‘Staggering’ ESA suicide figures prompt calls for inquiry and prosecution of ministers

“Staggering” new figures show that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014.

The new analysis of NHS statistics, being published for the first time by Disability News Service (DNS), shows that in 2007 – a year before the introduction of the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) – 21 per cent of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants told researchers they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

The following year, IB began to be replaced by employment and support allowance (ESA), with eligibility tested by the WCA, under the New Labour government.

But by 2014, following four years of social security reforms under the new coalition government, and austerity-related cuts to disability benefits and services – and six years of the WCA – more than 43 per cent of claimants were saying they had attempted suicide.

One leading psychologist described the figures this week as showing “the greatest increase in suicide rates for any population that I can recall in the literature”.

Over the same period, adults questioned for the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) who were not claiming IB (in 2007) or ESA (in 2014) remained statistically stable (6.0 per cent in 2007 against 6.7 per cent in 2014).

The figures therefore strongly suggest that government cuts and reforms, and particularly the introduction of the WCA, have had a serious, detrimental – and sometimes fatal – effect on the mental health of a generation of claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

Two weeks ago, DNS reported on figures from the 2014 APMS which showed that 43.2 per cent of ESA claimants – and as high as 47.1 per cent of female ESA claimants – had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with 6.7 per cent of the general adult population.

Disabled campaigners said then that they feared the 2014 figures demonstrated the impact of years of austerity-related cuts to the NHS, social care and social security budgets, the demonisation of ESA claimants, and the increased use of benefit sanctions.

They also suggested that the figures showed the impact of the WCA, which since its introduction in 2008 has increasingly been associated with relapses, anxiety and distress among those with long-term health conditions, including mental health conditions, and the loss of many lives.

But it was impossible to see how those figures compared with the previous survey, seven years earlier, because the relevant analysis was not carried out for the report on the 2007 figures.

DNS therefore asked Sally McManus, who leads research on the survey* – on behalf of NHS Digital – for the independent social research institute NatCen, to calculate the figures on attempted suicides for those IB claimants who were surveyed in 2007.

Her calculations show a dramatic rise, from 20.9 per cent of IB claimants in 2007 to 43.2 per cent of ESA claimants in 2014.

McManus said that, although the figures did not demonstrate what had caused the rates of attempted suicides to rise so dramatically over the seven years for those on IB/ESA, they did show that the “rates of attempted suicide have clearly increased among people of working age in receipt of a disability-related benefit”.

The age-standardised figures are calculated from data collected through the APMS, which is carried out every seven years for NHS Digital by NatCen and the University of Leicester.

DNS also reports this week (see separate story) that, despite being aware of the startling figures from the 2014 survey, which were published in September 2016, the government has refused to explain why it made no attempt to prioritise ESA claimants as a high-risk group for suicide in its latest suicide prevention strategy, which was published in January 2017.

The strongest evidence until now that there was a link between the WCA and an increase in mental distress came in November 2015, when public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford showed in a study that, for every 10,000 IB claimants in England who were reassessed for ESA between 2010 and 2013, there were an additional six suicides, 2,700 cases of self-reported mental health problems, and an increase of more than 7,000 in the number of anti-depressants prescribed.

In all, across England as a whole, the reassessment process from 2010 to 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides, 279,000 additional cases of self-reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of a further 725,000 anti-depressants.

Disabled activists, who have spent years highlighting serious concerns about the impact of the WCA, have told DNS this week that ministers must now be held accountable for the damage they have caused and for repeatedly covering up links between the WCA and suicides.

Denise McKenna, a co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the figures were “shocking, but they certainly do not come as any surprise”.

She said: “At MHRN, we are frequently having to talk people out of taking their own lives and trying to give people reasons to live.

“We understand these benefit changes are causing people to be suicidal because many of us in the MHRN are themselves feeling suicidal.

“It is all about the WCA. People are terrified of being put in the [ESA] work-related activity group because they are terrified of being pressured into work when they are not ready.”

And because of the increasing focus on employment in mental health services, she said, “the harassment also exists within the Department of Health”.

People with mental health problems, she said, are “bullied, harassed and generally terrorised”.

She added: “That this is happening in 21st century Britain is totally appalling. It will be remembered as a shameful time in British history. And we will not forget it.”

McKenna said there should be a public inquiry into the links between the WCA and suicides, and the associated cover-up of those links, with criminal prosecutions of the government ministers responsible.

She said: “I believe these ministers are personally responsible for these suicidal thoughts and for the actual suicides and there should be charges, there should be legal action against them.”

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The figures show how harmful the WCA is, how it ramps up a claimant’s distress, anxiety and depression.”

She also called for an inquiry into the links between the WCA and suicides, and for a criminal prosecution of ministers – as well as senior civil servants – responsible for ignoring and even covering-up evidence of the links.

She said: “We will not rest until we see them brought to justice and we bring the truth out to the wider public.”

Peters attempted to take her own life in 2011, and was hospitalised for three months, because of “overwhelming distress, fear and anxiety over the WCA”.

She said: “It has definitely had a detrimental impact on my mental health and it has caused my physical health to deteriorate because of the continual stress of the WCA and the continual reassessments.

“You just live with the DWP hanging over you like a big, black cloud, and you live in perpetual fear of them, you’re petrified of them, living in fear of those brown envelopes.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “These latest figures irrefutably confirm what Black Triangle has argued since the inception of our campaign in June 2010, following the death of our friend Paul Reekie who took his own life following a DWP work capability assessment.

“The WCA assessment regime discriminates against sick and/or disabled people and violates their fundamental human rights – up to and including the very right to life itself.

“The prime minister and the secretary of state can no longer stand at the dispatch box at Westminster and deny the truth of this statement. The evidence can no longer be dismissed.”

He said the government had “implemented policies and systems that have led to the avoidable deaths of disabled people.

“It has done this intentionally and with reckless abandon. It has resisted all calls from every quarter of civil society to implement reforms that would prevent substantial harm and death.

“It is guilty of grave and systematic violations of our fundamental human rights. It is guilty of creating – and maintaining – a human catastrophe for disabled people.”

Dr Jay Watts, a consultant clinical psychologist and member of the campaigning Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, who first brought the 2014 figures to the attention of DNS, said: “The change in suicide rates these figures show is just staggering.

“It is the greatest increase in suicide rates for any population that I can recall in the literature, and can I emphasise this is from the largest, most reliable data set on the mental health of the nation out there.

“It is simply inexcusable to treat people like second-class citizens, to deny them the means to live, and to punish them, for example via sanctions, for not being able to comply with the neoliberal dream of working.

“The shame, guilt and anxiety, as well as material deprivation, caused by the current benefits regime is killing disabled people.

“These figures must be a wake-up call to government – benefits reform is the simplest, most useful thing we can do to reduce deaths by suicide.

“We need reform now before more people die. We need this to be the number one issue people turn to when thinking about improving the mental health of the nation.

“How dare we think of ourselves as having a decent, progressive society when we treat people so badly?”

Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, said: “On the face of it, these figures are a truly damning indictment of the government’s social security policies, and show they are unfit for purpose.

“The government need to wake up and act fast. It is unacceptable that disabled people are made to suffer like this.

“Labour would scrap the WCA, end the punitive sanctions regime and change the culture of the social security system, from one that demonises people not in work to one that is supportive and enabling.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman refused to say if the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, agreed that the WCA and the government’s austerity-related ESA policies had had a significant negative impact on the mental health of ESA claimants, or whether she would launch an inquiry into the links.

But she said in a statement that suicide was “a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to anyone’s benefit claim” and that the government’s welfare reforms were “restoring fairness” and “supporting people into work”.

She added: “We have made significant improvements to the WCA since its introduction in 2008.

“This includes implementing changes to address issues raised through five independent reviews and strong quality and customer experience improvements in partnership with our WCA provider.

“We remain committed to further improving the WCA, which is why on 29 September 2017 we stopped reassessments for those with the most severe conditions.

“There still needs to be a gateway in place for disability benefits to provide support to those who need it most.

“It’s very important that we get the assessment reform right, which is why we will use this parliament to build our evidence base for what works and we will continue to work with stakeholders to do that.”

*McManus said the survey was the government’s “primary source of information about the extent of mental illness in the population, and whether it’s going up or down over time” and is the “longest-standing mental health survey in the world to use consistent methods over time”. Every seven years since the early 1990s, a large random sample of the general population is invited to take part. In the latest survey, about 7,500 people were interviewed in their own homes, with each interview taking about an hour and a half to complete. Questions include whether they have ever thought about suicide, made a suicide attempt, or self-harmed in some other way.

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

14 December 2017

 

 

Department of Health silence over failure to highlight ESA suicide risk

The Department of Health (DH) has refused to say why it failed to warn NHS bodies and other local services that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are at a hugely-increased risk of attempting to take their own lives.

DH published the latest version of its national suicide prevention strategy in January this year.

The strategy was published four months after NHS Digital produced the results of its Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), which showed that more than 43 per cent of claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

But the suicide prevention strategy fails to mention these figures or to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group, even though it briefly mentions Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance for dealing with ESA claimants who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm.

This week, a DH spokeswoman refused to explain why the figures were not mentioned in the strategy or why ESA claimants were not highlighted as a group at particularly high risk of suicide.

Instead, she said: “As I know you’ve discussed with the DWP, suicide is a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to anyone’s benefit claim.

“There is clear guidance in place for DWP staff members to follow if a claimant expresses a desire to self-harm, to ensure the claimant receives appropriate care and support.

“We updated the National Suicide Prevention Strategy to strengthen delivery of its key areas for action to reduce suicides.

“This includes ensuring that every local area has a suicide prevention plan in place by the end of the year to ensure that all local services are working together to implement tailored approaches to reducing suicide in their communities.

“Good suicide prevention plans include action to address the wider determinants of suicide risk including unemployment and living with long-term conditions or disabilities.”

The DH refusal to explain its failure to highlight ESA claimants in its suicide prevention strategy comes as Disability News Service this week publishes new figures (see separate story) which show that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014.

The figures show that in 2007 – a year before the introduction of the much-criticised work capability assessment, which tests eligibility for ESA – 21 per cent of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants told researchers they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

IB began to be replaced by ESA under the New Labour government the following year, in 2008.

But by 2014, following four years of social security reforms under the new coalition government, and austerity-related cuts to disability benefits and services – and six years of the WCA – more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants were saying they had attempted suicide.

The figures were calculated for DNS by Sally McManus, who leads research on the survey for the independent social research institute NatCen, on behalf of NHS Digital.

It is unclear if the government has ever made the same calculation, and if it has, why these figures have never been published.

But the DH failure is just the latest evidence that the government has ignored, and even covered up, links between its efforts to force people with mental health conditions into work, and increased levels of suicide, attempted suicide, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Letters written by coroners, which blamed the WCA process for triggering two suicides and called for changes to the assessment process, were ignored by ministers.

They also failed to pass the first of those letters, written in April 2010, to the independent expert who was reviewing the WCA, Professor Malcolm Harrington.

Ministers also failed to pass on the results of internal reviews into the deaths of ESA claimants that were linked to the WCA to Professor Harrington.

As a result of these failures to act to improve the WCA, many other claimants are believed to have died, including Mark Wood, Paul Donnachie, David Barr, and a woman known only as Ms D E.

The strongest evidence until now that there was a link between the WCA and an increase in mental distress came in November 2015, when public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford showed in a study that, for every 10,000 IB claimants in England who were reassessed for ESA between 2010 and 2013, there were an additional six suicides, 2,700 cases of self-reported mental health problems, and an increase of more than 7,000 in the number of anti-depressants prescribed.

In all, across England, the reassessment process from 2010 to 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides, 279,000 additional cases of self-reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of a further 725,000 anti-depressants.

DWP dismissed the findings of that report in 2015 and said it was “wholly misleading”.

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

14 December 2017

 

 

Vigil as court hears that PIP rules are ‘unfair and discriminatory’

Campaigners have taken part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice, as the high court was hearing claims by a disabled woman that new benefit rules are “unfair and discriminatory”.

Regulations that came into force in March mean that people who are unable to plan or undertake a journey due to overwhelming psychological distress now receive fewer qualifying points when assessed for personal independence payment (PIP).

The new rules mean that many PIP claimants are entitled to a lower level of financial support for their mobility, and in many cases no mobility support at all.

The legal challenge against work and pensions secretary David Gauke is being brought by RF, who believes that the changes to PIP will have a “significant negative impact” on her life and on the lives of many others who experience significant mental distress.

Both the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the mental health charity Mind have submitted written evidence supporting RF’s case.

Sara Lomri, RF’s solicitor and deputy legal director of the Public Law Project, said: “[RF] has told me that losing enhanced PIP mobility means she will not be able to get the support she needs to travel.

“This will have a huge impact on her ability to participate in society and her independence.”

The court’s ruling is expected before Christmas.

Among those who took part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the first day of the two-day hearing was Rose*, who said the new regulations could easily affect her level of support.

She currently receives the higher rate care component of disability living allowance and the lower rate mobility component, and she said she was “constantly living in dread of being called up for my [PIP] assessment”.

She said: “My psychological distress does affect my mobility. I have severe dissociation which causes me to wander around without any knowledge of danger.

“I think it’s time for justice for us because we have been discriminated against and there is such a lack of understanding of psychological distress.”

She added: “It is criminal the way we are being treated. It is just not right. I had other plans for my life, not to live on benefits, but unfortunately I have to because of my mental health problems.

“I am shocked about how we are made to feel bad for being unwell.”

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, is still waiting to be assessed for PIP, as a long-term claimant of disability living allowance, and currently receives mobility support because of the psychological distress caused by travelling.

She said the case was “fundamentally important” to her and the many thousands of others who also need the support to travel.

Without that mobility support from DLA, or PIP, she would not have a Freedom Pass, which allows her free travel across the capital, so she can attend GP and hospital appointments, and take part in campaigning.

Without the support from PIP, many people with mental distress would be excluded from society and imprisoned at home, she said.

Peters said: “We get the mobility component of PIP for deep psychological distress because it is so vital for our mental wellbeing and being able to get to appointments, to interact with friends and family and just take part in everyday life.

“That exclusion ramps up anxiety and causes people’s depression to worsen and in my case ramps up my agoraphobia.”

Asked how much she trusted DWP on mental health issues, she said: “I don’t. I don’t trust DWP on anything.

“They are targeting mental health claimants on PIP, on ESA, on universal credit, on the Work and Health Programme.

“They are about ramping up the mental distress and causing a claimant’s mental health to deteriorate to the point where they want to give up and take their own life, and in many cases already have done, and we remember those who are not with us today.

“I think DWP are trivialising mental health. What they can’t see, they don’t believe exists.”

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, who also took part in the vigil, said: “For a lot of people with severe mental health problems they cannot travel by public transport, they are having to use taxis for part of their journey, sometimes for all of their journey.

“It is very important that people should not become isolated. Isolation is a key precipitate of suicide and relapse. There could be fatal consequences.”

She said people with mental health problems were “being targeted by the government from all directions”, through cuts to out-of-work benefits and PIP, and the withdrawal of mental health services and the focus on employment in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

She said: “People with mental health problems are being targeted to get back into the workplace and [the PIP changes are] an additional barrier to getting to work.

“It is part of a huge assault on people with mental health problems. One of the things they are doing is denying the existence of mental distress. They are negating it.”

She added: “I wanted to be here today, because having been involved in a judicial review I know what an emotional roller-coaster [it can be].

“I think it’s important for people taking the judicial review to know how much it means to other people and to get support from as many people as possible.

“We recognise it is in all of our interests.”

Claire Glasman, from the campaigning organisation WinVisible – which supports disabled women, including those who are traumatised, such as rape and sexual abuse survivors, and refugee survivors of genocide – said the government was “discriminating against people with mental distress”.

She said that disabled women needed PIP mobility support “to be able to get out of the house and to do things in the community, see friends and get involved in groups”.

Glasman said: “It just shows they don’t care, they don’t care if people have all the benefits that they need to be able to live our lives and get out of the house.

“Theresa May makes all these announcements about mental health being a priority but we know the NHS is being cut, and women’s services are struggling through lack of funding.”

Lisa Longstaff, a spokeswoman for Women Against Rape, another campaigner at the vigil, said she was there because so many of the women her organisation worked with – including traumatised women who had been raped – had had their benefits cut unfairly.

She said: “I am here because this case is an example of many of the other cuts we have been fighting together.”

RF argues that the new PIP regulations violate article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits unjustifiable discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of disability.

She argues that people with overwhelming psychological distress are treated less favourably than those with other conditions, when assessed on their need for mobility support.

DWP has told RF’s lawyers that the new rules can be justified.

RF also argues that DWP should have carried out a consultation on the new regulations before they were introduced, whereas DWP has said that it had always been its intention to exclude psychological distress from certain questions in the PIP eligibility test, and so there was no need to carry out a fresh consultation in 2017.

But RF’s lawyers say that if those organisations involved in the original PIP consultation had been told this, they would have challenged it at the time by campaigning and lobbying politicians.

A DWP spokeswoman said the department could not comment on an ongoing legal case.

But she pointed to a statement made earlier this year by the minister for disabled people, explaining the reasons for the new regulations, and a departmental statement issued on the same day in February.

In the statement, DWP said that “people who cannot carry out a journey because of a visual or cognitive impairment are likely to need more support than someone who experiences psychological distress when they undertake a journey, for example as a result of social phobia or anxiety”.

The department added: “Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different to what was originally intended.

“The government is now making amendments to clarify the criteria, to restore the original aim of the policy and ensure support goes to those most in need.”

*Not her real name

14 December 2017

 

 

Autistic-led taskforce will address ‘hypocrisy and injustice’

A new autistic-led taskforce has pledged to address the “hypocrisy and injustice” that faces autistic people, and make it easier for them to control their own lives, with the help of a £100,000 grant.

The National Autistic Taskforce (NAT) is being funded for two years through the grant from the Shirley Foundation, which was awarded because many of the taskforce’s members had worked as advisers to the National Autism Project (NAP), which is also funded by the foundation.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, the foundation’s founder, was so grateful for their work that she provided £100,000 funding for an autistic-led project.

The leadership of the new taskforce, and all its founding members, are themselves autistic.

The focus of the taskforce will be “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”.

It was launched at a House of Lords event this week.

In a speech to launch the taskforce, the project leader, the autistic lecturer and consultant Dr Damian Milton, said that although there have been some improvements in public awareness, educational support, and peer-led community support for autistic people, there were still “many gaps in knowledge and service provision” that can lead to “horrendous consequences”.

He said: “Whilst there has been much ‘basic science’ research in the field of autism, good quality research and evidence in terms of support strategies, and how best to help autistic people live fulfilling lives, is far less forthcoming.

“In the worst cases, this can lead to ill-informed practices that can exacerbate the difficulties faced by autistic people.

“This is all the more pertinent for those who are less able to articulate their needs and advocate for themselves in ‘traditional’ ways.”

One of the concerns of the taskforce is that significant numbers of autistic people are being denied their freedom through the application of Deprivation of Liberty rules, with many forced into long stays in assessment and treatment units.

Among the taskforce’s tasks will be to examine how autistic people can be given more control over their lives, and how to improve access to independent advocacy services, including support provided by autistic advocates, while it is also likely to focus on the failings of the national care regulators, including the Care Quality Commission.

A series of NAT working groups, known as GNATs, will look at key topics such as research, care standards, and effective diagnosis.

Non-autistic people are being asked to join the working groups, but all of them will have a majority of autistic members.

The aim of the GNATs is to be “productive irritants”, pushing for action on government policies and how they are put into practice.

There will also be a new website, AutNav, aimed at autistic people and people with learning difficulties.

Although the taskforce is a two-year project, the aim of one of the GNATs is to look at how to make NAT a self-sustaining body.

Dinah Murray, a member of the NAT strategy board, and strategy adviser to the taskforce, told Disability News Service: “We are basing our practice on the key autistic strength of atypically strong and pressing interests: we see hypocrisy, injustice, and the failure of the whole legislative infrastructure blatantly before us, in regard to people for whom we have exceptional fellow feeling, and it really fires us up.

“We are also highly solution focussed as part of our autistic dispositions. We want to shake things up and we are not afraid to try.”

She said there were “appalling injustices going on” and that they had “the shared expertise, passionate commitment and tough mindedness to drive needed change”.

She said there were widespread “negative attitudes and poorly thought out practices”, but “the most gravely abusive treatment is of people with the highest care needs”, such as Connor Sparrowhawk, whose death in 2013 in an NHS care unit led to the Justice for LB campaign.

She said autistic people were facing “incarceration, forced drugging, distant re-location, fatal neglect, absent access to communication support, imposed life decisions made without consultation [and] excluded family and friends”.

Murray said: “We have sources of deep knowledge in these areas and we have an intensely committed team determined to change things; we are solution focussed, flexible and seeking justice.”

She said she believed it was the first time an autistic-led project had been given such significant funding “without specific requirements about how it should be spent”.

Murray said the project showed “a shift in the power balance”, and was an example of co-production “based on a history of earned mutual respect”.

She said it followed “an acknowledged autistic success” in which she and other autistic members of the taskforce had had enough “common purpose” and “will” to work successfully with the National Autism Project, even though they had originally thought the project was “misconceived”.

The National Autism Project aims to provide “authoritative” recommendations on autism research and practice and “raise awareness at government level and among funders” of the benefits of greater investment.

A report by the project, published in January, found that the failure to base support for autistic people on the best available evidence came at “an unacceptable human and unsustainable financial cost”.

The challenges, it found, were “exacerbated by the limited investment in research to fill the many gaps in that evidence”.

Milton told the House of Lords event: “The National Autistic Taskforce is a vital opportunity for the autistic community and its allies to work together to turn the core principles of the National Autism Project into reality.

“Namely: personalised actions, choice and control, addressing inequalities, and a life-long perspective.”

Dame Stephanie, whose late son was autistic, said: “The National Autistic Taskforce is a hugely exciting project.

“It takes us to the next level – a group of independent autistic people determining what they will focus on, who they will bring in and how they will work together.

“I’m confident they will have a major impact on how we think about autism as a society.”

14 December 2017

 

 

Ofsted report ‘shows government is ignoring alarm bells on inclusive education’

Some parents are being asked to educate their disabled children at home because their schools claim they cannot meet their needs, the education watchdog’s annual report has warned.

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said in her report that the proportion of disabled children needing support who had been excluded from their schools was “typically high”.

She said that some disabled children and young people who need support were having “a very poor experience of the education system”.

She said that some parents “have been pressured to keep their children at home because leaders say they can’t meet their needs. This is unacceptable.”

Her report also says that there are now about 1,000 state-funded special schools, three-quarters of which are maintained by local authorities, while a quarter are academies.

And it says that the proportion of pupils with a statement of special educational needs or a new education, health and care plan attending a state-funded special school, rather than mainstream provision, has risen from 40 per cent in 2010 – when the new coalition government pledged to “remove the bias towards inclusion” – to 45 per cent of pupils.

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said: “The government is in complete denial that there is a crisis in the support that disabled children and young people should be receiving.

“The alarm bells are ringing everywhere apart from in the Department for Education.”

She said ALLFIE had heard from parents who had been told to educate their disabled children at home.

She said: “It highlights what ALLFIE has been raising the alarm about for a long time now, that disabled children and young people are being forced out of mainstream education by a tightening of the [Ofsted] inspection regime and a narrowing down of what is considered to be educational success.”

She said that the increasing Ofsted focus on academic attainment and discipline “gives a reason for schools to remove children considered to have challenging behaviour”.

As a result, there had been a rise in the number of disabled children being viewed by schools as having challenging behaviour, with that being used as a reason to exclude them and avoid “putting [the school’s] academic results into jeopardy”.

She said: “We have noticed in the last two years the real increase in parents being told that their [disabled] children are no longer welcome in school and in college.”

She said there was also an increasing “disconnection” between schools and local education authority support services for disabled children, because of the education reforms brought in by the government.

Flood said: “The real worry for us is not only the government’s denial that there is a crisis in education for disabled children and young people but that their response to that is to build more segregated provision rather than taking a human rights approach and building the capacity for inclusion.”

And she said there was also anecdotal evidence of children being excluded from school while on the waiting-list for support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

This has led to children being denied any kind of education “for months and months” while waiting for an assessment.

She said the report in August by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities on the UK’s progress in implementing the UN disability convention “set out clear recommendations for the UK government in terms of what it needs to do to make fundamental changes to the education system”.

The report was highly critical of the UK government’s approach to inclusive education, and the “persistence of a dual education system” that segregates increasing numbers of disabled children in special schools.

It called instead for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”, which would include raising awareness of – and support for – inclusive education among parents of disabled children.

14 December 2017

 

 

Disabled peer quits equality watchdog over ‘shameful downgrading of disability’

A disabled Tory peer has resigned as a board member of the equality watchdog over a government minister’s “collusion” with the decision not to appoint him as a disability commissioner.

Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin made the announcement in a speech in the House of Lords on Tuesday, during a debate on the human rights implications of Brexit.

He told peers that women and equalities minister Justine Greening had “colluded” with the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner (EHRC) to scrap the role of disability commissioner by appointing him instead as a general commissioner.

He told peers that he would not collude in this “shameful downgrading of disability”.

He has previously criticised the commission’s “shocking” behaviour over the appointment process.

He has also written to the prime minister, threatening to resign the Conservative whip and work instead as a crossbench peer.

He told fellow peers on Tuesday that Greening “colluded with the commission to help get rid of the role when she decided to appoint me as a general commissioner instead”.

He said: “Needless to say, she did not make that point clear to me at the time she wrote to offer me the role of a commissioner on the board.

“Had the minister bothered to ask me, I would have told her straight that disabled people desperately need a dedicated disability commissioner to champion our equality. That need cannot simply be abolished.”

He told peers he was “withdrawing” his acceptance of the post of commissioner because it was “made under false pretences”.

He repeated a request he had made to the prime minister to release all the communications between the government and EHRC over his appointment “so that parliament can understand how on earth the equalities minister could possibly think that agreeing to help get rid of the disability commissioner role would somehow help disabled people in our fight for equality”.

Lord Shinkwin had been refusing to attend EHRC board meetings in protest at the decision to appoint him as a general commissioner.

He had applied last year for the post of disability commissioner but was told months later – just 36 hours before his first board meeting – that the role had been made redundant and that he had instead been appointed as a general commissioner and would not lead on disability issues.

He has suggested that the decision to appoint him as a general commissioner – rather than as the commissioner leading on disability issues – was only made after the commission learned that he had been selected for the role by Greening.

Theresa May has told Lord Shinkwin in a letter that the government “had no involvement in the EHRC’s decision to abolish the Disability Commissioner role”.

Lord Shinkwin told Disability News Service last night (Wednesday) that he was waiting for a reply from the prime minister to his latest letter before deciding whether to resign the whip.

He said: “I’m reassured that the prime minister hasn’t replied yet, as I think the situation deserves careful consideration.”

The commission insists that it had decided there was no need for a disability commissioner because of the decision to “mainstream” disability into its work.

It has said that during the gap of several months between the interviews for the post, last December, and Greening’s decision to appoint Lord Shinkwin in April, the statutory disability committee had “expired” and the board had decided that the post of disability commissioner should also be scrapped.

An EHRC spokeswoman said the commission was “disappointed Lord Shinkwin believes he cannot take up his position as a commissioner”.

She claimed that the decision on the future of the disability commissioner role was taken “after no successful candidate was appointed”.

She said: “As the statutory disability committee had come to an end it was decided to strengthen our disability work by mainstreaming it across the whole of the organisation.

“This gives a greater voice for disabled people as all board members now focus on disability issues which will be central to all the commission’s work.”

She refused to say if the commission knew what would happen now over replacing Lord Shinkwin, saying that it was “a question for government”.

The Government Equalities Office had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday), nearly two days after Lord Shinkwin’s speech.

14 December 2017

 

 

Disabled peers raise fresh alarm over Brexit rights

Two disabled peers have called on the government to ensure that the rights of disabled people are protected when the country leaves the European Union (EU).

Both Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson and Baroness [Jane] Campbell raised concerns of possible “regression” of the rights of disabled people in the UK as a result of the Brexit process.

They were speaking this week in a House of Lord debate on human rights and Brexit, secured by the Labour peer Lord Cashman.

The debate took place as MPs continued to discuss the European Union (withdrawal) bill, which will move to the House of Lords next year.

Baroness Campbell said: “I worry for the future of the one in five UK citizens who are disabled.

“Arguably, they have benefited from the best equality and human rights legislation in the world.

“The UK has both influenced and been influenced by EU law on disability rights.

“Under EU law, international treaties have a stronger impact than they do under UK law.

“For instance, EU law must be interpreted consistently with the [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities].

“This has provided a significant baseline for progressing disability rights in the UK.”

But she added: “The government must ensure that there is no regression, so that disabled people continue to benefit from the convention and see progress in the UK.”

Baroness Campbell said one of her “major areas of concerns” was over disabled people’s right to independent living.

She called on the government to carry out a “rigorous” assessment of the impact of Brexit on the right to independent living, including on the thousands of disabled people who each employ between two and six EU nationals as personal assistants (PAs).

She said that this “vital” workforce “enables people like myself the freedom to enjoy a private family life, to work, to ​be here debating… to socialise and to actively participate as equal citizens”.

She also asked how the government would replace the share of the billions of pounds of EU structural funds that have “stimulated a significant shift from institutional to independent living across Europe”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said the impact of Brexit on disabled people had “barely been discussed in the public arena”, and she asked for government guarantees that their rights would be protected.

She raised fears that the government could “inadvertently discard” disability equality rules and regulations “and just call them ‘red tape’ as a reason to get rid of them”.

And she said there had to be “continued government commitment to the UK being ahead of the curve on disability rights”, including “fully committing to implementing standards equivalent to the new European Accessibility Act” when that becomes EU law.

She also called on the UK government to commit to “at least matching current funding for disabled people’s organisations”.

Lord Keen, the advocate general for Scotland, on behalf of the government, said that Brexit “does not change our commitment to human rights, nor is there any reason why it should”.

And he said that those rights “will be retained and protected”.

But he did not respond to Baroness Campbell’s request for an assessment of the impact of Brexit on disabled people’s right to independent living, or her question about the structural funds, or Baroness Grey-Thompson’s question about funding disabled people’s organisations.

14 December 2017

 

 

DWP allowed just two print interviews with disability minister in five years

Conservative ministers for disabled people have given fewer than 20 interviews to national print and internet media since the 2010 general election – an average of less than three a year – according to information obtained by Disability News Service (DNS).

There were no interviews arranged by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2011 and 2012, or in 2014 and 2015.

And from 10 December 2010 to 6 January 2016 – a period of more than five years – there were just two interviews given, according to DWP.

This five-year period saw deep and unpopular cuts and reforms to disabled people’s support, including the announcement of the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the introduction of personal independence payment (introduced with the intention of cutting working-age spending by 20 per cent), and cuts to the Access to Work scheme, as well as the launch of the much-criticised Disability Confident campaign.

It was also a period which saw the increased use of benefit sanctions on disabled people, often with tragic consequences, emerging concerns about the brutality and fatal consequences of the work capability assessment, and cuts to the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance, although these were not always the responsibility of the minister for disabled people during this period.

The information was provided by DWP in response to a DNS freedom of information request, which had asked how many one-to-one interviews (either by phone or face-to-face) the minister for disabled people had carried out with professional journalists from national media organisations.

The request was submitted because of concerns that ministers responsible for highly-controversial cuts and reforms to disabled people’s support have refused to be held publicly accountable by being questioned in depth by journalists.

DNS has not had the opportunity for a one-to-one interview with a minister for disabled people since Mike Penning, more than four years ago. This interview was not included on the list, although it is not clear why.

The last DNS request for an interview was made last month, following the appointment of the new minister, Sarah Newton, but it was rejected.

The freedom of information response gives details of just 16 one-to-one interviews given by ministers for disabled people to national print and online media since May 2010.

Eight of them were with right-wing newspapers (the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, the Sun, the Sun on Sunday and the Daily Mail), four were with disability magazines Disability Now and Able, one was with the website Politics First, and one was with the left-of-centre Guardian.

The final two were with journalists from Channel Four and BBC, although the DWP response declined to give details of broadcast interviews because they were “already available in the public domain”, so it is not clear why they were on the list.

The list shows that two ministers – Mark Harper and Esther McVey – did not carry out a single one-to-one interview arranged by DWP during their time in the post.

The list does not include interviews arranged by the Conservative party, for example at election time or during party conferences.

Ann Galpin, chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists, said: “It is startling and disappointing to learn of the pitifully low number of interviews that have been granted to journalists by the incumbent ministers for disabled people since 2010 – a period that has seen a disproportionate impact of austerity cuts on disabled people, making it harder than ever for disabled people to access work and harder still for those not able to work.

“It would seem only logical that the politicians responsible for policies that affect disabled people – and as many as one in five adults in the UK identify as disabled – should be accountable to the public, and via the media.

“And that that media should include DNS, which is a ‘go to’ news service for many disabled people’s organisations and individuals.”

A DWP spokeswoman declined to explain why there had been so few interviews given to national media by ministers for disabled people over the last seven years.

But she said in a statement: “Ministers are held accountable via a range of platforms, including to the House of Commons, select committees, stakeholder meetings, correspondence, speeches, audience question and answer sessions, as well as via the media.

“It is also worth noting that the minister for disabled people, health and work is not the only spokesperson on disability issues.

“All DWP ministers, including the secretary of state, undertake media interviews on the department’s policies.”

14 December 2017

 

 

Council shamed into action after ‘years of neglect and discrimination’

A local authority has been shamed into taking action after years of alleged neglect and discrimination left a disabled activist starving, freezing, and his home so full of rubbish that firefighters said it was too dangerous to enter.

Mark White has been left so desperate at the lack of support, money and food that – on the advice of a helpline adviser – he taped signs saying “HELP”, “I AM TRAPPED IN HERE” and “I HAVE NO FOOD” to his front door.

A postal worker who saw one of the signs called the police – who subsequently visited his house and later contacted the council to raise their concerns – while a passer-by knocked on his door to hand White a bag of pasta and a tin of soup.

He has also been relying on emergency food parcels provided by organisations that have offered him telephone support, while the postal worker also gave White her sandwiches after seeing his sign.

Cornwall Council has now been alerted to his case by the local ambulance service, police, the Samaritans charity, Diabetes UK, and the anti-hate crime charity Stop Hate UK.

Disability News Service (DNS) has seen pictures showing his kitchen facilities blocked off by months of rubbish he is unable to clear himself because of his impairments.

He also says that he is unable to pick his post off the floor, and so cannot respond to the council’s letters, has no money or food because his benefits have been stopped since March, and has had no access to a bath or shower for more than three years.

Pictures also show that a leaking toilet has left mould around his toilet, which White says has been a problem for three years.

DNS reported last month that Cornwall Council blamed Mark White for refusing to “engage” with its officers.

But White has since shown DNS forms that he signed in September which gave permission to both the council and its arms-length body Cornwall Housing to share information about his case with other organisations.

The council has not denied that these forms exist.

Cornwall Housing wrote to White in September, agreeing to clear the rubbish, and the mould, and fix other problems, but no action has yet been taken.

Now the council has agreed to set up a meeting with White tomorrow (15 December), nine months after it was supposed to take place.

White believes the council’s failings are so extreme that it is guilty of disability hate crime.

He said: “When you have to fight this hard to push back against negative and even negligent attitudes because you are disabled, it just shows that disabled people still have little to no human rights here in the UK.

“The more isolated you are and the more vulnerable, the more readily you can be abused.”

He said it appeared that the meeting was only happening now because DNS had “embarrassed them into action”.

He said he had still not been told if there would be an advocate to support him at the meeting.

He added: “I’m terrified of Friday and being abused and stitched up by all those who failed and colluded.”

He said his case showed that the “devastating destruction of support and even legal protections in rural UK in the last decade is beyond crisis now – as is the total lack of accessible housing”.

Stop Hate UK has raised concerns about his situation.

Rose Simkins, chief executive of Stop Hate UK, said: “Mr White has been in contact with our service since 2016.

“Following his reports and concerns raised around his current living situation, we have sent several referrals to Devon and Cornwall Police and as a result are aware that there are a number of organisations involved in seeking support and action for Mr White.

“Stop Hate UK absolutely recognises the situation that Mr White is in and is, of course, extremely concerned for his welfare and have raised this on many occasions.”

She added: “Hate crime is often complex and does require a multi-agency approach to seek out resolution and action for those affected.

“Stop Hate UK believes that circumstances such as these require a joined up creative way of working, to try to resolve issues and always recommends a single point of contact be established, where all aspects of the case and need can be reviewed and actioned – we have recommended this approach in Mr White’s case.”

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said: “An officer did attend the address, and following this, a referral has been made to Cornwall adult services.

“There is no criminal aspect being looked into by police.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The council and its partners take their responsibilities very seriously.

“Where a person has complex needs and is not willing to engage with services that have been offered, a multi-disciplinary group, which includes social workers, housing officers, representatives from the fire service, the police, health professionals and voluntary organisations will work together and with the resident to try and offer alternatives and solutions.

“In this case, the many services who are involved are committed to trying to help him but they do need his co-operation.

“The agencies also have a duty of care to the health and safety of their staff who have a right to expect that they are treated in a civil manner.”

But White said: “I have to remember that having PTSD and having buttons deliberately pushed by council employees to cause distress and damage is always my fault.

“I’m bemused by the council’s repeated claims of my supposed failures to engage.

“The council have made it impossible to engage with others when they have bad mouthed me to groups such as the Red Cross, local disability charities, councillors and even food banks.

“Being told that a food bank can’t bring food to you because they have been told you are not to be engaged with by adult social care smacks of giving a dog a bad name to justify beating it.”

He said he had had one councillor “bellow down the phone that he’s been told not to come to the door as I am supposedly too dangerous to visit”.

He said the council had failed to organise “a supposed urgent multidisciplinary team meeting” which he was told about in March, and had failed to carry out two care assessments, one in 2014 and another – after a request by the police – in 2016.

He added: “I’m aware of obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act (I used to work in a most intense health and safety environment), but the council must also balance any such claim against the need to protect a vulnerable adult from neglect and institutional abuse.

“I fear that Cornwall Council have an unbalanced view of their legal obligations and how to meet them.

“They also withhold information in a way that breaches best practice, is coercive and in a manner designed to disadvantage.”

14 December 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com