Anger as police confiscate Extinction Rebellion accessible toilets, ramps and wheelchairs

A police force has been accused of discrimination and “abusive” behaviour after confiscating ramps, wheelchairs and even accessible toilets that were intended to make this week’s Extinction Rebellion climate change protests in London more inclusive – and safer – for disabled activists.

Members of the Disabled Rebels group had spent months working with the organisers of Extinction Rebellion (XR) to ensure that the protests taking place this week and next would be accessible and inclusive, as reported last week by Disability News Service.

But the Metropolitan police have sabotaged those preparations by impounding two mobile accessible toilets that had been rented by XR, and arresting two members of staff working for the charity that was providing the equipment.

That police action on Monday near St James’s Park, Westminster, followed a police raid on a building in south London on Saturday, which led to eight arrests and the seizure of independent living aids and other equipment being stored by XR.

Organisers said later that the equipment seized included wheelchairs, ramps, noise-cancelling headphones for autistic protesters, camp beds for those unable to sleep on the floor, and solar-powered charging equipment for wheelchairs and scooters.

As a result of the seizure of this equipment and the accessible toilets two days later, plans for a disability hub in St James’s Park had to be abandoned.

The hub was to have provided a central place for disabled people to gather, rest, receive information, take part in training, provide peer support, and begin to build a movement of disabled people on climate change.

There was further anger over Monday’s police’s actions, after it emerged that – following six hours of negotiations with XR – a senior officer had apparently given permission for the two converted vans, each containing an accessible toilet, a changing bench, shower facilities and a ceiling hoist, to be driven into the occupied protest area.

Two members of staff working for the charity that hires out the vans at subsidised rates – Mobiloo, founded by retired Irish Paralympian James Brown – were then arrested, along with two XR protesters, even though they had been given permission to bring the vans into the protest area and had apparently been following instructions from a police officer on where to park them.

One of the two Mobiloo staff members later had to be taken from a police station to hospital after an angina attack, believed to have been caused by the stress of being arrested and held in custody.

All four are believed to have been arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and obstructing a public highway.

Sandra Daniels, one of the activists behind XR Disabled Rebels, said the police actions had caused health and safety problems for disabled protesters, and were likely to lead to an official complaint to the force, and possibly legal action.

She said: “The access for disabled people has been limited by the police. It has stopped disabled people being included.

“We have the right as disabled people to protest. In effect they have stopped that right.”

She said Disabled Rebels had challenged XR to make the fortnight of protests accessible and inclusive, and XR had been “supportive”, but because of the police action that inclusion had not been possible.

She said: “Once again I feel we have been excluded as disabled people, and we have a right to protest.”

Another Disabled Rebel, Nicki, said the police decision to impound the Mobiloos “could have huge implications” for disabled people’s health, wellbeing and dignity.

She said: “It has meant that some people have had to stay away; their right to peaceful protest has been taken away by this decision.

“This has been a huge blow to disabled people wanting to participate, coming just days after so much access equipment was seized from the XR warehouse on Saturday.

“This equipment was crucial for the safety and welfare of sick and disabled people.

“One of XR’s principles states that we welcome everybody and every part of everybody.

“We really hoped to achieve this and XR had been so positive about embracing radical inclusion of disabled activists.”

Alex Howell, Mobiloo’s operations director, has been told that his charity’s two drivers waited for six hours while XR’s liaison team negotiated permission to bring in the two vans.

They were then given permission to do so by a senior officer, and the vans were driven through the police cordon by two XR volunteers, with the Mobiloo staff – who were not part of the protest – in the cabs.

All four of them were then arrested, and taken to Acton police station, with the two vans impounded.

Howell said: “My concern is for my staff, first and foremost. Them being put in a situation where they were following police instructions and were arrested is quite concerning.

“It does make us reticent to be involved in protests in the future.”

He said Mobiloo had not heard from the police about how or when they could retrieve their vans, which had been booked by XR for the two weeks Extinction Rebellion is expected to last.

Howell said: “Taking part in a protest is something someone should be able to do. If someone is disabled, they need accessible toilet facilities to be able to do that.

“We were just providing a service as we would do to anyone.”

Extinction Rebellion said today (Thursday) that it was keeping a record of “abusive police behaviour”, following the forceful confiscation of “shelter, food, water and anything that might allow disabled people to conveniently participate”.

It has called for witness accounts of such behaviour to be emailed to:

A Met police spokesperson said all those arrested in south London had been released under investigation, while the property had been searched using powers under section 32 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

He said: “Officers seized a large amount of equipment at the address. The property will be retained while the investigation is ongoing.”

He added: “It is the police’s role to provide a lawful and proportionate policing response to any planned protest, balancing the community impact with the right to protest.

“Officers have powers to seize any equipment which they believe will facilitate unlawful protest.

“This forms part of our robust, proportionate policing plan which we continue to keep under review.

“If protestors break the law, officers will look to arrest those people. Furthermore, those people can expect to be charged, prosecuted, and receive a criminal record.”

The force had not commented on the St James’s Park negotiations and arrests by noon today (Thursday).

10 October 2019


Criticism over ‘shocking’ appointments to ODI’s new disability networks

The government is facing criticism over its decision to appoint representatives of just two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – and a leading disabled Tory – to chair its new regional stakeholder networks.

The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, this week announced eight chairs to lead the networks across England.

But it appears that only two of the chairs who have been appointed lead representative organisations run and controlled by disabled people, an apparent flouting of the government’s obligations under the UN disability convention.

Three of the new appointments are bosses of disability charities, one leads a community interest company and one is described as a board member of the veterans advisory and pension committee.

And Barry Ginley, who will chair the south-east network, is vice-chair of the Conservative Disability Group, although he is described in this week’s government announcement as director of a consultancy company.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how Ginley had defended the government’s disability policies, and had dismissed three highly critical reports by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as concerns about the impact of Brexit on social care, disability rights and access to medication.

Another of the newly-appointed chairs, Ruth Owen, chief executive of the charity Whizz-Kidz, and a wheelchair-user herself, will chair the Greater London regional network.

A third of the new chairs, Liz Leach Murphy, founder of the social enterprise Imagineer, who has a long-term health condition, will chair the Yorkshire and the Humber network.

Another chair, Samantha Everard, chief executive of the charity Support and Mentoring Enabling Entrepreneurship, who also has a long-term health condition, will chair the south-west network.

Lynne Turnbull, chief executive of Cheshire Centre for Independent Living, the new north-west chair, and one of the two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) represented in the appointments, is another disabled appointee.

She said the networks were “a brilliant opportunity to influence government policy”.

She said: “This is about bringing the voice of disabled people and DPOs across the north-west and making sure that is heard within government.”

Turnbull said the appointment of chairs who were not from representative organisations of disabled people was a matter for the government, but she added: “If you’re chairing a network made up of disabled people and their organisations, that is the voice you’re taking forward.”

She said she would be “really keen” to look at the membership of her network and “make sure it’s appropriate and representing the voice of disabled people and DPOs”.

She said that, “in an ideal world”, it will be made up only of disabled people and representatives of DPOs, although she had not yet seen her membership list.

The other chairs are Naomi Tomkys, chief executive of Sky Badger (east); Michael Potts, a board member of the veterans advisory and pension committee (north-east); and Louise Mckiernan, chief executive of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre (West and East Midlands), the other DPO represented in the new appointments.

The networks will be tasked with “amplifying the voices of disabled people and disability organisations in regions across England” and then reporting back to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) on issues including transport, housing and employment.

The delay in announcing the names of the chairs and members of the networks had already attracted criticism, as had the government’s refusal to pay them, with the networks described by one leading disabled campaigner as “the worst kind of phoney engagement”.

At least five of the eight chairs announced this week identify as disabled people or have a long-term health condition.

Their first meeting took place on Tuesday (8 October).

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “We are shocked but not surprised by the appointments to the chairs of the regional stakeholder forums.”

She said most of the chairs did not appear to represent Deaf and disabled people’s organisations (DDPOs).

She said: “Rather than work with DDPOs, as they are obliged to do under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the government has instead, once again, chosen to carry out yet another cynical window-dressing exercise in engagement.

“In reality, these forums fail all the measures of meaningful engagement: they are not forums of disabled people, they are not representative of DDPOs, they are not strategic, they are not resourced and they will operate in a policy vacuum.

“This is simply not acceptable.

“After 10 years of systematic retrogression of our rights and inclusion, the government must meet its UNCRPD obligations and begin working with us in a real and strategic way to get our rights and inclusion back on track.”

UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its general comment number seven, which was adopted in September 2018.

Each of the new regional groups will be led by an independent chair and consist of between 10 and 40 members, who will all be “either disabled people, charities or organisations that represent disabled people”.

The groups will only be funded to meet once a year and will have to pay for any further meetings they arrange themselves, but ODI will still expect them to provide input throughout the year via email.

In response to concerns about the selection process, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said the chairs were “selected based on their skills, knowledge, experience, and proven track record working as advocates for disabled people within their regions”.

DNS had not asked DWP about its failure to appoint representatives of DPOs.

10 October 2019


‘Dismal’ job figures show failure of Disability Confident, says de Cordova

The government’s much-criticised Disability Confident jobs scheme appears to be growing increasingly less successful at persuading employers to offer jobs to disabled people, according to new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

The figures, secured by Disability News Service (DNS) through a freedom of information (FoI) request, show that the 13,600 employers that have signed up to the scheme since it was launched in 2013 have pledged to provide just 8,763 paid jobs for disabled people between them.

This is an average of less than two-thirds of a job per employer.

Many of those that have signed up to Disability Confident are large employers such as local authorities, government departments, manufacturers, national charities, banks and retailers, including the big four supermarkets, more than 100 NHS trusts, and high street banks.

The figures provide fresh evidence that the scheme is “trivially easy to abuse” and allows employers to describe themselves as “disability confident” without being assessed on that claim, and without employing a single disabled person.

Three years ago, DWP declared itself a gold-standard employer of disabled people under the scheme – securing the status of “Disability Confident Leader” – just days before being found guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN disability convention.

The new figures show that about 13,600 employers that had signed up to the scheme by 13 September had promised to provide 8,763 new paid jobs and 1,903 traineeships for disabled people between them*.

This compares with figures from last year year which showed how at that stage 4,586 paid jobs and 1,223 traineeships had been promised by 6,841 employers.

This means there is so far an average of 0.64 jobs per employer and 0.78 jobs and traineeships per employer, compared with 0.67 jobs and 0.85 jobs and traineeships per employer 15 months ago.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “These dismal figures are yet more evidence of the failure of this government’s Disability Confident scheme.

“Under the government’s flagship employment scheme, you can become a Disability Confident employer without employing a single disabled person.

“The Disability Confident scheme lacks any accountability, transparency or credible performance measures to ensure that employers recruit disabled people.

“Labour is committed to halving the disability employment gap, closing the disability pay gap and ensuring that disabled people have equal access to the labour market.”

David Gillon, a disabled campaigner and one of the most prominent critics of the Disability Confident scheme, said: “The number of disabled jobs created by the scheme is sadly pathetic.

“Less than one job per employer, when disabled people make up one in five of the workforce.

“Under 9,000 new jobs across the three years of the revamped scheme, yet disability employment has supposedly increased by 246,000 in the past year.

“So Disability Confident is responsible for a little over one per cent of new jobs for disabled people, even though it includes some of the largest employers in the country.

“The figures are so bad you have to wonder if Disability Confident employers are actually less likely to employ disabled people [than those not signed up to the scheme].”

Gillon said Disability Confident had still signed up just “a 0.002 per cent sized drop in the ocean of 5.7 million private sector employers”.

He said: “It is obvious that Disability Confident just doesn’t grab employers by the scruff of the neck and say, ‘This is something you need to compete in today’s market.’

“When Disability Confident actually asks for less than the law requires in places, this is worrying.

“Disabled people remain three times more likely than non-disabled to be economically inactive.

“Fully 3.3 million disabled people are not looking for work and that number isn’t falling, it’s slowly increasing.

“Some of those people will be unable to work, but a significant proportion will have some capability to work with appropriate adjustments, but have learned through grim experience that the jobs market is unwilling to consider us.

“This is a lesson reinforced every time we see a disabled person forced out of work because an employer has no respect for our rights, and Disability Confident simply isn’t challenging our confidence in the truth of that lesson.”

DWP has so far been unable to say how many of the 8,763 jobs that were pledged by Disability Confident members resulted in paid jobs for disabled people.

Asked why the Disability Confident scheme appeared to be so unsuccessful – and getting worse – at persuading employers to provide new jobs for disabled people, and whether the figures showed the scheme was “trivially easy to abuse”, a DWP spokesperson said: “Disability Confident is a business-led scheme designed to support businesses of all sizes to recruit, support and retain disabled workers.

“We are constantly reviewing and strengthening the process, and we’ve made great progress, with two-thirds of large employers surveyed having employed a disabled person as a result of joining the scheme.

“There are now 1.15 million more disabled people in work compared to six years ago, but there is always more that can be done.

“We hope to continue to increase sign ups and ensure that all businesses can reap the rewards of employing disabled people.”

The DWP spokesperson has so far been unable to provide any detailed figures relating to the “two-thirds of large employers” who he said had employed a disabled person as a result of joining the scheme.

*The freedom of information response failed to provide figures for how many apprenticeships have been promised by employers

10 October 2019


Government’s silence over sex abuse inquiry evidence

A government department appears to be trying to cover up evidence that a former senior civil servant – later arrested over two unconnected rape allegations – may have helped block tougher laws on the sexual abuse of disabled people.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) promised five years ago that it would pass “all known documentation” about the possible actions of Brian McGinnis to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Disability News Service (DNS) asked DHSC this summer if it had kept its promise and passed the documents about the actions of McGinnis in the 1980s to the inquiry, but was told by the department’s press office to submit a freedom of information (FoI) request.

Now the department, headed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, has finally answered that FoI request, but its response claims that it would be too expensive to check whether it kept its word.

Its freedom of information department says in the response that it would be a “very time-consuming process” to confirm if it passed information to IICSA because it would have to search “a vast quantity of files”.

It claims it would take one person more than three-and-a-half days to search its archives.

It took more than a week for DHSC’s press office to respond to questions about the FoI response.

When a DHSC spokesperson eventually responded, he refused to comment; or explain why DHSC could not just ask the IICSA inquiry team if it had received information about McGinnis; or say whether the department had breached its safeguarding duties by failing to keep track of information passed to the inquiry.

An IICSA spokesperson said: “The inquiry cannot comment on whether it has or has not received evidence from a particular individual or organisation outside its public hearings.”

But he said he had passed on DNS’s concerns about DHSC and McGinnis to the inquiry team.

The DHSC promise to pass on documents to IICSA was made in 2014 after concerns were raised that McGinnis may – in the 1980s – have helped to stop MPs tightening laws protecting people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions from sexual abuse.

McGinnis was named in 2014 in a report into the activities of the disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile at Broadmoor hospital, as he was the senior civil servant in charge of mental health in the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) in 1986, shortly before Savile was appointed to a new board to run the hospital.

The report mentioned that McGinnis had “since been the subject of two allegations that have been made public”, which “arose in the course of his voluntary sector work with disturbed and abused children, and both cases were dropped without charge”.

Those allegations were made public in a news story written by DNS editor John Pring in Disability Now magazine in 2006.

McGinnis has always claimed to be innocent of the two separate rape allegations and insists that he is a lifelong “celibate”.

In 1985, the year before McGinnis left DHSS, MPs on the Commons social services committee had called for an “independent expert review of law and practice on sexuality and contraception in relation to mentally disabled people”.

But DHSS dismissed the idea in its response to the committee’s report, warning that “a major review might simply attract unwelcome, unhealthy and wholly disproportionate media interest without achieving any helpful consensus”.

It is believed that this response could have come from McGinnis.

The review never took place, and law reform that would make it easier to secure convictions for rape and indecent assault of people with learning difficulties and experience of mental distress was delayed until 2003, when a new act introduced fresh offences and tougher sentences.

DNS was led to believe five years ago by the Department of Health (as it was known at the time) that any material it held on McGinnis that related to the DHSS response to the social services committee would be passed to the child abuse inquiry that had recently been launched by the Home Office.

It also claimed that it was examining its archives to check whether McGinnis had influenced the DHSS response in 1985.

It later confirmed that it was investigating whether McGinnis may have helped to block tougher sexual abuse legislation.

A DH spokesperson said in August 2014: “We are taking this issue very seriously and investigating whether there is any relevant material held on file.”

But DHSC is now claiming it would be too time-consuming to check its records to confirm if it did pass any documents to IICSA.

McGinnis, who became a special advisor for the charity Mencap after leaving the civil service, but left that role more than 10 years ago, has never been convicted, or even charged, with any offence.

But he has been arrested twice over unconnected rape allegations, one of which involved a child with learning difficulties at the notorious Betts Way respite home in Bromley, Kent, in the mid-1990s.

The arrests came in March 2001 and August 2005 and both resulted in McGinnis, who is now in his early 80s and is believed to live in Shirley, Croydon, being released without charge.

He has always denied the allegations.

Until the allegations about his behaviour were publicised in 2006, he was an influential figure in the disability world, with links to a string of charities, learning difficulty organisations and his local church in Shirley.

Following his first arrest, Bromley council advised its staff to “disassociate” McGinnis “with anything related to children with learning difficulties and council services”.

Croydon council later told church authorities that McGinnis “should be suspended from duties that involved him working with children”, after being informed by Bromley council about the 2005 arrest. He had at the time been working with a children’s church group.

10 October 2019


Tomlinson dodges questions over serious case panel

The minister for disabled people has refused to provide MPs with any details of government plans to set up an independent panel to examine cases where his department’s failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.

The spending round document published by the Treasury on 4 September said the new “independent serious case panel” would aim to improve DWP “safeguarding”.

The Treasury said it would provide funding of £36 million for 2020-21 to fund both the panel and ensure that decision-making on benefit claims was “accurate” and that benefit application processes were “straightforward and accessible”.

But following that announcement, DWP refused to explain why it was setting up the new serious case panel.

Now, a month later, Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, has been asked about the plans in the House of Commons.

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, told Tomlinson that a catalogue of DWP failings had “created a hostile environment for disabled people”.

And she said: “The announcement of the new independent serious case panel lacks any meaningful detail, terms of reference or purpose.”

De Cordova asked Tomlinson to confirm if the new panel would review previous deaths linked to benefits, and if he would describe the panel’s “statement of purpose”.

But Tomlinson refused to answer the question, telling de Cordova instead how DWP worked “all year round with claimants, stakeholders and charities – organisations with real-life experience – to help to improve not only the training but the understanding of all areas of disability and health conditions”, and backed that up with “genuine financial support”.

DWP also refused – again – to answer questions from Disability News Service (DNS) about the serious case panel this week, including whether the new work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey had now ditched the idea.

But de Cordova told DNS: “The government’s announcement of a new independent serious case panel lacks any detail, terms of reference or statement of purpose.

“At DWP [oral questions], the minister failed to give any concrete answer on the nature of the panel, or to confirm whether the panel will examine the DWP’s own failings surrounding social security-related deaths.

“It is of the upmost importance that these questions are answered and that the government are committed to investigating the hostile environment it has created in the DWP.”

If a serious case panel is being set up to examine deaths linked to benefit claims, and other serious cases connected to DWP failings, it would be a significant victory for grassroots disabled activists who have spent years highlighting such tragedies.

It would also be a victory for the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, backed by grassroots disabled activists and Whiting’s mother Joy Dove, which spent nearly six months highlighting the need for an independent inquiry into deaths caused by DWP’s failings, and secured nearly 55,000 signatures.

DNS has spent more than five years highlighting DWP’s safeguarding failings.

In June, DNS reported how DWP had acted unlawfully by destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres.

Also in June, the Liverpool Echo reported that Amber Rudd – who has since resigned as work and pensions secretary – had admitted that an internal review into the death of Stephen Smith, from Liverpool, had found that DWP missed “crucial safeguarding opportunities” and had “identified areas where we need to change our policy” to protect claimants in vulnerable situations.

And in February, DNS reported on the Independent Case Examiner report into the death of Jodey Whiting in February 2017, which concluded that DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide.

This led to the launch of the Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition, which was set up to press for a criminal investigation into misconduct by ministers and senior civil servants that may have contributed to the deaths of claimants.

10 October 2019


Third report in a month raises fresh concerns over SEND system

An ombudsman has added to increasing concerns about the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system in England after revealing that it has been upholding an “exceptional and unprecedented” number of complaints.

The new report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman into the education, health and care (EHC) plan process is now the third in a month to raise serious concerns about the support provided to disabled children and young people.

The ombudsman is now upholding nearly nine out of every 10 cases (87 per cent) it investigates, compared with 57 per cent of other cases, and says this suggests a “system in crisis”.

In 2018-19, it received 45 per cent more complaints and carried out 80 per cent more detailed investigations about EHC plans than in 2016-17.

Ombudsman Michael King said he was “particularly concerned” that some local authorities could now be putting extra barriers in place to “ration scarce resources”, rather than basing support on children’s needs.

And he said the report suggested a system “beset with serious problems”, with “severe delays” of up to 90 weeks, some council areas without any specialist provision, and EHC plans often issued without any advice from health or social services.

The ombudsman’s report came days after research by the National Deaf Children’s Society found that more than half of local councils and health authorities in England had failed inspections of their joint services for children with SEND by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

According to the charity, 100 of England’s joint services have been inspected since local area SEND inspections began in 2016, and 51 of them failed that inspection.

And just last month, the National Audit Office found that the needs of many disabled pupils in England were not being met, while councils were under growing financial pressure because more children were attending special schools.

That report found there had been a 2.6 per cent real terms reduction in funding for each pupil with high needs in the four years between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

The week before the NAO report was published, education secretary Gavin Williamson had announced a review of support for children with SEND.

Meanwhile, on Monday, three families with disabled children heard that the high court has rejected their claim that the government acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with SEND.

All three of the families – supported by the SEND Action campaign network – have been unable to secure the support their disabled child needs with their education.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) has repeatedly called on the government to recognise that it has been breaching its duties under article 24 (on inclusive education) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities raised concerns about the increasing number of disabled children being educated in segregated settings and said the UK education system was “not equipped to respond to the requirements for high-quality inclusive education”.

Michelle Daley, ALLFIE’s interim director, said: “This year alone we have seen a series of disturbing reports that are screaming out the problems and failings to disabled learners.”

She said the title of the ombudsman’s “shocking review” – Not Going to Plan? – “signifies the sad reality for disabled pupils and students”.

Daley said there was now plenty of evidence of the crisis and the need for urgent action rather than any more reviews.

She said: “What we need is a properly resourced education system that is inclusive for learners.

“We need the education of disabled learners considered as a human rights matter and for that to happen we need the UNCRPD article 24 implemented into our domestic law with no reservations.”

Daley said ALLFIE was “totally devastated” by the court’s decision, which she said showed the weakness of the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty “in producing no meaningful outcomes for disabled people”.

She said: “Even though there was plenty of evidence about the funding crisis, the court still decided to remain with the existing formula that doesn’t improve the situation for disabled learners and keeps them trapped in appalling situations.”

She praised the three families and their children and supporters for taking the case and “helping to raise the profile of the crisis and the inequality in education for disabled learners”.

She said: “This is not the end. The fight must continue. We must end the dual education system and inequality in education for all disabled learners.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As the ombudsman admits, this report is based on a very small sample size – covering less than 0.3 per cent [of all the new EHC plans that were issued in 2018].

“Over 48,000 children were issued with new education, health and care plans last year, and the majority of these were completed within 20 weeks.

“During the assessment process children continue to attend their school and receive additional support, until their tailored support package is put into place.

“We’ve also announced an extra £700 million for pupils with complex needs in 2020-21 – an 11 per cent increase on this year.

“However, we know the system is not working well enough for every family, and have launched a review to introduce further improvements.”

10 October 2019


Accelerator scheme plans to open door to inclusion

Five organisations led by disabled people are to benefit from a new “accelerator” programme that aims to boost their work on social inclusion.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Inclusion London, Love Language, Grid Smarter Cities and SociAbility are all disabled-led and are among the first 10 organisations to be chosen for the OpenDoor “inclusion accelerator” pilot programme.

The programme will provide them with workshops, mentoring and one-to-one support that is designed to help them develop their own products, services and projects.

It is being run by Plexal, the innovation centre and “coworking space” based in the Olympic Park in east London.

DR UK will be receiving support for its plan to create an online marketplace for disabled innovators and entrepreneurs to showcase their products and services to other disabled people.

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of DR UK, said: “We want to address the problem of how disabled people find the right products and services that offer solutions for everyday barriers to living independently, especially when most products and services are developed and marketed by non-disabled people and companies.

“The marketplace would also showcase peer-tested and recommended items for sale.

“These can be tech solutions such as apps that help you find accessible routes or give you information on access levels at places like restaurants, to everyday independent living equipment.”

Mallick said the 12-week programme would support DR UK to “test and learn” and “support us in refining the idea to a point that we can pitch to potential investors”.

He said: “OpenDoor will give us access to industry mentors, who will bring their extensive knowledge on how the tech industry uses tried and tested techniques to evaluate ideas and bring them to the market.”

Love Learning, a collaboration between Love Language and Idea East, uses digital technology to tackle the disparity between the number of Deaf people and the number of available British Sign Language interpreters.

Plexal plans to help prototype the technology and present it to investors.

SociAbility provides detailed accessibility information for local social venues and shops, while Travel MI by Grid Smarter Cities aims to improve accessible wayfinding in busy areas, particularly airports.

Plexal will support SociAbility and Travel MI by helping them build partnerships with transport organisations.

And Inclusion London is supporting internships for young people with learning difficulties, with Plexal helping to set up the programme with employers in the Olympic Park.

Last month, Plexal and its partners announced the launch of the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ), which it described as the UK’s most accessible technology hub.

ELIEZ will develop an accessible space for entrepreneurs and businesses leaders who are disabled or are focused on providing products or services to disabled people.

It will also aim to build on the London 2012 Paralympic Games legacy by developing links with Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024.

Among Plexal’s partners on ELIEZ are Inclusion London, DR UK, Loughborough University, UCL (University College London), Greater London Authority and the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDIH), which is based on UCL’s Olympic Park campus.

ELIEZ aims to meet some of the “enormous international need for disability innovation and assistive technology” and has set itself a target of launching 100 new start-ups.

It says it wants to “kick-start the UK’s first inclusive innovation sector”.

Its partners highlight the fact that only one in 10 disabled people currently has access to the assistive technology they need to go to school, work, or have a family.

10 October 2019


Stephen Aselford: Tributes paid to ‘energetic and passionate campaigner’

Friends and fellow activists have paid tribute to Stephen Aselford – a passionate disabled campaigner who was committed to improving the lives of others – after his sudden death.

They have described not only his commitment to social justice, equality and disability rights, but also his kind and cheerful nature.

Aselford worked originally in a sheltered workshop in Croydon, where he joined the GMB union, of which he remained a member all his life.

He later played a significant role in several London-based disability organisations, including People First (Self-Advocacy), Transport for All (TfA) and Disability Croydon.

He was also a long-time member of the Labour party and friends say that he loved public transport, his family, Croydon and “shaming Tory politicians”.

One of his finest moments, says his friend and fellow disabled activist Ellen Clifford, was when he confronted Tory mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith in 2015 about voting for the government’s cuts to support for disabled people placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance.

Another was in 2015, when Aselford wrote of how a planned BNP demonstration was “an attempt to stir up hatred and divide our community”, and described his pride at living in such a “diverse and vibrant” area as Croydon.

He wrote: “Migrants were not responsible for the financial crisis. In fact, our economy and vital services that disabled people rely on, including the NHS and social care services, are dependent on migrant labour.”

Among those sending condolences this week was John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor and a long-standing supporter of many grassroots disabled people’s organisations.

Aselford was a dedicated member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and a co-founder of Bromley and Croydon DPAC.

Clifford said: “Stephen was an energetic and committed campaigner with an instinctive passion for social justice.

“He was also a thoroughly lovely person with a great sense of humour.

“He was knowledgeable and politically insightful and had great ideas. As a beloved friend he is badly missed and as an activist he leaves a big hole in the movement.

“The best way to honour his memory is to continue the fight that was so central to his life.”

Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said Aselford was “a great friend, advocate and activist.

“He was a passionate campaigner locally and nationally and was well known for his strong views on accessible transport and the right to vote for people with learning difficulties.

“Stephen worked really hard to make sure that people with learning difficulties had a voice and were heard – particularly our ‘political voice’.

“He helped others realise that we have views on all sorts of things, not just disability issues.

“Wherever he went, he lit up the room.”

Aselford worked for People First for three years, between 2008 and 2011, as an inclusion worker, helping to build the capacity of its member organisations.

Lee said: “It’s important for us to remember Stephen’s energy and commitment to making the lives of others better. He achieved so much and we sadly lost him far too early.”

Aselford was also a long-time member and trustee of TfA.

Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “He was deeply committed to the importance of transport for the public good and specifically for the well-being of disabled and older people.

“He could often be found supporting protests, picket lines or events promoting or
defending public transport.

“His strongly held beliefs were rooted in an incredibly detailed knowledge of trains and buses, both old and new.

“He was always willing to share this passion and could be relied upon to know exactly what was going on in the transport sector.

“But perhaps the thing Stephen should be best remembered for is his kind
and cheerful nature.

“He was always one of the first to arrive at Transport for All events, where his irrepressible positivity was infectious.

“He will be sorely missed by those that knew him and by the campaigns he supported.”

Paula Peters, co-founder of Bromley and Croydon DPAC, said her friend was always ready with a smile and a joke and loved DPAC’s direct actions, which he called its “naughtiness”.

She said he had provided “great political insight, with great experience and knowledge” in his role as equalities officer for Unite Community’s new Bromley and Croydon branch.

She said: “His passing is a great loss to our movement. We miss a treasured friend, comrade and activist, but we will honour Steve’s memory by continuing the fight for human rights as he would want us to do.”

Michelle Gordon, GMB’s equalities officer, said Aselford had been active in the union for many years and had been determined to make it more accessible to disabled people, while he often spoke of the importance of young people joining the union movement and the need to do more to promote its successes.

She said: “Stephen will be sadly missed but his legacy of making our movement more accessible will live on.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC said: “Stephen was involved with DPAC for many years and was a lovely man who will be missed by many people.”

Leanne Purvis, a fellow self-advocate and long-standing friend through People First, said: “Big Steve was a big help to anyone and nice to talk to. He was my friend and I will miss him a lot.”

Andy Ward, a friend and fellow member of Croydon constituency Labour party, said he was “a great campaigner for disability rights and in the field of public transport” whose knowledge and expertise on public transport and accessibility was “almost unsurpassed”.

He said: “He will be sadly missed both for his disability rights campaigning and for his campaigning for better accessible public transport.”

Tony Newman, leader of Croydon council, said: “Stephen was over many years a tireless campaigner for disabled people, and worked hard to ensure everyone received the maximum amount of support possible.

“Stephen was a gentle, kind man who along with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the transport system will be greatly missed by all.”

Croydon councillor Karen Jewitt said: “I was proud of Stephen. He was a friend as well as a comrade.

“I will miss him. His contribution to equality and the Labour movement is something we should all aspire to.”

DPAC plans to organise an event to commemorate Stephen Aselford’s life and work.

10 October 2019


Legal firm hands out cameras to help disabled passengers prove discrimination

Disabled people who experience repeated discrimination on public transport are being offered a camera to record video evidence for possible legal cases.

Legal firm Fry Law, which specialises in disability discrimination cases, is hoping some of the evidence produced can then be used to bring cases under the Equality Act against bus, train and taxi providers.

It plans to pass some of the evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which last month launched a new project to support disabled and older people who have faced discrimination on public and private transport.

The EHRC scheme will offer advice and help in resolving complaints, but it will also provide funding to take legal cases.

Now Fry Law is planning to collect evidence that it can pass to EHRC for possible legal cases by lending miniature cameras to disabled people in England and Wales who have been experiencing discrimination from transport providers.

The cameras have a remote control pad and can be fixed to wheelchairs, scooters and clothing to allow filmed evidence to be collected.

Chris Fry, founder of Fry Law, said he hoped this would help EHRC collate evidence and encourage disabled people to enforce their rights.

He said disability discrimination cases taken against public transport providers can be difficult to prove, while there is also the risk that claimants could have to pay some of the other side’s costs if they lose their case.

The EHRC project, he said, was a “once in a decade opportunity” that should mean that providers are “held to account in a way they currently are not”.

Fry Law has already given cameras to about half a dozen disabled people who frequently face discrimination when using public transport, and is now looking for other disabled people willing to test out one of the cameras*.

Fry said he hoped EHRC would also eventually show the filmed evidence of discrimination to MPs and ministers.

And he said he hoped the cameras would also provide evidence of “really good customer service” by train, taxi and bus providers that could again be passed to EHRC.

He said he hoped the project would help to address some of the everyday discrimination faced by disabled people who “are not getting to work on time, are missing hospital appointments, are missing benefit assessments, and are just having to put up with it because they don’t have the evidence”.

He said: “The commission’s transport project is a really positive step and we ought to be doing everything we can to provide as much evidence and get as many cases forward as we can to demonstrate that these failings are still systematic.

“Filmed evidence seems the best way of doing it.”

*To express interest in the scheme, contact Fry Law

10 October 2019


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