Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have come together to tell a UN committee the different ways in which the UK government has been breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The meeting in Geneva took place just four months after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) found the UK had committed “grave or systematic” breaches of the convention, following an inquiry – the first of its kind since the treaty came into force in 2008 – into the government’s social security reforms.
Now the committee is examining the UK’s record in implementing the convention as a whole.
On Monday, CRPD took evidence from grassroots user-led organisations and other DPOs, as well as the UK’s national equality and human rights bodies, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), as part of a process that will see the UK government examined on its record in public in August.
The committee will use this week’s evidence to help it produce a “list of issues” on which it needs further information from the UK government. That list is set to be published later this month.
The government will then have three months to consult and respond on these issues, before it is examined in public in Geneva in August. A final report from the committee will follow later this year.
Among those giving evidence to the committee this week – in a closed, private session – were Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Inclusion London, The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), Black Triangle, Disability Wales, Inclusion Scotland, Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, the British Deaf Association, Equal Lives, Disability Action (from Northern Ireland), People First Scotland and Black Mental Health UK.
DR UK, Disability Action, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales have already produced a shadow report on the UK’s progress in implementing the UN convention – with EHRC funding – while DPAC, ALLFIE, Inclusion London and Equal Lives have produced their own report under the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) umbrella.
But both groups came together to deliver a joint presentation in a three-hour session on Monday afternoon, with each DPO concentrating on different areas where they believed the UK had failed to implement the convention, with concerns raised on nearly every article of the treaty.
Tracey Lazard, Inclusion London’s chief executive, said that Inclusion London, as part of ROFA, had been “very pleased” to work alongside the other organisations to “put forward a very powerful combined body of evidence on the retrogression of our rights under the UNCRPD”.
She said: “There was a great deal of consensus on key areas of retrogression and concern spanning independent living, impact of welfare reform, inclusive education, access to justice, right to life, capacity, liberty and detention as well as enforcement, monitoring and lack of meaningful or effective engagement with disabled people and DDPOs (Deaf and disabled people’s organisations).”
She said that Inclusion London and ROFA were now looking forward to continuing that joint work as the CRPD process continues over the next few months.
Liz Sayce, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “It was great to have the opportunity to put disabled people’s experiences directly to the United Nations committee in Geneva.
“What worked so well was that many of us going over to Geneva met and held teleconferences to prepare together beforehand; and we planned together in Geneva as well.
“We unanimously agreed on the top issues to present; and we collaborated on how to present them, with one organisation leading on a particular issue, but others being nominated to answer questions from the committee on that topic.
“We are stronger united – and by working together to convey the top issues raised by disabled people (from all our organisations) we presented a strong analysis of the biggest human rights challenges that need to be addressed.”
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said: “It did go well. It was very well organised and it felt like a very positive three hours.
“ROFA’s report came from a grassroots voice and our intervention strengthened the UK delegation overall.
“We really gave a solid, unified message with a completely united list of issues that was all agreed upon by all of us. I don’t think we could have done a better job.”
And she said there were still opportunities for the DPOs to engage and share more information with the committee to ensure it was “ready to go for August”.
Anita Bellows, a member of the DPAC steering group, also welcomed the “professionalism” and quality of their presentations delivered by all of the DPOs that gave evidence in Geneva.
Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said the committee was looking to see whether the situation had improved since the UK submitted its first progress report to CRPD in 2011.
In some cases there had been a “lack of progress” and in other areas affected by austerity there had been “regression in people’s rights”, she said.
Davies said she had been able to refer to specific examples from Wales both during her presentation and during the question and answer sessions.
She said the DPOs had been helped in the lead-up to the session by advice from Diane Kingston, a former member of the committee, and in Geneva by the International Disability Alliance and the European Disability Forum.
She said: “I found it a great privilege to be there and to represent disabled people in Wales.
“It’s an opportunity to hold the UK government to account and that is what the focus needs to be on.
“We were clear about what we think the issues were. We feel that in Britain policy around disabled people is regressive and I think we got that message across really clearly.
“The fact that we did present such a united front and gave such a clear direction on what the key issues were… I hope that that will have influenced them.
“Whatever we said was complementary, it was not contradictory.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Scottish-based Black Triangle, said the presentations by DPOs had been “well-rehearsed and coordinated”.
He said that the different DPOs had worked together “in harmony” and had produced an “extremely successful presentation”.
He said: “We are delighted that the UN is listening to the voices of disabled people and DPOs, and we are extremely confident that all of our points will be taken into account.
“It was good that DPOs were able to give evidence with the established organisations like DR UK in a constructive and meaningful way.
“We might not always see eye-to-eye but if they listen to us and we have a dialogue, that is a breakthrough.”
Dr Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, said it had been “a genuine privilege to have the opportunity to put the concerns of disabled people in Scotland” to the committee.
She said: “We have been very encouraged by the effective collaboration of a substantial number of disabled people’s organisations from throughout the UK.
“In Geneva, and before, the UK delegation worked together with unity and purpose, and the session with the [CRPD] reflected this.
“We hope to continue developing these productive relationships, working together to improve the human rights situation for disabled people in Scotland and the UK.”
Meanwhile, Disability Wales has also launched its shadow report on how the UN convention has been implemented in Wales, with key messages on independent living, the need for infrastructure projects to be “fully inclusive”, and the barriers disabled people face in accessing justice.
16 March 2017
A leading disabled people’s organisation (DPOs) is hoping to persuade the first elected mayor of Greater Manchester to make the region a trailblazer for disability rights in England.
Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) believes the devolution of powers from the UK government to the Greater Manchester area, which will choose its first elected mayor on 4 May, has provided “a unique opportunity to develop groundbreaking initiatives to tackle disability”.
It has drawn up a manifesto of policies on disability rights that it is sending to each of the mayoral candidates, including calling for the new mayor to set up a regional version of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
GMCDP is hoping the new elected mayor could make Greater Manchester “a model for others to follow” by accepting the policies laid out in its manifesto.
Greater Manchester is one of six mayoral combined authorities across England that will elect mayors on 4 May, and each of them will exercise a range of powers devolved from central government.
Joe Whittaker, chair of GMCDP, said: “The scope for gains on rights for disabled people is tremendous – whether in areas such as transport or policing, where the mayor will have direct powers, or areas like health and social care where there is scope to work with and influence existing bodies.”
The manifesto is being sent to each of the mayoral candidates this week, and GMCDP will be seeking their formal responses*.
One of the policies GMCDP is calling for mayoral candidates to adopt through the disability manifesto is to create a Greater Manchester Independent Living Fund, modelled on a scheme set up by the Scottish government after the UK government closed ILF two years ago.
GMCDP would lead on work to set up the scheme, working with the 10 Greater Manchester districts.
GMCDP also wants to engage with other Greater Manchester DPOs about the impact on disabled people’s independent living caused by the pooling of social care budgets across Greater Manchester and the merging of health and social care.
Whittaker said: “GMCDP are seriously concerned about the impact of significant cuts in local authority budgets in relation to adult and social care and the adverse consequences for disabled people and the finance to support their independent living.
“We want to create a radical way of financing and ensuring independent living to support the rights of disabled people to live and contribute to the society in which they live.”
He added: “The battles disabled people have fought to secure lifestyles away from institutionalisation have been hard won.
“Disabled people are increasingly fearful of their rights to independent living being eroded, to such an extent that institutionalisation is being seen, by this government and many local authorities, as a way of dealing with ‘the problem’ of disabled people who require ‘too much support’.”
He said that GMCDP would work with the mayor’s office to ensure that disabled people in Greater Manchester “have the support required to demonstrate the significant benefits to the economy and society from having fully participating and contributing disabled people”.
He said that the devolution of “significant funds and power” to the mayor would enable Greater Manchester to “demonstrate a model of success”.
On transport, Whittaker said GMCDP had tried to concentrate in its manifesto on practical measures, including calling for a transfer hoist system at Manchester Airport and requiring taxi drivers and operators to have their licenses removed if a driver refused to accept a fare from a disabled person.
The manifesto also calls for bus companies to do more to enforce the priority for wheelchair-users in the space set aside for them, and for the mayor to work with Network Rail and train operating companies to ensure that all Greater Manchester train stations are step-free from entrance to platform within five years.
In further education and training, Greater Manchester already has “significant experience in moving away from segregation to inclusion”, said Whittaker, but GMCDP now wants to see disabled learners given “appropriate support” across “all curriculum areas”, as well as “meaningful work experience and mainstream apprenticeships, followed by good employment opportunities”.
He said the mayor would have the chance to show how the whole of Greater Manchester would “flourish” when “inclusive education is recognised as a right” and “all learners are recognised as having equal value within the further education and training sector”.
Among the other suggested policies is for the mayor to work with DPOs and other voluntary organisations to develop a strategy that would ensure “adequate access to information, advice and advocacy”.
Another is for the new mayor to work with planning authorities to ensure that all private sector new-build homes are built to meet Lifetime Homes standards on accessibility, with 10 per cent of them wheelchair accessible and “truly affordable”.
The manifesto also calls on the mayor’s office to lobby the UK government to ensure that disability hate crime is treated equally to other hate crimes.
GMCDP, which was founded in 1986, wants the new mayor to set up an advisory body, with members drawn from Greater Manchester’s DPOs, to “develop and progress” these and other initiatives to tackle disability.
Whittaker said: “GMCDP has a very powerful history for promoting the human rights of disabled people.
“We know if the mayor’s office recognises our critical thinking contributions and recommendations, Greater Manchester could indeed be a safe, prosperous and fair place for disabled people to live.”
Meanwhile, research by BBC Radio Manchester has found that more than two-fifths of former ILF-users across Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities have had their support cut since the ILF’s closure.
One former ILF-user told the BBC that her support package had more than halved, and said: “I don’t feel like a person anymore. It’s like nobody cares about it. The quality of life has just gone.
“I can’t even go in the garden. I used to do that quite a bit. I can’t even do that now because I’ve got no support for it.”
The answers to freedom of information requests submitted by the BBC to the councils showed that of 662 former ILF-users in Greater Manchester, 280 had had their support cut since the fund closed.
Jackie Driver, chair of Manchester-based DPO Breakthrough UK, told the BBC: “When the packages are being cut, people are not getting the full support they need to live independently, living in the community like all of us take for granted.
“It’s resulting in a very basic ‘clean and feed’ model of social care. It’s not acceptable in today’s society.”
Like GMCDP, she pointed to the mayoral election as an opportunity “to do things differently” and to take “very seriously the health and wellbeing of its citizens, including disabled people”.
*A mayoral hustings event will take place at GMCDP’s offices in Moss Side, on Saturday 8 April. Anyone interested in attending must book in advance
16 March 2017
A local authority is to hear evidence from up to a dozen disabled people later this month as part of an inquiry into serious concerns about the system of assessing eligibility for the government’s new disability benefit.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council launched the inquiry after hearing concerns from a local disabled people’s organisation about the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process.
It comes as Disability News Service (DNS) continues its investigation into PIP assessments, which has revealed how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – have repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence, and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.
Duncan Walker, who works for the disabled people’s organisation Disability Solutions West Midlands (DSWM) and is branch secretary for the Unite Community union and a former Stoke city councillor, first brought concerns about the PIP assessment process to the council’s attention late last year.
He warned the council that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was accepting “increasingly irrational advice” from assessors for Capita – which carries out PIP assessments on behalf of DWP in the Midlands – and that the assessment process was “some way short of any acceptable standard”.
Following his evidence, the council’s adults and neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee set up what it calls a “spotlight review” to examine the concerns in more detail.
In his submission to the council, Walker said the city was seeing increasing numbers of disabled people being turned down for PIP, with many – including blind residents and those with advanced cancer – being scoring zero points in their assessments (a claimant needs eight points to qualify for the standard rate of the mobility or daily living elements of PIP, and 12 for the enhanced rate).
One claimant with stage four lung cancer was given zero points, Walker told the council, with the respiratory section of the report marked “not applicable”.
The claimant’s consultant oncologist had written to the tribunal for the claimant’s appeal, but until that point – eight months after the claim began – the specialist had not been approached by DWP or Capita.
Another claimant had scored zero points, and again their GP had not been approached for any information, even though they had Parkinson’s disease, dementia and had lost six toes due to diabetes.
Their tribunal hearing had been halted after just five minutes and the claimant awarded an enhanced rate of PIP.
A new DSWM team set up last September had secured a 100 per cent success rate in tribunals for city residents appealing against PIP and employment and support allowance decisions, at the time Walker’s initial evidence to the council was submitted in November.
He told the council that significant numbers of disabled people were being refused PIP following face-to-face assessments, were losing their subsequent mandatory reconsideration – the internal DWP appeal – but were then winning their appeals at an independent tribunal.
Among other concerns passed to the committee about the PIP assessment process are that disabled people are being sent as far away as Derby for their assessments; claimants are having to wait months for their mandatory reconsiderations to take place; and that Capita has been failing to seek medical evidence from GPs and consultants.
Later this month, on 30 March, the committee will hear evidence from witnesses including at least 10 disabled people who have been through the assessment process and will give evidence in person, advice groups including DSWM and Citizens Advice, local MPs, and a DWP civil servant.
Capita has also been asked to send a representative to the evidence session, but has not so far responded to the committee’s requests.
Ellen Washington, the committee’s scrutiny officer, said there was a “high” level of concern about the PIP allegations made by Duncan Walker, and she added: “Something has got to be wrong with the assessment.
“The committee are quite concerned. That is why they have agreed to do this review.”
One of those set to give evidence is Mark Lucas, who in January told DNS that he was taking legal action against DWP over its refusal to allow him to communicate about his PIP claim with its civil servants via email.
He said he will provide evidence to the committee of the “emotional abuse” of PIP claimants by assessment providers, and intends to present “a claimant’s perspective of the PIP claim process”.
He said: “I welcome the council’s inquiry because it is highlighting the shockingly poor and dishonest service myself and other people with disabilities have had to suffer.
“At this stage this is of vital importance when in the last quarter over 11,000 people with disabilities needlessly went through appeals*.
“I am hoping the more inquiries and opportunities to highlight the government culture of hatred towards people with disabilities the sooner this will stop.
“I am also aware that government change happens slowly. My concern is the number of people with disabilities who will be abused and could die under the current regime.”
Lucas wants the committee to back his idea of a new “DWP fraud hotline” that disabled people could call to report concerns if the perpetrator is DWP or one of its contractors.
He hopes it would be set up in Stoke and then roll out across the country.
Among its benefits, he said, would be providing “peace of mind that someone official has made a record of their complaint”, signposting claimants to services, preventing self-harm, and offering a way to monitor trends and develop strategies to promote wellbeing among disabled claimants.
Ruth Smeeth, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove, has already submitted written evidence to the committee.
She told DNS: “In recent months my office have been dealing with more and more people who feel they have been wrongly denied the support they need.
“I’ve helped a number of constituents who felt harassed and mistreated by Capita during their assessment process.
“On several occasions people with severe disabilities have been expected to travel from Stoke-on-Trent to Derby for an assessment, and others have been denied paper-based assessments on seemingly spurious grounds.
“I’m deeply concerned that a system that should be supporting disabled people is all too often working against them, and I have written to Stoke-on-Trent City Council to make them aware of the issues my constituents have faced during the assessment process.”
The committee hopes to complete its report, and any recommendations – which could include suggestions around funding for organisations supporting PIP claimants – in time to be considered by the council’s cabinet and then presented to the full council before its annual meeting on 18 May.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We’re unable to comment on an ongoing inquiry.
“But it goes without saying that we expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments and work closely with them to continuously improve, and ensure PIP is working in the best way possible.
“Claims are now being cleared at over five times the rate they were in January 2014, with around 81,000 a month currently being cleared.
“Of the 2.1 million claims for PIP, only seven per cent are appealed and three per cent are overturned.
“When a decision is overturned, it is often because the claimant has provided further evidence.”
Capita declined to say if it welcomed the council’s review or if it would provide evidence in person to the committee, but a Capita spokeswoman said: “Our assessments are carried out in-line with guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions.”
*Tribunal service figures show that more than 11,000 PIP claimants won their tribunal appeals in the third quarter of 2016-17
16 March 2017
Members of the committee set up to lead on the equality watchdog’s work on disabled people’s rights are said to be frustrated at the government’s continuing failure to appoint a new disability commissioner.
The previous commissioner, Lord [Chris] Holmes, left his post as planned on 14 January, and interviews for his replacement are believed to have been carried out in December, while an appointment had been expected in mid-January.
Two months on, no appointment has been made, even though the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is engaged in several pieces of high-profile, disability-related work, including an inquiry into the impact of welfare reforms on the human rights of disabled people and other minority groups, and an inquiry into disabled people’s housing.
As well as being an EHRC board member, the successful candidate will chair the commission’s disability committee, although that committee is about to be disbanded and replaced by an advisory group that will not have the same legal powers to make decisions on issues affecting disabled people.
One member of the committee, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I think all of us would say that it is frustrating not to have clarity on this to inform the future of disability at the commission.”
The disability committee was given significant powers by the Equality Act 2006 to take important disability-related decisions within EHRC, for example allowing it to overrule commission officers on critical and strategically-important legal cases.
But the committee will now have just one more meeting, on Monday, before it loses this statutory status at the end of this month.
The committee is currently being chaired in an acting capacity by its vice-chair, Dr Rachel Perkins.
EHRC said yesterday (Wednesday) that it had not yet been told by the government when it would appoint a new disability commissioner, and could not comment on the appointment process.
But an EHRC spokesman said: “We hope that the secretary of state will soon appoint the new disability commissioner and that they can take up their position as soon as possible.
“Our important work on disability rights continues, and we will soon be publishing the biggest ever report into the lives of disabled people in Britain.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education, EHRC’s sponsor department, declined to explain why no appointment had yet been made, although he admitted that it had taken “slightly longer than expected”.
He said: “We will be making an announcement in due course.”
He said the department was aware of its statutory duty to appoint a disability commissioner who is or has been disabled.
The government has previously refused to say how many people were interviewed for the role, although it has confirmed that the successful candidate – when they are finally appointed – will be someone who is or has been a disabled person.
16 March 2017
Current laws that aim to ensure disabled people are not deprived of their liberty unlawfully are “in crisis” and need to be replaced urgently, according to the government’s advisers on law reform.
The current system has led to tens of thousands of people with dementia and learning difficulties being detained in hospitals and care homes without the appropriate independent checks that their rights have not been breached, according to the Law Commission.
This week, following a public consultation, the commission published its final report on Mental Capacity and Deprivation of Liberty, which includes proposals for new legislation on how the law should ensure that people without the capacity to give their consent to their care arrangements are the least restrictive they can be and are also in that person’s best interests.
The current system, the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), has been described as an “administrative and bureaucratic nightmare”, and the report says it is “overly technical and legalistic”, and that the safeguards “too often fail to achieve any positive outcomes for the person concerned or their family”.
The report was commissioned by the Department of Health in the wake of two decisions by the Supreme Court in March 2014, which significantly widened the definition of who was subject to DoLS.
As a result of the court’s rulings, hospitals and care homes in England made 195,840 DoLS applications in 2015-16 – more than 14 times the 13,700 applications in 2013-14 – while 100,000 people who required DoLS authorisation did not receive it.
The report says: “It is not acceptable to continue with the current system under which many people’s rights have become theoretical and illusory.”
The report proposes a new system, which it calls the Liberty Protection Safeguards, which would mean fewer cases would need to be assessed by an independent professional.
The new system would extend legal protection to care and treatment in the home, and not just care homes and hospitals, as well as giving “greater prominence” to human rights issues, and to whether a deprivation of liberty was “necessary and proportionate”, says the commission.
It would also ensure that formal consideration of the justification for a deprivation of liberty would take place before the care arrangements were made, rather than afterwards, as happens currently.
The commission says its suggested new system would also provide stronger rights to advocacy and regular checks on the care or treatment arrangements made for those most in need, as well as extending safeguards to 16 and 17-year-olds, who are not protected under DoLS.
The Law Commission says the new procedures would – if the government agreed to legislate to introduce them – provide a more streamlined and “rights-focused decision-making process”, but would also secure new protection for people who object to a proposed care placement.
The report says the commission believes that its new proposals would be “in the spirit of” the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, although it says it is “still not entirely clear” what the convention requires from laws on mental capacity.
Initial responses to the new proposals from legal experts and campaigners – including Mark Neary, Lucy Series and Rosie Harding – appear to be broadly positive and hopeful that they will improve on the DoLS, although with some concerns, including how they might work in practice, and the scope of proposed new powers for professionals.
Law commissioner Nicolas Paines QC said: “It’s not right that people with dementia and learning disabilities are being denied their freedoms unlawfully.
“There are unnecessary costs and backlogs at every turn, and all too often family members are left without the support they need.
“The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards were designed at a time when considerably fewer people were considered deprived of their liberty.
“Now they are failing those they were set up to protect. The current system needs to be scrapped and replaced right away.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “This government is committed to protecting the rights of vulnerable people – that’s why we commissioned this review.
“We also gave local authorities £25 million [for 2015-16] to help them manage increased administrative pressures following the 2014 Supreme Court judgment.
“We thank the Law Commission for its detailed work, and will be responding to these constructive recommendations in due course.”
16 March 2017
MPs from across the House of Commons have raised fresh concerns about the assessment process for the government’s new disability benefit.
Work and pensions secretary Damian Green faced further questioning about the personal independence payment (PIP) system yesterday (Wednesday), following his decision to introduce new regulations that will make it more difficult for people with severe mental distress to secure the mobility-related support they need through PIP.
The new measures – which come into force today but could still be overturned by peers or MPs – were brought in to reverse two upper tribunal rulings on PIP, which is gradually replacing disability living allowance for working-age claimants.
Green’s decision to reverse the rulings means an estimated 164,000 claimants will not now be eligible for the mobility component of the benefit or will receive a lower level than they would have received.
A petition calling on the government to abandon the changes had been signed by nearly 180,000 people by this morning (Thursday).
This week, the government’s benefits advice body, the social security advisory committee (SSAC), raised its own concerns about the new regulations.
In a letter to the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, the committee said it was clear that there was “confusion” about DWP’s original “policy intent” around whether people with severe mental distress should qualify for the mobility element of PIP, and it said the department “must be clearer in its articulation of policy intent in the future”.
It also said that there may be some claimants with mental health conditions who have already been awarded higher rates of PIP and will in the future see their PIP reduced as a result of Green’s decision, even though DWP officials had told the committee that this would not happen.
The committee said in the letter that it was “particularly concerned that there may be unintended operational and legal consequences arising from the changes to the mobility descriptors in these regulations”.
Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, questioned Green in the Commons chamber yesterday about the SSAC letter.
She told fellow MPs: “The government’s decision to change the law on PIP is a clear demonstration of the fact that people with mental health conditions are not given equal treatment.”
She called for Green to “review the flawed PIP process as a matter of urgency”.
And she asked him if he would ensure there was a debate and vote on the new regulations.
He said the government would respond to the committee’s letter in due course, but he was unable to confirm whether there would be a debate.
He said PIP was “a much better benefit for people with such conditions than its predecessor, disability living allowance”, and that 27 per cent of PIP recipients with a mental health condition receive the enhanced rate mobility component, whereas nine per cent received it under DLA.
He added: “It is perfectly clear from the facts that the regulations restore PIP to its original policy intent, and that that policy intent is better for people with mental health conditions than earlier benefits were.”
But Labour MP Frank Field, whose work and pensions select committee last week held an urgent evidence session on PIP assessments, partly triggered by an ongoing investigation into dishonest assessment reports by Disability News Service, said that evidence coming to his committee showed that people with non-physical impairments found it difficult to qualify for PIP.
Other MPs from Labour, SNP and the Conservatives added their concerns about the PIP process.
Labour MP Derek Twigg said: “I just cannot understand why some of the people who come to see me have not been awarded their benefit.
“I have had experience of cases such as these over a number of years now, and I have never come across such difficult cases as those I have seen recently.”
Tory MP Heidi Allen said the tribunal ruling had “highlighted the fact that there are still flaws in the PIP process and that more can be done for mental health claimants”, and she called for the ruling to be “a catalyst to look at the whole PIP process from the beginning”.
Green told her that ministers “need continually to look at improvements, and I think they are done better as part of a coherent process rather than as a result of individual court judgments.
“I am sure that she will agree that the improvements in the benefit system need to go hand in hand with the many improvements we are now beginning to see in the health service’s treatment of people with mental health conditions.”
Labour’s Angela Eagle said that she was “finding an increasing discrepancy between the way that the secretary of state is describing the PIP benefit and the people who are coming to my advice surgeries in tears having been completely let down by the system”.
Green told her: “We all know from our own constituency surgeries that there are individual cases that might need to be taken up, sometimes simply because people disagree with a decision, or if there are delays. I am absolutely aware of that.”
Labour MP Clive Efford said he found it “impossible” to understand some of the decisions made on the PIP claims of his constituents and that he believed something was clearly “wrong” with the system.
Corri Wilson, the SNP’s spokeswoman on disability, said: “The government continually trot out the line that serious mental ill health should be treated in the same way as any other illness, but their response to these rulings betrays the old attitudes and stigmas towards mental illness.
“They cannot keep shifting the goalposts every time they lose a battle at court.
“If a person needs help, he or she needs help regardless of the nature of their disability or health condition.
“The Scottish Parliament is in the process of taking over responsibility for personal independence payment, and until that time the UK government need to be consistent and stop mucking people about.
“So many of the people becoming destitute in our communities, being sanctioned, falling through the safety net, and becoming dependent on food banks, are people with mental health problems.”
Labour MP Ian Lucas said he had just received an email from a constituent, which said: “I would be grateful if you would contact PIP and address my complaint about taking PIP off me. I do fear that this has caused me to consider taking my own life.”
Lucas said: “Complaints of that type come in to our constituency surgeries on a daily basis.
“The system is broken. It needs to be completely revisited and reconstructed. It cannot be mended.”
But Green said: “Any benefits system will obviously have difficult individual cases, and decisions have to be made, but to say that the whole system is broken is going much too far.
“I can only point out that just three per cent of all PIP claims are overturned on appeal, which suggests that the benefit is largely working for the vast majority of people who receive it, but there will always be individual cases where people disagree with the assessment.”
16 March 2017
Disabled activists have welcomed “timely” new research that concludes that the government’s “fitness for work” process has caused a deterioration in many people’s mental health which they have failed to recover from, and has even led to thoughts of suicide.
The research, Mental Health And Unemployment In Scotland, was carried out by academics at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Napier universities*.
Researchers spoke in-depth to 30 people across Scotland with mental health conditions who had experienced the work capability assessment (WCA) system, as well as staff from advice and advocacy organisations.
They concluded that the assessors, employed by the US outsourcing company Maximus, “do not appear to have appropriate expertise in mental health”.
And they added: “The WCA experience for many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from.
“In the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide.”
Professor Abigail Marks, one of the report’s authors, said their research showed that WCAs were “fundamentally discriminatory to people with mental health conditions”.
The research emerged as disabled people’s organisations gave evidence this week to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities about the UK government’s failure to implement the UN disability convention.
One of the areas the committee was expected to be told about was the UK government’s failure to improve the safety of the WCA process, and the links between this failure and the deaths of benefit claimants with mental health conditions.
The researchers say in the report that all of the claimants and advocacy workers they interviewed had said the process was damaging to wellbeing, and they add: “The uncertainty of being on ESA [employment and support allowance] and the stress of potential reassessments frequently led to a situation where recovery was impossible.
“There was a perception by participants that managing their mental health conditions is seen by the DWP as secondary to returning to employment.”
One participant described how his WCA took just 18 minutes and that all the assessor was interested in “was the bog standard ‘Can you wash, can you cook, can you do this, can you do that?’
“And as far as she was concerned, as far as the assessment was concerned, if I could do any of these things, I could tie my own shoelaces, wash my hair, that meant I was fit for work.”
Another described how she had been assessed just after a period in a psychiatric hospital, and was asked a series of 20 “stupid” questions in an assessment that lasted just 12 minutes. She was found fit for work.
A third participant said: “If you turn up for the interview as far as they’re concerned you’re well, but then if you don’t turn up for the interview your benefits get stopped – so you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of thing.”
Another described how her assessor had concluded that she was not experiencing anxiety or a panic attack during the assessment because she was not rocking in her chair, even though the assessor noted that she had been tearful throughout the assessment.
The researchers also described how most of the participants who had been volunteering stopped doing so after their WCA, often because the assessment process had been “so traumatic for individuals their mental health had been further damaged and they were unable to sustain any work-related activity”.
In other cases, people stopped volunteering because they felt that their experience of doing so had been used in their WCA as evidence that they were capable of paid work.
Among their recommendations, the researchers call for the WCA to be “entirely rewritten and redefined”, and say it is likely to be more effective “if it is not outsourced to contractors”.
Another recommendation, which again backs up long-standing concerns about the WCA process, is that “more weight needs to be given to recommendations and reports from GPs, psychiatrists and other medical professionals working with claimants”.
The report’s authors also say: “The assumption that engagement in voluntary work means that an individual is fit for employment should be eliminated.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “This timely research supports everything that DPAC has been saying about WCA assessments for many years.
“It is and always has been appalling that totally unqualified assessors who have no experience whatsoever of mental health conditions are able to carry out these assessments.
“It comes as no surprise to us to find that social security claimants are driven to think of suicide… and that in many cases people’s health worsens and they never recover from these harrowing ordeals.
“Only this week we’ve been contacted by someone who has had severe depression for many years caused by harrowing life circumstances who has been told he’ll ‘get over it’ without any support being provided, and who is being made more ill due to inadequate assessments which completely fail to take into account the reality of his situation.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “Only 30 people [with mental health conditions] were interviewed for this report, which fails to acknowledge any of the significant improvements we have made to our assessments – particularly for people with mental health conditions.
“Last year alone at least 35,000 work capability assessments took place in Scotland to help ensure people get the right level of support that they need.”
DWP said that safeguards were built into the WCA from the outset, and that it had introduced further improvements to try and ensure the process dealt with people with mental health conditions fairly and accurately.
It also said that healthcare professionals underwent training in “disability assessment medicine” and must demonstrate up-to-date knowledge of relevant clinical subjects.
And it claimed that they were given training in assessing individuals with mental health conditions and received continuing professional education in order to remain up to speed with developments in the field of “disability medicine”.
*The research was carried out by Professor Abigail Marks and Dr Sue Cowan from Heriot-Watt University’s Centre for Research on Work and Wellbeing, and Dr Gavin Maclea, from Edinburgh Napier University’s Employment Research Institute
16 March 2017
The nursing regulator is facing questions over why it has been unable to clarify how many disabled people have lodged complaints about nurses who have carried out disability benefit assessments for government contractors.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been trying since December to secure accurate figures showing how many complaints have been lodged with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) about the conduct of nurses carrying out assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance.
Many benefit claimants have raised concerns about the apparent refusal of NMC and the Health and Care Professions Council – which regulates paramedics and physiotherapists – to take seriously their complaints about healthcare professionals who carry out assessments.
NMC originally responded to a DNS request with figures that showed the regulator had received more than 1,600 complaints in the last five years about nurses working for Atos, Capita and Maximus.
The figures were published as part of an ongoing DNS investigation that has showed how healthcare professionals – mostly nurses – working for Capita and Atos have lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations in PIP assessment reports compiled for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
But early last month, NMC withdrew the figure of 1,600 complaints, blaming its failure to use the correct terms in searching its database. It also said the data it had provided had not been “manually checked or filtered”.
It then provided – on 6 February – new figures which suggested that there had been only 29 complaints in the whole of 2016 across the three assessment companies, including just three complaints lodged against Capita nurses, one of which had to be abandoned because of a failure to secure consent.
DNS subsequently questioned the NMC statistics because at least two PIP claimants had come forward to describe how they had lodged complaints about Capita nurses last year.
DNS told NMC on 10 February that it was highly unlikely that the only two disabled people in the country to have lodged such complaints had also been involved in the DNS investigation.
Since then, NMC has repeatedly had to apologise to DNS for its failure to confirm whether the new figures it provided related to those dealt with by its “screen legal team”, which logs initial complaints about nurses and midwives.
DNS contacted NMC again this week and the regulator has still not been able to provide an explanation for its failure to provide accurate figures for complaints against nurses working for Capita, Atos and Maximus.
16 March 2017
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com