Mind faces boycott call after policy and campaigns manager joins DWP

Disabled activists have called for a boycott of the mental health charity Mind, and called on its chief executive to quit, after one of its managers agreed to spend a year working with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

They say the move by policy and campaigns manager Tom Pollard is just the latest sign of the close relationship between the charity and DWP on issues around welfare reform.

They believe the charity has betrayed mental health service-users by failing to speak out strongly enough on benefit claimants who have been harmed, or even died, as a result of DWP’s much-criticised “fitness for work” test, the work capability assessment (WCA).

Pollard will be working with DWP on secondment as a senior policy adviser, working on areas such as the government’s upcoming green paper on employment support for disabled people, the WCA and support in jobcentres.

Activists point out that Mind made no mention of welfare reform, sanctions, or benefit-related deaths in its latest five-year strategy, and that the government’s Mental Health Taskforce, led by Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, concluded in its report that employment was “vital to health and should be recognised as a health outcome”, when many campaigners – and professionals – warn that this is not the case for all mental health service-users.

They say Farmer was rewarded for his “collusion” with DWP by being awarded a CBE in the last new year’s honours list.

There is also continuing anger from the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) at Mind’s decision to pull out of a high-profile and long-running court case that was aimed at forcing ministers to make the WCA safer for people with mental health conditions.

Ministers were originally told by a coroner as far back as May 2010 that there was a risk of further deaths if they did not ensure that further medical evidence was obtained for all employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants with mental health conditions, following the suicide of Stephen Carré.

But MHRN is still waiting for DWP to carry out a pilot project to test ways to collect this further medical evidence, despite ministers promising a tribunal they would do so in March 2015, following a lengthy judicial review case taken by MHRN.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, said Mind was “a disgrace”, and had only pulled out of involvement with the court case because it wanted to secure back-to-work contracts from DWP.

She said: “MHRN won’t be leaving things at this, we want change at the very top of national Mind and will be demanding Farmer’s resignation.

“He was rewarded with a CBE for colluding with the Tories.”

She wrote to Farmer after hearing of Pollard’s secondment, telling him: “On looking at your strategy for the next five years we see that there is no mention of the devastating welfare reforms that are destroying the lives of many people with mental health problems.

“Are we to take it that you are blissfully unaware of the misery and devastation being visited upon people who live with mental distress?”

She added: “MHRN cannot accept the role that Mind is playing in helping the government push through policies that are deeply damaging to the people you claim to represent.

“We do not recognise you as an ally of people who live with mental health problems and would like to hear what plans you have to redeem yourself in our eyes.”

Paula Peters, a member of both MHRN and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said Pollard’s secondment was a “despicable, outrageous move”.

She called for a boycott of Mind shops, events and donations, and for Farmer to resign.

She said: “We are furious at the callous disregard for people in mental distress.

“They have been silent while people in mental distress have taken their own lives over being found fit to work due to the WCA, left destitute after being sanctioned in the work-related activity group of ESA, or sanctioned on jobseeker’s allowance.”

She added: “They are just as guilty as this government by their silence over the tragic human cost of the welfare reforms and colluding with the government, which will cause more distress and harm.

“This is a warning to any charity that colludes with the government: you’re next!”

Peters said that activists would be preparing a “welcome party” for Pollard that would take place at DWP’s offices on the day he starts his new job, 31 October.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, said Pollard’s secondment was “a poisoned chalice”.

She said: “Knowing how charities work for their own benefit and not for the benefit of those they purport to represent, it comes as no surprise that Tom Pollard is willing to be seconded to DWP, but he should be aware that any policies he advises on will be thoroughly scrutinized by grassroots campaigners, and he will be held to account by them.”

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns for Mind, said Pollard would be “advising on the most appropriate and effective ways to support and engage with people with mental health problems across a range of policy issues”, and that his “longstanding work on these issues gives him the expertise to advise the DWP”.

She said: “We have long been calling for greater mental health expertise within the department.

“This is a great opportunity to help ensure that these policies are as supportive and effective as possible for people with mental health problems.”

She said that Mind was “politically-neutral” and claimed that it had “continued to push the DWP to reform the WCA through meetings with MPs and civil servants” and through campaign and media work, and added: “We share the Mental Health Resistance Network’s disappointment and frustration at the lack of progress on the specific points covered by the judicial review.

“However, we believe that the case played a vital role in helping to discredit the WCA and we are calling for a commitment to reforming the system in the upcoming green paper.”

Nash added: “Mind will continue to campaign independently and outspokenly for a benefits and welfare system that works for people with mental health problems, including an overhaul of fitness for work tests and a focus on support rather than sanctions.

“We have supported many people to share their stories in the media of the impact welfare reforms have had on them, including individuals who have lost loved ones due to a number of factors, including cuts to their benefits, and will continue to prioritise this for the next 12 months, and beyond.”

She said the charity was “incredibly proud” of Farmer’s CBE for his services to mental health with Mind, and through previous jobs at Rethink and Samaritans, and that he was “committed to achieving real change so that people with mental health problems always get the respect and support that they deserve”.

Nash said the taskforce’s report was based on input from more than 20,000 people who live with a mental health problem or work in the mental health sector, and that “people with mental health problems tell us that appropriate and supportive employment can improve their mental health, while unemployment, debt and problems with benefits can all worsen it”.

She said that campaigning on welfare reform would “continue to be a huge part of what we do” and was covered in the five-year strategy through its commitment to act on “disability, social justice, housing and homelessness”.

She appealed for activists not to take the “extreme action” of boycotting Mind, and added: “People who have raised concerns, such as the Mental Health Resistance Network, have been encouraged to have an open dialogue on these issues with Mind.”

13 October 2016



Care crisis: Council’s failings mean disabled man has to be dragged upstairs to his flat

A disabled man has to be dragged up the stairs to his second-floor flat by his personal assistant because of his local council’s failure to rehouse him in safe, accessible accommodation.

Robert Carver – who is paraplegic – has also been told by his GP, nurse, occupational therapist and psychologist that he needs 24-hour-a-day care, but his council has given him just 28 hours a week.

The inadequate care package means that for two days a week he is left on his own in the inaccessible flat in Hove, Sussex – up two flights of stairs – with no access to food or water, or the ability to toilet or clean himself, even though he is incontinent.

Even on the days that he does have support from his personal assistant (PA), he is alone with no support from 5pm – or even earlier – until noon the next day.

Brighton and Hove council has been asked repeatedly over the last two years to provide him with a proper support package and find him a ground-floor flat with an extra bedroom for an overnight care worker, but has failed to act.

Carver’s flat is at the top of two flights of narrow, steep stairs, and the building has no lift, so the only way he can get to his flat when he returns from one of his many health appointments is to be dragged up the stairs by his PA.

Because of the appointments he needs to attend, he only has enough PA support for five days every week.

Carver, a former artist and designer, said he was at his “wit’s end”.

His flat is “tiny and cramped” and none of the doorways are wide enough for a wheelchair, so he has to be “pulled around on the floor like an animal” by his PA if he needs to move to another room.

The bathroom is so cramped that he has to throw himself in the bath, or be thrown in by his PA.

He said: “All of this means that I am constantly damaging my bones and joints. This damage is so bad that my doctors are refusing to embark on new treatments which could ease my condition until I have more suitable accommodation.

“No-one should have to live like this.”

A council spokesman said in a statement: “Our adult care team is continuing to work with NHS colleagues to try to make sure Mr Carver receives the care and support he needs at any given time.

“We are aware that his condition has deteriorated and that the nature of his condition is that his needs are variable.

“We also recognise that Mr Carver’s current accommodation is unsuitable, and he is in our top priority banding for alternative accommodation.

“We have recently acquired some emergency accommodation that has wheelchair-adapted units, and we are hoping to move Mr Carver on an interim basis in the next couple of weeks.

“Unfortunately there is an acute shortage of accommodation available that is suitable to his needs.

“Since March we have only had two wheelchair-accessible properties become available in social housing and had other households in equal need who had been waiting longer.”

When asked by Disability News Service (DNS) why there was no apology in its statement, a spokesman said: “We are sorry that we have not so far been able to offer Mr Carver accommodation that meets his expectations.”

He then said that Carver had been offered temporary, wheelchair-accessible accommodation in April, and had turned it down.

But Carver said he had turned down the flat in a notorious Brighton property because it was unsuitable, not properly accessible and risked damaging his health even further, while his medical team had “refused point blank” to allow him to be moved there.

Yesterday, following approaches by DNS and other media organisations, a council manager emailed Carver to say that “if it is unlikely that you will secure social housing in the imminent future, you will be moved to wheelchair adapted emergency accommodation in the next couple of weeks”.

But he told the manager that he would not allow the council to move him into “some dilapidated, damp, further risk to my health emergency accommodation as you have tried this before and were completely and immediately shot down by my medical professionals”.

Carver’s story was revealed as the Care Quality Commission today (Thursday) published its annual assessment of the quality of health and adult social care in England, which concluded that the sustainability of the adult social care market was “approaching a tipping point”, with examples of care providers starting to hand back contracts to councils because they were “undeliverable” and local authorities warning of more such cases to come.

David Behan, CQC’s chief executive, said: “The combination of a growing, ageing population, more people with long-term conditions and a challenging financial climate means increased need but reduced access.

“The result is that some people are not getting the help they need – which in turn creates problems in other parts of the health and care system, such as overstretched A&E departments or delays in people leaving hospital.”

13 October 2016



Care crisis: Anger over CCG’s ‘unacceptable’ policy on residential care

Disabled people who need more than eight hours of long-term healthcare a day should be pushed into residential care rather than being allowed to continue living at home, according to a policy introduced by NHS bosses.

The NHS Continuing Healthcare Choice and Equity Policy was brought in last year by Southampton City Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), but without a full public consultation.

The policy applies to people with complex health needs, who have been assessed as eligible for care arranged and funded solely by the NHS.

Last year, it emerged that at least two other CCGs – Mid-Essex and Enfield – had introduced rules refusing to fund home-based packages of support for those eligible for NHS continuing healthcare if the cost was more than 10 per cent above a place in a nursing home.

There were concerns then that such policies could lead to former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) – and other disabled people with high support needs – being forced into residential or nursing homes, following ILF’s closure in June 2015.

Now disabled campaigners have discovered that Southampton CCG’s policy on NHS continuing healthcare currently states that “home care packages in excess of eight hours per day would indicate a high level of need which would be more appropriately met within a residential placement”.

It also says that “persons who need waking night care might generally be more appropriately cared for in a residential placement”, while “residential placements may be deemed more appropriate for persons who have complex and high levels of need”.

The document says the policy has been developed “in light of the need to balance personal choice alongside safety and effective use of finite resources”.

And it warns that: “A package of continuing care for a person in their own home will normally be considered to be cost effective if it is the same (or less) than the anticipated maximum cost of a care package delivered in an alternative appropriate location.”

The policy says that in “exceptional cases”, where home care costs are higher than residential care, the CCG will fund a home care package – through a personal health budget – that is “no more than 10 per cent higher than the anticipated cost of a care package delivered in an alternative appropriate location such as a care home”.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “The suggestion from Southampton CCG that anyone who needs more than eight hours support a day to live independently should instead be institutionalised is totally unacceptable and will be actively opposed by DPAC and their supporters.”

Ian Loynes, chief executive of Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, a user-led organisation which campaigns and provides services in Southampton, said he would be seeking an urgent meeting with the CCG to discuss the document.

A spokeswoman for the CCG said it “completely support people’s right to live independently”, while the policy “ensures that the care provided reflects the choice and preferences of the person whilst balancing the need for safe and effective care that makes the best use of available resources”.

She said the sections on people needing more than eight hours care a day and waking night care were “guidelines”, and that each person was dealt with “on a case by case basis”.

She said the policy was developed in consultation with “clinical staff” and Healthwatch Southampton, and was currently under review, although there was no link to a consultation on its website because it believed that it could obtain “more in depth engagement” through “meetings with service user groups”.

She added: “We understand that a number of CCGs are reviewing their policies to include similar guidance for the future.

“We have never, nor will we ever, force anyone into residential care.”

The spokeswoman said she believed the policy did not breach the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or any current UK legislation.

She said there were “a number of other CCGs with equity and choice policies”, although the CCG did not know how many.

She added: “No one has been placed in residential care as a result of this policy after initially expressing a wish to live at home.”

The Department of Health has refused to comment on the CCG’s policy.

13 October 2016



Care crisis: Council supports nearly 50 per cent fewer adults after six years of austerity

MPs have been told that the adult social care system is “unsustainable” without significant further resources, with one council revealing that the number of adults it supports has plunged by nearly half since 2010.

Members of the communities and local government select committee were hearing evidence from local government experts as part of their inquiry into the financial sustainability – and quality – of council-funded social care in England.

Tony Kirkham, director of resources for Newcastle City Council, told the committee that, since 2010-11, the number of people receiving council-funded support had fallen from 9,780 to 5,237.

He warned that this fall would “only increase in [its] downward trajectory”, and added: “My assistant director for adult services said what we are now doing is we are trying to prevent deterioration rather than actually helping people thrive… we are asking people to do much more for themselves.”

Kirkham said the fall was partly due to a tightening of eligibility criteria and partly because of the council persuading people into “self-helping”.

Cllr Jason Arthur, lead member for finance and health for Haringey council in London, told the committee that his local authority’s overall budget will have fallen by about 40 per cent by 2018, compared with 2010.

He said that financial pressures mean the quality of care offered by providers in the borough “fluctuates”, while some of them “haven’t been complying with Care Act standards”.

The council had had to work with the Care Quality Commission and put “embargos” on the use of some of those providers, he said.

And he admitted that the council was not “in the best place to intervene” to ensure good quality care “because of the pressures on our budget”.

Sarah Pickup, deputy chief executive of the Local Government Association (LGA), said there would be no increase in cash terms in spending on adult social care – £14.4 billion – from 2010-11 to 2019-20.

She said: “That’s 10 years of flat cash [no real terms increase] for social care in the face of demographic pressures, inflation, deprivation of liberty safeguards, the implementation of the Care Act, and all other responsibilities and expectations that have come our way.”

Pickup also said that there was a “significant fear” that the market of care providers was “wobbly” and “not sustainable as it stands”.

She said: “The problem for us is that when the NHS is under pressure, people see queueing ambulances and hospitals go on black alert.

“When you can’t find a home carer for Mrs Jones, nobody sees it on the news but it’s equally devastating on the effect on individual lives.”

She said LGA’s position was that there should be no cap on how much local authorities should be able to raise through council tax.

But Arthur warned later that council tax was highly regressive – which means that increases have a disproportionate impact on poorer people – and so his council wanted to keep levels as low as possible.

Ray James, the immediate past president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, told the committee that funding of the social care system was “not sustainable”.

After the evidence session, Disability North, the user-led independent living service based in Newcastle, described the figures from its own local council as “shocking”.

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said the statistics were alarming because “the need has not disappeared; all they have done is squeeze the eligibility criteria”.

She said: “All they are doing is providing for critical needs. It doesn’t mean the need isn’t there.

“It doesn’t seem to be about inclusion, it’s about prevention and deterioration rather than anything positive.

“Preventing deterioration is very different to promoting inclusion.”

She said she was concerned that many disabled people were disappearing “underground” – out of the view of their local authority or other agencies – after being turned down for council-funded support packages and not knowing where else to go for help.

She said Disability North had seen many disabled people who had had their support packages cut, particularly as a result of the closure of the Independent Living Fund in June 2015.

Many disabled people come to Disability North for help in securing equipment that might be able to help them with independent living after being turned down for support by their local authority, she said.

The concerns came as the Care Quality Commission today (Thursday) published its annual assessment of the quality of health and adult social care in England, which concluded that the sustainability of the adult social care market was “approaching a tipping point”, with examples of care providers starting to hand back contracts because they were financially “undeliverable” and local authorities warning of more such cases to come.

David Behan, CQC’s chief executive, said: “The combination of a growing, ageing population, more people with long-term conditions and a challenging financial climate means increased need but reduced access.

“The result is that some people are not getting the help they need – which in turn creates problems in other parts of the health and care system, such as overstretched A&E departments or delays in people leaving hospital.”

13 October 2016



Conference hears of ‘democide’, ‘psycho-compulsion’ and suicide risk from benefit system

Mental health survivors and psychologists have joined forces for a conference that has highlighted the extreme damage caused by welfare reform, and has suggested how mental health professionals can help in the fight to improve the benefit system.

The Psychologists and the Benefits System conference in Manchester was organised by clinical psychologist and lecturer Dr Stephen Weatherhead and Joanna, a mental health system survivor, who had been exchanging ideas around the impact of welfare reform for the last two years.

The conference – sub-titled Time To Get Off The Fence – featured presentations by both academics and campaigners, including a workshop to help psychologists write letters for service-users needing access to support such as benefits.

One of the presentations was delivered by Joy Hibbins, founder of Suicide Crisis, a charity in Gloucestershire which runs a crisis centre that is open to anyone in the county who is feeling suicidal.

Hibbins, herself a mental health system survivor, talked about the impact of the benefits system on some of her clients.

She described how for one client, Sam*, the risk of suicide “rose sharply the day before his appeal over withdrawal of benefits”.

She said: “The loss of benefits (or fear/threat of loss of benefits) was not the reason why Sam became suicidal.

“His suicidal thoughts had been triggered originally by the traumatic death of his partner.

“However, the prospect of the loss of benefits was a final trigger, when he was already vulnerable, mentally unwell and destabilised by recent trauma.”

For another client, Julia – who had emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) and faced a reassessment every year for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the fear of losing benefits caused her suicide risk “to rocket”.

When she heard that her ESA claim had been successful, said Hibbins, “her immediate reaction was not relief, but fear and distress that she would have to go through it all again next year.

“She is now trying to bring together a group of people with EUPD so that they can meet with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials to explain the impact of these annual assessments on them.”

She told the conference that DWP officials had always listened when the centre explained the impact of losing their benefits on its clients, and eventually either reinstated or maintained those benefits.

But she said this left her and her colleagues “extremely concerned” for benefit claimants who do not have the support of a centre like hers.

She said: “We know how at risk some of our clients have been and if they hadn’t had support and advocacy, they may well have ended their lives.”

Disabled activist Rick Burgess spoke about “democide”, the idea that actions by a government can cause harm or even death, but often go undefined and unchallenged because the perpetrator is the state.

He said this illustrated what had happened to disabled people in the UK over the last decade through welfare reform, with the ideas of “malingering and illness deception” becoming mainstream, and eventually party and government policy, leading to the “surreal situation of people dying daily, of the same ‘errors’ and ‘failings’ repeating daily over many years”.

Burgess said that “an ‘accident’ that keeps repeating, every day, every week, every month, every year” while there were people able to stop it from happening who instead allowed it to continue, was “not a failure, neglect or an accident” but “the product of policy”.

He said: “When other legislative changes contribute towards this outcome, when assessments of cumulative impact are refused, when information is denied and when voices are silenced that is a pattern that reveals a strategy.

“Set amidst a global consensus on reducing state spending and support, with governments choosing to make a decision [on] which sectors of the population will lose support, this becomes an inevitable expression of democide.”

He said this process had been assisted by the actions of doctors, lawyers, administrators, journalists and judges.

He added: “The removal of normal legal redress, the limiting of charity dissent and simultaneous involvement of the third sector and the provision of a tortuous appeal system give the veneer of due process while delivering a reality of brutal denial of rights, up to and including the right to life.”

He told the conference that those involved in the system, particularly health professionals, needed to “rediscover their ethical duties” by boycotting DWP, helping claimants with their claims, and encouraging other professionals to follow the same course of action.

Dr Brigit McWade, from Lancaster University, spoke about her research with professor Imogen Tyler into how neoliberal governments – including the UK’s – stigmatised benefit claimants in order to justify their welfare reforms and privatisation agenda.

She told the conference that Conservative ministers responsible for recent UK welfare reform, including Iain Duncan Smith, believe that the social security system produces “a culture of dependency, and a poverty trap”.

And she pointed to research by Friedli and Stearn that showed how psychologists had been recruited into the social security system to help DWP identify “psychological barriers to gaining employment”, punish benefit claimants for failing to comply with the system, and attempt to foster attributes and attitudes that DWP believed would increase their “employability”.

In this way, psychologists were supporting DWP’s focus on changing the individual’s behaviour rather than the social barriers they faced, she said.

Claimants who failed to conform were subjected to “psycho-compulsive regimes that seek to re-condition” them and remove their benefits “through sanctions designed to punish the poor”.

She told the conference that welfare reform policy had become “an act of war on an internal enemy of the government’s own creation”.

Weatherhead, who is also based at Lancaster University, said after the conference that the event had provided information for psychologists on how to improve support for benefit claimants, while also drawing attention to some of the flaws in the system.

He told Disability News Service: “The key issue we wanted to address was that the WCA is not up to scratch, and we need to get rid of sanctions.

“Sanctions don’t work from a psychological perspective and target people already in financial straits and are just cruel to the most vulnerable groups in our society.”

Weatherhead is now hoping that other such conferences will take place around the country, again involving both psychologists and service-users.

He is also working with mental health survivors on a 24-hour vigil that will coincide with next year’s BPS annual conference, and will “raise support and awareness of all the people whose mental health has been affected by the benefits system, particularly those who have died”.

He is hoping that he and other campaigners will persuade BPS to hold a session at the annual conference on the benefits system, the use of psycho-compulsion, and the ethics of psychologists working for DWP.

Last year, he organised Walk the Talk, in which a group of psychologists walked 100 miles from British Psychological Society (BPS) offices in Leicester to BPS offices in London to raise awareness of social policies that are leading to psychological distress, such as benefit sanctions and the “fit for work” system, as well as homelessness and food poverty.

He can be contacted by email at s.weatherhead@lancaster.ac.uk or on Twitter at @steweatherhead.

*Not their real names

13 October 2016



Project set to double number of independent living centres in Wales

Two groups have been chosen to set up new centres for independent living (CIL) in Wales, doubling the number of CILs in the country.

The new centres will be located in Ceredigion, in the west of the country, and Flintshire, in the north, and will both be run and controlled by disabled people.

Although there are only two existing CILs in Wales, the long-term aim is to have one in every one of its 22 counties.

The two new CILs were selected by Disability Wales, the Wales Co-operative Centre (WCC), and Dewis Centre for Independent Living, as part of the £318,000 Welsh government-funded Enabling Wales programme.

Disability Wales said it hoped they would provide “a kick start to developing more CILs across Wales”.

The two groups will now receive support from Disability Wales, WCC and Dewis CIL as they work towards opening their doors to disabled people next March.

That support will include help with the bids they will need to make to local authorities, the Welsh government and other sources of funding to allow them to meet their running costs.

Disability Wales said the two groups would need to “strike a balance between their traditional campaigning role… with the need to operate successfully within a highly competitive commercial environment, and to manage the potential conflicts of interest when delivering public contracts”.

The Ceredigion CIL will focus on providing information and advice – including disability equality training; self-advocacy; offering support to victims of hate crime; campaigning; and fundraising – and will be run by the disabled people’s organisation Disabled People Together, as well as the non-user-led groups Mencap Ceredigion and Creative Lifestyle Solutions.

Rhiannon Hicks, Enabling Wales project officer at Disability Wales, said: “The Ceredigion group were successful as they showed a strong understanding of organisations led by disabled people for disabled people.

“They also have a strong commitment to the social model of disability, as well as good partnerships with relevant third sector bodies.”

The Flintshire CIL will be run by the user-led Flintshire Disability Forum (FDF), and will provide services such as help with managing personal budgets; campaigning; recruitment and training of personal assistants; assistance completing application forms; and equipment hire.

Hicks said: “The FDF were successful as they have a strong track record of project delivery, and of securing funding. They also have strong partnerships.”

She added: “I very much look forward to working with both groups in the next stage of the project.”

Rhian Davies, director of Disability Wales, said: “We are delighted that following an 18-month long programme of training, development and coaching, working with 65 disabled people across Wales, we have achieved our goal in being able to select two emerging CILs and support their development over the remainder of the Enabling Wales project.

“CILs are social enterprises that deliver services run by disabled people for disabled people and offer a new and creative model of provision in line with what people actually need to achieve independent living and well-being as well as maximise scarce resources.”

Disability Wales said it hoped the new organisations would in time be able to support other groups towards becoming CILs, while it would itself be providing a “tool kit” on how to set up a CIL.

Carl Sargeant, the Welsh government’s cabinet secretary for communities and children, congratulated the two groups, and said: “I am sure that, with the support of the Wales Cooperative Centre and Dewis CIL, they will develop and grow into sustainable enterprises which will promote independent living for disabled people and provide them with the services they need to support their well-being.”

13 October 2016



MSPs hear call for government to ‘speak out more forcefully’ on WCA deaths

A disabled activist has told a parliamentary committee that the Scottish government should “speak out more forcefully” about disabled benefit claimants who have died as a result of the “fitness for work” test.

John McArdle, co-founder of the Scottish grassroots campaign Black Triangle, was giving evidence to the Scottish parliament’s social security committee as it weighed up its priorities for the next session.

McArdle appealed to the committee to the look at the issue of social security reform “through the lens of human rights”.

He highlighted the harm caused by both the work capability assessment (WCA) – which tests eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA) – and the eligibility test for the new personal independence payment (PIP).

And he told the committee: “The Scottish government must reject the underpinning of both these tests, and it must speak out more forcefully about the number of people who have died and committed suicide after a WCA.”

He pointed to the inquiry being carried out by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities into allegations of “systematic and grave” violations of disabled people’s human rights in the UK.

McArdle called on the Scottish government to demand a copy of the committee’s report, which is believed to have been sent to the UK government, but has not been published.

He added: “One death is too many, but when we are getting stories of people committing suicide every other week and it’s in the newspapers we really need to speak up, because these flagrant human rights abuses are taking place on Scottish soil today.”

The committee’s convenor, the SNP’s Sandra White, told McArdle: “A number of us around here have had cases that you are referring to.

“Certainly as a committee we could write and ask for a copy of that report.”

And she said that she and her colleagues could raise the issue with the UK government’s new work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, when he gives evidence to the committee next month as the UK government prepares to pass significant social security powers to the Scottish government and parliament.

McArdle also told the committee that Black Triangle had submitted information to Police Scotland on the deaths of three former ESA claimants – David Barr, Paul Donnachie and a woman known only as Ms DE – whose deaths were all linked to failings in the WCA system.

He said: “We believe an offence has been committed at Scottish law that a public official has wilfully failed to carry out their duty.”

Although McArdle did not name them, the public officials named in the dossier handed to Police Scotland are former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and former employment minister Chris Grayling.

McArdle said: “If disabled people cannot rely on the law to uphold their civil rights then it is a very sad day for Scotland.”

And he said that these deaths, and others, showed that public agencies in Scotland needed to “put human rights at the very heart of their decision-making”.

McArdle also told the committee that many local medical committees – the organisations that represent GPs and their practices to local NHS bodies – were “simply refusing to provide disabled people with the letters that they need to support their applications” for ESA.

He also brandished a copy of Cash Not Care, the new book by disabled researcher Mo Stewart, which exposes how successive governments have planned the “demolition of the welfare state”.

He said he would hand it to White after the meeting, and called for every one of her committee colleagues to be given a copy.

McArdle also called for “a complete end on” to imposing sanctions on benefit claimants, which he said were “a violation of the fundamental human rights of individuals”.

The SNP’s George Adam told fellow members of the committee that the PIP system was “more expensive” than disability living allowance, the benefit it is replacing for working-age claimants, while the companies carrying out PIP assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions – Atos and Capita – were “effectively making profit out of the misery of disabled people”.

He said there was a need to bring “dignity and respect” to the disability benefits system.

Summing up the evidence session, White said: “We need to make sure that people are treated with dignity and respect and, as Mr McArdle says, these horrific instances are not revisited again.”

13 October 2016



DaDaFest offers ‘11 Million Reasons To Dance’… and much more

Sculptures of figures falling down, fat activism, and a dance performance dedicated to the disabled victims of the Nazi euthanasia programme will all feature in DaDaFest’s 13th festival of disability and Deaf arts, which begins next month.

DaDaFest said the Liverpool-based festival would feature “outrageous, diverse and radical disability and Deaf arts” that will “challenge public perceptions of disability, ignite debate and celebrate disability culture”.

The theme of the festival, which runs from 17 November to 3 December, is Skin: Deep, exploring how disability is viewed in modern society, including the stigmatisation and marginalisation faced by disabled people.

For the first time at DaDaFest, several events will be live-streamed on the internet.

Highlights include two performances of Liz Carr’s critically-praised Assisted Suicide: The Musical; Give Me A Reason To Live, a solo performance by choreographer Claire Cunningham that is dedicated to the victims of the Nazi Aktion T4 euthanasia programme and the disabled victims of the UK government’s welfare reforms; two performances by comedian Laurence Clark of his new show Independence; and a performance at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall of Grammy award-nominated duo Amadou and Mariam.

This year’s festival also includes 11 Million Reasons To Dance, a photography exhibition of iconic dance scenes from cinema, reimagined by Deaf and disabled dancers; Balancing Act, a trail of sculptures of figures falling down by artist Faith Bebbington; and two discussions on the subject of fat activism and disability.

The festival also features the two-day DaDaFest International Congress, which will examine disability culture and human rights from an international perspective.

Ruth Gould, DaDaFest’s artistic director, said: “We are justly proud of this year’s programme, in terms of its quality, scope and intended impact.

“It demonstrates that disabled and deaf people deliver cutting edge and beguiling arts experiences that have a resonance throughout society.

“We aim to surprise and allure our audiences and feel confident that the mix of events, the diversity of the artists and their work will make this year one to be remembered.”

Carr, who performed at the first DaDaFest, said: “DaDaFest provided me with the opportunity to develop and perform and just to get out there and to get better at what I do.

“I’m always honoured to be asked back and to see the old-timers like myself have the chance to work alongside so many exciting newcomers.

“I’ve been involved since the very first festival so it’s thrilling to see its development into what is now the biggest and most important disability arts event in the UK.”

13 October 2016


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com