A whistle-blower who has vital evidence of serious abuse at a care home for autistic adults has retracted her offer to talk to police about what she witnessed, which could have led to them reopening their failed investigation.
Disability News Service (DNS) found out this week that Avon and Somerset police had failed to interview her, even though her whistleblowing played a key part in helping to expose the abuse scandal at Mendip House, which was run by the National Autistic Society (NAS).
The whistle-blower, Hannah*, had talked in depth to DNS this week about what she witnessed at Mendip House in Brent Knoll, Somerset, and revealed that she had never been interviewed by Avon and Somerset police.
Police have failed to bring any charges against those responsible for the abusive regime.
And they confirmed this week that Hannah was never interviewed.
A police spokesperson said: “We were never made aware of the person you have named as your source, which is why she was not interviewed as part of our investigation.”
Hannah had made it clear earlier this week that she wanted to give a statement to police, in the hope that the force would reopen its investigation, and secure justice through the courts for the autistic people abused at Mendip House.
But Hannah has now appalled campaigners by retracting her offer to give a police statement, because she says she fears that speaking out could put her own job in the care industry at risk.
DNS understands that the police cannot compel Hannah to provide a statement about what she saw at Mendip House.
She had left her contact details with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in the spring of 2016 when she helped expose the abusive regime at Mendip House, where she worked for about eight months in 2015 and 2016.
CQC passed her evidence to Somerset County Council in a safeguarding referral, but it is still not clear why no effort was made by the council or the police to interview her, and which of the two bodies was to blame for that failure.
Avon and Somerset police were this week ready to interview Hannah and take a statement about what she witnessed at Mendip House, after being approached by DNS.
But yesterday, after DNS asked her permission to pass her phone number to the police press office, she sent a text message saying that she had “decided due to the nature of my job now I would rather not give evidence or have my details in the paper but wish you all the best”.
She has not responded to further messages by phone or email.
Hannah spoke to a manager and to CQC in April 2016.
The home was closed by NAS several months later, partly as a result of her speaking to CQC.
But no-one was ever arrested or charged over the abuse, although five members of staff were sacked by the charity.
Avon and Somerset police has previously insisted that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the former care workers responsible for the alleged abuse at the NAS home.
It has admitted taking statements from just 12 members of staff, but this appears to have been partly linked to threats made to fellow staff members, leaving them unwilling to co-operate with the police, although this was not mentioned by Hannah as a reason for now refusing to be interviewed.
The home had 26 members of staff as well as other zero hours workers, while scores of people were employed at six other homes on the Somerset Court campus, all run by NAS.
Avon and Somerset police insisted to DNS last month that “all those relevant to the offences in question were spoken to and those who were willing to talk to the police who had worked with the suspects”.
It also said last month that to interview “all former and current staff would’ve been a disproportionate use of police resources”.
It initially claimed its investigation took nine months, but later admitted it had lasted only five months.
CQC has confirmed that Hannah phoned its contact centre on 4 April 2016 and provided evidence, asking to remain anonymous, although she left her contact details. CQC made a “safeguarding referral” to Somerset County Council based on her information.
An anonymous whistle-blower, who CQC believes was Hannah, called the watchdog again on 9 May 2016 and provided further information, which led to a second safeguarding alert to the council.
A CQC spokesperson told DNS yesterday (Thursday): “If the local authority wished to have the contact details of the whistle-blower, CQC would have shared that information.
“Safeguarding authorities will involve the police when necessary and if the police asked us for that information, we would pass it on in the same way as to local authorities.”
But no attempt was made by the police or the council to secure Hannah’s contact details so they could interview her.
Despite CQC’s willingness to pass on her contact details, the council claims the information was provided “anonymously” and so it was not able to make “direct contact” with Hannah, while Avon and Somerset police said it was “never made aware of the person you have named as your source”.
The council and police failed to contact Hannah even though she appears to be one of the whistle-blowers referred to in the safeguarding adults review (SAR) report [PDF] published in January 2018 by the Somerset Safeguarding Adults Board, which followed an inquiry set up by the county council into the allegations.
The SAR report says: “The closure of Mendip House may be traced to May 2016 when incidents were revealed to Somerset’s Safeguarding personnel by NAS whistle blowers, one of which was reported via the Care Quality Commission.”
Some of Hannah’s evidence passed to DNS earlier this week appeared to be even more serious than the details of abuse included in the SAR report.
She appears to have evidence of serious and criminal ill-treatment and neglect under the Mental Health Act or Mental Capacity Act.
She told DNS how she saw:
- A heavily-built male staff member riding a male resident like a horse in order to “humiliate” him
- A male staff member shouting abuse at a male resident after he left a toilet door open
- A male staff member forcing a male resident to eat raw onion [the SAR report says a resident was punished for refusing to eat an onion]
- A female staff member refusing to give a male resident drinks in case he wet himself
- The same resident often having to lie in a wet bed for more than half an hour because staff refused to change him
- Male staff members locking a female resident in her car on several occasions, and walking back to Mendip House – where they could not see her – and only checking on her at intervals
- A male and female staff member engaged in overt sexual activity [described by Hannah as “dry-humping”] while a male resident was sitting at a table in the same room
- A female staff member in charge of a shift refusing to call an ambulance after a male resident repeatedly banged his head against the wall after being shouted at
- Male members of staff throwing food at a male resident on several occasions
- Staff using residents’ money to buy food for staff from a takeaway in nearby Weston-super-Mare, using an NAS vehicle. In contrast to what was said in the SAR report, residents did not accompany staff on these trips, according to Hannah
Hannah originally said she was “horrified” that no-one had been arrested over the abuse.
She said: “I am still angry about it. It was massively covered up from the top down.”
Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of the autistic-led organisation Autistic Inclusive Meets, who organised a protest about the scandal outside NAS headquarters in London last month, said: “It is extremely disappointing that a person who works in the care sector has decided to withdraw any support for a new investigation.
“It is a massive setback. If you see abuse, any decent person would want justice.
“Why wouldn’t this person want to bring these people to justice? Is her job more important?”
Dalmayne had previously said that the police failure to interview Hannah showed “another layer of the complete failure of all services involved to protect the safety and rights of highly vulnerable autistic people has been revealed.
“This is appalling. Safeguarding all but disregarded and a basic common decency and respect for human life completely absent.
“The message of all involved, the residents, their families… to us the autistic community is clear. They and we do not matter.”
A relative of one of the residents – before Hannah withdrew her co-operation – told DNS that the abuse seemed to have been “swept under the carpet”.
She said: “I just don’t know why the police didn’t investigate more fully. Why do they seem to have been so lacklustre?
“From the sounds of it, they didn’t do enough. They could have interviewed more [people who worked at Mendip House].
“I am just so bewildered, so confused. It just seems like the police gave up too soon. I have no idea why.”
Mendip House was one of seven homes run by NAS, as part of the Somerset Court campus.
The other six homes are still open, and Hannah had previously said she believed there needed to be a new inquiry into all the Somerset Court homes, and frequent and regular inspections.
She said: “I would be in there every week for weeks. I would be breathing down their necks ensuring the same thing didn’t happen.”
She also said she believed the abusive regime at Mendip House dated back much further than the two-year period between 2014 and 2016 covered in the SAR report.
She said: “The staff who had been there years told me that they reported and reported and reported and nothing had been done.”
A CQC spokesperson said: “Straight after the last Mendip House inspection we did do a fully comprehensive inspection of all Somerset Court homes.
“However, if anyone did have information of concern, we would encourage them to share this with us so we can investigate.”
A Somerset County Council spokesperson has been unable to explain why the information it received from CQC about Hannah’s evidence did not lead to her being interviewed by police.
But she said in a statement: “Somerset County Council held meetings with the police, NAS and CQC where information received from anonymous whistle-blowers was passed on to the police as part of their investigation.
“As mentioned previously, all whistle-blower information we received was given to us anonymously and it’s not our policy to ask for contact details in these cases to protect the identity of whistle-blowers.
“Therefore, we wouldn’t have been able to individually identify [Hannah].
“We received information from a number of anonymous whistle-blowers, which were all consistent with the points raised by [Hannah] and subsequently part of the investigation.
“If [Hannah] feels her anonymous evidence wasn’t taken into account in 2016, she is welcome to get in touch with Somerset County Council or the police to formally put her concerns on record.”
It is currently unclear why no effort was made to ask Hannah to give a statement to police in 2016 and 2017.
CQC decided last month not to prosecute NAS, and instead fined it just £4,000 for financial abuse by staff, despite the regime of “taunting, mistreatment and humiliation of residents”.
An NAS spokesperson said: “We cooperated fully with the lengthy police investigation. We asked to be kept updated with developments and were informed when they eventually closed the investigation.
“However, from what we understand, the police would not be able to share any details about who they interviewed with us or any other agency or organisation that wasn’t directly involved in the investigation.
“And they did not share the details of whether this person was interviewed or not.”
He added: “We have reported and investigated all allegations that have been raised with us.
“In line with our responsibilities, we will of course fully investigate any other concerns that are raised with us. Or people can of course go straight to the CQC with any concerns.”
*Not her real name
12 April 2019
Ministers have been branded “hypocrites” for rejecting the idea that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be held responsible for benefit-related deaths, despite their government calling for social media managers to be held criminally responsible for safeguarding failures.
Home secretary Sajid Javid said this week that the government was acting to hold the social media industry accountable for its failures because “we know, in our hearts, we know that protecting the vulnerable is our shared responsibility”.
But evidence has also mounted over recent years of links between the failings of DWP ministers and senior civil servants and the deaths of disabled people, particularly in relation to the flawed work capability assessment (WCA) process.
The deaths of disabled people such as Paul Donnachie, Mark Wood, David Barr, Stephen Carré, Lawrence Bond, David Clapson, Susan Roberts, Alan McArdle and Jodey Whiting – and many others – have all been linked to DWP safeguarding failings.
This has led to the launch of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which says DWP ministers and civil servants should be held to account through a police investigation for their failure to ensure the safety of these and other benefit claimants.
In a speech to launch the new white paper on online harms, Javid said this week that some tech companies had “long got away with the claim that they cannot possibly be expected to take any more responsibility for the safety of their customers”.
He added: “If we saw a child being abused or threatened, I’m sure all of us in this room would step in and do something.
“And we’d do something because we know, in our hearts, we know that protecting the vulnerable is our shared responsibility.
“It’s not controversial, it’s not authoritarian. It’s just what you do in a civilized society… So if companies fail to fulfil their safeguarding obligations they will face serious consequences.”
This week’s white paper on online social harms – which is now out for a three-month public consultation – shows the government wants to hold social media companies to account for their safeguarding failings.
One of the key elements of the white paper is that the government is exploring new laws that would hold individual senior managers “personally accountable” in the event of a major breach of a new statutory duty of care, which could extend to “criminal liability”.
Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Social media companies must act against online disablist abuse but in pushing responsibility onto those companies, the government is conveniently avoiding its own role in deliberately enflaming hostile attitudes towards disabled people in order to justify welfare ‘reform’.
“The United Nations recommended in 2016 that the government undertake a widespread publicity programme to improve attitudes towards benefit claimants but this recommendation was rejected.
“If the government really cared about stopping disablism the first place to start would be the DWP.
“It is also entirely hypocritical to introduce new criminal laws holding companies to account for safeguarding breaches when government ministers and civil servants are still able to evade justice for the deaths of benefit claimants and ignore the blood on their own hands.”
Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, welcomed the white paper’s safeguarding proposal but said the refusal to introduce similar measures to cover DWP was “hypocrisy”.
She said: “Certainly we feel that safeguarding for people with mental health problems is extremely important, and for people who have disabilities too, and we fail to see why the government would consider safeguarding for one group of people important but not for another.
“It’s not good enough just to safeguard a person up to a certain age and then throw them to the wolves.
“MHRN feels very, very strongly that those government ministers and senior civil servants who have engineered a hostile environment for people with mental health problems, some of whom have taken their own lives, should face some kind of justice.”
She said that the outsourcing companies who carry out disability benefit assessments on behalf of DWP – Maximus, Atos and Capita – should also be held to account.
She said: “We will see all of them held to account, even if it takes the next 10 or 20 years. We will not walk away and forget this has happened.”
McKenna pointed out that many people with mental health problems have experienced abuse as children and are now being “subjected to the cruelty of the benefit system and sanctions”.
She added: “It seems to be that we are protecting children until they reach a certain age, at which point we change from seeking to protect them to almost despising them.”
Ian Jones, from the WOWcampaign, said: “It is now up to Justin Tomlinson and Amber Rudd to explain to disabled people how they are going to introduce a requirement for the DWP to demonstrate a duty of care to disabled people and all claimants of universal credit and other benefits.
“DWP staff and ministers whose conduct may have caused harm to claimants of universal credit and other benefits should be held to the same standards as social media bosses when ignorance and failure to follow procedure leads to harm.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, welcomed the white paper announcement but said it would be “rank hypocrisy” if the government was not going to hold DWP to the same standards.
He said: “Ministers and civil servants should face the same exacting standards as Sajid Javid proposes.”
DWP has continually insisted that it is already “committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants”, has “robust safeguarding in place to protect and support vulnerable people” and that “where any failings on specific cases have been identified, we have addressed these to ensure they are not repeated”.
Asked this week if similar laws to those proposed for social media companies should be introduced to cover the actions of civil servants and ministers running DWP, a DWP spokesperson refused to comment.
And asked if there should be a criminal investigation into the safeguarding failings of DWP ministers and civil servants, she again refused to comment.
To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
11 April 2019
A council has been accused of being “vindictive” and trying to “silence” a disabled people’s organisation (DPO) by withdrawing funding for its advice service, just months after the DPO published a critical report about social care provision in the borough.
Labour-run Merton council, in south-west London, has been accused of discriminating against disabled people by withdrawing funding from the only advice service in the borough that provides welfare rights experts who will visit disabled people in their own homes.
The council’s equality impact assessment of the decision to withdraw funding from Merton Centre for Independent Living (MCIL)* concluded that it provided “high quality casework support” and was “serving a small number of vulnerable disabled people very well”.
It also concluded that the loss of funding would mean “potentially a negative impact identified for deaf and disabled residents”.
But the council decided not to offer funding of £75,000 a year to replace an existing £80,000-a-year grant, arguing that MCIL’s high-intensity service was helping too few people.
MCIL will continue to provide advice and advocacy services in welfare rights and social care, and visit service-users at home, but it has had to close its housing advice service.
The loss of the funding may also impact other services, including the advice and support it provides to victims of disability hate crime.
Last October, MCIL published a 96-page report into the flaws and failings of Merton council’s adult social care provision.
That report concluded that a growing number of disabled people were resorting to legal action against the council to secure the support they needed, and warned that Merton council appeared to be carrying out reassessments and reviews of people’s care packages with the aim of cutting their support.
Roy Benjamin, MCIL’s chair, said he believed the council was now being “vindictive” in the wake of the social care report.
He said: “It is very much about settling scores. I feel angry… because we are a strong voice and it’s an attempt to silence us, and clearly any decision to cut our resources is going to impact on our ability to meet the needs [of disabled people in the borough].”
He added: “We already were not in a position to meet all the need that was identified. This is only going to exacerbate [that].”
Last year, MCIL supported 332 individual Deaf and disabled people with advice and casework, and provided information, signposting and guidance in another 170 cases, leading to a contribution of nearly £700,000 to the local economy in 2017-18.
Benjamin said it was an “irrational decision” and “discrimination” to cut the funding, because of its impact on disabled people who find it difficult to access mainstream services.
MCIL provides a high-intensity advice service, often following disability benefits cases right through to the appeal stage.
Benjamin said: “We are the only pan-disability organisation in the borough. We are the only organisation that offers any sort of domiciliary service for those people who can’t get to [Citizen’s Advice] or other advice providers.”
MCIL was originally one of six partners that put together a joint bid for funding.
When that bid was unsuccessful, the council asked the six individual organisations to put in individual bids for funding.
MCIL said it was the only one of the six that was unsuccessful in its bid for funding.
The council now provides no funding at all to MCIL.
A Merton council spokesperson refused to answer a series of questions about whether it was being “vindictive” and “settling scores”, if it was discriminating against disabled people, and why it ignored the conclusions of its equality impact assessment.
But Edith Macauley, the cabinet member for community safety, engagement and equalities, said in a statement: “Merton is one of only a few London boroughs not to have cut overall funding for the voluntary sector and we are spending around £4million between 2019 and 2022.
“All bids for funding of the information and advice element of the Strategic Partner Programme 2019-22 were scored against the funding criteria, but not every organisation’s bid was successful.
“Merton Centre for Independent Living’s two bids, the first of which was as part of a consortium and the second bid in a round which was only open to unsuccessful bidders from the first round, scored less highly than the other bids which were received.
“Merton CIL challenged their score, which was upheld after their bid was reviewed by a council officer who was unconnected to it.
“The programme has commissioned a wide range of high quality and accessible support through this funding, including a central information and advice offer, complemented by a range of services, including specialist legal support and services with proven outreach to communities with some of the most challenging needs.
“We have been actively working with Merton CIL and our new providers to ensure that anyone who needs advice and support has access to it.”
*To donate money to Merton CIL, visit this page
11 April 2019
The furious mother of a disabled woman who took her own life after repeated safeguarding failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has branded DWP’s response to a parliamentary petition set up in her daughter’s name “a joke”.
Joy Dove said this week that DWP’s safeguarding failures had killed her daughter.
She spoke out after DWP responded to the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which was set up in her daughter’s name.
DWP said in its response that it would not hold an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled people linked to the failings of ministers and civil servants, as demanded by the petition.
More than 26,000 people have now signed the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which this week won further support, from the grassroots disabled women’s organisation WinVisible and film director Ken Loach.
The petition calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.
It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.
Because the petition passed 10,000 signatures, the government was forced to respond.
But its response, published this week, ignored key parts of the petition’s demands.
DWP said it had “no plans” to hold an independent inquiry, and that the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) – who found DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Whiting’s suicide in February 2017 – “did not find any evidence of misconduct by Civil Servants or Ministers”.
DWP apologised for its failings in her case and said: “Unfortunately, in this instance the expected standard of customer service was not achieved.”
But the response ignored the petition’s reference to the many other deaths that have been closely linked to the actions of ministers and civil servants.
DWP claimed that the safeguarding of claimants was already a priority, that it was “committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants” and that its staff were “trained to identify signs of vulnerability which may include offering extra help with people’s benefits should they need it”.
But only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP had admitted destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.
DWP also failed in its response to comment on the petition’s call for MPs to accept that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose.
This week, DNS reports (see separate story) how an employment tribunal found DWP managers had “victimised” a disabled member of staff after she claimed that she had faced workplace discrimination.
And in February, Civil Service figures revealed that the proportion of DWP staff who said they had been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months had risen by about 50 per cent in just four years.
Joy Dove, Jodey Whiting’s mother, said the DWP response to the petition was “a joke”, and that her message to DWP was: “You have put everything in your response to the petition that you did not do to safeguard Jodey.
“You killed my daughter by not safeguarding her.”
She added: “They should have practised what they are trying to preach now. They are responsible for Jodey’s death.”
She said she was appalled that the DWP response suggested that the £10,000 ICE ordered DWP to pay the family as a “consolatory payment” was “compensation” for her daughter’s death.
Dove said that £9,000 was given to Jodey’s nine children, while the other £1,000 was used to pay off some of the debts she had built up in paying for her daughter’s funeral.
She said: “It’s not about money. I will carry on. They can’t say it’s settled. I signed nothing. I want justice.”
She is hoping to take legal action against DWP, and she told DNS she wanted to see an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions, and then criminal prosecutions.
Meanwhile, Loach, whose film I, Daniel Blake has become a cultural rallying point for many disabled activists appalled at the deaths and years of harm caused to benefit claimants by government social security reforms, spoke this week to Dove to express his support for her battle for justice.
That battle is shared by seven other families who have lost relatives because of the failings of DWP ministers and senior civil servants and have backed the petition.
Dove said Loach had spoken to her for nearly an hour and was “lovely”.
He later sent a letter to her, saying that he and his colleagues were “aware of the countless other stories like yours where DWP has shown brutality that has led directly to innocent people suffering, and even death, as with Jodey”.
WinVisible, which supports and campaigns for disabled women, this week added its backing for the petition.
Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, said her organisation was supporting the petition because the way Whiting had had her benefits “cut off” and had not been believed about her illness was “horrific”.
She said: “This callousness is now standard. Every day we work with women with visible and invisible disabilities, distressed and suicidal because they are forced to go through the brutal benefit test system.
“We help them to win benefits on paper evidence, using the info on WinVisible’s blog.
“We can’t bear it that disabled mothers who deserve benefits and support services, are penalised as fit for work by reason of caring for children.
“In benefit cuts, disabled single mother families are doubly hit by the hostility against single mothers and against disabled people, losing up to £11,000 a year.”
WinVisible is adding its support for the petition to that of four other grassroots groups: Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.
To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
11 April 2019
Disabled activists have responded with resignation after the government appointed another “shoddy, shameless” minister for disabled people.
The new minister, Justin Tomlinson, previously held the post between May 2015 and July 2016, before he was sacked in a government reshuffle.
Now he has been appointed again, this time to replace Brexit casualty Sarah Newton, and becomes the eighth minister for disabled people – or the seventh if you only count him once – since 2010.
There had been a gap of more than three weeks – filled with increasing anger at the prime minister’s failure to appoint a replacement for Newton – before Tomlinson’s name was finally revealed.
Despite repeated requests from Disability News Service (DNS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to produce a press release welcoming his appointment.
Disabled activists this week pointed to Tomlinson being repeatedly publicly shamed for his ministerial performance and activities as an MP.
In October 2016, he had to apologise to MPs and was suspended from the Commons for two days after leaking a confidential Commons report to payday lender Wonga.
Last November, having been restored to DWP as the family support, housing and child maintenance minister, he suggested to a Commons committee that families hit by his government’s benefit cap could cope by taking in a lodger or “renegotiating” their rent.
And only last week, Tomlinson blocked DNS on Twitter, following a report on how he had apparently lied to the Commons work and pensions committee about the impact of the benefits freeze on disabled people.
When asked this week why he had taken that action, he said DNS was “free to be critical and challenging, but using phrases like ‘lying’ goes too far”, although he did remove the block.
But he has yet to explain why he told the committee that “disability benefits were exempt from the benefits freeze”, when in fact there is no exemption for the main component of employment and support allowance (ESA) or the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group.
Last week he was also forced to apologise to MPs for making a series of “inadvertent errors” in a debate about the annual uprating of benefits.
Tomlinson’s record as minister for disabled people in 2015 and 2016 is filled with a string of episodes that cast doubt on his credibility.
The former nightclub manager and owner of a marketing company had been in charge of the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident scheme for more than a year when DNS revealed in June 2016 that only about 40 mainstream private sector employers had signed up to the flagship programme in the three years since its launch.
The same month, he was urged to resign after he threatened a traumatised child abuse survivor – who was waiting to give evidence about the abuse in court – that his benefits would be stopped if he failed to co-operate with an Atos benefit reassessment.
Also in June 2016, he admitted to complete ignorance about the model that lies at the heart of his government’s programme of disability benefit reforms, the biopsychosocial model of disability.
Later that year, in a Commons debate after his sacking, he admitted that he had forgotten that DWP had issued a press release in his name that set a target to halve the disability employment gap by 2020.
And in July 2015, soon after his appointment as minister for disabled people, he risked ridicule after announcing that Swansea had become the country’s first “Disability Confident City”, but was then unable to explain why it had been chosen.
Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said Tomlinson had previously been “thoroughly dismissive” of disabled people and was “an apologist for the worst of the Tory policies”.
She said: “We have no expectation that Justin Tomlinson has in any way changed. We expect more of the same from him.”
She added: “Disabled people no longer bother to meet with Tory disability ministers because they don’t have our interests at heart.
“His integrity is highly questionable. We have no reason to believe that he will have changed his ways. We expect more of the same from him.”
Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Eight ministers for disabled people in nine years. Frankly, by now disabled people care almost as little who their minister is, as the minister couldn’t care less about disabled people.
“None of these shoddy, shameless ministers has ever lifted a finger to improve the lives of disabled people. And under this government, none of them are likely to.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said Tomlinson was “clearly too incompetent” to serve as a minister.
And Ian Jones, from the WOWcampaign, said that one of Tomlinson’s excuses in 2016 for defending huge cuts to disabled people’s support had been that resources would instead be targeted at those who needed it most.
He said: “This time he must do better and I am praying that he has had an empathy implant.”
11 April 2019
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) managers “victimised” a disabled member of staff after she claimed that she had faced workplace discrimination, an employment tribunal has ruled.
It is just the latest case to raise concerns that DWP is institutionally disablist, both in its treatment of disabled benefit claimants and of its own staff.
Last November, DWP admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints of disability discrimination were made by its own staff, while in February Civil Service figures revealed that the proportion of DWP staff who said they had been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months had risen by about 50 per cent in just four years.
The new tribunal decision adds further weight to the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which calls on MPs to recognise that DWP is “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”.
The victimisation happened after the woman, referred to as JL, had submitted a claim internally that DWP had breached the Equality Act by failing to make a reasonable adjustment by providing her with access to a psychologist at work, following job-related anxiety and stress.
She subsequently used freedom of information laws to obtain a statement that had been prepared by two of her managers – and was not intended to be shared with her – who had discussed her case.
In the statement, the managers said they believed her actions were “vexations [vexatious]”, because of an earlier successful claim she had made under the Civil Service “injury benefit” system two years earlier, which again had been linked to DWP’s failure to meet its duties to her under the Equality Act.
Her managers also claimed that they appeared to be victims of “a widening [trade union] strategy” that saw “absence recorded as work-related stress” and eventually leading to the member of staff “seeking gardening leave” until the process was resolved.
But one of the managers told the tribunal that he accepted JL “had done nothing wrong and there was no basis for labelling her behaviour as vexatious”.
Employment judge Alexander Green said the managers’ statement was “inaccurate and disparaging” and the claim of vexatious behaviour was “a very serious allegation without any evidential basis”.
Judge Green said JL was instead “exercising her right to submit an injury benefit claim and it should also not be forgotten that she had succeeded with a previous claim in 2015 where she proved loss based on a work-related stress claim” and so was not “simply acting to annoy” DWP.
The judge also pointed out that JL had been “justifiably upset” because DWP had lost some of the sensitive medical documents she had submitted as part of her claim.
And he said there was “absolutely no basis” for the suggestion that her claim was part of a wider trade union strategy to encourage “un-meritorious claims”.
Judge Green said the management statement “misrepresents” JL, who was “being targeted for asserting her rights”, and he concluded that DWP had victimised JL under the Equality Act.
JL, who has long-standing depression and anxiety, has been working at a DWP pensions centre for 16 years, and had been a representative of the PCS union for more than 13 years, until she stood down in 2017.
The tribunal heard JL had not taken any further sick leave since returning to work in January 2018 and was now branch secretary of the PCS union.
The tribunal rejected her claims of disability discrimination and a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act because she was not able to prove that she was a disabled person under the act by showing her mental health condition had had a substantial impact on her day-to-day activities.
But Judge Green said JL was clearly “very upset by the way she was treated”, and he added: “The management statement caused her great offence and she felt victimised and violated by [DWP’s] behaviour.
“When she gave her evidence about how she felt, she frequently broke down in tears… Her upset was genuine, heartfelt and palpable.”
JL was awarded £3,000 in damages for injury to feelings, and a further £212.60 in interest.
A DWP spokesperson said this week: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all colleagues, including those with disabilities or health conditions, get the support they need to thrive.
“As a Disability Confident employer we demonstrate best practice in recruiting, retaining and developing disabled staff – including making workplace adjustments and providing a dedicated team to deliver this.
“We have in place robust processes for colleagues to follow in relation to diversity and inclusion and, while the number of staff reporting discrimination is very small, we treat any case extremely seriously.”
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11 April 2019
A new disabled people’s organisation (DPO) is hoping to bring together DPOs from across the north of England to provide a strong, collective, regional voice on issues affecting disabled people.
Leeds Disabled People’s Organisation (LDPO) was formed in January last year and has no funding, but it wants to hear from other DPOs across the region*.
It is hoping to map the location of all the DPOs across the north of England so they can work together and provide a powerful new voice, potentially setting up a new regional coalition.
LDPO has already been in contact with the well-established Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and hopes eventually to bring northern DPOs together for a “summit” meeting.
Mostafa Attia, LDPO chair, said: “We would like to do a northern summit, with all the different DPOs coming together, sharing and exchanging sources and see how they can work together rather than each of them working in a separate, isolated environment.”
Steve Graby, a founder member of LDPO and also a member of GMCDP’s executive board, but not speaking on their behalf, said a key problem was the lack of a coordinated list or database of active DPOs.
He said: “I hear about other DPOs mostly by word of mouth, and often even politicised disabled people living in an area, such as Manchester, where there is a DPO that is long-established and ‘well-known’ within the [disabled people’s movement] community, aren’t aware of it.”
Graby said part of the reason for this was that many DPOs had “failed to adapt to changing times and patterns of disablement, so that they don’t seem relevant to a lot of younger disabled people now, and are not necessarily addressing the most pressing problems that many disabled people are facing”.
One of the explanations for that, he said, was that many DPOs had become service-providers that depend on funding with “strings attached” or have restrictions such as only being open to certain age groups.
They have often “lost the roles of campaigning and consciousness-raising organisations” and “can often be de facto led by paid staff rather than their membership”, he said.
Even the national Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance of DPOs, which he supports, appears to be “very London/South of England centric”.
Graby said he believed there needed to be a mapping of where DPOs are active and where they are not, with more regional coordination to “move away from the London bias”.
He said: “I think this is especially needed because so much activist energy has been focused on the actions of central government and therefore targeting parliament, Whitehall, the DWP headquarters etc, and while of course this is important and necessary, disabled people (particularly those with personal assistance/independent living support needs) are now increasingly also being attacked by cuts made by local government, so there is a real need for local/regional as well as national organisation and activism.”
And he said there needed to be an effort to find “new ways of organising as disabled people without relying on the funding which so many DPOs have been reliant on and which increasingly is being lost.
“It is unacceptable to me that loss of funding seems to instantly mean the complete annihilation of a DPO regardless of the will of its members – there need to be ways that DPOs can function on some level as organisations of active ‘doers’ rather than a passive membership and things only being done by paid staff.”
Leeds DPO was formed by a collection of people, most of them disabled, who were either studying at the University of Leeds – known for its Centre for Disability Studies – or were working locally in the disability field.
Its mission is to bring together disabled people in Leeds and combat social isolation and exclusion.
Among its activities, it organises social events, has started a writers’ group and is setting up a disabled women’s group.
11 April 2019
A new guide – written solely by autistic people – aims to show care providers, commissioners and inspectors how to provide “quality care” for other autistic people.
An Independent Guide to Quality Care for Autistic People has been written by members of the National Autistic Taskforce (NAT) and has a “heavy emphasis” on developing choice and control for service-users.
The guide says: “The more autonomy a person has, the less support services need to rely on external authorities such as good practice guides, instead looking to the person themselves as the primary source of information, instruction and guidance.”
Among its recommendations is that care providers should make the protection of service-users’ autonomy “a core priority” and ensure they have choice and control over “major life decisions and not just everyday choices”.
The guide adds: “Respect the rights of all people to privacy, dignity and the maximum possible control over their own lives.”
It also says there should be respect for the right of autistic service-users to make “unwise decisions”, while their human rights should be prioritised over any “perceived risks to organisational or personal reputations”.
The guide, which has been endorsed by organisations including the autistic-led Autistic UK and the non-user-led charity the National Autistic Society, warns that even “well-meaning approaches to care may be negative experiences for some autistic people when these do not respect an autistic perspective”.
This could include being subjected to “treatments” that seek to “normalise” the service-user or that try to include them in social activities they do not want to participate in.
The guide says service-providers should carry out regular “sensory reviews” of the places where autistic service-users spend time, ensure “prompt and effective” access to advocacy, and embed “rights-based thinking” in day-to-day practice.
And it says that any “physical intervention, pharmaceutical control of behaviour or any other forms of restraint” should be viewed as service “failures”.
The guide says: “A good service for autistic people is one where staff try to put themselves in an autistic person’s shoes, get to know each person as an individual, and maintain a relationship with the person based on trust and respect.”
And it adds: “A good service for autistic people recognises autistic identity and does not assume that what is ‘normal’ or ‘good’ for non-autistic people is necessarily right for an autistic person.”
The taskforce hopes its new guide will be part of a growing move beyond the idea of co-production of services and “towards autistic leadership”.
Its main author was trainer and consultant Yo Dunn, a member of the NAT executive.
NAT was launched in December 2017 and has received two years’ funding of £100,000 from the Shirley Foundation, with its focus “to help empower autistic adults, including those with less autonomy and higher support needs, to have a stronger voice in the decisions and direction of their own lives”.
11 April 2019
An airline has been forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.
Helen Jenkins had informed Flybe when she was booking her return flights from Birmingham to the Isle of Man online last week that she would require assistance.
She and her husband are planning to celebrate her birthday in September with a four-day visit to the island – which they have been told has an excellent, accessible public transport system – before she has a major operation that is likely to rule out flying for another six months.
Because of a mobility impairment, she is unable to put her luggage in the overhead locker, fasten her seatbelt, or leave her seat to use the toilet without her husband’s assistance.
But despite ticking the box for assistance, and being told by the booking system that she could choose her own seat without charge, she was charged an extra £6 each way for her husband’s tickets.
And when she called the company to complain, she was told that Flybe was a “no-refunds airline”.
She said she had been “shocked” when she printed out the booking confirmation to find that she had been charged extra to ensure her husband could sit next to her.
She said: “I was pretty astonished considering the service I have received from every other airline, which has always been first class.”
She has booked two return flights a year to various destinations for the last 10 years and has never previously had to pay to reserve her husband’s seat next to her.
Jenkins said Flybe’s efforts had been “absolutely abysmal”.
She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I said, ‘You’re discriminating against me because I am disabled. I need help and you have said I need to pay extra.’”
According to European regulations, airlines must make “all reasonable efforts” to give a person accompanying a disabled person a seat next to that passenger.
In a document published last October, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority said it was “not acceptable for consumers that need to sit with a companion so they can be provided with essential support and assistance to either feel they need to pay extra to guarantee a seat next to a companion or to need to pay extra to ensure they are seated with a companion”.
The document said airlines should make it clear before booking – and again at all times when passengers are offered the option to pay for seats – that no such charges will be imposed.
After DNS contacted the airline to raise concerns about how she had been treated, Flybe apologised and said it would refund the extra charge.
It also said it would ensure that all new staff were “fully aware” of its policy that carers should be assigned a seat next to the passenger they are accompanying at no extra charge.
But Flybe had failed by noon today (Thursday) to explain why its online booking system originally added the charge, when Jenkins had made it clear during the process that she would need wheelchair assistance.
11 April 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com