Research linking care cuts to 120,000 deaths ‘is fresh evidence austerity kills’

“Indisputable” new research has linked government cuts in adult social care and health spending to nearly 120,000 “excess” deaths in England since 2010.

The research, published just before midnight last night (Wednesday) by the online journal BMJ Open, concludes that people over 60 and residents of care homes have been particularly affected by the spending cuts.

And it warns that the cuts could continue to be responsible for an additional death toll of up to 100 deaths a day if significant extra funding is not found.

The researchers say the deaths are more strongly linked with cuts to social care than health spending, with every £10 drop in spending per head of population on social care associated with five extra care home deaths per 100,000 of the population.

The researchers from King’s College London; University College London; Oxford and Cambridge Universities; the PILAR Research Network; the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and the University of the Philippines, point out the real term cuts of 1.19 per cent a year in social care spending between 2010 and 2014.

Their findings show that deaths in England fell by an average of 0.77 per cent a year between 2001 and 2010, but increased by an average of 0.87 per cent a year between 2011 and 2014.

They say that government spending cuts were linked to 45,368 excess deaths between 2010 and 2014, and are set to be linked to an estimated 150,000 further deaths between 2015 and 2020, equivalent to nearly 100 extra deaths every day.

Combining the projected excess deaths and the deaths observed between 2010 and 2014 translates to around 120,000 excess deaths from 2010 to 2017, they say.

Most of the deaths were among the over-60s and care home residents.

They also conclude that deaths in care homes and at home contributed most to the “mortality gap”, compared with hospital deaths, probably because of the greater spending restrictions experienced in social care compared with the NHS.

The researchers said that “no firm conclusions” could be drawn about whether it was the government cuts that were causing the deaths, but they said their findings backed up other similar research that suggested they were linked.

Research from the University of Oxford earlier this year suggested that cuts to health and social care were likely to be the main cause of 30,000 excess deaths in England and Wales in 2015.

The researchers say their new findings make “a strong case” for increased social care funding, targeted on improving care delivered in residential and nursing homes and in people’s own homes, while also maintaining or increasing nurse numbers.

But they say that it could cost an extra £25 billion a year in social care and health spending by 2020-21 to close the “mortality gap”.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, the national network of disabled people and service-users, said: “This is indisputable evidence that the long-term failure of social care exacerbated by seven years of severe cuts is a killer.

“A new strategy for old and disabled people based on NHS principles of universality, free care and funding from general taxation is now clearly critical for social care.

“No cost-cutting argument is tenable in the face of it.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “We are not surprised at these latest figures, shocking though they are.

“What is important is that the people of this country now finally realise what is being done in their name.

“This government has implemented policies and systems that are leading directly to the avoidable deaths of multitudes of people.

“It’s time to say ‘enough!’ This government is not fit to rule and must go at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Mark Harrison, of Disabled People Against Cuts Norfolk, said: “This study provides yet more evidence and confirms what we have been saying about austerity for the last seven years: Cuts kill!

“Social care has been cut disproportionately and more people are dying every day. It’s time we had government that puts the needs of its citizens ahead of their own self interest.

“Listen to the UN: these are grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights and a human catastrophe.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “As the researchers themselves note, this study cannot be used to draw any firm conclusions about the cause of excess deaths.

“The NHS is treating more people than ever before and funding is at record levels with an £8 billion increase by 2020-21.

“We’ve also backed adult social care with £2 billion investment and have 12,700 more doctors and 10,600 more nurses on our wards since May 2010.”

But Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “This shocking mortality gap is a damning indictment of the dire impact which sustained Tory cuts to our NHS and social care services have had on health outcomes across the nation.

“Ahead of the budget, this appalling news must serve as an urgent wake up call to the prime minister.

“She must match Labour’s pledge to deliver an extra £6 billion for our NHS across the next financial year to ensure the best possible quality of care is sustained for years to come.”

The study was published just a week before the chancellor is set to deliver the budget, with increasing pressure on Philip Hammond to offer significant spending increases for both adult social care and health.

16 November 2017



Disabled woman takes DWP minister to court over PIP mental health changes

A disabled woman is taking work and pensions secretary David Gauke to court over “unfair and discriminatory” changes that were made to a disability benefit.

There was widespread anger earlier this year when Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, announced new rules that made it harder for people in mental distress to secure mobility support through personal independence payment (PIP).

She brought in the changes after a tribunal had ruled against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and said PIP claimants who need to be accompanied on journeys because of the risk of experiencing overwhelming mental distress could be scored in their assessment in the same way as those who cannot navigate a journey because of a visual or cognitive impairment.

But Mordaunt decided to overturn the tribunal’s decision by changing the rules and tightening eligibility for PIP.

The government’s own figures showed the move to tighten eligibility would see an estimated 164,000 claimants either lose all their eligibility for the PIP mobility component or see it reduced, cutting billions of pounds in spending over five years.

Now one of the PIP claimants affected by the changes is taking legal action against work and pensions secretary David Gauke.

Lawyers for RF, whose name is not being released because of an anonymity order, are arguing that the changes are “discriminatory and unfair and should not have been implemented without undertaking a thorough consultation”.

She is being represented by solicitors from The Public Law Project, and supported by disability organisations including Inclusion London, Disability Rights UK (DR UK) and The National Autistic Society.

RF’s case will be heard in the high court on 12 and 13 December.

Sara Lomri, RF’s solicitor and PLP’s deputy legal director, said her client had “significant mental health difficulties” and was “bringing this important challenge as the new rules will have a significant negative impact on not only her life, but on the lives of many with ‘invisible’ disabilities.

“She has told me that losing enhanced PIP for mobility means she will not be able to get the support she needs to travel.

“This will have a huge impact on her ability to participate in society.

“My client does not understand why people with mental health problems are being singled out and excluded from a benefit which is supposed to help them.”

Svetlana Kotova, Disability Justice Project co-ordinator at Inclusion London, said: “We have always believed that these changes are discriminatory and unfair and should have never been introduced.

“The DWP introduced them in a rush to reverse [a decision by] the upper tribunal and to prevent thousands of people who need this support from receiving higher awards of PIP.

“They have done this when thousands upon thousands of disabled people are losing their benefits already.

“We have to remember that this challenge is taken in a context when the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with disabilities found systematic and grave violations of disabled people’s rights a year ago.

“And again, in August, it called the situation disabled people are in a ‘human catastrophe’.

“The UN specifically called on the government to repeal changes to PIP regulations because they breach our human rights under the convention.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the government’s decision to change regulations rather than accept the tribunal’s ruling had been “underhand”.

She said: “This is a particularly important case in relation to entitlement for PIP for people with a mental health condition.

“It is also important to challenge the underhand way in which these changes were introduced by Penny Mordaunt.”

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “When PIP was introduced the government gave a firm commitment that it would take fairer account of the impact of mental health conditions than disability living allowance did.

“However, in practice, the DWP did not award the PIP mobility component to those who are unable to plan or undertake a journey due to ‘overwhelming psychological distress’.

“This resulted in a successful and welcome legal challenge holding that PIP did in fact allow for such awards.

“But instead of accepting this judgment, in March 2017 the Government changed PIP rules to exclude those with severe mental health problems.

“Many people that experience conditions like anxiety, agoraphobia, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, struggle to make journeys because of psychological distress.

“They face similar costs to those with a physical disability – for example needing to use taxis or hiring a support worker.

“The PIP rule changes were implemented without consultation and we are in no doubt that they are clearly discriminatory and unfair.

“Just a few months ago, the United Nations found in a damning report that UK legislation has ‘failed to recognise living independently and being included in the community as a human right’.

“If the government is serious about delivering a fair and equal society it should reverse the changes to PIP so that those with poor mental health are not treated like second-class citizens.

“Until then, we strongly support the high court case brought by the Public Law Project and hope its success moves the government to change the rules.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We cannot comment on an ongoing legal case.”

But she referred Disability News Service to statements issued earlier this year.

In a statement to MPs in February, Mordaunt said the tribunal judgement had “broadened the way the PIP assessment criteria should be interpreted, going beyond the original intention” and that the government’s changes would “provide greater clarity”.

She also spoke of the “implications [for] public expenditure” of the judgement.

An equality analysis published by DWP in February showed the judgement would have cost an extra £900 million a year by 2021-22 if the regulations had not been brought in.

16 November 2017



New minister for disabled people criticised by her local DPO over voting record

The new minister for disabled people is facing criticism over her voting record on disability issues from a user-led organisation that provides support in her own constituency.

The Cornish MP Sarah Newton was appointed as the new minister late last week as a replacement for Penny Mordaunt, who has been promoted to international development secretary.

Newton was previously director of Age Concern England, founder and first director of the International Longevity Centre, and worked in marketing for the hotel group IBIS, the international bank Citibank and credit card giant American Express.

Her website says she has focused as an MP on “speaking up for Cornwall’s public services”, and that she has “campaigned tirelessly for local people feeling the pinch as result of the 2008 financial crash, with a focus on helping the poorest”.

In parliament, the website says, she has “carried forward her passion for helping the most vulnerable in our society, and those who look after them”, including through her former role as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for social care.

Before last week’s appointment, she was a junior Home Office minister.

But Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth since 2010, is now facing criticism from disAbility Cornwall & Isles of Scilly (DCIS), a disabled people’s organisation (DPO) that provides support for disabled people in her constituency.

The DPO, which said it had corresponded with Newton on issues such as social security reform over several years, congratulated her on her appointment but pointed out that her voting record “does not necessarily reflect well as an ambassador for people affected by illness or disability, or people who may be more reliant on state support”.

Despite her “focus on helping the poorest” in her constituency, her Commons voting record shows Newton consistently voted with her government as it has introduced sweeping cuts to social security since 2010.

DCIS said that this voting record showed she had voted against paying higher benefits to disabled people; in favour of the bedroom tax; and in favour of reducing social security spending.

In a statement, disAbility Cornwall said it would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the new minister, and “show her the true impact government policy is having on disabled people, who have been hit by a plethora of welfare reforms, cuts to services, and forced into low skill, low pay inaccessible work, and unaffordable housing stock and public transport”.

The statement added: “Disabled people are not just disadvantaged by their impairment, but by the environment and housing they live in, the education and transportation from which they are excluded, the limitations in shopping for food and the additional costs of heating, laundry – those additional costs that disabled people face due to their impairments.

“We should all be mindful it has now been 22 years since disability legislation first came in, and yet life has become much worse for disabled people, with real gains made by the independent living movement now directly threatened and undermined.”

In the first days since her appointment, Newton has already shown that she will mirror her predecessors in hugely controversial areas such as defending cuts to disability benefits.

And she has also shown that she is ready to follow Mordaunt in misleading fellow MPs.

Answering questions in the Commons on her ministerial brief on Monday, just four days after her appointment, she was asked by SNP’s Deidre Brock about the government’s decision to cut weekly payments to new employment and support allowance claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) by nearly £30 a week, a measure that was introduced in April by the government.

She replied: “There are no cuts for people on those benefits. Let me be absolutely clear about that.”

What she should have said was that – as she had told another MP earlier – the cuts would only apply to new claimants and not those already claiming ESA in the WRAG.

Newton also repeated Mordaunt’s claim that the UK was “a global leader in disability rights”, despite the humiliation of her government being found by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities to be responsible for causing a “human catastrophe” to disabled people as a result of its cuts to social security and other support.

But in one area, Newton’s appointment may please the disabled people’s movement.

In contrast to Mordaunt, who was a keen advocate of legalising assisted suicide, Newton is an opponent of a change in the law, a position that is likely to reassure many disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, the national network of disabled people and service-users, was another to criticise the minister’s past voting record.

He said her appointment was “an interesting statement on the complex nature of modern politics and politicians”.

He said: “She has consistently voted for the bedroom tax, against raising welfare benefits and for reduced welfare benefits spending.

“Hardly sounds like someone with an understanding of disabled people, yet she was formerly Director of Age Concern England and has shown a longstanding interest in ageing.”

But he said he doubted if she would remain in post for long.

She has now become the seventh minister for disabled people to be appointed since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took power in 2010, following Maria Miller, Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Mark Harper, Justin Tomlinson and Penny Mordaunt.

Beresford said: “I doubt Ms Newton, who began as a banker, will have much to contribute to disabled people except more out-of-touch grief.”

The new minister declined to respond to questions from Disability News Service about her new role.

16 November 2017



Response to benefit assessment inquiry breaks Commons records

An inquiry into the government’s flawed disability benefit assessment regime has produced more online evidence from the public than any other investigation ever held by a House of Commons select committee.

More than 2,800 submissions had been made to the work and pensions committee through its online forum by the time the deadline passed, compared to the usual 50 to 100 posts.

The committee has also received a further 450 pieces of written evidence, compared to the usual 100 or so it might usually expect.

The inquiry is examining the assessment processes for both personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).

Although not all the posts are about dishonesty and many are about the work capability assessment (WCA), the eligibility test for ESA, much of the evidence provides significant fresh corroboration for Disability News Service’s (DNS) year-long investigation into claims of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system.

A spokeswoman for the committee said the inquiry had produced more responses than any other web forum hosted by a select committee.

The deadline for evidence to be submitted to the inquiry passed on Friday (10 November), with many of the final submissions continuing to provide evidence of dishonesty by the healthcare professionals who write PIP assessment reports for the companies Atos and Capita on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

One carer who posted evidence on the forum told how the “pack of lies and false information” provided in the report written by the healthcare professional who assessed his wife had caused her to have a significant relapse, after her mental health had been stable for eight years.

Because of the “disgraceful” assessment, his wife had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Another carer told how the only thing the assessor had got right in his report on her son’s PIP claim was his name.

She added: “Just wish someone could help us, if my son does not take medication which I give him he has voices in his head and suicidal thoughts.

“I really think they should tape [assessment interviews]. This assessor has turned our life upside down. I worry for my son’s safety.”

One of the PIP claimants who submitted a written statement to the inquiry said that assessors were “twisting words, telling blatant lies”.

The claimant, who has the genetic condition hypercholesterolaemia, which has “very life limiting symptoms”, said the assessment in June 2017 had led to them being “made to feel like a liar by the assessor and two [DWP] decision makers.

“I am now being treated for severe stress and medicated with diazepam due to this experience.

“That is completely unacceptable as the last thing I need is to suffer stress with such a serious heart condition.”

Many statements have also been posted about the WCA.

One ESA claimant described how his assessor had “lied numerous times” and “painted a totally false picture”.

He added: “Treated me with total disrespect, when I tried to explain my situation and ask some pertinent questions she opened the door and said, ‘on your bike mister’.

“I have worked for over 30 years and have had spinal surgery this year. This inhumane process makes a mockery of paying years of tax and NI stamps.

“Humiliating, demoralising and in no way professional.”

Much of the evidence was still being published on the committee’s inquiry page last night (Wednesday), including a statement by DNS which says how more than 250 PIP claimants have described their assessment reports as “inherently dishonest and misleading, and led to them being found ineligible for PIP or receiving lower rates of PIP than they were entitled to”.

The DNS statement adds: “The Department for Work and Pensions, Capita and Atos have continued to insist that there is no dishonesty among the healthcare professionals carrying out these assessments on their behalf.”

The committee’s first oral evidence session is due to take place next week, with four PIP and ESA applicants and four welfare rights advisers set to answer questions from committee members.

16 November 2017



Council and care company retreat over disabled woman trapped in residential home

A young disabled woman says she has been “punished for a crime she did not commit”, as she waits for written confirmation that she can finally leave the care home where she has been trapped for nearly a month.

Lakhvinder Kaur, who is still facing an eviction notice from the care home in east London, said she feels that she is being treated “like an animal that has no say in their life” and has been forced to live in “solitary confinement”.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that the 28-year-old was facing eviction because of her demands that she be supported by female staff who are properly trained to assist with her personal care needs.

The care home had also objected to her organising birthday parties, and occasionally inviting friends over for late-night drinks.

Newham council had tried to force her to move to another care home, even though she insisted that it would be inaccessible and unsafe for someone with her impairment – spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) – and her significant and complex support needs.

But she refuses to leave until the council allows her to live in her own home with her own tenancy and a package of direct payments that reflects her need for support and allows her to employ and manage her own well-trained staff, something she has been trying to achieve for seven years.

She told her social worker this week: “My right to achieve independent living under article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been violated for far too long and I am not asking for something I am not entitled to, and I hope you can appreciate this.”

The care home where she currently lives previously told her that if she left the building she would be locked out and not allowed to return.

That threat has now been lifted, with the help of her solicitor, Sarah Lerner, after the council agreed to temporarily reinstate her care package, although Kaur said she would still not risk leaving the building until she received the promise in writing.

This means that she is still unable to return to her customer service job in the hotel industry.

And it is only in the last few days that she has been able to eat and shower according to her wishes, even though her care package is still far too small for her needs.

The care home appears to agree, as it has now raised a safeguarding concern with the council because it believes the support it is funded to provide is not sufficient.

Lerner, a consultant solicitor in family and community care law with the firm Edwards Duthie, told DNS that she was “shocked” to discover Kaur’s situation when she visited her.

She said the situation appeared to have resulted in potential human rights and Care Act breaches, although the council had now reinstated the care package while it continued to seek a more appropriate placement.

Lerner said: “What I was personally shocked about was that she was in a situation where she could not come and go as she pleased, or get to work.”

She said her firm had been “inundated” with other cases of disabled people where there were concerns about inadequate care packages.

Kaur has also been contacted by the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who also has SMA and is hoping to support her in her bid to secure a home of her own and a package of support that will allow her to live independently.

DNS understands that Baroness Campbell is having high-level talks with both the Care Quality Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission about the case.

Kaur said: “These past three weeks have been hell. I was punished for a crime I didn’t commit.

“Now I am apparently allowed to leave the premises but as I have not had written confirmation I won’t risk it.”

After nearly a month of being trapped in her rooms, she said her confidence had been hit, and she was concerned about how she would cope with everyday activities like crossing the road and catching public transport.

She said: “If I can receive this unjust treatment only god knows what’s happening to those who don’t have a voice or the amazing support I have had.”

In addition to the support from her solicitor, and the intervention of Baroness Campbell, her story was first brought to the attention of DNS by disabled activists Michelle Daley and Eleanor Lisney, from the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida.

Without all that support, she said, she believes she would have been abandoned in what was an “horrific situation”.

She said: “I feel like I’m an animal that has no say in their life, and if I do try to have a say I’m labelled as difficult, problematic, challenging or even a troubled case.”

A spokeswoman for the care home confirmed that Kaur’s care package had been reinstated by the council, and that although the eviction notice was still in place, she was now “free to leave the home and return”.

She said in a statement: “We always aim to provide the best quality of care and support to every one of our service-users and firmly believe we have done so in this case.

“If the home is not meeting the needs of an individual then we work with the service-user, local authority and the wider multi-disciplinary team to assess their needs and how these can be best met.

“This may mean a revised care package or alternative accommodation that better suits the service-user.”

Newham council had not commented by noon today (Thursday), although last week it said it was “working closely with Ms Kaur to ensure the care and support she receives meets her needs” and was “actively exploring” her request to be able to live independently, although finding a solution was “not easy” because she had “highly complex care needs”.

Kaur is now hoping that she will be able to use her own experience to help other disabled people who have faced cuts and restrictions to their support packages with their right to live independently.

She said: “There are probably many more people who are being penalised for speaking up, and facing a similar situation to mine, and don’t know how to find their way out of hell.

“I will not stop just with my case, but I want to help others who don’t know the way out.

“We are not animals or state property, we are individuals who have a right to live and not just survive.”

16 November 2017



Trio of legal cases against train company boosts access information campaign

A leading disabled campaigner is taking three separate legal cases against a train company, as part of his efforts to persuade the rail industry to improve the “lamentably inaccurate” information it provides on access to its services.

Rail enthusiast Doug Paulley was twice driven to distraction by the failures of ScotRail to provide accurate information as he tried to plan trips to Aviemore and Orkney in September.

The company’s failures resulted in him having to send scores of emails and spend hours on the phone to try to correct its mistakes booking his tickets and assistance for the Orkney trip, ruining what he had hoped would be the “journey of a lifetime”.

And when he later tried to complain to the company about its failures, a ScotRail manager sent libellous comments about him to other senior figures in the rail industry, suggesting that he had lied about what he had been told by ScotRail staff.

Paulley says the information train operating companies publish on their own websites about access at stations across Britain often contradicts the information shown on the National Rail website.

This can make it impossible for disabled passengers to be able to plan their journeys with any certainty.

It is part of a widespread failure to ensure that information on access to rail services for disabled people is accurate and kept up-to-date, he believes.

Last month, he was even told by a ScotRail operator that every station in the country was accessible to wheelchair-users, when industry information shows that more than half of the company’s stations do not have step-free access.

One of the legal cases Paulley is taking against ScotRail concerns his efforts to book rail tickets for what he had hoped would be a “trip of a lifetime” to and from the north-east of Scotland, for a short visit to Orkney.

To make the trip particularly special he wanted to book first-class tickets if possible, and was assured by ScotRail – despite what he had been told by another train company – that there were spaces available in first class for wheelchair-users.

After booking those tickets in June, he then discovered that ScotRail does not have any first-class wheelchair spaces on any of its services, and that the company had previously been criticised for allowing wheelchair-users to buy first-class tickets which they were unable to use.

ScotRail had promised the regulator last year that it would ensure that wheelchair-users would not be able to buy first-class tickets.

Paulley told the company, in a letter warning of his intention to take legal action: “I spent several hours making phone calls (with which I struggle because I am deaf) and sent or received a hundred or so emails, all in an attempt to make a booking for two single journeys.

“I bought lots of tickets I either couldn’t use or didn’t need, which I then had to get refunded.”

He added: “I have had to display real dogged determination in order to get these tickets and assistance booked, and to do the journey.

“This was supposed to be the journey of a lifetime, but instead it will be marred forever by memories of weeks of me feeling like I was banging my head against a brick wall, in order to arrange what should have been a straightforward booking, and for any non-disabled person would be.”

The second legal case relates to his attempts to obtain information from ScotRail about access at Aviemore rail station.

As a result of ScotRail’s failure to clarify whether the station was accessible to wheelchair-users, he had to abandon plans to visit Badaguish, a nearby accessible holiday destination run by the Speyside Trust.

He told ScotRail, in a letter warning of his intention to take legal action, that its failings were “absolutely infuriating” and that he felt as though ScotRail “just don’t give two hoots about my need for access information in order to plan and book a journey with relative confidence”.

He told the company he wanted to correct “unacceptable discriminatory service provision by Scotrail who have failed to meet their moral or legal obligations to disabled people”.

Paulley warned ScotRail that he had taken about 50 disability discrimination cases over the last decade, one of which eventually saw him secure a ground-breaking Supreme Court victory on access to buses for wheelchair-users.

In a third legal letter, he warned ScotRail that he viewed the false, libellous statements that had been made about his complaints about information on access to be “very serious”.

He said: “Allegations that I am being disingenuous, that I have made complaints and sought compensation having attempted assistance and ticket bookings despite knowing them to not be possible, fundamentally undermine my credibility as a disabled rights campaigner and reduce my efficacy, particularly when made to senior managers at multiple Train Operating Companies, and particularly when made by a senior manager at a Train Operating Company.”

ScotRail said it was unable to comment on active legal cases.

Paulley told Disability News Service that the three legal cases showed the “recurrent passenger assistance booking and access information failures across the rail industry”.

Much of the information, he said, is “lamentably inaccurate and not fit for purpose”.

Now he wants to see action from the industry, and is due to attend a meeting (today) with industry representatives to discuss his concerns.

He is optimistic that plans to replace cross-industry IT systems could improve the accuracy and reliability of information on assistance and accessibility.

He said: “All I want is for train operating companies to do what they are legally and morally obliged to do, that being to ensure information is accurate, usable and comprehensive.

“It isn’t, and it should be.”

A spokeswoman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents all the country’s train companies and Network Rail, said: “We look forward to meeting Doug Paulley later this week to discuss in detail his concerns.

“Our accessibility team is working hard to improve accessibility for customers across the network, and we are involving rail companies, stakeholders and advocacy groups to help us.

“Over the last year, we have developed a detailed programme of work, centred on tackling the challenges our customers face and improving overall experience by embracing new technologies and ensuring our staff can provide the best possible service, not just for people with disabilities but for everyone who uses our railway.”

16 November 2017



Frustration over DWP’s response to PIP safety legal ruling

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that – despite a legal ruling – it can only pay disability benefit claimants a few months-worth of backdated payments, even if they have been missing out on the correct amount for years.

Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, announced earlier this month that DWP had accepted the ruling on safety made by the upper tribunal in March.

She said DWP had updated its guidance to ensure that eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) now takes proper account of whether a disabled person can carry out certain activities safely, and whether they need supervision to do so.

Mordaunt said that as many as 10,000 disabled people could end up receiving higher rates of PIP because of the changes.

The new guidance reflects a ruling by the tribunal that previous DWP guidance had been wrongly reflecting the intention of the legislation that led to PIP’s introduction in 2013.

Mordaunt – who was replaced last week by Sarah Newton as minister for disabled people – told MPs on 2 November that DWP would examine all existing PIP cases and “identify anyone who may be entitled to more”.

But DWP confirmed this week that it will only be able to backdate payments to the date of the tribunal ruling: 9 March 2017.

Even if a disabled person has been claiming PIP since it was introduced in 2013, and has been receiving too low an amount for more than four years because of DWP’s incorrect guidance, they will only receive extra payments backdated to March this year.

This is stated in a memo published online by DWP, which says that the tribunal’s decision was a “relevant determination” and that this “should not be applied to claim periods on or before 8.3.17”.

Campaigners have already questioned why it took DWP four years – and a tribunal judgement – to ensure that eligibility for PIP takes proper account of whether a disabled person can carry out certain activities safely.

Welfare rights experts also suggested this week that DWP is already trying to find ways to reduce the impact of the tribunal ruling on benefit spending.

They have pointed out that in all five case study examples describing different claimants affected by the ruling – published in another departmental memo sent to DWP case managers – not one of those fictional claimants would actually see their benefits increased.

Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK’s welfare rights adviser, said: “Disabled people are increasingly needing to take legal action to obtain and enforce their rights.

“In recent years, we have seen this with the bedroom tax and now over the issue of their own safety being properly considered for PIP purposes

“But it is deeply frustrating that even when disabled people secure their legal benefit entitlement in court, the DWP deprives them of full justice.

“It has taken the DWP seven months to issue guidance following the ‘safely’ court case.

“During that time, it will have continued to refuse disabled people PIP on the same basis it did before.

“Had it implemented the judgment immediately it would not need to do a case trawl.

“Added to this, not one of the five case examples the DWP gives in its new guidance is said to benefit from the court’s decision.

“The DWP have been wrongly considering the assessment of safety for PIP since it was introduced in April 2103.

“The department says it is not legally possible for it to backdate PIP before 9 March 2017.

“But it could make ex-gratia PIP arrears payments to those disabled people who can show that they would have qualified but for its restrictive guidance.”

A DWP spokeswoman said that social security regulations* stated that upper tribunal decisions could not be treated as “official errors”.

Instead, the tribunal decision must be treated as a “relevant determination”, according to section 27 of the Social Security Act 1998.

This means that any backdated payments from increased awards can only apply from 9 March 2017, the date of the tribunal’s judgement.

She said: “There is no discretion in the Social Security Act 1998 for payments for any earlier periods… no one will have payments backdated to before 9 March 2017”.

And she said the examples in the memo were “illustrative only and focus solely on the subject of ‘safety’.

“These examples were created to illustrate the changes to guidance for our front line case managers.

“The descriptors or scores indicated in the examples in a real case would likely only make up part of the picture.

“A real claimant could score points on other descriptors or have other factors of consideration which would mean they score higher than the points in the illustrative examples.”

*Regulation 1(3) Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 1999

16 November 2017



Finding a wheelchair ‘is expensive, time-consuming and rarely straightforward’

Choosing and funding a wheelchair is expensive and time-consuming, and often results in the purchase of unsuitable and uncomfortable equipment, according to new research by a user-led charity.

A survey by the spinal cord injury charity Back Up found that nearly a quarter of respondents had been forced to buy a second wheelchair because their first one was uncomfortable.

And nearly half (48 per cent) said it took them more than a year to find a wheelchair they were happy with, while seven per cent said they had never been happy with their wheelchair.

The survey also found that half of the respondents’ wheelchairs had cost between £1,000 and £4,000, while only six per cent cost less than £1,000.

Back Up said the findings showed the need for more ring-fenced government funding for wheelchair provision, but also the need for “an understanding when assessing people for a wheelchair that basic mobility is not sufficient to live an active, independent life”.

The charity said the cost of wheelchairs meant that many of those coping with a new spinal cord injury had to choose between an affordable wheelchair which may not meet their needs, or paying “a vast sum to get the chair that gives you the best quality of life”.

Figures from Aspire, Back Up’s partner spinal cord injury charity, showed that 70 per cent of the grants it provided were for wheelchairs and mobility equipment.

Of those who had been given an NHS wheelchair voucher and applied to the Aspire grants programme, the average difference between the voucher and the wheelchair they needed was almost £3,000.

Back Up surveyed 540 people with a spinal cord injury or other physical impairment, all of whom were full-time or part-time wheelchair-users.

The charity concluded that “what should be a seamless and painless experience – since it often follows a devastating injury – is in fact rarely straightforward, prohibitively expensive, often disproportionately time consuming and the outcome is frequently unsuitable”.

Separate research commissioned by Back Up from YouGov showed that only 22 per cent of the UK public thought it should take longer than a month for a wheelchair-user to receive a wheelchair they were happy with.

One of those who took part in the Back Up survey, Merryn, from London, said: ‘‘My experience was pretty frustrating. I found it all very daunting and complicated.

“Different funding avenues are confusing and it’s hard to know where to start.

“There needs to be a better way of measuring you up for a wheelchair too. There’s currently no way of knowing if you’ll be comfortable in your new chair before you buy it.

“So it feels like you are risking a lot of money getting measured up for something that still might not feel right.”

Another survey respondent said: “All wheelchairs are far too expensive, you could have a decent second-hand car for what it costs for a decent chair.”

Most first wheelchairs are provided or part-funded by NHS wheelchair services, which offers a wheelchair or a contribution towards one.

But another survey respondent said: “So I asked for the voucher scheme and received a rather big shock. I was entitled to a ‘full’ voucher [of] about £200-£250.

“When I arrived in the shop hoping to purchase a new chair I was told I would need at least £1,000 for one that suited my needs.”

Becky Hill, Back Up’s chair of trustees, who herself has a spinal cord injury, said: “We believe that wheelchair assessments must take into account the fact that people need wheelchairs that allow them to do much more than just get around their house or flat.

“And with more ring-fenced funding from the government, wheelchair services can allocate chairs that enhance independence, rather than limit it.

“With a quality wheelchair, people can get around where they live, socialise and get actively involved in life.

“Without one, people are more likely to be stuck at home, feeling isolated and depressed.

“It also makes economic sense. NHS England states that for every 182 wheelchair users not able to work, the benefits bill can increase by up to £1m, whereas the positive economic contribution made when in work can be up to £4.7m.

“When people have a good wheelchair, they can work and contribute to society.

“We support people with a spinal cord injury into employment, and know that being able to work brings financial reward, as well as a sense of purpose, a social life and health benefits too.”

A third of those who responded to the Back Up survey said they had received no training in how to use a wheelchair.

Hill said: “As well as having the right wheelchair at the right time, training is absolutely vital.

“It enhances your independence and allows you to do things we all take for granted like getting on the bus, checking out local shops, or just safely carrying a cup of tea into the living room.”

Beth Scrimshaw, head of Back Up’s services, said it was “vital” that people with a spinal cord injury had access to a suitable wheelchair when they were discharged from hospital.

But she said that NHS specialists were often hampered by “inconsistent standards and processes, by the different and conflicting assessment criteria, and by limited funding”.

Scrimshaw said action was also needed on the “hugely inflated” price of wheelchairs, with survey respondents describing how a good quality wheelchair was similar in price to a second-hand car, or a luxury holiday.

Back Up helps people rebuild their confidence and independence after a spinal cord injury, through wheelchair skills training, a mentoring service and rehabilitative activity courses, which are all run by people themselves affected by spinal cord injury.

16 November 2017



Disabled MP seeks new laws to outlaw ‘rip-off’ hospital parking charges

A disabled MP has introduced new legislation that would ban all NHS hospitals from “rip-off” parking charges imposed on patients, staff and visitors.

The Conservative MP Robert Halfon, a former minister and now chair of the Commons education select committee, said the imposition of car parking charges by hospitals was “the bane of people’s lives”.

He said: “No one goes to hospital out of choice; they go because they must.”

And he said that his private member’s bill would “end the hospital car parking rip-off once and for all”.

Halfon’s hospital car parking charges (abolition) bill received its first reading in the Commons on Tuesday, and will receive its second reading in March.

He told fellow MPs that people with long-term, serious health conditions who needed “repeated and lengthy stays in hospital” were “disproportionately” hit by the charges.

He has been campaigning for free hospital parking for more than three years, and started the campaign after discovering that hospitals in England were charging staff and visitors up to £500 a week to use their car parks.

Halfon told fellow MPs that, in contrast, Scottish hospitals do not charge for the use of their car parks.

His campaign has already led to ministers introducing guidance – calling on hospitals to offer concessions for staff working unsociable shifts, holders of blue parking badges and visitors of seriously-ill relatives – but it is not mandatory and so can be ignored, he said.

Despite the 2014 guidance, the average cost to park for a week at a hospital in England is still £53.41, and it costs an average £1.98 to park for one hour, while one hospital in Surrey charges £4 an hour.

Halfon said that almost half of hospitals offer no concessions for disabled drivers.

He said: “Blue badge holders have no choice but to park nearby, and almost half of hospitals charge them to do so.

“The NHS is therefore not free of charge, and the previous guidance has clearly not worked. That is why I am promoting this bill.”

He said hospital car parking charges were “a stealth tax on the NHS”, and added: “We cannot say in good faith that the NHS is free at the point of access, paid for by general taxation, if people with cars face extortionate and unfair parking fees to get to their hospital appointments, to go to work at our vital public services or to visit sick relatives.”

But fellow Tory MP James Duddridge told Halfon that he opposed the bill.

He said the estimated annual £200 million cost would be better spent “on hospital care rather than hospital parking”.

Halfon’s bill has received support from Labour MPs Frank Field, Julie Cooper and Emma Hardy, as well as from fellow Tories including Sir Mike Penning, a former minister for disabled people, and Lucy Allan.

16 November 2017


News provided by John Pring at