New Commons chamber will include frontbench wheelchair spaces for first time

New designs for a temporary House of Commons chamber will allow wheelchair-users who become ministers or shadow ministers to address fellow MPs from behind the historic despatch boxes for the first time.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been told that the plans for the temporary chamber – to be used while major renovations are carried out to the Palace of Westminster – include “tip-up seating” that will enable wheelchair-users to speak from behind the two respective despatch boxes.

The current cramped design of the Commons chamber means there is no room for a wheelchair in front of the benches used by government and shadow ministers.

There is also no space for a wheelchair to pass behind the despatch boxes when ministers and shadow ministers are in their places.

But the new plans – which are now out for public consultation – would allow, for the first time, a minister or even a prime minister who uses a wheelchair to address fellow MPs from the traditional position behind the despatch box.

The long-delayed plans to renovate the Houses of Parliament will see MPs and peers move out and work in separate buildings nearby in Westminster – probably soon after 2025 – while a major programme of repairs and improvements takes place over a number of years.

Peers are expected to move into the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, but MPs and Commons staff will be relocated to a group of parliamentary buildings known as the Northern Estate, which includes Portcullis House.

The plans include building a temporary House of Commons chamber – modelled to look similar, although not identical, to the current chamber – as part of a redevelopment of Richmond House, formerly the Whitehall headquarters of the Department of Health.

Dame Anne Begg, the last wheelchair-user to be elected as an MP, welcomed the plans to allow wheelchair-users to sit alongside colleagues on the front benches for the first time.

She said: “Absolutely. That’s the one you were never able to do before.

“I was never a frontbencher but that’s the next stage forward. Someone in a wheelchair being able to sit and be a frontbencher, potentially in the cabinet, potentially a prime minister, I think is a wonderful step forward.

“I am glad that they are thinking about it.”

Dame Anne, who lost her seat in 2015 after 18 years as a backbench Labour MP – including several years chairing the influential work and pensions select committee – had to position herself in the corner of the chamber, near the entrance, throughout her time in parliament.

She said: “I am glad they are thinking there might be more than one person in a wheelchair in the chamber and that the person in the wheelchair might need to sit in different parts of the chamber, depending on their role and whether they were a backbencher or a frontbencher.

“None of those adaptions were made in my time but that’s because I didn’t push for them, because I was the first person in a wheelchair to be sitting in the chamber since 1880.

“I thought disabled people had been invisible too long, so I was quite happy to stick out.

“It was a conscious decision that I wanted to be seen rather than be invisible as we had been for generations.”

DNS has also been told that the space between the two sets of front benches will be wider, allowing a wheelchair-user to pass between the despatch boxes and ministers or shadow ministers.

The project’s design team is still working on the arrangements that will be made for wheelchair-users on the backbenches.

A spokesperson for parliament’s relocation programme said: “The design team are developing solutions to make sure MPs who use wheelchairs can sit with their party colleagues, and for those locations to not just be along the front benches.

“These changes in the temporary Chamber will support the future design work of both of the historic Chambers in the Palace [of Westminster], where improvements to disabled access will be a key feature.”

The proposals for the temporary chamber will also include hearing loops and infra-red audio systems for d/Deaf MPs and visitors, although the spokesperson said: “In the chamber, rather than assume a single solution will work for everyone, parliament will continue to support the individual needs of members who require support.”

The design of the temporary chamber will also ensure access if there is a speaker, deputy speaker or clerk with a mobility impairment.

The current plans will see every seat on the front row of the public gallery feature tip-up seating for wheelchair-users, while there will be two lifts for visitors to access the public gallery, accessible toilets off the central lobby area and the public gallery lobby space, and a Changing Places toilet off the central lobby.

Doors will be fitted with electronic assistance opening devices “where required”.

The parliamentary authorities are working on the designs of the temporary chamber with David Bonnett Associates (DBA), the award-winning architectural access consultancy run by disabled architect David Bonnett, as well as the Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE).

Both DBA and CAE said they were not yet allowed to comment on their work on the project.

There have also been discussions with parliament’s own access and inclusion steering group, with wider engagement with disabled people to take place later in the design process.

Commons authorities are now keen to hear from disabled people about the plans and the publicly accessible facilities they would like to see included around the temporary chamber.

There will be a public exhibition of the plans in nearby Church House on 30 May, 1 June, 7 June, 8 June and 10 June.

A series of planning applications are likely to be submitted to Westminster council later this year, which should allow work to begin on the Northern Estate next year.

16 May 2019


Direct action pledge after DWP pays tabloid to air-brush universal credit

Disabled activists are to target a tabloid newspaper with direct action after it signed an advertising deal with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to promote its “toxic” universal credit benefit system.

A leaked DWP document – seen by Disability News Service (DNS) – shows the department has signed an agreement with the Metro free newspaper series to publish a nine-week series of advertising features on universal credit (UC).

The adverts will, says the DWP memo, “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” and “explain what UC is and how it works in reality”, as part of a series of measures being taken by the department across the country to promote UC.

It is believed the Metro – part of the same company as the Daily Mail – will begin running the advertising campaign on Friday 31 May.

The memo is thought to have been published on the DWP intranet on 2 May, and later passed to the Sheffield branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Jennifer Jones, a founding member of Sheffield DPAC, said: “Obviously we were shocked upon reading it.

“It is irrefutable proof that there is a coordinated campaign to spread fake newspaper articles and pro-UC propaganda, despite the level of misery that people are suffering.

“Not only that, but the British public are being charged for the privilege.

“It is insulting but it is also unbelievably cruel to anybody who is suffering as a result of universal credit.”

She said the memo had arrived at a time when she and fellow activists had begun to notice posts praising UC suddenly appearing on Facebook pages set up to support claimants – among all the usual “misery and desperation” – while a string of flattering articles about UC began to appear in local newspapers.

DPAC’s national steering group said it was appalled at the idea of what will be a “misleading advertising campaign”.

It said UC had “robbed millions from women pensioners, disabled people, women and children all of whom have been pushed deeper and deeper into poverty, and despair”, with many “forced to resort to prostitution and crime in order to survive”.

DPAC has now called on its supporters to visit locations where the free paper is given away – such as train and tube stations – and “remove or otherwise prevent as many as possible” from being read from 31 May.

DPAC is also preparing a dossier of evidence about the DWP-Metro deal to pass to the advertising watchdog, and pledges to “make sure the Metro never want another DWP advert again”.

Jones said: “We refuse to be force-fed government propaganda, so we will put a stop to it ourselves.

“If they want us to be militant, we will be militant. We are not taking it anymore.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

Last month, DNS reported how DWP had destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of claimants of UC and other benefits in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

Last November, DNS revealed how DWP had been forced to soften the “threatening” tone of the agreement that claimants of universal credit are forced to sign to receive their benefits, following a secret review into the death of a claimant.

The same month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, warned that universal credit could “wreak havoc” and had created a “digital barrier” that prevented many disabled people and other disadvantaged groups from accessing the support they were entitled to.

Earlier that month, Alston was told how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

And last June, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

This month’s leaked DWP memo was written by three senior civil servants, including Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme.

It complains about media “negativity and scaremongering” about UC – even though much of the most significant criticism has come from respected organisations such as the UN and the NAO – and brags about the “great work we do to transform the lives of millions of people for the better”.

The Metro coverage will begin with a “wraparound” advertising feature – which will likely include a fake front page praising UC – of four pages, written by DWP, that compare the “myths” with “the truth” about UC.

The Guardian, which broke the story of the campaign earlier this week, also revealed that a Metro national “cover wrap” costs £250,000 (PDF), although the full advertising campaign will cost many tens of thousands of pounds more.

The memo even admits that DWP will deliberately not be using its branding on the features, intentionally disguising their origin, which appears to be a breach of advertising guidelines.

The memo says the Metro advertising features will be part of a wider campaign “to tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC”, which has already included work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd writing to every MP, and to journalists, asking them to “come and see for themselves the great work we do”.

The memo also mentions a new three-part BBC documentary, in which it says the broadcaster will “intelligently explore” UC by “spending time with our people who are instrumental in implementing it”.

The memo says the documentary, which will air this autumn, will be “a fantastic opportunity for us”.

But a separate document from the PCS union expresses concerns about the documentary and warns of potential penalties that might be imposed on staff who are critical of DWP when interviewed by the BBC.

A BBC press release on the documentary said it would “take a fresh look” at UC and “unearth the strengths and limitations of the new system to understand the impact and reality of Universal Credit today”.

It will include interviews with work coaches, Rudd, senior civil servants, claimants, local authorities, advice agencies and charities.

Asked about the memo and the Metro advertising campaign, DWP said it did not comment on leaked documents, but a spokesperson said: “It’s important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise universal credit.

“All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

Metro had not responded to requests for a comment by noon today (Thursday).

16 May 2019


Commons civil servants block DNS over DWP benefit deaths cover-up

House of Commons civil servants have blocked attempts to confirm that an influential MP is opposing efforts to highlight a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) cover-up of deaths linked to its social security reforms.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been trying since last week to secure a response from Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, to the cover-up by DWP ministers and senior civil servants.

A spokesperson for the committee has said that “we cannot – and will not” comment, but she has since refused to confirm whether the questions about the cover-up had been passed to Field, or whether the refusal to comment had been made solely by civil servants.

DNS has attempted to contact senior figures within the House of Commons communications department but has encountered further obstruction.

By noon today (Thursday), it was still not clear whether Field himself was refusing to comment on the cover-up, or whether Commons civil servants were simply refusing to put questions from DNS to the independent MP.

DNS has previously run news stories critical of Field and his committee, including – in December 2017 – its refusal to ask the new minister for disabled people about figures that showed attempted suicides among people claiming out-of-work disability benefits doubled between 2007 and 2014.

Another news story, in September 2017, saw disabled activists express outrage after Field suggested that employers should be allowed to pay some disabled people less than the minimum wage.

Field was asked last Friday for a response to proof that DWP failed to send its own independent reviewer crucial documents about the work capability assessment.

But Field – or his civil servants – have so far shown no interest in examining the evidence and have refused to comment on the DWP cover-up, even though Labour’s Debbie Abrahams has written to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd demanding an explanation.

Although Field left DWP years before the cover-up took place, he himself was a work and pensions minister in the early years of the last Labour government, between 1997 and 1998.

DNS asked Field if he believed there should be an inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and the actions of ministers or civil servants, and if he believed that any evidence of misconduct in public office by ministers or civil servants should be passed to police for a possible criminal investigation, both of which are key demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*.

MPs are slowly beginning to call for a criminal investigation, despite the resistance of influential figures like Field.

Last week, independent MP Stephen Lloyd spoke out in support of the idea of a criminal investigation into alleged misconduct, and he was joined this week by Labour’s former shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams.

Abrahams has written to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd seeking answers and expressing “grave concerns” about the reported cover-up, and also raised the issue in the House of Commons (see separate story).

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, has also raised concerns about DWP’s actions.

She said this week: “It is unacceptable that the DWP has failed to share this vital information with an independent investigator, exposing the tragic consequences of the flawed work capability assessment.

“Instead, the government has consistently defended the cruel and callous WCA, which has been linked with preventable harm and suicide.

“It is vital that any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by civil servants or ministers is passed to police.

“Labour supports the demands for justice for Jodey Whiting and those like her.

“It is time for an urgent independent inquiry into deaths associated with the work capability assessment so that disabled people and their families are given the answers that they deserve.”

DNS revealed last week that, following intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office, DWP had finally admitted that two letters written by coroners, and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants, were hidden from the team set up to review the work capability assessment (WCA), under Dr Paul Litchfield.

DWP has this week finally responded to DNS questions about the ICO evidence.

A spokesperson said: “DWP co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team.

“DWP was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to.

“The issues investigated and evidence sought is at the discretion of the independent reviewer, and according to the terms of reference of their review.”

But she has been unable to explain how Litchfield’s team could have requested information – the secret peer reviews and coroners’ letters – if they did not know they existed.

The existence of the letters and links between peer reviews and the WCA were not revealed by DNS until after the final Litchfield report was published.

The DWP spokesperson also refused to say if DWP believed the cover-up showed there needed to be an independent inquiry, and that any evidence suggesting criminal misconduct in public office should be passed to the police.

*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

16 May 2019


Senior MP calls on Rudd to act over DWP’s WCA deaths cover-up

A Labour MP has written to the work and pensions secretary to call for an inquiry into deaths linked to government social security reforms, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or civil servants to be passed to police.

Debbie Abrahams made the demands –  key elements of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition – in a letter to Amber Rudd, in which she expressed “grave concerns” about the government’s failure to pass documents linking its reforms with the deaths of disabled people to its own independent reviewer.

Abrahams, a former shadow work and pensions secretary, had been told by Disability News Service (DNS) that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had finally admitted failing to send key letters and secret reviews to the team reviewing the work capability assessment (WCA).

In her letter, Abrahams demanded urgent answers to “these very serious questions”.

She told Rudd: “I am concerned that under your predecessors, two letters written by coroners, and a series of ‘peer reviews’ into the deaths of claimants, were not sent to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the Work Capability Assessment in 2013 and 2014.

“I would be grateful if you would confirm that these reports are correct and outline what steps you have taken to ensure such an omission could not recur.”

Abrahams also raised the issue during work and pensions questions in the House of Commons on Monday.

But the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, failed to answer her questions, insisting instead that the government had “accepted and implemented” more than 100 recommendations made by the WCA reviews and would “continue to do all that we can to improve the process for claimants”.

Abrahams told DNS afterwards: “His response, or lack of, speaks for itself.”

In her letter to Rudd, she said there needed to be an independent inquiry into all deaths linked to the government’s social security reforms, with any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by ministers or civil servants to be passed to police.

DNS revealed last week how ministers failed to send the review team two letters from coroners and a series of internal reviews, even though they knew the documents linked the WCA with the deaths of disabled people.

The admission came in DWP’s response to a complaint lodged by DNS with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the department’s failure to confirm if it passed the information to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the WCA in 2013 and 2014.

A senior ICO case officer told DNS: “Consultation with the ex-review team elicited statements that no such information was received from DWP nor were any physical files sent to stores.”

DWP has this week finally responded to DNS questions about the ICO evidence.

A spokesperson said: “DWP co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team.

“DWP was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to.

“The issues investigated and evidence sought is at the discretion of the independent reviewer, and according to the terms of reference of their review.”

But she has been unable to explain how Litchfield’s team could have requested information – the secret peer reviews and coroners’ letters – if they did not know they existed.

The existence of the letters and the links between peer reviews and the WCA were not revealed by DNS until after the final Litchfield report was published.

She also refused to say if DWP believed the cover-up showed there needed to be an independent inquiry, and that any evidence suggesting criminal misconduct in public office should be passed to the police.

*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

16 May 2019


Disabled peer calls for radical changes to ensure ‘wraparound’ support

A disabled crossbench peer has called on the government to introduce a “comprehensive” scheme that would provide the kind of “wraparound” support that would allow disabled people to live an independent life.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell called for a radical and comprehensive “access to living scheme” to replace the current system of support that divides disabled people into “unwieldy boxes of social care, continuing healthcare, housing or employment support”.

She told fellow peers that in the 13 years since a Labour government committed to a policy of promoting independent living and integrated support, progress had “ground nearly to a halt”, and in some areas was “regressing rapidly”.

She pointed to a combination of austerity measures, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the introduction of personal independence payment, and “a lack of progress in the realisation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

Baroness Campbell told peers of proposals developed by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*, which she chairs, which include incorporating article 19 of the UN convention – on independent living – into UK law.

Such a move would provide a legal right to independent living for the first time.

ILSG wants to see a national access to living fund, bringing together the various sources of support into one pot, with the government reinvesting in user-led regional organisations such as centres for independent living, and helping to fund new co-operatives, social enterprises, community businesses and other charities.

Baroness Campbell said: “This would enable a hundred flowers to blossom, making for a strong access to living culture, and enabling all disabled people – all, no matter what their medical condition – to maximise their life chances.

“An access to living investment would foster the transformative social capital we have yet failed to realise under current outdated systems, which, in social care support alone, now offer only the top-down, survival safety-net services.”

Responding to the debate on behalf of the government, the Tory peer Baroness Barran said she would be “absolutely delighted” to meet the ILSG.

They were taking part in a Lords debate secured by the Tory peer Lord Borwick on the issues facing disabled people and the “potential for improved treatment and outcomes in the next 50 years”.

Another crossbench disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, spoke of the continuing problems she faced with the inaccessible rail system, including “getting on and off trains”, the booking system and the frequent lack of accessible toilets.

She also highlighted the failure of the new Caledonian Sleeper – which has received more than £100 million in public funding from the UK and Scottish governments – to include any accessible showers, as reported last week by Disability News Service.

She told peers: “I am looking forward to a time when I book such a journey and push through the station in my pyjamas looking for an accessible shower that may or may not be in the station. I am not sure that anyone is ready for that.”

And she criticised the rail industry’s failure to consult with disabled people, describing it as a “travesty”, and called on the government to look again at rail regulations so that disabled people “can have the same miserable experience as everybody else”.

Baroness Barran said she would raise the points made by Baroness Grey-Thompson with the Department for Transport, “particularly regarding design regulations and co-production”.

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said it was “shocking” that the government had still not published its adult social care green paper, and she said that “far more attention” needed to be paid to the provision of accessible, adaptable and wheelchair-accessible homes.

She also said she wanted to see more accessible restaurants, cafes, shops and hotels, and “far more disabled people not just in employment but in positions of power and influence as local councillors, school governors, mayors, CEOs, MPs, peers, judges and, yes, government ministers”.

She said: “In 50 years’ time, life may well be better for all disabled people, but only if those in positions of leadership always involve disabled people themselves in what they really need and what really works for them.”

Lord Borwick suggested that campaigners were “winning the argument” for all new homes to be built to the Lifetime Homes standard.

Baroness Thornton, for Labour, said there had almost been a “perfect storm” of failed public policy on disability, including £7 billion taken out of adult social care budgets because of reduced funding since 2010, four-fifths of local authorities saying there was not enough provision of social care services, and a social care system that was “in crisis”.

Baroness Barran accepted that key indicators still showed “multiple disadvantages for disabled people, from poverty to educational outcomes, employment, discrimination, isolation and a lack of opportunity”.

But she said the government was “committed to addressing this across a range of key policy areas including, to name but three, employment, healthcare and transport”.

*ILSG has been working on protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights to independent living in England since 2013. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

16 May 2019


Panel seeks DPOs for pioneering partnership with mayor

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across Greater Manchester have been given the chance to take part in a pioneering new partnership with local government.

Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, is funding a new Disabled People’s Panel (DPP) that will work with him and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) he chairs.

The authority – whose other 10 members are the leaders of Greater Manchester’s 10 borough councils – has commissioned Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) to set up the panel.

The panel will aim to shape, challenge and influence policy affecting disabled people across Greater Manchester, by advising and consulting with GMCA.

The panel’s members will be local disability organisations drawn from across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs, with most of them likely to be DPOs committed to the social model of disability, with strong engagement with their local community, and successful representation of diverse groups, including LGBT and black and minority ethnic communities.

Those taking part will receive an involvement fee from the mayor’s office, while two GMCDP staff are being paid to set up the panel, keep it running and help it liaise with local authorities across Greater Manchester.

Manchester has become the first city region in the UK to introduce a disabled people’s panel that will be involved in such a senior level of strategic policy-making.

It is a significant success for GMCDP, which said before Burnham’s election as Greater Manchester’s first elected mayor in 2017 that it hoped to persuade the successful mayoral candidate to make the region a trailblazer for disability rights in England and “develop ground-breaking initiatives to tackle disability”.

Rick Burgess, the newly-appointed outreach and panel development worker at GMCDP, said: “It’s an experiment and it’s an adventure because it’s never been done before, and it’s always worth trying a new way of interfacing with power to make things better for disabled people.

“The long-term aim is to have an ongoing engagement between disabled people across Manchester and the organisations that make policy across Manchester.

“Because of devolution, there are opportunities to do things differently from Westminster.

“Central government in Westminster has been condemned by the UN for how they treat disabled people. In Greater Manchester we can certainly do better than that.

“Some of what we can do is mitigation or harm reduction when there are bad policies nationally.

“I would hope we can find ways to lessen their harmful impact on people.”

The mayor’s office has agreed that the organisations appointed to the panel will receive an involvement fee and training, in contrast to the unpaid chairs and members of the Regional Stakeholder Network being set up by the government’s Office for Disability Issues.

Burgess said: “Fair play to Andy Burnham and the combined authority. They have thought to themselves: we don’t know everything, maybe we need to listen to the people who are experts in their own lives on how we make policy and stuff.

“It is democracy in action. We are looking to gather up the views of disabled people throughout Greater Manchester and affect policy-making at the highest level.”

Although some of the panel members may not be organisations led and controlled by disabled people, Burgess hopes and expects that most of them will be.

He said: “This is for disabled people to change the policies that affect them, so it is primarily about disabled people forming the panel.”

He stressed that the panel would decide its own priorities, but issues that are consistently coming up in discussion with disabled people in Greater Manchester are transport, housing, social care and benefits, and then accessibility and employment, he said.

As well as a panel of probably between 15 and 20 members, organisations will also be able to ask to be associate members, so they can contribute and be kept informed of its work.

Burgess said GMCDP was keen to spread the idea of the DPP to other parts of the country if it is successful, providing an “incredibly representative engagement between power and disabled people so eventually power becomes less ableist and more inclusive and removes those barriers we are always talking about”.

The deadline for applications to join the panel is 28 May.

16 May 2019


Disabled activist tells parliamentary meeting of need for ‘new approach’ to social care

A leading disabled activist has told a parliamentary meeting of the need for a “new approach” to supporting disabled people that focuses on the promotion of independent living.

Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People and a director of Being the Boss, a user-led organisation which supports disabled people who employ PAs, told the meeting that the system of social support for disabled people “has not ever been fit for purpose”.

He said a new approach to supporting disabled people should draw upon both the last Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People strategy and demands by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) for a new national independent living support service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support.

ROFA wants a legal right to independent living, and a national independent living service funded by general taxation and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

The meeting was organised by the Reclaim Social Care (RSC) campaign, which itself was born from Health Campaigns Together, a coalition that brings together organisations fighting to defend the NHS.

RSC aims to develop a parallel campaign to Health Campaigns Together, for a “properly funded and publicly accountable” social care system.

RSC wants a universal social care service, free at the point of use to all who need it, fully funded through progressive taxation, and locally provided, locally accountable and designed as far as possible by service-users.

But Williams-Findlay told the meeting that managing the RSC campaign would not be easy because there were groups and individuals who viewed the social care crisis from different perspectives or felt the need to champion specific groups.

It is believed that only two MPs attended the meeting – Labour’s Eleanor Smith and Rachael Maskell – and Williams-Findlay said afterwards that engaging MPs on the subject was “proving difficult”.

He told Disability News Service that ROFA’s plans were not about reshaping the “existing monster” but “a complete transformation” that would end the “neoliberal market-facing services and commodification of service-users”.

He said: “It’s hard to sense the support from mainstream campaigners for the kind of approach we are suggesting because of the diversity of opinion.

“Supporting the Reclaim Social Care campaign is challenging as many of the campaigners are from traditional health backgrounds or are carers; therefore, they are not coming from the perspective we advocate.”

He said the RSC campaign needed to “acknowledge that the majority of the public have no idea what ‘social care’ is and accept stereotyped views”.

He said the campaign should “try and educate everyone about the different reasons people have for requiring social support” and “how this shapes the type of service delivery that needs to be offered and the consequences involved”.

And he warned that simply “reclaiming or reinventing” social care was not good enough because “the current crisis means we’ve gone beyond seeking urgent reform, and therefore a full transformation of the system is required”.

16 May 2019


Government finally acts on Changing Places call

New large public buildings such as shopping centres, sports stadiums and cinema complexes will soon have to include a Changing Places accessible toilet, according to government proposals.

The government has announced a consultation on the plans – which will also affect existing large public buildings that undergo significant alterations – more than two years after the idea was recommended by the Commons women and equalities committee.

That was followed last year by a petition calling for Changing Places to be provided in all large public buildings as they are built, redeveloped or refurbished, which secured more than 57,000 signatures.

Now the government has finally agreed to act by making changes to building regulations.

Its proposals would affect public buildings such as new theatres with at least 500 seats, museums and art galleries that expect to receive more than 300,000 visitors a year, cinema complexes with at least five screens, and hospitals and primary care centres.

It should mean more than 150 new Changing Places toilets – facilities with extra space and equipment such as hoists and changing benches for disabled people who cannot use standard accessible toilets – every year.

But it will not affect existing buildings unless they seek planning permission for significant alterations.

There are currently more than 1,300 Changing Place toilets across the UK.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had announced it was considering a change to building regulations on 24 December.

Now it has confirmed that it wants to go ahead with the plans and is seeking views on its proposals through a 10-week consultation, which closes on 21 July.

Last month, the Department for Transport, in partnership with the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK (MDUK), launched a £2 million fund for Changing Places toilets to be installed in existing motorway service stations.

The Department of Health and Social Care will also soon launch its own £2 million fund for NHS Trusts to install new Changing Places in more than 100 hospitals across England.

Fiona Anderson, from Bolton, a member of MDUK’s Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners, and herself a user of Changing Places toilets, said: “A lack of Changing Places toilets has led to me deciding to have surgery, which will give me more freedom to go to the toilet.

“If these facilities were in every large public building, I would no longer have to endure the pain of postponing going to the toilet all day and the ever-present dark cloud of sepsis occurring would be lifted.

“Ultimately, I also wouldn’t need to have a catheter fitted, which would mean the world to me. I’m not incontinent – I simply can’t transfer to a toilet without a hoist.

“Changing Places toilets are a much-needed lifeline. But with so few of them available, people like me are forced to sacrifice our dignity and independence.”

Rishi Sunak, the local government minister, said: “Everyone should have the freedom to enjoy days out in dignity and comfort.

“For severely disabled people, this is made very difficult because there are not enough Changing Places toilets.

“We’ve made some progress, but I’m determined to increase the number of these life-enhancing facilities, so people are given the dignity they deserve.

“I’m pleased so many people will be helped by this major change.”

16 May 2019


New access fund helps nearly 20 disabled politicians win council seats

A new fund to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office helped 19 disabled people win seats on local councils at this month’s elections.

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office only went live in January, handing out 42 grants to help disabled candidates in England with the disability-related expenses of standing for elected office.

The fund, administered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA), is only a temporary replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years.

The Government Equalities Office has provided funding of £250,000 for the temporary fund, covering expenses such as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares, but it is not clear what will happen after it closes in March 2020.

Disabled politicians have previously warned that the temporary fund was only a “first step” and was a “drop in the ocean” of what was required to provide a long-term solution to allow disabled politicians to compete on a level playing-field with non-disabled candidates.

The Scottish government has set up its own fund for disabled candidates for local and Scottish parliament elections, delivered by Inclusion Scotland.

Anna Denham, DR UK’s project manager for the EnAble fund, said: “Feedback from participants, including from several who were not elected, is that the fund enabled them to participate equally, which both they – and DR UK – view as a success.

“We would of course like to see funding continue beyond March 2020 and be available to candidates standing in any (local) government election in England.

“We therefore recognise the EnAble fund as a first stepping-stone towards that goal.

“Being a UK-based charity, we would also like to see similar programmes launched in Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Above all, we would like to see disabled candidates and councillors receive better reasonable adjustments at all stages, from pre-selection through to serving in elected office.

“However, we acknowledge that these goals are long-term and not within the remit of the current EnAble Fund.”

DR UK was unable to say whether there have been any applications for funding for this month’s European elections, which are only taking place because of parliament’s Brexit crisis, or how much funding has been allocated so far.

It has also been unable to say if parliamentary candidates will be able to apply for funding if a general election is called before March 2020.

But disabled candidates for next May’s police and crime commissioner elections can apply for support from the fund.

Cllr Peter Fleming, chair of LGA’s improvement and innovation board, said: “It is vital that the make-up of councils reflects their communities and their experience.

“The LGA has been constantly working with councils towards increasing diversity and inclusion, including running our Be a Councillor campaign.”

He added: “Councils want to see more disabled people, parents and carers stand for election and to step up to leadership roles in local government to create a working environment which is attractive and supportive for people from all groups and backgrounds.”

16 May 2019


News provided by John Pring at