Portraying disabled people as ‘parasites’ could lead to ‘violence and killings’, says UN chair

Disabled people could be at risk of violence, and even “killings and euthanasia”, because of their portrayal by the UK government and media as “parasites” who live on benefits, according to unpublished comments by the chair of a UN committee.

Theresia Degener, who chairs the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, warns in the interview that such portrayals of disabled people are “very, very dangerous”.

Her comments are even more critical and highly-charged than those she and her committee colleagues made during last month’s two-day public examination in Geneva of the UK’s progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Degener herself had told the UK government’s delegation that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”, comments that were repeated by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in yesterday’s prime minister’s questions (see separate story).

But her comments in the interview with a BBC journalist – which are believed to have not been broadcast – go even further.

Degener says that cuts to social security have been so severe that they have become “life threatening to many disabled people”, and she then talks about the impact of the austerity cuts on public attitudes to disabled people.

She says in the interview that “disabled people being portrayed as parasites, living on social benefits, and welfare and the taxes of other people” was “very, very dangerous”.

She says that such attitudes “will later on lead to violence against disabled people, we know it, if not to killings and euthanasia”.

She stressed later to Disability News Service (DNS) that she was not comparing the situation in the UK to the propaganda used in Nazi Germany, where disabled people were often referred to by the state as “useless eaters” who led “burdensome lives” as a justification for the killing of as many as 275,000 disabled people by doctors.

She told DNS: “I did not draw a comparison with Nazi Germany in the 1930s/40s because the current UK situation is in no way comparable to Nazi Germany.

“I meant to alert more generally to the danger of dividing disabled people from the general population by ‘othering’ them as ‘parasites’.

“There have been killings (disguised as mercy killings) based on such irrational thinking.”

She says in the BBC interview: “I am not saying that [this violence] is happening right now in the UK, but this is why governments have to stop this kind of attitude.”

Degener, who herself is German and a professor of law and disability studies, says that “although we would never as a human rights treaty body favour censorship, we think that media and the government have some responsibility in this regard”.

Her comments follow concerns raised in the committee’s report about “the persisting occurring incidents of negative attitudes, stereotypes and prejudice against persons with disabilities… as well as concerning their social protection entitlements”.

Her colleague Coomaravel Pyaneandee, a vice-chair of the committee, had said during the public examination that disabled people in the UK were “most concerned” about negative attitudes towards disabled people on benefits which were “fuelled” by the media and “government representatives”.

Disabled activists and opposition politicians have repeatedly raised concerns that ministers or civil servants have briefed newspapers in a way that encourages them to report inaccurate and misleading articles, with headlines such as “75 per cent of incapacity claimants are fit to work” and “Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form”.

In 2012, a report by Disability Rights UK found that disabled people increasingly believed that coverage of welfare reform and other disability issues in national newspapers was helping to fuel hate crime, with many of the respondents blaming rising hostility towards them on “government spin and distortion” and “rhetoric from the government about scroungers and benefit cheats”.

The previous year, a letter from the Disability Benefits Consortium to Maria Miller, then the minister for disabled people, accused the government of causing disabled people “significant alarm” by releasing information about disability living allowance (DLA) that led to “misleading” media coverage.

The letter warned her of the government’s obligations under the Equality Act not to “generate stigma, persecution or harassment of disabled people requiring support from the welfare system”.

Degener also says in the BBC interview that, compared to other countries with “less economic power” and less advanced equality and discrimination legislation, the UK’s austerity policy was “less human rights oriented”, so that “UK appears to be a strong country when it comes to equal rights but a very, very weak country with relation to economic, social and culture rights”.

She says the UK’s record on disability rights “is going backwards in a pace and to an amount that it worries us a lot” and that the evidence in front of the committee was “overwhelming”.

Degener was not available this week to expand on her remarks, but she has given permission for them to be used by DNS.

She made the comments in an interview recorded for BBC News on 31 August, following the publication of the committee’s “concluding observation” on the UK.

The comments were recorded by the UN because the interview took place at the end of a press conference.

BBC News has given DNS permission to quote from the interview, which appears to have been intended for its News at Ten programme but was not broadcast.

A DWP spokeswoman did not respond directly to Degener’s comments, but repeated the government’s previous response to the committee’s concluding observations.

She said: “We’re disappointed that this report does not accurately reflect the evidence we gave to the UN, and fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives.

“We spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before, and the second highest in the G7*.

“We’re committed to furthering rights and opportunities for all disabled people, which is why it is encouraging that almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work in the UK over the last four years.

“We’re also a recognised world leader in disability rights and equality, which is why we supported the development of the UN convention.”

She said the UK has “some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world, including the Equality Act 2010, and we will continue to make sure that these rights are protected”.

She added: “This government believes that a disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life – or in the workplace.

“This forms the foundation of our reforms to help disabled people realise their potential in the labour market and wider society.”

She also directed DNS to the concluding remarks of Karen Jochelson, who heads the Office for Disability Issues and led the UK delegation at the public examination in Geneva, and which can be watched here from 3:04:41.

*The other G7 countries are the USA, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Canada

14 September 2017



Summit meeting will aim to bring movement together on independent living

Activists are hoping that a national disabled people’s “summit” will bring disabled people, their organisations and unions together to fight back against the repeated attacks on their right to independent living.

Plans for the day-long summit were launched at a fringe meeting at the annual TUC Congress in Brighton this week.

Mandy Hudson, who represents disabled teachers on the new National Education Union, and is helping to organise the summit, said: “We are trying to bring together disabled people to organise a reassertion of our rights to independent living.”

She said the idea for the summit came after she and colleagues on the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee realised how many disabled people were having to fight individually to secure the support they needed to live independently.

She said: “I thought it was time for a more strategic view.”

The summit is due to take place on 4 November at the headquarters of the National Education Union, near Euston station in central London, with Hudson hoping it will attract both disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and individual disabled people.

She said it was “completely ridiculous” that disabled people were being “forced to show our scars and beg” for the support they needed, and she said there was a need for a more rights-based approach.

She added: “It is not acceptable the level of human indignity one has to endure.”

She pointed to the findings of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which concluded last month that cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” in the UK.

She said: “This is what it feels like. Our daily lived experience as disabled people at the moment is that it is a human catastrophe, but my view is that we will never change things by just allowing them to make it very personal, individual.

“It will only change things when we unite and assert ourselves again.”

Hudson said her own lived experience was currently “very, very raw”, with her own support package under review.

She said she was one of many disabled people who were struggling “just to maintain our independence”.

She said the summit was about trying to bring together different parts of the disabled people’s movement to work together.

She added: “We will see whether or not it is possible, but surely if it is not possible now, we’re in trouble.”

Although the National Education Union has donated the venue free of charge, the organisers are hoping for further union backing to pay for refreshments and other costs.

The summit has already secured the backing of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA).

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, a ROFA member, who spoke at the fringe meeting, said afterwards that the alliance was “delighted” to be supporting the summit.

She said: “Over the years, while many Deaf and disabled people felt let down by charities who seemed to be cosying up to government and forgetting what the social model actually means, the trade union movement has worked closely in support of DPAC, both to help us highlight the brutal impacts of austerity and to promote disability equality.

“This summit is now an opportunity to more effectively co-ordinate the resistance between DDPOs [Deaf and disabled people’s organisations] and trade unions, taking stock following the damning verdict by the UN and planning next steps, not just in the united defence of our rights but in developing a shared vision of the kind of society we want to fight for.”

Among others who spoke at the fringe meeting were Sharon Rose and Mandy Crandale, from the Brighton-based disabled people’s organisation Possability People, who spoke about its work in supporting disabled people to secure benefits, and their Journey to Employment project, which focuses on a personalised approach to moving people into paid work at their own pace.

Geraldine Des Moulins, chief officer of Possability People, said her organisation supported the idea of a national summit.

She pointed to the findings of the UN committee, and said Possability People was dealing with this situation “on a day-to-day basis, with people coming in to us in crisis”.

She said: “It is very, very worrying and I think we do need to get together.

“People are coming to us in crisis and nobody seems to be listening.

“We agree with what the UN is saying. It is a crisis. Our disability advice service is quite overwhelmed with people coming in and asking for advice about benefits.”

And she warned that this crisis would only worsen with the government’s universal credit being rolled out in Brighton and Hove next month.

For more information about the summit, email mandy_hudson@btinternet.com

14 September 2017



Prime minister ‘lies’ on benefits spending in response to UN ‘human catastrophe’ claims

The prime minister has been accused of misleading parliament about spending on disability benefits, after trying to defend herself from accusations by a UN committee that her government had caused a “human catastrophe” by cutting disabled people’s support.

Theresa May had been asked about the accusations in yesterday’s prime minister’s questions by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, following a social media campaign led by the grassroots campaign group Black Triangle.

The campaign had questioned why opposition leaders had done so little to highlight the findings of last month’s report by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD).

But when Corbyn told May that the committee had accused her government of causing “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights, she replied that her government spends “more than £50 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions”.

May has now become the third senior member of the Tory government to use this inaccurate and misleading figure to defend its record on cuts to disabled people’s support.

Both Damian Green, the former work and pensions secretary, and Amber Rudd, the home secretary, have used the figure, Green in the House of Commons last year and Rudd during a television election debate in May.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) own figures – based on a freedom of information response secured by Disability News Service two years ago, and subsequent DWP spending figures – show that spending on disability benefits in 2015-16 came to about £37 billion at the most, with 2016-17 spending certain to be far below £40 billion.

The figure only reaches £50 billion by including spending on areas such as adult social care, concessionary travel and disabled facilities grants.

Both DWP and the Tory party have both been told that the figure is misleading, but ministers – and now the prime minister – continue to use it to defend their party from criticism of their record on cuts and reforms to disability benefits.

Although disabled activists welcomed Corbyn’s decision to raise the UN report in prime minister’s questions, there are still concerns that Labour has done too little to highlight its findings.

CRPD told the UK government in its report to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights, raising concerns on all but three of the 33 treaty articles it could have breached, and making the highest number of recommendations it has ever produced after reviewing a country’s progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

But despite the strength of that report, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marie Rimmer, has still not made a single public statement about its findings, and does not appear to have even shared its findings or made any references to the report on social media.

In fact, none of her website, Twitter or Facebook profiles mention that she is shadow minister for disabled people, and she does not appear to have spoken out publicly about disability issues for at least six months, since admitting in an interview with DNS that she had no idea what the social model of disability was.

The only comments about the UN report have been made by her boss, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, who has written to work and pensions secretary David Gauke to ask for a Commons debate on CRPD’s conclusions.

Abrahams also raised a point of order with the speaker yesterday, raising concerns that Gauke had not yet replied to her call for a Commons debate on the UN report.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said Rimmer’s failure to engage in the debate “exemplifies the lack of joined-up thinking or pro-active strategy in the Labour leadership and ranks in disability rights.

“The UN’s findings are irrefutable and Labour should be at all-out war with the Conservative party on this human catastrophe of that party’s making.”

He also said that Corbyn had missed a “wide open goal” by failing to make more of the UN report and explain to the British people that the “mistreatment and multiple violations of the fundamental human rights of disabled people is the biggest tragedy and scandal to hit Britain since the beginning of the disabled people’s movement.

“He should have presented before the nation the chief findings of the UN CRPD’s findings and explained to the British people why CRPD chair Theresia Degener described what is happening to disabled people as a human catastrophe.”

But he thanked shadow chancellor John McDonnell for apparently listening to Black Triangle’s plea for Labour to speak out on the report at prime minister’s questions.

He said both Corbyn and McDonnell had been “passionate supporters” of Black Triangle and Disabled People Against Cuts and he called on them to “take our severe criticism to heart”.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, thanked supporters who responded to a call for people to contact Corbyn on Twitter about the need to raise the UN report at prime minister’s questions.

She said: “It is unfortunate that the lie about the £50 billion spend on disability benefits wasn’t demolished [by Corbyn] when May churned it out yet again.

“However, it was very noticeable that she did not mention the UN at all in her pathetic response to the question.

“As for the invisible Marie Rimmer, our question remains as always: does she actually exist or is she just a figment of our imagination?”

Neither Number 10 nor the Conservative party had replied to requests for a comment on the prime minister’s use of the £50 billion figure by noon today (Thursday).

A spokesman for Rimmer has so far been unable to explain her failure to speak out on disability issues, including the UN report, but pointed to comments made by Abrahams, who he said was the “senior spokesperson for Labour on matters of disability”.

14 September 2017



Council’s review finds PIP ‘not fit for purpose’

The assessment process for the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP) disability benefit is “distressing, inconsistent and not fit for purpose”, according to the results of an inquiry by a panel of local councillors.

The review took evidence in person from seven disabled PIP claimants, and heard in writing from three more.

They told the group how the healthcare professionals who assessed them had offered little eye contact, and were “rude, abrupt and appeared uncaring”, while some said the subsequent assessment report they were shown “bore no resemblance to what they had told the assessor during the face-to-face assessment”.

One told the review group: “The assessment report stated that the assessor had watched me bend down and put something into the bin; I did not, I used my foot to open the bin.”

Another said: “He (assessor) had asked me to stand on my tiptoes which I could not do and after trying a few times and not managing it he told me not to bother again [but] this was not mentioned in his report.”

Claimants described how, after going through a lengthy process to secure a two-year PIP award, they received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) just six months later, telling them they needed to start a new claim.

The report says: “Many spoke of the continual stress this placed them under.”

Several of those who gave evidence said the assessment process “had had a negative impact on their mental health and their conditions had deteriorated as a result”.

The review was set up by Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s adults and neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee after serious concerns about the PIP assessment process were raised by a local disabled people’s organisation, Disability Solutions West Midlands (DSWM).

The review group concluded that the treatment of claimants was “inconsistent”, and the assessment process was “too long, too distressing, inconsistent and not fit for purpose”.

Disability News Service (DNS) has itself collected more than 250 cases of PIP claimants who have described – in varying levels of detail – how assessors from government contractors Atos and Capita lied in their written PIP assessment reports.

The council review also heard from local organisations including DSWM and North Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau, as well as Capita, which carries out the assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the Stoke area.

The local organisations all said they had seen a “significant increase” in the number of claimants scoring zero points in their assessments (a claimant needs eight points for the PIP standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate) and believed “that there now appeared to be a much tougher approach being taken to the assessment process”.

DSWM told the review: “The number of people we are seeing with legitimate claims and strong medical evidence who are given zero points is staggering.”

North Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau added: “It has become clear to us over the last two years that there has been a much tougher approach to the assessment process and we have seen an enormous number of people scoring zero points, which beggars the question: ‘What are assessors looking at?’”

Both organisations said they had seen inaccurate assessment reports “which did not reflect the information discussed during the face-to-face consultation at which they were present”.

DSWM described how one report claimed that a claimant who attended an assessment in their wheelchair had been “observed” to walk 200 metres, while another assessor claimed that a person with stage four lung cancer who used an oxygen mask showed no signs of breathlessness.

DWP evidence to the review was provided only by a jobcentre “partnership coach”, whose knowledge of PIP was “understandably limited”.

The review group said it was “extremely disappointed” that DWP declined to provide anyone with an “extensive knowledge” of PIP to answer their in-depth questions.

All of the PIP claimants who gave evidence to the review said the support they had received from DSWM and Citizen’s Advice had been “invaluable”, particularly the support provided by DSWM in preparing for, and attending, tribunal hearings.

DSWM is currently winning 98 per cent of its PIP appeals.

Cllr Joan Bell, who chaired the review, and the council’s adults and neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee, are now set to outline their findings in writing to work and pensions secretary David Gauke.

Cllr Bell is also set to write to local MPs to ask for their support for the report, and to ask them to bring it to the attention of the relevant all-party parliamentary group, although it is not yet clear which one.

DNS has also asked the council if it will bring the report to the attention of the Commons work and pensions committee, which was carrying out an inquiry of its own into the PIP assessment process, which had to be abandoned earlier this year when the prime minister called an early general election.

The review group also called on the council’s cabinet to consider ways to continue to provide funding to DSWM, which would enable it to continue to provide a local benefits support service, once council funding ends later this month.

Mark Lucas, one of the PIP claimants who gave evidence in person to the review group, said the report “again highlights the government’s utter contempt for persons with disabilities in the UK.

“A glowing example of this contempt is the fact no one from [DWP’s PIP department] could even be bothered to take part.

“Clearly the government have no regard for persons with disabilities and can no longer be trusted to administer support.

“The government and Capita plc are no longer of a ‘suitable character’ to perform services for disabled people.”

He added: “As a whole, the report brings into question the future of new benefit PIP and a responsible government would make sweeping changes or even decommission the service and return to DLA.

“Evidence clearly shows PIP is not viable and is failing persons with disabilities at the gain of external contractors like Capita, with none of the intended benefits expressed when Capita tendered for this contract.”

After being asked to comment on the report, a DWP spokeswoman released the following statement: “We introduced PIP to replace the outdated DLA system.

“Under PIP, 29 per cent of claimants are now receiving the highest rate of support, compared to 15 per cent under DLA.

“Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.

“Since PIP was introduced, more than 2.4 million decisions have been made, and of these eight per cent have been appealed and three per cent have been overturned.

“In the majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because people have submitted more oral or written evidence.

“We constantly review our processes to make sure they are working in the best way possible and, to date, there have been two independent reviews of PIP.”

She said the government would respond to the second review “in the coming months”, and that the department expected “the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments and work closely with them to continuously improve”.

She said DWP was “working on a range of initiatives to drive continuous improvement in the decision-making and appeals process”, including recruiting about 190 DWP presenting officers to attend PIP and employment and support allowance appeals to provide feedback on why decisions are upheld or overturned.

Meanwhile, a new report by the Disability Benefits Consortium, based on a survey of more than 1,700 people with long-term conditions, says that more than three quarters of respondents said their PIP assessment made their health worse due to stress and anxiety.

Two-thirds of those who saw their assessment report said it “badly reflected” the answers they had given in their face-to-face assessment.

14 September 2017



DPO backs call to boycott engagement with government

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and disability charities should come together and “show a united front” by joining a proposed boycott of engagement with the UK government, according to the head of a user-led organisation.

Iggy Patel, chair of Lincolnshire Independent Living (LIL), spoke out following the conclusions of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), which warned last month that independent living in the UK was “going backwards” and that government cuts to disabled people’s support had caused a “human catastrophe”.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that a delegation of DPOs that attended the UN public examination in Geneva that led to these comments were considering boycotting engagement with the UK government until it could be trusted not to misrepresent the views of disabled people and their organisations.

Patel has backed such a boycott, and has now written to his members to suggest that LIL follows the lead set by the Geneva DPO delegation and boycotts all engagement with both national and local government.

LIL has taken part – with no funding – in more than 30 consultations locally and for the UK government since April this year.

But he told DNS: “This whole farce of talking and consulting has gone on long enough.”

In a blog published this week, Patel says: “We can’t keep talking if no one’s listening. Worse still pretending that everything is OK and that this country is still a leader in disability rights when it is far from such.

“Over the term of this government’s lead I have seen nothing but cuts. Cuts are one thing but these cuts are costing lives.”

He told DNS of an example in which Lincolnshire County Council came to LIL with a piece of paper which described how it was going to carry out co-production with disabled people.

Patel said: “How can that be co-production? That is a really blatant example of what we get on a regular basis.”

He said the disabled activists who went to Geneva “did a great job”, and that disabled people and DPOs now needed to take action to build on their work.

He said disabled people in Lincolnshire were facing all the issues that were raised in last month’s CRPD report, including cuts to their benefits and “stealth” cuts to their social care packages.

He said: “We can’t just back off. There has to be some sort of effect, something that comes out of this.

“I think everybody should stand together and make our voices heard.

“We need to keep the pressure on. There is a lot of good work that has been done by people who went [to Geneva].

“It would be such a shame to say, ‘Oh well, so what.’

“We have to be seen to be doing something to follow it up. I think that’s important.”

14 September 2017



Motability’s tyre policy ‘risks safety of customers’

The Motability car scheme has been accused of risking the safety of its disabled customers, by refusing to replace their tyres until they are only just above the legal minimum tread depth.

Disabled campaigner Ian Jones, one of the founders of the WOW petition, said that the position of Motability Operations contradicts the advice of one of its partners, the motoring organisation RAC.

He had taken his Motability BMW – which is two years old – into a garage for its annual service and was told the tyres needed to be changed because the tread depth had dropped to just under 3mm.

He asked Motability to replace the tyres but was told its policy was not to do so until they reach a tread depth of 2mm.

But Jones then discovered that RAC warns on its website that safety drops sharply once tread depth falls below 3mm.

The tread is designed to remove water from the surface of the road and provide as much grip as possible, and the legal minimum depth is 1.6mm, but RAC states on its website that most tyre and safety experts recommend a minimum depth of 3mm.

RAC’s website also points out that tests carried out by the government-funded Motor Industry Research Association found that “once tyres are below 3mm, stopping distances increase dramatically” and that the “difference in wet braking distance between a tyre worn to 3mm and one worn to 1.6mm can be as much as 44 per cent”.

Despite that statement, Motability Operations has told Jones that its policy is “fully supported” by RAC, although a senior account manager told him in a letter: “I understand why you feel the information you have provided contradicts this statement.”

The manager added: “In conclusion we do not dispute that there are benefits (ie handling and stopping distance) to adopting a 3mm policy however, when considering all the factors that make our Scheme worry free and affordable we do not feel we are putting our customers at a disadvantage when 2mm is the widely accepted replacement threshold amongst most major fleet operators within the UK.

“Our policy to change tyres at 2mm ensures that our customers are not at risk of breaking the law and the tyres are considered safe and fit for the road.”

But the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents also backs the 3mm figure, recommending “that worn tyres are replaced with an equivalent new unit well before the legal minimum tread limit of 1.6mm is reached – ideally as soon as they reach 3mm”.

Jones has now lodged a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service over Motability’s refusal to change its customers’ tyres when they reach a depth of 3mm.

He told Disability News Service: “Why is it OK to let Motability tyres wear down to 2mm when a scheme partner (the RAC) recommends the general population change at 3mm?

“Is it because disabled people don’t matter?”

A spokeswoman for Motability Operations – the company which runs the Motability scheme, and is owned by the UK banks Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS – insisted there was no discrepancy between RAC’s support for its 2mm policy and the statement on the RAC website.

She was unable to say how much it would cost to change its policy from 2mm to 3mm.

But she said its position was “fully supported by our scheme partners (RAC and Kwik Fit) and ensures our customers have tyres safe and fit for the road, and are not at risk of breaking the law.

“Motability scheme cars are brand new and are regularly serviced and maintained by our network of dealers throughout their three-year lease.”

Another spokeswoman added later: “Motability scheme policy, fully supported by our partners, is to change tyres at 2mm, well before the legal minimum tread limit of 1.6mm is reached.

“We are confident that this ensures Motability customers can drive safely, with good grip on the road (this is not a cost issue).

“Though scheme policy, the 2mm tread depth for replacement is not prescriptive, which enables Kwik Fit to use their discretion and decide whether to replace a particular tyre, taking the customer’s situation into account.

“If any customer has concerns, whether it is on tyres or any aspect of motoring, they should contact customer services, who will look into their individual circumstances.”

An RAC spokesman declined to explain why the organisation apparently backs Motability’s policy when its own website highlights the safety risks of a tread depth of less than 3mm.

Despite the discrepancy, he insisted that RAC was “consistent with its advice to motorists that they should aim to replace their tyres when the tread depth gets to around 2mm.

“This is also consistent with motor industry standard practice and that approach [is] followed by the majority of large fleet operators in the UK.

“This is also well within the DVSA’s [Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s] prescribed legal limit of 1.6mm.

“While it is possible to argue that replacing tyres with deeper tread depth may offer some benefits, on balance when considering economy, efficiency and safety the 2mm depth is good practice for normal responsible driving and clearly within the law.”

14 September 2017



Modern slavery sentencing again exposes hate crime failings

The failure of the criminal justice system to recognise and punish disability hate crime has been highlighted yet again, after nine members of the same family were jailed for modern slavery and fraud offences spanning more than 25 years.

Members of the Rooney family received sentences of up to 16 years after Nottingham Crown Court heard how they had exploited 18 men, several of whom had mental health conditions or learning difficulties, while others had drug or alcohol problems.

The men were kept in squalid conditions on two sites in Lincolnshire, with many living in caravans without running water or toilet facilities.

All of them had been picked up by members of the Rooney family and, according to Lincolnshire police, were “specifically targeted” because they were “vulnerable and homeless”.

They were forced to work long hours, and were paid little if anything in wages – they were often given only a packet of tobacco and some alcohol – while the family enjoyed expensive holidays and cars, spa days and cosmetic surgery.

Some of the men were forced to sleep in stables next to dog kennels, and were sometimes only fed on the family’s leftovers.

They were kept in conditions the police described as “truly shocking”, and were “financially, emotionally and physically abused”, subjected to threats of violence and intimidation, and assaulted, while their bank accounts were ransacked.

One of the men is believed to have been held for 26 years.

The police investigation also found that the Rooneys had fraudulently obtained four properties, by befriending the “vulnerable” owners and encouraging them to sign over the houses for prices well below their market value. At least two of those defrauded were disabled people.

But despite police admitting that the victims had been targeted by the Rooneys because they were seen as vulnerable, including those who were disabled, none of the offences were treated as disability hate crimes* by the police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The courts have a legal duty** to increase sentences for offences found to be motivated by disability-related hostility, under Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

But disability hate crime campaigners have repeatedly raised concerns that it is too difficult to prove such hostility under the current legislation.

Anne Novis, chair of Inclusion London and an adviser to both the police and CPS on disability hate crime, said the case proved yet again that the law on disability hate crime was “inadequate”.

She said: “We definitely see this as hostility related to disability. They have been targeted because they have been deemed vulnerable. That’s because they are disabled.”

She said it was frustrating that she and other activists had to repeatedly highlight such cases and criticise the criminal justice system for its failure to recognise them as disability hate crimes.

But she added: “We need to do this because it keeps the pressure on.

“Hate crime is supposed to be about our perception. Until the law is changed we are not going to get an adequate response.”

Chief superintendent Chris Davison, head of crime for Lincolnshire police, told Disability News Service in a statement that many of the men had been targeted because they had become estranged from family and friends, were out of work and homeless.

He said: “There was no evidence to support that these were hate crimes purposefully committed against people with disabilities so we did not prosecute under such legislation.

“If the family members had demonstrated hostility towards the victim because of a disability, or their treatment of victims was found to have been motivated because [of a] particular disability, this is something our investigation team would have considered.

“In this case some of the victims’ learning disabilities were only diagnosed once we removed them from the sites and they were in the care of support services.”

A CPS spokesman said the offences were not treated as hate crimes by prosecutors because “there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person as a motivation”.

*The Crown Prosecution Service defines a disability hate crime as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or perceived disability”

**Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 imposes a duty on the court to increase sentences for offences motivated by disability-related hostility, while the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 doubles to 30 years the starting point for sentences for disability hate crime murders

14 September 2017



Welfare reform ‘will see £50 a week more cuts to 900,000 disabled people’

About 900,000 disabled people will see their weekly incomes fall by at least £50 a week by 2020, because of the continuing impact of the government’s welfare reforms, according to new research.

The research by the consultancy Policy in Practice found that, of 7.2 million working-age, low-income households, more than two-fifths of those containing a working-age disabled person would lose at least £50 a week, compared with November 2016.

The report, The Cumulative Impact Of Welfare Reform: A National Picture, says the impact of measures introduced after November 2016 will see the average low-income household containing a working-age disabled person lose £51.47 a week by 2020, compared with an average loss of £35.82 for households not containing a disabled person.

This will come on top of an average weekly loss of more than £20 for low-income households containing a working-age disabled person as a result of welfare reforms introduced pre-November 2016 – such as the benefit cap, cuts to housing benefit and the bedroom tax – although this figure does not take account of rising living costs.

More than a fifth of low-income households containing a working-age disabled person will lose between £20 and £50 a week by 2020, more than a quarter will lose less than £20 and just 8.6 per cent will be better off, according to the analysis.

The research looks at the impact of the continued roll-out of universal credit, and other reforms such as reducing employment and support allowance payments to new claimants placed in the work-related activity group by nearly £30 a week, the continued freezing of most benefit rates, and cuts to housing benefit, as well as expected inflation and rent increases.

The figures calculated in the report take account of the impact of mitigating measures introduced by the government, such as the introduction of the national living wage and increases to the personal tax allowance.

The research is particularly significant because the founder of Policy in Practice, Deven Ghelani, helped develop universal credit when he was at Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice.

The report, prepared on behalf of the Local Government Association, warns that the losses to income affecting disabled people, as well as the impact on families with children, will further increase the pressure on “already stretched” local authority support services.

It calls for the government to ensure there is adequate local support, funded by central government, and that this should be focused on households with disabled members and on families.

And it warns that housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for those in the private rented sector.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “This report assumes that people won’t make any attempt to change and improve their lives.

“But our welfare reforms incentivise work and, for the first time, universal credit helps working people progress and earn more, so they can eventually stop claiming benefits altogether.

“Under universal credit, people are finding a job faster and staying in it longer than under the old system, and since the benefit cap was introduced, 34,000 households have moved off the cap and into work.”

No-one moving onto universal credit from existing benefits or tax credits will lose out in cash terms, although this does not apply if and when their circumstances change.

14 September 2017


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com