Eight years of benefit cuts ‘will cost some disabled lone parents £11,000 a year’

Some disabled lone parents will eventually lose more than 30 per cent of their income – more than £11,000 a year – as a result of eight years of government social security cuts, according to new research for the equality watchdog.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report examines the “cumulative impact” of all the tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms made between May 2010 and January 2018.

It concludes that these reforms will have a “disproportionately negative impact” on several protected groups, including disabled people.

And it says these negative impacts will be “particularly large” for households with more disabled members, and even larger if any of them have higher support needs, while lone parents on low incomes will also be hit particularly hard.

The analysis is the final version of EHRC’s cumulative impact assessment (CIA), following an interim report published last November.

November’s report was seen as “a vindication” of years of campaigning by grassroots groups aimed at persuading the government to assess the overall impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people.

The new EHRC report says that, on average, disabled lone parents with at least one disabled child will have lost almost 30 per cent of their net income, almost £10,000 per year, by the time the reforms and cuts are fully implemented in 2021-22.

And disabled lone parents with particularly high support needs will have lost over £11,000 on average, slightly more than 30 per cent of their net income.

Households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child will have lost an average of just over £6,500 a year, more than 13 per cent of their net income.

EHRC said the reforms would “condemn future generations to poverty” and were driven largely by the freeze in working-age benefits, changes to disability benefits, and reductions in universal credit rates.

It called on the government “as a matter of urgency” to reconsider its policies, review levels of social security payments to ensure they provide an adequate standard of living, and carry out a CIA of its own on all future budgets and spending reviews.

Only last week, an EHRC report on Britain’s implementation of the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said the government had “failed to show why its tax, policy and legal reforms since 2010 were necessary and fair, and how they align with human rights standards”.

Among those who have previously called on the government to carry out a CIA are the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities and the government’s own benefits advice body, the social security advisory committee.

Yesterday (Wednesday), the Treasury again insisted that such assessments were misleading and refused to carry out future CIAs.

The EHRC report was carried out by Professor Jonathan Portes, of Aubergine Analysis and King’s College London, a former chief economist at the Department for Work and Pensions, and Howard Reed, of Landman Economics.

EHRC also published a separate review of research into the impact of tax, welfare, social security and public spending changes since 2010, carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

The review concludes that disabled people have been the group most affected, with the impact “driven largely by reforms targeting disability benefits directly”, while families with disabled adults and disabled children “have faced the largest financial loss in cash terms compared to any other household type”.

It says that increased used of strict conditions imposed on benefit recipients, and of benefit sanctions, “has had many adverse impacts, including increased debt and borrowing, destitution, increased homelessness and the use of foodbanks, all of which have had implications for the physical and mental health of people”.

The report says the evidence also “demonstrates the negative and stressful experience of the [personal independence payment] application process”.

And it calls for further research into the negative impact of delays in benefit assessments and periods without benefits and support; the impact of sanctioning; and the longer-term impact on employment and support allowance applicants who are found “fit for work” and subsequently may be neither in a job or receiving benefits.

It concludes that the government needs to revise the theory behind the reforms – “that economic inactivity is a lifestyle choice and that cutting support will facilitate movement into work” – and acknowledge “that structural, not just individual, barriers to work need to be better understood and addressed”.

It adds: “More generally, there is a case for reframing welfare positively, as something needed by all sections of society at points in their lifetime.”

A Treasury spokesman said the government did not recognise EHRC’s figures or accept its overall analysis “because it presents only a partial picture”.

He said that the number of people in absolute poverty had reduced by half a million since 2014, while average household incomes were “at a record high”.

He said: “The Treasury, along with other relevant departments, carefully considers the impact of its decisions on those sharing protected characteristics – including at budgets and other fiscal events – in line with both its legal obligations and with its strong commitment to promoting fairness.

“While we already consider equalities impacts, we have substantial reservations about whether cumulative analysis can be produced in a way which doesn’t mislead.

“For example, this cumulative analysis would exclude the impacts of changes in public spending and key revenue raising measures, and thus present a partial and misleading picture of government policy.”

He added: “Our commitment to equality and fairness means we spend over £50 billion every year to support people with disabilities and health conditions. This is an increase of £10 billion compared to 2010.

“The number of disabled people in work has increased by around 600,000 in the last four years and lone parent employment has also risen.

“We will continue to prioritise support to those who most need it in society.”

15 March 2018



Spring statement ‘shows disabled people will continue to bear brunt of austerity’

The chancellor’s spring statement shows that disabled people will continue to bear the brunt of austerity, according to leading user-led organisations.

They spoke out after Philip Hammond resisted calls to increase funding for adult social care and other public services in this week’s statement.

Instead, he suggested that he might increase public spending in the autumn budget and insisted that “spending on the disabled” was continuing to increase every year.

But there was anger and frustration among user-led organisations at Hammond’s refusal to address the funding crisis, particularly in social care.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said Hammond’s statement “had little to do with the economic well-being of the nation and even less with the rights and needs of disabled people”.

Instead, he said, it was “primarily shaped by the government’s and the chancellor’s own uncertain situation and their fears for the forthcoming local elections”.

Beresford said: “As I hear daily reports of disabled people’s increasingly precarious financial and personal situations, with a vicious and dishonest benefits system continuing unconstrained, despite the massive and growing evidence of its cruelty, we have to wonder how long this can go on, before the scars to disabled people and the nation reach a point of being unrecoverable.

“I can only agree with shadow chancellor John McDonnell who has accused Mr Hammond of ‘ignoring’ the public services despite ‘a crisis on a scale we have never seen before’.”

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “Despite the positive outlook portrayed by the chancellor we remain concerned that disabled people are being left behind.

“His emphasis on ‘talent and hard work’* is blunted by the reality of disabled people’s experience of finding and keeping jobs.

“Once again, the opportunity to pick up the challenges in health and social care services, which are seriously impacting on the lives of disabled people, remains ignored.

“In the meantime, forthcoming changes to the benefits system will hit disabled people hardest – we need a system which doesn’t drive more disabled people into poverty.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said the spring statement sent “a clear message to everyone” that austerity “remains the government’s mantra and that disabled people will continue to bear the brunt of ongoing cuts and rationing of services”.

He said: “It used to be that chancellors would give with one hand and take with the other.

“Well it’s clear what’s being taken away: it’s our social care funding, it’s our wheelchair services, our British Sign Language interpretation services, our access to healthcare, our Motability vehicles, our benefits, our housing, our education grants and our employment support.

“So what are they giving us? Well, there is the rise in disability hate crimes, increased numbers of disabled people attempting suicide, a million benefit sanctions imposed upon disabled people, and the dubious honour of being the first country to be investigated by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found ‘grave and systematic violations’ of disabled people’s rights.”

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said the chancellor had done nothing to ease the crisis in inclusive education, with increasing evidence of cuts to the support disabled students need to access mainstream education.

She said one of the reasons for increasing numbers of disabled children being excluded from mainstream schools had to be the lack of support they receive.

She said: “We are very disappointed that the government are not addressing the issue.”

Aspis pointed to reports last month that Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council was planning to cut a quarter of its staff who support disabled pupils in mainstream schools, while there have also been threats to educational support funding in the London borough of Hackney.

She said the government’s failure to support disabled pupils in mainstream education – and its determination instead to “pump money into the special school system” – meant it was breaching its duties under the Equality Act, the Children and Families Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

McDonnell accused Hammond of “congratulating himself on marginally improved economic forecasts, while he refuses to lift a finger as councils go bust, the NHS and social care are in crisis, school budgets are cut, homelessness has doubled and wages are falling”.

He told Hammond that, “as always, the harshest cuts fall on disabled people”.

That appeared to be confirmed the day after Hammond’s spring statement, when a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission concluded that families with disabled adults and disabled children were facing “the largest financial loss in cash terms compared to any other household type” as a result of all the tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms that have been introduced by Conservative-led governments between May 2010 and January 2018.

The EHRC report found that disabled lone parents with particularly high support needs would lose over £11,000 a year on average, slightly more than 30 per cent of their net income, by 2021-22.

*Hammond said his government was building an economy “where prosperity and opportunity are in reach of all, wherever they live and whatever their gender, colour, creed or background” and “where talent and hard work alone determine success” 

15 March 2018



Sharp rise in disability poverty in Wales is ‘very concerning’

The proportion of disabled people who live in poverty in Wales has risen by more than 40 per cent since 2010, according to “very concerning” new research.

Figures produced by Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) show that the percentage of working-age disabled people living in poverty in Wales rose from 27 or 28 per cent to 39 per cent in just five or six years.

The increase in poverty levels appears to have started at around the time the Conservative-led coalition government came to power in 2010.

The figures were provided to Disability News Service (DNS) by JRF after it published new analysis showing that nearly two-fifths of disabled people (39 per cent) in Wales were now living in income poverty, compared with 31 per cent of disabled people in the UK as a whole, and 22 per cent of non-disabled people in Wales.

JRF provided figures to DNS which showed that the proportion of working-age disabled people in poverty in Wales had fallen to an average of 28 per cent in the three years from 2008-09 to 2010-11 and 27 per cent in the three years from 2009-10 to 2011-12.

But the disability poverty rate then began to climb until it reached an average of 37 per cent in the three years 2012-13 to 2014-15, and as high as 39 per cent in the years 2013-14 to 2015-16.

The figures relate to levels of relative income poverty* and do not include income from disability living allowance and personal independence payment (PIP) – because these payments are designed to meet disability-related costs – but they do take account of other benefits, including employment and support allowance.

Miranda Evans, policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales (DW), the national association of disabled people’s organisations, said both the UK and Welsh governments should share blame for the increase.

She said: “The sharp increase in disability poverty is very concerning indeed.

“Many would put this down to welfare reform and the cuts to disability benefits.

“However, because JRF does not take into account ‘disability costs benefits’ like PIP in calculating the rates of disability poverty, this tells us that this increase is not solely down to welfare reform.

“We cannot simply point to cuts in disability benefits as being the cause in Wales.

“Much more must be done to address the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people.

“The lack of flexible, well-paid job opportunities is a barrier for many disabled people.”

DW had earlier said that the figure showing that 39 per cent of disabled people were in poverty was “no surprise”, as Wales had the highest proportion of disabled people in its population, the highest proportion of claimants of disability benefits and the widest employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people in the UK.

Ken Skates, the Welsh government’s cabinet secretary for economy and transport, told the BBC that the 39 per cent figure was a “national disgrace” and that “we must ensure that disabled people have the right skills, right transport and right opportunities to address this”.

Rhian Davies, DW’s chief executive, said that it “will indeed be a national disgrace” if the Welsh government failed to act.

She said in a blog that DW had “long called on Welsh government to fully recognise and act on the scale of poverty faced by disabled people, arguing that without this focus, general approaches to tackling poverty and unemployment will fail”.

Davies said DW and other national disability organisations had been reviewing the Welsh government’s Framework for Action on Independent Living – which resulted from DW’s Independent Living Now! campaign – but that “with the exception, perhaps, of digital inclusion, we found little evidence of improvement in the lived experience of disabled people since 2013, with many telling us that they are worse off”.

She said that much of the blame was due to the impact of UK government austerity measures, “which have seen benefits and services to disabled people slashed”.

But she said: “Welsh government cannot fully mitigate UK government actions, nevertheless there is more it can do in demonstrating leadership in areas where it has direct responsibility.

“The strong words of ministers must now be turned into stronger action.”

Davies, who chairs the Welsh government’s Independent Living National Steering Group, said a revised Framework for Action on Independent Living should set “ambitious and measurable targets aimed at addressing poverty and tackling barriers to independent living at both national and local level”.

Among actions the Welsh government could take, she said, was to increase the proportion of disabled people in its own workforce, from the current five per cent; use new infrastructure projects to “create a more inclusive and accessible built environment and transport system”; and use government contracts to advance disability equality.

And she called on the Welsh government to “emulate the European Union’s progressive approach to disability rights” by incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into new legislation.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh government said that its new, cross-government Economic Action Plan was “grounded on the principle that for those who can work, well-paid work is the best route out of poverty”.

She said: “We recognise that disabled people are at a much greater risk of having poorer employment outcomes.

“Next week we will publish our Employability Plan which will set out how we will support people, including those furthest from the jobs market, to increase their employability.

“This includes a specific target to increase the number of disabled people in work.

“The plan recognises the need to address the barriers which exist in society, including negative attitudes, organisational systems and physical obstacles which prevent disabled people from fulfilling their potential.”

She added: “Many of the levers to support disabled people lie with the UK government but we remain committed to working across government on issues where we can add value.”

She said the Welsh government was “working to develop stronger links” with the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions, “both to influence the delivery of more support for disabled people that enables them to secure employment, remain in work and progress”, and to raise awareness of the Access to Work disability employment scheme.

*The proportion of those living with less than 60 per cent of the median (average) income

15 March 2018



Ministers finally publish bus wheelchair space report… then announce more talks

Ministers have finally announced that they will act to protect the rights of wheelchair-users to travel on buses, nearly 14 months after a ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court ruled in January 2017 that First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces.

The ruling followed a five-year legal battle fought by disabled campaigner Doug Paulley, who had been planning to travel to Leeds to visit his parents in February 2012, but was prevented from entering a bus because the driver refused to insist that a mother with a sleeping child in a pushchair should move from the only wheelchair space.

The Supreme Court ruled that a driver must do more than simply ask a non-disabled passenger to move, but did not say exactly what actions bus companies should take, or how the needs of passengers should be taken into account.

The Department for Transport (DfT) subsequently set up a group of six advisers – two representatives of the transport industry, two from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) and two from the transport user watchdog Transport Focus – to produce recommendations for action.

The task and finish group on the use of wheelchair spaces on buses – which did not include any representatives of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – submitted its report to transport ministers last September, but DfT has only now published it, nearly six months later.

And despite ministers welcoming its four main recommendations “in principle”, they have now announced a period of “further engagement”, with “a view to bringing forward a package of measures” later this year.

The task and finish group concluded “that drivers need to play an active role in ensuring that the wheelchair space is made available for passengers in wheelchairs, which includes requiring other passengers to move where necessary, but that drivers also need more powers than they have currently to enable them to do this effectively”.

They said that other passengers “should be expected to vacate the space” so a wheelchair-user can occupy it, unless there are other passengers who “may have legitimate calls on the space”.

A DfT spokeswoman said later that these other passengers should include “people with walking aids, parents with disabled children and assistance dog owners”.

The task and finish group also recommended that the government should update conduct regulations, which detail drivers’ duties and expected behaviour – and produce fresh guidance – to make it possible for drivers to remove passengers from a bus if they “unreasonably refuse to move” from the wheelchair space.

The group also called for efforts to raise public awareness about how the wheelchair space should be used, and to improve training for bus drivers.

Paulley said he did not understand why the report was only being released now, six months after it was completed, with the prospect of a further period of consultation.

He welcomed the prospect of amendments to the conduct regulations but said there was a lack of “very concrete recommendations” to the government.

He also raised concerns about the apparent prospect of drivers being given the power to remove passengers from buses.

He said: “I don’t think drivers actually want that power.”

Instead, he said, they should be able to treat someone failing to move from the space “just as any other anti-social behaviour on the buses”, for example by stopping the bus and refusing to continue the journey until the passenger in questions leaves the space.

And he said it was “really not good” that there was no DPO represented on the task and finish group.

Paulley said he believe the task and finish group’s report was “far too woolly”.

He said: “I am glad that they recommended changing the conduct regulations and that the government have not entirely rejected that out of hand as they did previously [in an earlier consultation].

“Other than that, it seems far too slow. There’s going to be further consultation. It’s taking far too long for something that should be decisive and quick.”

Alan Benson, chair of the user-led campaigning charity Transport for All, said: “We welcome the Department for Transport’s commitment to improve bus access.

“It’s been over a year since the very clear ruling from the Supreme Court, so we’re delighted to see the government finally taking these steps to improve bus access.

“It’s time to put an end to wheelchair and mobility scooter users’ daily struggle to access the wheelchair priority space.

“We also need awareness campaigns so that drivers and the public better understand that this space is there to meet all mobility needs, including walker and assistance dog users.

“As well as strengthening their policies on wheelchair priority, we want to see bus companies introduce better inclusive designs for buses, with a larger wheelchair spaces and a separate spaces for buggies and luggage to ensure that disabled and older people can travel with confidence.

“Some buses on Transport for London routes… already have a space big enough to comfortably accommodate both a wheelchair and a buggy.

“We also know that a few bus companies around the UK have such a design.”

Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK, said: “The government appear to have a new policy position that will be enforceable, providing they are willing to change the law.

“This is not a case of wheelchairs versus buggies, it is a move which should restore rights to access transport to wheelchair users.

“Disability Rights UK was at the forefront in demanding a change in the law as the only viable solution to this issue. We hold the government to their promise.”

Transport minister Nusrat Ghani said: “Passengers with disabilities must have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society, and it is essential that the services they rely on are accessible and work for them.

“That’s exactly why last year we set up a group representing a broad range of stakeholders with a variety of different perspectives, to examine how we support disabled people in their day-to-day lives.

“We have also developed guidance on disability awareness training for bus drivers, which we plan to publish later this year.

“This is the next step in our work to ensure transport networks help those with disabilities to live independent lives.”

Asked why there had been no DPO represented on the task and finish group, a DfT spokeswoman said its membership had “represented a broad range of stakeholders with a variety of experiences and perspectives” and that it was appropriate to seek DPTAC’s advice because it was “statutorily charged with advising ministers on the transport needs of people with disabilities”.

Asked why it had taken DfT so long to publish the report, she said it had been “extremely important for government to listen carefully to stakeholders on this issue and come to a considered response, taking all views into account”.

She added: “We understand the importance of improving access to the wheelchair space swiftly and appropriately, and look forward to continued dialogue with a broad range of stakeholders as we develop specific interventions.”

She said the task and finish group had produced “a balanced package of measures giving drivers the tools to address inappropriate behaviour, clarifying our expectations of drivers and passengers, and encouraging passengers to act with greater consideration.

“We know that implementing measures in isolation is unlikely to result in a better, more consistent experience for passengers with disabilities, which is why we are continuing to work with stakeholders on this.”

15 March 2018



Stephen Hawking: Scientist, role model and defender of rights

Tributes have been paid to Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicist and “disability icon” who was seen by many disabled people as a hugely-important role model, who died this week.

Among the disabled people who highlighted the importance of his achievements was the political journalist Dr Frances Ryan, who said on Twitter: “Growing up disabled in Britain, you don’t get many role models.

“But seeing a genius, witty and kind Prof gain the world’s respect from his wheelchair meant something. All of us know we can reach for the stars.”

Professor Tom Shakespeare, professor of disability research at Norwich Medical School, said on Twitter that “as well as his brilliant career in Physics”, Hawking had “allied himself to the disability rights struggle time and again” and “always challenged assumptions”.

He added: “Stephen Hawking showed that you could make strides, even if you couldn’t walk; that you could have a powerful voice, even if you couldn’t talk; that you could be disabled and change the world. RIP.”

Another disabled campaigner, Kaliya Franklin, who tweets at @BendyGirl, said Hawking showed others that “the richness and depth of human experience is part of all [of] us, regardless of appearance or ability to speak out loud” and that he had showed that disabled people “could achieve anything, at a time when so many were still institutionalised”.

There was also irritation from many disabled people at the repeated efforts of the mainstream media to hail Hawking as an “inspiration” for “overcoming” his impairment.

Disabled scientist Fiona Robertson said on Twitter: “Don’t say he ‘overcame’ his illness.

“He was still disabled. He was both disabled and brilliant, not ‘in spite of’.”

Robertson was another who had seen Hawking as a role model.

She said: “As a young teenager, my battered copy of A Brief History of Time revealed to me how much people yearn for the complexity of science, to understand reality, to connect with that awe.

“As a disabled scientist, I looked to #StephenHawking to see that I still had a role to play.”

She was one of many who pointed out that he was only able to be “the light of cosmology” because “he had access to medical care, social care, adaptive technology, mobility aids”.

She added: “He succeeded because of his brilliance *and* his access to support.”

Franklin agreed, pointing out that he was enabled to live his rich life by “the NHS, PAs to support independent living, PAs to support his work, assistive tech and most importantly, to be surrounded by people determined to ensure those things happen”.

The Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds highlighted “the wondrous ways Professor Hawking explained the cosmos and its complex beauty” but also how he had supported disability rights, including criticising cuts to support for disabled students and fighting to protect the NHS.

Marsha de Cordova, the disabled MP and Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said Hawking had been “a ground-breaking physicist, a firm advocate for the NHS, and a staunch defender of the welfare state and human rights – from opposing the Vietnam war to standing up for the Palestinian people” and had “never let his disability define him”.

Disability Rights UK marked Hawking’s death by reposting the speech he gave as the fourth annual Jack Ashley Memorial Lecture last October.

In the lecture, he spoke about his life with motor neurone disease, and his belief in the principles of the NHS, that good care should be provided “at the point of need, to everyone, without regard for personal circumstance, or ability to pay”.

He added: “It is important that care is available, without any of the added burdens for people that come with private health insurance.

“My team and I have had experience of dealing with health insurance companies in the US, and that disappointing experience shows that a health insurance company will try its best not to pay.”

He also spoke in the lecture of his public row with Jeremy Hunt over the health secretary’s “cherry picking” of evidence on weekend NHS care, which Hawking said was “unacceptable”.

He added: “International comparisons indicate that the most efficient way to provide good health care is for services to be publicly funded, and publicly run.

“The more profit is extracted from the system, the more private monopolies grow, and the more expensive health care becomes.”

He also said in his lecture that disabled people “must find new ways of doing things”.

He said that he had travelled internationally, visited Antarctica, dived in a submarine, and experienced gravity-free space flight, as well as writing books, appearing in television programmes, and lecturing in the Royal Albert Hall.

He told the audience: “I am not showing off. I am explaining that disabled people can do anything if they have a fierce will to succeed.”

But he stressed, as other disabled people did this week after hearing of his death, that his international travel “involves an entourage of dedicated assistants and nurses, and my fame protects me against some of the types of indignity that we often suffer”.

15 March 2018



DWP ‘hides impact of changes to ESA guidance that risked lives of thousands’

The government appears to be trying to hide information that could show the impact of major changes to “fitness for work” guidance that risked the lives of thousands of disabled benefit claimants.

It is the second time this month that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has breached the Freedom of Information Act in an apparent attempt to hide the impact of its welfare reforms on disabled people.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP had refused to explain how its new universal credit system of working-age benefits would financially affect disabled people with high support needs.

But DWP has also been refusing to release any written documents that describe the impact of significant changes that were made to employment and support allowance (ESA) guidance in December 2015.

The changes, which did not need parliamentary approval, were made to the guidance that is given to benefits assessors.

The guidance in the work capability assessment handbook explains to assessors how they should translate ESA regulations 29 and 35, which concern whether decisions to find someone fit for work or able to carry out work-related activity would cause a substantial risk of harm.

The guidance was designed to prevent people self-harming and taking their own lives.

The changes introduced in December 2015 mean that DWP is now far less likely to place a claimant with a mental health condition in the ESA support group because of the risk to their health if forced into work-related activity.

Previously, the handbook had included six indicators of “substantial risk”, which were marked “D” for “definitive” – including someone who was currently sectioned, who had active thoughts of suicide, or had had a documented episode of self-harm requiring medical attention in the last 12 months – to show that that person should be placed in the support group.

But the December 2015 edition of the guidance said only that such indicators “might” give rise to a substantial risk in “exceptional circumstances”.

The month after the new guidance was sent out, the proportion of claimants placed in the support group of ESA began to fall sharply, and it has since remained at a far lower level*.

The changes appeared to show that ministers had made a calculation that it was worth risking the loss of some lives so that they could cut benefits spending and force more disabled people into their discredited back-to-work programmes.

DNS put in a freedom of information request on 26 January after seeing an equality analysis sent by DWP to freelance journalist Chaminda Jayanetti.

In the equality analysis, sent to Jayanetti in November 2016, following a freedom of information request, DWP promises to “monitor and evaluate” the impact of the changes to the guidance.

The DNS request in January asked for any written reports that describe the impact of those changes, in the two years since they were introduced.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, DWP should have replied to the request within 20 working days, but it failed to respond for more than 30 working days.

A DWP spokeswoman told DNS this week: “We are monitoring the impact of the change to the guidance and are still working on our evaluation.”

She added: “The Information Commissioner’s Office’s compliance threshold is to answer at least 90 per cent [of freedom of information requests] on time, and in 2017 we answered 93 per cent on time.

“According to the last published figures, DWP was the second most transparent government department, meeting 63 per cent of requests in full.”

The following day, DWP’s strategy freedom of information team released a short response, claiming that the information requested “is not held by this Department as an evaluation has not been concluded”.

DNS has now asked for an internal review of this response, arguing that even if the evaluation is not yet complete, it is likely that some written reports will mention the impact of the change in guidance since it was introduced.

*For assessments completed in December 2015, 56 per cent of those applying for ESA were placed in the support group; the following month that fell to 49 per cent, and then to 34 per cent in February, and 33 per cent in March 2016. The latest figures, for September 2017, show 38 per cent were placed in the support group. See data tables, table 2a.

15 March 2018



British Airways PA ticket policy ‘discriminates’ against disabled woman

A disabled woman is having to pay hundreds of pounds extra to fly to Canada to visit a friend because British Airways (BA) has refused to make a simple alteration to a ticket she bought for one of her two personal assistants (PAs).

Rachael Monk, from Dumfries and Galloway, has accused BA of disability discrimination.

She always needs two PAs with her, and so had to buy three tickets for a long-planned trip to Canada to visit her closest friend, Steph.

Monk started planning the trip at the beginning of 2017 and bought the tickets last July.

When one of the PAs she had bought a ticket for later resigned and pulled out of the trip, she asked BA to change the name on one of the tickets so that another PA could travel with her instead.

But the airline refused and said she would have to buy a new ticket, which at this week’s prices was set to cost her more than £750 extra.

It also told her that the £90 BA insurance policy she had bought did not cover the situation she found herself in.

Monk – who was previously part of the Disability Rights Commission’s learning disability action group, and has advised the Scottish government and been involved with People First groups in London and Carlisle – said she believed BA had failed to make a reasonable adjustment for her and therefore had discriminated against her under the Equality Act.

She said: “I think it is awful that big companies do this and make so much money and could easily have let me change a name on the ticket rather than go through all of this stress.

“In the meantime, whilst I have been waiting answers the price of the (fourth) ticket has increased by a further £300.

“If I didn’t need 24-hour support, with two PAs, due to my disability I would be able to buy one ticket like everyone else.

“The extra cost to cover is most unfair on people with a low income.”

She was so concerned about what she saw as a discriminatory policy that she contacted BA’s chair and every one of its directors, but not one of them replied to her.

She is concerned not only about the extra cost for herself, but that other disabled people who use PAs may have to pay similar fees.

After being contacted by Disability News Service, BA refused to say if it believed it had discriminated against Rachael Monk, if it would allow her to change the name of her PA on her ticket, or if it would change its policy to allow other disabled people to do this in the future.

But a BA spokeswoman said in a statement: “We do everything we can to help customers when their travel plans change and offer a 24-hour cooling-off period so they can check that the name on the ticket matches the name on their passport.

“After this time, we will correct spelling mistakes on all of our tickets, and on many we allow changes to the date or time of a flight.

“However, we don’t allow customers to transfer their tickets as this could lead to a secondary market of trading in airline tickets.

“We are sorry to hear that our customer has been let down by her personal assistant.

“We offer a range of tickets including fully flexible and refundable options and always advise customers to choose the product that meets their individual needs.

“We also recommend that our customers purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy.”

15 March 2018


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com