‘My picture is proof that healthcare professionals lie in benefit assessments’

A furious disability benefit claimant has produced what she says is the clearest evidence yet that healthcare professionals working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are writing dishonest assessment reports.

CeaJay Clem, from Gloucestershire, has chronic discoid lupus, which has caused a significant facial disfigurement .

But despite the impact of the condition on her skin, the doctor who assessed her in January wrote in her report that her complexion was “normal” and that she “looked well”.

Clem contacted Disability News Service (DNS) after reading about more than 200 cases in which claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) have described how their assessors from Atos and Capita produced dishonest assessment reports, which have led to them losing their benefits or having them cut.

Clem’s reassessment was carried out by another contractor, Maximus, and was testing her eligibility for the out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).

Because of her condition, she is unable to wear make-up and is highly sensitive to all UV light – which is used in nearly all work places – but she also has complex post-traumatic stress disorder, asthma and other health conditions, and uses a mobility scooter because she cannot walk or stand for long.

She had previously been in the ESA support group, but as a result of what she says was a completely dishonest report, she lost all eligibility for ESA in February, even though the assessor admitted that she had “current firm detailed plans for self-harm”.

She is now awaiting a date for an appeal tribunal.

She said her photograph and report provided “proof positive” that assessors were lying in their reports.

Clem said her report was littered with other lies and inaccuracies.

The reports she has been sent refer to her “skin problem”, “skin condition” and “skin complaint”, and downplay the seriousness of the condition, even though she cannot leave the house for more than 15 minutes without her skin burning.

She said she was “absolutely mortified that a medical professional would lie and downplay my conditions.

“I was expecting to fail on the assessment, it happens, but fail due to deliberate lies? That shook me to my boots and was a total emotional crusher for me.

“It put me into a deep depression and such a state of high anxiety I didn’t know which way to turn. I just wanted to explode.

“I am a very strong-minded woman and it takes a huge amount to upset me and this has almost broken me.

“I dread to think how people are coping with their situation when they maybe don’t have the same strength as me, or have simply just run out of strength.”

Although the decision to find her fit for work was covered widely in the media earlier this year, those stories did not highlight the claims of dishonesty in the assessment report.

A DWP spokesman declined to comment on the honesty of the assessment – as the department has done repeatedly with similar stories – or to say whether DWP would look again at her case.

But he said in a statement: “We expect the highest standards from our assessment providers.

“As you know, all the health professionals are subject to on-going quality audits to ensure they continue to deliver high-quality assessments.

“Should they fall below our required standards, they are stopped from carrying out assessments.

“Decisions are backed by evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.

“Ms Clem has appealed her WCA assessment and this will now be reviewed by an independent tribunal.”

Maximus failed to respond to a request for a comment.

17 August 2017



DWP breaks promise to stop harassing child abuse victim in run-up to trial

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has broken its promises not to harass a traumatised benefit claimant while he waits to give vital evidence in a child abuse trial.

Last year, DWP publicly apologised – although not directly to David* – after repeatedly contacting him about his claim for personal independence payment (PIP), even though it had been told not to do so by the police.

Justin Tomlinson, the then minister for disabled people, even threatened last year to stop David’s benefits if he failed to co-operate with a PIP reassessment provided by the DWP contractor Atos.

He was also harassed last year over his claim for the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance by another government contractor, Maximus, which told him to attend a face-to-face work capability assessment, warning him that his claim could be affected if he failed to attend.

David* is a key witness in the trial, which is set to take place later this year, and has been told by police not to discuss his case, or allow DWP or Atos – or Maximus – access to his medical records, because the court proceedings are live and the case is sub judice.

He has severe post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by the horrific sexual abuse he suffered as a child, and which has led to several suicide attempts.

The toll of the criminal investigation on his mental health has also been harrowing, resulting in a series of self-harm episodes.

But even after Atos was told not to contact him about his PIP claim, the company continued to pester him.

Eventually, on 20 June last year, a DWP spokesman told Disability News Service (DNS): “We apologise to the individual for any distress caused, the letter referred to was sent in error.

“Both we and Atos fully appreciate the sensitivities of the individual’s case, and he will not be contacted again while his court case is in progress.”

But little more than a year later, with the trial yet to take place, David has been contacted yet again, with Atos demanding that he attends a face-to-face PIP assessment.

David told DNS that he viewed DWP with “the same contempt” that he viewed his abuser, because of the harm it has inflicted on him.

He said: “It is horrendous treatment by our government.

“It is humiliating and denigrating. It is hard enough to recover from sexual violence without DWP plaguing you.”

He lodged a complaint with the police last year about the harassment he had experienced at the hands of DWP and its contractors.

Now he is asking again for a ministerial meeting so he can raise this “horrendous treatment”.

An Atos spokesman has made it clear to DNS that DWP failed to include any note asking it not to contact David on the most recent file it received about his PIP claim.

Following repeated promises that it would comment, over nearly six days, DWP finally produced a statement shortly after 12.30pm today (Thursday).

A DWP spokesman said Atos had decided that a face-to-face assessment was “appropriate” because of “a lack of up-to-date medical evidence and also the fact that the claimant has not returned a health questionnaire since 2013”.

He said: “The claimant was sent a standard information pack on reassessment and was not contacted directly [DNS has seen an appointment letter, with directions to his assessment, that was sent to David by Atos on 13 August].

“DWP staff had previously been advised that the trial would likely have begun and ended by this point which was why the claimant was contacted in this indirect manner.

“Due to the on-going nature of a sensitive court case the claimant is involved in, DWP will continue to pay the remaining 10 months of the claimant’s PIP award without further assessment.

“Moving forward, DWP officials will need to make periodic inquiries about the status of the case, perhaps with the claimant’s GP, police or courts, to monitor the status of the trial.”

The user-led organisation Disabled Survivors Unite (DSU), which supports disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence, said the “continued harassment” of David was “completely unacceptable”.

He said that ministers “do not usually meet with an individual on a case-by-case basis regarding PIP claims except in their constituencies”.

Alice Kirby, a DSU co-founder, said: “At an extremely difficult time in his life, he is being failed by a broken social security system which is depersonalised to such a degree there is no room for people to be treated as humans.

“This system is incapable of being empathetic or understanding, and people like David are suffering as a result.

“In David’s case, the DWP have been clearly instructed by the police not to contact him until the trial is over, at times they have agreed to comply, but despite this, they have continued to request he attends assessments and threaten to stop his benefits.

“By doing so they are wilfully causing David’s health to deteriorate, and in turn, this could potentially compromise his ability to give evidence.

“Worryingly, should David be assessed without the medical evidence which legally cannot be accessed until the trial is over, it’s unlikely his claim would be successful.

“He could lose his income and the impact this would have on David’s health and well-being would be devastating.”

David’s treatment highlights once again the continuing concerns about DWP’s policies and procedures for dealing with “vulnerable” people, an issue highlighted by DNS last year when the department was finally forced to publish redacted versions of 49 secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of benefit claimants.

Those peer reviews showed that ministers were repeatedly warned by their own civil servants that their policies on assessing people for disability benefits were putting the lives of vulnerable claimants at risk.

*Not his real name

17 August 2017



Bus industry set to face fresh legal action over access to wheelchair space

The bus industry is facing fresh legal action over its failure to ensure disabled people have access to the designated wheelchair spaces on buses, six months after a Supreme Court judgment that campaigners hoped would finally settle the issue.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in January that wheelchair-users have a right to priority access over the wheelchair space on a bus, and that a driver must do more than just ask a non-disabled passenger to move if they are occupying the space and it is needed by someone using a wheelchair.

But accessible transport campaigners said this week that, although there had been an initial improvement following the judgment, standards “were starting to slip again”.

London’s user-led accessible transport charity, Transport for All (TfA), met last week to mark six months since the Supreme Court judgment.

The meeting heard from one wheelchair-user and activist who said she had decided to take action over the repeated failure of a bus company to enforce the wheelchair space.

She had earlier written in her blog that she had been refused access to a bus because of an occupied wheelchair space “numerous” times since the judgment, but that drivers frequently allow parents with buggies to board a bus when she is already occupying the space.

She said: “It seems like there is a massively uneven system at work, and, by forcing a bus company to address this in court, I hope to further the rights of wheelchair users on buses and public transport.”

She said she was “doing this for the wheelchair users I know who are too scared to take buses on their own because they don’t feel that the bus drivers, companies, nor the other passengers have their backs”.

She was not available this week to discuss her case, but Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said he was “not at all surprised” by her decision to take legal action, and he said that he suspected she would be “the first of a number” to do so.

He told Disability News Service: “I think there were certain individuals in the room who would and hopefully will in the future consider taking legal action.”

Many of those who attended the meeting had had recent problems securing access to the wheelchair space on a bus when it was being occupied by a pushchair, although some people said they had had positive experiences on buses since January.

Transport for London (TfL) sent out new instructions to drivers after the Supreme Court judgment, but Benson said that “the actions of the drivers have changed very little”.

He said: “What that means on the ground is we don’t get to go on buses sometimes, quite frequently.

“I was on a bus on Sunday and the driver flat refused to ask the buggy to move from the wheelchair space.

“I asked him to ask her and he just flat refused. That was a very common message on the day.”

TfA wants buses to have larger wheelchair spaces, and separate spaces for buggies, to ensure that disabled people can travel with confidence.

Although TfL has updated training and introduced new iBus voice announcements on buses since the court judgment, TfA wants it to go further and introduce a policy where bus drivers refuse to move the bus for a certain period of time unless the wheelchair priority space is cleared.

Benson said: “If the bus sits there and waits, then the pressure shifts from the disabled person who is holding the bus up to the buggy-owner who is holding the bus up, and that changes the dynamic.”

One of the disabled campaigners who attended the TfA meeting was Doug Paulley, who took the legal case that resulted in the Supreme Court judgment.

He said after the meeting that the spaces were still “routinely abused”, and not just in London, despite his successful court case.

He said: “It didn’t sort the problem. It raised the profile of the problem but it’s clear that bus companies and bus drivers and the public are still not necessarily doing what is needed.

“We have to keep banging the drum. I don’t think we are going to achieve mass change in attitudes by one big court case.

“It is a case of continuing to press for a change of culture both from the public and the public transport providers, which isn’t easy to do.”

He added: “Many bus companies are still treating disabled and older people with contempt and denying them their fundamental right to travel; 25 years after disabled people chained themselves to buses to fight for the wheelchair space, it is still frequently abused by others.

“It’s disgraceful, illegal and has got to stop.”

Paulley, who was presented with an award by TfA for his campaign success, said he was “not surprised” to hear that another activist was taking a legal case because “it happens all the time”.

He said: “I see videos of drivers refusing to ask people to move. I am glad she’s doing it and I support her 100 per cent.”

TfL said that all of its bus drivers had been “comprehensively briefed” following the Supreme Court ruling and had completed “bespoke accessibility training”.

Claire Mann, TfL’s director of bus service delivery and operations, said: “It is essential wheelchair-users are given priority over buggies and that the Supreme Court ruling is complied with.

“We continue to work closely with Transport for All and implement their suggestions where possible.”

Since the Supreme Court ruling, steps taken by TfL include: issuing drivers with a summary of the judgment and what it means for them; putting up posters in garages; issuing fresh guidance to bus operators and drivers; and producing new recorded iBus announcements about the wheelchair space that are played on buses.

It has also delivered an accessibility awareness training programme to all its 24,500 bus drivers, which was developed in partnership with disabled and older bus passengers, TfA and Age UK London.

TfL said that it receives “many commendations from wheelchair users who compliment bus staff for the help they have received” but in the “small number of instances when a wheelchair user hasn’t been properly supported, drivers are retrained or disciplinary action taken if appropriate”.

On the size of wheelchair spaces, TfL says its current standard space is larger than those provided by many other bus operators, and where older buses have the UK standard spaces, they are increased when the buses are refurbished.

But TfL added: “Where we can make spaces larger we do so. But significantly increasing the size of the wheelchair bay would result in rows of seats, often priority seats, being removed which would significantly disadvantage other customers with accessibility needs.”

After the Supreme Court hearing, the junior transport minister Andrew Jones set up a working group to listen to advice on how to enforce the Paulley ruling.

Responsibility for accessibility in public transport has now passed to the disabled Department for Transport (DfT) minister Paul Maynard.

A DfT spokesman: “We are determined to improve access to all forms of public transport for people with disabilities, and we will shortly be launching a new accessibility action plan.

“Our working group has now met several times to discuss how bus services can be improved and they will be making recommendations to us shortly.

“In England, 94 per cent of buses have a designated wheelchair space and other features enabling disabled passengers to board, alight and travel safely and in comfort.”

The action plan will include measures to ensure bus drivers know their obligations on access.

17 August 2017



Airports branded ‘poor’ on access over lack of consultation with disabled passengers

One of the largest airports in the country has been branded one of the worst for accessibility, after it failed to consult with disabled people about how it could improve its services.

Manchester Airport is one of just four in the UK that were said in the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) annual review to be providing “poor” services to disabled passengers.

Two of the others, Exeter and East Midlands, were also criticised for their failure to carry out any consultation at all with groups representing disabled people.

The fourth “poor” airport, Heathrow, was criticised over the quality of its assistance service, with three-fifths of passengers who took part in a survey rating it as “unsatisfactory”.

In its second annual review of accessibility at UK airports, CAA found six “very good” airports, 20 “good” and four that were categorised as “poor”*.

It also found the number of disabled passengers requesting extra help at airports rose from 2.7 million in 2015 to more than three million in 2016 – an increase of more than two-thirds since 2010 – with satisfaction levels with assistance services consistently showing well over 80 per cent.

Disabled passengers are entitled to free assistance when traveling by air under European Union regulations, and CAA is the regulatory body that monitors the quality of this assistance.

The government is due to consult on how to improve access to air travel this autumn, while there will also be a consultation on plans to improve access across the public transport network.

Those airports that rated well in the CAA report were those that “regularly consulted with people that use the assistance service”, whose staff were “regularly praised by passengers for their understanding and patience”, and where assistance was “efficient and well organised”, leading to minimal delays.

Among those categorised as “very good”, Norwich had “created excellent partnerships with local disability organisations”, Glasgow Prestwick “hosted successful familiarisation and feedback events with charities representing people with sensory impairments and with learning disabilities”, while staff at Inverness Airport attended “numerous” local access panels.

But CAA said it was “unacceptable” for an airport the size of Manchester to fail to carry out any consultation at all with disability organisations in 2016-17, although it said discussions about improving this situation had been “constructive”.

Members of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) this week delivered a “damning” description of travelling through Manchester Airport.

One member had to make their own way to the departure gate after arriving early in the morning for their flight and finding no assistance staff on duty.

Another said there were never enough staff on duty or wheelchairs available.

Some staff were said to be “kind, courteous and understanding” but many were said to treat disabled people as “little better than cattle”.

Brian Hilton, GMCDP’s digital campaigns officer, who spoke this week to several members about their experiences of the airport, told Disability News Service: “Disabled people are paying the same amount for flights as everyone else but are getting an inferior service at Manchester Airport.

“If Manchester Airport is serious about promoting itself as the gateway to the north it needs to up its game. It needs to talk to and listen to disabled people.

“It needs to implement practices and procedures that ensure disabled people travel safely and in comfort and are not made to feel like second-class citizens.”

GMCDP is the longest-established disabled people’s organisation (DPO) in the north-west of England, but Hilton said: “We have never had any contact from Manchester Airport saying ‘we would like to consult with you and your members.’

“There is a huge potential for joint working and making things better.

“It’s not that they are knocking on a closed door, they are knocking on an open door. We are willing to work with the airport.

“We want to see Manchester Airport as a beacon for accessibility.

“That can be achieved but there needs to be some will shown, some proactive action.”

In May, GMCDP published its manifesto for the Greater Manchester mayoral election, which called on the airport to introduce DPO-led customer service training, and to carry out regular access audits, which Hilton said should also be done in conjunction with DPOs.

A spokesman for Manchester Airport said the airport’s contractor OCS had recently recruited more than 100 new customer services staff to work with disabled passengers, and their initial training had included “hidden disability training”.

A new contract with OCS should cut response and waiting times, he said.

He said in a statement: “We acknowledge the CAA’s findings and comments relating to consultation with disability organisations.

“As referred to by the report, this is an area we have already taken steps to address.

“Starting this financial year, we have launched a disability engagement programme, with the first quarterly forum being held last month.”

Organisations who have joined the forum include the disability charities Stomawise, Support Dogs, Guide Dogs, Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People, Alzheimer’s Society, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Action on Hearing Loss and MS Society.

The airport also plans a “Disability Expo” in November, which will “showcase” how it supports disabled passengers.

He said: “We are confident that this work, coupled with the ongoing representation of a disability organisation [Disability Stockport] on our consultative committee, will lead to significant improvement in this area.

“Ensuring those who need assistance enjoy a positive experience at our airport is both a priority of ours and the organisations contracted to provide such services on our behalf.

“We regularly review customer satisfaction surveys relating to this area, with the majority of customers currently rating us very good.

“However, we constantly strive to deliver a better experience for all our passengers and will continue to do so in the months ahead.”

He added: “We have now started the journey of engagement to develop the service and improved accessibility. We’d welcome contact with GMCDP.”

Meanwhile, an investigation by the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners – part of Muscular Dystrophy UK – has exposed the “shocking” number of UK hotels that fail to provide hoists.

Hoists allow wheelchair-users to transfer into a bed or to use bathroom facilities when they cannot transfer independently, but almost 80 per cent of the 103 young disabled people who took part in the survey said they had been unable to go on holiday in the past five years because of the lack of hoist facilities in hotels.

A further mystery shopping exercise found only one in 20 hotels offered the use of a free hoist.

Lucy Watts, a Trailblazers member from Essex, said: “I haven’t stayed away from home since losing the ability to transfer and I’ve been unable to stay overnight purely because of the hoist issue.

“Hotels having hoists would mean I’d be able to take trips away.”

She added: “Disabled people face enough barriers in life. We shouldn’t be prevented from enjoying trips away because hotels won’t always make the effort to be fully accessible and inclusive.”

*CAA said the results could not be compared with its first annual review as the categories have changed

17 August 2017



Tackle education, career stereotypes and flexible working to close pay gap, says EHRC

The equality watchdog has called for action to improve the education of disabled pupils, tackle career stereotypes and improve the availability of flexible working, in order to close the gap in average hourly pay between disabled and non-disabled people.

The overall disability pay gap is 14 per cent, but for some impairment groups it is much larger, the research commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found.

The disability pay gap for disabled men is larger than it is for disabled women, because women are already likely to be paid less, and themselves face a gender pay gap of 18 per cent.

The research was published as EHRC released Fair Opportunities For All, its new strategy for tackling disability, gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

The commission said its research showed that the pay gaps experienced by disabled people, women and people from ethnic minorities “arise largely from the barriers they face getting into and progressing at work”.

The key characteristics that contribute to these pay gaps include the concentration of disabled people in part-time jobs, their frequent lack of high-level qualifications, and their concentration in low-paid occupations, according to the commission’s research.

But the commission said that discrimination and bias “may also play a significant role”, with employers “often influenced by the personal characteristics of individuals when deciding on recruitment, promotion and pay rewards, rather than basing their decisions on individuals’ experience and skills”.

Caroline Waters, EHRC’s deputy chair, said: “The pay gaps issue sits right at the heart of our society and is a symbol of the work we still need to do to achieve equality for all.

“Subject choices and stereotypes in education send children of all genders, abilities, and racial backgrounds on set paths.

“These stereotypes are then reinforced throughout the workplace in recruitment, pay and progression.”

One previous piece of research found that applicants for accountancy jobs who said they were disabled received 26 per cent fewer expressions of employer interest than those who did not state they had an impairment.

The failure of employers to provide reasonable adjustments is also a barrier to the success of disabled people at work, the commission said.

EHRC said that part-time hours, job-shares and other types of flexible working should be available for all jobs, at all levels of organisations, even for the highest paid roles.

It added: “Flexible and part-time working should not be an obstacle to career development and promotion.

“Employers should also recognise that flexible working can be a reasonable adjustment that supports disabled people to stay in work and access development opportunities.”

The commission called on the government to extend the right to request flexible working so it applies from day one in all jobs “unless there is a genuine business reason that means this isn’t possible”, and to expand gender pay gap reporting to cover disability and ethnicity pay gaps.

Rules on gender pay gap reporting, which affect employers with more than 250 employees, were introduced by the government earlier this year.

EHRC also pointed out that although the Office for National Statistics publishes an annual report on the gender pay gap, which had “helped to highlight the slow pace of change”, there were no such reports on disability or ethnicity.

Among its other recommendations, EHRC called for efforts to improve the education of disabled pupils; ensure that careers guidance and work experience opportunities tackle stereotypes; and encourage wider subject and career choices for disabled students from primary school onwards.

It also called on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to publish national action plans on closing disability, gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

The EHRC research showed there was a significant difference in the pay gaps experienced by disabled people with different impairments.

Men with epilepsy experience a pay gap of about 40 per cent, as do men with mental health conditions, while the pay gap for men with learning difficulties is about 60 per cent, according to research for EHRC by Dr Simonetta Longhi, of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, at the University of Essex.

Minority ethnic disabled people tend to face a combined disadvantage, with disabled Bangladeshi and Pakistani men experiencing particularly large pay gaps.

In another report for the commission, researchers at The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) concluded that closing the disability pay gap was “a distant prospect”, with “slow progress” and “almost nothing” known about how to address the problem.

They add: “Little research has directly considered the disability pay gap, especially in relation to specific interventions to reduce it.”

Employers’ efforts to address both the ethnicity and disability pay gaps “tend to lag behind those on gender”, while “poor quality data” means many employers are unable to diagnose the problem, according to IES.

Previous research by the Business Disability Forum in 2015 found just eight per cent of employers set targets for promoting disabled employees, while only 42 per cent collect data on how many of their disabled employees receive training.

But participants in a workshop for the IES research said the failure of employees and new recruits to disclose their status as disabled people was a “significant challenge for employers aiming to monitor and improve their performance in respect of disabled employees”.

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We welcome this survey from EHRC.

“It demonstrates that for disabled people employment is not just about ‘getting in’ but also staying in and getting on.

“We need to think differently about what it means to work. We don’t all have to aspire to work nine to five and Monday to Friday.

“As disabled people, we have a long way to go to achieve pay parity. Shining a light on this issue is a welcome start.”

17 August 2017



Minister told ‘alarm bells are ringing’ over disability hate crime

Disabled campaigners have written to a government minister to warn him that “alarm bells are ringing” over the “massive discrepancies and inconsistencies” in the way the criminal justice system deals with disability hate crime prosecutions.

The Disability Hate Crime Network says there is “increasing concern” over these failings.

And it has asked solicitor general Robert Buckland to create “tighter and understandably clear guidance”, and to pressure the system to comply with the rules on disability hate crime.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the network, says in the letter that he and his colleagues felt “deep dismay” that six recent court cases involving violent attacks on disabled people – reported last month by Disability News Service (DNS) – had not been treated as disability hate crimes.

Three of the six cases, spread across England and Wales, were murders, another saw the offender jailed for manslaughter, while two victims survived the violent assaults.

One case saw a man with learning difficulties tortured for a month in a “prolonged period of sadistic torture and humiliation”, including having his teeth knocked out with a hammer and chisel, and being forced to eat one of his own testicles, before his body was dumped on wasteland.

Another saw a man, again with learning difficulties, stripped and tortured over 24 hours, in a prolonged, sadistic assault described by a judge as “gratuitous degradation”.

In each of the six cases, which all led to convictions, the offences involved violent, repeated assaults on the disabled person, but none of them saw an increase in the sentences handed to the offenders under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003*.

The six cases suggested yet again – following many other horrific offences reported by DNS over the last eight years – that there were enduring and troubling flaws in the way the criminal justice system, particularly within the police and judiciary, deals with disability hate crime.

Brookes says in the letter: “Once again we see that it seems to be difficult to prove an offence is a disability hate crime under current legislation especially if the case is not supported by absolute DHC based evidence.”

The letter also points to another case reported by DNS last month, which again saw a police force criticised for its alleged failings, this time involving a young autistic man, Daniel Smith.

Smith had been held in a police cell for eight hours, after he had defended himself from a vicious disability hate crime (DHC) in a local park in Rushden, in October 2015.

He was only finally able to clear his name after a six-month ordeal which saw him dragged through the criminal justice system by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), before he was eventually cleared of assault charges by magistrates.

Brookes says in the letter to the minister that the way the courts deal with disability hate crime is “still a mockery” and that – even if section 146 is mentioned by prosecutors – “too many of the judiciary just don’t get it, or don’t want the complication”.

He says that “where communities, disabled people, CPS and police work together on training and implementation and have effective and closely monitored reporting processes, then results are good”.

But he says that the seven cases reported by DNS “are enough to set alarm bells ringing, and that we do need to work together on a better and more cohesive approach by all parties to the reality of failing faith by disabled people that they will get anything near justice when victims of disability hate crime”.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “We have received the letter from Mr Brookes and will be responding fully in due course.”

Meanwhile, the Home Office is seeking applications for new funding from anti-hate crime groups in England and Wales.

The Community Demonstration Project fund supports schemes working to prevent hate crime, improve support for victims, and increase the reporting of hate crime.

Projects can cover all forms of hate crime, including on the basis of race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

About eight projects are expected to be funded through the second round of the £900,000 three-year scheme.

*Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 imposes a duty on a court to increase sentences for offences motivated by disability-related hostility, while the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 doubles to 30 years the starting point for sentences for disability hate crime murders

17 August 2017



PR industry ‘needs to confront failure to employ disabled people’

The public relations (PR) sector needs to confront its failings over the employment of disabled people, according to new research by an industry insider.

One UK PR company with more than 300 employees has admitted that it does not have a single disabled member of staff, while the latest industry survey found just two per cent of people who work in PR said they were disabled.

The research has been carried out by Ashley Phillips, who herself has an invisible impairment and worked in PR in the USA and the UK for nearly five years before beginning a masters degree in public relations and advertising at Richmond University.

She decided to write about disability in PR for her dissertation, after becoming increasingly concerned about how few disabled people were employed by the industry.

She told Disability News Service that she had never seen a single person with a visible impairment among the hundreds of professionals she had come across in her five years working in PR.

Phillips, who has type one diabetes, said the only person she met in those five years who said they had an impairment was another woman with diabetes who she had seen using an insulin pump.

Of about 83,000 people employed in the industry in 2016, just two per cent – less than 1,700 people – said they were disabled, according to the PR Census 2016 carried out by the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA).

As recently as 2013, PRCA’s census did not even mention disability or disabled people.

And when Phillips approached some of the best-known PR companies in the UK about her research, only one was willing to tell her how many disabled people it employed.

She was told by this company that, of more than 300 employees, not one of them was a disabled person.

She was told: “This is something we are looking into. It is a problem.”

Phillips said she realised there probably were some disabled people who worked at this company but that they were just not willing to disclose their status to their employer.

She said she hoped her research would “open the conversation” on disability within the industry.

She said she did not believe she had faced discrimination in the industry but believed there was “a lot of misunderstanding”.

She said: “I think disability is considered a large taboo and people don’t know how to handle it, so they don’t.

“I haven’t looked into other industries but I do feel [members of the PR industry] are behind in regards to how the world is moving.”

When she first met her soon-to-be husband (she is getting married next month), when she told him she worked in PR, he replied, “Oh, you’re one of those.”

She said: “This was the first encounter I had of specific stigmas associated with PR – that often everyone in the industry was a considered to be a typical Sex And The City Samantha Jones.

“However, that conversation opened my eyes to noticing who my colleges were on a day-to-day basis – mostly young, white, middle-to-upper class and predominantly female.”

She added: “This is not 100 per cent of the industry, they are opening diversity efforts, but everybody strives to be that perfect person and that ideal industry figure.”

She said she believed that those at chief executive level were showing a “blatant disregard” for the issue, while executives at lower levels were guilty of “a lack of understanding”.

She added: “From access to awareness, the industry can make many changes to recruit the nearly untouched pool of potential talent.

“By spreading awareness of the lack of disability inclusivity in PR I hope to open the conversation and help make people with disabilities an inclusive part of the industry.”

When contacted about Phillips’ research, PRCA accepted that there was “a general lack of understanding of disability in the industry”, but pointed out that the 2016 census also revealed that 78 per cent of all respondents suggested there were no significant obstacles to their organisation employing disabled people.

Matt Cartmell, PRCA’s communications, marketing and events director, said: “The small numbers of disabled people in the PR and communications industry is certainly a concern but it may have to do more with a lack of understanding of what disability is and the stigma surrounding disability than employers not accommodating employees with disability.”

He said a PRCA survey had revealed in May that nearly three-fifths of PR and communications professionals had experienced mental ill-health, while a slightly higher proportion had never spoken to their manager about their mental health.

He said there was often a limited understanding of mental ill-health, which was “concerning because the industry itself is fast-paced and the ‘always on’ mentality means that employees can suffer from anxiety disorders, stress, or the workplace can exacerbate existing mental health conditions such as depression”.

Cartmell said: “The industry isn’t necessarily behind society on the issue of disability.

“While the stigma surrounding disability certainly exists and the industry has struggled with hiring more diverse candidates, there are several examples of organisations that are making employee wellbeing and diversity the key focus of their business.

“The industry is increasingly aware that there is a strong moral and business case for increasing diversity in the workplace and accommodating employees with disabilities.

“PRCA is committed to raising awareness about disability, diversity, and mental ill health and we have found that a lot of PR and communications practitioners are engaged in this debate.”

He added: “We have seen that a lot of members and organisations in the wider industry are introducing unconscious bias training in their recruitment practices.

“More importantly, we have seen that organisations are talking about disability and implementing policies to accommodate disabled employees.”

17 August 2017



Blind voters unable to vote secretly and independently at election, says survey

Only one in four blind and partially-sighted people who voted in June’s general election was able to do so independently and in secret, according to a new report.

The disability charity RNIB said its Turned Out 2017 report showed that blind and partially-sighted voters “continue to face the same barriers to exercising their democratic right to vote as with previous elections”.

It called for the tactile voting device that is currently used in polling stations to be replaced with a new, more accessible system.

Eight in 10 of those who used the tactile template to vote at a polling station said they had done so with a companion or member of staff present.

RNIB also wants the government to introduce online and telephone options in time for the 2022 general election.

And it wants a guarantee that all blind and partially-sighted voters can secure their legal right to vote without any assistance and in secret, so empowering them “to vote on the same terms as everyone else”.

One voter, Mohammed, told RNIB: “I was given the tactile overlay and taken by the presiding officer to the booth.

“She then went through the numbers associated with the candidates and read them out to me.

“When I chose who I wanted to vote for, I could clearly tell that she was looking at where I was putting my mark because as I lifted the flap she said, ‘okay put an X there,’ and I could also gauge by her direction of breathing that she was looking over my shoulder.”

Another voter, Adrian, said: “Although the tactile guide was available the staff did not know how to use it and attached it wrongly to my ballot paper. I had to inform them how it should be attached and used.

“They were friendly and keen to help but their positive attitude did not assist me to vote.

“The tactile guide itself is not ideal in many ways. It doesn’t tell you where the boundaries of the box are, [and there is] no way to know if your pen worked or your mark is within the box etc.”

A third voter, Dave, told RNIB: “The current voting arrangements for blind people are unacceptable. My vote is not verifiable.

“As a blind voter, I cannot be entirely confident that my cross is inside the preferred box.

“I have to ask for help reading the list of candidates and positioning the template correctly; this is extremely disempowering.”

Claire, another voter who took part in the survey, said: “I love the experience of voting.

“However, I was so disappointed that in 2017 I cannot cast my vote secretly and independently.

“I don’t know if the member of staff placed the cross in the correct box or even if she placed my vote in the ballot box.

“I didn’t like having to tell a stranger who I was voting for. It was one of those times when my blindness overwhelmed me and left me feeling sad and frustrated.”

Fazilet Hadi, deputy chief executive of RNIB, said: “RNIB called on the government to ensure general election 2017 was the most accessible ever for blind and partially-sighted people. Turned Out 2017 shows it wasn’t.

“Blind and partially-sighted voters continue to face the same barriers to exercising their democratic right to vote as with previous elections.

“We urge the government to make changes to enable blind and partially-sighted people to vote in the way other people take for granted, independently and in secret.”

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “We welcome this report from the RNIB.

“The government is working with the RNIB and other organisations to ensure that there are no barriers to people registering to vote and being able to cast their vote.”

17 August 2017


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com