Election 2017: Mordaunt dodges questions over ‘misleading’ WCA pledge

The Conservatives have refused to comment on an apparently misleading public pledge by the minister for disabled people that another Tory government would “dismantle” the work capability assessment.

Penny Mordaunt was speaking at a disability hustings event in Westminster that was organised by the Disability Charities Consortium, the Disability Benefits Consortium and the Care and Support Alliance.

Asked by a representative of the sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust how to reform the benefits system so that it no longer required disabled people to “pay for their benefits with their dignity”, she said a Conservative government would “legislate to reform the work capability assessment” which “treats people like they are part of a sausage factory”.

She then added: “We have managed to get into the manifesto a legislative commitment to dismantle the work capability assessment.”

But there is no mention of the WCA in the party’s general election manifesto, or of “dismantling” it, and it pledges only that the Tories will continue targeting benefits “at those who need it most”, and to provide claimants of out-of-work disability benefits with “personalised and tailored employment support”.

And last October’s work, health and disability green paper included no pledge to “dismantle” or scrap the assessment process but only to try to improve it, and suggested the WCA might in the future be used only to decide entitlement to financial support, with a separate process allocating employment support.

Mordaunt was the only one of the three party representatives – she was joined by Labour’s Kate Green and the Liberal Democrats’ disabled president Baroness [Sal] Brinton – who refused afterwards to be interviewed by Disability News Service (see separate stories).

A Conservative party official who accompanied Mordaunt to Tuesday’s event promised that she would answer questions instead by email, but she had failed to respond to any of those questions by noon today (Thursday).

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats promise in their manifestos to scrap the WCA.

Another audience member, from the mental health charity Rethink, said she had found the WCA process “awful” and “distressing” and that it had “made my [mental] illness much, much worse”, as had the assessment process for the other main disability benefit, personal independence payment (PIP).

Mordaunt said the government needed to involve professionals with expertise in particular health conditions in assessing claimants, while DWP needed to “look at working much more closely with healthcare”.

She had earlier admitted that there was “no group in society that is so discriminated against [as disabled people], whether it be the barriers of the environment, of attitudes, or the failings of the state”.

And she said a Conservative government needed to ensure that new homes that are built in both the private and social sectors are accessible.

She added: “We need greater accessibility to buildings, facilities, and we need real equality of experience.”

She said this would mean a review of regulations for licensing, building, planning and parking, and “regulators and also new ombudsmen” to protect the rights of disabled people.

1 June 2017

 

 

UK’s Zero rating puts it near foot of European league table on disability rights

The UK is one of the worst-performing countries in Europe when it comes to implementing the UN disability convention, according to an influential new report.

The Zero Project details the progress made by 121 countries around the world on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Every year, the project’s results – and examples of good practice – are shared internationally, including at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and UNCRPD’s Conference of State Parties in New York.

Four years ago, the results of a previous Zero Project report were used – misleadingly – by the then minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, to try to defend her government from accusations that its Paralympic legacy hung in the balance because of cuts to disabled people’s support.

But the latest report suggests that the UK is now one of the worst performers in Europe when it comes to implementing the UN convention.

The report gives each country a green (yes), amber (yes, with qualifications), red (no), or grey (no results available) rating for each question, with those ratings decided by disability organisations from that country.

In the UK, the ratings for this year’s report were decided by the British Deaf Association (BDA).

The results show that, across the 21 questions, the UK can boast just five green scores, compared with 12 for France and Norway, nine for Germany and Denmark and seven for Moldova.

Of the 16 European countries that featured in this year’s report, the UK came equal 11th, alongside Ukraine, when ranked on the number of green ratings it scored.

The questions where the UK was given a green score included whether it published statistics about disabled people’s education and employment; whether employers had to make adjustments for disabled people in the workplace; and whether the country promoted the employment of disabled people in the private sector.

But it scored a red on questions such as whether the country had an accessible early warning system in cases of national emergency; and whether there was public funding for a national umbrella organisation for disabled people’s organisations.

It scored amber on questions such as whether all forms of urban public transport were accessible to all disabled people; and whether there was a legal time frame for all existing publicly-accessible buildings to be made accessible to all disabled people.

The report comes only months after a report by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities – which focused on social security reforms – concluded that there had been “grave or systematic violations” of UNCRPD by the UK government.

Asked if the low number of green indicators showed Britain was lagging behind many other European countries on disability rights and the implementation of the convention, and showed the impact of austerity, a Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “The UK spends around £50 billion a year to support sick and disabled people – approximately 2.5 per cent of GDP and more than six per cent of all government spending.

“The number of disabled people in work has increased by almost 300,000 in the last year.

“The UK is currently going through its first periodic examination of implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and welcomes the opportunity for constructive discussion on the continued progression of disabled people’s rights.”

The minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, had not commented on the report by noon today (Thursday).

BDA had not commented on its Zero Project findings by noon today.

1 June 2017

 

 

BMA ‘will be complicit in future deaths’, after silence on ‘fit note’ rules

Appalled disabled activists have warned the British Medical Association (BMA) that it will be “complicit” in the future deaths of patients, after the doctors’ union refused to speak out about “very dangerous” new benefit rules affecting severely-ill claimants.

Disability News Service (DNS) reported last week how the rules can force people applying for the government’s new universal credit to look for jobs and take part in training, even if their GPs have said they are not fit for work.

Dr Stephen Carty, medical adviser to the Scottish grassroots campaign group Black Triangle, who works as a GP in Leith, on the edge of Edinburgh, said last week that the “substantial risks” were “incalculable”, and that GPs had not been told about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rules.

BMA has previously been reluctant to involve itself in safety concerns around DWP’s fitness for work tests, although its public position has been that the work capability assessment (WCA) “should be scrapped with immediate effect and replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable people in society”.

Despite that position, it took more than two-and-a-half years for Carty, Black Triangle and other campaigners to persuade the union to agree to tell every GP in the country about two regulations that protect many disabled people facing the WCA.

Yesterday – five days after DNS asked whether it was aware of the new universal credit rules and if it was concerned about their potential impact – a BMA spokeswoman said: “The assessments of benefits has been independent of GPs for years, so whilst I am sure many will have strong opinions on this, it is not something as an organisation we have anything new to say on it.”

Black Triangle is now working with supportive doctors to develop a campaign on the universal credit rules, and is preparing itself for another battle with BMA.

John McArdle, Black Triangle’s co-founder, said: “BMA’s silence will make them complicit in the destruction of disabled people’s lives and in the deaths of innocent disabled people, their patients.”

He said he had been reminded of how, at the height of the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, the AIDS community had adopted the slogan “silence equals death” to “mobilise the medical profession and the wider community into action to save lives”.

McArdle said the BMA’s silence on the universal credit rules would “go down as a day of infamy for an organisation which has betrayed its sacred duty to protect and defend human life”.

He said the organisation had also betrayed its duty to represent doctors “who we believe will be as appalled as us at this shameful act of complicity”, which was happening “at a time when disabled people are looking at another five years of Conservative rule”.

The rules – which have never been announced or publicised by DWP – apply to new universal credit claimants who are waiting for a WCA.

They mean that they could have their benefits sanctioned for up to three months if they fail to follow strict instructions from a job coach with no medical training, even if they have a “fit note” from their GP stating that they are not fit for work.

They are forced to attend a “health and work conversation” and could be forced into further work-related activity, such as training or employment programmes, and could also face sanctions if they fail to show they have searched for a job for up to 35 hours a week, and have not made themselves available for paid work.

Potential sanctions will continue to hang over their heads until their fitness for work is eventually tested through a WCA, which could take months.

The new rules – uncovered by Black Triangle’s sister organisation Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – apply to sick and disabled people who would previously have been eligible for income-based employment and support allowance (ESA), which is gradually being phased out in the move to universal credit, but not to those eligible for the contribution-based form of ESA, which will continue alongside universal credit.

Under ESA, claimants with a fit note from their GP are not expected to carry out any work-related activity and continue to receive a lower assessment rate of the benefit until they have had their WCA and a decision is reached on their eligibility.

DWP has insisted that universal credit claimants with a fit note will only be forced to carry out “reasonable” work-related activity that is “tailored to the individual’s circumstances”, while work coaches will demand no work-related activity “if appropriate”.

But activists believe the potential harm caused to severely-ill people could be catastrophic and potentially fatal.

Anita Bellows, a DPAC researcher, said: “It is very disappointing to see that the BMA has refused to comment on the DWP policy, which will force people assessed as unfit for work by their GP to attend a mandatory health and work conversation, whatever the severity of their health condition.

“GPs have the duty of making the care of their patients their first concern and their refusal to speak up on their behalf will be seen rightly as a dereliction of duty.”

1 June 2017

 

 

‘DWP’s flawed assessments and harassment’ forced woman into webcam sex work

A disabled grandmother has described how the flawed disability benefit assessment system and back-to-work harassment from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) forced her into employment as a webcam sex worker.

A*, who has had chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia for the last 10 years, has been left £25,000 in debt after having to survive without the benefits she needs.

She turned to sex work as a “cam girl” – performing for clients on the internet through live webcam footage – five years ago, after jokingly asking on Facebook (which she no longer uses): “What job can I do without getting out of bed?”

She knows at least 15 other disabled sex workers who are in similar situations because they have been unable to secure the benefits they need to pay their bills.

A, who is in her 40s, says that every time she has tried to work outside the home it has left her “absolutely ruined healthwise”.

She says she prefers working as a cam girl and having to deal with some “really quite unpleasant” men who seek her services rather than trying to, yet again, claim employment and support allowance (ESA), which she tried for several years until 2011.

“I can’t cope with ESA,” she said. “I would prefer to be self-employed and not have them pester me all the damned time. It’s more depressing on ESA than off it.”

During her years in the work-related activity group of ESA she had to cope with lengthy delays with her application, “many lost medical certificates”, a string of failed interactions with government back-to-work programmes, and being sanctioned for being too ill to show up for appointments.

She said: “I feel frustrated with my situation. I don’t actually hate my work, but I don’t like it much either.

“I would like to carry on doing it as it suits my particular conditions, and I can stay in work, away from ESA-style benefits, but I need extra financial help – I blame the DWP for not letting me have the extra help I need.”

An attempt in 2014 to claim the disability element of working tax credits – on the advice of HMRC – left her in even deeper financial trouble, after an Atos healthcare professional visited her at home 18 months later to assess her for PIP.

She had been claiming disability living allowance (DLA) but was one of the thousands caught up in the PIP reassessment programme, after the government started introducing the new benefit in 2013.

A DWP decision-maker concluded that she was ineligible for PIP after the retired paramedic who visited her on one of her better days – she has chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, which are both fluctuating conditions – decided that she had “picked up a cup of tea without obvious discomfort” and “had no problems communicating”.

Like many other DLA and PIP claimants, she didn’t have the physical or mental energy to appeal.

The PIP decision led to HMRC demanding that she pay back £5,000 in tax credits that she had been receiving for claiming the disability element of tax credits, which drove her further into debt.

She is now in the middle of a fresh claim for PIP.

Having previously twice been found ineligible for disability benefits – once for ESA and once for DLA – and on both occasions having appealed successfully, she believes the assessment system and the software used by the assessment companies are “flawed”.

She said: “None of my assessors have had any idea about my conditions. The first one was a doctor who was forced into resignation after botching an operation.”

Because she lost her DLA/PIP, and had to pay back £20 a month to HMRC, she resorted to using credit cards to eat and pay her bills – she no longer has any credit and is being chased by debt collectors.

The anxiety caused by such a large debt – in total she owes about £25,000 – caused a “complete mental breakdown” last November.

Her mental health is currently so poor that she is phoning Samaritans and the local NHS mental health crisis team at least three times a week.

She said: “I am now on Mirtazapine [an anti-depressant] to stop me going off the rails, although it’s impossible to actually treat the depression and anxiety and occasional suicidal thoughts because it’s the debt that’s mostly responsible for those feelings.

“That and being housebound and having no other option than to cater for really quite unpleasant men on the internet to get any money (I do have some nice customers on there, just not many).

“I have a grandchild now and another on the way, but I do not have time or energy to see the family as I am having to spend all my waking hours at work, and then the rest of the time trying to feel less terrible from having worked.”

She said she was “fairly naïve” when she began working as a cam girl. “Many people assume this is an easy earner, thousands of pounds, for taking your clothes off.

“This is an absolute fallacy. I can sometimes sit poised for webcam for days on end and only make £10.

“That’s me putting in 12 hours of trying to work per day, on my good days. I do occasionally get a big spender, and get £300 in an hour, but this is not often the case.”

Her average monthly income is about £500.

But A said she was privileged that she could be “out” with her family and friends about the work she does.

She said: “They all fully support me, although my parents like to imagine that what I do is much more genteel than it actually is.

“Many sex workers are not able to confide in anyone about this, so it’s not to be assumed everyone is as fortunate as I am or has any support at all.

“Sex work can be a very lonely business, no matter what sort is being conducted.”

She added: “Do not think sex work is bad, it’s just not necessarily right for a lot of people.

“It is very important to point out that the majority of sex work isn’t conducted by disabled people or addicts, as the media may portray – most people in the business are perfectly normal, everyday people who chose this because it suited them.

“This is just a personal account of one disabled person who found it to be their last option.”

*She has asked for her name not to be used

1 June 2017

 

 

Election 2017: UKIP silence after manifesto confuses PIP assessment with WCA

UKIP’s disability spokeswoman has refused to explain both how the party has managed to confuse two key disability benefits in its election manifesto, and – for the second election running – which parts of the UN disability convention it supports.

UKIP’s manifesto includes a section titled “Ending the injustice of personal independence payments”, which describes how personal independence payment (PIP) seems to have become “a covert way of slashing the benefit bill”.

It discusses how many disabled people have fallen into debt while awaiting their appeals after being turned down for PIP, and how more than 50,000 people have lost their Motability vehicles after being found ineligible for the higher rate of PIP mobility support, in the move from disability living allowance.

But at the end of this section, the party says a UKIP government would deal with the PIP problems by reforming the work capability assessment (WCA), the eligibility test for out-of-work disability benefits, which is completely unrelated to PIP.

It has so far refused to explain how it managed to make such a basic error.

The party also faces further questions about its commitment to disability rights, as the manifesto says the party remains committed to its promise to “protect the rights of the disabled”, a pledge made in its 2015 general election manifesto.

But the 2015 pledge said only that UKIP was “fully committed to protecting the rights of disabled people, as set out in Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

Article 19 is a key part of the UN disability convention, but only refers to disabled people’s right to independent living.

Two years ago, Disability News Service tried repeatedly to discover whether UKIP was committed to the other 49 articles in the convention, which includes sections on accessibility; the right to life; personal mobility; freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; access to justice; freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse; respect for privacy; and liberty of movement and nationality.

But neither the party’s press office nor its disability spokeswoman, Star Anderton, were able to explain which articles the party endorsed.

This week, both Anderton and the party’s press office have again refused to clarify whether it backs only article 19 or all of the convention.

It appears likely that it does not endorse at least one of the articles, on inclusive education, because the UKIP manifesto pledges to “reverse the policy of closing special schools”.

Elsewhere in the manifesto, UKIP promises to increase spending on social care by £2 billion a year, and says it would “prioritise early intervention schemes and community-based models of care that promote independence and wellbeing, such as supported living arrangements”, while it says that “institutional and acute care models should be a last-resort”.

There is also reference to the campaigning work of the website Disability United, which revealed earlier this year how many NHS primary care organisations had quietly introduced cost-cutting policies that could see disabled people with complex healthcare needs shunted into residential or nursing homes against their wishes.

UKIP’s manifesto says the party would “make sure those with on-going health care needs choose where they wish to live, unless they are unable to make that choice themselves, or care at home becomes unviable”.

UKIP also says it would increase spending on mental health services by at least £500 million a year.

And it says it would set up a fund worth £80 million a year to provide grants of up to £3,000 for smaller childcare providers to make their premises more accessible and train staff, so they can “open their doors to more children with special needs”.

Among other pledges, the manifesto says a UKIP government would abolish the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – repeating a promise from its 2015 manifesto – which it says has caused a “vicious circle of misery”.

Two years ago, UKIP said it would place CQC’s duties to inspect and regulate the NHS and social care in the hands of new “county health boards made up of health and social care professionals elected locally by their peers”, although it has not been able to provide any further details of those plans this week.

The party also promises to repeal Labour’s Human Rights Act, remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, and introduce a new UK bill of rights.

But the party has yet to say which parts of the Human Rights Act it would drop in the move to a bill of rights.

There are 26 mentions of the words “disabled”, “disability” or “disabilities” in the UKIP manifesto.

1 June 2017

 

 

Election 2017: Tory disability minister endorses forced institutionalisation

The minister for disabled people has failed to oppose the idea of forcing disabled people into institutions against their will.

Penny Mordaunt was asked what she would do to protect disabled people from “forced institutionalisation” and whether she opposed it, as part of a series of questions put to her by the campaigning website Disability United.

Fleur Perry, editor of Disability United, had asked the question in the wake of research she carried out earlier this year which showed how many NHS primary care organisations had quietly introduced policies that could see disabled people with complex healthcare needs shunted into residential or nursing homes against their wishes as a cost-saving measure.

But instead of defending disabled people’s right to live in their own homes, Mordaunt said: “The decision about whether to institutionalise somebody against their will is rightly a matter for medical professionals, and decisions should be made on the grounds of individual safety and health.”

She then referred to the failure to move people with learning difficulties out of assessment and treatment units, in the wake of the Winterbourne View scandal, and said there was a need for more care and support services for people who have been in such institutions, to “ensure that no one who should not be in an institutional setting is”.

But the disabled researcher and writer Dr Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper and led the review which developed its 2008 Independent Living Strategy, said Mordaunt was “dodging the issue”.

She said the minister had failed to address a problem that was “completely unacceptable in a modern society”, which was local authorities and NHS clinical commissioning groups forcing people into institutions because they refused to pay for the support those people need to continue living safely at home.

Morris, a member of the Independent Living Strategy Group – which is made up of disabled people and allies from a range of organisations – said Mordaunt appeared to be focusing only on the government’s Transforming Care programme.

The programme aims to make it easier for people with learning difficulties and autism who also have mental health conditions and challenging behaviour and are kept in assessment and treatment units to escape those institutional facilities and live independently in the community.

But even on that issue, Morris said, Mordaunt had ignored the rights of people who have capacity to make their own decisions.

She said Mordaunt was showing “a distinct lack of awareness” of the independent living challenges facing disabled people, including those affected by the closure of the Independent Living Fund, and of the right to independent living under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Another disabled campaigner said Mordaunt’s views were “very worrying” and appeared to ignore “50 years of social progress” and hand medical professionals a “mandate to decide who can and can’t live where they choose”.

She also pointed out that Mordaunt had made no mention of an individual’s decision-making capacity, or of “any consideration of a person’s wishes and views of where and how to live their life, or of their rights under the Human Rights Act.

“The idea that sole control of that decision-making process could or should be in the hands of medical professionals appears to go against the principles of independent living and seems reminiscent of the decades-outdated ‘medical model’ of disability.”

The Conservative party had failed to respond to a request for clarification of Mordaunt’s comments by noon today (Thursday).

1 June 2017

 

 

Election 2017: Labour ‘will take a rights-based approach’ to protecting disabled people

Labour has promised that it will take a “rights-based approach” to protecting the interests of disabled people, if it wins power at next week’s general election.

At the centre of that approach will be incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law for the first time.

Labour’s Kate Green, a former shadow minister for disabled people, made the pledge at a disability hustings event in Westminster that had been organised by the Disability Charities Consortium, the Disability Benefits Consortium and the Care and Support Alliance.

She said a Labour government would produce a “comprehensive strategy to advance the rights of disabled people”.

She also told the event that an incoming Labour government needed to introduce a “comprehensive and holistic strategy to make disabled people’s rights a reality”, including investing in services and financial support and “the access they need to fulfil their full potential”.

She said: “It means reversing the damaging cuts that have taken place since 2010 to social security benefits, to public services.

“It means investing in the support and the means of enabling disabled people to reach and fulfil their ambitions, and in particular ensuring maximum access to and participation in top quality education.

“It means under-pinning our ambitions with an institutional and legal infrastructure through domestic legislation, our Equality Act, compliance with international obligations, and with adequate resources for our watchdogs, [including] our Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), to ensure that the interests of disabled people are kept at the forefront of the incoming government’s agenda.”

She told Disability News Service later that incorporating the UN convention into UK law was “all the more important now because of the whole uncertainty following the Brexit result and the opportunity that that may be seen to be to water down rights.

“So having a firm, clear legal basis in UK law becomes even more significant.”

She said that ensuring the convention was part of UK law would have significant implications, including placing “a lot more expectation on public service design and provision”.

But she warned that such a move could not be made immediately, and would need a “comprehensive strategy” that would lead eventually to full implementation of the convention.

Green agreed that Labour’s manifesto was stronger on disabled people’s rights than it had been at the 2015 election.

She said: “The party is more confident about some of its political stances. I guess that reflects Jeremy’s leadership.

“He’s confident about his stance and that’s filtering I think into the policy agenda.”

She said Labour was “absolutely committed” to investing in public services, such as education, health and care, and built environment infrastructure.

But she said it was also committed to disability equality and disabled people’s rights “through the UN convention, through the Equality Act and through strengthening the EHRC’s capacity, resources and its authority”.

And she stressed that this would mean increased funding for the commission.

1 June 2017

 

 

Election 2017: Lib Dems make UN convention pledge

The Liberal Democrats have pledged that they would incorporate the UN disability convention into UK law.

Although the policy – which would give disabled people in the UK a wave of new rights in law – was not part of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto, Disability News Service (DNS) has been told that it would be part of any programme of government.

The party’s disabled president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told DNS that the Liberal Democrats in government would give disabled people in the UK the right to take legal action to enforce all of the articles contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Labour has made a similar pledge.

This would give disabled people legally-enforceable rights to independent living (article 19), to accessibility (article nine), to an adequate standard of living and social protection (article 28), and across many other areas.

She said such a move could help cases such as a Deaf child she knew of who had previously had an expert, level six British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter at school and was now having to cope with a level one or two interpreter.

Baroness Brinton said: “That’s a breach of their rights. It’s like asking someone with GCSE French to translate at a police interview for somebody. It just will not do.”

She was speaking after a disability hustings event in Westminster organised by the Disability Charities Consortium, the Disability Benefits Consortium and the Care and Support Alliance.

She told the event that the UN convention “has to be the UK’s starting point”.

She said the party regretted the government’s removal of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability commissioner – revealed by DNS last month – and its disability committee, and would want them reinstated.

She also confirmed another DNS story, that a Liberal Democrat government would scrap all benefit sanctions, a position which outflanks Labour, which has only promised to scrap the current “punitive sanctions regime”.

Baroness Brinton also criticised the Conservative decision to close the Access to Elected Office Fund, which helped disabled people with their extra costs in seeking election as councillors and MPs, and which has particularly hit Deaf people who use BSL interpreters.

She said: “I have a close friend who has been unable to stand this time because he has not been able to get support from that fund.

“We would reinstate that, because it is not good enough just talking about people with disabilities having employment opportunities if we don’t have people with disabilities in the House of Commons.

“The House of Commons is not representative of the country as a whole.”

She told the event: “A range of cuts have particularly hit disabled people the hardest and we would turn around those cuts and invest back in services for disabled people because as a party we believe in the individual’s right to perform the best they can in society and we feel the current cuts have taken that right away from people with disabilities.”

She added: “One of the major problems we have in this country for those of us with disabilities is getting around, it’s finding housing, it’s being able to walk through our town centres easily, access shops, retail… the government has a very clear role in helping to reduce those barriers, by legislation if necessary.”

But she said the government had chosen not to follow the recommendations of the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, of which she was a member, which had made a series of recommendations in this area.

1 June 2017

 

 

Election 2017: Parties finally stress importance of working-age social care

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour have all spoken publicly – apparently for the first time in the general election campaign – about what their parties would do to address the social care needs of working-age disabled people.

Their comments follow concerns raised by leading disabled campaigners that the election campaign had focused exclusively on the funding of social care for older people, with all three parties ignoring the needs of younger disabled people.

They were speaking at a disability hustings event in Westminster organised by the Disability Charities Consortium, the Disability Benefits Consortium and the Care and Support Alliance.

Labour’s Kate Green, a former shadow minister for disabled people, said there had to be “urgent action” because the social care system was “falling apart right now” as a result of nearly £5 billion in cuts to social care since 2010.

She said a new long-term system should recognise not just those with high needs but also that investments in even small amounts of social care “can produce big dividends and enable people to live independently for longer, and to work and participate” in society.

She said a Labour government would inject money “urgently” into the system while beginning the work to “put in place a long-term national care system”.

And she said that the needs of working-age adults had to be considered because they have the highest lifetime care costs.

She told Disability News Service (DNS) afterwards that working-age disabled people potentially have far higher lifetime care costs because they are spread over a longer period, while they have not had the chance to build up assets, as a retired person might have been able to.

Green said that some of the immediate injection of funding by a Labour government would help address the care charges being faced by working-age disabled people, which one disabled campaigner said last week was “almost out of control”.

Green said that social care helped disabled people’s participation in many areas, including employment, housing and community life.

She said: “The investment in working-age people is a matter of justice, obviously, but it’s also a matter of enabling their maximum participation in all aspects of society, and that’s obviously going to be for the common good.”

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the disabled president of the Liberal Democrats, told the hustings event that her party would in the short term add one penny to income tax to fund increases in spending on health and social care “to help the current crisis”, which she said would produce about £7 billion.

The party would then wait for the conclusions of an independent commission on the long-term funding of health and social care, set up earlier this year by its health spokesman, Norman Lamb.

She said the Tories’ social care plans failed to recognise the needs of working-age disabled people, which she said was “a real problem”.

She said she had become increasingly concerned about local authorities that were saying that independent living arrangements for disabled people were now too expensive and instead were “looking at going back to hospital-like large home accommodation”.

She said this was a “retrograde step and we will bitterly oppose that and we will fight it, especially if it is being done for financial reasons”.

Baroness Brinton told DNS after the event that some of the extra short-term funding produced by the extra penny on income tax would help to reduce the care charges being faced by working-age disabled people.

Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, told the hustings that the Conservative party had “taken some tough decisions to move some of the responsibility for paying for care to the individual”.

The policy in the party’s manifesto revolves around allowing every older person to retain at least £100,000 of their assets and savings, while the value of people’s homes would now be taken into account – when calculating charges – for those receiving care in their own homes as well as those receiving residential care.

But following widespread criticism, the prime minister announced that there would also now be a lifetime cap on care charges.

Mordaunt confirmed the government’s U-turn, telling the audience that there would now be “a limit on the amount an individual has to pay”, although she said there would be a consultation to decide what that limit would be.

Mordaunt – who refused to be interviewed by Disability News Service – said that in order to pay for the necessary “step change” in the provision and quality of social care and to ensure that “all need is met”, the government has to “get more money into the system”.

Although she said she had been doing some work with the government’s joint health and work unit on “looking at social care for people of working age and support for independent living”, she gave no clue as to what ideas they had produced and what a Conservative government would do in that area.

1 June 2017

 

 

Election 2017: Greens call for infrastructure focus on access barriers

The Green party has called for investment in national infrastructure to be focused on addressing the access barriers faced by millions of disabled people.

The party’s disability manifesto, which was launched this week, and expands on ideas laid out in its main manifesto, also calls for every employer in the country to ensure that at least five per cent of their workforces are disabled people or those with long-term health conditions.

And it says it wants to force all local authorities to plan for the housing needs of disabled and older people, while it promises to campaign for a significant increase in the number of accessible homes built over the next five years.

There would also be a new Housing Adaptations Fund, a central fund set up to run alongside local authority disabled facilities grants – which the party believes often take too long to provide the necessary funding for alterations – to help people in hospital to “come home as quickly as possible” or find alternative appropriate housing, and which could be drawn on by local and health authorities.

The party says it would ensure that future national infrastructure plans would make explicit commitments to improving accessibility for disabled people.

A party spokeswoman said: “At the moment, they are not planning for it at all.

“If you have got a national infrastructure plan and you’re not even thinking of accessibility within it, this is a major problem.”

And she said there should also be a requirement to address the inaccessibility of existing infrastructure, including “vast swathes of housing [and other facilities] that are not accessible”.

She accepted that there would need to be a long-term plan to address how the government would go about the significant task of “retrofitting existing buildings and structures”.

She said: “At the heart of any infrastructure thinking we would be doing as a Green party, accessibility would be central, both for new structures and for existing structures.

“Unless someone takes this on, it is not going to change.”

But she admitted that this “retrofitting” would need a huge investment, and that the party had no detailed plans for how this would be addressed.

The party would also train, support and fund local communities to boost the wellbeing of disabled people and other groups, in addition to its pledge to invest at least £7.5 billion a year to deliver universal free social care.

The spokeswoman said this was aimed at “building on a belief that we have that for many disabled people it’s communities, friends, families that are the core infrastructure for supporting us”, and giving communities more of a say in deciding what support was needed.

She said: “We believe we can save a significant amount of money by actually finding out from people who need to use services what they want, and actually empowering them to help create those services and help run them.

“Instead of having services that are just described and prescribed by somebody else… it’s described and prescribed by ourselves, the people that need to use them, the people that want them, and then they decide on what the priorities are, so it’s not just left to the professionals, local authorities or health authority experts.”

She said the idea was to “tap into the energy of people within our communities” to create “sustainable, empowered” networks of support across those communities, using “all the different resources that are available to us: energy, money, time, tools and equipment that people already have, and make the best use of that.

“If we can get people to reconnect, and this is at the heart of Green philosophies and Green politics, it’s about helping us all to connect with each other and be more aware of each other and our needs and our aspirations together and work together.

“It’s not our intention to do things on the cheap, but it is our intention to enable people and communities to lead in meeting our own needs and make the best use of all the resources that are available to everybody.”

The Green disability manifesto also calls for more central funding to set up community-based organisations to support disabled people into work, while recognising that some sick and disabled people are not able to work.

The party says it will campaign for the re-introduction of the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was closed by the government after the last general election in 2015, and had provided funding for the extra costs faced by disabled candidates seeking election to local authorities and parliament.

The Green disability manifesto was launched in London by the party’s co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, and Ben Fletcher, the party’s candidate for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields and the first Deafblind person to stand for parliament.

Fletcher said that many disabled people were “still prevented from participating fully in education, in employment, and in politics because of inflexible, outdated attitudes, needless barriers to access and a general lack of understanding about what disabled people can really achieve if they receive the support they need”.

He said he was standing for election despite the closure of the Access to Elected Office Fund, and had only been able to stand because of the party’s support.

About one in seven of the party’s general election candidates are disabled people.

Fletcher said: “Disabled people are desperately under-represented in public life in Britain.

“At a time of deep disillusionment with politics in the UK, it is really important for the MPs elected in 2017 to reflect the diversity of the people they are meant to represent.”

Bartley added: “This general election is about the kind of country we want to live in.

“Is it the kind of country the Tories tell us we must accept, in which austerity cuts are inflicted on those least able to withstand their impact, including disabled people who already face huge barriers to basic equality?

“The Green party refuses to accept that the UK, as the fifth largest economy, cannot do better.

“The government should focus on removing the real barriers to disabled people finding work, and tackle the widespread prejudice against disabled people rather than fostering it.”

1 June 2017

 

 

Election 2017: SNP calls on next government to follow Scotland’s lead on benefits

The SNP has called on the next UK government to follow Scotland’s lead in protecting disabled people from social security cuts.

The SNP general election manifesto, published this week, says the party will fight to end the “appalling Tory welfare policies” that have damaged disabled people and other groups.

The manifesto calls on Westminster to follow the SNP Scottish government in removing private sector companies from having any involvement in disability benefit assessments, and scrapping the work capability assessment and replacing it with a new system that “treats everyone with fairness and respect, helping people into employment rather than crisis”.

It also says SNP MPs will push for the UK government to reverse its £29-a-week cut to new claimants of employment and support allowance who are placed in the work-related activity group – introduced earlier this year despite widespread opposition – and that it will vote against any further cuts to social security.

And the party will continue to push for the Scottish government to have full control over all social security benefits.

It points out that the Scottish government already plans to use its limited social security powers to abolish the bedroom tax, extend the winter fuel payment to families with disabled children with high support needs, rule out means-testing disability benefits, and reintroduce long-term benefit awards for people with long-term conditions.

Elsewhere in the manifesto, the party calls for action to address the disability pay gap, which the Equality and Human Rights Commission said in April was “persistent and widening”.

The party wants to see equal pay audits covering disability, race and gender – they currently only cover gender – and to have them extended to all firms with at least 150 employees, rather than the current level of 250, as well as “sanctions, including fines, for employers that fail to comply with the law”.

It also wants all public authorities with more than 20 employees to provide equal pay statements every four years, in which they would provide their policies on equal pay and report on disability, gender and race.

The manifesto also promises that SNP MPs will “oppose any attempts” by the UK government to scrap the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

And it says that SNP MPs will support cross-party efforts at Westminster to give legal recognition to British Sign Language (BSL), and strengthen the rights of BSL-users.

The manifesto also pledges that the party will “work to ensure that there is as much support as possible for disabled people, and people of all classes, races and gender identities to stand for election to the House of Commons”.

An SNP spokeswoman confirmed later that the party wanted the UK government to reopen the Access to Elected Office Fund, which provided funding to help disabled people with the extra costs they faced in standing for Westminster and local elections, but was shut down by the Conservatives after the 2015 election.

As many areas of policy are devolved to the Scottish parliament, issues such as accessible transport and housing are not covered by the SNP manifesto.

But an SNP spokeswoman said that those issues are covered in the Scottish government’s five-year plan, A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People, which lays out the 93 actions it believes will help Scotland meet its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

These include ensuring that each local authority sets a “realistic target” for building wheelchair-accessible housing, and reports annually on its progress, and that the Scottish government will abolish fees for employment tribunals, and will ensure that the seven main criminal justice organisations carry out audits of their buildings to “identify any physical access barriers that need to be removed”.

The SNP manifesto says that the UK government should “work towards” incorporating the UN convention into UK law.

The manifesto includes 23 mentions of the words “disability”, “disabled” and “disabilities”.

1 June 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com