Yvette Cooper slams ‘appalling’ failure of ministers to act over coroner’s letter
Labour’s former work and pensions secretary has attacked Tory ministers for failing to order an urgent review of the “fitness for work” test after a coroner warned that it had triggered a disabled man’s suicide.
Yvette Cooper has told Disability News Service that the failure of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and former employment minister Chris Grayling to act on the coroner’s warning six years ago was “appalling”.
The coroner asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – in what is known as a “prevention of future deaths” letter – to review its policy not to seek medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if a claimant for employment and support allowance (ESA) has a mental health condition, following his inquest into the death of 41-year-old Stephen Carré*.
Cooper was work and pensions secretary when the letter arrived from coroner Tom Osborne, but the 2010 election was called just days later, and she says she never saw it.
Within weeks, the coalition took power and Duncan Smith and Grayling took over responsibility for the work capability assessment (WCA) – which had been introduced by the Labour government just 18 months earlier – and for dealing with Osborne’s letter.
But instead of acting on the safety issues raised in the letter – written under a legal procedure known at the time as Rule 43 – they decided to roll out the WCA to reassess hundreds of thousands of long-term incapacity benefit (IB) claimants, many of whom had mental health conditions.
Duncan Smith and Grayling also failed to show the letter to Professor Malcolm Harrington, who they appointed that summer to carry out an independent review of the WCA.
DWP has all but admitted that it never responded to Osborne’s letter, even though it had a legal duty to do so, and last month sent what it said was a draft response to the coroner, nearly six years late.
Asked this week what action she would have taken if she had remained as work and pensions secretary in 2010, Cooper said: “I would have called for an immediate review of what happened in Stephen Carré’s case and of the process for dealing with mental health conditions.
“When a coroner makes a serious assessment like this, it needs to be acted upon as swiftly as possible.
“It is appalling that no action was taken by ministers or the department following the election – and even more appalling that they still haven’t responded properly given that the same procedural inadequacies were cited subsequently by the coroner in the death of [a north London man who died in 2013].”
Cooper added: “Ministers should have done a proper review of this and responded to the coroner’s report before any decision on the roll out.
“We established before the 2010 election that there would need to be an independent review of the WCA and Malcolm Harrington should have been shown the coroner’s report so he could consider it properly as part of the review.”
In the six years since Osborne sent the letter to DWP, many other claimants of the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA) are believed to have taken their own lives as a result of similar flaws in the WCA process to those that led to Stephen Carré’s death.
In December 2011, a long-term IB claimant – Ms D E – killed herself after being told she was not eligible for ESA; her case was linked by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland to the failure to obtain further medical evidence.
In 2014, another coroner wrote an almost identical letter to Osborne’s, again warning of concerns about the safety of the WCA, after the death of a north London man, who also took his own life after being found fit for work.
And last November, government-funded research concluded that the programme to reassess people claiming IB using the WCA could have caused 590 suicides in just three years.
Cooper said: “The government is badly failing disabled people and ignoring the evidence.
“Iain Duncan Smith needs to explain what he is doing in response to these coroners’ reports and institute the full-scale independent review and reform that Labour has been calling for.”
*Osborne ruled that the trigger for Stephen Carré’s suicide had been DWP’s rejection of his appeal against being found “fit for work”, and he called in his Rule 43 letter for a review of the policy not to seek medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if the claimant has a mental health condition.
Neither the Atos assessor who assessed Stephen Carré, nor the DWP decision-maker who subsequently decided that he was fit for work and therefore ineligible for the new ESA, had sought information from his GP, his community psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist.
A tribunal subsequently found that Stephen Carré should have been placed in the ESA support group, for those disabled people with the highest barriers to work.
17 March 2016

 

Osborne’s budget sparks anger, fear… and a resignation
This week’s budget – which confirmed cuts of more than £1 billion a year to disabled people’s support, while awarding huge giveaways to high earners – has sparked almost universal anger among disabled people.
The chancellor, George Osborne, said in his budget speech that the changes to the eligibility criteria of personal independence payment (PIP) – announced days earlier by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – would ensure support was “better targeted at those who need it most”.
But at the same time that Osborne was laying out plans to cut projected spending on PIP by £1.2 billion in 2018-19 and £1.3 billion the following year, he also announced an increase in the higher rate threshold of income tax, a cut in capital gains tax, and a sizeable reduction in corporation tax.
The cuts to PIP come on top of the £30-a-week reduction that will be faced from April 2017 by new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) placed in the work-related activity group, a measure passed by parliament earlier this month.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s former work and pensions secretary, pointed to budget documents that showed the PIP cut was the single biggest revenue-raiser in Osborne’s budget, raising £4.375 billion over the next five years.
Jon Moore, chair of the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives, said the latest cuts meant that disabled and older people would be “forced to live as second-class citizens”.
Professor Peter Beresford, chair of the service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said in a Facebook post that every one of Osborne’s budgets had told the same story, with more wealth handed “to those with the most” and disabled people the “key target to lose vast amounts of money”, while the national debt continued to grow and the “government’s pretence to be securing a stronger economy is shown up as untrue”.
He said: “What is really worrying is not that this charade goes on, but it seems that there is nothing to stop it.
“Meanwhile disabled people and their friends and families are being pushed out of the mainstream, impoverished, excluded, marginalised, stigmatised and their lives put at risk.
“This is a bench mark for social disaster. At some point even our right-wing media will have to admit the truth as the body count grows bigger.”
Labour’s Emily Brothers, a disabled candidate for May’s London Assembly elections, said Osborne’s “disabling” budget “prioritises giveaways to the affluent and erodes the dignity of disabled people”.
She said: “Coupled with closure of the Independent Living Fund, changes to ESA, the impact of the bedroom tax and systemic problems with social care, disabled people are being neglected.”
On Twitter, there was widespread anger from disabled campaigners.
Catherine Scarlett, tweeting at ‏@cathscarlett, said: “#Budget2016 How many tax breaks are disabled people paying for?”
Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, and tweets at @jennymor, said: “Osborne’s #Budget2016 does nothing to change my conclusion that this government is harming #disabledpeople.”
And Dr Sarah Campbell, who tweets at @spoonydoc, said: “On the plus side this time #Osborne hasn’t cut disability benefits and lied about it. Now he does it openly and gets away with it. #Budget2016.”
But probably the most embarrassing criticism for Osborne came from disabled campaigner Graeme Ellis, who has voted Tory for nearly 50 years and until this week ran the Conservative Disability Group’s (CDG) website.
Ellis quit the party in disgust at Osborne’s budget, leaving a message on the CDG home page saying: “This website is temporarily closed owing to Disability Cuts.”
Ellis, who runs a benefits advice service, told the Daily Mirror: “How can I morally represent clients when I remain in an organisation that’s doing these cuts?
“I’m a disabled person and I’m involved in politics. I decided being a disabled person comes first.”
He called for the disabled Tory MP Paul Maynard to quit his membership of the group because of his vote in favour of the ESA cuts.
Maynard had not responded to a request for a comment from Disability News Service (DNS) by noon today (Thursday).
But Karim Sacoor, CDG’s chair, told DNS that he would discuss the issue with Maynard.
Sacoor said that Ellis was “entitled to his views” but that he was “a bit disappointed that he decided to do what he did” and that it was “the view of one person who is disgruntled”, while he insisted that he and his colleagues “work very hard fighting the corner for disabled people” as volunteers.
He added: “I haven’t had the chance to talk to Graeme. I understand where he’s coming from. I have the greatest respect for Graeme.”
In his response to the budget, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the budget had “unfairness at its very core, paid for by those who can least afford it”.
He said: “While half a million people with disabilities are losing over £1 billion in personal independence payments, corporation tax is being cut and billions handed out in tax cuts to the very wealthy.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said Osborne had announced that his government would “steal yet more from some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Britain – in order to fund tax breaks for those who are already very comfortably off.
“The true nature of today’s Conservative party has been laid bare for the whole nation to see.
“Look upon this naked greed and cruelty and ask yourselves, ‘Is this is the kind of country I want to live in?’”
Meanwhile, a petition launched earlier this month on the UK parliament website, calling on the government to reverse the £30-a-week ESA cut, has already secured more than 100,000 signatures.
This means that it will be considered by a committee of MPs for a debate in the House of Commons.
DJ and producer Sanial McCormick, who launched the petition, told DNS: “I’m not in receipt of benefits, but I have been before, and I know many that still are.
“I started the petition because there wasn’t one there to sign when I read about it.
“If they go ahead with the cuts, there are thousands of lives at risk.
“At a time when the need for food banks is at an all-time high, the last thing we need to do is take from those who need it the most.”
17 March 2016

 

Lib Dems set to choose Westminster candidate from an all-disabled shortlist
The Liberal Democrats are set to become the first political party to choose a candidate to fight a parliamentary seat from a shortlist containing only disabled people.
The party voted overwhelmingly at its spring conference in favour of measures to improve the diversity of candidates fighting Westminster seats at the next general election in 2020.
The Liberal Democrats were nearly wiped out at last year’s general election, and were left with just eight MPs, all of whom are white, non-disabled men, and much of the attention focused on a measure that will mean candidates for some winnable seats will be selected from all-women shortlists.
But the party also agreed that any local party should be able to select a candidate from an all-disabled shortlist.
And in seats where Liberal Democrats won more than 15 per cent of the vote last year, the local party will have to provide evidence that it carried out “a thorough search for potential candidates from under-represented groups” – including disabled people – before starting its Westminster selection process.
In the party’s best-performing 10 per cent of seats at the 2015 election – excluding the eight constituencies with a sitting Liberal Democrat MP – shortlists for 2020 will have to include at least two candidates from under-represented groups, which could include disabled candidates.
But Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the disabled president of the Liberal Democrats, has told Disability News Service (DNS) that she would like to ensure that one seat selects its candidate from an all-disabled shortlist, and is discussing with local parties whether one of them will agree to do so.
She believes the new rules on under-represented groups will lead to more disabled people on the party’s shortlists – which usually contain four, five or six names – for the 2020 general election.
She said: “We are trying to change the entire culture so that every local party [where the party won more than 15 per cent of the vote in 2015] has to have talked to and got interest from people from under-represented groups before they can proceed.
“They will have to have demonstrated that they have gone out to try and get people, they will have to name them and they will have to say which [under-represented] strand they are from.”
She added: “The party has recognised for the last two to three years that its practical application of diversity does not match its rhetoric.
“Yesterday, the entire atmosphere at conference was different and people started to think and behave differently.
“It was very noticeable in some of the other sessions that people were saying, ‘We haven’t heard from a particular under-represented strand on this.’
“People are now speaking in a different way and I think it will really start to change things.”
But she warned: “It will only work if it comes from the members and the local parties up.”
Baroness Brinton said likely candidates who will benefit from the new rules include David Buxton, a Deaf BSL-user, who she said was “brilliant” and would now “almost certainly” be on a shortlist in 2020.
Buxton, founder of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, spoke in favour of the proposals at the conference.
He told DNS afterwards: “I had never believed in ‘tokenism’ and voted against all-women shortlists many years ago.
“But, after a frustrating thirty years of facing endless barriers as I tried to get into parliament, I realised it was time to speak up.
“After the wipeout of the party at the 2015 election, I knew that my chances of selection in any of the held or top 20 target seats were even more remote.
“I realised that for me and my equally ambitious Deaf and disabled friends to break through, changes in the party were needed.
“The Liberal Democrats do not have any women, black and minority ethnic (BAME), disabled or LGBT in the parliamentary team.
“Mindsets and attitudes must change and the party must become more welcoming, inclusive, relevant and diverse to reflect 21st century Britain.”
He said the Conservative victory at last year’s general election had delivered “a very heavy blow to diversity at Westminster”, as there were now just two disabled MPs, both Conservatives.
And he said the government had still made no decision on the future of the Access to Elected Office fund, which he said was introduced by the coalition because of Liberal Democrat pressure, and as a result of his years of campaigning, but has been lying dormant since the election.
He added: “Clearly, political parties have not done enough to identify and encourage potential Deaf and disabled candidates.
“Not only disabled but women and BAME too, to reflect national averages. Parliament needs a major shake-up to ensure fair and true representation and a voice from all diverse communities.”
The measures taken by the party were also welcomed by groups campaigning for better disabled representation in politics.
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “The Liberal Democrats are to be congratulated on making such a progressive move to help get more disabled candidates.
“Disabled people are desperately under-represented in the Commons. It should be as big a landmark as all-women shortlists were in the Labour party.
“All other parties should follow this lead and consider all-disabled shortlists.”
She added: “The Liberal Democrats also need to link up with other parties and propose legislation to enact job-sharing for MPs as a way of encouraging more disabled and women candidates.”
Ryan McMullan, Labour party ambassador for the Scottish-based One in Five campaign, also welcomed the Liberal Democrat move.
He said: “It’s a great initiative and the Lib Dems should be commended.
“For too long, disabled people have been on the sidelines of politics. Positive action like this is exactly the sort of thing that will change that. We look forward to seeing how the party implements it.”
17 March 2016

 

DWP dismissed coroner’s concerns over WCA suicide link, document reveals
Civil servants and ministers dismissed a coroner’s concerns about the safety of the government’s “fitness for work” test, according to a draft response that apparently lay in Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) files for six years.
Coroner Tom Osborne wrote a letter – under the “prevention of future deaths” process – to DWP shortly before the 2010 general election, asking it to review its policy not to seek out medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if someone applying for out-of-work disability benefits had a mental health condition.
He had ruled that the decision of 41-year-old Stephen Carré, from Bedfordshire, to take his own life in January 2010* had been triggered by the rejection of his appeal against being found fit for work through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
Osborne concluded that the policy not to seek further medical evidence in such cases should be reviewed.
But DWP has all but admitted that it never responded to Osborne – until it was forced to do so last month – even though it had a legal duty to do so.
Disability News Service has now seen a response to Osborne’s Rule 43 letter that DWP claims to have drafted in the autumn of 2010, and it shows that the department dismissed the coroner’s concerns about the WCA.
In the draft response, which is neither signed nor dated, DWP explained why it did not plan to take any action over Osborne’s concerns.
Even though the coroner had made it clear that he did not want DWP to re-investigate the Stephen Carré case, but to look at the wider issue of the use of medical evidence for ESA claimants with mental health conditions, DWP’s draft response focuses on his case.
The draft response outlines DWP’s WCA policy and suggests that GPs and mental health specialists are “unlikely to have the required knowledge of the benefit system or disability analysis” to provide “comprehensive information” for the DWP civil servants deciding on ESA claims.
The DWP draft response also appears to insist that it made the correct decision in finding Stephen Carré fit for work, even though a tribunal subsequently decided – in August 2011 – that he had been eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) and should have been placed in the ESA support group.
Six years on, DWP has been forced – following a long-running judicial review case brought by two disabled campaigners – to carry out a pilot project to examine how it might seek further medical evidence for claimants with mental health conditions, although 12 months after it agreed to do so this project has still not been launched.
During those six years, disabled activists believe that – as a result of the failure to act on the further medical evidence issue – many other ESA claimants have taken their own lives.
In December 2011, a long-term incapacity benefit (IB) claimant – Ms D E – killed herself after being told she was not eligible for ESA; her case was linked by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland to the failure to obtain further medical evidence.
In 2014, another coroner wrote an almost identical letter to Osborne’s, again warning of concerns about the safety of the WCA, after the death of a north London man, who also took his own life after being found fit for work.
And last November, government-funded research concluded that the programme to reassess people claiming IB using the WCA could have caused 590 suicides in just three years.
DNS has already revealed that, just weeks after the Osborne letter was sent to DWP, ministers decided to roll out the WCA to hundreds of thousands of existing IB claimants, many of them with long-term mental health conditions.
They also appointed Professor Malcolm Harrington to carry out an independent review of the “fairness and effectiveness” of the WCA, but failed to show him Osborne’s letter.
*Osborne ruled that the trigger for Stephen Carré’s suicide had been DWP’s rejection of his appeal against being found “fit for work”, and he called in his Rule 43 letter for a review of the policy not to seek medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if the claimant has a mental health condition.
Neither the Atos assessor who assessed Stephen Carré, nor the DWP decision-maker who subsequently decided that he was fit for work and therefore ineligible for the new ESA, had sought information from his GP, his community psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist.
17 March 2016

 

Anger as ministers push ahead with billion-pound-a-year PIP cut
Ministers are to push ahead with plans to tighten eligibility for their new disability benefit, ignoring the views of the overwhelming majority of disabled people and organisations who took part in a consultation on the changes.
The changes, which will apply from next January, will see £1.2 billion a year less spent on personal independence payment (PIP) by 2020-21 than if they had not been introduced.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that the number of people claiming the daily living element of PIP will be 290,000 lower in 2020-21 than without the new PIP measures, while another 80,000 will receive the standard rather than the advanced rate.
The OBR figures differ from those published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which says the changes will affect 640,000 people.
DWP says this difference is due to OBR taking into account “behavioural factors”, for example claimants now being likely to provide more information about the impact of their impairment when they are assessed than they would have done without the PIP change.
Documents published by OBR this week suggest that the government probably decided to tighten PIP eligibility because the move from disability living allowance to the new PIP for working-age claimants was not producing the savings of 20 per cent it hoped for in 2010.
The OBR estimates that the probability of someone receiving DLA being successful when they had to apply for PIP as part of the reassessment programme has risen from 74 to 83 per cent, with a “significantly higher proportion of claims being awarded the enhanced daily living and mobility payments”.
The OBR document says this meant that – without the new PIP cuts – Osborne would have saved about five per cent in the move from DLA to PIP, rather than 20 per cent.
But it predicts that the PIP cuts will now increase those savings “back towards the original target” of 20 per cent.
DWP has insisted, though, that the change was solely to ensure PIP was “meeting the initial policy intent to support people with extra costs associated with their disability”.
The announcement of the tightened criteria came in the DWP response to a public consultation, which laid out five possible changes to how PIP assessments take account of the way a disabled person uses independent living aids and appliances.
All of the five options laid out in that consultation document would have either reduced payments for many claimants, or made it harder to claim PIP.
The PIP change will only affect those claiming the daily living component of the benefit, and will mean that claimants will receive half the previous number of points (two points instead of one) for using aids and appliances for washing and dressing, and for managing toilet needs.
But this will mean hundreds of thousands of disabled people will either receive a lower rate of PIP than they would otherwise have received, or will receive no daily living component at all, when previously they would have received the standard rate.
Of 281 written responses to the consultation, just 11 – less than four per cent – agreed with the government that any changes at all were needed to how the use of aids and appliances are considered.
Those who took part in the consultation, which also included consultation events, were hugely critical of the government’s plans, according to the DWP document.
Among their comments, they said the use of aids and appliances was a good indicator of extra disability-related costs; they questioned the “effectiveness and accuracy” of the PIP assessment; they said that all of the five options would have a negative impact on PIP claimants; and they said they believed that any changes would increase people’s need for support from other public services and could eventually lead back to increased spending on PIP.
The change will apply from 1 January 2017 to new PIP claims, PIP claimants who report a change of circumstances, and disability living allowance claimants who are reassessed for PIP.
Existing PIP claimants who do not report a change of circumstances will be affected when DWP reviews their current award, as long as that is after 1 January.
The announcement caused anger among many campaigners at yet another cut to support for disabled people, although some relief that the changes were not as bad as they might have been if one of the other four options had been chosen.
Ella Sumpter, who tweets at @latentexistence, said: “Not as bad as it could have been, but they’ve still just made disability benefits much harder to get. Again.”
Disability Rights UK criticised the announcement, but said the other four options the government had been considering “would have had a devastating effect on those claiming PIP”.
Emma Nock, co-author of the Crippling Choices report for the Spartacus Network – which concluded last month that the government had failed to provide “adequate” evidence to justify any of the PIP changes suggested in the consultation – said mainstream coverage of the changes had missed a “crucial point”.
In a Spartacus blog, Nock pointed out that the small number of daily living activities covered by the PIP assessment act as a proxy for all the problems a disabled person could be facing, which was why it was important to keep the points for the use of aids and appliances as they were.
She said: “A person who needs to sit down while dressing likely has balance, mobility or strength issues that limit their capacity to engage in other household activities.
“They may struggle to lift a load of wet laundry out of the washing machine or to move around the kitchen while cooking and cleaning up afterwards. Neither of these activities are considered in the PIP assessment.”
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said the change was justified because many people were being found eligible for PIP “despite having minimal to no extra costs”, while the courts had “expanded the criteria for aids and appliances to include items we would expect people to have in their homes already”.
He said: “We consulted widely to find the best approach. And this new change will ensure that PIP is fairer and targets support at those who need it most.”
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith even claimed in parliament this week that the changes would “improve the lot of the worst off”, although he didn’t explain how.
When asked why ministers appeared to have ignored the views of 96 per cent of those who took part in the consultation, a DWP spokeswoman said: “We did listen. We are not implementing any of the first four options and are continuing to recognise aids and appliances in the same number of activities as before.
“When making a decision we took into account Paul Gray’s independent review [of PIP], reviews carried out by our health professionals as well as the consultation events and responses.”
But Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the proposals would cut another £1.2 billion a year from disabled people, only three days after the government had forced through cuts of £1,500-a-year to new claimants placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance.
She said: “In coming to this decision, the Tories are yet again ignoring the views of disabled people, carers and experts in the field.”
She added: “Labour rejected entirely the principles underlying the consultation; all of the proposed ‘options’ impact harmfully on disabled people and removing support for people who need help to use the toilet or dress is an attack on dignity.
“Tory cuts have already taken over £24 billion in support from disabled people. These further cuts would represent another huge blow, making life even more difficult for many people who are already facing huge barriers.”
17 March 2016

 

More disabled people add their voices to Brexit opposition
More disabled people have come forward to argue that a decision to quit the European Union (EU) would harm disability rights in the UK.
Until last week, nothing had been said publicly about the potential impact on disabled people of a decision to leave the EU, even though a referendum is to take place in just three months (on 23 June).
But disabled people and other campaigners and politicians are now beginning to explain how they think a decision to leave the EU – known as “Brexit” – would impact on the UK disability rights agenda, although an activist has become the first leading disabled campaigner to put forward an argument in favour of Brexit.
Last week, Miro Griffiths, a former government adviser and project officer for the European Network on Independent Living, said he believed that Britain’s exit from the EU “would have dire consequences for disabled people”, while the disabled crossbench peer Lord Low said he had “no doubt that leaving the EU would be harmful to disabled people’s interests”.
But since Disability News Service published that article, further disabled activists have spoken out.
Disable People Against Cuts (DPAC) this week published pieces both for and against Brexit on its website.
DPAC’s national steering group has so far voted two to one in favour of Britain staying in the EU, although some of its members have yet to decide their position.
Steering group member Debbie Jolly, who is in favour of staying in the EU, points in her blog to a whole string of gains on disability issues that have come about because of EU membership.
These include non-discrimination measures on goods and services, access and independent living; measures taken against forced institutionalisation of disabled people; millions of Euros spent on combatting poverty, supporting independent living, and challenging injustice in the UK, through the European Social Fund; measures on accessible transport; and a whole series of improvements through the EU access directive.
Jolly says: “Disabled people and European non-governmental organisations are the ones that fight for disability rights, but being in the EU can help extend those rights and also help fund our battles.
“While we in the UK may know we have a significant battle, other countries have significant battles too in terms of access, attitudes, being part of the community, and poor financial support for the extra costs of disability – pulling out of the EU means rejecting our disabled European friends and significantly weakening our own fight too.”
But another DPAC steering group member, Ellen Clifford, argued that a vote for Brexit was a vote “very much in solidarity with disabled people who have borne the brunt of austerity measures imposed on them by the EU in countries such as Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain”.
She says that the argument that disabled people in the UK have too much to lose by leaving the EU “is insufficiently convincing to justify voting in favour of an institution that acts so clearly in the interests of the one per cent, that forces disabled people to suffer under austerity to keep the bankers’ bonuses piling in and that condemns refugees (many of whom are disabled or children) to drown in the sea”.
She says: “Key successes in the fight against disabled people’s oppression have not been handed down from EU bodies but won by grassroots disabled people and our allies.
“The independent living movement was formed by disabled people breaking out of residential care; the social model of disability was developed by disabled socialists; Atos was driven out of the contract running the work capability assessment by disabled campaigners.”
Caroline Richardson, from the Spartacus online campaigning network, was another disabled activist to speak out against Brexit this week.
She said: “Those supporting Brexit are overwhelmingly MPs and ministers who have supported and designed swingeing cuts to disability and sickness benefits [including work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and employment minister Priti Patel], and hence disabled people are totally justified in not wishing to follow their guidance in voting out.
“Of course there are huge concerns about human rights issues, and many sick and disabled people feel that Europe, the EU and the UN combined give them more protection against retrogressive policies and protect their individual rights.”
Jonathan Kaye, another disabled campaigner in favour of staying in the EU, said he believes Brexit would lead to an exodus of personal assistants (PAs), originally from eastern Europe, who are currently working in the UK.
Kaye, who himself has a Hungarian PA, said the prospect of Brexit would be likely to see the value of the pound plummet, making it much less profitable for PAs from the continent to stay working in the UK and send money home to their families.
He said: “It’s down to the economics. If it is more expensive for them to stay here than it would be for them to go to Germany, where there is just as big a crisis on the care front, then they would all move there.
“It will have dire effects on the care industry and the health industry. There are eastern Europeans throughout the care industry.
“My PA was a qualified lawyer in Hungary but she finds it more economical to be a carer here.
“She said several of her friends are all quite scared and they think if the UK does exit they will get out quickly [for financial reasons].”
Meanwhile, organisations of disabled people from across Europe have backed a motion calling on the UK to stay in the EU.
The board of the European Disability Forum said that it “recognises the democratic right of UK citizens to vote freely in their referendum on UK membership of the EU”, but believes that “a common European human rights agenda is better achieved together, within a strong EU”.
The motion adds: “Living through recent years of austerity, the rights of persons with disabilities continue to be undermined in the EU and in member states.
“Together we are in a stronger position to fight this trend. We should work to remove barriers, not erect new ones.”
And Labour MEP Richard Howitt, chair of the European Parliament’s all party disability rights group, said in a speech to the disability charity Papworth Trust on Friday (11 March) that 87,000 British disabled people had benefited from European Social Fund money in the last year.
He said: “The truth is that the minimum floor of rights created in Europe has actually pulled up standards for all.
“And remaining in Europe will see that gradual process of improvement continue into the future.”
17 March 2016

 

Plans to water down web access laws ‘would deny access to millions’
Disabled people’s organisations from across Europe have accused European Union (EU) member states of “unacceptable” plans to water down proposed new rules on the accessibility of public sector websites.
An open letter from 20 organisations, many of them user-led, expresses “strong opposition” to the plans, which they say will “significantly reduce” the scope of the directive.
They are angry that the EU Council, which is mostly made up of the heads of state of EU members, wants to exclude the websites of public broadcasters, schools, universities, nurseries and publicly-funded charities from the directive, as well as content such as live audio-visual material, intranets and extranets.
They say that excluding intranets and extranets will prevent disabled people from being able to work in organisations that rely on these “private websites”.
The EU Council is currently negotiating the proposed directive with the European Parliament and the European Commission.
The open letter has been sent to government ministers in charge of digital affairs in each of the 28 member states, and chairs of the relevant parliamentary committees.
The European Disability Forum (EDF) said the exemptions would mean “limited access and unfair treatment for many people”, including older and disabled people.
Among those organisations that have signed the open letter are: the European Union of the Deaf, the European Network on Independent Living, the European Network of (Ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, and the International Federation of Persons with Physical Disability.
The letter says: “We strongly object to the far-reaching exemptions proposed by the Council as these would prevent millions of citizens from accessing digital content and services that every citizen takes for granted today.”
It adds: “It is not acceptable to adopt legislation that would potentially deny millions of citizens access to the digital world we live in today.
“It is not acceptable to legalise digital barriers to employment.
“It is not acceptable to exclude millions from full participation in society.”
Wolfgang Angermann, president of the European Blind Union, which has also signed the letter, said: “We go online, we use smart phones and we use apps, just like everyone else.
“This is about our right to access online information, content and services. This is about investing in our common digital future. This is about equality.
“I am shocked to see that some governments are prepared to go to great lengths to exclude us from the digital world.”
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for digital issues for the UK government, said: “We’re currently working with other member states to agree a position on this directive and find a solution that meets the needs of all users.”
He added: “We’re using digital to recast the relationship between the citizen and the state – all with the goal of making people’s lives better.
“GOV.UK is designed to be fully accessible to all, and we also have assisted digital options available to help those not online.”
17 March 2016

 

Disabled duo set for huge US expansion of holiday website
By Raya Al Jadir
A social enterprise launched by two disabled entrepreneurs from London is to open an office in the US, less than a year after it launched in the UK.
The accessible holiday accommodation service Accomable was set up by Martyn Sibley and Srin Madipalli, the team behind the online disability magazine Disability Horizons, who originally met as members of a support group for children with spinal muscular atrophy.
Accomable already features accessible holiday accommodation across more than 30 countries, including Ecuador, Mexico, Canada, Jamaica, Poland, Thailand, South Africa, Australia, and USA.
It was developed with the help of a grant from the Skoll Foundation, the organisation founded by Jeff Skoll, a former president of eBay.
But it is now hoping to expand its work in the US through a five-figure investment from a London-based technology investor, which has allowed it to open an office in Austin, Texas, to be managed by another disabled social entrepreneur, Heather Kerstetter. Madipalli is also negotiating a further six-figure investment.
The Accomable site receives more than 3,000 hits a day, and has had more than 750 booking enquiries in four months.
It has 400 properties signed up, with another 500 currently being vetted for accessibility, but has plans to expand from just 21 US properties to 10,000 by the end of the year, with the help of up to seven new members of staff in Austin.
It is also in talks with one of the largest holiday rental accommodation websites about remarketing its accessible properties on Accomable.
Madipalli is now focusing on increasing the portfolio of properties around the world, and hopes Accomable will soon be able to offer other linked services, such as adapted car hire, medical equipment rentals and specialist insurance.
He said: “We still have a lot of work to do to reach our goal of making travel accessible to all but our early progress is a great start.”
He will concentrate on Accomable, as its chief executive, while Sibley will focus his efforts on Disability Horizons, which is also expanding, with offshoot sites that use the DH brand in both Italy and Spain.
Sibley has also just published a new book, Everything Is Possible, an account of his travel adventures and “the scrapes, skirmishes and silly situations that one man and his wheelchair can get into, given a little self-belief and a whole lot of planning”.
17 March 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com