Labour’s ‘lazy indifference to equality’ condemns access measure to Lords defeat

A disabled peer has attacked Labour’s “lazy indifference” to disability equality, after it failed to back moves that would have forced bars, shops and restaurants to ensure their premises obeyed laws on accessibility when renewing their alcohol licences.

Peers tried to introduce the measure as an amendment to the government’s policing and crime bill last week, but a vote on the amendment was narrowly defeated because Labour decided to abstain.

The amendment was proposed by Baroness Deech, who chaired the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which concluded in March that there were problems in “almost every part of society” with laws designed to address disability discrimination.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who sat on the committee, told Disability News Service (DNS) this week that she was “very angry” with Labour for abstaining on the vote.

The amendment – backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Access Association – would have added the need to secure access for disabled people to the duties of licensing authorities.

This would have meant that a pub, club, shop or restaurant that wanted a new licence or to renew their existing licence would have had to prove to their local authority that they had made reasonable efforts to make their premises accessible to disabled people.

If they failed to do so, the council would have been able to refuse to grant or extend their licence.

But when Baroness Deech spoke to a member of staff in the office of Labour’s chief whip on the morning of the debate, she was told that the party would abstain on a vote on her amendment.

She told DNS: “I was amazed, and queried this. He said it was because of ‘strategy’ – they had to decide which issues to defeat the government on, and this was not one of them.

“So their real reason was ‘strategic’, regardless of the strength of the case, even though the topic was such that one would naturally expect Labour to be supportive.”

Labour peers had voted to defeat the government on another part of the bill less than two hours earlier, so there would have been no problem arranging the necessary peers to be in the Lords for the vote, she said.

She added: “I am shocked and disappointed. Some of their members rebelled; a few more and we would have been home and dry.”

A Labour Lords spokesman claimed that Baroness Deech had approached the whips office “very late in the day” to ask for backing for the amendment, while there had been suggestions during the day that there might be a significant government concession.

He added: “Our understanding was that this [amendment] would not lead to major change.”

But both Baroness Deech and Baroness Campbell dismissed these claims.

Baroness Campbell said that a Labour peer, Baroness Pitkeathley, who also sat on the Equality Act and disability committee, “was up to speed on this amendment and would have briefed Labour on the importance of the vote”.

She said there had been “a full debate on a very similar amendment” at the bill’s committee stage, and the amendment had subsequently been altered to “make it less costly and burdensome on the licensee”.

And she said that Labour had taken part in a debate on the Deech committee report, which included a recommendation to amend licensing laws to “make a failure to comply with the Equality Act 2010 a ground for refusing a licence”.

She said: “For these reasons, I am very angry with Labour for abstaining.

“My annoyance stems from what I see to be a lazy indifference and lack of attention to the hard work of all sides of the House of Lords, to find ways to progress disability equality through licensing, within the constraints of our economic situation.

“This was a perfect opportunity to do something practical and low-cost which would make an enormous difference.

“How could Labour abstain on such a positive amendment?”

Baroness Deech told fellow peers last week – Baroness Campbell had been unable to attend the debate because of ill-health – that businesses were not being asked to do anything extra through the amendment, “but simply to put their minds to accessibility”.

Such a measure would help the UK to meet its duties under article nine (on accessibility) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and would “shift the burden off the shoulders of disabled people to the local authorities”, she said.

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said: “Our lives are hard enough now without having to enforce the law too.

“This is a golden opportunity to do what many organisations think should have happened years ago – to have licensing officers who are able to take action beyond [just] writing a licensee a letter or having a word in their ear.”

The disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low also backed the amendment, because he said the Equality Act duty was “widely disregarded, placing the onus on the individual to enforce the duty, when enforcement is extremely difficult for the individual on account of its cost and complexity”.

The government refused to back the amendment, with Home Office minister Baroness Williams warning that the cost of enforcing it would fall on businesses through increased licensing fees, and that it was “seeking to skew the regulatory regime… and use it for a purpose for which it was never intended” and “potentially puts us on to a slippery slope”.

Lord Kennedy, Labour’s spokesman in the Lords on housing, communities and local government, as well as home affairs, failed to support the amendment.

Instead, he suggested that the minister might argue that “there are general duties under the Equality Act 2010 in force already and that adding a specific amendment does not add anything to the statutory requirements already in force”.

Peers who spoke in favour of the amendment included the disabled Tory peer Lord Shinkwin, who served on the National Disability Council that advised the Conservative government on the implementation of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

He told fellow peers: “I have to say that 21 years on from the DDA, I am suffering not from my disability but from a sense of déjà vu.

“Despite the milestone that the act represented both for disabled people and for the Conservative party, disabled people are still waiting.

“The regrettable fact is that the passage of time has not been matched by the passage of progress. The passing of this amendment would help to put that right.”

He said: “I know from personal experience that the system is broken because far too many disabled people are still trying unsuccessfully to access many licensed premises.”

And he added: “Accepting this amendment would enable the government to prove to disabled people that they mean what they say when they commit to building a country that works for everyone.”

Labour’s failure to support the measure led to the amendment being defeated by 177 votes to 135, with only 16 Labour peers rebelling against the whip and voting in favour.

15 December 2016

 

 

Aunt of disabled man tortured to death seeks hate crime sentence appeal

The aunt of a disabled man who was imprisoned and tortured to death is asking the attorney general to appeal against the judge’s failure to treat his murder as a disability hate crime.

James Wheatley, 29, from Kenton Bar, Newcastle, repeatedly kicked, punched and stamped on Lee Irving in attacks that took place over nine days, leaving him with multiple broken bones and other injuries.

After he died, Irving’s body was taken on a pushchair through a housing estate and dumped on a patch of grass near the A1.

Wheatley was found guilty of murder earlier this month, and was sentenced to life in prison, where he will have to serve at least 23 years.

Three other defendants – Wheatley’s mother Julie Mills, 52, girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and lodger Barry Imray, 35 – were also jailed for offences connected with Irving’s death, Mills to eight years, Lawrence to four years, and Imray to three.

But although Northumbria police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) treated Irving’s death as a hate crime, Mr Justice Soole, who sentenced the four, decided there was not enough evidence to prove that any of the offences were motivated by disability-related hostility.

Instead, he increased Wheatley’s sentence because of Irving’s “vulnerability”.

Lee’s aunt, Lisa Irving, told Disability News Service (DNS) this week that her nephew’s murder had left the family “traumatised” and with “little faith in society”.

She said the family “fully appreciated the verdicts” but were “devastated about the sentence and how the judge did not accept that it was a disability hate crime. How is it not?”

She said the family were equally disturbed by the failings of social services and the police.

Newcastle City Council has launched a serious case review into the circumstances that led to her nephew’s death.

Lee Irving’s murder is just the latest in a long line of brutal killings that the criminal justice system has failed to treat as disability hate crimes, despite legislation intended to provide longer sentences in such circumstances.

They include the killings of Brent Martin, Peter Hedley, Albert Adams, Stephen Hoskin, Kevin Davies, Michael Gilbert… and now Lee Irving.

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 (LASPO) 2012 doubles to 30 years the starting point for sentences for disability hate crime murders.

Lisa Irving is now working with members of the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) to persuade the attorney general to appeal the sentence handed to Wheatley.

She also wants the offences committed by Mills and Lawrence to be treated as hate crimes, although she believes that Imray, who himself had learning difficulties, was probably a victim of disability hate crime himself and was forced by Wheatley to help him cover up his crimes.

The Disability Hate Crime Network has now written to the attorney general, the Tory MP Jeremy Wright, to ask him to seek a tougher sentence from the court of appeal.

The letter was written by Katharine Quarmby, on behalf of Lisa Irving and the network, and she told Wright that the police and CPS had “presented good evidence of disability hate targeting”.

Quarmby, one of the network’s coordinators, and the author of Scapegoat, a pioneering investigation into disability hate crime, told DNS that she was “disappointed” by the failure to increase the sentences for those involved in Lee Irving’s murder.

She said she was not aware of a single case in which the LASPO 30-year tariff had yet been used.

Quarmby said she welcomed apparent signs of progress in sentencing some lower-level disability hate crimes, but said this could be a sign that magistrates were starting to take the issue seriously, while judges were failing to do so.

But she added: “However, when very serious crimes such as murder are sentenced, there seems to be a block in sentencing them as disability hate crimes.

“The law, as it currently stands, could be said to be set up to fail – it has to be investigated, prosecuted and sentenced as a disability hate crime.

“If one person in that chain – investigating officer, CPS prosecutor or judge – fails to view the crime as disability-related, there is no sentence uplift.

“This fails the victim, the family and wider society.

“Sentencing such crimes as disability-related would send a strong ‘declaratory effect’ to society that we do not tolerate such crimes and they are sentenced accordingly.

“I would like to see a discussion of possible law reform, if the current law is not fit for purpose, which I feel it is no longer.”

Anne Novis, a DHCN coordinator who leads for Inclusion London on disability hate crime, added: “It is more than time now for all cases where if a person perceives their experience as disability hate crime, as well as police and CPS, then this should be treated as such by judges.

She said: “To repeatedly read of cases where this aspect is ignored, ruled irrelevant, and no enhanced sentencing re hate crime applied gives a message that we as disabled people do not experience hate crime, and that the perpetrators get away with a sentence far less than they should get.

“The message given is that our human rights as victims of crime are less than those of others. This is not acceptable and must be changed.

“Via Inclusion London and the DHCN we will campaign to see this does happen.”

Meanwhile, a third DHCN coordinator, Stephen Brookes, has written to the solicitor general, the Tory MP Robert Buckland, asking for a meeting to raise the network’s concerns about “the all too frequent failure of the court system (in particular the judiciary) to fully understand and implement appropriate sentences for cases of disability hostility”.

He welcomed Buckland’s work on encouraging the reporting of hate crime by disabled people, but added: “The successful work we have done along with police forces and CPS prosecutors in jointly pressing for disability hate crime to be treated as such has been thwarted in most cases by court decisions.”

He pointed to the Lee Irving case as an example of how, despite improved confidence in police forces and CPS, “we are facing a total and unacceptable brick wall in courts in that the judiciary only seem to consider vulnerability as a cause, which means that disability hate is often not considered as part of a sentence uplift”.

He told Buckland: “It is about time that judges were given some real awareness training in what… disability actually means, rather than categorising us all as poor vulnerable victims.”

15 December 2016

 

 

‘Absurd’ DWP accused over refusal to publish PIP statistics

Ministers have been accused of “absurdity and obfuscation” after refusing to explain why they do not publish statistics showing the number of assessments carried out on disabled people applying for their new disability benefit.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) publishes extensive data about the work capability assessment, which tests eligibility for the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA).

But there are no equivalent statistics on assessments for personal independence payment (PIP), the extra-costs disability benefit that is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA).

Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, made the admission in response to a written question from SNP MP Kirsten Oswald, who asked her how many such assessments the department had carried out in the last two years.

Mordaunt told her that DWP “does not record the information you have requested on… medical assessments for personal independence payment”.

But she failed to tell the MP that the outsourcing companies that carry out the assessments on DWP’s behalf, Capita and Atos, do collect this data and that they share it with DWP.

A Capita spokesman told Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday (Wednesday) that he did not know why DWP would not publish the statistics.

He said: “We do share that information with them and it is their decision about how they use it.

“We have no control over that.”

Atos refused to answer questions from DNS about the statistics.

A spokeswoman for Mordaunt had told DNS earlier: “The department does not publish data on the number of PIP assessments that have been completed.

“Both Capita and Atos record information on the number of assessments completed.”

She declined to say why DWP does not publish this data, and whether it thought it was an issue it should address.

And she made it clear that DWP would answer no further questions on the subject other than through freedom of information requests.

DWP publishes PIP statistics that show the overall number of claimants currently receiving PIP, and what percentage of them receive the various levels of award, how long it takes to deal with claims, and the number and proportion of claimants who appeal against their award.

But there are no figures showing the results of people’s initial PIP assessments, or even how many assessments are taking place every month.

There are also no DWP figures to show how many people have to rely on appeals to secure their PIP, or how many claimants attend face-to-face assessments – rather than DWP relying on “paper” assessments – or the proportion of face-to-face assessments taking place in people’s homes rather than in assessment centres.

In answer to another question from Oswald, Mordaunt told her that information on the number of home assessments completed – both for PIP and for ESA, by the contractor Maximus – was “not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost”.

The lack of detailed PIP data published by DWP means it is impossible to compare the performance of Atos and Capita, which between them carry out all face-to-face assessments.

Bob Ellard, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which spotted Mordaunt’s parliamentary answer, said: “More absurdity and obfuscation from the DWP.

“Firstly Mordaunt claims that the DWP don’t record statistics on the number of PIP assessments.

“Then [when asked why], they say they don’t publish it.

“If pushed further they in all likeliness would claim that ‘we had it but the dog ate it’.

“While the desperate attempts to hide information by the DWP are laughable, they are also very serious.

“People’s lives are being wrecked by the catastrophically bad PIP process.

“People who are subject to these degrading and inhuman PIP assessments are having their funding cut and Motability vehicles taken away on the basis of flawed and badly-performed PIP assessments.

“The PIP process is causing genuine harm and mental distress to tens of thousands of people all over the country and all the DWP can do is play silly games at trying to dodge publishing the most basic information that might begin to shed a light on just how bad things are.”

Welfare rights expert Nick Dilworth said he could see “absolutely no reason” why DWP could not publish the same kind of statistics on PIP – using data from Atos and Capita – that it does on the work capability assessment, the eligibility test for ESA.

He said: “There’s a reason they won’t publish the data: it’s either connected with them being unable to retrieve it via their chaotic regime or they have something to hide.

“My guess is it is a combination of both.”

He added: “It beggars belief that the DWP is continually promoting a digital era upon which the claimant is expected to fully engage, yet when it comes to transparency of data the department still seems stuck on outdated Excel spreadsheets which they battle to share.

“It’s hardly confidence-building when we are asked to have faith in a roll-out of the all-digital universal credit.”

The latest PIP statistics were published yesterday (14 December).

The new figures show that by the end of October, 526,500 former DLA claimants had had their reassessments completed, with 23 per cent of them receiving a cut to their benefit, and another quarter (25 per cent) losing entitlement completely.

Two-fifths (40 per cent) of those reassessed saw their awards increased in the move from DLA to PIP.

The figures also reveal that the new mandatory reconsideration stage that all those disagreeing with their PIP decision need to go through before they can appeal to a tribunal resulted in less than one in five decisions being altered by DWP.

Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK’s welfare rights adviser, said: “When compared to the success rate of PIP appeals [65 per cent of those who appealed to tribunals were successful, according to September 2016 figures], the figures for rejected PIP mandatory reconsiderations are a disgrace.

“PIP has now been in operation for over three years – surely enough time for the DWP to have put in place an assessment process that gets most decisions right first time.

“Instead, many disabled people are having their right to a disability benefit withheld due to poor face to face assessments and further evidence then supplied effectively ignored in favour of Atos and Capita medical reports.

“We would hope that the second independent review of PIP will report early in the new year and recommend root and branch changes to the assessment process.

“In the meantime, we would urge all disabled people who are rejected at the mandatory reconsideration stage to seek advice about making an appeal to an independent tribunal.”

15 December 2016

 

 

Industry and government fight over blame for damage to ‘turn up and go’ rail rights

Staffing cuts across the rail industry – forced on train companies by the government – are damaging the rights of disabled passengers to catch trains without having to book assistance in advance, according to campaigners.

The user-led accessible transport charity Transport for All (TfA) said the Department for Transport (DfT) was embedding such cuts in rail franchise agreements with train companies, making it even harder for disabled and older people who need assistance to board and disembark trains to travel “spontaneously”.

Two representatives of the rail industry appeared to agree that the government was to blame and had forced the staffing cuts on train-operating companies – affecting station and on-board staff – although one of them later appeared to backtrack on that claim.

Faryal Velmi, TfA’s director, told Tuesday’s Pan London Mobility Forum: “‘Turn up and go’ is not rocket science.

“We are living in one of the richest cities, in one of the richest countries in the world.”

She said that train operating companies were “making very handsome profits for their shareholders”, while the government was failing to answer questions “straightforwardly” about the need for “turn up and go”.

She said the train industry needed to “stop treating disabled passengers as second-class citizens”, while transport ministers “really need to stop being so intransigent and face reality”.

Alan Benson, TFA’s chair, said the government was driving staff cuts at companies like Southern Railway by embedding such reductions in franchise agreements.

He said: “It is a really big problem that we need to raise the awareness of and tackle.”

Michael Adlington, customer experience manager for accessibility and inclusion for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – whose members run the rail industry – said it was DfT that decided how many staff train operating companies could employ.

When asked after the meeting to confirm that the government set staffing levels through the franchising process, Adlington told Disability News Service (DNS): “That’s what I believe, but the DfT would need to confirm it.”

He then added: “I perhaps said too much, if I am honest, because I don’t know.”

Veronika Krcalova, stakeholder support manager for South West Trains, also appeared to suggest that it was the government that decided how many staff a train operating company could employ.

She told the forum: “At the moment, we have a guard on every one of our trains.

“We want to keep them, but that is not up to us to decide.”

After the forum meeting, DfT denied that it specified staffing levels in franchise agreements, and said instead that it was “a matter for the train operator to ensure that services operate safely and in compliance with legal and regulatory requirements”, while all train companies have to comply with the Equality Act.

The forum heard that London’s Euston station has already warned disabled people that if they want assistance to board trains over Christmas it is “highly recommended” to book it in advance, said Benson.

He told the forum that this was “shocking” for a station the size of Euston.

TfA activist Gina Vettese, a scooter-user, told the forum: “We have to keep guards on these trains, otherwise there will be no-one to help us on and off.

“It is a total lack of common sense.”

Hannah Barham-Brown, a junior doctor, blogger and wheelchair-user, from south London, told the forum about the ordeal she had repeatedly faced as she tried to travel to work at Kingston Hospital by train.

She was unable to book assistance home because she could not predict what time she would finish her shift every day.

She experienced so many “horrific journeys” caused by the failure of assistance to help her on and off trains that she admitted defeat and paid for a car instead.

She said: “I would like to know that I am valued as much as any other customer, but I don’t think that is [true] most of the time.”

Much of the discussion about “turn up and go” at the forum involved Southern, which is embroiled in a long-running industrial dispute over plans that will see more of its trains driver-only operated (DOO), with no other member of staff on board.

Emily Yates, co-founder of the Association of British Commuters (ABC), said her organisation had been told by lawyers that DOO trains that visited unstaffed stations would breach the Equality Act if a disabled passenger was unable to secure assistance at those stations.

She said it was not clear whether train operating companies or DfT would decide to prevent this happening.

She said: “Will there be a call made on that decision or will it take us crowdfunding [to pay for a court case] to make it happen?”

Adlington told her: “I honestly don’t know. It is horrible to think that a customer or group of customers like yourselves would have to club together to do something.

“We have been talking to DfT. It is very much in their domain as to what happens.”

He said the rail industry was only able to work within “parameters” set by the government, although “we can fight against it if we think it is wrong”.

But Yates said: “In 2016, are we [really] having this discussion about whether disabled people have the right to turn up and travel?

“The government are clearly saying, no, they don’t.”

She said that attempts by Southern to “normalise” the inability of disabled passengers to “turn up and go” rather than trying to address the problem were “unlawful and immoral and unacceptable”.

Charles King, chair of Croydon Mobility Forum, said the staffing situation on the railways was “absolutely appalling”, with DfT deciding how many staff train operating companies employ, leading to trains regularly skipping station stops because there were not enough staff on duty.

When this happens, disabled people are “120th in the queue” for a taxi to get back to their home station, he said, and then “120th in the next queue” because the first taxi was not accessible.

Adlington also told the meeting that RDG was now at the “early stages” of working with DfT to “put in some minimum standards of rail accessibility”.

He said later that this work, which aims to produce common minimum standards on accessibility, was “at the very, very early stages”, although the department had been “receptive” to the idea.

DfT told DNS after the forum that there already were minimum standards of accessibility, which it expected the industry to meet when designing and building stations and trains.

But the department said that RSSB, the industry-owned safety and standards body, was developing accessibility guidance for train operators, and that this “may inform on future DfT franchise specification”.

DfT said that DOO had been “operating safely for more than 30 years on a third of the UK rail network”, but it has yet to explain how increasing the use of DOO would not make it harder for disabled people to travel independently, particularly to and from unstaffed stations.

Meanwhile, Transport for All is planning to launch a campaign in the new year, with a series of demands around access to rail travel for disabled people.

It will demand that “disabled and older people have the same right to travel as any other member of the public”, and it will push for “proper turn up and go”, and for action on rail staffing levels.

Among other demands, it will call on the government to reject recommendations from the chair of Network Rail to delay nearly £50 million already allocated to the Access for All rail station access improvement scheme.

15 December 2016

 

 

Government criticised by EHRC over disability rights record… for second time in 12 days

The government has been criticised by the UK’s human rights watchdog over its record on protecting the rights of disabled people, for the second time in just 12 days.

Last week, Disability News Service revealed how the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had been snubbed by the minister for disabled people after raising serious concerns about her government’s response to a report that found it guilty of “grave or systematic” violations of the UN disability convention.

Now EHRC has submitted a report to the UN on the UK’s progress towards meeting its international human rights obligations across that and other conventions.

EHRC said its report – submitted in advance of the UK government being questioned about its progress by the UN Human Rights Council in May, as part of a five-yearly examination process – provided a “worrying assessment” of human rights protections across Britain.

The report says the government’s social security reforms have had a “particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact” on disabled people’s rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living.

The report also highlights how access to civil justice has “deteriorated significantly” since the UK’s last “universal periodic review” by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, says in the report that disabled people have been hit by “a perfect storm of changes” to their social security entitlements, which the UN has found to be “in breach of their rights to an independent and adequate standard of living”.

EHRC also calls in the report – as it has on several previous occasions – for the UK government to assess the cumulative impact of such reforms when taking future spending decisions, so that life for disabled people “is not made even harder”.

Isaac said that, as a result of legal aid cuts in England and Wales – through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) – and higher employment tribunal fees, there was evidence that disabled people and others were being “priced out of justice”.

Since the new tribunal fees were introduced, disability discrimination cases had fallen by 59 per cent, he said.

The report calls on the UK government to commission independent research on the equality and human rights impacts of LASPO on disabled people, ethnic minorities, children and women, and to “mitigate adverse impacts” from higher employment tribunal fees.

Among other recommendations, the report calls on the UK government, and the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments, to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – and the other six “core” human rights conventions the UK has ratified – into domestic law.

It also calls on the UK government to provide regular estimates of the gaps in hourly pay for disabled workers when compared with non-disabled workers.

And it calls on the UK and devolved governments to address the “educational attainment gaps” experienced by children with special educational needs.

EHRC commissioner Lorna McGregor said: “These are uncertain times and we find ourselves at a crossroads, with decisions taken now deciding if we will still be seen as a global leader in human rights in decades to come.

“This report shows a worrying lack of progress, with society’s most vulnerable and marginalised in danger of being left behind.

“Our report is solutions-focused and we have made 30 recommendations that we hope the UN will accept and all governments in the UK will act on.”

15 December 2016

 

 

Watchdog’s inquiry into accessible housing shortage ‘must also look at affordability’

An inquiry launched by the equality and human rights watchdog into the “chronic lack” of accessible housing has been welcomed by campaigners, but they warned that it must also look at whether such housing is affordable for disabled people.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) inquiry will look at the impact of the shortage of accessible and adaptable housing on disabled people’s right to live independently, as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

EHRC launched the inquiry after research showed that 1.8 million disabled people in Britain do not have suitable housing, while 300,000 do not have the adaptations they need in their existing homes.

The terms of reference for the inquiry were published this week, with calls for evidence due to start next month.

The inquiry will examine the extent of what EHRC said was a “chronic” shortage, the experiences of disabled people over the last three years, and the consequences for those who have not found appropriate housing on their right to independent living.

It will also look at the impact of government policy, the availability of support services, and whether local authorities are complying with their duties under the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty and ECHR.

And the inquiry will examine the steps being taken by councils and social housing providers to increase the provision of accessible and adaptable housing, through planning and building regulations.

Part of the inquiry’s focus will be on how councils and social housing providers assess disabled people’s need for accessible housing and identify a suitable property, and on how the disabled facilities grants system – and equivalent grants in Scotland – are operating.

The inquiry, which is due to report early in 2018, will cover England, Scotland and Wales.

Zara Todd, community activities manager for the Norfolk-based disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives, said: “We would welcome any inquiry into the lack of accessible housing because it’s a big issue for disabled people across the country.

“If you don’t have somewhere that you can live, there are lots and lots of additional barriers to getting the other things you need in order to achieve independent living.

“It’s a crucial part of disabled people realising their rights and having independence.”

In October, Todd told the Commons women and equalities committee’s inquiry into disability and the built environment that she had contacted 22 letting agents in Norfolk when looking for an accessible flat to rent, but had been shown details for just two that were step-free.

Neither was completely accessible to her, so she had to settle for a property that was partly inaccessible.

She also told the committee that when she bought an accessible flat in London, she was told by the developer that she was the first disabled person to have been able to afford to buy one of the many accessible properties it had built.

She told Disability News Service this week: “There are particular issues around the availability of affordable housing, so [it’s important for the inquiry to consider] not just accessible housing but housing that disabled people can afford.”

She said it was also “very unclear” what responsibilities landlords had when renting properties to disabled tenants.

This meant that disabled people who could not afford the accessible housing that was available, and did not meet the criteria for council housing, were “being consigned to being in inaccessible properties or homeless”.

She added: “Accessibility is not just about physical accessibility. It is also about financial accessibility.

“I would hope that EHRC would take that into consideration when they are doing their investigation.”

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, which was involved in EHRC’s discussions about its plans to hold the inquiry, also welcomed the announcement.

She said: “Housing is a priority issue for disabled people, and as research has evidenced, there is a chronic situation with a lack of genuinely affordable, accessible and adaptable properties available.

“The issue is also wide-ranging, including a lack of support to enable disabled people to maintain their tenancies, and discrimination and barriers faced by, for example, people with mental health support needs in the private rental market.

“Whilst we are pleased that the EHRC is now giving more attention to disability equality in housing, we hope that the recommendations from this inquiry are as robust and critical as they need to be [about] the impact on disabled people of current housing policy and that they will have the power to influence the real change that is needed at national, regional and local authority levels.”

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, also welcomed the inquiry.

She said: “We welcome the EHRC inquiry into the chronic lack of accessible housing and are pleased that it will focus not only on the lack per se but also on the impact that the lack of accessible housing and housing support has on independent living.”

Bott gave evidence alongside Todd at the women and equalities committee’s evidence session in October.

She told the committee about one disabled man who had to crawl up the stairs of his rented property to get to his bathroom and bedroom.

After years of waiting on his local housing trust’s list for an accessible property, he was told that he was no longer eligible to be on that list because of a rule change.

Bott told the committee that this trust was having to cope with the “squeeze” on accessible one-bedroom properties caused by disabled people having to downsize because of the government’s bedroom tax.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “Living independently is one of the most important issues for disabled people across the UK, yet only a small percentage of local authorities have policies to deliver and monitor the number of accessible homes being built.

“We are using our unique legal powers to hold this inquiry into the chronic lack of accessible housing for disabled people as well as the many barriers faced by those who need to adapt homes to their specific needs.

“It is to society’s shame that rights of disabled people have stalled, and we need to ensure they are no longer left behind in all areas of life, including housing and independent living.”

15 December 2016

 

 

Major arts organisations have ‘zero per cent’ disabled staff, Arts Council admits

The arts sector appears to be making gradual progress on increasing the proportion of disabled people in its workforce, although many leading companies have admitted employing no disabled staff at all, a new report by the Arts Council has revealed.

The percentage of disabled people working for the larger organisations receiving Arts Council England (ACE) funding – its national portfolio organisations (NPOs) – doubled from just two per cent in 2014-15 to four per cent in 2015-16.

The proportion of disabled people on NPO boards has also risen sharply, from 3.2 per cent to seven per cent. ACE says the proportion of disabled people in the overall working-age population is about 19 per cent.

There has also been a significant increase in the number of disabled-led NPOs, increasing from five to 19 in just one year – which may explain some of the employment increase – while ACE said that three per cent of all of its strategic funds were awarded to disability-led organisations, compared to just two per cent in 2014-15.

But there are still question-marks over the rate of progress.

The ACE report reveals that some major arts organisations that receive ACE funding – and employ more than 50 members of staff – appear to have no disabled employees at all.

Although those figures refer to 2014-15, while the rest of the report covers 2015-16, the arts organisations admitting that they employ no disabled people at all include the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, the English National Opera, the London Symphony Orchestra, The Roundhouse, the University of Warwick, and Bristol Old Vic.

An ACE spokeswoman warned that it would be “using the data to inform the decisions we take” on future funding from 2018.

There are also concerns that, while the number of performances made accessible to audience members who are deaf or blind rose from 3,760 to 4,613, the number of accessible exhibition days plunged from 8,054 to 1,066 days, while the number of accessible film screenings fell from 4,675 to 4,019.

ACE said it was “looking into” the reasons for these falls.

But the figures in the Equality, Diversity And The Creative Case 2015-16 report seem to show that ACE’s Creative Case for Diversity programme is now making some progress, two years after it was launched in December 2014.

This year, it invested £11.8 million in diversity, an increase of more than 40 per cent on the amount ACE originally intended to spend.

This includes £5.3 million on Elevate, which aims to develop diverse-led organisations, a sum that was “uplifted” through National Lottery funding “due to the strength of applications received”; funding to help address the lack of diversity in arts leadership, through the Change Makers programme; and support for the development and commissioning of new work by deaf and disabled artists, through Unlimited, which was originally launched as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

An ACE spokeswoman said: “We know that there is more to be done in terms of the leadership within the sector, the representation of disabled people across our workforce and the barriers around socio-economic participation.

“We are committed to addressing these issues.”

From 2018, those NPOs receiving more than £1 million a year “will be required to ensure their leadership and workforce reflects the diversity of their local area”, while ACE will have “some involvement in senior management and board appointments”.

Its chief executive, Darren Henley, told the report’s launch event in Manchester: “Disabled representation within the arts and culture workforce now stands at four per cent.

“We all have to do better – and I include the Arts Council in that challenge.”

Henley said that research commissioned by ACE into why this figure was so low found that disabled people still faced “significant barriers to employment”, particularly as a result of reform of the government’s Access to Work scheme.

He said: “We’ve expressed our concerns to government about recent changes and their impact on the ability of disabled artists to develop their careers.

“We’re watching what happens next and will continue to make representations.”

He also said that black and minority ethnic and disabled people were still under-represented in arts audiences,

He said that “work still needs to be done for disabled people”, and he added: “We are seeing progress in diversity… but we need to keep pushing on.”

Jane Cordell, chair of the disability and Deaf arts organisation DaDaFest, told the event that it was vital that the boards running arts organisations were diverse because they “challenge more, they disrupt”.

She said: “If we don’t have those who have experiences beyond the norm, our strategies and plans are at risk of being normal and a vicious circle of unseen exclusion will persist.”

Meanwhile, the user-led access-to-live-music charity Attitude is Everything has announced the six winners of its inaugural Outstanding Attitude Awards.

The awards have been presented to venues and festivals “at the forefront of creative access provision” for Deaf and disabled audiences at live music events.

The three winning venues were The Albany, in London, for providing video-based travel information on its website; Colston Hall, in Bristol, for a conference and a series of performances that “put accessible music-making centre-stage”; and the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, for offering British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation at all of its events.

The winning festivals were Just So, in Cheshire, for its inclusive programming; Nozstock, in Herefordshire, for its online access information; and Reading, for its user-led BSL interpretation service.

15 December 2016

 

 

Scope’s decision to close Disability Now ‘is a tragedy’

The disability charity Scope is to close its disabled-led online publication Disability Now (DN) in a bid to cut costs, more than 30 years after it first appeared as a newspaper.

But questions have been asked over Scope’s decision to continue publishing DN-branded content on its own website.

DN was first published, under a different name, in 1984, first as a newspaper, then as a magazine, and finally in an online-only format four years ago.

But Richard Lane, Scope’s head of communications, said the charity had now decided that DN was “no longer a viable business in its current format”.

DN’s only member of staff, its disabled editor Ian Macrae – it also used a number of disabled freelances – has apparently been made redundant, although the charity has not confirmed this.

Lane said the charity had decided to close the publication because of the major changes in “the variety and diversity of media and content covering disability issues” over the last three decades.

He said: “At an incredibly difficult financial time for the charity sector, we have to look at all expenditure very carefully. This decision was not taken lightly.”

Scope plans to continue to publish DN-branded editorial on its own website, and it said this would “continue to be produced and led by disabled people”, while it planned to have someone working in a journalism role, which could be Macrae.

DN has always fiercely guarded its significant level of editorial independence from Scope*.

A Scope spokeswoman claimed that the new content would “absolutely retain its editorial independence” from Scope, and that there would be no control at all by Scope over that content.

Lane said later: “In terms of future plans, no final decision has been made yet on timings or the look and feel of the content.

“What has been agreed is that the name Disability Now will live on in new content to be hosted on Scope’s blog.

“This content will be features and interviews produced by disabled people covering a wide variety of issues.

“We’ll update followers of DN in the new year when more information is available.”

Paul Carter, a former reporter on the magazine, and more recently presenter of its monthly podcasts – which he said were “one of the jewels in its crown” – said he was not surprised by the decision.

But he added: “It’s been coming for a long time. I still think it’s a tragedy.”

Scope said in a statement that it needed “to keep up with changing times”, and that there were now “new ways and new platforms that can provide greater reach and greater impact” in a media world in which disabled people’s voices are “heard through more specialist and mainstream platforms, blogs and podcasts than ever before”.

But Carter, who is hoping to continue presenting disability-themed podcasts, said: “I completely understand the media landscape has changed.

“I don’t think DN was ever immune to that background.

“I understand Scope’s reasoning, even if I don’t agree with it.

“At a time when we as a community are more under threat than ever, and it feels the wider mainstream media seems to have its guns trained on us, we need a voice and outlet more than ever.

“To shut down one of those lead voices at a time when we need it most seems wrong, but I understand it as a financial decision.”

He said that the idea of continuing to publish DN-branded content on Scope’s website when there was “no connection to what has gone before” was “a stretch”.

Over three decades, DN ensured that the voices of disabled people were heard on the issues that mattered to them, a task that was continued successfully by Macrae as he oversaw the closure of its print version and moved it to a web-only format.

In recent years, DN’s podcasts have covered some of the most controversial issues of the day, and featured interviews with high-profile disabled people, including Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Frank Gardner, Evelyn Glennie, David Blunkett, and a string of disabled activists, campaigners, Paralympians, politicians, academics and artists.

Under former editor Mary Wilkinson, DN built a reputation for campaigning journalism, pushing for changes in the law and government policy on issues such as extending winter fuel payments to disabled people, legalising medicinal cannabis, toughening sentences for ill-treatment and neglect of people with learning difficulties in residential care, and addressing the abuse of accessible parking spaces.

But its most significant campaigning success came as a result of a pioneering and hard-hitting investigation into disability hate crime, led by its former news editor, Katharine Quarmby – and a subsequent report co-published with the UK Disabled People’s Council and Scope – which had a huge impact on both the criminal justice system and the mainstream media.

Macrae, who worked for the BBC before he joined DN, declined to discuss Scope’s announcement with Disability News Service (DNS) this week, but in a blog he said that the publication had “given voice to those who are all too often silenced, featured issues that are all too often ignored and challenged those who do not believe disabled people’s voices should be heard”.

He added: “In our written content and podcasts we have also trumpeted and celebrated the pride which we and many disabled people feel in being who and what we are.”

*DNS editor John Pring is a former reporter, news editor, acting editor and deputy editor of Disability Now

15 December 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com