Disabled activists who persuaded the United Nations (UN) to investigate serious breaches of rights by the UK government say their four-year journey has been vindicated, after a report concluded there had been “grave or systematic violations” of the UN’s disability convention.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – led by its co-founder Debbie Jolly – first approached the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) four years ago, and lodged a formal request to investigate the allegations the following year.
Now, more than four years after the first contact from DPAC, CRPD has published its report into the allegations.
The committee has concluded that the UK government is guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights, and that it has discriminated against them across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
DPAC welcomed the report – the first such high-level inquiry to be carried out by CRPD – but was scathing about the government’s response, which rejected the committee’s conclusions and all 11 of its recommendations.
Within 48 hours, DPAC had published a detailed rebuttal of the government’s claims.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, said: “The DPAC research team, led by Debbie Jolly, are delighted that our allegations of the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights have been fully vindicated by the UN inquiry into the UK, which highlighted a catalogue of abuses heaped on disabled people by the UK government since 2010.
“However, as expected, the Tories’ response to this report is a disgrace, although even their own responses to the UN show them up as compulsive liars, idiots, or both.”
DPAC and other disabled activists, including Black Triangle co-founder John McArdle, were also furious that the government leaked the UN report to a right-wing tabloid, The Mail on Sunday, and attempted to rubbish its conclusions before it was published the following day.
A string of leading campaigners have signed a letter written by McArdle that will be sent to the UN to ask it to condemn the UK government’s “unacceptable” behaviour, which they say was an attempt to “discredit and delegitimise the report”.
The committee examined breaches under articles 19 (independent living), article 27 (work and employment) and article 28 (adequate standard of living and social protection) of the convention.
Under article 19, the report concludes that the government’s social security reforms – including cuts to housing benefits, the introduction of the benefits cap, changes in eligibility criteria for personal independence payment, the tightening of eligibility criteria for social care, and the closure of the Independent Living Fund – have “disproportionately affected persons with disabilities and hindered various aspects of their right to live independently and be included in the community”.
On article 27, it says that evidence it has collected “points to significant hardship, including financial, material and psychological”, experienced by disabled people undergoing benefits assessments.
And it points to a significant and “disproportionate” increase in benefit sanctions handed to claimants in the employment and support allowance (ESA) work-related activity group between 2012 and 2014.
It concludes that “claimants who have been sanctioned have faced financial hardship, including through becoming indebted, relying on the support of relatives or on food banks or having reduced essential services”.
Under article 28, the committee says it was given evidence that showed social security reforms “had a more negative impact” on households including disabled people, “especially on those living on low income”.
As part of its inquiry, two CRPD members spent two weeks in the UK in October 2015, interviewing more than 200 people, including civil servants, politicians, academics, researchers, lawyers and representatives of disabled people’s organisations, as well as collecting more then 3,000 pages of documentary evidence.
The report concludes that disabled people “have had their freedom of choice and control over their daily activities restricted, the extra cost of disability has been set aside and income protection has been curtailed as a result of benefit cuts”.
Among its 11 recommendations – all of which were rejected by the UK government – the report calls for more funding for disabled people affected by austerity measures since 2010, for measures to ensure “appropriate legal advice” is available to disabled people, and for the government to do more to “actively consult and engage” with disabled people and “give due consideration to their views”.
It also repeats the call made many times by disabled campaigners since 2011 for the government to carry out an assessment of the cumulative impact of all of its cuts and reforms on disabled people.
Pat Onions, co-founder of Pat’s Petition, said: “Over five years ago, Pat’s Petition launched a campaign asking for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of how the cuts the government were going to implement, under the new welfare reform bill, would affect chronically sick and disabled people and their carers.
“This was successful in bringing together grassroots groups, politicians and people from all walks of life.”
The petition, and later one by the WOWcampaign, led to a debate in parliament.
Onions said: “Had the government carried out a CIA, how many deaths would have been prevented? How much suffering prevented?
“Instead they snubbed us, laughed at us and called us names. Now the UN is calling for exactly the same – a CIA. And the government is ridiculing them too.”
The government says in its response to the report that it “strongly disagrees” with its conclusions and “does not accept the report’s conclusion that there is evidence of grave and systematic violation of the rights of disabled people”.
It says: “The report focuses on too narrow a scope and, in doing so, presents an inaccurate picture of life for disabled people in the UK.
“The government reiterates its position that the reforms discussed in the report were right, ensuring a sustainable system that continues to protect people who are more vulnerable while supporting those who can work to do so.
“The report’s narrow focus on employment and support allowance (ESA) processes with little consideration of employment programmes does not adequately reflect the support available for disabled people to work in the UK.”
It adds: “The government stands by its reform of the UK welfare system, which is designed to provide adequate standards of living, a comprehensive support system and special protections for vulnerable people.”
Asked to confirm that it did not accept any of the committee’s 11 recommendations, a DWP spokeswoman declined to do so, instead claiming that the “core intention of these recommendations are already incorporated into UK policies and practices”.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that “dialogue on the issues raised [does] not end with the publication of the findings”, and that CRPD “looks forward to continued engagement with the UK on the human rights of persons with disabilities”.
Asked for the committee’s response to the UK government’s apparent refusal to accept any of its recommendations, Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, CRPD’s chair, told Disability News Service: “We maintain a continuous dialogue with the UK government and stand ready to meet and discuss the substantive elements of the report, taking into account the best way of implementation with regards to persons with disabilities.
“We know responses to policy measures evolve and therefore welcome any positive measures the government has taken or will undertake to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are met in full compliance with the convention to which the UK is a state party.”
She added: “We believe that this report and the UK government’s response will generate an open, informed and inclusive debate across the [UK], with the full participation of persons with disabilities and the organisations that represent them.”
The committee will now meet to discuss the government’s comments and determine its response in Geneva in March.
CRPD also announced that the UK will be examined for the first time on its overall progress in implementing the convention in August and September 2017, “when the findings of the inquiry will also be raised to assess progress made in relation to the recommendations”.
Linda Burnip, from DPAC, said the UN investigation only took place because of the actions of grassroots disabled activists.
She said: “While the large disability charities and organisations such as Amnesty with huge financial and staff resources sat back and did nothing to challenge the government, DPAC as usual raised the issues and will keep raising them both visibly and through research and evidence-gathering.
“This report is just the beginning, but will be an invaluable tool [with] which to continue our campaigning.”
10 November 2016
A company that tried to halve its disabled advisors’ pay; a religious order responsible for decades of abuse of disabled people; and a police force facing two discrimination inquiries… are just three of the employers that have described themselves as “disability confident”.
The trio are a sample of more than 2,400 organisations that have already signed up to the government’s newly-relaunched Disability Confident scheme, which aims to encourage employers to take on more disabled staff.
Under the new version of the scheme, which was launched formally on 2 November but had been in “a test and learn phase” since July, employers can apply for three levels: Disability Confident Committed, Disability Confident Employer and Disability Confident Leader.
Employers can reach the first two levels simply by assessing themselves on their recruitment of disabled people and how they support existing disabled employees, after which DWP will send them a badge and a certificate that they can use to promote their “disability confidence”.
It is only if they want to become a Disability Confident Leader that their self-assessment has to be “validated” by another organisation.
The scheme is now seen by the government as a key element in achieving its pledge to halve the disability employment gap – despite its lack of a target date – but it attracted just 40 mainstream private sector partners in three years after its launch by the prime minister in 2013.
As a result of that failure, exposed by Disability News Service (DNS), ministers decided to relaunch the scheme, and membership has now soared.
But an analysis by DNS has revealed that many of the organisations that have signed up – and declared themselves “disability confident” – have troubling track records when it comes to their attitudes to disabled people.
One of those to sign up is Northamptonshire police, which is currently conducting an internal review of how it deals with disabled people, after it had to refer two separate incidents involving young autistic men to the police watchdog.
Another is Remploy, the formerly government-owned disability employment business, now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus, which revealed plans to halve the pay of service-users who take part in inspections of health and care facilities after it took over two of the Experts by Experience contracts earlier this year.
Maximus itself has also declared itself to be “disability confident”, despite being accused in the House of Commons earlier this year of falsifying the results of “fitness for work” assessments, and of “a disconcerting pattern of behaviour that indicates that the trade-off between cost-cutting and profit maximisation is being felt by very vulnerable people”.
Maximus also has a disturbing track record of discrimination, incompetence and fraud in the US.
Another of the Department for Work and Pensions’ much-criticised outsourcing contractors, Capita, has also signed up to Disability Confident, despite a string of reports from disabled people who say the company’s healthcare assessors have lied in reports written after face-to-face medical assessments.
In April, Capita faced calls for it to be stripped of its personal independence payment (PIP) assessment contract after revelations in a Dispatches documentary for Channel 4.
Undercover footage showed one assessor bragging that he sometimes completed his assessment reports before even meeting the claimants, and that he could usually “completely dismiss” what he was told by PIP claimants.
Also signing up to Disability Confident is the insurance giant Unum.
In September, a new book by disabled researcher Mo Stewart detailed Unum’s influence over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the “totally bogus” work capability assessment, which she says was designed to make it harder for sick and disabled people to claim out-of-work disability benefits.
She warns in her book, Cash Not Care, that Unum has been trying for years to undermine the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection policies.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has signed up to its own Disability Confident scheme, despite a Cabinet Office survey revealing earlier this year that the number of its disabled civil servants who had faced discrimination had risen by nearly a quarter in just a year.
More than 1,400 disabled civil servants who took part in the survey said they had been discriminated against in 2015, compared with 1,038 in 2014.
The University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) has also signed up to Disability Confident.
Last year, DNS revealed how UWTSD agreed to pay £20,000 in compensation for discriminating against a talented disabled photography student, after it built a library it knew was inaccessible in order to cut costs.
Possibly one of the most disturbing additions to the list of Disability Confident sign-ups is a charity run by the Brothers of Charity.
The Catholic order, which provides services to people with learning difficulties through a charity in the UK, has faced years of allegations of historic sexual abuse of disabled and non-disabled children and disabled adults in the Irish republic, which took place as recently as the 1990s but dates back to the 1960s, as well as allegations of more historic abuse by a least one brother in the UK.
The charity had refused to respond to requests for a comment by 11am today (Thursday).
Another addition to the Disability Confident membership list is an organisation called Boobylicious, which is apparently based in Huddersfield but does not appear to have an online identity.
A DWP spokeswoman said Boobylicious was “a small company (1-9 employees), in the customer service sector”.
But shortly after DNS asked the press office about Boobylicious, it disappeared from the list of Disability Confident members.
DNS has so far not been able to clarify what services it provides.
The DWP spokeswoman declined to explain why Boobylicious had disappeared from the list of Disability Confident sign-ups, and added: “We don’t comment on individual scheme members.”
Labour appears to be the only political party that has signed up so far, despite its failure to appoint a shadow minister for disabled people to challenge the government on issues such as disability employment.
The Conservative party – to which all DWP’s ministers belong, including the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt – has so far failed to sign up to Disability Confident.
A Conservative party spokeswoman said: “We are in the process of signing up to the Disability Confident scheme.”
The DWP spokeswoman said it would be “inappropriate to comment on the DC status of individual organisations”.
So far, the only MP to have signed up is the Conservative MP and former education secretary Nicky Morgan.
When asked if the government was concerned about this, the DWP spokeswoman said: “We already have more than 2,400 employers signed up, we expect that number to grow rapidly.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on the DC status of individual organisations.”
Disabled activist David Gillon, who has been a leading critic of Disability Confident since its launch, said: “Disabled people were promised something better than Two Ticks [the government scheme replaced by Disability Confident]; instead we have been handed the booby prize.
“To see Disability Confident status being handed out to companies that see access as too expensive, that slashes the pay of disabled workers, and with a history of disability discrimination and outright abuse, should be shocking.
“But it’s simply more of what disabled people have come to expect from Disability Confident, and should have been entirely predictable to anyone with an understanding of why Two Ticks failed.
“In the end, we don’t need hundreds or even thousands of employers signing up to Disability Confident; closing the disability employment gap will need hundreds of thousands of employers to actually employ disabled people, not just talk about it.”
Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Background information about many of the companies who are now supposedly Disability Confident employers shows just how meaningless this latest effort on the part of the government to halve the disability employment gap really is.
“Whether these employers are Disability Confident or not, would any disabled person feel safe working for them? I suspect not.”
Asked whether DWP believed that all of the organisations that have signed up to the scheme were “disability confident”, the spokeswoman said: “Being Disability Confident is about being conscientious in wanting to do more to be a more inclusive employer and the scheme is about supporting them on that journey.”
She said DWP did not agree that the presence of organisations like Maximus, Remploy and Northamptonshire police showed that the scheme was too easy to sign up to.
She said: “The Disability Confident scheme is not about ‘testing’ companies, it is about encouraging them to realise the benefits of employing disabled people and to encourage them to share best practice.
“The new Disability Confident scheme was developed by a task group that included representatives of employers as well as representatives of disabled people, and included several members who are themselves disabled.
“This helped ensure a balance between a scheme that is accessible and straight-forward for employers to use – particularly smaller employers – whilst being rigorous and commanding the confidence of disabled people.”
In July, Mike Adams, the disabled chief executive of Purple (formerly ecdp) – and a member of the task group – said he would have liked to have seen the new version of the scheme “much stronger and more ambitious”.
As for its own status as “disability confident”, the DWP spokeswoman said: “In the last year we’ve greatly improved our efforts to be a more inclusive workforce – but we know there’s more work to do.
“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and have taken steps like requiring all managers to complete unconscious bias training to improve fairness and equality across our sites.
“Our disciplinary process is fair and transparent, with a third-party, independent decision-maker involved in the process for formal cases.”
10 November 2016
Disabled people and other campaigners have reacted with shock, anger and concern to government proposals to consider forcing all sick and disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits to take part in “mandatory” activity.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that the new work, health and disability green paper suggests that all claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) with the highest support needs could be told to stay in regular touch with their local jobcentre, or risk having their benefits sanctioned.
The green paper, Improving Lives, says ministers “could consider implementing a ‘keep-in-touch’ discussion with work coaches” for all people in the ESA support group, which “could provide an opportunity for work coaches to offer appropriate support tailored to the individual’s current circumstances” and “could be explored as a voluntary or mandatory requirement”.
Paragraph 114 of the green paper goes on to say that such contact could use “digital and telephone channels in addition to face-to-face contact, depending on which was more appropriate for the individual and their circumstances”.
Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, appeared to confirm the proposal in the Commons this week, after she was asked about the future provision of employment advice for people in the support group.
She told MPs the government was “consulting to establish if a ‘keep in touch’ discussion would be of benefit for this group, and if so, how and by whom should it be delivered, to ensure it meets the needs of individuals in this group”.
Many disabled people reacted with horror to the story on the DNS website.
Guy Stewart said: “Sanctions! Making us believe that our inability to gain work is our fault, when it absolutely is not, is cruel, but neatly fits into a government that constantly initiates dogma driven policy, rather then evidence driven policy.”
“Sparkz_” said: “Will people have to phone from their hospital bed to keep in touch?”
In response to Sparkz_, Jeffrey Davies said: “Been there done that, Atos at its best, in the high [dependency] unit. Ouch.”
Rowan Farmer said: “I’m now wishing my life away, I’m 61 and thanks to the government I have another five years of stress and worry about assessments, appeals, benefits sanctions, poverty and homelessness, so much so that I’m actually looking forward to reaching 66 just to get rid of the added stress on top of several chronic, deteriorating and very painful illnesses!”
Brian Mcardle added: “Now you know why [Theresa] May wants rid of the Human Rights Act.”
Among those to comment on the story on Facebook was Erika Garratt, who encouraged other disabled people to take part in the consultation*.
She said: “Filled in the form to tell them how ridiculous this idea is. We should all do this.
“I am in the support group and this scares me so much.”
Keith Evans, who is also in the ESA support group, said: “I’d rather jack ESA in than be forced to work that surely would kill me.”
Beth Von Black replied to Evans: “That’s what they want. They want to scare us so much that we stop claiming what we’re entitled to!”
She added later: “I’ve answered a few questions in the consultation and sent it off; angry that us long term disabled are being hounded into employment regardless of the fact that we cannot work!”
There was also strong opposition to the proposal on Twitter.
Tracey Herrington said: “What a surprise – another unethical u turn. Who are they actually kidding when talking about personalised support… This is a direct attack.”
Rick Meister tweeted: “Are the Tories about 2 sink 2 yet another low re chronically ill/disabled? Any such scheme must be voluntary… help, not threats!”
Warren Belcher said: “This is so devastating, I can’t begin to think of the consequences and I’m dreading the impact this will have for so many people I care about.”
And Hannah Smith tweeted: “How is this even ethical? Surely defeats the whole point [of] ESA in the first place.”
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said the green paper would “pave the way for success only if it leads to a complete overhaul” of the work capability assessment, one which produces “a system that encourages and supports people to try work where they feel they can, rather than threatening people with sanctions if they do not comply with (sometimes meaningless) activities”.
It said the government would only be able to halve the disability employment gap if employers changed their behaviour, but it pointed to the green paper’s failure to announce any new incentives or requirements on employers, such as requiring the public sector to award contracts to companies with a good track record in employing disabled people, or providing a “comprehensive” helpline for small employers.
It called for “more enforcement of the Equality Act in relation to those employers who simply continue to discriminate”, and said that the government’s strategy “will only work if employers are nudged and required to employ disabled people in greater numbers”.
It welcome proposals such as expanding employment-related peer support, more tailored job support and work experience for young disabled people.
But DR UK warned that research by the Employment Related Service Association (ERSA) suggested a cut in funding – in the move from the current Work Programme and Work Choice to the new Work and Health Programme – from £750 million in 2013-14 to less than £130 million in 2017-18.
The ERSA research suggests this will lead to a drop in the number of disabled people accessing such support from 300,000 from 2012-15 to 160,000 from 2017-20.
Although DR UK said it was “absolutely opposed” to plans to cut payments to new claimants in the ESA work-related activity group from next April, it said that investing all of the savings from this policy into employment support “could help strengthen the support offer to disabled people”.
Philip Connolly, DR UK’s policy and development manager, said: “We have waited almost three years for this green paper and disabled people deserve a plan as ambitious as the government’s manifesto commitment [on halving the disability employment gap]; the green paper isn’t that plan.
“The government’s response to its consultation on the green paper is the chance to really deliver on a plan.”
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, and the father of a disabled son, was highly critical of the green paper.
He said: “It is extremely concerning that the DWP is considering forcing ‘mandatory activity’ on all sick and disabled people.
“It is barbaric to expect someone with a terminal illness, or who has no chance of getting better, to maintain contact with a ‘work coach’.
“The Green party believes society should care for those who are most in need, not place damaging and unnecessary demands on them.
“We call on the Labour party and the Lib Dems to join us in opposing these proposals.”
A DWP spokesman repeatedly refused to clarify the meaning of paragraph 114, but said: “People in the support group have limited capability for work-related activity, but this does not mean that they should be left without any support at all.
“And we want to hear views from as broad a range of disabled people, disability charities, and anyone else with something to contribute, on what more can be done to support this group.”
10 November 2016
The government’s “bedroom tax” discriminates unlawfully against some disabled people who need an extra bedroom because of their impairment, but not against others, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday (Wednesday) that ministers’ decision to apply the bedroom tax to disabled people who need an extra bedroom for a clear medical reason, and to families who need an additional bedroom for a disabled child who requires overnight care, was unlawful discrimination.
But other disabled people who need an extra bedroom for impairment-related reasons lost their battle against having to pay the bedroom tax, after the court ruled in favour of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The court’s rulings appear to clash with the findings of a UN committee, which this week said that the bedroom tax, the benefits cap and cuts to local housing allowance had “curtailed the right” of disabled people to choose a place to live independently and to be included in the community, under article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The CRPD report, published earlier this week, concludes that the UK government has been guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of the UN convention.
One of its key criticisms is over the government’s cuts and reforms to housing benefits.
The report says that evidence indicates that disabled people affected by cuts in their housing benefits “have undergone high levels of stress, anxiety and depression”.
Although the UK has a duty to achieve “progressive realisation” of the convention, it has not been incorporated into domestic law and so was not considered by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court was hearing a series of long-running legal cases that each argued that the government’s “spare room subsidy removal” policy contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.
It ruled that the government had unlawfully discriminated against Jacqueline Carmichael and her husband and full-time carer Jayson, from Southport, after their housing benefit was reduced by 14 per cent as a result of the bedroom tax.
Jacqueline Carmichael has to sleep alone on a specialist bed, and there is no space for a second bed in the room, and so she and her husband need a two-bedroom flat.
The Supreme Court also ruled that the government had unlawfully discriminated against Paul and Susan Rutherford, who care for their disabled grandson Warren and need a third bedroom for overnight care workers, by imposing the bedroom tax on them.
Both the Rutherfords are disabled and can only look after Warren, who needs 24-hour care, with the help of a care worker who regularly stays overnight in the third bedroom of their Pembrokeshire home, which is also used to store vital equipment for their grandson.
Bedroom tax regulations mean tenants in social housing are punished financially if assessed as “under-occupying” their homes, with about two-thirds of those affected being disabled people.
Earlier legal victories already mean that the bedrom tax does not apply when a disabled child with high support needs is unable to share a bedroom with a sibling for impairment-related reasons, and when an additional bedroom is needed for a disabled adult who requires overnight care.
But the Supreme Court this week ruled against four other disabled people and carers – James Daly, Mervyn Drage, JD*, and Richard Rourke – who had argued that the bedroom tax unlawfully discriminated against them.
Drage lives alone in a three-bedroom flat in a high-rise block, let to him 19 years ago, and has mental health problems and physical impairments, which are exacerbated by stress, anxiety and changes to his routine.
Rourke, a wheelchair-user, lives in a three-bedroom bungalow with substantial adaptations, and has a disabled step-daughter who is also a wheelchair-user. The third bedroom is a tiny box-room used to store mobility and care equipment.
JD lives and cares for her adult, disabled daughter in a three-bedroom property that was adapted to meet her needs; James Daly has a two-bedroom property, but has to pay the bedroom tax on the second room because his disabled son spends less than half his time with his father.
The seven Supreme Court justices ruled that the needs of Daly, Drage, JD and Rourke could be met through the government’s discretionary housing payments scheme – extra funds handed to local authorities by DWP – and that they had not suffered unlawful discrimination.
They also ruled that the bedroom tax did not discriminate unlawfully against a non-disabled woman whose home had been adapted to include a “panic room” to protect her from a violent ex-partner.
The Carmichaels said in a statement that they were “overjoyed” with the Supreme Court decision.
They said: “We have been through almost four years of the sheer hell of the bedroom tax policy, and this decision vindicates our long and difficult fight.
“Out of this human rights victory over the bedroom tax we ask Theresa May to now reconsider the whole policy for everyone.
“We would like to thank everyone who has supported us from day one, and hope others get justice too.”
Paul Rutherford said: “We are happy and hugely relieved with today’s result.
“It has been an extremely stressful and long three years and we are glad that it is has come to a close.
“We never imagined this would happen to us – our priority has always been Warren’s happiness.
“We can now move on with our lives secure in the knowledge that we can continue to care for Warren at home.”
But Karen Ashton, solicitor for Drage, Daly and JD, said: “The Supreme Court’s decision remedies the anomaly whereby disabled adults and children were treated differently if they needed a bedroom for overnight carers or where a bedroom could not be shared. This is to be welcomed.
“But their judgment leaves thousands of disabled people – who need larger accommodation for other reasons connected to their disability – without an entitlement to housing benefit to pay their full rent, despite the fact that they are unable to work to find the extra money.
“The court may have found this to be lawful, but that does not mean that it’s fair.”
DWP issued an urgent housing benefit bulletin after the rulings were announced, telling councils that they do not need to take any ” immediate action” – advice that Disability Rights UK said was “nonsense” – and that it was “considering the Court’s judgment and will take steps to ensure it complies with its terms in due course”, and will notify councils “once a decision has been taken”.
DWP said in a statement: “It is welcome that the court found in our favour in five out of the seven cases.
“The court also agreed with our view that discretionary housing payments are generally an appropriate and lawful way to provide assistance to those who need extra help.
“In the two specific cases where the court did not find in our favour, we will take steps to ensure we comply with the judgement in due course.
“In most cases, local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of their residents, which is why we will have given them over £1 billion by the end of this parliament for discretionary housing payments to ensure that people in difficult situations don’t lose out.”
*An anonymity order protects the identity of JD’s disabled daughter
10 November 2016
More than half of people (58 per cent) who receive care and support services in England have seen their quality of life fall in the last year, according to a new survey by a disabled-led expert group.
A similar survey carried out last year found 45 per cent said their quality of life had fallen over the previous year.
The survey has been carried out by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG) – chaired by the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell – and published by the charity in Control, and focuses on the impact of cuts to social care on people’s independence and basic human rights.
Baroness Campbell said the survey proves that increased social care funding is needed to prevent disabled people from an “extreme risk” of harm and help develop a “radically” new system that “positively” supports independence and well-being.
The survey has been published in the run-up to the chancellor’s autumn statement later this month.
A quarter of those questioned said they had been told by their local authority in the last 12 months that their support packages would be reduced because of cuts or savings*.
Baroness Campbell told Disability News Service (DNS): “If we don’t properly invest in our care and support system now, deeper cuts to people’s individual support are inevitable year-on-year, as the population increases.
“This lack of investment is already having expensive financial and moral consequences, as our 2016 survey reveals.”
Meanwhile, the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust concluded in a new report this week that cuts and rising demand will leave adult social care facing a £1.9 billion funding gap next year.
And the Local Local Government Ombudsman said in its annual report into adult social care complaints that it had seen a 25 per cent rise in complaints about home care – 65 per cent of which were upheld – as well as a six per cent increase in complaints and enquiries about all areas of adult social care (to 2,969).
Baroness Campbell says in the ILSG report that the survey aimed to discover whether the Care Act 2014 – potentially the “most exciting, creative and positive move forward in the history of local authority care and support services” – was “working in practice”.
But the group warned that these duties had been imposed on local authorities at a time of “unprecedented cuts to their funding”, with adult social care departments forced into budget savings of 26 per cent over four years, the equivalent of £3.53 billion.
A third of respondents (33 per cent) said that their level of choice and control over their support had fallen in the previous year, compared with just under 30 per cent in last year’s survey.
And almost two out of five respondents (38 per cent) said they were having to rely more on family and friends for support, while more than a quarter (27 per cent) said they were having to pay more towards the cost of their support.
Of the 95 people responding to the survey who previously received money from the Independent Living Fund (ILF), more than two-fifths (41 per cent) said the amount of support they received had fallen since ILF’s closure in June 2015, while nearly a third (32 per cent) said the quality of their day-to-day support had worsened since it closed.
Baroness Campbell told DNS: “Our strategy group believes that extra funding is not simply required to prevent older and disabled people from extreme risk, but urgently needed to develop a radically new system which positively supports people’s independence and well-being.
“After all, this was supposed to be the central aim of the government’s Care Act, which has yet to deliver.”
She said the survey showed that councils were now placing “severe restrictions” on how people can use personal budgets or direct payments.
She said: “This is counter to the Care Act’s aim, which is to empower local authorities to give more choice and control over how support is delivered.
“They said they have no choice due to the funding shortage.
“Shockingly, half of respondents reported that support now is only available for very basic personal care – an indication that people who need support are often condemned to a very limited existence.”
The report was released just four days before the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities published a report that concluded that the UK government had committed “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights, including actions that “have hindered various aspects of their right to live independently and be included in the community” under article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Baroness Campbell said the survey demonstrated why the government had been found to be “failing miserably” in its responsibilities under article 19 of the convention.
About half of ILSG are disabled people, and many represent disabled people’s organisations or user-led grassroots groups, including the Spartacus network, Shaping Our Lives, Inclusion London, Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and Disability Rights UK.
The survey was based on responses from 485 people who have support in England, including people who fund their own care, with the vast majority of the responses coming from service-users under the age of 65.
*91 of the 363 survey respondents who answered this question said they had been told their support (or the money available for their support) would be reduced because of cuts or savings
10 November 2016
Urgent action is needed to address the plight of tens of thousands of mental health service-users who are subjected to detention and compulsory treatment under “intrinsically discriminatory” legislation, according to a leading disabled expert.
Dr Rachel Perkins pointed to figures which show that the number of detentions under the Mental Health Act (MHA) rose by its highest proportion in 2014-15, to more than 58,000.
This compared with 44,000 people in 2007-08, and less than 22,000 in 1987-88.
Perkins told Disability Rights UK’s annual conference in north London that MHA “deprives people of their human rights” and is “a law that only applies to you if you are deemed to have a mental health disorder”, but few if any organisations have been campaigning to address that discrimination.
Perkins, vice-chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability committee, a senior consultant with Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change (ImROC), and herself a mental health service-user, said the issue would be raised with the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.
Evidence of the discriminatory nature of mental health legislation will be included in the shadow report being compiled by Disability Rights UK and other disabled people’s organisations on the UK’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Perkins said the dominant narrative in mental health was the need for better access to treatment, and for service-users to be more open about their impairments.
But she said the discriminatory Mental Health Act meant that people with mental distress were at risk of being locked up, forcibly treated and injected with drugs, even though most of them have the capacity to refuse or consent to treatment.
There were more than 4,500 community treatment orders (CTOs) in 2014-15, compared with about 4,100 in 2009-10, the first full year after CTOs were introduced by the Labour government in 2008.
The original estimates suggested there would only be 400 to 600 CTOs a year, she said.
Perkins told the conference that Labour had argued that CTOs would lead to fewer people with mental health conditions being locked up, but detention had instead continued to rise.
She said: “This should have reduced the number of people in hospital. It hasn’t.
“The number of times we have used this law to detain people in hospital has gone up and up and up.”
In 2014-15, she said, there were 58,000 occasions on which “we locked people up in hospital and injected them against their will, the largest increase ever seen in a year.
“It’s getting serious and it’s getting much, much worse.”
She pointed to research in The Lancet from 2013 which showed that the use of CTOs “does not confer patient benefits, despite substantial curtailment of individual freedoms”.
She told the conference: “CTOs do not benefit people in any way.
“We cannot talk about independent living while there is a whole class of disabled people for whom a completely separate law applies.”
Perkins told the conference that once people are seen as having a health condition rather than being a disabled person they can become “trapped” and subject to “medical interventions, charity and good works”.
And she said that people with mental health conditons have not seen the advances in rights enjoyed by other disabled people, and are still often forced into institutions, with only 60 per cent of people using mental health services having a “secure and stable place to live”.
She told Disability News Service later that the issue was causing “huge amounts of distress” among service-users.
She said: “People are extremely angry about it. People see themselves as doing something wrong, as being prisoners; they see mental health services as policing their treatment, rather than providing support.
“Where do people turn to for help if those people supposed to be helping them just end up forcing them to [take medication]?”
She added: “It feels to me that what has happened is we have moved towards the right to treatment and that has substituted for the right to life, the right to participate.
“They are talking about parity of esteem for mental health services and not parity of esteem for people who experience mental health challenges.”
And many CTOs lead eventually to service-users being recalled into detention, she said.
She added: “I think there’s a reluctance for anyone to take [this issue] on because there is still some emotion that people with mental health problems are going to be dangerous and therefore we need to protect everybody or protect people from themselves – very much ‘looking after’ rather than a rights-based narrative.”
She said the “disability world was still not seeing mental health as a core part of its business”, so the issue was not taken up.
She added: “I don’t think there is a large, social-model, rights-based mental health movement.
“My sadness is there has never been a joint working between the mental health world and the disability rights world, as there has been in other parts of the world. In Britain it still seems really separate.”
10 November 2016
Disabled people must push the government hard as it negotiates its withdrawal from the European Union (EU), because the terms of the Brexit deal are likely to have a significant impact on disability rights in the UK, according to a leading academic.
Professor Anna Lawson, head of the Centre for Disability Studies and the new Disability Law Hub at the University of Leeds, said that a so-called “hard Brexit” – in which the UK withdraws from the EU single market as well as political union – was likely to damage the rights of disabled people in this country more than a deal that allowed the UK to stay in the EU single market.
She told Disability Rights UK’s annual conference in north London that disabled people and their organisations would need to pressure the UK government to explain how it would fill the “disability gap” between the rights that are currently in place and those that will exist after Brexit.
Lawson said that a “soft” Brexit would mean the UK staying in the EU single market, and therefore benefiting from all the legal protections that offers, such as laws on assistance with public transport and non-discrimination.
She said: “So many of the disability-related rights and policies conferred by EU law will continue to be binding on the UK if we remain part of the single market.”
But leaving the single market would mean that disabled people would have to pressure the government to fill in more gaps in protection currently offered by EU membership, such as in procurement law, and disabled passengers’ rights when travelling on planes or ships.
Lawson said the benefits of the accessibility act could “trickle down” to disabled people in the UK even if there is a hard Brexit, because designers and manufacturers in the other countries in the single market would be bound by it.
Leaving the single market would also mean the loss of freedom of movement, which would affect disabled people’s ability to recruit personal assistants from EU countries, and the recruitment of NHS staff.
But Lawson said that even if there was a hard Brexit, the EU was likely to continue to influence disability rights in the UK, with campaigners able to use any EU legislative improvements as a bargaining tool domestically.
She said: “The bigger question is what does the UK need to do to fill any disability gap that would open up.
“There will be a much bigger gap if we leave the single market.”
She also pointed to EU funding that has been awarded to disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), and added: “We need to make sure disabled people do not suffer because the funding isn’t available to DPOs [after Brexit].”
She said it was important to ensure that any replacement funding from the UK government had the same requirements for accessibility and non-discrimination as EU funding.
Lawson said it would be vital to assess which disability-related rights would be affected by Brexit, so disabled people know “what is at stake and what is the size of the gap”.
She said Disability Rights UK was surveying disabled people, DPOs and voluntary organisations to ask them how much EU funding they have received and the kind of projects it has funded, in a bid to “use that to influence the UK in terms of what it needs to be thinking of in the coming years”.
Lawson also appealed to DPOs to continue to be involved in dialogue and collaborations with other DPOs across Europe.
She said: “This matters, because what happens at EU level is still going to be a really influential bargaining tool for us with the UK government.
“If much stronger disability rights protections are developed at EU level, even after we have left, we can use that as bargaining tools with the UK government.”
Lawson also warned that the government’s threat to quit the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and replace it with a British bill of rights – unconnected to Brexit – was “something we as disabled people would need to campaign very hard against”.
10 November 2016
The work and pensions secretary Damian Green has refused three times to apologise or even acknowledge the distress and harm caused by his government’s welfare reforms and cuts, during an appearance before MSPs.
Green became the first work and pensions secretary to appear before a Scottish parliamentary committee, when he gave evidence to the social security committee on Thursday (3 November).
For the first part of the 80-minute evidence session, his refusal to acknowledge the harm caused to sick and disabled people was highlighted on the live television coverage by a member of the public sat behind him who was wearing a tee-shirt promoting Ken Loach’s award-winning film I, Daniel Blake.
Another visitor, John McArdle, co-founder of the grassroots campaign group Black Triangle, had also taken off his coat to reveal the same slogan, until both of them were asked by parliamentary staff to cover or remove their tee-shirts.
SNP’s Ben Macpherson asked Green if he wanted to apologise for the “unnecessary and highly disturbing anxiety, suffering and hardship that many of our constituents have faced since 2010, particularly [through] the work capability assessment [WCA], sanctions and cuts and the wider austerity agenda”.
But Green ignored the request and instead described proposals from his new work, health and disability green paper.
He said he hoped the WCA proposals in the green paper would “make it do its job”.
Macpherson then told Green that I, Daniel Blake – which tells the story of a man with a heart condition who becomes caught up in the unfairness of the WCA system – was not the “work of fiction” he had described it as.
He asked whether he could at least acknowledge the “the suffering and distress that has been caused to many individuals”.
But Green refused to do so and said the system was “there to help people” and it was “not the intention of anyone connected with the welfare system… to cause distress”.
The work and pensions secretary was also forced to defend his government’s plans – revealed last week by Disability News Service (DNS) – to consider forcing all sick and disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits to take part in “mandatory” work-related activity.
Green failed to respond to the concerns about “mandatory” work-related activity, but appeared to suggest that the proposal was a result of too many people being found not fit for any work-reated activity and therefore placed in the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group.
He said that the Labour government which introduced the WCA and ESA had intended that only about 10 per cent of claimants should be placed in the support group, whereas about 50 per cent were being found not fit for work or work-related activity*.
Green said that it was this group of people – the “40 per cent” difference – who should not think, “I have been told I can never work. I will never work again.”
He added: “Many of those people could work, certainly for part of the time, and would benefit from work, their lives would be made better.
“So those are the type of people we want to keep in touch with so that they don’t feel that they have been just left by the system.”
When another SNP committee member, George Adam, asked him about the “horror stories” of the current assessment system, including cases in which disabled people have been driven to take their own lives, Green criticised what he said was an attempt to “politicise individual tragedies”.
Adam told Green that he had a copy of a book version of I, Daniel Blake, signed by its screenwriter Paul Laverty – who had attended the session – to give him, which Green said was “very touching”, although it was not clear if he was being sarcastic.
Adam said Laverty had told him it was “based on research” and that “we can actually back it up as constituency MSPs [with] some of the horror stories that are coming from your so-called welfare reform”.
Before the evidence session ended, the committee’s convener, SNP’s Sandra White, again challenged Green’s reluctance to accept the distress his government’s reforms had caused, telling him: “I have a constituent who unfortunately committed suicide after getting a letter from DWP, so there is evidence in that respect.”
After the session, Macpherson critcised Green’s failure to apologise and his refusal to accept evidence of the “appalling consequences of the Tory welfare regime on people across Scotland”.
He said: “Damian Green’s performance at the committee was shameful and simply confirmed what we’ve long known – the Tories do not care about the damage that their policies are inflicting on poor and vulnerable people across Scotland.”
He added: “In particular, the secretary of state’s lack of knowledge and unwillingness to accept evidence on the cases where his government’s policies have driven people into destitution, and in some tragic cases to suicide, and his defence of the failed benefit sanctions regime, showed just how out of touch and cruel this Tory government truly is.”
*The latest Department for Work and Pensions figures show that just 33 per cent of claimants are being placed in the support group.
10 November 2016
People with dementia are “routinely” deprived of their human rights, facing forced medication, institutionalisation and a denial of care and support.
A group of disabled campaigners with dementia spoke out this week as they launched a “ground-breaking” new booklet that highlights their battle for rights.
Our Dementia, Our Rights aims to “bring together in one place the facts about some of the key rights relating to dementia in the UK”.
Larry Gardiner, a spokesman for the Dementia Policy Think Tank (DPTT), which was set up in 2016 by a group of people with a diagnosis of dementia, launched the booklet at Disability Rights UK’s annual conference in north London.
He said that people with dementia are “routinely” subjected to a denial of their human rights, with forced medication “absolute routine”, and the prescription of psychoactive drugs to “treat the presentation of our condition rather than recognising the underlying problem, which is that our brain cells are dying”.
Gardiner said: “People with dementia are disproportionately affected by breaches of human rights.
“One of the examples is the way legislation can be used to deprive us of a voice in determining what happens to us.
“We have a degenerative condition that leads to death. We have a right to a life worth living before we die.”
He added: “We find it very difficult to access any form of social care support.
“When it becomes too expensive to support us, we go into a care home.
“We get to live with people we don’t know, we don’t like and we don’t trust.”
DPTT is a member of the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project , which brings together groups of people with dementia from across the UK, and is supported by Innovations in Dementia.
Gardiner said: “The importance and significance of this booklet is it gives us an insight into how rights can be applied in practical, pragmatic ways.”
He also spoke of the “particularly distinct and separate” difficulties of running a user-led organisation of people with dementia.
He said: “We want to be a user-led organisation. What effects us is that the leadership burns out.
“We need waves of leadership coming behind us. We need more support to help articulate our issues and needs strongly.”
Professor Peter Mittler, another member of the think tank and the human rights adviser of Dementia Alliance International – whose members all have a diagnosis of dementia – said that 40 governments around the world had reported to the United Nations on how they believed they were implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), but not one of them had discussed the rights of people with dementia.
Many governments have launched dementia strategies, he added, but none of them reflects the UN convention.
But he said it was a “triumph” that people with dementia were to have “substantial input” into the “shadow report” being prepared by Disability Rights UK and other disabled people’s organisations on the implementation of the convention in the UK.
10 November 2016
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com