Jailed conman who targeted disabled people ‘defrauded hundreds’

Hundreds of disabled people are believed to have fallen victim to a “manipulative” fraudster who posed as a lawyer to steal money they were owed from discrimination cases, and then launched legal actions against them if they complained.

Karl Lindon was jailed for three years after being found guilty by a jury at Guildford Crown Court this week of five counts of theft from disabled people, worth more than £50,000 in total.

Surrey police said Lindon, 35, from Louvaine Road, Wandsworth, south-west London, had scammed “numerous” people out of money.

In each of the five cases, the victims turned to Lindon to help them secure money they had been awarded through the civil courts, even though he had no legal qualifications.

Lindon secured the money in each of the five cases but despite the victims continually confronting him, he denied ever having received the funds.

Detective constable Sheena Service, who led the case against Lindon for Surrey police, said: “This was a terrible crime where the offender took advantage of a number of vulnerable people and manipulated their trust to con them out of huge sums of money – which clearly had a devastating impact on their lives.”

But Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal that campaigners who have fought for seven years to bring Lindon to justice believe he has stolen money from hundreds of disabled people across the country, through his company Disability Claims Management (DCM), and other online organisations he set up.

And they are furious that regulators and other police forces repeatedly failed to act, despite being told that Lindon was a dangerous and manipulative conman.

Lindon, a former Ministry of Defence press officer, was previously jailed for three years in 2007 and placed on the sex offenders register for life, after admitting distributing child pornography to an online network of paedophiles.

But this did not stop him setting up DCM after his release from prison, probably in 2009, and targeting disabled people who had suffered discrimination in provision of services and as employees.

DNS has spoken to two of Lindon’s victims who gave evidence during his lengthy trial, and who have described the devastating impact of his crimes.

One of them was disabled activist Adam Lotun, who originally instructed Lindon to take on a case relating to disability discrimination by British Gas in 2009.

Lindon’s incompetence led to the case being struck out. But when Lotun complained, Lindon threatened him with defamation – a pattern repeated with many of his victims – and then sued him in the county court in 2011 for thousands of pounds of fees he claimed he was owed.

The courts eventually threw out Lindon’s claims – after he repeatedly lodged appeals against court orders and failed to turn up for hearings – because he was not a qualified lawyer, and he agreed to pay Lotun’s costs in February 2012.

Lotun has been warning other disabled people about Lindon, offering them support, and trying to persuade the police to take action, since 2010.

He believes that hundreds of people were defrauded by Lindon, and he himself has been in contact with about 100 of them, while new victims are still coming forward.

He believes that cuts to legal aid force disabled people and others into the hands of fraudsters like Lindon “because they have nowhere else to turn”.

Lotun said in a Facebook post that Lindon often manipulated police officers to stop investigating his own actions and “turned them against the people who called them for help”.

And he described how Lindon would “use the legal system to take out false actions against DCM clients and then use bailiffs to remove goods to the value of thousands of pounds, leaving old aged pensioners and disabled people fighting ever more costly battles to try and get justice”.

Lotun said he believed that the five charges heard at Guildford Crown Court were only “the tip of a very large iceberg of victims”.

On one of his websites, Lindon claimed his company had processed more than £2.6 million in claims.

Lotun told DNS: “He’s a narcissist, he preyed on people’s vulnerability, on the fact that they were desperate and were seeking guidance and help from someone who would believe them.

“This was the only way they could get any form of justice. But Lindon just didn’t care.”

He said police were told about Lindon many times but failed to act, until Surrey police took on the case.

Chris Fry, from equality law experts Unity Law, who has been acting for Lotun in an effort to retrieve the money he is owed, said Lindon now owes Lotun and Unity Law nearly £40,000.

He said a whole string of public bodies, including police forces, failed to act to stop Lindon.

He said: “It has been a mystery to me why nobody has done anything about it.

“What I was struck with was the number of people who said they had spoken to the police and they had refused to do anything.

“The excuse given to people was that it was a civil matter when it was really theft and fraud.”

The concerns were first exposed in the media four years ago by disabled journalist Sunil Peck, who at the time was writing for the online publication Disability Now.

His article helped alert other victims to the campaigning efforts of Lotun and Fry.

Angela*, another of Lindon’s victims who gave evidence in the trial, contacted Lindon in the spring of 2010 because she was trying to take a case of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination against her former employer.

Lindon told her he had a 99 per cent success rate with such cases, but she now realises that he lied to her repeatedly.

He persuaded her to lower the amount of compensation she was seeking by more than £100,000 and then lied about the settlement he secured from her former employer.

It took her months to find out the truth – that she had been awarded £12,000 rather than the £27,500 Lindon had claimed, and that he had spent most of her settlement on his own business.

He also claimed Angela owed him £8,000 to pay for a barrister who had acted for her in the case, but she says this barrister never existed, and the jury believed her.

She said she had tried reporting Lindon’s crimes to another police force, but that they “just shoved it aside and said it was a civil matter”, before she eventually contacted Surrey police when she heard they had arrested him over another offence.

After she contacted the police, Lindon sent her a letter threatening her with defamation and slander.

She told DNS: “He was just constantly lying. The man is such a fraudster.”

Angela said there were many other victims who had not yet been heard.

She has also been told that some of his victims have taken their own lives as a result of the damage Lindon has caused, because of his bullying.

She said: “A lot of [his victims] are intimidated but morally something had to be done, the way he has destroyed a lot of people.

“He is targeting the most vulnerable. Even during his evidence he said he was going to sue us and take us to court.”

She said Lindon had dominated her life for the last six years and had ruined her career.

Previously comfortably off, she has now been left tens of thousands of pounds in debt.

Disabled activist Mark White has been supporting disabled people who have been ripped off by Lindon for the last seven years.

He said the fraudster would take on discrimination cases, hoping the other side – often a former employer – would settle the claim.

If they failed to settle, Lindon would wait until the evening before the court hearing and then claim that his own client had breached their contract with him and that he could no longer represent them and was going to sue them for his own costs.

Clients from across the country were told that they would have to get to a county court in London – where Lindon appears to have filed all of his cases – by 9am the next morning.

White said the defendants would often file an immediate application for the case to be thrown out, and another for Lindon’s disabled client to pay their costs, which the court would usually agree because there was no-one in court to oppose the applications.

White said: “I have seen people suicidal as a result of his actions. I have had to call ambulances for people as a result of what he has done.”

He has personally supported more than 20 people who have had problems with DCM, and another 30 or so people harmed by Lindon’s other companies, and many of them suffered serious financial damage.

He said a whole string of regulatory bodies had been negligent by failing to act, despite repeated complaints being made about Lindon’s actions.

White said: “Lindon created scheme after scheme after scheme after scheme. Every watchdog who should have sniffed out what was going on, they all turned away.”

He said he believed the Lindon case demonstrated the “contempt and institutional attitudes around disability. They believed it was just a bunch of uppity crips squabbling.”

White said he could only feel a slight sense of satisfaction that Lindon had now been jailed because of the “level of discrimination, institutional abuse, negligence and the level of indifference that so many professionals have shown” over the last seven years.

*Not her real name

12 May 2016

 

 

Crabb’s mixed signals on fresh disability benefit cuts

The new work and pensions secretary has sent out mixed signals on whether he wants to make further cuts to spending on disability benefits.

Stephen Crabb, who was appointed after the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith in March, was giving evidence for the first time to the Commons work and pensions select committee yesterday (11 April).

He referred at least six times during the evidence session to the number of disabled people who had been “parked” on sickness and disability benefits, and said that addressing this issue was one of his three current priorities.

He said there were more than a million working-age people who were claiming both employment and support allowance (ESA) and either personal independence payment (PIP) or disability living allowance, as well as another million people claiming just ESA.

He said: “I want to really think about this problem not from a position of setting ourselves a monetary figure of what we are trying to cut off the budget but actually understand what government can do at all levels, particularly at a local level, that creates lasting change.”

Crabb stressed that moves towards closer links between DWP and the Department of Health – including the controversial policy of placing welfare-to-work advisors from a discredited US outsourcing giant in GP practices – would continue under his leadership.

He said that it was not acceptable to “park millions of people on benefits for decades, out of reach of any really serious support and intervention” from “our people in jobcentres or from people in GP surgeries”.

Crabb told the committee that he had abandoned Duncan Smith’s plans to publish a white paper with “firm legislative proposals” this spring, and would instead be publishing a “much more discursive green paper” that “points the way towards more meaningful long-term reform”.

Labour MP Neil Coyle, a former director of Disability Rights UK, pointed out that Duncan Smith had resigned because he said he believed the Treasury was forcing DWP to make too many cuts to disabled people’s support, and he asked Crabb whether he agreed with Duncan Smith or the Treasury when it came to spending cuts to disability benefits.

Crabb said he had secured the agreement of the Treasury and the prime minister that the proposed £4 billion in cuts to PIP spending – abandoned after Duncan Smith’s resignation – would not be taken from other parts of the welfare budget.

He insisted that the £12 billion in cuts to welfare spending promised in the Tory election manifesto had already been legislated for or announced, while his press office later stated that this figure “did not include savings associated with changes to PIP”.

But Crabb promised the committee that welfare reform would continue.

He said: “Does that mean welfare reform comes to an end, and I would say no.”

But it was not clear whether this meant that he wanted to see further cuts to spending, although he hinted strongly that it did.

He said: “In terms of how you make progress with welfare reform in there, when you’re talking about people who are very vulnerable, with multiple barriers, challenges in work, people with sicknesses and disabilities, I am pretty clear in my mind that you can’t just set targets for cutting welfare expenditure when you’re talking about those cohorts of people.

“You have actually got to come up with some pretty smart strategies for doing it, which carry the support and the permission of those people and organisations who represent those people who we are talking about.”

He said this was why he wanted to publish a green paper later this year on employment support for sick and disabled people, which “starts to reframe discussion around this set of issues”.

Despite his friendlier tone than his predecessor – one journalist described the atmosphere in the session as “pally” – his comments alarmed some commentators and political opponents, with one newspaper reporting that Crabb had “signalled his intention to cut expenditure on disability benefits through further reform to the welfare system”.

The Green Party’s work and pensions spokesman Jonathan Bartley agreed, and tweeted: “Under 2 months since Work and Pensions Sec said ‘no further plans’ for welfare cuts. Now seems more on the way.”

And Owen Smith, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said that Crabb’s decision to publish a green paper instead of a white paper meant the Tories were “breaking their promise to quickly publish firm plans on supporting disabled people into work”.

He said ministers had “bought off their own rebels with a promise to have a firm plan in place by the summer”, after Tory backbench unease about plans to cut almost £30 a week from payments to new claimants of ESA placed in the work-related activity group from next April.

Smith said: “The flimsy case for the cuts to ESA is now totally blown apart by this broken promise and the Tories must listen to Labour’s calls for them to be reversed.”

Meanwhile, the benefits advice charity Turn2us has revealed that almost half of low income households are not claiming the benefits and tax credits they could be entitled to.

The Turn2us survey found that 57 per cent of those not receiving this support said they had been deterred from checking or claiming potential entitlements because they did not think they would be eligible, while a quarter of disabled people not receiving support believed recent benefit changes had made it too difficult to apply.

The survey results were released as the charity launched its 2016 Benefits Awareness Campaign, which aims to “help more people in financial hardship access the benefits support available to them”.

12 May 2016 

 

 

Crabb hints at lengthy delays to manifesto pledge on disability jobs gap

The new work and pensions secretary has suggested the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap will face lengthy delays, after he said he wanted to spend a “few years” testing how to achieve the target.

Stephen Crabb, who was appointed after the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith in March, was giving evidence for the first time to the Commons work and pensions select committee.

Tory ministers have repeatedly referred to their commitment to halving the gap of about 30 percentage points between the employment rates of disabled people (less than 50 per cent) and non-disabled people (about 80 per cent).

Halving the gap would mean finding jobs for more than one million more disabled people.

Last year’s general election manifesto said a Conservative government would “aim to halve the disability employment gap”, one of just eight mentions of the words “disabled” or “disability” in the 84-page document.

Labour MP Neil Coyle, a former director of Disability Rights UK, asked Crabb what “milestones” he would use to measure the success of the “very welcome and ambitious manifesto commitment” to halve the disability employment gap, when the proportion of working-age disabled people in work had fallen over the last six years.

Disability Rights UK has stressed the importance of setting milestones, in its submission to the committee’s inquiry into halving the gap, pointing out that “interim targets could be expected to drive institutional change and it could be expected that the government would wish to know if it was on track”.

But Crabb said that rather than setting interim targets for narrowing the gap, he wanted instead to focus on what policies might prove successful.

He said that 150,000 more disabled people were in work in the last year, but if the number of non-disabled people in work had also risen “there is no closing of the gap”.

He said he did not think that setting out interim targets towards achieving the aim of halving the gap was “the more helpful approach”, and added: “The more helpful approach I think is testing what works and building the evidence base for how we do that and that’s what I want to spend the next few years really focusing on.”

He appeared then to criticise the approach of his predecessor as work and pensions secretary, by adding: “I don’t know that whatever has gone on before has really built a strong evidence base for supporting people with disabilities and health conditions into work.”

Crabb told the committee that he wanted to “take a step back” from previous plans to publish a white paper with “firm legislative proposals” on supporting disabled people into work.

Instead, he said, there would be a “much more discursive green paper that starts to reframe the issue and points the way towards more meaningful long-term reform”.

And he said he wanted to “restart conversations with disability organisations and disabled people themselves about how best as a government we can work with them to close the disability employment gap”.

When Crabb said later in the session that DWP would provide more disability experts in jobcentres, Coyle asked him to clarify what this increase meant, as the number of disability employment advisers fell by a fifth in the last parliament.

In another criticism of the Duncan Smith regime, Crabb said DWP would be placing another 500 disability employment advisers into jobcentres across the country, which he said was “a significant step forward”.

He said: “Whatever decisions happened in the last parliament, that was then.

“I’m pretty clear in my mind, whether it’s by employing more of our own people as disability specialists or partnering with expert organisations, we need to get more expertise under the roof of Jobcentre Pluses, in terms of how we support people with sicknesses and disabilities, and addictions as well.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said later that there was “no plan to abandon the target” of halving the disability employment gap.

He said: “It is a long-term ambition, and the secretary of state was re-affirming government’s commitment to reducing the gap.”

12 May 2016

 

 

Wheelchair taxi rules will finally come into force… after 20 years

A report by peers on the impact of equality legislation on disabled people appears to have secured its first success, after the government agreed to bring into force taxi regulations – 20 years after they were first included in legislation.

The regulations will mean that taxi-drivers can no longer refuse to accept wheelchair-users, and will forbid them from charging them extra for a journey.

Successive Conservative, Labour and coalition governments have refused to bring the measures into force, since they were included in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and then incorporated into the Equality Act 2010.

But transport minister Andrew Jones has now said that sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act 2010 will come into force this year, which he said will “impose duties on the driver of a taxi to accept and assist a wheelchair-user and not to charge extra for doing so”.

The government’s low-key announcement, during a debate on taxi licensing regulations, appears to be the first success to follow the work of the House of Lords’ Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which reported in March on how equality legislation affected disabled people.

The government had spoken in evidence to the committee about the “burden” on taxi drivers of bringing the regulations into force.

But disabled campaigners had described the 20-year delay as indefensible, with Doug Paulley saying it had led to disabled people experiencing “significant barriers” in using taxis, while Transport for All reported how two-thirds of wheelchair-users said they had been refused a taxi.

The committee had concluded that the government’s excuses for failing to bring sections 165 and 167 into force were “entirely unconvincing” and that ministers “should be considering the burden on disabled people trying to take taxis, not the burden on taxi owners or drivers”.

Baroness [Celia] Thomas, the disabled Liberal Democrat peer whose idea it was to set up the Equality Act committee, welcomed the government’s announcement and said it was “not before time”.

She said: “It is almost certain that the only reason they have agreed to this now is because it was highlighted in the report of the Lords committee on the Equality Act and disability published in March.

“I hope they will also look at the other recommendations in the report, and act accordingly.”

Another committee member, the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, also welcomed the government’s decision, and said she also believed it was a consequence of the committee’s report.

She said: “It has taken 20 years for respective governments to get round to this and I strongly suspect the current decision is a direct consequence of the House of Lords select committee recommendation to get on with it and do the right thing.

“I am proud to have been a member of this committee and look forward to progressive action on the other 54 recommendations.”

Paulley said the length of time it had taken for the regulations to be brought into force showed that successive governments “have held disabled people’s rights and experiences in contempt”.

And he said he feared the decision would make little difference to disabled people.

He said: “It’s scandalous that this hasn’t been commenced before, but then given that it’s been proven that the Equality Act is effectively unenforceable by anybody and that other regulations are roundly ignored, we’re basically reliant on the whim of the licensing authorities, which vary spectacularly in their commitment or otherwise to wheelchair accessibility in taxis.”

Lord [Chris] Holmes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability commissioner, said the government’s announcement was “long overdue” and would “finally give disabled people the right to travel by taxi on an equal basis”.

He said: “While this is a step in the right direction, there are still many provisions of the Equality Act which have not been brought into force.

“The commission will continue to press government to fulfil its responsibility to remove the barriers which hold disabled people back, and place accessibility at the top of its agenda.”

12 May 2016

 

 

It is ‘not value-for-money’ to collect vital PIP stats on 20-metre rule, says DWP

Two disabled peers have criticised ministers for refusing to collect figures that would demonstrate the impact of a key element of new benefit rules that will see tens of thousands of people losing their Motability vehicles.

The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas and the crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson spoke out after a Lords debate on the so-called “20-metre” rule, introduced by the government as part of its new personal independence payment (PIP).

Under disability living allowance (DLA), someone is eligible for the higher mobility rate if they cannot walk more than 50 metres, but under the new rules for PIP – which is gradually replacing working-age DLA – this walking distance criterion has been set at just 20 metres.

Those who are not eligible for the PIP mobility enhanced rate are not able to hire a vehicle through the Motability scheme.

Last week, Baroness Thomas proposed a motion in the House of Lords in which she called on ministers to agree to an urgent meeting with Disability Rights UK and the Disability Benefits Consortium over the unfairness of the 20-metre rule, which she described as “a real slap in the face for thousands of disabled people”.

Government figures have predicted that, with the criteria set at 20 metres, the number of people receiving higher rates of mobility support – and therefore eligible for a Motability vehicle – will plunge from 1,030,000 (if DLA had not been replaced by PIP) to just 602,000 by 2018.

Baroness Thomas told fellow peers that between 400 and 500 Motability cars a week were being handed back by disabled people who had been reassessed for PIP and “whose condition may not have improved but who are losing not just their car but, in many cases, their independence”.

She pointed out that when the government was forced to consult on the 20-metre rule, the overwhelmingly majority of the 1,000-plus responses said it was “manifestly unfair, not to say meaningless”.

She said: “To be told that the bill for PIP is too high and must be cut by more than halving the walking distance test is a real slap in the face for thousands of disabled people, particularly those of working age with lifetime awards under DLA.”

But Baroness Altmann, the pensions minister, claimed that PIP claimants who can walk more than 20 metres but less than 50 metres can still receive the enhanced mobility rate of PIP if they cannot walk the distance “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner”.

She said this meant that there was “not a strict 20-metre rule” but that 20 metres was “an indication”, and “if somebody can walk more than 20 metres, they can still get the enhanced rate component”, although she admitted that “it does depend on the assessment”.

But when asked by Lord McKenzie, a Labour shadow work and pensions spokesman, how many people had qualified for the enhanced rate under the PIP “moving around” activity despite being able to walk more than 20 metres, she said: “Of course, I do not have those figures to hand and I do not know whether they are available.”

When Disability News Service (DNS) asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after the debate whether it collected those figures, a DWP spokesman confirmed that it did not.

He said: “We collect a wide range of information on PIP assessments and make a judgement on the level of detail to capture.

“Every level of detail captured incurs costs and we have to take a judgement on whether these costs provide value for money for the taxpayer.”

When told of this response, Baroness Thomas told DNS: “How can the DWP expect parliamentarians to scrutinise what they are doing when we aren’t given the full facts?

“Ministers are often very good at picking and choosing statistics to suit their case, expecting the rest of us to swallow them whole. This isn’t good enough.

“Both the department and parliament ought to have as full a picture as possible of the impact of the PIP changes on both new and reassessed claimants.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson added: “I think it is hugely disappointing that they are not measuring this, not least because it might help Her Majesty’s Government work out how much they may be ‘saving’.

“I would have thought the data would have helped them make informed decisions about any future potential changes.”

Three other disabled peers had also raised concerns in the debate about the impact of the 20-metre rule.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the disabled president of the Liberal Democrats, pointed to the case of Tom Carter, whose case was reported by DNS last year, and who was forced to return his Motability car after a PIP reassessment saw his mobility award reduced from enhanced to standard rate.

Losing the car meant he was unable to travel to hospital for the vital x-rays he needed after losing a leg to bone cancer.

Another disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, said the 20-metre threshold was “completely arbitrary”, whereas 50 metres was “a well-established and research-based measure of significant mobility impairment”.

He said: “Making a change that means that people who need a Motability car to go to work lose their car flies in the face of the government’s welfare-to-work agenda and their aim to halve the disability employment gap.”

Baroness Masham, another disabled peer, and a vice-president of Motability, said the loss of the enhanced rate of mobility was “a desperate situation for some disabled people living in rural districts who have no public transport”.

She said: “If they have employment, they will lose it. They will also lose the independence needed for a social life and will have to use hospital transport for hospital visits, costing the NHS much-needed funds.​”

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who receives the upper mobility rate of DLA, although she does not have a Motability vehicle, said she was waiting to be called for her PIP reassessment.

She said: “I believe that the 20-metre guideline is an arbitrary number – where does 20 metres get you? It is barely the distance from one wall of the [Lords] chamber to the other.

“How can we reasonably expect people who can walk only 20 metres not to require some sort of assistance?”

Baroness Altmann said the government was “happy to engage” with disability groups, but insisted that PIP was “performing well”.

She said: “Under DLA, too many people were given lifetime awards – that is at the heart of some of the problems we have been hearing about this evening – whereas under PIP claimants have regular reviews to make sure that the support they get reflects their current circumstances.”

And she said the PIP reforms were not about saving money, as the government was “spending more on PIP, and more people have Motability cars now than when PIP started”.

But in a surprise move, Baroness Thomas had packed the chamber with fellow Liberal Democrats, who ensured that her motion was passed.

The DWP spokesman later confirmed that the meeting with Disability Rights UK and the Disability Benefits Consortium would take place.

He said: “I can confirm that the arrangements are currently being finalised for the minister to meet disability charities next week to talk about the issues raised in the debate.”

Disability Rights UK said after the debate that Motability and government figures suggest that about 1,500 disabled people a week who previously received the higher DLA mobility rate were not being awarded its PIP equivalent after being reassessed, a loss to each individual of about £1,800 per year.

A DR UK spokesperson said: “The result is devastating on their independence and has resulted in loss of employment for some.”

It called for all those claimants who cannot reliably walk up to 50 metres to be awarded the enhanced mobility rate of PIP.

12 May 2016

 

 

Pioneering £5 million DRILL programme sends out first call for funding bids

A pioneering programme backed by £5 million of lottery cash has issued a call for user-led teams across the UK to apply for funding to research new ways to remove the barriers to independent living faced by disabled people.

The Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) programme is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, and should fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects over the next four years.

The aim is to build “robust” evidence on how to influence both policy and practice on independent living, and how to remove the barriers of attitude, environment, organisation, communication and finance that disabled people face.

The programme aims to “change the way research is done so that researchers and disabled people work together as partners”.

A series of 19 roadshows across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales helped to decide on the programme’s four project themes: participating in the economy, participating in community and social life, participating in civic and public life, and participating “fully and equally in anything and everything”.

Some of the issues raised in the roadshows about the barriers to participating in the economy included how to address the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people; how schools, colleges and universities could be made more inclusive; and what could be done to address disability poverty by both increasing disabled people’s income, and reducing their extra costs.

On community and social life, priorities included how to prevent social isolation; how organisations in local communities could be made fully inclusive; and how to stop disability hate crime.

On participating in civic and public life, key issues raised included how to increase the number of disabled people in elected office; how disabled people can influence party manifestos and government policies; and how to change the media’s frequent portrayal of disabled people as “scrounger, tragic victim or heroic survivor”.

The first opportunity to bid for funding opened this week, with a closing date of 27 July, with subsequent funding rounds opening in early 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The programme is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and will be delivered by the disabled people’s organisations Disability Rights UK, Disability Action Northern Ireland, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

Organisations can apply for grants of up to £150,000, with proposals initially assessed by a national advisory group – England’s group is chaired by disabled BBC presenter Peter White – before the programme’s central research committee of disabled people, academics and policy experts makes a final decision on funding.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said: “Our aim is to produce new evidence on what would support disabled people to access their right to independent living and take full part in society.

“The programme includes potential for pilot projects to test the evidence in practice and find out what will make a real difference to the quality of disabled people’s lives. We’re looking forward to receiving some exciting proposals.”

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said that disabled people would be “in the lead, setting the priorities and co-designing the projects.”

The disabled academic Dr Tom Shakespeare, chair of DRILL’s central research committee, said: “The starting gun has been fired on a very exciting competitive research process.

“We are looking for teams that have great ideas, true partnership between researchers and disabled people, and with real chance of improving the lives of disabled people.

“This is the first round of a five-year funding programme that will change disabled people’s lives for the better.”

12 May 2016

 

 

Apprenticeship taskforce welcomed, despite concerns over membership

Disabled campaigners are hoping a new government taskforce will lead to apprenticeships becoming more accessible to disabled people, despite concerns over who ministers will invite to take part.

Three government departments announced this week that they have set up the short-term taskforce to help more people with learning difficulties access apprenticeships, as part of the government’s bid to create three million apprenticeships by 2020, and to halve the disability employment gap.

The taskforce will be led by the disabled Conservative MP Paul Maynard, and has been created by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Department for Education.

A DWP spokesman said the decision to set up the taskforce came after ministers were approached with concerns about how difficult it was for people with learning difficulties to access apprenticeships.

But DWP has so far refused to say if it is inviting any disabled people other than Maynard – and particularly any people with learning difficulties – to join the taskforce.

Tara Flood, chief executive of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), which has campaigned for inclusive apprenticeship opportunities for young disabled people, said: “I definitely have to welcome the opportunity to consider how to make apprenticeships inclusive for everybody, including and particularly disabled young people, which of course includes people with learning difficulties.

“We are worried of course that the taskforce with the wrong make-up of members will go down the route of creating separate apprenticeships, which is what we are seeing with supported internships.”

Supported internships are a study programme introduced by the government in August 2013, which usually involve unpaid work placements of at least six months, and are aimed at young people with learning difficulties who need extra support to move into employment.

Flood said: “What we really want is for all apprenticeship schemes to be really inclusive of whoever wants to apply.”

She said ALLFIE had asked to give evidence to the taskforce, and added: “We will also be asking who the disabled members of the taskforce are going to be, because we expect some of them to be disabled people.”

The DWP spokesman said: “We will disclose details of taskforce members when they have been confirmed and have advised us they are happy to have their details made public.

“It will be for members to indicate whether they are comfortable disclosing any disabilities they may have.

“Organisations representing disabled people and those with learning disabilities have been invited to take part.”

Philip Connolly, policy and development manager for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), welcomed the setting up of the taskforce, but he said DR UK “would wish to see it have a broader focus that also includes older potential apprentices and disabled people with fluctuating conditions”.

DR UK has not been asked to join the taskforce, although it has been asked by ministers for its views.

He said: “The government have an admirably ambitious target on new apprenticeships.

“However, it will require specific measures such as top-slicing the apprenticeship levy to create new incentives for employers to take on disabled people if it is to succeed.

“The apprenticeship levy is likely to appear in the new finance bill; we ought to press the government not to allow this opportunity to slip.”

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said he had become “convinced of the value of a vocational approach and the need for targeted policy intervention in this area” after visiting Foxes Academy in Minehead, Somerset, a training hotel for young adults with learning difficulties that featured in the Channel 5 documentary The Special Needs Hotel.

Tomlinson said: “Apprenticeships offer fantastic opportunities for individuals to learn whilst they earn, developing the skills and knowledge they need to progress their careers in a wide variety of occupations and at a range of levels.”

The taskforce will meet three times in May and June before it offers recommendations to ministers, and will include representatives of employers, training providers, charities and educational experts.

Skills minister Nick Boles said: “Our commitment to apprenticeships is giving people everywhere the chance to develop vital skills while working in a real job and being paid.

“This taskforce will focus on how apprenticeships can be more accessible to people with learning disabilities so everyone can be part of the apprenticeships success story.”

12 May 2016

 

 

Isaac takes EHRC chair, despite concerns over DWP ‘outsourcing’ work

The new chair of the equality watchdog has taken up his new post, despite question-marks over potential conflicts of interest arising from his legal firm’s work for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and other government departments.

David Isaac took up the post of chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) this week, as the watchdog prepares to investigate whether Conservative welfare reforms have breached the human rights of disabled people.

But Isaac is a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, which has a “significant amount of business with the government”, including DWP.

And he has specialised in his work at Pinsent Masons in providing advice on “major public and private sector UK and global commercial and outsourcing projects”, although the company has refused to say which outsourcing projects he has worked on for DWP.

This week, he refused to comment when asked by Disability News Service (DNS) how he could head an investigation into the human rights implications of DWP welfare reforms on disabled people, when he appears to have been involved himself in delivering some of those reforms at Pinsent Masons.

He took up his post after two parliamentary committees, the joint committee on human rights (JCHR) and the Commons women and equalities committee, appeared to back down over their concerns that his appointment would cause a “serious potential conflict of interest”.

Harriet Harman, the Labour MP who chairs JCHR, said it was “essential that the holder of that post should be independent and is seen to be independent”, but that he had “moved to address this problem” by refusing to take any profits from Pinsent Masons’ advice to the government.

Isaac has also promised not to advise government clients of Pinsent Masons while he is chair of EHRC.

Both committees said the measures Isaac had taken “go a considerable way towards satisfying our concerns”.

DNS has asked Harman whether the committee now believes Isaac is a suitable appointment, at a time when EHRC is about to investigate whether DWP breached the human rights of disabled people as a result of welfare reforms he might have been involved in.

Harman had not responded by noon today (12 May).

The two committees also pointed out that Isaac had still not addressed the “significant” issue of potential conflicts of interest arising from Pinsent Masons’ work for private sector clients which may be subject to EHRC investigation or enforcement action.

The committees had previously warned that appointing Isaac as EHRC’s chair could put at risk the commission’s prestigious “A” status as a national human rights institution.

DNS has also discovered that when Isaac applied to chair the watchdog, he told the government that he did not believe he had any “actual conflicts of interest”, despite his work for the government, although he said he would declare his previous role chairing the gay rights charity Stonewall and his current trusteeship of the Human Dignity Trust.

Meanwhile, EHRC has published its strategic plan for 2016-19.

Isaac, who will be paid £500 a day for up to 100 days’ work a year for the commission, said the plan “sets out an ambitious programme of work over the next three years that will improve the lives of people across Britain”.

He said: “The commission must be a strong and independent expert body that drives change to make Britain fairer, tackles discrimination, and promotes equality of opportunity and human rights.”

He added: “It underlines our commitment to bring about change and puts a particular emphasis on driving further improvements where national governments must do more to deliver the speed of progress required.”

He also said he wanted the commission to “step up its work and be more ambitious in driving change to promote equality of opportunity and combat discrimination against disabled people”, and that “the government in particular needs to raise its game to improve the lives of disabled people”.

12 May 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

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