Minister appears to announce plans for shock Motability expansion

The minister for disabled people appears to have announced plans for a major expansion of the Motability car scheme for disabled people, which for the first time would allow people with lower mobility support needs to lease a vehicle.

The scheme has previously only allowed disabled people claiming the higher rate of mobility support – under disability living allowance (DLA) and its replacement, personal independence payment (PIP) – to use that benefit to lease a Motability vehicle.

But Penny Mordaunt appeared to announce this week – in a move likely to shock disabled activists and disability organisations – that ministers were now poised to extend eligibility to join Motability to more disabled people, such as those on the standard mobility rate of PIP.

There was confusion about the announcement, though, because recipients of the standard mobility rate receive only £21.80 per week, compared with £57.45 a week for recipients of the higher, enhanced rate.

That is unlikely to cover the cost of leasing a new car, as well as insurance, servicing, repairs, maintenance, breakdown assistance and fitting adaptations, all of which are covered by the Motability scheme.

Mordaunt made the announcement yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon as she responded to a debate* on employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) secured by the SNP’s Angela Crawley.

The minister told MPs that the transition from DLA to PIP had been a “challenging time for individuals” and that ministers were “aware of how difficult that situation is” for disabled people “told that you will lose your vehicle with only a few weeks to make alternative arrangements”.

Mordaunt then announced measures that seemed to be aimed at helping three groups of Motability customers: those appealing against losing their entitlement to higher rate mobility support; those who leave the country for more than 13 weeks, for example to study or take a sabbatical; and those who do not qualify for higher-rate mobility support.

Currently, DLA or PIP claimants have to hand their vehicles back to Motability if they lose their eligibility for the enhanced rate of mobility support after a PIP assessment, even if they decide to appeal against that decision.

But Mordaunt said: “We have been discussing with relevant departments ways to enable PIP claimants to keep their vehicle pending appeal, and are exploring potential options to allow those who are not in receipt of the higher [mobility] component to have access to the Motability scheme.

“I am also exploring how claimants who are out of the country for extended periods can be better supported.

“We have a plan, and Treasury’s blessing, and this week I have written to Motability to ask for their help to deliver it.

“I anticipate it will require some changes to their processes, but I know as they have done in the past that they will do all they can to help us in this matter.”

She also pointed out that Motability had already provided a £175 million package of support for DLA claimants who have lost their eligibility for the higher rate of mobility support – and can therefore no longer lease a Motability vehicle – after being reassessed for PIP.

This package includes a one-off payment of £2,000 for those who joined the scheme before January 2013.

Mordaunt’s announcements are likely to be a response to mounting concerns about the impact of the move from DLA to PIP on tens of thousands of Motability customers.

In July, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that disabled people were being forced to hand back their Motability vehicles at a rate of up to 700 a week after PIP assessments.

Motability expects 35,000 vehicles to be handed back by disabled people during 2016 as a result of the government’s programme to reassess working-age DLA claimants for PIP.

Of customers who had been reassessed for PIP, Motability’s figures showed that 44 per cent of them had lost their entitlement to the scheme and had had to return their vehicle.

Mordaunt’s announcement may also have been designed to try to head off some of the criticism of the impending cut of £30-a-week to payments made to claimants placed in the employment and support allowance work-related activity group.

She had already announced to the work and pensions committee, earlier in the week, that she was working on urgent plans to cut the living costs faced by disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits, which appear to involve attempts to cut their “non-work-related costs”, such as energy, broadband and phone bills.

Mordaunt’s announcement appeared to have taken both Motability and DWP’s press office by surprise.

A Motability spokeswoman told DNS: “Motability will be having discussions with the minister on various subjects over the coming weeks.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We continually review all of our programmes, and are currently looking at aspects of the Motability scheme to determine whether any improvements can be made.

“There have been no decisions on any changes to the scheme.”

*Her announcements are made from 3.56pm onwards

1 December 2016

 

 

Outrage after council’s mobility scooter pavement ban suggestion

A council’s proposals to ban some mobility scooters from pavements as part of a crackdown on “anti social behaviour” are “outrageous, discriminatory and wrong” and likely to lead to a rise in disability hate crime, say disabled campaigners.

The measure is included in a public consultation on a new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) being considered by Enfield council in north London.

The possible ban on the use of “mopeds, scooters and other similar transport on pavements without reasonable excuse” is being considered alongside other “anti social behaviour” such as throwing fireworks, public drunkenness, urinating in public areas, and prostitution.

Although manual wheelchairs and mobility scooters with an upper limit of four mph would be excluded from any ban, scooters with “an upper speed limit of eight mph” – which can be used on both roads and pavements – would be forced onto the roads.

Although the poorly-worded consultation question is unclear about what it is suggesting for scooter-users, a council spokesman has confirmed to Disability News Service that the measure under consideration would see mobility scooters with a top speed of eight mph banned completely from pavements throughout Enfield.

Paula Peters, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, and herself a user of a scooter with a maximum speed of eight mph, said that forcing disabled people like her onto the roads was “blatant exclusion and discrimination” and would risk their safety.

She said: “We all know that car drivers are not considerate and drive really fast, and do not see cyclists or even other cars.

“This asinine idea by the council could lead to an increase in road accidents in the area, and could lead to deaths.”

Peters said she had been subjected to abuse – and even an attempted assault by a group of teenagers – while using her scooter on pavements near her home in Bromley, in south-east London.

And she warned that this kind of attack would become more common in Enfield if the council went ahead with the ban.

She said: “What we will see is a ramping up of targeting of disabled people if this idea becomes law, the residents taking the law into their own hands, and ramping up of physical and verbal abuse towards disabled people if they try and access the public pavements.

“This measure is outrageous, discriminatory and wrong and I hope all sections of the community in Enfield see this is a completely senseless idea, come together to fight the council on this, and force the council to abandon this ridiculous idea.”

Anne Novis, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said she was “outraged” by Enfield’s proposal.

She said: “It is appalling that any council would consider, let alone implement, a ban on disabled people using an aid such as a mobility scooter from pavements.

“They need access to the pavements to get as near as possible to shops, clinics, social venues, etc, due to mobility issues.

“Discrimination against disabled people is illegal and in my eyes this is outright discrimination and indicates a lack of understanding from the council about the barriers disabled people face.

“There is also the issue of hostility, or hate crime, which so many Deaf and disabled people experience already due to us being perceived as ‘irritants’.

“Enfield council will encourage this viewpoint by this proposal, let alone its implementation.

“Many will use it to abuse disabled people on mobility scooters, regardless of speed, as another stick to beat us with, another excuse to perpetrate hostility against us.

“To place disabled people who use a certain aid with groups such as prostitutes and public drunkenness also perpetrates a negative perspective about disabled people.

“I would encourage all organisations and individuals to contact their MP about this discriminatory move by Enfield council, as well as legal experts to challenge it.”

The Enfield council spokesman confirmed that the council was asking residents whether they wanted to ban eight mph mobility scooters from all pavements in the borough.

He said: “Proposals have not yet been developed for a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in Enfield as we are still consulting with local people on the types of anti-social behaviour they believe need to be tackled to improve the community’s quality of life.

“Whilst some forms of anti-social behaviour blight our residents’ lives and we receive regular demands that we take action to address them, we have made it clear that our residents’ views will help shape the approach we should take so that we target the right areas for the right reasons.

“By working with our residents in tailoring the right PSPO to their needs – what they think should be in and what left out – we hope to tackle the problems that affect them and thereby help improve their quality of life.

“We will consider the results of the consultation, which has followed government guidance, before devising proposals for the council to make a decision on.”

1 December 2016

 

 

Mordaunt ‘working on urgent plans to reduce living costs’ ahead of WRAG cuts

The minister for disabled people is working on urgent plans to cut the living costs faced by disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits, she has told MPs.

Penny Mordaunt was responding to warnings of the “human cost” of “bizarre” government plans to cut more than £1 billion from disabled benefit claimants over the four years from 2017-18.

From April, the highly-controversial cuts will see a £30-a-week reduction in payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who have been placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).

Ministers have tried to justify the cuts by claiming that they will “incentivise” sick and disabled people to find work.

But Mordaunt told MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee this week that she was working on a package of measures to “mitigate the £30″, which would be in place “before April”.

She provided few details of how she would do that, other than that she was working at “ensuring that someone’s outgoings can be managed”, and at reducing their “non-work-related costs”, such as energy, broadband and phone bills.

She was defending herself from accusations from the SNP’s Mhairi Black that government plans to cut the WRAG payments were “bizarre” and would have a “human cost”.

Black told Mordaunt that evidence submitted to the committee had “almost unanimously” been “heavily criticising” the cuts, while the plans were causing “more anxiety” to constituents who had visited her office.

She added: “You can’t incentivise people to get healthy.

“The cuts can have a detrimental impact on people’s health to the point where anxiety gets worse, depression gets worse…. surely that defeats the whole purpose.”

Mordaunt said she accepted that disabled people had the best chance of finding work, or returning to work, if “they don’t have other things to worry about”.

She added: “The evidence that people need further support is massive.”

And she said that “the 13 measures” laid out in the green paper – a package of support that will be available to new WRAG claimants – were “required”, and that “not doing that would be an extremely bad thing”.

When Labour’s Neil Coyle asked whether any of the disability groups Mordaunt claimed had backed the 13 measures had also supported the £30-a-week ESA cut, she said: “Funnily enough, no, but… I need to cover off those concerns that you have articulated.

“There are various ways I am exploring to do that. I recognise I have got to do that quickly.”

Heidi Allen, one of the Conservative MPs who has been most vocal in opposing the ESA cuts, told Mordaunt it was “very ambitious” to try to identify savings of £120-per-month for people who will be joining the WRAG in time for April, and asked her for her “back-up plan”.

But Mordaunt said: “We are making good progress. I know what I need to do.

“I am not in a position to outline chapter and verse, but I hope to be soon.”

Asked after the meeting for further details about Mordaunt’s efforts to cut disabled people’s living costs, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said: “We are in the early stages of talking to providers and there is no further detail we can provide at this time.”

The committee heard that the government predicted it would save £30 million in 2017-18, £180 million in 2018-19, £345 million in 2019-20 and £450 million in 2020-21 by cutting the WRAG payments, although some of that will be spent on providing them with support to get into work.

DWP said later that it was investing a total of £330 million of those cuts over four years from April 2017 to deliver employment support to those affected, while an extra £15 million per year had been added to the Flexible Support Fund – which is supposed to give jobcentres flexibility in providing back-to-work support – for 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Coyle also raised concerns that someone who had left the WRAG to try a new job would then be treated as a new claimant – and so face a £30-a-week cut – if they failed to pass their three-month probation period and had to return to the ESA system.

ESA claimants are only protected from being treated as new claimants if they rejoin the benefit within 12 weeks.

Mordaunt appeared to agree with Coyle that if someone who was in the WRAG started a new job but failed a three-month probation period they would be treated as a new ESA claimant.

But there was also a suggestion that DWP might have been listening to concerns from disabled activists about the risks of forcing people with health conditions into inappropriate work.

Tracey Waltho, director of the joint DWP and Department of Health work and health unit, told the committee that evidence on the health benefits of work were “mixed”.

She said there was “good evidence that appropriate work can help people’s health” but that “appropriate work is a very personal thing” so “we need to be very cognisant of getting good matches” between people and jobs, including whether that work would “support their particular health condition or work against it”.

1 December 2016

 

 

Mordaunt misleads MPs over Tory disability employment gap target

The minister for disabled people misled a Commons committee about the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap… less than two minutes after she began giving evidence.

Penny Mordaunt began speaking to the work and pensions select committee at 4.18pm on Monday by confirming her name and ministerial duties, but by 4.20pm she was claiming – in response to a question from Labour MP Neil Coyle – that the government had never set a target date for halving the gap.

Mordaunt should have known that was not true because just 11 days earlier she had been in the House of Commons chamber when Labour MP Stephen Timms pointed out that a press release issued by her department last year had stated that the government “aims to halve the gap between the disabled employment rate and the overall employment rate by 2020″.

The pledge had also been included in the party’s 2015 general election manifesto, which stated that the next Conservative government would “aim to halve the disability employment gap”.

It was a pledge repeated by the prime minister in one of the general election television debates.

Despite being present on 17 November, in an otherwise nearly-empty Commons chamber, when Timms drew attention to the press release – subsequently highlighted by Disability News Service (DNS) – Mordaunt told the committee this week that the pledge “didn’t have a specific time commitment at the end of it”.

She added: “I know a couple of MPs have suggested it was a 2020 target. It was clearly not a 2020 target.”

While Mordaunt continued to give her evidence, DNS contacted Coyle via social media, and included a link to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) press release.

Coyle then told Mordaunt about the press release, and said: “With respect, you said the department never had that commitment. That is false.”

She replied: “That is my understanding. The press release you refer to I have not been able to find.

“It just isn’t a manifesto target. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to do it.”

Coyle later tweeted: “@johnpringdns thanks for the link. Apparently Minister @PennyMordauntMP couldn’t find it & no #DWP official could either. Rather worrying…”

Asked later if the minister would apologise for misleading MPs, a DWP spokeswoman said: “As mentioned in the Conservative manifesto, the government aims to halve the disability employment gap and is taking action to do so but there was never a firm commitment to achieve this by 2020.

“It is been widely recognised that this is a bold and challenging target and the previous minister for disabled people’s press release makes clear that this is an aim – rather than a commitment.”

It is not the first time Mordaunt has been criticised for misleading MPs.

In October, she told the Commons that under personal independence payment – compared with disability living allowance, which it is replacing for working-age claimants – “more people are entitled to use the Motability scheme”.

But Motability’s own figures show that of their customers who have been reassessed for PIP so far, 44 per cent have lost their entitlement to the scheme and have had to return their vehicles.

Mordaunt made it clear in her evidence to the committee this week that measuring the disability employment gap should no longer be the government’s focus, because any measurement would “not be meaningful for a number of years”.

She was further embarrassed during the session – which was taking evidence for the committee’s inquiry into the disability employment gap – when fellow Tory MP Richard Graham raised doubts about the Disability Confident events for employers being hosted by MPs around the country.

He said he and other MPs had held “very helpful” Disability Confident events in their constituencies.

But he added: “You get lots of employers who sign a board, a photograph is taken, a press release is issued, people go away with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it’s about how many of them actually go away and do something.

“When I have sent emails to all of those who have signed, asking them to give me chapter and verse on how many people with disabilities they have subsequently employed, the ones who respond are the ones who were already doing this beforehand and they have done a bit more, but the ones who signed it because they felt it was a good idea… on the whole don’t really come back.

“This leads me to suspect that not a great deal has really happened.”

Mordaunt said DWP had now relaunched Disability Confident and that it now had some “teeth”, because those employers that reach the highest level of “Disability Confident Leader” need to be “independently audited”.

She said that employers often need a “real business reason” to take action, and so the permanent secretaries of every government department had signed up to the scheme and would give preference to Disability Confident Leaders when awarding contracts.

She said: “If you want to win a government contract and you’re not a Disability Confident Leader, you stand less chance of winning that contract.”

The government’s latest figures show just 13 employers across the country have achieved Disability Confident Leader status.

Meanwhile, figures obtained by Disability News Service through a freedom of information request suggest that Graham’s concerns could be justified.

For the eight months from December 2015 to July 2016, about 100 employers a month were registering interest in the Disability Confident scheme, but an average of only 13 every month expressed a wish to be contacted by Jobcentre Plus to discuss their recruitment needs or how to support a disabled employee.

In July this year, just four employers across the entire country asked for such advice.

1 December 2016

 

 

English city is first in UK to win European Union access award

An historic English city has beaten off competition from across Europe to become the first in the UK to win a prestigious access award from the European Commission.

Chester learned this week that it had won the 2016 Access City Award, ahead of 42 other cities in 21 European Union countries, partly because of its efforts to improve access across its tourism sector.

Among its achievements are ensuring that most of its Roman city walls are now wheelchair-accessible, while the medieval, double-level walkways, balconies and shops known as The Rows now have ramps, lifts, level access and escalators.

Information guides point out where those ramps, lifts and escalators can be found.

The Access City Award “recognises and celebrates cities which proactively support accessibility” for disabled people and “take exemplary steps to improve accessibility in the urban environment”.

The European Commission (EC) said that by making its main tourist sites wheelchair-accessible, Chester “proves that ensuring accessible tourism for all and preserving historical and cultural heritage can go hand in hand”.

It praised both the public and private sectors, and particularly highlighted measures that have targeted disabled people with the highest support needs.

Dial West Cheshire (DWC), a Chester-based disabled people’s organisation which was involved in shaping the council’s competition entry, said the award was “excellent news”.

Keith Roper, chief officer of DWC, which runs a disability rights centre, a Shopmobility service and an access group in Chester, said the message the award sent to other councils was of “the importance of involving disabled people in plans and planning” and then listening to what they say.

One of the reasons for Chester’s success, he suggested, was that the council employed a senior access officer, something many councils had dispensed with as a cost-cutting measure.

Another was the council’s decision to set up – following a suggestion from DWC – a “corporate” disability access forum to examine strategic issues, which has allowed DWC’s access group to feed in its views on future developments across the city.

Roper said the existence of DWC’s access group had “undoubtedly” played a part in Chester winning the award because it had given disabled people “the opportunity to be heard”.

Cheshire West and Chester Council said that providing accessible information, including a guide to accessible facilities in the city, provided by DisabledGo, also helped disabled residents and visitors.

And it pointed to plans to double the number of Changing Places toilets, while all the city’s Hackney taxis are wheelchair-accessible, all buses have ramps and wheelchair spaces, and DWC’s Shopmobility scheme takes 3,000 annual bookings.

Marianne Thyssen, EC’s commissioner for employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility, said: “Chester’s efforts to make its historical and cultural heritage fit for persons with disabilities deserve the highest praise.

“People with a disability should be able to participate in all aspects of life without limitations: social, cultural, economic, touristic, and more.”

Cllr Angela Claydon, Chester’s lord mayor, said: “Improved accessibility brings not only reassurance and the necessary support to those who struggle with mobility issues, but lasting economic and social benefits to the city and the borough and we will continue to place accessibility at the heart of everything we deliver.

“We appreciate that Chester’s not the finished article and there is plenty of room for improvement but we are absolutely committed to working with disabled organisations to ensure that the whole of the borough is as accessible to all as it can be.

“This is a process that, whilst we know will take time, we have clear and deliverable plans to make happen.

“We want to learn from previous winners about how we can now build upon this in the coming years.”

1 December 2016

 

 

DWP media reports ignore benefit deaths… and IDS resignation

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants ignored media coverage that exposed how ministers’ policies had led to the deaths of benefit claimants, in a series of confidential reports for their bosses.

The DWP Media Evaluation reports, obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) following a freedom of information request, show how the department’s communications department repeatedly attempted to paint flattering portraits of how the media was responding to ministers’ work.

Over the course of 13 months, from September 2015 to September 2016, the reports ignore significant moments in the campaign to expose how ministerial decisions led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

They are the second collection of DWP Media Evaluation reports obtained by DNS – following an initial batch released in October – and appear to show that the communications department has been more careful about how it writes the reports in the months since DNS first asked to see the documents in September 2015.

Among the stories that are ignored in the latest reports is the revelation by DNS in September 2015 that a coroner had blamed flaws in the work capability assessment (WCA) process for the death of a benefit claimant.

The case was followed up by ITV News and other mainstream media organisations, but there is no mention of the story in the evaluation report, which merely notes that September 2015 was “a mixed month for coverage”.

The following month, the report again ignored that story, even though it was raised by the SNP’s Angus Robertson in prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons.

In November 2015, DWP’s monthly document ignored media coverage of another influential coroner’s report – into the death of Stephen Carré – which has since helped activists build a case suggesting that two work and pensions ministers should face a criminal investigation for their refusal to improve the safety of the WCA.

The coroner’s report into Carré’s death was again covered by ITV News, and covered widely elsewhere in the mainstream media.

One of the most striking omissions comes in DWP’s internal report for March 2016, when it manages to avoid mentioning coverage of the resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Duncan Smith claimed he had quit in protest at the decision to impose further cuts to personal independence payment (PIP), and his resignation led to the government deciding within hours to abandon those cuts.

But the only mention of those events in the March report is the line: “This month the disability desk worked to ensure coverage around PIP was balanced.”

The following month, there was a brief mention of a Dispatches documentary for Channel 4 on the PIP assessment process, with the report’s author saying that the “majority of the programme focused on Capita and the mentions of the Department were balanced, reflecting the strong briefing given by the Press Office”.

And in May 2016, the reports ignored widespread coverage of the release by DWP – following a lengthy legal battle with DNS – of redacted versions of 49 secret reports into the deaths of benefit claimants.

Disabled campaigner David Gillon said the reports showed “much the same manipulative mess we saw with the previous batch”, while he pointed out that the reports’ authors had stopped pointing out all of the potential stories that the press office had “managed to strangle at birth”.

He said: “We’re given an unsurprising insight into DWP attitudes when a piece on benefit overpayment targets being missed (a long time internal DWP problem) is labelled ‘the lowest ever level of fraud and error’.

“Where did fraud come into it? And if benefit fraud is at its lowest level ever, why wasn’t that being shouted from the rooftops? Or doesn’t it fit in with the scrounger narrative?”

He added: “What’s very noticeable is that no matter how indefensible the story, the press office call it ‘balanced’ if they manage to insert the DWP position.

“Yet so many stories that dominated the news and hammered DWP don’t make it into the reports.

“Clearly someone at DWP doesn’t like it when the stories tell the truth without any manipulation; not even when it’s their own minister’s resignation.

“Meanwhile, the utter failure of Disability Confident to challenge corrosive attitudes to disability employment is visible when you realise that, even in DWP’s internal reporting, we’re ‘X, who was born without a forearm’, rather than ‘X, who is a successful disabled model’.”

1 December 2016

 

 

Spending watchdog calls for ‘wide-ranging’ review of benefit sanctions regime

The government has been heavily-criticised by the public spending watchdog for failing to investigate how its own sanctions regime affects disabled people and other claimants of out-of-work benefits.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to track the costs and benefits of sanctions, including financial hardship, the impact on claimants’ mental health, and higher public spending in other areas, such as council-funded support.

And it calls on DWP to conduct a “wide-ranging review” of its regime, which has led to 400,000 sanctions being applied in 2015 across four benefits: jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), employment and support allowance (ESA), universal credit and income support.

DWP has previously rejected calls for a wider review, and NAO says it has also “resisted working with academic researchers and third-party organisations to explore the effect of sanctions”.

DWP has even told Work Programme providers not to cooperate with government-funded research looking at the role and impact of sanctions.

Only last month, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities – in a report concluding that there had been “grave or systematic violations” of the UN’s disability convention by the UK government – pointed to a significant and “disproportionate” increase in benefit sanctions handed to ESA claimants between 2012 and 2014.

The committee concluded that sanctioned claimants had faced “financial hardship, including through becoming indebted, relying on the support of relatives or on food banks or having reduced essential services”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly highlighted the deaths of disabled benefit claimants they believe were linked to the government’s sanctions regime, including those of David Clapson and Alan McArdle.

DWP admitted last year that 10 of 49 benefit claimants whose deaths were subject to secret reviews by the department had had their payments sanctioned at some stage.

The latest DWP figures showed a sharp rise in the number of sanctions imposed on ESA claimants, with 1,199 decisions taken to impose a sanction on an ESA claimant in May 2016, rising to 1,749 in June, compared to 900 in January.

NAO says that DWP has not used sanctions consistently, that referral rates have varied “substantially” across jobcentres and providers of employment support, and that sanction numbers have “risen and fallen over time in ways that cannot be explained by changes in claimant compliance”.

It also says that the use of sanctions was “not rare”, with nearly one in four JSA claimants between 2010 and 2015 being sanctioned at least once.

And preliminary research carried out by NAO suggests that the use of sanctions on sick and disabled people who claim ESA actually led to a fall in the time they spent in work.

NAO says that international studies show claimants who receive sanctions are more likely to secure work, but this effect can be short-lived, because people “move into work more quickly, by accepting less well-paid and sustainable work than they otherwise would have done”.

Studies also suggest that sanctions encourage some claimants to become “inactive”, by stopping their claim without finding work.

The watchdog has estimated that the government failed to pay £132 million in benefits in 2015 as a result of sanctions, and paid out £35 million in hardship payments to these claimants, while the cost of administering the sanctions system in 2015 was between £30 million and £50 million.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “As DPAC has always said, sanctions do not help disabled people find and keep work and it is good to have this confirmed by the NAO.

“How can anyone, even the dimmest of people, seriously think that someone with no money for essentials such as food, heating and sanitary products is likely to be able to pay to travel to interviews, buy clothes for interviews or have any energy to even apply for any jobs? It’s simply a ludicrous idea.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, welcomed the NAO report and said it showed the “arbitrary” nature of the government’s sanctions regime and “confirms what we have been saying all along”.

He said the sanctions regime breaches both article two (the right to life) and article six (the right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

McArdle said: “There is no safety protocol in place. Disabled people on ESA are being sanctioned and they are basically leaving people destitute.

“It can put people in life-threatening situations. It can cause disabled people catastrophic harm in a way that it wouldn’t do to people who are not so disabled.”

But McArdle said there was “not a hope in hell” that the government would agree to the NAO recommendation to carry out a wide-ranging review.

He said: “The only thing that will bring this government to heel is proceedings in the criminal court.”

The Liberal Democrats called on the government to look again at its “discredited” sanctions regime.

The party’s leader, Tim Farron, said the report was the “Civil Service equivalent of a character assassination”.

He said: “It shows that a failing department is trying to prop up a discredited system.

“The DWP have turned this system [into] a postcode lottery and means that someone could be sanctioned in one place and not in another for the same thing.

“What is worse is that the government are not assessing the impact of sanctions, using their own data to see what is going on and they are not even tracking the benefits.”

The Liberal Democrats voted to scrap all benefit sanctions at their party conference in September.

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said: “Benefit sanctions punish some of the poorest people in the country.

“But despite the anxiety and misery they cause, it seems to be pot luck who gets sanctioned.

“While studies suggest sanctions do encourage some people back into work, other people stop claiming but do not start working and the Department for Work and Pensions has no record of them.

“If vulnerable people fall through the safety net, what happens to them?”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Sanctions are an important part of our benefits system and it is right that there is a system in place for tackling those few who do not fulfil their commitment to find work.

“This report fails to recognise the improvements we have made to sanctions, particularly to help those who are vulnerable.

“The number of sanctions has fallen, and they are only ever used as a last resort after people fail to do what is asked of them in return for benefits.

“We will consider the recommendations, and respond fully in due course.”

1 December 2016

 

 

Government ‘leaves self-advocates with #NoVoice’ after scrapping forum’s funding

A national forum set up 15 years ago to involve people with learning difficulties in developing government policy is set to lose its Department of Health (DH) funding.

Inclusion North, the disability organisation that is paid by DH to run the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities (NFPLD), has been told there are “currently no plans to extend, renew or re-tender” its two-year contract when it expires on 31 March.

Over the last two years, Inclusion North has received £419,000 to “facilitate and host” NFPLD and the National Valuing Families Forum, whose members are carers of people with learning difficulties and their allies.

When it was set up as a result of Labour’s ground-breaking Valuing People learning difficulties white paper in 2001, the government said NFPLD would “involve people with learning disabilities in policy development” and “contribute to monitoring the impact of Valuing People”.

But Inclusion North has now been told by DH to come up with an “exit plan”, including new ways of funding the forums.

A petition set up to call on ministers to reverse their decision has so far been signed by nearly 1,800 people, while a social media campaign has featured self-advocates pictured with their hands over their mouths to demonstrate the #NoVoice social media hashtag.

The petition says: “We work closely with the Government and national organisations at a high level to ensure that the voices of people with learning disabilities are heard when decisions are made that impact upon our lives.

“However we have now been informed by the Department of Health that our funding is to be completely cut in March 2017.

“We think that this decision is very wrong. It will be another way of taking away our voice.”

Ian Davies, a former member of the national forum and currently a coordinator of the East Midlands regional forum – but speaking to Disability News Service as an individual – said he felt “frustrated” by the government’s decision.

He said: “It’s a big loss. When you think about Valuing People when it started out in 2001 and what the government was trying to do, to set up a platform where people with learning difficulties could express their feelings to government, that’s going to be all taken away.

“They are not going to have that platform. Exactly what we think about what’s going on, that will not be there.

“How else are they going to hear those things from people themselves?”

He added: “We know it has a lot to do with cuts. It’s cuts here, cuts there, cuts everywhere.

“Who gets it first? It’s people with learning difficulties.

“I can’t still understand why they want to drag that away from people when there is a lot of really good valuable work done on behalf of it.

“It’s done some really good, strong work in the past and now it’s going to end up with no funding.”

There are nine regional forums that feed into NFPLD, with two representatives from each of them elected by their own members to sit on the national forum.

Two members of the national forum attend the government’s National Learning Disability Programme Board.

Among the national forum’s achievements is Staying Strong, a guide it published five years ago to help other self-advocacy groups threatened by government funding cuts.

It has also spoken out strongly in the wake of the Winterbourne View abuse scandal, and about the safety of care facilities following the death of Connor Sparrowhawk and subsequent revelations that an NHS trust failed to investigate hundreds of unexpected deaths of people with learning difficulties and mental health problems.

A DH spokeswoman said: “The contract included a requirement for Inclusion North to work with the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities and the National Valuing Families Forum to look at options for both organisations to become self-sustaining from 1 April 2017.

“The end of the contract doesn’t prevent the forums from seeking other sources of support.”

She added: “We highly value the contributions people with learning difficulties make in informing policy, and the forums are not the only way we currently engage with representatives.

“The contract between the Department of Health and Inclusion North was to support people with learning disabilities and family carers to contribute to policy-making, planning and oversight of services on learning disabilities.

“The Department of Health wants to ensure that these people, and their family and carers, continue to be closely involved in co-producing and informing policies.

“We are considering how best to ensure continued engagement with people with learning disabilities and family carers in the future.”

Inclusion North has so far failed to respond to a request to comment on losing the DH funding, and to a request to speak to someone from the forum.

1 December 2016

 

 

Funding set to help researchers DRILL down into independent living barriers

Projects that will research how to help people with chronic illness speak out, tackle violence against disabled women, and judge the success of peer support initiatives are among 10 user-led schemes that have been awarded £400,000 in funding.

The 10 research projects – across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – have received between £35,000 and £40,000 each to explore new ways to remove the barriers to independent living faced by disabled people.

The schemes are the first part of the DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning) programme, a £5 million research scheme funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and delivered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Disability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

DRILL, which has so far received more than 200 applications for funding, 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.

Disabled campaigner Catherine Hale, a member of the Spartacus online network, is lead researcher on one of the projects, which aims to empower people with chronic illness to “develop a collective voice with which to challenge their exclusion”.

The project will be managed by the Centre for Welfare Reform (CWR) and will learn from the work of existing online networks of sick and disabled people, such as The Broken of Britain and Spartacus.

Hale, a CWR fellow, said: “There is a vibrant chronic illness community online, as you can see if you search #spoonie. This project is about channelling it into a movement for social change.

“To do this we need to grow our awareness of the social and political dimensions of our exclusion; to strengthen links with the disability rights movement and to develop a collective voice on the government policies that affect our lives.”

In Scotland, one DRILL project will aim to understand what stops people with mental health problems engaging in civic and public life.

Another Scottish project will explore how more people with learning difficulties can be supported to make decisions.

In Wales, research will examine the barriers young disabled people face in forming friendships, and what contributes to their social isolation.

Another Welsh project, to be co-produced with All Wales People First, will develop an easy-to-use way for people with learning difficulties to evaluate the success of their self-advocacy projects, making it easier to attract future funding.

Joe Powell, national director of All Wales People First, said: “Self-advocacy helps people to be active in their social circle and be better citizens.

“Our project will enable people with disabilities to have a louder voice in saying what works for them in projects that aim to improve their self-advocacy skills.

“Improving these projects will mean more and better self-advocates who can take control of their own lives and influence society to have positive images of disabled people.”

One of the English DRILL projects will work with people with sight loss and older people to make it easier for galleries and museums to respond to “impromptu” visits from blind and partially-sighted people.

Humare Avaaz (Our Voice) will explore the barriers faced by disabled Asian women, and some of the success stories where those barriers have been overcome, in co-production with the Asian People’s Disability Alliance, and other organisations.

Inclusion London and Barnett Voice for Mental Health are among organisations that have secured £40,000 DRILL funding to examine what makes peer support employment projects successful.

Another project that has won funding will look at how to tackle violence and abuse experienced by disabled women across England and Wales, including how services can work together to create safer and more inclusive communities for disabled women.

Finally, Dementia NI will work with two Irish universities to evaluate how the organisation – set up by five people from Northern Ireland with a diagnosis of dementia – has helped to empower people with that condition.

Another £600,000 of awards will be announced by DRILL next spring.

In a blog, Liz Sayce, chief executive of DR UK, said: “The common thread to all these projects is that they are being driven by disabled people, for disabled people; these are core criteria when it comes to getting funding from the DRILL programme.

“We hope this will lead to new insights and ways of looking at things which will help develop new solutions to the barriers disabled people face.

“But we also hope disabled people’s organisations will develop new partnerships and insights into building evidence; and researchers will learn more about how to work in genuine co-production with disabled people.”

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said her organisation was “excited” about the impact the two Welsh research projects would have in “tackling the isolation of young disabled adults and encouraging people with learning difficulties to stand up for what they need.

“Moreover it will help create a much-needed research community among disabled people in Wales which is so vital to identifying solutions that make achieving independent living a reality.”

Professor Tom Shakespeare, the disabled academic who chairs the DRILL central research committee, which approved the grants, said: “We sometimes find the questions posed by disabled people are different from those posed by non-disabled academics, and so this research has the potential to answer questions of most concern to disabled people.

“The programme will involve sharing knowledge, research and skills through genuine co-production between disabled people and academics and should leave a legacy of greater skills for all involved.”

1 December 2016

 

 

Campaign calls on supporters to tell ministers: ‘Educate, don’t segregate’

A new campaign is calling on disabled people and their allies to show their opposition to “deeply flawed” and “discriminatory” government plans to increase provision of grammar schools in England.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) is hoping that its Educate Don’t Segregate campaign will highlight how expanding selective education will lead to a “dramatic reduction” in mainstream education placements, and increase segregation, for disabled pupils and those with special educational needs (SEN).

ALLFIE is calling on supporters to photograph themselves with the “Educate Don’t Segregate” slogan, and share the pictures on social media with the hashtag #educatedontsegregate.

ALLFIE points out that disabled pupils, particularly those with higher support needs, are vastly under-represented in grammar schools, and that a more selective system will further discriminate against them.

It says there was no mention of disabled pupils in the government’s consultation paper on its plans, Schools That Work For Everyone, when it was published in September.

Now ALLFIE is trying to persuade as many opponents as possible to voice that opposition by taking part in the consultation before it closes on 12 December.

ALLFIE says the government’s plans are a clear breach of article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which states that an education system that separates and segregates disabled children is a violation of their right to mainstream education.

And it points to guidance published this summer by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which says that all segregated education should be replaced by “inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”.

Laws currently ban any new grammar schools and prevent existing non-selective schools from becoming selective, but the government wants to expand existing grammar schools, create new selective schools and allow non-selective schools to become selective.

It says this will only be allowed if “action to expand existing selective schools or establish new selective schools is accompanied at the same time by support to ensure good quality non-selective places locally”.

But Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s chief executive, said: “The green paper does not so much as mention disabled pupils and those with special educational needs, let alone consider the impact of greater school selection on this already disadvantaged group.”

Flood said the government’s own figures showed disabled children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) or statements of special educational needs (SEN) represent only 0.1 per cent of grammar school pupils, despite making up 1.8 per cent of the secondary school population.

And disabled children without EHCPs or statements make up only 4.2 per cent of grammar school pupils, but 12.4 per cent of all secondary school pupils.

Flood said these figures demonstrated “a truly shocking rate of underrepresentation which demonstrates that the proposals are inherently discriminatory”.

She added: “It is clear that selection will not, cannot deliver education that is inclusive of disabled children and young people with SEN.

“The very nature of selection via ability tests does the opposite.”

Kate Green, a former Labour shadow minister for disabled people, said that only 20 out of more than 7,500 children in grammar schools in the borough of Trafford in her constituency have an EHCP or statement, while only about three per cent are disabled or have SEN.

She said: “There’s something very wrong with a system that means so few children with special educational needs get access to our grammar schools.

“Parents tell me that there are problems with the entrance tests which don’t recognise the special needs of their children and they also tell me that they believe the grammar schools don’t want their kids.”

The Department for Education (DfE) has repeatedly refused to answer key questions about the consultation paper – including whether it accepts that it breaches the UN convention, and why there is no mention of disabled pupils – or even to say whether it carried out an equality impact assessment of its plans.

But a DfE spokesman said: “Every child, regardless of background or ability, should have access to an excellent education.

“We know that grammar schools provide a good education for their disadvantaged pupils and we want more pupils from lower income backgrounds to benefit from that.

“Our proposals will ensure that any new and existing selective schools will prioritise the admission of disadvantaged pupils and that they support other local pupils in non-selective schools to help drive up educational outcomes.

“As set out in the consultation document, we are clear that relaxing restrictions on selective education can and should be to the betterment, not at the expense, of other local schools.”

1 December 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 

 

Outrage after council’s mobility scooter pavement ban suggestion

A council’s proposals to ban some mobility scooters from pavements as part of a crackdown on “anti social behaviour” are “outrageous, discriminatory and wrong” and likely to lead to a rise in disability hate crime, say disabled campaigners.

The measure is included in a public consultation on a new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) being considered by Enfield council in north London.

The possible ban on the use of “mopeds, scooters and other similar transport on pavements without reasonable excuse” is being considered alongside other “anti social behaviour” such as throwing fireworks, public drunkenness, urinating in public areas, and prostitution.

Although manual wheelchairs and mobility scooters with an upper limit of four mph would be excluded from any ban, scooters with “an upper speed limit of eight mph” – which can be used on both roads and pavements – would be forced onto the roads.

Although the poorly-worded consultation question is unclear about what it is suggesting for scooter-users, a council spokesman has confirmed to Disability News Service that the measure under consideration would see mobility scooters with a top speed of eight mph banned completely from pavements throughout Enfield.

Paula Peters, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, and herself a user of a scooter with a maximum speed of eight mph, said that forcing disabled people like her onto the roads was “blatant exclusion and discrimination” and would risk their safety.

She said: “We all know that car drivers are not considerate and drive really fast, and do not see cyclists or even other cars.

“This asinine idea by the council could lead to an increase in road accidents in the area, and could lead to deaths.”

Peters said she had been subjected to abuse – and even an attempted assault by a group of teenagers – while using her scooter on pavements near her home in Bromley, in south-east London.

And she warned that this kind of attack would become more common in Enfield if the council went ahead with the ban.

She said: “What we will see is a ramping up of targeting of disabled people if this idea becomes law, the residents taking the law into their own hands, and ramping up of physical and verbal abuse towards disabled people if they try and access the public pavements.

“This measure is outrageous, discriminatory and wrong and I hope all sections of the community in Enfield see this is a completely senseless idea, come together to fight the council on this, and force the council to abandon this ridiculous idea.”

Anne Novis, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said she was “outraged” by Enfield’s proposal.

She said: “It is appalling that any council would consider, let alone implement, a ban on disabled people using an aid such as a mobility scooter from pavements.

“They need access to the pavements to get as near as possible to shops, clinics, social venues, etc, due to mobility issues.

“Discrimination against disabled people is illegal and in my eyes this is outright discrimination and indicates a lack of understanding from the council about the barriers disabled people face.

“There is also the issue of hostility, or hate crime, which so many Deaf and disabled people experience already due to us being perceived as ‘irritants’.

“Enfield council will encourage this viewpoint by this proposal, let alone its implementation.

“Many will use it to abuse disabled people on mobility scooters, regardless of speed, as another stick to beat us with, another excuse to perpetrate hostility against us.

“To place disabled people who use a certain aid with groups such as prostitutes and public drunkenness also perpetrates a negative perspective about disabled people.

“I would encourage all organisations and individuals to contact their MP about this discriminatory move by Enfield council, as well as legal experts to challenge it.”

The Enfield council spokesman confirmed that the council was asking residents whether they wanted to ban eight mph mobility scooters from all pavements in the borough.

He said: “Proposals have not yet been developed for a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in Enfield as we are still consulting with local people on the types of anti-social behaviour they believe need to be tackled to improve the community’s quality of life.

“Whilst some forms of anti-social behaviour blight our residents’ lives and we receive regular demands that we take action to address them, we have made it clear that our residents’ views will help shape the approach we should take so that we target the right areas for the right reasons.

“By working with our residents in tailoring the right PSPO to their needs – what they think should be in and what left out – we hope to tackle the problems that affect them and thereby help improve their quality of life.

“We will consider the results of the consultation, which has followed government guidance, before devising proposals for the council to make a decision on.”

1 December 2016

 

 

Mordaunt ‘working on urgent plans to reduce living costs’ ahead of WRAG cuts

The minister for disabled people is working on urgent plans to cut the living costs faced by disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits, she has told MPs.

Penny Mordaunt was responding to warnings of the “human cost” of “bizarre” government plans to cut more than £1 billion from disabled benefit claimants over the four years from 2017-18.

From April, the highly-controversial cuts will see a £30-a-week reduction in payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who have been placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).

Ministers have tried to justify the cuts by claiming that they will “incentivise” sick and disabled people to find work.

But Mordaunt told MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee this week that she was working on a package of measures to “mitigate the £30″, which would be in place “before April”.

She provided few details of how she would do that, other than that she was working at “ensuring that someone’s outgoings can be managed”, and at reducing their “non-work-related costs”, such as energy, broadband and phone bills.

She was defending herself from accusations from the SNP’s Mhairi Black that government plans to cut the WRAG payments were “bizarre” and would have a “human cost”.

Black told Mordaunt that evidence submitted to the committee had “almost unanimously” been “heavily criticising” the cuts, while the plans were causing “more anxiety” to constituents who had visited her office.

She added: “You can’t incentivise people to get healthy.

“The cuts can have a detrimental impact on people’s health to the point where anxiety gets worse, depression gets worse…. surely that defeats the whole purpose.”

Mordaunt said she accepted that disabled people had the best chance of finding work, or returning to work, if “they don’t have other things to worry about”.

She added: “The evidence that people need further support is massive.”

And she said that “the 13 measures” laid out in the green paper – a package of support that will be available to new WRAG claimants – were “required”, and that “not doing that would be an extremely bad thing”.

When Labour’s Neil Coyle asked whether any of the disability groups Mordaunt claimed had backed the 13 measures had also supported the £30-a-week ESA cut, she said: “Funnily enough, no, but… I need to cover off those concerns that you have articulated.

“There are various ways I am exploring to do that. I recognise I have got to do that quickly.”

Heidi Allen, one of the Conservative MPs who has been most vocal in opposing the ESA cuts, told Mordaunt it was “very ambitious” to try to identify savings of £120-per-month for people who will be joining the WRAG in time for April, and asked her for her “back-up plan”.

But Mordaunt said: “We are making good progress. I know what I need to do.

“I am not in a position to outline chapter and verse, but I hope to be soon.”

Asked after the meeting for further details about Mordaunt’s efforts to cut disabled people’s living costs, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said: “We are in the early stages of talking to providers and there is no further detail we can provide at this time.”

The committee heard that the government predicted it would save £30 million in 2017-18, £180 million in 2018-19, £345 million in 2019-20 and £450 million in 2020-21 by cutting the WRAG payments, although some of that will be spent on providing them with support to get into work.

DWP said later that it was investing a total of £330 million of those cuts over four years from April 2017 to deliver employment support to those affected, while an extra £15 million per year had been added to the Flexible Support Fund – which is supposed to give jobcentres flexibility in providing back-to-work support – for 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Coyle also raised concerns that someone who had left the WRAG to try a new job would then be treated as a new claimant – and so face a £30-a-week cut – if they failed to pass their three-month probation period and had to return to the ESA system.

ESA claimants are only protected from being treated as new claimants if they rejoin the benefit within 12 weeks.

Mordaunt appeared to agree with Coyle that if someone who was in the WRAG started a new job but failed a three-month probation period they would be treated as a new ESA claimant.

But there was also a suggestion that DWP might have been listening to concerns from disabled activists about the risks of forcing people with health conditions into inappropriate work.

Tracey Waltho, director of the joint DWP and Department of Health work and health unit, told the committee that evidence on the health benefits of work were “mixed”.

She said there was “good evidence that appropriate work can help people’s health” but that “appropriate work is a very personal thing” so “we need to be very cognisant of getting good matches” between people and jobs, including whether that work would “support their particular health condition or work against it”.

1 December 2016

 

 

Mordaunt misleads MPs over Tory disability employment gap target

The minister for disabled people misled a Commons committee about the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap… less than two minutes after she began giving evidence.

Penny Mordaunt began speaking to the work and pensions select committee at 4.18pm on Monday by confirming her name and ministerial duties, but by 4.20pm she was claiming – in response to a question from Labour MP Neil Coyle – that the government had never set a target date for halving the gap.

Mordaunt should have known that was not true because just 11 days earlier she had been in the House of Commons chamber when Labour MP Stephen Timms pointed out that a press release issued by her department last year had stated that the government “aims to halve the gap between the disabled employment rate and the overall employment rate by 2020″.

The pledge had also been included in the party’s 2015 general election manifesto, which stated that the next Conservative government would “aim to halve the disability employment gap”.

It was a pledge repeated by the prime minister in one of the general election television debates.

Despite being present on 17 November, in an otherwise nearly-empty Commons chamber, when Timms drew attention to the press release – subsequently highlighted by Disability News Service (DNS) – Mordaunt told the committee this week that the pledge “didn’t have a specific time commitment at the end of it”.

She added: “I know a couple of MPs have suggested it was a 2020 target. It was clearly not a 2020 target.”

While Mordaunt continued to give her evidence, DNS contacted Coyle via social media, and included a link to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) press release.

Coyle then told Mordaunt about the press release, and said: “With respect, you said the department never had that commitment. That is false.”

She replied: “That is my understanding. The press release you refer to I have not been able to find.

“It just isn’t a manifesto target. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to do it.”

Coyle later tweeted: “@johnpringdns thanks for the link. Apparently Minister @PennyMordauntMP couldn’t find it & no #DWP official could either. Rather worrying…”

Asked later if the minister would apologise for misleading MPs, a DWP spokeswoman said: “As mentioned in the Conservative manifesto, the government aims to halve the disability employment gap and is taking action to do so but there was never a firm commitment to achieve this by 2020.

“It is been widely recognised that this is a bold and challenging target and the previous minister for disabled people’s press release makes clear that this is an aim – rather than a commitment.”

It is not the first time Mordaunt has been criticised for misleading MPs.

In October, she told the Commons that under personal independence payment – compared with disability living allowance, which it is replacing for working-age claimants – “more people are entitled to use the Motability scheme”.

But Motability’s own figures show that of their customers who have been reassessed for PIP so far, 44 per cent have lost their entitlement to the scheme and have had to return their vehicles.

Mordaunt made it clear in her evidence to the committee this week that measuring the disability employment gap should no longer be the government’s focus, because any measurement would “not be meaningful for a number of years”.

She was further embarrassed during the session – which was taking evidence for the committee’s inquiry into the disability employment gap – when fellow Tory MP Richard Graham raised doubts about the Disability Confident events for employers being hosted by MPs around the country.

He said he and other MPs had held “very helpful” Disability Confident events in their constituencies.

But he added: “You get lots of employers who sign a board, a photograph is taken, a press release is issued, people go away with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it’s about how many of them actually go away and do something.

“When I have sent emails to all of those who have signed, asking them to give me chapter and verse on how many people with disabilities they have subsequently employed, the ones who respond are the ones who were already doing this beforehand and they have done a bit more, but the ones who signed it because they felt it was a good idea… on the whole don’t really come back.

“This leads me to suspect that not a great deal has really happened.”

Mordaunt said DWP had now relaunched Disability Confident and that it now had some “teeth”, because those employers that reach the highest level of “Disability Confident Leader” need to be “independently audited”.

She said that employers often need a “real business reason” to take action, and so the permanent secretaries of every government department had signed up to the scheme and would give preference to Disability Confident Leaders when awarding contracts.

She said: “If you want to win a government contract and you’re not a Disability Confident Leader, you stand less chance of winning that contract.”

The government’s latest figures show just 13 employers across the country have achieved Disability Confident Leader status.

Meanwhile, figures obtained by Disability News Service through a freedom of information request suggest that Graham’s concerns could be justified.

For the eight months from December 2015 to July 2016, about 100 employers a month were registering interest in the Disability Confident scheme, but an average of only 13 every month expressed a wish to be contacted by Jobcentre Plus to discuss their recruitment needs or how to support a disabled employee.

In July this year, just four employers across the entire country asked for such advice.

1 December 2016

 

 

English city is first in UK to win European Union access award

An historic English city has beaten off competition from across Europe to become the first in the UK to win a prestigious access award from the European Commission.

Chester learned this week that it had won the 2016 Access City Award, ahead of 42 other cities in 21 European Union countries, partly because of its efforts to improve access across its tourism sector.

Among its achievements are ensuring that most of its Roman city walls are now wheelchair-accessible, while the medieval, double-level walkways, balconies and shops known as The Rows now have ramps, lifts, level access and escalators.

Information guides point out where those ramps, lifts and escalators can be found.

The Access City Award “recognises and celebrates cities which proactively support accessibility” for disabled people and “take exemplary steps to improve accessibility in the urban environment”.

The European Commission (EC) said that by making its main tourist sites wheelchair-accessible, Chester “proves that ensuring accessible tourism for all and preserving historical and cultural heritage can go hand in hand”.

It praised both the public and private sectors, and particularly highlighted measures that have targeted disabled people with the highest support needs.

Dial West Cheshire (DWC), a Chester-based disabled people’s organisation which was involved in shaping the council’s competition entry, said the award was “excellent news”.

Keith Roper, chief officer of DWC, which runs a disability rights centre, a Shopmobility service and an access group in Chester, said the message the award sent to other councils was of “the importance of involving disabled people in plans and planning” and then listening to what they say.

One of the reasons for Chester’s success, he suggested, was that the council employed a senior access officer, something many councils had dispensed with as a cost-cutting measure.

Another was the council’s decision to set up – following a suggestion from DWC – a “corporate” disability access forum to examine strategic issues, which has allowed DWC’s access group to feed in its views on future developments across the city.

Roper said the existence of DWC’s access group had “undoubtedly” played a part in Chester winning the award because it had given disabled people “the opportunity to be heard”.

Cheshire West and Chester Council said that providing accessible information, including a guide to accessible facilities in the city, provided by DisabledGo, also helped disabled residents and visitors.

And it pointed to plans to double the number of Changing Places toilets, while all the city’s Hackney taxis are wheelchair-accessible, all buses have ramps and wheelchair spaces, and DWC’s Shopmobility scheme takes 3,000 annual bookings.

Marianne Thyssen, EC’s commissioner for employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility, said: “Chester’s efforts to make its historical and cultural heritage fit for persons with disabilities deserve the highest praise.

“People with a disability should be able to participate in all aspects of life without limitations: social, cultural, economic, touristic, and more.”

Cllr Angela Claydon, Chester’s lord mayor, said: “Improved accessibility brings not only reassurance and the necessary support to those who struggle with mobility issues, but lasting economic and social benefits to the city and the borough and we will continue to place accessibility at the heart of everything we deliver.

“We appreciate that Chester’s not the finished article and there is plenty of room for improvement but we are absolutely committed to working with disabled organisations to ensure that the whole of the borough is as accessible to all as it can be.

“This is a process that, whilst we know will take time, we have clear and deliverable plans to make happen.

“We want to learn from previous winners about how we can now build upon this in the coming years.”

1 December 2016

 

 

DWP media reports ignore deaths, IDS resignation and activists who stormed PMQs

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants ignored media coverage that exposed how ministers’ policies had led to the deaths of benefit claimants and to disabled activists storming parliament, in a series of confidential reports for their bosses.

The DWP Media Evaluation reports, obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) following a freedom of information request, show how the department’s communications department repeatedly attempted to paint flattering portraits of how the media was responding to ministers’ work.

Over the course of 13 months, from September 2015 to September 2016, the reports ignore significant moments in the campaign to expose how ministerial decisions led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

They also ignore a key piece of direct action by disabled activists that was covered by almost every mainstream media organisation.

They are the second collection of DWP Media Evaluation reports obtained by DNS – following an initial batch released in October – and appear to show that the communications department has been more careful about how it writes the reports in the months since DNS first asked to see the documents in September 2015.

Among the stories that are ignored in the latest reports is the revelation by DNS in September 2015 that a coroner had blamed flaws in the work capability assessment (WCA) process for the death of a benefit claimant.

The case was followed up by ITV News and other mainstream media organisations, but there is no mention of the story in the evaluation report, which merely notes that September 2015 was “a mixed month for coverage”.

The following month, the report again ignored that story, even though it was raised by the SNP’s Angus Robertson in prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons.

In November 2015, DWP’s monthly document ignored media coverage of another influential coroner’s report – into the death of Stephen Carré – which has since helped activists build a case suggesting that two work and pensions ministers should face a criminal investigation for their refusal to improve the safety of the WCA.

The coroner’s report into Carré’s death was again covered by ITV News, and covered widely elsewhere in the mainstream media.

One of the most striking omissions comes in DWP’s internal report for March 2016, when it manages to avoid mentioning coverage of the resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Duncan Smith claimed he had quit in protest at the decision to impose further cuts to personal independence payment (PIP), and his resignation led to the government deciding within hours to abandon those cuts.

But the only mention of those events in the March report is the line: “This month the disability desk worked to ensure coverage around PIP was balanced.”

The following month, there was a brief mention of a Dispatches documentary for Channel 4 on the PIP assessment process, with the report’s author saying that the “majority of the programme focused on Capita and the mentions of the Department were balanced, reflecting the strong briefing given by the Press Office”.

And in May 2016, the reports ignored widespread coverage of the release by DWP – following a lengthy legal battle with DNS – of redacted versions of 49 secret reports into the deaths of benefit claimants.

But probably the most obvious omission from the 13 months of reports came in June, a month in which Disabled People Against Cuts attempted to storm the House of Commons chamber during prime minister’s questions, in protest at the impact of DWP’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund.

The protest was covered by nearly every significant media organisation, including the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Metro, the Independent, the BBC, Sky News, the Guardian and London’s Evening Standard, but was ignored by DWP’s own monitoring report.

Disabled campaigner David Gillon said the reports showed “much the same manipulative mess we saw with the previous batch”, while he pointed out that the reports’ authors had stopped pointing out all of the potential stories that the press office had “managed to strangle at birth”.

He said: “We’re given an unsurprising insight into DWP attitudes when a piece on benefit overpayment targets being missed (a long time internal DWP problem) is labelled ‘the lowest ever level of fraud and error’.

“Where did fraud come into it? And if benefit fraud is at its lowest level ever, why wasn’t that being shouted from the rooftops? Or doesn’t it fit in with the scrounger narrative?”

He added: “What’s very noticeable is that no matter how indefensible the story, the press office call it ‘balanced’ if they manage to insert the DWP position.

“Yet so many stories that dominated the news and hammered DWP don’t make it into the reports.

“Clearly someone at DWP doesn’t like it when the stories tell the truth without any manipulation; not even when it’s their own minister’s resignation.

“Meanwhile, the utter failure of Disability Confident to challenge corrosive attitudes to disability employment is visible when you realise that, even in DWP’s internal reporting, we’re ‘X, who was born without a forearm’, rather than ‘X, who is a successful disabled model’.”

1 December 2016

 

 

Spending watchdog calls for ‘wide-ranging’ review of benefit sanctions regime

The government has been heavily-criticised by the public spending watchdog for failing to investigate how its own sanctions regime affects disabled people and other claimants of out-of-work benefits.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to track the costs and benefits of sanctions, including financial hardship, the impact on claimants’ mental health, and higher public spending in other areas, such as council-funded support.

And it calls on DWP to conduct a “wide-ranging review” of its regime, which has led to 400,000 sanctions being applied in 2015 across four benefits: jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), employment and support allowance (ESA), universal credit and income support.

DWP has previously rejected calls for a wider review, and NAO says it has also “resisted working with academic researchers and third-party organisations to explore the effect of sanctions”.

DWP has even told Work Programme providers not to cooperate with government-funded research looking at the role and impact of sanctions.

Only last month, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities – in a report concluding that there had been “grave or systematic violations” of the UN’s disability convention by the UK government – pointed to a significant and “disproportionate” increase in benefit sanctions handed to ESA claimants between 2012 and 2014.

The committee concluded that sanctioned claimants had faced “financial hardship, including through becoming indebted, relying on the support of relatives or on food banks or having reduced essential services”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly highlighted the deaths of disabled benefit claimants they believe were linked to the government’s sanctions regime, including those of David Clapson and Alan McArdle.

DWP admitted last year that 10 of 49 benefit claimants whose deaths were subject to secret reviews by the department had had their payments sanctioned at some stage.

The latest DWP figures showed a sharp rise in the number of sanctions imposed on ESA claimants, with 1,199 decisions taken to impose a sanction on an ESA claimant in May 2016, rising to 1,749 in June, compared to 900 in January.

NAO says that DWP has not used sanctions consistently, that referral rates have varied “substantially” across jobcentres and providers of employment support, and that sanction numbers have “risen and fallen over time in ways that cannot be explained by changes in claimant compliance”.

It also says that the use of sanctions was “not rare”, with nearly one in four JSA claimants between 2010 and 2015 being sanctioned at least once.

And preliminary research carried out by NAO suggests that the use of sanctions on sick and disabled people who claim ESA actually led to a fall in the time they spent in work.

NAO says that international studies show claimants who receive sanctions are more likely to secure work, but this effect can be short-lived, because people “move into work more quickly, by accepting less well-paid and sustainable work than they otherwise would have done”.

Studies also suggest that sanctions encourage some claimants to become “inactive”, by stopping their claim without finding work.

The watchdog has estimated that the government failed to pay £132 million in benefits in 2015 as a result of sanctions, and paid out £35 million in hardship payments to these claimants, while the cost of administering the sanctions system in 2015 was between £30 million and £50 million.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “As DPAC has always said, sanctions do not help disabled people find and keep work and it is good to have this confirmed by the NAO.

“How can anyone, even the dimmest of people, seriously think that someone with no money for essentials such as food, heating and sanitary products is likely to be able to pay to travel to interviews, buy clothes for interviews or have any energy to even apply for any jobs? It’s simply a ludicrous idea.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, welcomed the NAO report and said it showed the “arbitrary” nature of the government’s sanctions regime and “confirms what we have been saying all along”.

He said the sanctions regime breaches both article two (the right to life) and article six (the right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

McArdle said: “There is no safety protocol in place. Disabled people on ESA are being sanctioned and they are basically leaving people destitute.

“It can put people in life-threatening situations. It can cause disabled people catastrophic harm in a way that it wouldn’t do to people who are not so disabled.”

But McArdle said there was “not a hope in hell” that the government would agree to the NAO recommendation to carry out a wide-ranging review.

He said: “The only thing that will bring this government to heel is proceedings in the criminal court.”

The Liberal Democrats called on the government to look again at its “discredited” sanctions regime.

The party’s leader, Tim Farron, said the report was the “Civil Service equivalent of a character assassination”.

He said: “It shows that a failing department is trying to prop up a discredited system.

“The DWP have turned this system [into] a postcode lottery and means that someone could be sanctioned in one place and not in another for the same thing.

“What is worse is that the government are not assessing the impact of sanctions, using their own data to see what is going on and they are not even tracking the benefits.”

The Liberal Democrats voted to scrap all benefit sanctions at their party conference in September.

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said: “Benefit sanctions punish some of the poorest people in the country.

“But despite the anxiety and misery they cause, it seems to be pot luck who gets sanctioned.

“While studies suggest sanctions do encourage some people back into work, other people stop claiming but do not start working and the Department for Work and Pensions has no record of them.

“If vulnerable people fall through the safety net, what happens to them?”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Sanctions are an important part of our benefits system and it is right that there is a system in place for tackling those few who do not fulfil their commitment to find work.

“This report fails to recognise the improvements we have made to sanctions, particularly to help those who are vulnerable.

“The number of sanctions has fallen, and they are only ever used as a last resort after people fail to do what is asked of them in return for benefits.

“We will consider the recommendations, and respond fully in due course.”

1 December 2016

 

 

Government ‘leaves self-advocates with #NoVoice’ after scrapping forum’s funding

A national forum set up 15 years ago to involve people with learning difficulties in developing government policy is set to lose its Department of Health (DH) funding.

Inclusion North, the disability organisation that is paid by DH to run the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities (NFPLD), has been told there are “currently no plans to extend, renew or re-tender” its two-year contract when it expires on 31 March.

Over the last two years, Inclusion North has received £419,000 to “facilitate and host” NFPLD and the National Valuing Families Forum, whose members are carers of people with learning difficulties and their allies.

When it was set up as a result of Labour’s ground-breaking Valuing People learning difficulties white paper in 2001, the government said NFPLD would “involve people with learning disabilities in policy development” and “contribute to monitoring the impact of Valuing People”.

But Inclusion North has now been told by DH to come up with an “exit plan”, including new ways of funding the forums.

A petition set up to call on ministers to reverse their decision has so far been signed by nearly 1,800 people, while a social media campaign has featured self-advocates pictured with their hands over their mouths to demonstrate the #NoVoice social media hashtag.

The petition says: “We work closely with the Government and national organisations at a high level to ensure that the voices of people with learning disabilities are heard when decisions are made that impact upon our lives.

“However we have now been informed by the Department of Health that our funding is to be completely cut in March 2017.

“We think that this decision is very wrong. It will be another way of taking away our voice.”

Ian Davies, a former member of the national forum and currently a coordinator of the East Midlands regional forum – but speaking to Disability News Service as an individual – said he felt “frustrated” by the government’s decision.

He said: “It’s a big loss. When you think about Valuing People when it started out in 2001 and what the government was trying to do, to set up a platform where people with learning difficulties could express their feelings to government, that’s going to be all taken away.

“They are not going to have that platform. Exactly what we think about what’s going on, that will not be there.

“How else are they going to hear those things from people themselves?”

He added: “We know it has a lot to do with cuts. It’s cuts here, cuts there, cuts everywhere.

“Who gets it first? It’s people with learning difficulties.

“I can’t still understand why they want to drag that away from people when there is a lot of really good valuable work done on behalf of it.

“It’s done some really good, strong work in the past and now it’s going to end up with no funding.”

There are nine regional forums that feed into NFPLD, with two representatives from each of them elected by their own members to sit on the national forum.

Two members of the national forum attend the government’s National Learning Disability Programme Board.

Among the national forum’s achievements is Staying Strong, a guide it published five years ago to help other self-advocacy groups threatened by government funding cuts.

It has also spoken out strongly in the wake of the Winterbourne View abuse scandal, and about the safety of care facilities following the death of Connor Sparrowhawk and subsequent revelations that an NHS trust failed to investigate hundreds of unexpected deaths of people with learning difficulties and mental health problems.

A DH spokeswoman said: “The contract included a requirement for Inclusion North to work with the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities and the National Valuing Families Forum to look at options for both organisations to become self-sustaining from 1 April 2017.

“The end of the contract doesn’t prevent the forums from seeking other sources of support.”

She added: “We highly value the contributions people with learning difficulties make in informing policy, and the forums are not the only way we currently engage with representatives.

“The contract between the Department of Health and Inclusion North was to support people with learning disabilities and family carers to contribute to policy-making, planning and oversight of services on learning disabilities.

“The Department of Health wants to ensure that these people, and their family and carers, continue to be closely involved in co-producing and informing policies.

“We are considering how best to ensure continued engagement with people with learning disabilities and family carers in the future.”

Inclusion North has so far failed to respond to a request to comment on losing the DH funding, and to a request to speak to someone from the forum.

1 December 2016

 

 

Funding set to help researchers DRILL down into independent living barriers

Projects that will research how to help people with chronic illness speak out, tackle violence against disabled women, and judge the success of peer support initiatives are among 10 user-led schemes that have been awarded £400,000 in funding.

The 10 research projects – across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – have received between £35,000 and £40,000 each to explore new ways to remove the barriers to independent living faced by disabled people.

The schemes are the first part of the DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning) programme, a £5 million research scheme funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and delivered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Disability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

DRILL, which has so far received more than 200 applications for funding, 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.

Disabled campaigner Catherine Hale, a member of the Spartacus online network, is lead researcher on one of the projects, which aims to empower people with chronic illness to “develop a collective voice with which to challenge their exclusion”.

The project will be managed by the Centre for Welfare Reform (CWR) and will learn from the work of existing online networks of sick and disabled people, such as The Broken of Britain and Spartacus.

Hale, a CWR fellow, said: “There is a vibrant chronic illness community online, as you can see if you search #spoonie. This project is about channelling it into a movement for social change.

“To do this we need to grow our awareness of the social and political dimensions of our exclusion; to strengthen links with the disability rights movement and to develop a collective voice on the government policies that affect our lives.”

In Scotland, one DRILL project will aim to understand what stops people with mental health problems engaging in civic and public life.

Another Scottish project will explore how more people with learning difficulties can be supported to make decisions.

In Wales, research will examine the barriers young disabled people face in forming friendships, and what contributes to their social isolation.

Another Welsh project, to be co-produced with All Wales People First, will develop an easy-to-use way for people with learning difficulties to evaluate the success of their self-advocacy projects, making it easier to attract future funding.

Joe Powell, national director of All Wales People First, said: “Self-advocacy helps people to be active in their social circle and be better citizens.

“Our project will enable people with disabilities to have a louder voice in saying what works for them in projects that aim to improve their self-advocacy skills.

“Improving these projects will mean more and better self-advocates who can take control of their own lives and influence society to have positive images of disabled people.”

One of the English DRILL projects will work with people with sight loss and older people to make it easier for galleries and museums to respond to “impromptu” visits from blind and partially-sighted people.

Humare Avaaz (Our Voice) will explore the barriers faced by disabled Asian women, and some of the success stories where those barriers have been overcome, in co-production with the Asian People’s Disability Alliance, and other organisations.

Inclusion London and Barnett Voice for Mental Health are among organisations that have secured £40,000 DRILL funding to examine what makes peer support employment projects successful.

Another project that has won funding will look at how to tackle violence and abuse experienced by disabled women across England and Wales, including how services can work together to create safer and more inclusive communities for disabled women.

Finally, Dementia NI will work with two Irish universities to evaluate how the organisation – set up by five people from Northern Ireland with a diagnosis of dementia – has helped to empower people with that condition.

Another £600,000 of awards will be announced by DRILL next spring.

In a blog, Liz Sayce, chief executive of DR UK, said: “The common thread to all these projects is that they are being driven by disabled people, for disabled people; these are core criteria when it comes to getting funding from the DRILL programme.

“We hope this will lead to new insights and ways of looking at things which will help develop new solutions to the barriers disabled people face.

“But we also hope disabled people’s organisations will develop new partnerships and insights into building evidence; and researchers will learn more about how to work in genuine co-production with disabled people.”

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said her organisation was “excited” about the impact the two Welsh research projects would have in “tackling the isolation of young disabled adults and encouraging people with learning difficulties to stand up for what they need.

“Moreover it will help create a much-needed research community among disabled people in Wales which is so vital to identifying solutions that make achieving independent living a reality.”

Professor Tom Shakespeare, the disabled academic who chairs the DRILL central research committee, which approved the grants, said: “We sometimes find the questions posed by disabled people are different from those posed by non-disabled academics, and so this research has the potential to answer questions of most concern to disabled people.

“The programme will involve sharing knowledge, research and skills through genuine co-production between disabled people and academics and should leave a legacy of greater skills for all involved.”

1 December 2016

 

 

Campaign calls on supporters to tell ministers: ‘Educate, don’t segregate’

A new campaign is calling on disabled people and their allies to show their opposition to “deeply flawed” and “discriminatory” government plans to increase provision of grammar schools in England.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) is hoping that its Educate Don’t Segregate campaign will highlight how expanding selective education will lead to a “dramatic reduction” in mainstream education placements, and increase segregation, for disabled pupils and those with special educational needs (SEN).

ALLFIE is calling on supporters to photograph themselves with the “Educate Don’t Segregate” slogan, and share the pictures on social media with the hashtag #educatedontsegregate.

ALLFIE points out that disabled pupils, particularly those with higher support needs, are vastly under-represented in grammar schools, and that a more selective system will further discriminate against them.

It says there was no mention of disabled pupils in the government’s consultation paper on its plans, Schools That Work For Everyone, when it was published in September.

Now ALLFIE is trying to persuade as many opponents as possible to voice that opposition by taking part in the consultation before it closes on 12 December.

ALLFIE says the government’s plans are a clear breach of article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which states that an education system that separates and segregates disabled children is a violation of their right to mainstream education.

And it points to guidance published this summer by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which says that all segregated education should be replaced by “inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”.

Laws currently ban any new grammar schools and prevent existing non-selective schools from becoming selective, but the government wants to expand existing grammar schools, create new selective schools and allow non-selective schools to become selective.

It says this will only be allowed if “action to expand existing selective schools or establish new selective schools is accompanied at the same time by support to ensure good quality non-selective places locally”.

But Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s chief executive, said: “The green paper does not so much as mention disabled pupils and those with special educational needs, let alone consider the impact of greater school selection on this already disadvantaged group.”

Flood said the government’s own figures showed disabled children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) or statements of special educational needs (SEN) represent only 0.1 per cent of grammar school pupils, despite making up 1.8 per cent of the secondary school population.

And disabled children without EHCPs or statements make up only 4.2 per cent of grammar school pupils, but 12.4 per cent of all secondary school pupils.

Flood said these figures demonstrated “a truly shocking rate of underrepresentation which demonstrates that the proposals are inherently discriminatory”.

She added: “It is clear that selection will not, cannot deliver education that is inclusive of disabled children and young people with SEN.

“The very nature of selection via ability tests does the opposite.”

Kate Green, a former Labour shadow minister for disabled people, said that only 20 out of more than 7,500 children in grammar schools in the borough of Trafford in her constituency have an EHCP or statement, while only about three per cent are disabled or have SEN.

She said: “There’s something very wrong with a system that means so few children with special educational needs get access to our grammar schools.

“Parents tell me that there are problems with the entrance tests which don’t recognise the special needs of their children and they also tell me that they believe the grammar schools don’t want their kids.”

The Department for Education (DfE) has repeatedly refused to answer key questions about the consultation paper – including whether it accepts that it breaches the UN convention, and why there is no mention of disabled pupils – or even to say whether it carried out an equality impact assessment of its plans.

But a DfE spokesman said: “Every child, regardless of background or ability, should have access to an excellent education.

“We know that grammar schools provide a good education for their disadvantaged pupils and we want more pupils from lower income backgrounds to benefit from that.

“Our proposals will ensure that any new and existing selective schools will prioritise the admission of disadvantaged pupils and that they support other local pupils in non-selective schools to help drive up educational outcomes.

“As set out in the consultation document, we are clear that relaxing restrictions on selective education can and should be to the betterment, not at the expense, of other local schools.”

1 December 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com