Election 2019: De Cordova pledges Labour will hold inquiry into DWP deaths

The shadow minister for disabled people has pledged at a public rally that a Labour government would hold an inquiry into the deaths of disabled people that have been linked to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings.

It is the first time that a Labour figure has publicly pledged to hold such an inquiry if it wins power, other than in comments made to Disability News Service (DNS).

Marsha de Cordova told a rally of disabled Labour supporters in central London on Monday that she was proud that her party had supported the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which itself had called for an inquiry into DWP-related deaths, and for any evidence of misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to the police.

She said that both she and Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who also spoke at the rally (see separate story), had signed the petition.

De Cordova said: “In government, we will make sure that that inquiry happens because it needs to happen because justice needs to be done.”

Although the inquiry pledge was not included in the party’s main manifesto, or even its disability manifesto, Labour has twice told DNS that it would be set up if it wins power tomorrow (Thursday), and a source has said the inquiry would examine the period from the introduction of universal credit in April 2013 to the end of this year.

Its remit would include examining the causes of deaths linked to DWP assessments.

The deaths of Paul DonnachieMark WoodDavid BarrLawrence BondDavid ClapsonSusan RobertsAlan McArdleJames Oliver, Michael O’Sullivan and Jodey Whiting – and many others – have all been linked to the failings of DWP and its contractors in the last seven years.

De Cordova told the rally that there had been a “systematic erosion of the rights of disabled people” in the last decade of Tory-led governments, including their rights to access public services.

She said: “We have fallen victim to that right-wing narrative that sees us as burdens to society rather than the citizens that we are with values and with potential and with respect.

“This is how this Tory government has created a hostile environment for disabled people.”

She pointed to repeated criticism of the UK’s disability rights record by the UN, which she said was “shameful” and “a shocking indictment of their austerity programme”.

And she said that this austerity programme was responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 people and that a Labour government was “the only chance we have to end that hostile environment”.

De Cordova said the party’s disability manifesto, Breaking Down Barriers, committed a Labour government to “build a society according to the social model of disability” by removing barriers facing disabled people in areas such as accessing social security, education, transport, employment, housing and independent living.

This will include working with disabled people to co-produce a replacement for the system of disability benefit assessments, with assessments carried out “in-house” – instead of by private sector contractors like Atos, Capita and Maximus – and through a “humane system to ensure we receive the support we are entitled to”.

And she said a Labour government would incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law.

She said: “I know that is going to be a huge challenge but we are committed to doing that, working with disabled people to ensure that we achieve this.”

De Cordova added: “Above all, a Labour government will ensure that nothing about us is going to be done without us, empowering disabled people and enhancing our voices.

“In a Labour government, every policy decision, every pledge, we will be co-producing with and for disabled people.”

11 December 2019


Election 2019: Shadow chancellor says disabled voters ‘will make Tories pay for austerity’

Disabled voters will tomorrow make the Conservatives pay for what they have done to them over the last decade of austerity, Labour’s shadow chancellor has told a rally of party activists.

John McDonnell told the pre-election rally of disabled Labour supporters in central London on Monday that activists had built a disability movement within the Labour party over the last 10 years which was so strong that it could not be ignored.

He said tomorrow’s general election was about disabled people “getting our own back” after 10 years of austerity and the repeated abuses of their human rights, as highlighted by the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

McDonnell told the rally that these abuses were “a bloody disgrace” and showed the “brutality of this current regime”.

He said: “They can’t ignore us because we won’t let them ignore us.

“All those demonstrations and occupations and public meetings and discussions, when we were in the face of people all the time, has worked.”

He said the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners thought in 2010 that they could target disabled people “and there would be no resistance”.

But McDonnell said: “What we have demonstrated over this near decade now is the fundamental resistance that we have organised.

“We have harassed them, we have shamed them, we have forced them to look at what the consequences of their actions are.

“And on Thursday, I tell you, by our votes we will make them pay for what they have done.”

McDonnell, who has consistently supported the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement over the last decade, also promised again that Labour would work with disabled people if it formed the next government.

He said: “This is not going to be like anything in the past. It is not about electing a group of Labour MPs who we expect to go off and change the world.

“That will never happen. We will only succeed because we will all go into government.”

He said that the party’s disability movement would “go into government” alongside its MPs to both “sustain” that government and “radicalise it at every stage”.

Among the areas that have been impacted by austerity, he highlighted homelessness and the more than 700 homeless people who died in England and Wales last year (an increase of more than a fifth on the previous year).

He said that “700 of our fellow citizens died out there” and most of them would have been disabled people, who often had not had the mental health support they had needed.

McDonnell added: “We are the fifth richest country in the world, and we have 700 fellow citizens dying on our streets. What does that say about the values of this government?”

He said a Labour government would launch – on its first day in office – a programme of support for homeless people, while it had also set aside “significant sums” for their mental health support and would start a huge house-building programme and “will be proud to call those homes that we build council houses”.

11 December 2019


Election 2019: Five parties make final pitches to disabled voters

Five political parties have made their final pitches to potential disabled voters on the eve of tomorrow’s general election.

Disability News Service (DNS) asked the Conservatives, the Green party, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP to explain in just 150 words why disabled people should vote for their party.

Only Plaid Cymru failed to respond in time for the deadline.

All five responses are reproduced below, in full (other than adjustments for DNS editorial style), in the order they were received.

The Liberal Democrats said: “For too many people, things aren’t working as they should.

“Disabled people are being let down by the welfare system, police-recorded hate crimes against disabled people have recently risen sharply, and the disability pay gap is being ignored by the Conservatives.

“Liberal Democrats want to build a brighter future for everyone who is disabled.

“That is why we are promising to reverse cuts to ESA [employment and support allowance] for the work-related activity group and scrap work capability assessments.

“We would replace them with a new system that is run by local authorities and is based on real-world tests.

“Liberal Democrats will also make all hate crimes aggravated offences and help the police identify and prevent them.

“We will reinstate the Independent Living Fund and increase accessibility of public places and transport.

“And we will tackle the pay gap by requiring all large companies to monitor and publish data on disability pay gaps.”

For Labour, Marsha De Cordova, shadow minister for disabled people, said: “The treatment of disabled people by the Conservatives, and their former Liberal Democratic coalition partners, has been nothing short of shameful.

“Devastating cuts to social security support and social care have created a hostile environment for disabled people.

“Labour is the only party with a manifesto developed by and for disabled people.

Breaking Down Barriers has been developed according to the principle of ‘nothing about you without you’. In government, Labour will embody that principle.

“We’ll ensure that disabled people are empowered to participate fully and equally in society.

“Labour will incorporate the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Disabled People into law, ensuring that all disabled people have access to education, employment, housing, justice, transport and the right to live independently.

“We will scrap universal credit and create a social security system that provides people with dignity and respect.

“Labour is on your side. Together we can build a more just and equal society.”

The SNP said: “Disabled people can’t afford another five years of the Tories.

“Every SNP MP will fight for a real end to austerity and a fairer deal for disabled people.

“With the limited powers we have in Scotland, we’re building a social security system built on dignity and respect which will significantly reduce face-to-face assessments for disability benefits.

“The SNP is committed to delivering fair work for all and the Scottish government is working to halve the disability employment gap by 2030.

“Through Fair Start we are also helping unemployed disabled people into work, and unlike the Tories, don’t ever use punitive benefit sanctions.

“Voters in Scotland could make the difference – and we could deny Boris Johnson a majority.

“Only the SNP can beat the Tories in Scotland. A vote for the SNP is a vote to escape Brexit and lock Boris Johnson out of power.”

The Conservatives said: “It is core to our beliefs as Conservatives that everyone should be able to fulfil their potential and that government does what it can to remove the barriers disabled people face.

“We have come a long way as a society in the way we support people with disabilities, but we recognise there is much more to do.

“We will start by cutting the number of reassessments that disabled people have to undergo to receive support.

“We will reduce the disability employment gap and we will publish a National Strategy for Disabled People before the end of 2020 that will take a broad approach to the challenges that disabled people face.

“Our record spending on the NHS includes specific measures to ensure disabled people get better quality treatment and can have greater control over their treatment.

“We want to empower disabled people and create a country where their talents and skills are truly recognised.”

The Green party said: “Disabled people should vote Green because we are committed to a fully inclusive society.

“We stood firm against austerity when everyone else compromised.

“We are advocating twice as much investment than any other party, and are the only party that wouldn’t just end austerity, but would reverse it.

“Our universal basic income would include a supplement for people with disabilities, to help restore benefits withdrawn over the past 10 years.

“Our policies are decided democratically by our members and we would extend this principle to decision-making by government and local councils.

“Co-production has massive benefits for people who use services, by making sure they properly meet the needs of those who use them.

“The Greens will encourage true co-production, with disabled people included from the start on decisions and plans about the services that affect them.

“Vote Green to say yes to Europe, and no to the Climate Emergency.”

11 December 2019


Election 2019: Tories ‘will abandon disabled people to dog-eat-dog culture’

The Conservative party wants the UK to follow America into becoming a “dog-eat-dog culture” where there is no support for disabled people, a comedian and activist has told a pre-election rally.

Francesca Martinez, who was speaking at a rally of disabled Labour supporters in central London on Monday, said her recent personal experience of the disability benefit assessment system had been “frustrating” and “humiliating” and left her feeling “very uneasy”.

She is being assessed for personal independence payment (PIP), the extra costs benefit introduced by the Tory-led coalition in 2013 and gradually rolled out to long-term working-age claimants of disability living allowance (DLA).

She said she was being reassessed for her eligibility, like many thousands of others, despite having been awarded lifelong DLA after she was tested as a six-year-old.

But Martinez said the PIP assessment process had been an insight into the “culture of blame” that has developed under nearly a decade of Conservative-led governments.

She said: “Going through the process has been incredibly humiliating [and] frustrating.

“Because I have been disabled all my life, I can honestly say that I really struggle with the notion of needing help.

“This current culture is humiliating because it makes people feel guilty for needing support.

“During my PIP assessment, when I had to list all the things I couldn’t do, it just reminded me of all the battles my teenage self had fought to be proud of myself, to love myself, to feel worthy despite needing help, and I won those battles but they took a lot of work.”

She said disabled people now lived in a society that was not only attacking their basic human rights but also “attacking and eroding our psychological wellbeing because they are making us feel that we don’t deserve or merit help”.

And she said that the government’s benefit reforms, despite being intended to cut spending, were making disabled people “less independent and more dependent on state help” and were costing tax-payers billions of pounds.

Martinez told the rally: “If these cuts and reforms are not about saving money, what are they about?

“I think they are about creating a culture where there is no compassion, there is no support network, there is no social responsibility and there is no expectation of help.

“Quite frankly, if the government doesn’t help sick or disabled people, they don’t have to help anybody.

“I think their aim is to turn us into a society like America, where American citizens do not have any expectation of any help; it’s a dog-eat-dog culture out there.

“Instead of being proud of being one of the world’s leaders in disability rights, we are following America, we are eroding all our hard-won rights.

“Instead of being proud of that and really nurturing that and protecting that, we are throwing that away and we are going backwards.

“I can honestly say support in many ways was better when I was a kid than now. That is not the way things should be.”

Martinez also told the rally that she was “astounded” that so few people knew the reality of the impact of austerity on disabled people, an issue the media had “largely ignored”.

She said: “One of the primary things we have to do is to start letting people know what’s happening in their country, in a supposedly civilised country.”

Another leading disabled activist, Kirsten Hearn, a Labour cabinet member on Haringey council, said everybody at the rally probably knew someone who had died “as a result of our cruel benefit system, as a result of not getting the right support”.

She said: “They make us leap through more and more difficult hoops, it becomes more and more entangled, we have to become more and more dexterous in the way that we argue against bureaucracy… as we fight to retain the DLA and PIP and independent living, and care packages, as we struggle to pay the rent or to keep a job, or to decide whether to eat or heat.”

11 December 2019


Election 2019: Labour promises move towards inclusive education system

Labour has committed itself to moving back towards an inclusive education system if it wins power in tomorrow’s general election (Thursday).

The pledge was made by Marsha de Cordova, the party’s shadow minister for disabled people, at a pre-election rally of disabled Labour activists in central London.

It is one of the few times that inclusive education has been raised as an issue during the general election campaign, with none of the main parties highlighting it as a key issue in their manifestos or making anything other than a passing reference.

But De Cordova, who was one of the few disabled MPs in the last parliament, said her party’s commitment to incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into UK law meant a Labour government would “have to move towards an inclusive education system”.

She told the rally, organised by inclusive education expert and rights activist Richard Rieser, that she herself had benefited from special educational needs (SEN) support at a mainstream school.

And she said it was “wrong” that so many young disabled people were now being forced out of the mainstream education system, often into pupil referral units.

She said: “It’s a scandal that we are moving backwards towards segregated education.”

Rieser said the impact of government austerity on inclusive education over the last decade had been “totally disastrous”, while reforms introduced by former Tory education secretary Michael Gove had been designed to “pull up the drawbridge on the kids who were slow learners”.

He said the gap between the academic achievement of disabled and non-disabled students had grown significantly under successive Tory-led governments.

Rieser said a Labour government would put inclusivity at the centre of its education policy.

He said that Labour’s commitment to implementing UNCRPD would mean developing inclusive education and gradually ridding the system of segregation.

And he told the rally that the last decade had seen a “runaway increase in special schools, free special schools and grants to independent special schools to grow”, reversing the reduction in segregation that had been achieved under the last Labour government.

11 December 2019


Election 2019: Minister thinks social care green paper does not exist

A senior Tory minister has admitted she believes that the government’s long-awaited green paper on adult social care does not actually exist.

The government has been promising to publish the green paper, which would lay out plans for addressing the adult social care funding crisis, for more than two years.

And Boris Johnson said in Downing Street in July after becoming prime minister: “… and so I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.”

But in October, a Tory cabinet minister admitted there was not even consensus within the government on how to solve the adult social care funding crisis, despite Johnson’s announcement in Downing Street.

And when Liz Truss, the secretary of state for international trade, was asked about the green paper at an election hustings in south-west Norfolk – Disability News Service has not been able to confirm exactly where or when it took place – she said her understanding was that it did not exist.

Truss was also forced to admit that her party’s manifesto did not include costed plans for social care reform, but only interim extra funding of £1 billion a year to fund the system in England (this covers funding for 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24, as an extra £1 billion for 2020-21 had already been announced).

The King’s Fund has said that this extra funding “is not enough to meet rising demand for care while maintaining the current quality and accessibility of services”.

Truss said a Conservative government would only work with other parties to develop “a consensus” on social care, which “has not yet happened”, and that any plan that emerged would have to ensure that “nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it”.

But when she was asked by an audience member “does the green paper actually exist?” she said: “Not as far as I’m aware.”

Neither the Conservatives nor Truss had responded to a request for a comment by 11am today (Wednesday).

11 December 2019


Lewisham commission hopes to put disabled people at heart of decision-making

A local authority has become the second in London to set up an independent, user-led commission to investigate the barriers faced by disabled residents.

Lewisham Disabled People’s Commission (LDPC) will be led by disabled people and will examine organisational, attitudinal and physical barriers faced by disabled adults in the borough, and how Lewisham council and others can address those barriers.

They will review key research and information and hear from local disabled residents and users of local services before producing a final report for the council, with recommendations for change.

The commission was set up after an election manifesto commitment by Lewisham Labour council candidates and will be chaired by disabled writer, poet and campaigner Jamie Hale, with its report expected in about a year’s time.

Hale said one of the key issues the commission would examine was the impact of social care charges.

He said: “I know from personal experience that when you live on benefits the adult social care charges can be enormous and wipe out most of your disposable income.

“While I no longer face these, I remain passionate about campaigning to abolish them.”

He said he had made it clear to the council that the direction and conclusions would be set independently by the commission and that it “will not be operating in the pocket of the council”.

The council has pledged to take the commission’s recommendations seriously but has not promised to implement them.

Hale said that likely recommendations such as abolishing care charges could have “significant budgetary implications”, but he said he hoped the council would implement many of the recommendations immediately, and “do the long term work necessary to implement the others”.

Hale said the commission was needed because of the impact of austerity on disabled people.

He said: “As [the work of Disability News Service] has noted, cuts to public services have disproportionately affected disabled people, and this is a situation that requires redress.

“Both the decisions taken around the cuts to be made and the cuts themselves need analysis, and the commission will be looking at the impact of this on disabled people, and what can be done differently in future.”

Lewisham no longer has a disabled people’s user-led organisation, following the closure of Lewisham Disability Coalition, which he said had left disabled people without an organisation working between them and the council, and without their own advice service.

Hale said: “One of the key things we will consider is how the council should relate to disabled people in an ongoing fashion to ensure disabled people are at the heart of making decisions that will affect us.”

Last year, the user-led Hammersmith and Fulham Disabled People’s Commission produced a pioneering report on how to remove the barriers disabled people faced in their London borough by embedding a culture of genuine co-production within the council.

Now LDPC is hoping to follow in its path.

Hale said the work and report in Hammersmith and Fulham had helped him understand the possibilities of such a commission.

He said: “We hope to report back both on specific changes the council should make to decisions and to decision-making processes, and the focus on the Hammersmith and Fulham commission on co-production has been interesting.

“I hope to meet with members of that commission to learn about their experience of their work, and what impact their recommendation of coproduction has really had – whether it was as effective as they had hoped.”

He said he believed an emphasis on a culture of co-production within the council would also be important in Lewisham.

He said: “I think we will make quickly achievable recommendations, recommendations that are aspirational and shape changes we would like to see in the long term, like abolishing care charges, and recommendations to change how decisions are made within the council, and it is there that coproduction – when done properly instead of as a token or to rubber-stamp harmful decisions – is likely to be a focus of our work.”

Another member of the commission, Richard Amm, told DNS: “The commission is important because it is an opportunity for actual disabled people to have their say about how local government affects our daily lives.”

He said he hoped its work would “make things fairer and more accessible” for disabled people in the borough.

Four other disabled people have already been appointed to the commission, which is seeking to recruit up to six more disabled local residents who have a commitment to promoting the rights of disabled people*.

Hale said: “I’m really keen to reach out to people who might not have realised they can be part of something like this and encourage them to apply.

“With a broad and diverse coalition of commissioners I believe we can make some real changes in the borough.”

Cllr Jonathan Slater, Lewisham council’s cabinet member for the community sector, said: “Lewisham is a welcoming borough and we are determined that it is accessible and open to all.

“Jamie’s experience means he is well-placed to lead Lewisham’s Disabled People’s Commission and I am very excited about the positive difference it will make to our residents with disabilities.”

*The closing date for applications is 6 January 2020

11 December 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com