Disabled women reveal sexual harassment by high-profile ‘mental health advocate’

At least 20 women with mental health conditions have been sent unsolicited sexual photographs by a musician and high-profile “mental health advocate”, evidence collected by Disability News Service (DNS) suggests.

DNS has heard this week from three women with mental distress who were each harassed by Aiden Hatfield, who himself claimed he had depression and spoke frequently of how he donated half of the profits of his clothing company to the mental health charity Mind.

The allegations against Hatfield were first aired on the social media platform Twitter.

At least three other women also posted on Twitter this week about how Hatfield – who had 100,000 followers on Twitter before he closed his account in the wake of the allegations – harassed them and sent them naked pictures of himself through private social media messages.

Two of the women DNS has been in touch with have described how they have now been approached by other women with experience of mental distress who were also sent unsolicited sexual pictures by Hatfield.

One said she had spoken to about 20 other women, some through Twitter and some through another social media platform, Instagram, who said they had experienced similar abuse.

The other said she had spoken to seven women who had been targeted by Hatfield.

One of the women, herself a sexual abuse survivor, told DNS that Hatfield was a “sexual predator” and that he had also requested pictures of her.

She said: “I think it’s really important that people know they are not alone.

“He made me think that I was just being paranoid and that he’d helped hundreds of woman with their confidence etc and that him requesting pics was a normal process, to the point we started to doubt ourselves.

“But as he had 100k subscribers we just blamed ourselves.

“Speaking out we’ve gained so much support, we’ve made contact now with a lot of other women who’ve experienced exactly the same as us.

“So we know now it’s not our fault… Just knowing that has eased our self blame and guilt.”

She said she had been approached this week by about 20 women on Twitter and Instagram with similar experiences of Hatfield, and some of them described how he used similar approaches, and then described them as “paranoid” when they refused to send him pictures back.

Several women have also told her how Hatfield managed to obtain their addresses by pretending they had won clothing in a competition they had not entered.

Another of the women targeted by Hatfield told DNS that it had been “traumatic” to speak out publicly and that she had received hate messages from Hatfield’s supporters after she had done so.

She has since heard from seven other women who have also been sent unsolicited sexual pictures by Hatfield.

She originally spoke out about the abuse two years ago, without naming Hatfield, after he set her naked pictures when she messaged him to ask for support with her mental health.

When she challenged him later, she says he was “completely unapologetic”.

A third woman, who was sent an unsolicited sexual picture by Hatfield last year, and spoke about it publicly on Twitter this week, told DNS: “The thing that stings the most is the fact he prayed on the vulnerable in a way that nobody would have seen coming.

“When people are suffering and need help, sometimes they crave help from others in a similar situation. I’ve done the same.”

She added: “It’s upsetting to think people were at their lowest and he was using them.”

Hatfield positioned himself as someone with experience of mental distress who wanted to support and empower others, and bragged on platforms like Twitter of how he donated half of the profits of his music-themed clothing brand In Music We Trust to Mind.

Articles have described him as a “passionate mental health advocate”, while Hatfield told his local newspaper, the Yorkshire Evening Post, two years ago that he spent hours every day on social media “responding to messages and encouraging people to talk about mental health and to seek support”.

There are serious questions this week over how Hatfield managed to continue his abuse for so long, particularly as at least two women tried to raise the alarm on social media last year, but were met with a “barrage of abuse” from his fans.

Donna Jones, a psychotherapist and founder of The Positive Mindset Company, said the two women had been forced to leave Twitter by the reaction from Hatfield’s followers.

But Jones said she had believed their allegations and unfollowed him.

She told DNS: “What he has done is awful and will have effected so many people’s trust and belief in others.”

She said she was sad that people were still being “dismissed and ridiculed” when they tried to raise the alarm in such cases, despite notorious historical cases where allegations of abuse have been ignored.

Mind said this week that, in the wake of the “serious allegations”, it had “paused” an agreement with Hatfield that had allowed him to use the “in aid of Mind” logo on his clothing brand.

In the wake of the allegations surfacing, Hatfield, from Leeds, removed his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, and closed his website, although his YouTube channel is still open.

He has previously been a member of various rock bands but more recently embarked on a solo career, releasing a recording on his own music label.

West Yorkshire Police (WYP) is believed to have been asked this week to investigate allegations against Hatfield.

But a WYP spokesperson refused to confirm that it had been contacted or was investigating Hatfield and said the force press office does not comment on “named individuals” unless they have been charged with a crime.

A Mind spokesperson said it had been made aware of the allegations via social media and direct complaints.

She said: “We rely heavily on the generosity of individuals, companies and other organisations and we are enormously grateful to everyone who donates their money, time, creativity, profile or profits to help us support people with mental health problems.

“Given the circumstances, however, and in particular the more formal nature of the partnership agreement we have signed, we have decided to pause the agreement with In Music We Trust.

“We note that the website and associated social media profiles are currently unavailable, but we have in any case written to In Music We Trust to ask that our logo is not used in any future promotion without permission, which we won’t give unless the situation is resolved.”

She added: “We are really concerned about the impact that this situation is having on the mental health of all those involved.

“We want anyone who has been affected by this situation or the issues raised to seek support, either through the advice and information provided on our website or our Infoline – 0330 123 3393.”

A spokesperson for Twitter said it had “clear rules in place to address threats of non-consensual nudity” and had “heavily invested in technology and tools to enforce our policy in this area”.

She said: “We take enforcement action when we identify accounts that violate these rules.

“We also have a series of tools, built into our product, to help keep people safe and give them control over what they see and who they interact with.”

DNS has been unable to contact Hatfield for a comment this week.

*The following organisations are among those that could be able to offer support if you have been affected by the issues raised in this article: Victim Support, Samaritans, Papyrus, Mind and Rethink

11 June 2020

 

Coronavirus: NHS England faces legal action over ‘test and trace access flaws’

NHS England is facing the threat of legal action after campaigners warned that large parts of its vital coronavirus “test and trace” programme were not accessible to disabled people.

More than 85 disabled people and allies have signed a letter – likely to be sent today (Thursday) – warning NHS England that its system ignores the needs of disabled people.

They say the system has been designed without thought for access, even though many disabled people with long-term health conditions are at higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.

Among their concerns is that disabled people will be unable to access testing for the virus, or could receive incorrect results, because they have not been able to follow or understand the instructions.

They say the access flaws in the system could create an increased risk to the health of a disabled person – delaying treatment for COVID-19 – and put those they have contact with at greater risk of contracting the virus.

They also point out that some disabled people need a negative COVID-19 test result to secure hospital treatment.

At least one disabled person has already been prevented from having a test by the scheme’s access flaws, leading to them being denied urgent medical treatment.

The disabled woman needed an urgent chest X-ray but the hospital wanted her to have a negative coronavirus test as high temperatures caused by her condition were triggering a COVID-19 alert.

The scheme’s flawed access also puts the overall success of the test and trace system at risk.

The letter to NHS England was written by disabled campaigners from Reasonable Access, which focuses on empowering disabled people to “assert and enforce” their rights to access.

They believe the government did not even consider the access needs of disabled people when it was designing the test and trace system.

And they believe these failings mean it could have breached the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and NHS England’s own Accessible Information Standard (PDF).

Their letter highlights a series of concerns about the accessibility of the much-delayed and criticised scheme, which is designed to prevent a second wave of COVID-19.

These include concerns about instructions for test kits, the communication needs of those booking tests, arrangements at test centres, home-testing kits with no tactile markings, and the lack of alternatives for those who cannot use nasal and throat swabs safely.

The letter also warns that the government appears to have failed to publish any information which tells disabled people how their access needs will be met.

Natalya Dell, co-founder of Reasonable Access, said the government’s failure to consider access issues was yet another example of how disabled people’s needs have been ignored or treated as an afterthought during the pandemic.

She said: “It feels like no one in Westminster, NHS England or Public Health England is asking themselves, ‘How is this accessible to different groups of people?’ about every aspect of policy and decision-making.

“It’s not just ignorance. Government, the NHS and local authorities are not responding to enquiries from disabled people and DDPOs (Deaf and disabled people’s organisations) about urgent access issues.

“In some cases, the government is not even responding to legal correspondence until after court proceedings have been issued.

“If anyone else behaved like that, the courts would sanction them strongly.”

She added: “Until disabled people and other marginalised people’s groups are fully included in all areas of policy and decision-making, disabled people and others will experience unnecessary barriers which should never have existed in the first place.”

DHSC had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

11 June 2020

 

Coronavirus: Employers of PAs given just two days to digest vital new ‘furlough’ guidance

Disabled people who use direct payments and wanted to take advantage of the government’s coronavirus job scheme were given just two days to digest vital new guidance.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows employers to claim for 80 per cent of their employee’s wages if they have put them on “furlough” – a temporary leave of absence – because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The scheme is being extended until the end of October, but it will close to new entrants from 30 June.

From that point, employers will only be able to claim for employees they have already furloughed for at least three weeks.

This means the deadline for employees to agree with their employers to be placed on the scheme was yesterday (10 June).

But there have been months of confusion over whether disabled people who use direct payments to pay their personal assistants (PAs) can take advantage of the job scheme.

Among those who highlighted this was artist-activist Jess Thom, co-founder of Touretteshero, in a blog she wrote in early April, more than two months ago.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has now finally produced detailed new guidance on how people receiving direct payments could join the scheme – but it was only published on Monday, just two days before the furlough deadline.

The guidance says the scheme should only be used by employers of PAs in “exceptional circumstances”, but it includes a series of examples of situations in which it could and should be used, including when a PA needs to shield or has caring responsibilities, or the disabled person prefers to have support temporarily from a family member instead of a PA.

The disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London said the failure to publish the guidance until just two days before the furlough deadline will have excluded many disabled people who employ PAs from taking advantage of the scheme.

Long-awaited guidance to help users of direct payments cope with the pandemic was published on 7 May but it only included limited information about furloughing PAs through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

It stated that its use should be “minimal” and may only be appropriate in “a small number of cases”, while the disabled PA-employer would “need to explain why this is the case when processing your claim for furlough”.

Monday’s guidance was far more extensive, focused solely on the furlough scheme, and included four detailed case studies.

Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, told Disability News Service (DNS): “From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, disabled people have been discriminated against, forgotten, and in some cases abandoned as policymakers have ignored our needs.

“Or, at best, considered them as an afterthought.

“Many disabled people who use direct payments were left in limbo without advice or support.

“The government’s guidance for direct payments users was issued weeks later compared to other social care settings, and many have not heard from their local authorities.”

She added: “People who use direct payments have had conflicting advice on whether they could furlough their staff.

“This is just another egregious example of too little too late and in practice excludes disabled people who employ personal assistants and care workers from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

“We urge the government, therefore, to extend the deadline for direct payments users.”

Thom was another who raised concerns, saying on Twitter: “Once again disabled people haven’t been treated equally.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting vulnerable and disabled people through every stage of this pandemic and continue to work across government to ensure that information and guidance is accessible.

“Guidance on furloughing, which applies to direct payment holders as employers, has been publicly available since the scheme was launched.

“We also published tailored FAQs [frequently asked questions] for direct payment holders in early May, and shared an additional resource this week with example scenarios to further illustrate existing policy.”

11 June 2020

 

Activist’s book takes aim at charities ‘who facilitated war on disabled people’

A new book by a leading disabled activist has accused disability charities of being more interested in their own survival than in defending disabled people from a decade of cuts and oppression.

In The War on Disabled People*, published next week, Ellen Clifford accuses charities of “actively facilitating the Tories’ war on disabled people”.

In the book, Clifford seeks to write the history of a “pivotal” moment in the history of the disabled people’s movement – the decade since the election of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in May 2010 – from the perspective of a disabled activist.

It was a decade, she says, when the UK government “went to war on disabled people”.

But rather than fighting against those governments, the disability charities that claim to represent disabled people have instead provided cover for successive Tory-led governments to make savage cuts to their support, she says.

She particularly targets the big disability charities such as Mencap, Leonard Cheshire, Scope and Mind, which – in 2017-18 – had a combined annual turnover of nearly £500 million, and where “outspoken criticism of the government is avoided in favour of opportunities to work in partnership”.

Clifford has been a key figure in the success of the grassroots group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which she argues helped push disabled activists to the forefront of the anti-austerity movement.

In the final third of her book, she takes aim at the disability charities that have done “too little in the face of the onslaught against disabled people”, too easily “eclipse the voices of disabled people”, and are “actively facilitating the Tories’ war on disabled people”.

Clifford says: “The fact that charities continue to work with the govern­ment encourages a belief that everything is essentially OK.

“This is based on a failure to appreciate that the bottom line for these charities is not to do with the treatment of disabled people but their own organisational interests.”

Ultimately, she says, “corporatised charities are invested in maintaining the status quo as opposed to the full transformation of society that is required to free disabled people from oppression”.

Quoting the late Debbie Jolly, co-founder of DPAC, she says the con­tinued existence of the charities “demands that disabled people are oppressed, vilified and subjugated”.

She is also critical of the Time to Change mental health campaign which – with support from politicians such as David Cameron and Nick Clegg – she said mainly provided cover for politicians to make “savage cuts to mental health services”.

Another initiative she criticises is the “Purple Pound” initiative, which aims to persuade business of the profits they will reap by welcoming disabled people into inclusive and accessible shops, restaurants, pubs and clubs.

Clifford argues that “by far the most accessible premises on the high street are those belonging to businesses targeted at people on low incomes” such as pound shops, chains such as J D Wetherspoon, and betting shops.

She says: “They would seem to understand the disability demographic far better than disability organisations frantic to prove that there is a valued place for disabled people within capitalism.”

The last decade, says Clifford, has seen a return to grassroots activism, following a decline in the disabled people’s movement from the mid-1990s.

She points out that the successes that have been won have not just been through the direct action through which DPAC made its name, but also from research, lobbying and legal challenges.

There was also – probably DPAC’s greatest success – the triggering of an unprecedented inquiry by the United Nations which led to the conclusion that the UK government was guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

As well as writing her book from the viewpoint of a disabled activist, Clifford writes from a determinedly left-wing, anti-capitalist viewpoint.

She sets the scene for the last decade by describing some of the discrimination and exclusion, hostility and oppression that disabled people have faced over the last couple of centuries, and links that to the rise of capitalism over the same period.

She also describes how disabled people have been targeted through welfare reform and cuts to social care under successive Tory-led governments.

Clifford describes the impact of those cuts and reforms, both in terms of the human costs of rising poverty, benefit-related deaths and psychological harm, and the wider social impact on disabled people, such as re-segregation, institutionalisation and hate crime.

She says the key lesson of the 2019 general election – which led to a huge majority for a right-wing Tory government – is that “we cannot defer our fightback to the ballot box and the promise of a future change of government.

“We need to lead with grassroots resistance.”

There is also a detailed account of how DPAC led the resistance to cuts that have targeted disabled people.

She quotes fellow DPAC steering group member Andy Greene, who said: “From demos outside buildings to blocking roads, to taking the fight to government members’ front doorsteps and then onto occupying their depart­ments, to assembling a camp under the shadow of parliament. We’ve fought the battle on our terms every time.”

Clifford concludes that disabled people’s oppression is caused by the way society is organised, and that even a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government might not have ended that oppression.

“There were many policy commitments within the 2015 and 2017 Labour manifestos that would have been ground-breaking for disabled people,” she says in the book.

“But as long as we live under capitalism, there will always be the threat of cuts and regressions and a need for struggle.”

She writes: “It is not inevitable that people with impairments should be excluded and discriminated against, but it is inevitable that policies under a capitalist state will tend to treat less favourably those who are unable to be as productive in the workforce.”

But she also concludes that disabled people must take action themselves to secure the societal changes they want to see, writing: “Disabled people’s experiences since 2010 have taught us that looking to those in power to make everything better only ends in disappointment; to guarantee the changes we need, it is up to us to take action and demand those changes.”

*The War on Disabled People: Capitalism, Welfare and the Making of a Human Catastrophe, by Ellen Clifford, published by Zed Books, is available in paperback at £12.99. ISBN: 978-1-78699-664-0. A summary of the main points and arguments in the book, with pictures, and a British Sign Language translation of that summary, will be published on the Zed Books website

11 June 2020

 

Coronavirus: Government’s actions on shielding MPs ‘are backwards step for democracy’

The government’s continuing failure to allow shielding MPs to take a full part in the business of the House of Commons during the pandemic crisis is a “significant backwards step for democratic process”, the equality and human rights watchdog has warned.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) spoke out after the government refused again to allow MPs who are most at risk from coronavirus to take part in Commons debates from their homes.

EHRC’s comments came in the wake of the decision by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory leader of the house, to end the “hybrid” arrangements that allowed some MPs to attend parliament and others to take part in debates and vote online from home.

Following a government climbdown, MPs who are “clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable” should now be allowed to vote through a proxy system – arranging for another MP to vote on their behalf – and question ministers and respond to ministerial statements remotely.

But Rees-Mogg is still refusing to allow them to take part in debates, arguing during an emergency debate on Monday that “our physical presence here is important to make democracy work”.

Labour’s Vicky Foxcroft, the shadow minister for disabled people, who is self-isolating because of a long-term health condition and so is not able to attend parliament, has not ruled out taking legal action over the government’s actions.

She told Disability News Service that shielded and disabled people “continue to feel like an afterthought” for the government during the pandemic crisis.

She said: “We had a system in place that worked perfectly well, yet the government chose not to continue with it.

“I really cannot understand this decision.”

As well as being prevented from taking part in debates, she has not yet been told how she will be able to use her proxy vote.

She said the government’s actions were “completely outrageous and not inclusive”.

She added: “Parliament should be leading the way on how workplaces can adapt during this crisis.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC’s chief executive, said the government’s move to stop shielding MPs like Foxcroft taking part in debates was “unnecessary and a significant backwards step for democratic process”.

She said: “Effective parliamentary decision-making depends on the broadest perspectives and contributions from all members and all lived experience.

“Members must not be excluded from debates because they, or their family members, are shielding or self-isolating or because of caring responsibilities.”

And she called on parliament to “show leadership to all employers in respecting diversity and inclusivity”.

During Monday’s emergency debate, Rees-Mogg said: “I have every sympathy with members who feel that the constraints of the pandemic prevent them from being able to attend in Westminster.”

But he said he believed that MPs “who participate in the decision-making process of the house ought and need to do so in person”.

And he also added: “We are doing our duty in leading the way. Our constituents will not entertain the notion that we should ask parents to send their children back to school while we choose to remain at home.”

But Tory MP Mark Harper, a former minister for disabled people, said he did not see why shielding MPs could not be allowed to take part in debates from their home.

He said: “I accept that it may be too complicated and simply not possible to enable them to intervene, and they may have to accept that their participation is not quite as it would be if they were here, but I do think it is important that they are at least able to speak in debate, on behalf of their constituents.”

Labour’s Chris Bryant said: “All members should be able to participate, not only in urgent questions, statements and questions, but in all the business of the house.”

He added: “​We are one of the oldest parliaments in the world. We should be the best at adapting to modern circumstances and to the difficulties of the moment, not the worst.”

And the Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael, who secured the debate, said the government was breaching the principle of “the equality of participation and access to all who are elected to this house”.

He said the government had made “an error of judgment of potentially catastrophic magnitude”.

11 June 2020

 

Labour’s new DWP shadow attacked for ‘toxic’ comments on social security

Labour’s new shadow work and pensions secretary is facing anger from disabled activists and politicians after he said that people who “put more in” to the social security system should “get more out of it” if they lose their jobs.

Among those to criticise the comments made by Jonathan Reynolds was Kerena Marchant, a Deaf campaigner who stood for Labour at the last general election.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has written an open letter, accusing Reynolds of “toxic” statements, and later accused Labour of “fundamental ignorance around disabled people’s oppression”.

In an article for the Politics Home website, Reynolds said he wanted to see a social security system in which “if you put more in, you get more out of it”.

He added: “One of the reasons that support for social security has diminished amongst parts of the country is the sense that people put into the system and they don’t get anything out of it.”

But DPAC said such comments were “highly irresponsible” because they would “set social group against social group” and would “only lead to further social division and stoke hate”.

DPAC pointed out in the letter that disabled people face “huge barriers in terms of discrimination and lack of access” and so contribute less on average in national insurance than non-disabled people, as do black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, women and young people.

Marchant said she agreed with DPAC.

She said such a policy “really threatens the people I work with, who will never work by reason of disability” and so will be unable to “pay more into a system to take more out”.

She told Disability News Service: “It’s a betrayal of socialism and disabled people and other minorities.”

Another open letter, this time written by disabled Labour activist Gail Ward, has been signed so far by more than 200 Labour and disabled activists and allies.

Ward said Reynolds’ comments showed “backward thinking” in the Labour party, and she added: “The idea that those who have paid less into the system should get less, is nothing short of discrimination and any party pushing this ideology should be ashamed of themselves.”

In the interview with Politics Home, Reynolds also repeated Labour’s support for reform of the work capability assessment; making statutory sick pay more widely available and more generous; and ending the means-tested element of universal credit.

He also called for the temporary £20-a-week increase in universal credit to continue after the pandemic is over, and to also be applied to legacy benefits like jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance.

A Labour spokesperson said: “Disability benefits are not contributory and never should be.

“Under the Conservatives, social security in general and disability benefits in particular have been undermined and cut for ideological reasons, leaving too many people without the support they need.

“That is the opposite of what a social security system is for.”

Despite Disability News Service pointing out that this did not respond to the points raised in the letters from disabled activists, he declined to comment further.

A DPAC spokesperson said: “Labour’s response fails to address any of our substantive concerns.

“They still seem to be saying that people who are not able to work will get less than those who are.

“They appear oblivious to any concept of equal life chances. The more they respond, the more they are exposing a fundamental ignorance around disabled people’s oppression.

“This confirms that despite policy commitments and pledges made under the previous Labour leadership, an understanding of disability issues was never embedded in the party.

“The belief held by certain elements within the party that they need to be seen to be tough on welfare clearly never went away.

“This approach is a mistake. It will lose them support and cost votes.

“We are aware that Jonathan Reynolds is reaching out to individual disabled people who have criticised him over this.

“Our message to him is that warm words are not enough. We need solid policy commitments based on principles of dignity and fairness for all benefit claimants.”

11 June 2020

 

Disabled people forced to fight for right to live ordinary lives, MPs hear

#fight

Disabled people are being forced to fight for their right to live ordinary lives because of the flawed and under-resourced social care system, MPs have been told by a disabled campaigner.

Anna Severwright told members of the Commons health and social care committee on Tuesday that she and other users of council-funded care and support were unable to live normal lives because of cuts to their support packages.

She said the system was characterised by fear, a lack of trust and unfairness.

She said: “People my age talk about it being a fight, fighting the system, and that constant sort of sense that we are having to fight for our rights and fight to have a life.”

Severwright, a former doctor who lives with multiple long-term conditions, told MPs that local authorities were reacting to the funding restraints in the social care system by trying to “claw back a bit of control” from those, like her, who receive direct payments to employ their own personal assistants.

She was giving evidence to the committee (see from 10.20am onwards) as part of its social care inquiry.

She currently receives 31 hours a week in council-funded support, of which about 20 hours is for personal care that keeps her “fed, clean and watered”, with less than 12 hours for “social inclusion”.

She described how she tweeted last year about her fear of having her support package cut so it is even lower than this.

She said: “It makes me feel sick to think that my review is coming up because it is so out of my control and those hours could be cut, and so many people got in touch and said they felt the same.

“It’s such a scary time for us when we are under review. I know so many people who have had their hours cut, often by up to a third, just like that.

“That’s a third less life that that person can effectively be getting on with and living.”

Severwright, co-chair of the Coalition for Collaborative Care, said that being on direct payments had lost some of its flexibility as funding had grown ever tighter and “the system and the local authorities have tried to claw back a bit of control”.

She told the committee: “There’s an awful lot of scrutiny now over how we use our money, a lot of rules and things we can’t spend money on, and it certainly doesn’t feel that direct payments is giving us that choice and control that it was designed to.

“There’s quite a big power imbalance at the moment and a lot of fear. I get letters quite regularly in bold saying, ‘If you do not return this letter in 14 days, your direct payment may be stopped.’

“It’s that kind of relationship with the local authority, rather than one of trust and working together to enable people to be getting on with our lives.”

Severwright also criticised the system that led many older people to be placed in care homes.

She told the committee: “I have never met anybody in their 50s, 60s, 70s who says to me, ‘I hope when I get a bit older and frailer my family will put me in a care home.’

“I meet people all the time who say, ‘Don’t let them send me to a home.’

“We shouldn’t have a system that people fear having to need in their older age.”

She was also critical of the means assessment system that meant she had no incentive to save, while there was no lifetime cap on the financial contributions she makes to her care package, which would not apply if she received NHS funding for her support.

She told MPs: “I’m really grateful for the care I receive. It keeps me fed, it keeps me clean, it keeps me watered.

“But I really feel I’m not able to be living a normal life. I don’t have enough hours to be able to go out at the weekends, in the evenings, and just do a lot of the normal things that make life worth living for us.

“I find myself in the position quite regularly where I have to think, ‘Well, I’ve only got two hours left this week, do I want to do food shopping, do I want another shower or do I want to go and meet up with a friend?’ and that’s quite a hard place to have to live your life.”

She called for a new system that allowed disabled and older people to have “an ordinary and a good life like everyone else, to be part of the community, live in our own homes, be able to contribute to society, because we have a lot to offer”.

11 June 2020

 

Round-up: Failing justice system, arts leaders speak out, and Scotland’s shielding caution

The criminal justice system is failing many disabled people and needs reform to ensure they receive a fair trial, according to a new report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The watchdog said the system in England, Wales and Scotland was failing people with learning difficulties, autistic people and those with brain injuries, and was not “systematically” recognising their needs.

Its inquiry – which focused on the pre-trial process – concludes that many people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions are not identified and so are not provided with the adjustments they need to participate properly in the legal process.

It follows an interim report, published in April, which warned of the risks to disabled people’s human rights posed by the rapid increase in the use of video technology in the criminal justice system in England and Wales during the COVID-19 crisis.

Today’s (Thursday) final inquiry report says the framework to provide adjustments for disabled defendants and those accused of crimes is “inadequate”.

It also says that too many legal professionals “do not have adequate training” to deal appropriately with disabled people.

A recurring theme, it says, is the “overuse of complicated legal language and terms”.

The report says: “Many of the defendants and accused people who responded to our survey said they did not understand everything they were charged with, and understood only some or none of what the judge said during their hearings.”

One magistrate in England told EHRC: “I think there’s an element of luck. I think the whole stage from the police arresting through what happens in the police station, through to the court; there’s an element of luck of whether there’s a difficulty and whether the difficulty is recognised.”

More than 100 leading disabled artists and cultural leaders have called on the culture secretary to take action to protect the future of disability arts in the UK.

In a letter to Oliver Dowden, and culture ministers in the UK’s devolved governments, they warn that the coronavirus pandemic has left many disabled artists “facing long term shielding, a total loss of income, compromised independent living and the risk of invisibility in wider society”.

They call on the government and the sector “to ensure the progress we have collectively made does not falter in this moment of crisis” and to prioritise and celebrate disabled artists, employees and audiences.

The letter adds: “The renewal and recovery of the wider cultural industries must be guided by a fully inclusive approach informed by disabled creative professionals to strengthen the accessibility of the sector and implement the learning from this crisis about home working and online access.”

The open letter was organised by the new UK disability arts alliance #WeShallNotBeRemoved, an “emergency response” to COVID-19 that is led by disabled people working across the UK’s creative industries.

Its signatories include the government’s own disability champion for arts and culture, Andrew Miller; Jenny Sealey, chief executive of Graeae; Tony Heaton, chair of Shape Arts; Trish Wheatley, chief executive of Disability Arts Online; actor and writer Mat Fraser; Graeae founder and activist Nabil Shaban; musician Dame Evelyn Glennie; artist Tanya Raabe-Webber; performer Jess Thom; and musician and activist John Kelly.

The Scottish government has taken a more cautious approach than the UK government to relaxing guidance on when people shielding from COVID-19 should be able to leave their homes.

The Scottish government’s updated guidance was released days after Disability News Service reported how many disabled people had questioned the UK government’s decision to ease its own stringent guidance.

The UK government decided last week that those shielding in England could now leave their homes for outdoor exercise.

But the new guidance for the 2.2 million people in England seen as “clinically extremely vulnerable” also said that those living alone could spend time outdoors with one person from another household, ideally the same person each time, although they should continue to “take precautions” and “maintain strict social distancing”.

In contrast, the Scottish government’s new guidance says that people who have been shielding should only go outdoors from 18 June and “should not meet people from other households”.

Increasing numbers of disabled and older people believe the government is not doing enough to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey suggests.

The survey by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC) is the third it has carried out since the start of the crisis into the impact of the pandemic on disabled and older people.

The first survey (published in early April) found 45 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the government was doing enough to help disabled and older people during the crisis, while the second survey (published early last month) found that had risen to 52 per cent.

Now the final survey, which had more than 750 responses, found that almost 60 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the government was doing enough.

The proportion who agreed or strongly agreed fell over the same period from 21 per cent to less than 15 per cent.

A mass legal action has been launched by 275 disabled people with high support needs over income they lost under universal credit rules.

The group have written to work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, arguing that they missed out on more than £170 a month because they were moved on to universal credit (UC) before January 2019.

This was the point at which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced a new “gateway” system for dealing with those claiming severe disability premium (SDP) under the legacy benefits system.

The gateway system aims to ensure that those previously entitled to SDP do not lose out, by halting their migration onto UC until next year at the earliest.

But the group of disabled people launching the legal claim say they were discriminated against by DWP because they were migrated onto UC before the gateway system was introduced.

They are seeking compensation for the money they lost following their transfer to UC, and also want their previous level of benefits to be restored and maintained until a “lawful” migration scheme is established, and compensation for the stress they have experienced.

Their solicitors, Leigh Day, believe that up to 13,000 disabled people in the UK have been affected and could be entitled to make a claim.

A separate, long-running legal case taken by two disabled men, TP and AR, who also lost out on SDP when they were forced onto UC – which is also being taken through Leigh Day – has been stayed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A leading disabled campaigner is set to publish a new “memoir, manual and manifesto” that he hopes will drive the fight for “face equality”.

In his book, FACE IT: Facial Disfigurement and My Fight for Face Equality, James Partridge describes his struggle to come to terms with the facial disfigurement he received from severe burns in a car fire in 1970, and how he founded the charity Changing Faces in 1992.

Partridge, now director of Face Equality International, says the book is also a self-help guide for people with facial differences who are “trying to live confident lives in our ‘perfect-face’ society”, as well as a manifesto and “call to action” for “human rights for all people with disfigurements worldwide”.

The book will be published on Monday and can be ordered through his website.

A new scheme hopes to train 40 young disabled Londoners in inclusive design and the accessibility of buildings and services over the next three years.

The Pathways programme by The Centre for Accessible Environments – part of the accessible housing provider Habinteg – aims to equip those taking part for a career in inclusive design and access.

The programme will be funded through a £322,000 grant from City Bridge Trust, and it will include two days of training a month for 12 months, as well as job shadowing and mentoring from industry experts.

Young disabled Londoners (aged 18-30) who are interested in the scheme – part of the trust’s Bridge to Work programme – can book a place at one of two virtual “taster” sessions, on 24 July and 9 September.

11 June 2020

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com