Tribunal could order DWP to release key benefit deaths details
A tribunal judge has hinted that he may order the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to release vital information from 49 secret reviews it carried out into the deaths of benefit claimants.
Judge Andrew Bartlett QC was chairing a three-person tribunal panel that was hearing an appeal brought by Disability News Service (DNS) against DWP and the information commissioner.
DNS has been trying since August 2014 to obtain information contained in the 49 so-called “peer reviews”, to find out what actions ministers have taken following deaths linked to the withdrawal or non-payment of benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA), and to the discredited work capability assessment.
DWP first insisted that it held no information about such deaths, but later admitted that it carried out internal reviews into some deaths and serious and complex benefit-related cases, and that it had conducted 49 reviews of deaths between February 2012 and the autumn of 2014.
DNS appealed to the information commissioner after DWP refused to release any of the information from the peer reviews, but was forced to appeal to the information rights tribunal when the commissioner ruled in favour of DWP.
Judge Bartlett told the barristers representing DWP and DNS at last week’s hearing: “Suppose we were to decide… that there are some bits of reviews… which should be released.
“What would the practicalities be of applying that? You might want to think about that.”
He said later that the panel had seen headings such as “lessons learned”, “local recommendations” and “national recommendations” in the seven reviews they had been shown by DWP so far.
He said: “Those are the areas we are going to have to be thinking carefully about.”
Judge Bartlett appeared to suggest that any information the panel ordered DWP to release would probably be restricted to the general conclusions and recommendations of the 49 reviews, as other information would relate too closely to the people who had died.
He said: “The areas for debate are the lessons, the local recommendations and the national recommendations, because the rest is detail relating to the individual.”
DWP’s barrister, Tim Buley, told the hearing that the seven reviews the panel had been shown included “some prominent cases” of benefit-related deaths.
DWP is relying on section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 to avoid releasing information from the reviews.
The act states that a civil servant is guilty of a criminal offence by disclosing “without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of his employment and which relates to a particular person”.
DWP argues that this covers all the information within the peer reviews, whereas barrister Elizabeth Kelsey, of Monckton Chambers, who is representing DNS on a pro bono basis, said that it covers only a small proportion of that information.
Both barristers directed much of their attention during the appeal to discussing the meaning of the phrase “relates to”, and how that should be interpreted to cover the content of the reviews.
There was also discussion of whether such information was too “sensitive” to be released.
DWP’s barrister, Tim Buley, told the hearing: “The appellant seeks these reviews because he thinks they are in the public interest, but the secretary of state [Iain Duncan Smith] does make the point… that this is sensitive information about individuals and there are good reasons for saying that that information ought not to be disclosed. It might cause distress if it were.”
But Kelsey made the point that DWP appeared to have refused to even inform the families of those who died that peer reviews had been carried out into their deaths.
She said: “Perhaps the strongest point is that in many of these cases, the families do not know if the reviews have been conducted and desperately want to know.”
Kelsey also urged the panel to examine all 49 of the peer reviews, rather than the seven reports selected by DWP.
The death of Michael O’Sullivan was mentioned several times in the hearing, as Kelsey suggested that information relating to his case had already been published by DWP, through its response to a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report written by a coroner, which was first revealed by DNS last year.
But Buley told the hearing that DWP had not carried out a peer review into the death of the north London father-of-two, despite the coroner writing in her PFD report that the work capability assessment process had “triggered his suicide”.
Buley’s admission suggests that DWP breached its own guidance on peer reviews in O’Sullivan’s case, as the guidance states that “where suicide is associated with DWP activity, a Peer Review must be undertaken… irrespective of whether a complaint has been made or suicide is formally confirmed.”
Buley also appeared to accept – after taking advice from a government lawyer – that there may have been “a small number of inquests” in which coroners have linked the WCA with a suicide. He said he would ask DWP to provide further information on this point.
In another apparent admission, Buley told the hearing that peer reviews “take their place as part of an overall process of complaints handling”, even though DWP appears not to have advised any families – the likely source of such complaints – that the reviews had taken place.
After the hearing, John Pring, editor of DNS, said: “The reason this appeal was necessary was because we need to know why these 49 people died.
“We need to know if their deaths were linked to flaws in DWP policies or procedures, and if they were, what measures ministers took, or failed to take, to correct those flaws and prevent further deaths.
“The families of those who died deserve to know the truth, as do the millions of sick and disabled people who will go through the benefits system in the next few years.
“They need that system to be safe, and they also need to know that ministers have done and are doing everything they possibly can to avoid causing them unnecessary harm.”
A DWP spokesman said after the hearing that the department could not comment on its failure to carry out a peer review into the death of Michael O’Sullivan because “we can’t go into details of an individual case”.
He said: “Suicide is a tragic and complex issue and we take these matters extremely seriously.
“We are constantly reviewing our processes and procedures and have made significant improvements to the WCA, such as introducing mental health champions, and ensuring that claimants who are likely to be found fit for work receive a telephone call to explain the decision and check whether all the evidence has been considered.”
10 March 2016
Government bribed its way to victory on WRAG cut, says disabled peer
A disabled peer has launched a furious attack on MPs, after he was forced to admit defeat in the battle to prevent the government cutting out-of-work disability benefits for tens of thousands of claimants by £1,500 a year.
The decision, which will mean a loss of about £30 a week for new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from April 2017, has angered disabled peers, disabled activists, and disability organisations.
The government measure was described this week by campaigners and peers as “drastic and without justification”, “harsh”, “dreadful”, “punitive” and “counter-productive”.
MPs had twice blocked attempts by peers to throw out or delay the cuts, but the Lords finally had to admit defeat this week because parliamentary convention means MPs have the final say on matters that have financial implications for the government.
Lord [Colin] Low, who has led attempts in the Lords to defeat the WRAG measure, said: “The Commons have spoken decisively and we must bow to their wishes, but we do so under protest.
“Do not let anyone kid you that this is democracy in action. There is more to democracy than just being elected.”
He said the House of Lords was “much more democratic” than the Commons because it was more representative of the population, more accessible, more open and more responsive.
He said: “Organisations representing the needs of poor and dispossessed people find it much easier to get their point across and have it taken on board in the House of Lords than in the House of Commons.”
And he said that Tory whips – whose job it is to enforce the government’s wishes among its MPs – had been “working overtime” before the measure was voted on last week, and he accused them of “handing out bribes and blandishments like there was no tomorrow”.
Lord Low said he and his colleagues in the Lords had listened to disabled people, while the House of Commons had “preferred to listen to the government”, which failed to provide “any convincing reason” for their decision to cut WRAG payments.
He said the WRAG cut was “emblematic of the way in which this Conservative government have chosen to treat disabled people”.
He said: “The fact is that ministers are looking for large savings at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable.
“That was not made clear in the general election campaign; then, the prime minister said that disabled people would be protected.
“By this action, the government have betrayed the trust of disabled people and they should not be surprised if they forfeit it for the rest of their time in office.”
His fellow disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, told her fellow peers: “The minister is asking us to have faith again today, but I hope and pray that we do not look back on this day as the moment when we pushed some of the most severely disabled people in Britain over the edge.”
She said she found it “very difficult when the niceties of parliamentary protocol trump the lives of disabled people”.
Baroness Campbell said that words had failed her last week when she heard the arguments made by ministers in favour of the WRAG cut.
She said: “In my view, our arguments were pretty indisputable, especially with regard to the absence of evidence that cutting severely disabled people’s employment and support allowance would incentivise them to work.”
A third disabled crossbencher, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, said she was “deeply disappointed” at what had happened.
She said: “I and others spent a great deal of time last week working through every possibility of tabling another amendment to send this dreadful and punitive part of the bill back to the other place.
“Unfortunately, because of parliamentary procedure, that was not possible.”
She added: “I apologise to the people affected by this bill that, at this point, we could not do any more.
“This may be the end of the legislative process, but it is the start of the negative impact the bill will have on thousands of people’s lives.”
Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, paid tribute to the three disabled peers who he said had “argued so passionately against the changes that we are introducing”.
He said their concerns would be “right at the forefront of our minds—certainly of my mind” as the government finalises its forthcoming white paper on employment support for disabled people.
The bill has now cleared all of its parliamentary hurdles and only has to receive royal assent before it becomes law.
After the debate, Disability Rights UK said in a blog that the cut was “drastic and without justification”, was “terrible news” for disabled people, and “will do nothing to incentivise employment – quite the opposite”, while the government was “profoundly wrong to make this harsh and counter-productive cut”.
The charity added: “The risk that we are clearly facing is that from 2017, many disabled people will just be worse off – when already disabled people are so disproportionately affected by poverty.”
10 March 2016
By Raya Al Jadir and John Pring
Leaving the European Union (EU) would have “harmful” and “dire” consequences for disabled people, according to two of the first leading disabled figures to speak out on June’s referendum.
The UK will decide whether to leave the EU in a referendum on 23 June, but almost nothing has been said publicly about the potential impact of this vote on disabled people.
A search using the terms “Brexit” (a UK exit from the EU) and “disabled” on two of the most popular internet search engines, Bing and Google, failed to bring up a single reference to how leaving the EU would affect disabled people.
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, criticised the campaigns to leave and remain in the EU for failing to spell out “what the impact of Brexit would be on disabled people”.
She said: “We need to know the effects on our income – for example, if the economy took a nosedive, would we be facing yet more cuts?
“Would there be a rush to also withdraw from the European Convention [on Human Rights] as well? This has underpinned our rights in the bedroom tax cases.
“There are many unanswered questions.”
One disabled campaigner who has spoken out this week is Miro Griffiths, a former government adviser and project officer for the European Network on Independent Living, and now a lecturer, researcher and teacher.
He said he believed that Britain’s exit from the EU “would have dire consequences for disabled people”.
Griffiths said the EU could be criticised on many issues, such as its failure to implement strategies to protect refugees who enter Europe, but “disabled people’s life chances would certainly not improve if we were to leave”.
By remaining, he said, disabled people can continue to use existing EU frameworks and directives to “continually challenge our state and the power it exerts”.
He suggested that “sustained grassroots pressure” and “diplomatic dialogue” could lead to the EU challenging the damage caused by the UK government’s cuts to disabled people’s support.
Griffiths also said he feared that the “fetishism” of some Brexit supporters on the issue of UK “sovereignty” would lead to a post-Brexit UK government “imposing a concept of justice that reinforces and validates their actions, which will continue to oppress many groups”.
This could lead, he said, to disabled people becoming “voiceless – with reduced support from our European neighbours”.
Griffiths, a member of the British Council’s advisory panel for disability issues, said: “Many will argue that the EU is complacent in tackling the social injustice within many member states and I would agree with their analysis.”
But he added: “If we are isolated from our supporters in Europe then our resistance towards the state is merely interpreted as disobedience.”
Another prominent disabled figure who has spoken out this week in favour of staying in the EU is the crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low, who said: “I have no doubt that leaving the EU would be harmful to disabled people’s interests.
“There have been many occasions when European legislation has been ahead of the UK’s or what the UK was prepared to deliver.”
Many disabled people’s organisations have not had the time or resources to prepare a position on Brexit, although Disability Rights UK has promised to release a statement before June’s referendum.
Disability News Service has not yet found a disabled campaigner or user-led organisation in favour of Brexit, but two of the mainstream organisations campaigning to leave the EU commented briefly this week, although neither argued that there were benefits of Brexit that would solely apply to disabled people.
Jack Montgomery, a spokesman for Leave.EU, said: “We think that Brexit will be good for everyone in the UK.
“It will empower people to hold lawmakers directly to account by restoring the full range of decision-making powers to our elected representatives in parliament, and it will liberate funds currently spent on immoral EU programmes like the Common Agricultural Policy which can be better spent on things like inclusion schemes, research and public services.”
Edward Spalton, president of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, said: “Our view is that the UK’s own position on disability rights and practical support for disabled people is ahead of many EU countries. Of course, more can and will be done.
“The EU has a policy with similar aims to that of the UK legislation but in many countries its implementation [is] less advanced in practice than in the UK.
“So the position for people with disabilities with regard to EU membership is broadly the same as for the whole population.
“It is, of course, far easier to obtain improvements from our own parliamentary representatives, whom we elect and can dismiss, than from the remote and unsackable EU Commission. Again, this is true for the whole population, not just for those with disabilities.”
DNS is keen to hear from any disabled people or disabled people’s organisations with views on the likely impact on disabled people of leaving the EU
10 March 2016
Civil servants have refused to release information that would show how many secret reviews the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has carried out into benefit-related suicides in the last 15 months.
The refusal emerged in a response to a freedom of information (FoI) request that revealed there have been a further nine “peer reviews” into benefit-related deaths completed by DWP since November 2014.
Disability News Service (DNS) had asked DWP to update the figures it released 15 months ago, which showed there had been 49 reviews into benefit-related deaths since February 2012, of which 40 had involved suicides or attempted suicides.
But DWP civil servants refused to say how many of the latest nine cases involved suicides.
The refusal to release the information came as the welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, refused to monitor the number of claimants who take their own lives as a result of the £30-a-week cut for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance from April 2017.
As peers finally admitted defeat in their attempts to throw out the proposed cut from the welfare reform and work bill, the crossbench peer Baroness Meacher told Lord Freud: “I am certain that there will be people who cannot face the debts and the loss of their homes and who will take their lives.
“If the monitoring shows what I believe this cut will do, will he assure the House that he will seriously consider reviewing this action?”
But Lord Freud made it clear that there would be no such monitoring.
He said: “Suicide is always a tragedy and a lot of different reasons are always involved. We look at a number of suicides but on a private basis, as a lot of the information cannot be shared, so that is not a useful approach.”
When Baroness Meacher questioned why DWP would not publish monitoring information if the WRAG cut led to a rise in suicides, Lord Freud claimed that government analysis “makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying – however you die – and the fact that someone is claiming benefit”.
A spokeswoman for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said DWP’s lack of transparency on the impact of welfare reform and cuts, particularly on suicides, was “a real concern”, as expressed by Baroness Meacher.
She said: “DWP’s refusal to answer questions about claimants’ death or suicide demonstrate the lack of accountability of the department.”
But she also said that the number of peer reviews was “not an accurate picture of the number of suicides or deaths”, as DWP was failing to “proactively” monitor such cases but only appeared to “react to family or press concerns”.
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “Ministers have a duty of care to ensure their policies do not impact on people with mental health problems.
“Day by day, the Conservative party has shown itself to be a complete enemy of the open society and this is a case in point.
“It is making it impossible for us to hold a democratically-elected government to account.
“The only possible reason we can see for keeping the findings secret – and not anonymising them – is we believe if the truth was known there would be an absolute uproar.”
In its FoI response, DWP claims that to release the information about the number of suicides would breach section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (SSAA), because “the manner of death is clearly information relating to a particular person which has been obtained by civil servants in the course of their duties and this, combined with the numbers involved, means DWP is unable to disclose the information requested”.
It is the same argument DWP has used to justify refusing to release any information at all from the peer reviews, a refusal it defended last week in an information rights tribunal appeal brought by DNS against DWP and the information commissioner.
SSAA states that a civil servant is guilty of a criminal offence by disclosing “without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of his employment and which relates to a particular person”.
DWP did admit in the FoI response that three of the nine new reviews had led to recommendations for improvements at local or national level.
Of the original 49 reviews, 33 contained recommendations for improvements in procedures at either national or local level within DWP.
DWP also said in this week’s FoI response that it had changed the name of its “peer reviews” to “internal process reviews” in order to “more clearly define the purpose of such reviews”.
10 March 2016
Bristol’s largest concert hall has defended plans to set up the country’s first centre to provide advanced training for disabled young musicians, which will not include any non-disabled students.
The plans, part of a £45 million development of Colston Hall, were unveiled at the House of Commons this week, with backing from four Bristol MPs, the British Paraorchestra and the access-to-live-music charity Attitude is Everything.
But inclusive education campaigners have questioned why the Bristol Music Trust (BMT), which runs the concert hall, wants to set up a centre that will only train disabled young people.
The aim is for it to become the first centre for advanced training (CATs) in music for “young musicians with special education needs and disabilities”, in addition to the 12 mainstream CATs that already exist across England, such as the Royal College of Music, Sheffield Music Academy and Birmingham Conservatoire.
Campaigners fear the plans will simply create another special school-type environment and let other music training centres around the country “off the hook” when it comes to improving their own levels of access and inclusion.
Philip Castang, head of Bristol Plays Music, which is part of BMT, said the existing CATs taught few if any disabled musicians.
He said: “I think this will set an example. They don’t know how to do it. I think they have to look at themselves for sure.”
He said the centre was needed because most current musical education for young disabled people had “therapeutic outcomes, the ambition was fairly low, the instruments were unusable largely, there was no commissioned music that was appropriate, and when music was arranged it was arranged in a dull, simple way”.
He said the existing teaching environment was rarely appropriate and teachers were mostly from a music therapy background.
He said BMT’s intention was to offer the same opportunities to disabled students that non-disabled young people already enjoy, with high-quality music lessons on playable instruments, with the hope that some disabled students would become “virtuosos”.
He defended the plans to create a centre only for disabled young people, which will take children from the ages of 10 or 11 – working with them outside school hours – up to supporting them to join mainstream conservatoires, music colleges or academies.
Castang claimed the centre would not be a segregated environment because there would also be opportunities for the disabled students to play alongside non-disabled students in mainstream choirs and orchestras in the city and across the south-west, such as the Bristol Youth Orchestra, which currently has no disabled members, and for members of mainstream orchestras to play in disabled-led orchestras.
He said: “Real inclusion is the ultimate goal, but you need multiple types of programmes within that to get to that point.
“Our ultimate goal is inclusion and not separation but it needs to go through a process and this is just part of the process to get to true inclusion.”
Castang said the trust was now working on a three-year programme – funded by the National Foundation for Youth Music – that will look at “the teachers, the learning, the technology, the music, the environment” that will come together to produce a “transferable” strategy for extending its work around the country.
Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour’s shadow culture spokeswoman and a former professional musician, told the Commons event that Bristol “would be the perfect place in the country for a Centre for Advanced Training for SEND [special educational needs and disabilities]”.
She said: “The nation should benefit from the expertise in SEND music education based at [Colston Hall].
“In turn, this would create more opportunities for young disabled people to achieve qualifications and pursue a career in music or simply begin a lifetime of enjoying music.”
Colston Hall is seeking £20 million to complete its redevelopment work, in addition to the £25 million already pledged by Bristol City Council, the government and Arts Council England, to transform the venue into an “international standard concert facility”.
The work, which Colston Hall hopes will be completed by 2019, will provide “three cutting edge performance areas and learning spaces” and an accessible home for the new advanced training centre, as well as a “state-of-the-art technology lab”.
But The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said it was concerned about the plans.
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said: “It is hugely disappointing that the decision has been taken to set up something new and separate when more effort should be taken to challenge the existing inaccessibility of schools for musicians.
“Why does it need to be separating them? It lets all the other music schools off the hook.
“They don’t need to bother at all now because [all the disabled students] can be railroaded down to Bristol.”
Suzanne Bull, chief executive of Attitude is Everything, said she was unable to comment.
10 March 2016
Six years on, and still no DWP progress on ‘further medical evidence’
Work and pensions ministers have been accused of another attempt to avoid improving the safety of its “fitness for work” test for benefit claimants with mental health conditions.
A year after ministers told a tribunal – following a lengthy judicial review – that it would test ways to make the work capability assessment (WCA) safer by collecting medical evidence about each claimant from their doctor and psychiatrist, the promised pilot project has still not been launched.
DWP’s efforts to avoid taking steps to improve the safety of the WCA – by ensuring that all the necessary evidence is gathered before a decision on a claim for out-of-work disability benefits is taken – stretch back all the way to April 2010.
Six years ago, coroner Tom Osborne wrote to DWP to express concerns that it did not automatically seek further medical evidence from a claimant’s GP or psychiatrist if they had a mental health condition, following an inquest into the death of Stephen Carré in January 2010.
DWP finally unearthed a draft response to Osborne’s letter last month, but it has all but admitted that it was never sent to the coroner.
Four years later, in 2014, another letter was sent to DWP by a coroner, raising the same concerns and making almost identical recommendations, this time following the death of Michael O’Sullivan, from north London.
And almost exactly one year ago today, after the upper tribunal administrative appeals chamber ruled that the WCA discriminated against some people with mental health conditions, DWP promised to work with Maximus – the discredited US outsourcing giant that had just taken over the WCA contract from Atos – to develop a pilot programme to test new ways of collecting further medical evidence.
But that pilot project has still not begun.
In January, DWP told lawyers from The Public Law Project, who represented the two claimants who took the judicial review case, that it had been working with Maximus on a “feasibility study”, which had to be completed before the work could begin.
A spokeswoman for the Mental Health Resistance Network, which was behind the judicial review which tribunal case, said the aim of the pilot project would be to find a “reasonable” way to remedy the discrimination faced by claimants with mental health conditions.
But she said: “All we are getting back is ‘they are in discussion, they are in discussion.’”
The network is planning a campaign to demand that if and when DWP eventually launches the pilot project, the government is completely transparent in how it is carried out.
But the MHRN spokeswoman said she feared the government would conduct the pilot in such a way that would make it look as if gathering further medical evidence was an “unreasonable” adjustment to make under the Equality Act.
She also said she was “shocked and disgusted” that DWP had never informed their lawyers about the existence of the Stephen Carré coroner’s letter, or – later on in the case – the Michael O’Sullivan letter.
She said: “They withheld very significant evidence from that court case.”
DWP repeatedly refused this week to confirm that the pilot project has yet to start.
A DWP spokesman said the government began work with Maximus in December to “develop new and better processes for people with mental health conditions”.
When DNS asked for further clarity, he then added: “We started testing new processes with [Maximus] in December.
“We will analyse the findings once we’ve completed this work and then make a decision concerning the next steps.”
When DNS asked again whether this meant the pilot project had not begun, he said: “The testing is a key part of this process, which is currently on-going.”
DNS asked yet again whether this meant that the pilot had not yet started, he said: “As previously stated, work has already begun on this with initial testing starting in December.”
But DNS has since seen a letter from a DWP lawyer to The Public Law Project, which states that the work that began in December related to “a small-scale feasibility test” and not the “larger-scale pilot”.
This letter states that the test is “likely to take three to four months, following which the result will be evaluated and the learning and improvements suggested by the feasibility test will be incorporated into the proposed process to be tested in a larger-scale pilot”.
10 March 2016
A disability charity has been accused of an “uncaring disregard” for the wellbeing of the disabled residents of one of its care homes, after giving them less than two months’ notice that they would be evicted.
In late January, Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) told the 22 residents with high support needs who live in Honresfeld, in Littleborough, Lancashire, that the home was to close at the end of March.
The move led to heavy criticism by the local council and NHS clinical commissioning group.
In a joint statement, Rochdale Borough Council and Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), who between them fund 14 of the 22 residents, said they were “very disappointed at the way in which Leonard Cheshire has communicated and managed this situation to date”.
They pointed out that a letter was sent to residents and families on 25 January, explaining that the charity planned to close the home by 31 March.
Giving less than two months’ notice appeared to breach the charity’s standard contract for residents, which says that LCD has to give at least three months’ written notice of plans to close a home.
The council and CCG said in their statement: “In our view this shows an uncaring disregard for the wellbeing of residents, some of whom have lived in the home for over 20 years.”
They also said that they “thoroughly and absolutely refute” the suggestion that the decision to close the home was due to the failure to pay high enough fees to Leonard Cheshire.
The statement added: “We are strongly of the view that with efficient use of resources, the care home could remain open.
“We understand that Leonard Cheshire has to make decisions about use of its resources, although we note that according to the last accounts published by the Charity Commission, the organisation has significant levels of reserves.”
One resident of the home, Harry Roach, told the Manchester Evening News: “It can’t be right that we can be thrown out after two months. I’ve been here for 10 years and I’m happy here.
“I thought that they would at least give us a year. When they said two months I thought, ‘You are having a laugh.’”
A petition to keep the home open has secured more than 400 supporters.
Following the public criticism of its behaviour – and a consultation with residents launched on the day it announced the home was to close – LCD has now agreed that the home will shut on 6 June, two months later than originally planned.
An LCD spokeswoman said: “Our charity has been financially supporting the service for a number of years and sadly this is no longer possible.
“The value of this property is of no consequence in making this decision.”
She added: “This decision has not been made lightly, and has been done after consulting with residents, their family, staff and volunteers.
“We are also working with relevant local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to achieve this.”
But there are also question-marks over whether the decision to close the home was connected with its repeated breach of care regulations.
The last inspection of the home by the Care Quality Commission, in October 2015, found that Honresfeld required improvement in safety, effectiveness and management, although it received good marks for being responsive and caring.
It had also breached regulations on managing medicines and for staffing levels at its previous inspection in February 2015, and the October inspection concluded that it had again breached its duties on management of medicines, as well as on care planning and supervising staff.
Doug Paulley, an LCD resident at another home and a leading disabled activist, was deeply critical of the charity’s actions.
Paulley has repeatedly criticised LCD for paying its top executives inflated salaries, while routinely paying care staff just above the minimum wage.
He pointed to a recent LCD job advert, seeking support workers for a home in Penzance, which offered just £6.77 per hour (the minimum wage is £6.70 per hour).
Paulley has previously criticised LCD’s chief executive Claire Pelham for publicly calling for all care staff to be paid the living wage, while continuing to pay her own care workers little more than minimum wage.
And he says his own research, via freedom of information requests to councils across the UK, shows that more than three-quarters of those local authorities that provided comparable data actually paid LCD more than other providers.
He said: “Leonard Cheshire’s cruel, callous treatment of these disabled people by evicting at such short notice on the pretence of cost, whilst charging cash-strapped authorities through the nose and paying their own executives six-figure salaries and private medical treatment, speaks volumes of just how paper-thin their real concern about disabled people’s welfare is.”
LCD has refused to respond to the criticism by the council and CCG, and to other questions, including its reasons for wanting to close the home so quickly, and whether the closure was connected with the home’s last two CQC inspection reports.
10 March 2016
Disabled activists have pledged to continue the fight to halt a scheme that places welfare-to-work advisors from a discredited US outsourcing giant in GP practices.
They spoke out after a protest by scores of activists blocked a busy central London roundabout for half an hour on Friday afternoon, bringing traffic to a standstill.
The protest at the roundabout at the junction of City Road and Old Street was organised by the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the mainstream grassroots protest group Boycott Workfare, and included supportive healthcare professionals.
They were protesting about a scheme under which six surgeries in Islington, north London, are taking part in a year-long pilot scheme run and funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Islington council.
Under the Working Better scheme, job coaches employed by Remploy – now mostly owned by the US company Maximus – are placed in GP surgeries for one day a week.
Patients who are unemployed and have long-term health conditions can ask their GP to refer them to “intensive and personalised employment coaching” within the surgery.
But activists say the pilot scheme will destroy trust between doctors and their patients, particularly those with mental health conditions.
Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, said: “We will never accept this scheme and we will never give up until it is abandoned.”
She added: “We feel very strongly that this is a drastic move that the government are making. Some people will stop going to see their GPs.
“GPs are clearly not aware that people have already been through the system. They don’t feel able to work, they don’t feel that anyone understands them.
“They are pushing people into work who are not ready to be pushed into work.
“Surely the GPs taking part in this pilot are aware of the predicament that benefit claimants are in.”
She said she feared that some people would avoid visiting their GP because of the scheme.
She said: “GPs have been told they have to bring the subject up. Then the job coach can put it into your medical records.
“It’s an affront to benefit claimants; it’s an affront to the NHS.”
Paula Peters, a disabled activist with both DPAC and MHRN, said the fight against the programme “most definitely will go on”.
She called for people to write to their GPs and MPs to warn them about the pilot and tell them not to get involved in similar schemes*.
She said she hoped Friday’s protesters “got the message across” to passers-by and those following the protest on social media that surgeries were for treatment, jobcentres were for jobs, and jobcentres should be kept out of the NHS.
Peters said she also hoped the protest would persuade Islington’s GPs to take another look at the scheme and “speak to their GP colleagues who are opposed to this scheme and start the debate between healthcare professionals that needs to be had”.
She said: “Doctors need to remember their ethics: do no harm. Prescribing job coaching is not in their remit. They did not become doctors to get involved in schemes such as this.”
In a statement, the leader of Islington council, Cllr Richard Watts, said: “This is not about work being a ‘cure’ for people’s health conditions.
“It’s about doing more to break down barriers and make employment support services more accessible and inclusive to those who want to benefit from them.
“I’d very much like to invite anyone who might have concerns about the scheme to come and meet us so we can discuss them in detail.”
A spokesman for Islington Clinical Commissioning Group, which plans and buys healthcare for local patients, said they and the council “recognise and respect the importance of people’s right to make their voices heard on issues of concern”.
He said the pilot was “entirely voluntary” and had “no impact whatsoever on receipt of benefits”.
He said: “This is made clear by the healthcare practitioners making referrals and trained employment coaches delivering the support.
“If at any time a patient decides they no longer wish to be involved in the pilot, they are able to leave.”
He added: “Patients (including those who may have experienced mental health problems) are offered the opportunity to be referred for employment advice and guidance if they feel that a return to work would be beneficial.”
*DPAC has produced template letters for those who want to write to their MP or to their GP to complain about the Islington scheme
10 March 2016
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com