Recordings prove PIP report ignored near-fatal attacks, overdoses and blackouts

A nurse failed to mention a disabled woman’s near-fatal asthma attacks, accidental overdoses and repeated blackouts, in one of the clearest examples yet of a dishonest benefits assessment report, secret recordings have revealed.

A video recording of the assessment also shows that the nurse lied about the way disabled activist Catherine Scarlett made her way from a stairlift to a reclining chair to begin the assessment.

Scarlett had been so distrustful of the personal independence payment (PIP) system that she made both video and audio recordings of her face-to-face assessment, which was carried out at her home in Yorkshire in May.

She says the recordings and assessment report prove she was right to do so.

They show how the nurse – employed by the government contractor Atos Healthcare – repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of what she was told by Scarlett.

This allowed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to lower her entitlement from the enhanced rate to just the standard rate for the daily living element of PIP, although she was allowed to stay on the enhanced rate for mobility.

At one point, Scarlett is heard on the recording telling the nurse that on several occasions she had accidentally double-dosed the powerful opioid pain medication Tramadol, but the nurse translates that in her written report as “occasionally forgets to take her medication”.

Scarlett also tells the nurse that she cannot read for long periods “because I black out”, but this ends up in the report as “she can read although she doesn’t read for long due to concentration”.

When Scarlett describes how she has previously experienced “near-fatal asthma attacks”, the nurse writes this up in her report as episodes of being “wheezy and short of breath”, which “comes and goes”.

And when the nurse asks her if she has ever thought of taking her own life, Scarlett tells her that she has felt like ending her life “lots of times” and that she experiences “impulsive urges to commit suicide and things like that”.

This is translated as “she has had thoughts of not wanting to be here”.

Scarlett is also furious that the nurse suggested that she did not need to carry out a physical examination if that meant she would be “wiped out for the week”.

When Scarlett agreed and said she was “not really” keen on having the examination, the nurse was able to use her decision to decline the physical tests to justify relying instead on an inaccurate description of how she claimed she saw Scarlett “grip and operate a crutch in each hand” as she was walking from a chairlift to her seat, in order to play down her need for support for bathing and dressing.

DWP later admitted – when it eventually overturned its original findings – that she lacked the necessary grip and strength in her right hand and arm “to be able to dress yourself reliably and in a timely manner”.

The video clearly shows Scarlett walking with a stooped posture, leaning heavily on the crutches, and flopping into the chair, but not touching its arms.

But the nurse writes this up as: “She walked from the bottom of the stairs to her specialist reclining chair using a crutch in each hand. She walked very slowly with normal posture.

“She lowered herself into the chair by putting her hands on the chair and lowered herself into it.”

Scarlett believes that her case, and many others she has been passed by other disabled people through social media, show that DWP is “colluding” with Atos in order to cut people’s support.

She said: “I have been shocked at the effect on my mental health and the thoughts it has brought up for me and can understand why it pushes so many people completely over the edge.

“I’m lucky to have strong family, friends and professional support that keeps me going but so many people aren’t as lucky and so are very vulnerable to devastating mental health deterioration and the consequences of that.

“The whole system needs fully investigating and changing to protect those people.”

Following the decision to reduce her support, a mandatory reconsideration (MR) – DWP’s own internal review process – endorsed that decision, although the department finally agreed last month to return her daily living to the enhanced rate when she appealed against the MR decision.

In that decision, DWP accepted that Scarlett did after all need help to dress and take a bath.

For technical reasons, DNS was not able to share the video recording with Atos and DWP, but the audio recording was shared with their press offices.

DNS originally agreed to omit the allegations connected with the video recording so that DWP would comment on the evidence provided solely by the audio recording.

But this morning, after agreeing to this and asking for extra time to produce a response – the audio recording was originally sent to DWP and Atos on Tuesday afternoon – a DWP spokeswoman failed to comment on any of the evidence contained in the audio recording.

Instead, she merely pointed out that Scarlett’s PIP entitlement was eventually restored, after she appealed, to the daily living enhanced rate.

She also repeated previous DWP statements about the “strict quality standards” required of assessment providers, and the “on-going quality audits” that assessors are subjected to, as well as mentioning the complaints procedures available to PIP claimants.

An Atos spokesman refused to comment on the evidence at all.

He said: “We’re informed we won’t have access to the video which accompanies the audio without which the points raised cannot be looked into as verification is simply not possible.”

Scarlett’s case is one of 22 that have been passed to Labour MP Neil Coyle (see separate story), who has pledged to take up concerns about allegations of dishonest assessment reports when parliament returns from its summer recess next month.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been investigating since last November claims that healthcare professionals working for Atos and Capita have been lying in their assessment reports.

DNS has now compiled more than 200 cases in which PIP claimants say their assessors produced dishonest reports.

The investigation shows that assessors – most of them nurses – have repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

But DWP, Capita and Atos have all refused to launch inquiries into the claims of widespread dishonesty.

10 August 2017

 

 

DPO plans court vigil as it intervenes in ‘hugely significant’ Care Act case

A disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has intervened in a “hugely significant” court of appeal hearing that is set to decide how far the government’s Care Act protects disabled people’s independent living and well-being.

Inclusion London is the first DPO to intervene in a case involving the “flagship” Care Act 2014, while it will also be the first such case to be heard by the court of appeal.

To highlight the importance of the case, Inclusion London will hold a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday (17 August), from 9.15am, to show the three judges the impact the case will have on disabled people’s lives.

The case has been brought by Luke Davey, a disabled person with high support needs, whose support package was “slashed” after the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in June 2015.

He lost his high court case earlier this year, after seeking a judicial review of Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to cut his support from £1,651 to £950 a week from May last year.

The council had decided both to increase the number of hours Davey spent without the support of his personal assistants (PAs), and reduce the rates of pay of his PAs.

His lawyers are now arguing that the care plan drawn up by the council should be quashed, while it should draft a new plan that takes into account the risks its decision poses to Davey’s wellbeing.

They will argue that the council is breaching the Care Act by suggesting that he can rely on volunteers or unpaid family carers if he wants to go out for longer than three hours at a time.

And they will argue that the council should have seriously considered the risk to Davey’s wellbeing if his long-established team of PAs broke up.

They will also argue that a social worker should not be able to overturn a person’s strongly held views on what is good for them by relying simply on their professional judgement.

Mr Justice Morris concluded in the high court – in a judgement on his judicial review that was published in February – that although the lower support package “may impose change or even strictures” which were “unwelcome” to Davey, that “does not of themselves mean that the process has been unlawful”.

And he said the council had made “no relevant legal error”, and so dismissed the judicial review.

Anne Novis, Inclusion London’s chair, said: “Without adequate levels of support, more and more disabled people are existing, not living – trapped at home without support, choice or control, excluded from participating in, and contributing to, community life.

“Although the Care Act and the introduction of the wellbeing principle were meant to transform social care and put us and our wellbeing at the centre of the process, we know it does not happen in practice.

“Disabled people tell us their support packages are being cut to the bare minimum and their views don’t matter.

“Such cuts leave disabled people at risk of harm, and cause emotional, physical and mental distress.

“We are intervening in this case, because we want to make sure the Care Act works for disabled people as it was meant to.”

Louise Whitfield, a partner at solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn, who will be representing Inclusion London in court, said: “This is a hugely significant moment, because disabled people through their organisation are intervening in court proceedings to make their voices heard and ensure the law which was designed to transform social care works for them.

“This case is likely to determine how the wellbeing duty, which was introduced by the Care Act, will be applied in practice and what difference it will make.”

A spokesman for Oxfordshire County Council said: “Throughout the period when the legal case has been live, Oxfordshire County Council has continued to work with and support this gentleman and his family. We would not comment on active legal proceedings.”

Inclusion London’s legal intervention has been supported by its Disability Justice Project, which is funded by the Baring Foundation.

10 August 2017

 

 

DWP ‘is using lost benefit assessment letters to cut spending’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is using lost appointment letters for face-to-face assessments as an excuse for turning down disabled people’s benefit claims, to help it cut spending on social security, it has been claimed.

Concerns have been raised about both the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP) – which helps meet a person’s disability-related costs – and employment and support allowance (ESA), the out-of-work sickness and disability benefit.

The concerns were raised with Disability News Service (DNS) after last week’s report detailing how DWP, and its private sector contractors Atos and Capita, were refusing to launch inquiries into widespread allegations of dishonesty by healthcare professionals paid to carry out PIP assessments.

One leading activist, Roy Bard, a long-term recipient of disability living allowance (DLA), described this week how his financial support was suddenly removed because he missed an appointment for a PIP assessment he was never told about.

He had been told he needed to apply for the new PIP, which is gradually replacing DLA for working-age claimants.

After DWP initially appeared to have mislaid documents he sent as evidence for his claim – which he sent by recorded delivery – he eventually received a phone call from Atos asking why he had missed his face-to-face assessment.

He told Atos he had never received a letter telling him to attend an assessment, and made the same reply a few days later when Atos called him again.

Bard then received a letter telling him his DLA had been stopped, and that his PIP claim had been cancelled.

When he complained, he was told a text message reminder had been sent to his phone, but the mobile number it was sent to does not belong to him.

Following an appeal – through DWP’s mandatory reconsideration process – he was told that DWP had overturned the decision to cancel his PIP claim, but would still not reinstate his DLA. He was told to wait for another assessment appointment.

This decision meant he lost about £560 a month in DLA and severe disability premium, even though DWP had overturned its original finding that he had no good cause for missing the assessment.

Bard, a leading member of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said his mental health had been seriously affected by the way his PIP claim had been dealt with, and he told DWP that this “amounts to maladministration and it has caused me considerable harassment, distress and alarm”.

Soon after DNS contacted DWP about his case, Bard was told that his DLA had been reinstated and a new PIP assessment arranged for next week.

But his case is not a one-off.

Graeme Ellis (pictured), who founded the Lancaster-based social enterprise Here2Support, has told DNS that he received eight cases similar to Bard’s last week, some of them relating to PIP, and some affecting ESA claimants.

All eight said they had had their benefits removed for not attending a face-to-face assessment, even though they had not received an appointment letter.

In the last month, Ellis has been receiving one or two such cases a week, but last week that “just shot through the roof”.

He believes these cases demonstrate a fresh DWP attempt to cut social security spending.

Previously, he said, a claimant of disability benefits would be given another assessment if their appointment letter had gone missing.

Now, said Ellis, they are finding – like Bard – that their claims are being cancelled.

He believes that appointment letters are being sent out, but that DWP is being more “strict” if the letters go missing and claimants fail to turn up to their assessments.

He said: “They are just dismissing the fact that people are saying they have not received the letter.

“It’s about saving money. They see a way of knocking somebody off benefits.”

He also pointed to another case as further evidence of a new, even harsher DWP regime.

A woman who had not left her home in five years because of severe agoraphobia was denied a home PIP assessment – after years of claiming DLA – and then had her benefits removed when she failed to turn up to an assessment centre for her appointment.

Ellis traces the start of a stricter ESA regime to April this year, and the implementation of controversial cuts of nearly £30 a week to payments made to new ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group.

Because a cancelled claim means someone has to start a new claim – even if they had previously been receiving ESA – DWP can then treat them as new claimants and cut their benefits by nearly £30 a week if they are placed in the WRAG.

A DWP spokeswoman said the department was “not aware of multiple examples” of cases like Bard’s.

She said: “We’ve made enquiries, and we are not aware of this being a widespread issue.”

She said that suggestions that DWP was using such incidents as a way of forcing disabled people on ESA to make new claims and accept lower benefits if placed in the WRAG were “unfounded and not true”.

She added: “[Bard] was sent a letter asking him to attend a face-to-face assessment.

“Although a text message was sent to the number that we held for [him], further checks show that the assessment provider did not give sufficient notice for the assessment, so they’ve been asked to arrange a new appointment.

“As the case had not been dealt with correctly on this occasion, we’ve informed [Bard] that his DLA will be reinstated.

“The mobile number that the text message was sent to was a number we had held for some time.

“As [Bard] has now stated that this is not his number, it has been removed from our records.”

She added: “Every year we send out millions of letters, and fortunately incidents like this are rare.

“When an administrative error does occur, we take action to ensure the claimant does not lose out on their benefits, as we have in [Bard’s] case.”

10 August 2017

 

 

Labour MP to push for action on widespread claims of PIP assessment lies

A Labour MP is to push for a Commons debate on evidence of widespread dishonesty among healthcare professionals who assess disabled people for the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP).

Disability News Service (DNS) has been investigating allegations that healthcare professionals working for government contractors Atos and Capita have been lying in their assessment reports.

The number of cases in which disabled PIP claimants say their assessor clearly lied in their reports has now topped 200.

The DNS investigation has revealed that assessors working for Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – have repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

Last week, DWP, Capita and Atos all refused again to launch inquiries into the claims of widespread dishonesty.

Now, following a meeting with DNS, Neil Coyle – a member of the influential Commons work and pensions select committee – has agreed to take up the concerns after parliament’s summer recess.

Following that meeting, DNS sent the Labour MP an anonymised version of the database of all the 200-plus cases.

And with the claimants’ permission, DNS has now shared details of more than 20 of those cases with Coyle, who has previously worked as a director of Disability Rights UK, and for the former Disability Rights Commission.

He hopes to use some of these cases to push for action when parliament resumes its work after recess, including seeking a possible backbench debate in the House of Commons.

Coyle said: “I’m very concerned at the volume and persistent nature of complaints about inaccurate and in too many cases what appear to be dishonest assessments.

“We know PIP was designed under the coalition to cut help to half a million disabled people, but the assessment process itself appears badly broken already and repeating mistakes of the work capability assessment.

“I will be pushing further on this when parliament returns and hope the work and pensions select committee also takes it up.”

The committee had been investigating the PIP assessment process earlier this year, but its inquiry had to be abandoned when prime minister Theresa May called the general election.

But statements that had already been submitted to the committee had provided further evidence of widespread dishonesty.

Inclusion London, the pan-London disabled people’s organisation, said in its evidence: “Again and again Disabled people are reporting that assessors have ignored written and verbal evidence and that reports do not reflect what occurred in the assessment.”

It is not yet clear whether the committee will relaunch its inquiry into the PIP assessment process when MPs return after the summer recess.

10 August 2017

 

 

Ministers ‘failed to consider impact of rules that would cut university access’

Ministers have effectively admitted introducing a policy that will prevent many disabled students from entering higher education, without knowing how much money it would save or how many young disabled people would be affected.

The admission came in response to a freedom of information (FoI) request that sought to clarify the potential impact of the new universal credit rules.

In the response to the FoI request from Disability Rights UK (DR UK), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it would be too expensive to produce the information requested.

A DWP spokesman later appeared to confirm to Disability News Service (DNS) that ministers did not know how the policy would affect young disabled people before they quietly introduced the new rules as part of the gradual rollout of universal credit.

Disabled full-time students who receive either personal independence payment (PIP) or disability living allowance (DLA) are automatically treated as having “limited capability for work” and so can often receive employment and support allowance (ESA) and housing benefit during their studies.

But the same rules that apply to ESA do not apply to universal credit, which is slowly replacing several means-tested benefits, including income-related ESA and housing benefit.

DWP has confirmed that only disabled students who receive DLA or PIP and have had their limited capability for work confirmed by a work capability assessment (WCA) are eligible for universal credit.

But DWP rules also bar disabled students in a universal credit area from undergoing a WCA to determine whether they have limited capability for work.

This means that if a student has not yet had a WCA – even if they are currently receiving ESA – and move to an area where universal credit has been introduced, they will not be able to receive support from universal credit at university.

DR UK asked DWP in the FoI request how many students were currently receiving income-related ESA on the grounds that they had limited capability for work because they were receiving PIP or DLA, and how many such awards had been made since ESA was introduced in October 2008.

But DWP said in its response that it would take more than three-and-a-half working days to produce these figures, and so was not obliged to do so by freedom of information legislation.

Ken Butler, DR UK’s welfare rights officer, said: “It is appalling that the government has restricted disabled people’s ability to study and claim universal credit seemingly without investigating how many will be affected and if the limited savings it produces could be objectively justified.

“If it had done so, surely the ESA statistics we asked for would be readily available.”

He added: “Only a very small minority of universal credit claimants would include disabled students if they were made eligible to claim it in the same way as ESA and housing benefit.

“Yet the effects on individual disabled people of not being able to take up higher education may affect their whole futures.”

A DWP spokesman had failed to say by noon today (Thursday) whether the department knew how much money the new policy would save, or how many full-time disabled students it would affect, and why ministers introduced the policy without having this information.

But he appeared to confirm that ministers had not answered these questions before introducing the policy, because he said it would take the department more than three-and-a-half days to produce those answers.

He said: “As we said in our response, we can confirm that we hold this information but the cost of complying with the FoI request would exceed the £600 limit set for central government.

“Therefore this information has not been released. The £600 limit represents the estimated cost of one person spending three-and-a-half working days in determining whether the department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting it.”

He added: “Most full-time students, including disabled students and those with health conditions, are not entitled to universal credit because financial support is available through various loans and grants.

“The design of universal credit is different to that of employment and support allowance.

“The rules are designed so that a person in receipt of universal credit because of disability or ill health is not discouraged from taking up education that may help them in the future.”

Last week, seven MPs and peers from the all-party parliamentary group for disability joined DR UK in writing to employment minister Damian Hinds to ask him to change the universal credit regulations.

They said the rules could make university unaffordable for many young disabled people.

DR UK has been campaigning to raise awareness of the issue for several months, and fears the current regulations will increase the gap between the proportion of non-disabled people (30 per cent) and disabled people (16 per cent) with a degree.

Because universal credit has only been introduced in some parts of the country, DR UK says the government has created “a postcode lottery where some disabled students can still claim ESA and housing benefit but others can only claim and be refused universal credit”.

10 August 2017

 

 

BBC bids to ‘shine a light’ on disabled performers

Disabled actors have welcomed a new BBC scheme that aims to “shine a light” on experienced disabled performers, and discover and develop up-and-coming talent.

The Class Act development programme will include an intensive three-day workshop and an opportunity to build contacts and showcase talents to professionals across the industry.

Those selected to take part will be tutored in audition and camera technique, acting and business skills, and script and character work, and will have the chance to work with directors on scenes for their showreels.

The Class Act programme is part of BBC’s efforts to support and raise the profile of disabled actors.

But it is also part of wider efforts to increase the number of disabled people working across the BBC.

Its target had been that disabled people would make up 5.3 per cent of all BBC staff by 2017, but the figures for March this year showed it had already smashed through that target, reaching 10.2 per cent (up from 3.7 per cent in 2014), while disabled people made up 9.6 per cent of those in leadership positions (up from 3.1 per cent).

This means it has already exceeded its 2020 target of eight per cent.

The 2020 target for portrayal of disability on-screen is that eight per cent of roles – including “some” lead roles – should portray or represent a disabled person, but the current figures will not be released until later this year.

Three years ago, only 1.2 per cent of roles on screen portrayed or represented disabled people.

Natalie Amber, a member of the deaf and disabled members committee (DDMC) of the performers’ union Equity, who herself plans to apply for the BBC programme, said she believed it was “a big step in the right direction”.

She said previous BBC schemes, such as holding open auditions, had not helped disabled actors build up their skills, which the new programme should do.

Amber had been forced to take five years out of the industry after she became disabled, and said she had since found it “very difficult” to find anywhere to practice acting to camera from a wheelchair.

She said she hoped the programme would not be a one-off, and that future workshops would take place outside London.

Amber – who appeared last year in the ITV thriller Paranoid and the BBC One drama Doctors – said it was difficult for disabled actors with support or access needs to take part in mainstream workshops, because they might need to pay for their own support worker or interpreter while the person leading the workshop might have never worked with a disabled actor before.

She pointed out that the BBC was not the first broadcaster to hold such a workshop for disabled actors.

ITV held a similar, but shorter, development workshop for disabled actors earlier this summer, based around its soap Emmerdale.

And Coronation Street cast the disabled actor Liam Bairstow in 2015, after he was spotted through ITV’s Breaking Through Talent disability workshop.

Amber said she hoped broadcasters and other parts of the industry would work together to improve opportunities for disabled actors.

She said members of the DDMC were trying to “make our presence more widely known” and build their information resources, so “if people have any questions they have a place where they can come”.

Cindy-Jane Armbruster, another member of Equity’s DDMC, also welcomed the new BBC scheme, but she said she was cautious about the difference it would make until she had seen its long-term impact.

She said: “If it does make a difference, I would definitely like to see more of it. They need to keep at it.

“I would like them to keep pushing for this, to keep being good allies.”

She said she also hoped the initiative reached a “very diverse range of Deaf and disabled actors – diverse in terms of impairment, race/ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, age, etc”.

She said she was “very glad” that the BBC appeared to be making a “multi-pronged effort” to increase opportunities for disabled actors and the portrayal of disability on television, and that it was talking about casting disabled actors in roles not specifically written as disabled characters.

Armbruster said efforts also needed to be made throughout the whole of the production process, to increase the numbers of disabled people working as writers, commissioners, casting directors and producers.

She added: “This will hopefully lead to more interesting stories, and hopefully also widen the view of what disability looks like.”

She said disability was “one of the most widely diverse characteristics” and it would be “exciting to see and celebrate just how different and individual we all are”.

Alison Walsh, the BBC’s disability lead, who joined the broadcaster from Channel 4 in 2015, said: “On screen portrayal of disability is increasing on the BBC but disabled actors are still struggling to find a place – especially in roles not written specifically as disabled.

“Although this scheme doesn’t guarantee work, it will provide training opportunities and exposure for new talent as well as established actors who have yet to have their ‘big break’.

“Crucially it will provide a wake-up call to drama creators that they need to work harder to consider disabled acting talent for all productions – not just those with a disability theme.”

Shane Allen, controller of BBC comedy commissioning, said: “It is crucial that we have more disabled people represented in our comedy output and bring through new disabled performing talent.

“This is the most focused and practical way for us to unearth and nurture the talents out there who are looking for this career break.”

Piers Wenger, controller of BBC drama, said: “This exciting new initiative will provide disabled actors with some of the finest training the BBC has to offer and give them the best possible chance to compete for opportunities.”

To apply for the training programme, disabled actors should submit a self-taped audition that lasts two minutes or less.

10 August 2017

 

 

Charter could give fresh access boost to smaller live music venues

The country’s smaller live music venues will be encouraged to make access improvements that are within their budgets, and so open their doors to Deaf and disabled audiences and artists, thanks to a new best practice charter.

The Grassroots Venue Charter of Best Practice will support hundreds of smaller, independent music venues – those with a capacity of 500 or less.

The charter, devised by the user-led Attitude is Everything (AiE) campaign, is designed to complement AiE’s existing Charter of Best Practice, which has led to more than 130 larger venues and festivals securing accreditation.

AiE’s figures show that ticket sales to disabled fans at festivals and venues accredited through the main charter increased by 21 per cent in 2016, an estimated economic boost of almost £8 million.

The grassroots charter will allow venues to win accreditation even if they do not have an accessible toilet, by securing permission from local businesses to use their facilities and making sure that that information is available to disabled customers.

It will also allow venues without a lowered bar to secure charter accreditation, by pledging that staff will serve wheelchair-users from in front of the bar.

And venues will also be able to secure accreditation if they provide a viewing area, rather than the viewing platform required by the main charter, for reasons of both space and money.

The new charter focuses on low-cost access solutions, with an emphasis on “flexibility and creativity”.

Among the areas that need to be addressed by venues seeking accreditation are providing accessible booking systems and signage; providing respite and sensory spaces (for silver and gold awards); and ensuring staff can describe access arrangements to customers.

Other targets for a venue seeking the lowest accreditation level of the charter – the bronze award – are online access information approved by AiE’s Access Starts Online initiative; basic access information provided in advance to bands and promoters; and free tickets for personal assistants.

Natalie South, Attitude is Everything’s new grassroots project manager, who was previously a mystery shopper for the charity, said the charter was about asking venues to make reasonable adjustments, so only asking them to make access changes they can afford.

The new charter has been backed by the Music Venue Trust (MVT), with the first bronze award accreditation going to Tunbridge Wells Forum, an MVT member, which has previously hosted artists such as Adele, Green Day, Oasis and Coldplay.

Tunbridge Wells Forum is fitting an accessible toilet and has made adjustments to allow level access into both the performance space and the backstage area.

Suzanne Bull, AiE’s chief executive, said: “Many artists cut their teeth and hone their performances in local venues all across the UK, and to be able to open these venues up to disabled artists and audiences is really exciting.”

Singer-songwriter Frank Turner, who played Tunbridge Wells Forum in 2013, said: “Small and independent music venues are very close to my heart, and they’re the lifeblood of any music scene.

“That scene should be accessible to all people who want to come. It’s wonderful to see Attitude is Everything bringing these ideas together and working to make sure that everyone is able to enjoy live music at all levels.”

Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of Music Venue Trust, said: “We are very pleased to have worked alongside Attitude is Everything over the last few years to enable a really positive charter to come forward.

“It creates a process which supports grassroots music venues to understand and start to address the need for access.

“The charter contains specific, achievable actions which these venues can take and be recognised for.

“We hope many more venues will be able to take positive steps in this area, supported by the bespoke approach Attitude is Everything is able to bring to this process.”

The new charter is part of AiE’s Breaking The Sound Barriers programme, which is funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

10 August 2017

 

 

Minister hears how to boost democratic involvement of disabled voters

Disabled voters have told a minister what he should do to make it easier for them to take part in the democratic process.

Disabled service-users and representatives of three Brighton charities met Chris Skidmore, the minister for the constitution, when he visited them this week as part of an ongoing national tour.

The three charities, Brighton Housing Trust, which deals with housing, homelessness, substance misuse and mental health issues; Blind Veterans UK; and the advocacy charity Brighton and Hove Speakout, have all worked to improve disabled people’s participation in the democratic process.

Skidmore was visiting Brighton as part of his Every Voice Matters tour, which is aimed at helping tackle barriers to voter registration, and is part of the development of his democratic engagement strategy.

A spokeswoman for Skidmore said the strategy would “set out how the government will make our democracy as inclusive as possible”.

One of the disabled campaigners the minister met was Rohan Lowe, a trustee of Brighton and Hove Speakout, and a participant in the charity’s Being Heard in Government project, which aims to ensure people with learning difficulties are more involved in democracy.

He and his colleagues stressed the importance of political parties producing accessible election manifestos.

He said they also told the minister how election candidates frequently use “jargon”, and how support workers often tell the person they are supposed to be supporting how to vote.

Lowe also told the minister how he had asked a question at a Brighton and Hove City Council public meeting, but had found it difficult to respond when asked if he wanted to ask a “supplementary question”.

He told Disability News Service that he and his colleagues had been “quite impressed” by what Skidmore told them, and that the minister had promised that communities and local government secretary Sajid Javid would respond to recommendations made in the group’s report on accessing democracy.

Asked how important it was to ensure people with learning difficulties had access to the democratic process, Lowe said: “It is very important, because the decisions that are made affects them directly.

“It is their services that will be or are affected by decisions that are being made.”

Skidmore also met with residents and staff at Blind Veterans UK’s Brighton Centre, which has worked with the city council to improve access to voting.

Sharman Collins, the centre’s social worker, said the centre – which has 32 permanent residents but also offers respite and holiday facilities, training and rehabilitation – had “quite a good record” of enabling residents to vote and worked “quite closely with the council to make sure that happens”.

One positive development nationally, she said, was the introduction of a waiver form which means voters whose signature has changed over time – like many of the centre’s residents – do not now need to sign the form applying to vote by post or to allow someone to vote on their behalf.

But she said the minister had been told by residents of the need for more accessible information at election time and for more visits from parliamentary candidates to services such as the Brighton Centre during election campaigns.

She praised the minister for “listening” during his visit, but added: “He was really open to people’s views but he didn’t really give us his vision of where things were going to go in the future.”

Skidmore said the visits had helped him “understand how we can support vulnerable people to ensure that ours is a democracy that everyone can participate in.

“Nearly three million applications to register to vote were received online between 18 April and 22 May but there are still under-represented groups we can improve the processes for.

“Regardless of who you are, or how you vote, every voice matters and we encourage you to register to vote.”

10 August 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com