled people to pay for their additional impairment-related costs in standing for election as a councillor or MP – has been lying dormant since the general election last May while the government reviews its effectiveness.
But now Green MP Caroline Lucas – with backing from Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs – has written to Caroline Dinenage, the minister for equalities, asking her to reopen the fund in time for May’s local and regional elections.
Last September, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in its submission to a UN inquiry into the rights of disabled people to participate in political and public life, called for the fund to be reopened.
The MPs say in the letter: “We see no good reason why the government should not follow the EHRC’s recommendation, and urge you to complete the evaluation process as a matter of urgency, so that disabled people planning to stand in May’s local and regional elections can access much-needed financial support.”
The letter was signed by Ben Howlett (Conservatives), Kate Green (Labour), Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru), Angela Crawley (SNP) and Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrats).
Their call was backed by Lord [Chris] Holmes, the disabled Tory peer and EHRC’s disability commissioner, who said the fund should be reopened and extended across Britain.
He said: “We made this call last year and are pleased that it is being supported by MPs.
“Twenty years on from the first Disability Discrimination Act, progress towards ensuring disabled people’s equal participation in political life to date has been disappointingly slow and may even have gone backwards.”
He also called for the government to collect data that monitored the number of disabled MPs, one of the measures agreed by parliament six years ago through the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation but not yet implemented.
Lord Holmes said: “It is also disappointing that there continues to be an information black hole about the number of disabled people in politics – we want the government to implement the measures parliament agreed in 2010 to improve transparency on this issue.
“Efforts to support disabled people seeking a role in political life should be redoubled to ensure their voices are heard and they are not excluded from the political arena.”
Only last month, the Scottish government announced £35,000 funding for a short-term project to support disabled candidates standing in the 2016 elections to the Scottish parliament, and prospective candidates for the 2017 local government elections, by assessing their access barriers and support needs, providing advice on appropriate adjustments, and offering support and mentoring.
A UK government spokesman said in response to the MPs’ letter: “An evaluation of the Access to Elected Office fund pilot is currently being undertaken and will include the views of disabled applicants on the effectiveness of the scheme.”
He added: “This government is committed to making sure disabled people can fulfil their potential and participate fully in society.
“It is important that this extends to political participation so that disabled people are involved at every level in the decisions that affect how they live their lives.”
When asked whether the fund would be reopened in time for the May elections, and why the evaluation had taken so long, he said: “We have nothing to add.”
28 January 2016

Unlimited expansion set to influence international perception of disabled artists

New funding of more than £1.5 million is set to deliver an international extension to a disability arts commissioning programme that grew out of London 2012, and help influence how disabled people are perceived in other countries.
Unlimited has secured more than £750,000 from Arts Council England – which will be matched by the British Council – to extend its work internationally.
The new Unlimited International programme will make six research and development awards to disabled artists, and then select three of them to become full commissions, each led by disabled artists from England and one other country.
The completed works are set to tour at least three countries, which are likely to include Brazil, Australia and Japan, as well as in Europe.
The new scheme – which will be overseen by the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and arts producing experts Arts Admin – aims to help disabled artists from other countries improve their skills.
But it also aims to shift perceptions of disabled people, and build on Unlimited’s existing work to ensure disabled artists have the same opportunities as non-disabled artists, “embedding” them within the cultural sector.
Unlimited was built on a successful programme which saw 29 pieces by disabled artists showcased during the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
In the lead-up to the commissioning process, disabled artists from Brazil, Japan and Australia will tour Britain, probably appearing at Unlimited festivals at London’s Southbank Centre and Glasgow’s Tramway, and other venues across the country.
The tour will also be supported by the British Council; the Pallant House art gallery in West Sussex; the disability, music and technology charity Drake Music; and the Watershed arts centre in Bristol.
Tony Heaton, chief executive of Shape, told Disability News Service: “It’s a great achievement that Shape and Unlimited are now working globally and as far-reaching as Brazil, Australia and Japan.
“We in the UK should be very proud that the home-grown disability arts movement that started a quarter century ago is having such a huge impact in 2016, and the international presence of disabled artists will help further our mission to make art accessible for all.
“However, we recognise that rapid growth requires a more complex infrastructure and greater resources, so the ongoing support from funders is vital for us to continue our work.”
Joyce Wilson, London area director for Arts Council England, said: “Unlimited continues to respond to the very high demand for ambitious new work by Deaf and disabled artists.
“The commissioned works and associated Southbank Unlimited Festival are proving instrumental in shifting the attitudes of not only venues, programmers and producers but also audiences.
“Unlimited International offers significant scope to grow this impact worldwide, delivering demonstrable change and extending the international profile of British Deaf and disabled artists.”
28 January 2016

Most just stand by after witnessing hate crimes, says survey

More than one in seven people have witnessed a disability hate crime or incident in the last year, according to a new survey released to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
Disabled campaigners say the figures, published by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, should push the criminal justice system to do more to recognise and act on the problem.
According to the survey, 15 per cent of people have witnessed at least one disability-related hate crime or hate incident in the last year, while more than two-thirds of those who witnessed a hate crime or incident regretted not challenging it.
And more than one-third of those who witnessed a disability-related hate crime or incident saw at least four such instances, while nearly one in 20 witnessed at least 10.
Anne Novis, an independent advisor on disability hate crime to the Metropolitan police, a trustee of Inclusion London and a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said the figures were not a surprise.
She said disabled people were “well aware” of how much hostility they experience and how it has increased, while police spending cuts had led to reductions in action to prevent hostility, raise awareness and respond to reports.
She added: “Training is not sufficient, and inconsistency of approaches to disability hate crime mean it’s a postcode lottery whether police will respond as they should.
“The majority of disabled people will not report their experiences as it has become part of everyday life and they know little, if anything, will be done in response.
“Raising awareness about hate crime is important for everybody so all can understand they can make a difference by reporting the incident, coming forward as a witness, and assisting the victim in such situations.”
Novis said that disabled people “do not have equality of law when we experience hostility”, while most police officers only recognise it as anti-social behaviour rather than “the very real experience and impact of disability hate crime”.
She added: “Hopefully, this will be yet another reminder to all to do much more on this issue, and that all members of society can make a difference if they act rather than being passive.”
Stephen Brookes, another coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and an ambassador for Disability Rights UK, also said the figures were not a surprise and underlined the need for far more realistic statistics on disability hate crime.
He said he was particularly disappointed by the number of people who witnessed hate crimes and incidents but refused to take action.
He said: “It’s easy to blame police and the Crown Prosecution Service for failures, but when we don’t take action, how can they?”
He said it was vital to keep pressing the trust’s message that “silence and indifference in the face of discrimination and hatred allows persecution to take root”, which he said was demonstrated by the successful third-party reporting centres run by disabled people’s user-led organisations, where “disabled people talk to and report incidents to disabled people”.
Brookes said: “This is a message the Disability Hate Crime Network not just endorses but insists is imperative in the fight against disability hate crime.
“We would add the words of our own logo: ‘Silence is acceptance so we must speak loudly.’”
The theme for yesterday’s (27 January) Holocaust Memorial Day – which was funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government – was “Don’t Stand By”.
Olivia Marks-Woldman, the trust’s chief executive, said: “Today is about remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, but it’s also about finding ways to make sure they can never happen again.
“We know that silence and indifference in the face of discrimination and hatred allows persecution to take root, so we want to encourage people to stand up and speak out, in the way many brave souls have in the past.”
Holocaust Memorial Day is an annual commemoration for the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution, and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
28 January 2016

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