Government’s response to Equality Act report is ‘disgusting travesty’

The government’s response to a major House of Lords inquiry into the impact of the Equality Act on disabled people – in which it appears to have accepted just eight of 55 recommendations – has been branded a “wasted opportunity”.

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who was a member of the committee that carried out the nine-month inquiry, said she was “bitterly disappointed and angry” with the government’s response.

Disabled campaigner Doug Paulley, who gave evidence to the committee, described the government’s response as a “disgusting, disingenuous travesty” which “offers absolutely nothing whatsoever and treats our experiences and evidence with complete contempt”.

The committee’s report concluded, when it was published in March, that the government was failing to protect disabled people from discrimination, and that laws designed to address disability discrimination across areas including access to public buildings, housing, public spaces and public transport were “not working in practice”.

It also said that government spending cuts were having “a hugely adverse effect on disabled people”.

An analysis by Disability News Service of the government’s response, suggests that it accepted in full only about eight of the committee’s 55 recommendations and rejected or disagreed with about 26, while partially accepting just six more.

The position on the other 15 was either unclear or saw the government pass responsibility to organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Nicky Morgan, the minister for women and equalities, who responded to the report, became the latest minister to say that the government was “not convinced” that it would be “practical” to carry out an overall assessment of the impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people.

And she dismissed the suggestion that the government could make an explicit commitment to give due consideration to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when drawing up new policies that will impact disabled people.

Morgan said she believed “strongly” that the Equality Act and the government’s various programmes “act as tangible protections of disabled people’s rights”.

She said that disability rights “cannot be delivered by regulation alone”, and said: “Forcing people to change their behaviours with regulation will not always change their hearts and minds and changing hearts and minds will lead to better attitudes, better access and better outcomes for disabled people.”

She added: “While we know there is still a long way to go before disabled people can truly say they have achieved equality, government has achieved more by initiating conversations between disabled people and the public, private and voluntary sector than by the blunt instrument of regulation.”

She said the government would be reviewing its Fulfilling Potential disability strategy during the summer and autumn and would use the committee’s evidence and wider conversations with disabled people to “help shape how we will take the strategy forward until 2020”.

But Baroness Campbell said: “This response suggests our minister for disabled people [Justin Tomlinson], his departmental officials and our wider government, do not understand the depth of disability discrimination and its blight on the whole of society.

“If they did, it would be a very different response. One that demonstrated to the committee a root and branch, cross-government strategy to tackle the barriers that prevent disabled people from living independently, working, learning and generally participating as equal citizens.

“Naturally I’m bitterly disappointed and angry at this wasted opportunity to kick-start a progressive equality agenda for the UK’s 11 million disabled people.”

Paulley said he had shed “tears of frustration, disgust and fear” when he read the response.

He said: “It offers absolutely nothing whatsoever and treats our experiences and evidence with complete contempt.”

He was particularly angry that Morgan stated in her response that the government would consider how it could learn from his experience of taking many successful disability discrimination legal actions.

He said: “My whole evidence to the committee was that the system is stuffed and as a result disabled people by and large haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell of enforcing their rights given to them in the act.

“I hopefully made clear that I am very unusual in being able to do so, and that my use of the act shouldn’t be a sign that the act is OK.”

Paulley said that the “calculated brush off and disingenuous insult of this report (which so many disabled people I respect had put so much time and thought into) really got to me, and I was fuming and in floods of frustrated tears.”

He said Morgan had failed to make any new commitments, and “either denied things were necessary, said they were already doing it, said things would be discussed in the future in an existing consultation process or passed the buck”.

14 July 2016

 

 

Rio Paralympics scraps plans to expand number of sports covered live

Nearly half the sports at this summer’s Paralympic Games in Rio will not be covered live on television, after the host city scrapped plans to pay for an expansion of its coverage.

The Rio organising committee has decided not to provide the funding needed to increase the number of Paralympic sports that were covered live at London 2012, because it could not afford the extra expense.

This means that the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) will provide live TV feeds for just 13 of the 22 sports, so there will not be live coverage from Rio of some of the biggest British names from London 2012.

Channel 4 was responsible for the critically-acclaimed UK coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics and has the UK television rights for the Rio Paralympic Games.

But the UK broadcaster has no say over which events are covered live, and has instead pledged to provide its own camera teams “at the finish line” to at least “capture British medal wins and the reaction of athletes after their events”.

The sports that OBS will not cover live are goalball, triathlon, rowing, canoeing, sailing, shooting and archery, as well as road cycling, although track cycling will be covered.

There will also be no live pictures from the marathons, which means no coverage of one of the stars of the ParalympicsGB team, David Weir, in one of his gold medal events from London 2012.

And there will be no live feed from the equestrian events, which rules out another of the British team’s high-profile stars, Sophie Christiansen, who won three golds at London 2012, and double gold-winner Natasha Baker.

The OBS decision also means there will be no live coverage of boccia, the sport that features those Paralympic athletes with the highest support needs.

The OBS plans are detailed in a Channel 4 briefing document obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) through the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington.

The document was prepared by Channel 4 after Lord Addington told the government of his plan to raise the issue of live Paralympic coverage in the House of Lords.

Channel 4 says in the document that it will broadcast “all sports with British representation” which are covered live by OBS, on Channel 4, More4 or its online channel All4.

It says the decision on which sports are covered live is made by OBS and the Rio 2016 local organising committee, and that it has been working with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), OBS and the Rio committee to “ascertain the scope for extending live coverage to all sports particularly where British teams are represented”. These efforts appear to have failed.

Lord Addington told DNS that he had heard about the problem at a parliamentary event on rowing, and emphasised that “it really isn’t Channel 4’s fault”.

Because the television coverage of London 2012 was so successful and had “set a precedent”, he said, it was assumed that it “would go on from there” with live coverage of more sports at Rio, but that had not happened.

He said: “One of the big successes of 2012 definitely was the way that the Paralympics was brought out to our attention, and I was hoping that this would be followed up [for Rio].

“There are a lot of events out there but I would hope as a matter of course that everything would be covered.

“This is something which should be a normal price of having the games: that all the Paralympic sports are covered.”

He said he wanted the government and the British Paralympic Association to ensure that all sports were covered live at future Paralympic Games, but the government had “ducked” this request.

He said he had been told the loss of extra live coverage was because of the crumbling Brazilian economy, with the local organising committee trying to cut down on the cost of expensive live outside broadcasting.

Last week (7 July), he asked the government to promise that it would encourage the IPC to insist that all future host cities “guarantee in the planning process that the Paralympic Games will have full coverage”.

He told fellow peers: “That will ensure that we do not have the situation we are in now, where certain sports will happen to be missed out, many of which have good British medal prospects.”

But the hereditary Tory peer the Earl of Courtown said it was for UK Sport to pressure the IPC on television coverage of future Paralympic Games.

Asked whether it was concerned at how many sports would not have live coverage, a Channel 4 spokeswoman said: “We will be showing more hours of live sport online and on television than we did in 2012.

“We are fully committed to giving the best coverage we possibly can and are continuing to work closely with the host broadcaster to that end.”

She added: “We’re delivering the most comprehensive and innovative coverage of the games ever.

“With a combination of live units and roving cameras we will cover rowing, canoeing, equestrian, sailing, road cycling, marathons, triathlon, boccia, archery and shooting and can be flexible on the ground to make sure we broadcast as many medal successes as possible.

“Our ambition is to show as many [British] medal-winning performances live as possible – every single medal will be reflected in the coverage.”

The Rio organising committee had not responded to a request for a comment by 11am today (Thursday).

But an OBS spokesman said: “In the Paralympic Games the scope of coverage is defined by the organizing committee of the Paralympic Games, in this case Rio 2016, as they are responsible for funding this production.

“Usually, the baseline coverage for every Paralympic Games is the broadcast coverage plan from the previous games.

“In Rio, OBS, at the request of Rio 2016, developed a broadcast plan that included the sports covered live in London.

“OBS also proposed a few other sports for additional live coverage. This plan was presented to the Rio 2016 committee and the International Paralympic Committee with the corresponding budget.

“Rio 2016 then reviewed the proposal but eventually determined that the increase in live sports coverage was outside their budget and as a result, the live broadcast plan in Rio is identical to the plan from London.”

OBS was set up by the International Olympic Committee in 2001 and is responsible for providing “unbiased” pictures and sounds from all Olympic and Paralympic Games to broadcasters that hold the rights to broadcast the games in each country.

Channel 4 will provide nearly 120 hours of live television coverage across Channel 4 and More 4.

Nearly three-quarters of its presenters, reporters and pundits will be disabled – which Channel 4 says will be the largest number of disabled presenters ever seen on UK television – including its four daytime studio anchors and its entire swimming on-screen team, while more than 15 per cent of its Rio production team will be disabled people.

The Last Leg, featuring the disabled comedian Adam Hills and disabled journalist and presenter Alex Brooker, will be filmed live every night during the games in front of a studio audience at the Rio Olympic Park.

Other disabled presenters will include Breaking Bad actor R J Mitte, broadcaster and campaigner Sophie Morgan and retired Paralympian Ade Adepitan, with reporters including retired Paralympians Steve Brown, Martine Wright, Steve Rose, Sophia Warner, Danny Crates, Giles Long, Liz Johnson and Peter Norfolk.

All coverage will be available with subtitles, and a signed and audio described version of the opening and closing ceremonies will be broadcast simultaneously on 4seven, with audio described and signed editions of The Last Leg available each evening on 4seven soon after the live broadcast.

14 July 2016

 

 

PIP reassessments mean 35,000 will lose Motability vehicles in 2016

Disabled people are being forced to hand back their Motability vehicles at a rate of up to 700 a week because of the government’s austerity cuts and reforms to disability benefits, according to the organisation’s own figures.

Motability expects 35,000 vehicles to be handed back by disabled people during 2016 as a result of the government’s programme to reassess people for its new disability living costs benefit, personal independence payment (PIP).

And fewer than five per cent of those customers who will have to return their vehicles to Motability this year are likely to be able to re-join the scheme after they have gone through Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and independent appeal processes, Motability believes.

The figures show that, of Motability customers reassessed for PIP so far, 44 per cent of them have lost their entitlement to the scheme and have had to hand their vehicle back.

The Motability scheme, which has a turnover of about £4 billion a year, is still growing slowly overall, at about 1.5 per cent a year, because of new members joining, and currently has 651,000 vehicles (636,000 through the car scheme and 15,000 powered wheelchair and scooter customers).

Motability does expect the overall number of customers to start falling at some stage in the reassessment process but does “not expect the number of vehicles to fall below 600,000 over the next few year”.

The figures show the impact of the reassessment programme – part of the government’s plans from 2010 to cut 20 per cent from spending on working-age disability living allowance (DLA) – as it starts to accelerate.

Only those qualifying for the enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP – or the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA – are entitled to obtain a car through the Motability scheme.

In March 2015, two years after PIP was launched, Motability said that more than 100 customers a week were losing their vehicles.

And in May this year, the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said that between 400 and 500 vehicles a week were being returned after PIP reassessments.

Baroness Thomas said the latest figures were “very alarming and completely unacceptable”.

She said: “Surely the government must see that they are never going to be taken seriously about trying to halve the employment gap for disabled people if they continue down this disastrous path.

“They must also, surely, take into account the knock-on effects of this harsh policy on other government departments such as health and transport.

“I urge them again to rethink the policy before creating yet more misery for disabled people who are trying to do the best they can for themselves, their families and their country.”

Gordon McFadden, chair of the charity United Amputees (UA), who passed the figures to Disability News Service following a Motability event in London, said his organisation was “concerned in the extreme with the accelerating rate of returned vehicles”.

He said UA was “deeply worried” that the government’s decision to tighten a key eligibility criterion for the enhanced mobility rate from being able to walk less than 50 metres under DLA to 20 metres under PIP was leading to people previously “considered disabled enough to warrant access to the Motability scheme to improve their independence” now no longer being eligible.

He said UA was “alarmed” that hundreds of thousands of disabled people would lose access to disability benefits that were designed to help pay for the “extra costs of living independently with a disability”.

The government has previously predicted that 548,000 of the 892,000 working-age people who were receiving the higher rate of the DLA mobility component in February 2013 would not receive the enhanced mobility rate of PIP – and therefore would not be eligible to join the Motability scheme – once they were transferred to the new benefit.

Asked if the process of dealing with so many thousands of disabled people being forced to return their vehicles was proving difficult for Motability staff, a spokeswoman said: “The Motability Scheme has invested heavily in developing a first-class customer services team.

“Recruitment, training and development are key to continuing to provide this high quality service.

“Scheme customer services staff go through a continuous programme of training to enable them to deal and cope with many difficult situations, including dealing with those customers who lose their eligibility to remain on the scheme.

“The key difference in recent months is around the volume of customers impacted as staff have always had to manage customers who lose their allowance for a variety of reasons.”

14 July 2016

 

 

Protesters bring ‘rotten PIP’ message to the core of Westminster

Disabled people across the country have marched, stopped traffic and blocked the office entrances of government contractors as part of a national day of action that drew attention to a disability benefit they say is “rotten to the core”.

Campaigners believe the personal independence payment (PIP) system was only introduced as a replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA) as a way of removing disabled people’s entitlement to support, as part of the government’s austerity programme.

They also point to the growing evidence of the “shoddy nature” of the PIP assessments, carried out by the government’s contractors, Capita and Atos, which they say are “making a killing” from the contracts.

The national day of action featured protests at nearly 20 locations across the country, mostly at Atos and Capita assessment centres, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sheffield, Norwich, and Brighton (where protesters included retired Paralympian Kristina Veasey).

There was also support from the cast of Graeae’s musical Reasons to be Cheerful, who tweeted: “@r2bcheerful cast team are in solidarity with #PIPFightback demos around UK today. ‘No’ to PIP delays, cuts & errors.”

The day of action was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and two other user-led, grassroots organisations, WinVisible and the Mental Health Resistance Network.

The largest action took place in central London, with scores of protesters blocking traffic and Capita’s main entrance.

They then marched to the headquarters of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Westminster, before they “faced down the world’s media” on College Green, opposite parliament, as journalists gathered to cover the last day in office of prime minister David Cameron and the first day of his successor, Theresa May.

Disabled activists shouted out the names of disabled people who they believe died as a direct result of the government’s social security cuts and reforms.

Paula Peters, from DPAC, said she wanted Atos and Capita to lose their assessment contracts, with the process brought back in-house, and for PIP to be scrapped and replaced with the old disability living allowance (DLA).

She said: “The assessments are abusive and humiliating, so we want them to stop.”

Peters made it clear that disabled people’s anti-cuts protests would continue under the new prime minister.

She said: “She is just as guilty as David Cameron of the horrendous human rights abuses disabled people have suffered these past six years.

“We won’t stop resisting this government, no matter who the prime minister is.”

In central Birmingham, protesters – including two former chairs of the British Council of Disabled People (BCODP) – were outside the PIP assessment centre used by Capita.

Sandra Daniels, from DPAC West Midlands, who organised the protest, said she believed the government wanted to cut the number of people receiving DLA by 25 per cent, and that mental health survivors and people with learning difficulties were among those being subjected to “sham assessments and reassessments”, a process she said was “ongoing” and “relentless”.

She said: “I want disabled people to have the benefits and support to be able to be members of the community.

“They should be given the resources they need to uphold their human rights and inclusion in society.

“They are pushing us back to the margins of society once again. Disabled people are losing their independence and will no longer have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Anne Pridmore, a former BCODP chair, said she believed the cuts to working-age DLA were “just the start” of a “trickle, trickle” process of cuts to DLA spending, and that the government would eventually begin cutting the higher rate mobility element of DLA from disabled people over the age of 65.

She said the programme of PIP cuts “does not make sense. The government wants to get people in work, but if they take their [Motability] cars off them they are not going to be able to go to work.”

Bob Williams-Findlay, another former BCODP chair, said: “PIP has had a devastating effect on people’s lives and not only those who have lost it, but people here today who are living in fear of being reassessed.

“They know the criteria is so tough that unless you are immobile you are not going to get PIP.”

He said PIP had proved to be not only a deliberate cut to spending on disability benefits but also an attempt to “redefine who is and who is not a disabled person”, and he called for it to be replaced with an improved version of DLA.

He said: “To me, PIP is the epitome of body fascism because it focuses on the body and it doesn’t focus on the social environment and barriers.”

He said he believed PIP contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which focuses on removing these barriers.

Williams-Findlay said: “Looking at the costs of living as a disabled person, what is it that increases our costs? It’s the barriers.”

He said he had not yet been reassessed for PIP himself, but added: “I live in fear that I will get rejected, because it takes no account of reality. Can you walk 20 metres? Can you pick up a bag of sugar?”

Andrew Comer, a former committee member of Birmingham People First, before it was forced to close this year after losing its funding, said he was waiting to hear the results of his own PIP assessment.

He said: “I am concerned about everything from the [closure of the] Independent Living Fund to PIP.

“People with all kinds of disabilities are not being listened to by the government.”

Another disabled activist, known as “Angry Fish”, who has yet to be reassessed for PIP, said the austerity programme was “doing most damage, and sometimes fatal damage, to disabled people”, including the unnecessary “stress, anxiety and fear” caused by the reassessment process.

He said: “People are having their lives totally ruined by the PIP process and austerity.”

He pointed to the hundreds of people every week who were losing their Motability vehicles after being reassessed for PIP, which could cause many of them to lose their jobs, which could then cause their personal assistants to lose their jobs.

And he called for a new programme to replace PIP, which would provide a “holistic perspective of people’s capacity to engage in society”.

Mark Lynes, another Birmingham protester, said he believed PIP was introduced to “take away support from society” and was an attack on the social security system.

He said: “A lot of people have lost their total independence. They are struggling and have lost their Motability cars.”

Meanwhile, the former senior DWP civil servant Paul Gray has issued a call for evidence as part of his second review of PIP on behalf of the government. The first review took place in 2014.

In announcing the call for evidence, work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb also announced that his department had launched its own evaluation of PIP, with initial findings to be published by early next year.

Pensions minister Baroness Altmann said the audit would ensure that the advice provided by Capita and Atos was “of suitable quality, is fully explained and is justified”.

Gray, who chairs the social security advisory committee, said the audit followed his recommendation in 2014 that DWP should commission a “rigorous quantitative and qualitative evaluation strategy” to examine the experience of PIP claimants.

He said the audit would run alongside his own review and “may help to inform my final conclusions”.

Gray said that a “major objective” of his second review would be to assess how “further evidence” was used to reach PIP entitlement decisions which “properly reflect claimant needs and the day-to-day functional impacts of their condition”.

This appears to mirror serious, long-standing concerns over DWP’s failure to ensure that the necessary further medical evidence is collected for claimants of employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit, particularly for those with mental health conditions.

14 July 2016

 

 

Martinez’s shock over access cuts call as she launches Network Rail campaign

A disabled comedian and activist signed up by Network Rail to launch its new access campaign has criticised its chair after discovering that he called on the government to slash funding to make stations more accessible.

Francesca Martinez, who has campaigned against government cuts to support for disabled people, was “shocked” when told by Disability News Service (DNS) of the actions taken by Sir Peter Hendy.

Martinez had spent much of the day fronting the launch of Network Rail’s Spaces and Places for Everyone campaign, including giving media interviews backing the campaign.

But DNS then told her that Sir Peter had recommended in a spending review for the government that nearly £50 million allocated to the Access for All programme should be delayed until 2019 at the earliest.

She said: “This is really important to know because if these cuts are carried out then the impact would no doubt outweigh the positives of the Network Rail campaign.

“I’m going to write to Network Rail and put this to them. I campaign actively against cuts all the time. This seems to be going contrary to their campaign.”

In an email she sent to Sir Peter after learning of the cuts, she said: “As a prominent disability campaigner, I must raise these concerns with you because I believe that the flurry of cuts to welfare, and the austerity measures, are greatly impacting on disabled people and reducing their ability to lead happy, fulfilled lives.

“So I am worried that this delayed spending proposal will be part of the trend of eliminating vital services and funds dedicated to improving access and equality.”

She told DNS later that she was “deeply concerned” about the recommended cuts, which would mean that “urgently needed accessibility upgrades to our very old rail system will be delayed for years”.

She stressed that she had no idea about these cuts when she agreed to front the campaign, and added: “At a time when many disabled people are still unable to use their local stations, this delay will mean further discrimination and negative impact on their lives.

“As someone who is passionately committed to fighting austerity and welfare cuts, I know that disabled people are already the hardest hit group in society, and I fully support charities such as Transport for All in their calls for the government to reject this spending delay.”

Martinez is best-known among many disabled campaigners for fronting the WOW campaign, which calls on the government to assess the overall impact of its cuts to disabled people’s support.

She said she previously had no idea that Sir Peter had recommended that Access for All funding for 2014-19 should be cut from £102 million to £55 million, with the rest carried over to the next spending period, 2019-24.

Seven organisations – Transport for All, Inclusion LondonDisabled People Against CutsDisability Rights UKRNIBMuscular Dystrophy UK and the Campaign for Better Transport – wrote to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin in May, calling on him to ignore Sir Peter’s recommendation.

Martinez said the Network Rail campaign was about the need to “cater for everyone’s needs from the beginning” and not as “an afterthought”, as has happened in the past.

She said the campaign was targeted at the entire rail industry, including the train operating companies which run most stations, and aimed to “help the rest of the industry to follow suit”.

She also praised the campaign’s efforts to consult with disabled people around the country to ask them what needed to change.

She said: “If we want an equal society, we have got to have a rail network where everyone can access it without fear or worry.

“For a lot of [disabled] people there is that kind of rising panic and stress when they approach a journey and that kind of question of, ‘What will happen, will I be met, will something go wrong?’”

She added: “It’s all very well having an inclusive environment, but staff training is equally important.

“You have got to have staff that are aware and compassionate and patient across the whole industry because I think a lot of issues that some of my disabled friends felt, and myself, is that some of the staff can make you feel like a burden or an annoyance and be reluctant to help you, so in tandem with physical environment you also need to make sure the attitude is there.”

A survey for Network Rail found that two-thirds of disabled people use the railway, and of those, a quarter (24 per cent) do not feel that their journey will be easy, and a third (33 per cent) would use it more if it was more accessible.

In the Network Rail press release, Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “We know [access for disabled people] hasn’t been good enough in the past, and we need to make it easier for disabled people to plan journeys and travel by rail.

“We are committed to changing this, and doing what is necessary to make sure that inclusivity is deeply embedded in our culture.”

14 July 2016

 

 

Disabled man forced to work as slave for 35 years… but still not a hate crime, says CPS

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been criticised for failing to treat as a disability hate crime a case in which a disabled man was forced to work for a pittance and live in a shed for 35 years.

Three people were convicted unanimously by a jury last week of requiring the 52-year-old man to perform forced or compulsory labour, after a four-week trial at Oxford Crown Court.

The man, who has learning difficulties, was forced to live in a brick shed that was described as unfit for human habitation, and to undertake heavy manual labour, working for more than 12 hours a day, for which he was paid just £5 a day.

If he failed to work hard enough he was beaten, on at least one occasion with a metal bar.

The three defendants also applied for and collected his benefits – worth £139,000 – for 13 years and as a result were also convicted of conspiracy to defraud following a trial last November.

They will be sentenced next month for this charge, and the forced labour, but CPS has already confirmed to Disability News Service that the offences have not been treated as disability hate crime.

A linked case, which in June last year saw another four defendants convicted of forced labour, involving another man with learning difficulties in the same area of Oxford, was also not treated as disability hate crime.

Thames Valley Police, which carried out both investigations, was unable to comment on the latest case this week because the officer dealing with the case was on leave.

But a CPS spokesman said: “Disabled people face criminal behaviour every day.

“Sometimes, this will be motivated by hostility towards their disability and on other occasions they will be in at-risk situations and exploited because of that.

“We considered prosecuting this case as a disability hate crime but could not identify any evidence to show the offence had been committed because of hostility towards the victim based on his disability.

“The offenders saw an opportunity to exploit the victim for their own personal gain.

“Sentencing is a matter for the courts but the CPS will ask that a victim’s disability is taken into account.”

Anne Novis, a leading disabled hate crime campaigner and a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “Repeatedly we have to ask the question, ‘Why?’

“Why is it not a disability hate crime when a disabled person is abused, humiliated, stolen from, made to do work they do not want to do?

“For us, it is common sense that if someone is targeted due to perceived ‘vulnerability’ and that ‘vulnerability’ is due to being a disabled person then that is hate crime.

“No matter what the law or the CPS say, we, disabled people, are the experts. We know what is or is not hate crime and it is our voice, our perception, and that of the victim that should take precedence.

“It is obvious that the justice system still has a lot of work to do on this issue. Such cases do not inspire our confidence.”

Meanwhile, a new CPS report has shown that the number of cases of disability hate crime prosecuted in 2015-16 increased by more than 40 per cent compared with the previous year, rising from 666 to 941.

The number of convictions also rose by more than 40 per cent, from 503 to 707, although the conviction rate fell slightly, from 75.5 per cent to 75.1 per cent (it was as high as 81.9 per cent in 2013-14).

The report says CPS will “identify and execute further work necessary to address the relatively low conviction rate”, comparing it with the overall hate crime conviction rate of 83.2 per cent.

The number of cases in which the sentence was increased because the court accepted the offences were disability hate crimes also rose, from 5.4 per cent of successfully prosecuted disability hate crime cases in 2014-15 to 11.9 per cent of such cases in 2015-16. This rate had been as low as 0.6 per cent in 2013-14.

The CPS report said the figure still remained “considerably lower” than for other hate crime strands, and promised to work internally to “sustain continuing improvement”, while work would “also be undertaken with the courts to ensure consistent application of sentence uplifts”.

The report also revealed that the proportion of both 10-13 year olds and 14-17-year-olds involved as defendants in disability hate crime prosecutions fell from 4.9 per cent and 23.5 per cent in 2007-08 to 1.3 per cent and 9.6 per cent in 2015-16.

The report says: “The CPS benefits from a strong relationship with communities affected by disability hate crime as a result of a combination of structured engagement and transparent performance and hopes that, together with an improved conviction rate, community confidence will continue to grow.

“In turn, it is hoped that this will provide an environment in which increased numbers of those affected by hate crime will feel able to report.”

Stephen Brookes, another leading hate crime campaigner and DHCN coordinator, said the increase in prosecutions was “good news”.

But he warned against complacency, and added: “There are still far too many inconsistencies in police, CPS and the judiciary responses, and the gap shown between good and bad practice is massive.”

He said the work done by the network had been “a key part of the improvements seen today, and the message from us is, ‘The fight isn’t won yet.’

“Rather, we are at the beginning of the real battle of getting closer cooperation between all partners, criminal justice system, disabled people, academics, and the media, who can help with the message that disability hate crime is on its way out.”

14 July 2016

 

 

Councils complain about social care funding cuts, while freezing council tax

Two-fifths of local authorities in England have decided not to raise as much as they can through their powers to increase council tax, even though they face a “huge shortfall in funding” and rising demand for adult social care.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said yesterday (13 July) that its annual budget survey had found members needed to fill a gap of about £940 million “just to keep services operating at last year’s levels”.

ADASS said the government’s decision to give local authorities the option to raise council tax by two per cent for extra social care funding would raise £380 million, although eight councils had decided not to take advantage of this precept.

But ADASS failed to point out that its own survey showed that 40 per cent of local authorities had either decided to freeze their council tax (16 per cent) or increase it by less than 1.99 per cent (another 24 per cent of councils), the maximum that council tax can increase every year without triggering a local referendum.

The £940 million shortfall is likely to lead to cuts in services, job losses, reductions in people’s personal budgets and a fall in the number of people receiving support.

Only last week, Disability News Service reported that almost half of former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in the London borough of Merton were facing cuts to their care packages, after their council rejected the chance to ask for more social care funds by raising council tax.

Labour-run Merton council in south-west London had the chance to increase council tax by 1.7 per cent to pay for extra social care funding – it also rejected the extra 1.99 per cent increase in council tax – but turned down the opportunity because of an election promise not to increase taxes for four years.

Of the 151 councils that were surveyed by ADASS, 70 reported that they had cut their adult social services budget, and 52 had had to cut services to balance their budget.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “There can be no doubt that local authorities are facing enormous pressures in the provision of social care as a result of government funding restrictions.

“However, a number of local authorities are making the situation even worse by refusing to raise council tax locally when they can to help fill the gap, and by refusing to adopt innovative ways of meeting support needs that give people genuine control.

“In addition, many fail to see the connection between increasing poverty and increased need for social care support and make the situation worse by measures such as increasing charges for social care and not giving discretionary housing payments to disabled people facing the bedroom tax.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the user-led network Shaping Our Lives, declined to criticise local authorities.

He said that councils were already “very hard pressed”, and that raising council tax was not the answer to the budget shortfall.

He said: “For poorer local authorities it means increasing taxes on already hard-pressed communities, while the bucket still has a massive hole through the chronic and worsening under-funding of social care by central government.

“It’s a nice way of government offloading its responsibility and trying to get the blame put on local councils.

“The only solution has to be to give social care proper funding and political priority and bring it into line with the founding principles of the NHS.”

He added: “We should be arguing for a return to more progressive central government taxation, which has to be fairer than inequalities between different areas and regions.

“If we didn’t let rich people and companies off taxes, we wouldn’t have to raise ordinary people’s.”

ADASS refused to comment on the suggestion that many councils were partly to blame for the social care shortfall by not raising as much through council tax as they could.

ADASS president Harold Bodmer said in a press release: “We have been arguing for some time now that adult social care needs to be given the same protection and investment as the NHS.

“We’re at a tipping point where social care is in jeopardy, and unless the government addresses the chronic underfunding of the sector, there will be worrying consequences for the NHS and, most importantly, older and disabled people, their families and carers.”

14 July 2016

 

 

Jobs focus and dropping user-led status could usher in new Purple reign, says Adams

One of the country’s leading disabled people’s organisations is to end its commitment to being a user-led charity in a bid to become a national player in the employment support market.

Essex Coalition of Disabled People, which has been known for five years as ecdp, is being replaced by a new organisation, Purple, which will be a community interest company (CIC) instead of a charity and will focus on helping disabled people into work.

Although Purple will still provide services such as help with direct payments, developing support plans and personal health budgets, it will focus on employment-related consultancy and recruitment services.

And it will no longer commit to being a disabled people’s user-led organisation (DPULO) – 100 per cent of ecdp’s board are disabled people – although the proportion of its board might still have a majority of disabled people.

Mike Adams, former chief executive of ecdp and now chief executive of Purple, said a key reason for the move was the loss last summer of ecdp’s biggest contract, with a local authority.

He said: “There was a kind of recognition as a disability organisation that there was a level of patronage that really existed and our future lay in the hands of not us, and our existence lay in the hands of not us.”

He said he had seen many DPULOs go out of business in the last 12 months, usually because their main funder had either withdrawn or significantly lowered its funding.

Another reason for replacing ecdp with Purple was the recognition that it “needed to modernise”, he said.

Adams said: “What we were providing probably wasn’t the cutting-edge services and products that disabled people required.”

As a result, ecdp interviewed all 2,000 of its members over five months about “what it is like to be disabled in Essex”.

He said ecdp’s members said they wanted “high quality information, advice and guidance from an organisation that understands disability, but to be frank they actually don’t care whether we are a user-led organisation or not”.

He said: “We thought that was always going to be one of our unique selling points, but we were totally disabused by our members.”

But he said Purple would still have the principles of “the lived experience of disability, the voice of disabled people” instilled in everything it did, while providing “a set of services and products that disabled people want to buy”.

And he said that as long as that was the case, being a DPULO was less important.

He admitted that he was “anxious” of how this would be received by other DPULOs.

He said: “We have a huge job to persuade people that the model we are setting out is the right one for disabled people.

“I am absolutely aware that for some people they will see this as not selling out but a compromise too far, and I suspect that this is not going to work for everyone.”

He said he hoped that there would be a similar reaction to when he gave a presentation to the National Centre for Independent Living several years ago, shortly after becoming chief executive of ecdp, in which he warned that disabled people’s organisations needed to change how they operated or they would cease to exist.

Although he was slow-handclapped during that speech, he said many people came to him in the following weeks to say they might not agree but would still like him to explain what he meant.

He said: “It’s not our intention to be radical. I don’t like being an outlier, but I do know if we hadn’t done what we are doing I’m not sure the lives of disabled people in Essex and beyond would be better for it.”

Out of the consultation with ecdp members, he said, came the recognition that Purple would need to “marry together disabled people and businesses and other stakeholders in order to have a different conversation about disability”.

Some of the products and services offered by Purple will be aimed at businesses and others will be aimed at disabled people, he said.

He said the new board would be an “amalgam of disabled people and business leaders who might be disabled or might not”.

He said: “We are looking for talented individuals who see the potential of Purple, but we are not going to have that restrictive 100 per cent that we had with ecdp.

“There are other DPULOs who survive and thrive but we wanted to expand our reach and move out of an organisation that was predominantly into social care and health and move into issues which really impact on the lives of disabled people, which was employment, education… and the way to do that is to bring those stakeholders into the tent.”

Adams was a member of a taskforce set up by the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, to look at how to improve the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident (DC) campaign.

He said DC was likely to move on from being “just a campaign communications tool to something where organisations can actually work for something and get something. That is what the taskforce was asked to look at.”

One of Purple’s services will be to help employers become “accredited”, as part of the government’s refreshed Disability Confident scheme.

He said the new accreditation process was one of the taskforce’s recommendations that Tomlinson has accepted, although he was not able to provide details of how this would work ahead of today’s (Thursday) planned Disability Confident relaunch.

But he insisted that the new DC would be “more than a campaign” and “something much more concrete and much more than warm words”, and that “we absolutely hope” that it would not “simply be a modern-day Two Ticks”, the much-criticised scheme run by Jobcentre Plus that shows which employers are supposedly “positive about disabled people” in their recruitment.

The decision to close ecdp and replace it with Purple was a unanimous one taken by the ecdp board, said Adams.

He said: “I think everyone knew that if we didn’t do something pretty radical, pretty different, as an organisation, we would be providing no support to disabled people in a few months’ time.”

The decision to become a CIC instead of a charity – although part of it is likely to be set up as a charitable foundation – will provide “the opportunity for people to invest in some of the different products and services we are developing”, he said.

Purple’s target is to help more than 20,000 disabled people find permanent jobs over the next decade.

Adams said: “We want to go from an organisation based in Essex for people in Essex and the hinterland to an organisation that is based in Essex and that works nationally.”

As well as acting as a specialist employment agency for disabled people, through its online disability recruitment agency, it also will offer “meaningful work placements”, extending a disability employment programme ecdp has been running called ecdp Works.

The programme offers participants an intensive one-week training and development course, followed by a six-week supported work placement, and then another intensive week, followed by three months of support while either seeking employment – more than three-fifths have found jobs – or furthering their education.

He said: “We think that programme works because it’s been run by disabled people for disabled people; one participant described it as a disability boot camp.”

Purple is part of two consortia, led by “national players”, which are bidding for substantial contracts that would mean – if successful – Purple delivering this programme to “significant numbers” of disabled people over the next three years.

Adams would not confirm who the “national players” were, although he confirmed that they were not Remploy/Maximus or Atos.

He said it was likely that Purple would gradually develop “satellite bases” across the UK, and hopefully become known as “an organisation that works across the UK rather than just Essex and the south-east”.

It also intends to become a major player in the recruitment of personal assistants (PAs), planning to help disabled people recruit 25,000 PAs in the next 10 years.

Adams, a former senior manager with the Disability Rights Commission, previously chaired an expert advisory panel for the government on its Access to Work scheme.

As part of its launch, which saw Adams open the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday (12 July) morning, Purple released findings from a survey of 1,000 businesses.

The survey found nearly half of the businesses (45 per cent) were apprehensive about hiring a disabled person, because of fears that they would not be able to do the job and concerns about making “inappropriate comments or actions”.

It also found that almost half of employers (43 per cent) expected job applicants to disclose their impairments before they were interviewed, despite there being no legal obligation to do so.

Adams said Purple had benefited from substantial “in kind” support around this week’s launch, including the Stock Exchange event and an evening reception at the offices of international law firm CMS Cameron McKenna.

14 July 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com