McDonnell pledges Labour will force government to debate UN ‘rights violations’ report

Labour’s shadow chancellor has promised that the government will be dragged before MPs to explain why it was found guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the United Nations.

John McDonnell told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) that Labour would ensure there was a debate about the report, published last week, so the government could be held accountable.

The report found that the UK governmen had discriminated against disabled people across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Since the ground-breaking report was published, the government – the first to be investigated by the UN over such allegations – has refused to make a statement to MPs, although in its response to the UN it dismissed all 11 of the report’s recommendations.

The UN report concluded that the government’s social security reforms had “disproportionately affected persons with disabilities and hindered various aspects of their right to live independently and be included in the community”.

The report also said that evidence pointed to “significant hardship, including financial, material and psychological” experienced by disabled people undergoing benefits assessments.

And it said that claimants in the employment and support allowance (ESA) work-related activity group (WRAG) who had been sanctioned had “faced financial hardship, including through becoming indebted, relying on the support of relatives or on food banks or having reduced essential services”.

Disabled people, said the report, “have had their freedom of choice and control over their daily activities restricted, the extra cost of disability has been set aside and income protection has been curtailed as a result of benefit cuts”.

Asked by DNS why there had been no debate in parliament on the report, and why work and pensions secretary Damian Green had failed to issue a written statement, a Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “It is for Parliament to determine the daily business of the House and the Commons.”

By noon today (Thursday), she had failed to explain why there has been no written statement, which would be a decision taken by ministers and not parliament.

McDonnell was speaking to DNS at a protest organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) to mark the death last week of its co-founder Debbie Jolly, to call for an end to the government’s welfare reforms, and to highlight its “outrageous” refusal to accept any of the UN report’s 11 recommendations.

McDonnell, a long-time supporter of DPAC, told DNS: “For me, the UN report was an accurate survey of how disabled people have been treated by this government.

“I know the government has challenged some of its findings, but I know some of the people… interviewed and they gave honest, basic evidence of what life is like at the moment for disabled people under this government.”

Asked why the UN report had not yet been debated in parliament, McDonnell said MPs had referred to it in speeches earlier that day when debating a motion he moved that called on the government to abandon its planned cuts of £30-a-week for new ESA WRAG claimants from April next year.

But he promised that Labour would force a debate on the report.

He said: “Whether we do it on opposition day or backbench day we will choose a time to do that.

“It’s just a matter of finding the parliamentary time to do it, but we will find the time to do it, because we need to hold the minister to account on it.”

He had earlier paid tribute to Jolly’s work in his speech in the House of Commons, before the government eventually won a vote on Labour’s motion by just 19 votes, a far slimmer margin than usual.

Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, later echoed his tribute, describing Jolly as “a noted researcher and sociologist, as well as a tireless campaigner”.

Disabled activists stood for more than an hour in the rain outside parliament last night to support calls for an end to further damaging welfare reforms and demand that the government responds to the UN report.

They were also there to pay tribute to Jolly, who played a huge part in ensuring the UN inquiry took place, but who died last week, just days after the report was published.

More than 100 disabled activists, allies and politicians attended the protest, including McDonnell, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Rebecca Long Bailey, shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams, Green party co-leader Jonathan Bartley, and the SNP’s Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard.

Among those disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) that spoke at the protest and paid tribute to Jolly’s work were Inclusion London, the Mental Health Resistance Network, Black Triangle, WinVisible, the Alliance for Inclusive Education, and a disabled representative of the left-wing political movement Momentum, while representatives of other DPOs such as Equal Lives and People First (Self Advocacy) also attended.

There was also a message of support read out from film director Ken Loach, whose award-winning film I, Daniel Blake has boosted campaigners’ efforts to force the government to scrap the work capability assessment and benefit sanctions.

Linda Burnip, a co-founder of DPAC and a close friend of Jolly, told the protest: “Too many of us have been driven to death or left to fester at home without the levels of care and support we need to take part in society.

“As well as honouring Debbie’s memory, we are also here today to protest at the outrageous response of the Tories to the UN report.”

She said she felt an “enormous sense of loss and loneliness” at Jolly’s death, and paid tribute to her “loyal and trustworthy” friend’s “determination”, “stubbornness” and “outspokenness”.

She said her death would be “a massive loss to the disabled people’s movement”, and said there had been “hundreds of tributes from all sorts of people whose lives she had touched”.

Ellen Clifford, another friend and DPAC colleague, said the UN report had been “vindication” for Jolly and other activists who had worked so hard to ensure it took place.

But she warned that the government was “working hard to bury the report. We are here to make sure the report does not get buried.”

She added: “We are also here to remember Debbie. She wouldn’t have wanted us to mourn. Tonight let us celebrate how f*****g awesome Debbie was.”

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said Jolly had been “utterly amazing” and a “fearless champion and advocate and campaigner”.

She said the UN report was “damning” and was the first time a country had been subjected to a UN inquiry into allegations of “grave or systematic violations” of the UN convention.

She said: “The government must respond in parliament to the findings of the UN investigation.”

17 November 2016



Debbie Jolly: a ‘force for good’ and a passionate social model advocate

Activists have paid tribute to Debbie Jolly, a central figure in the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, a passionate advocate of the social model, and a researcher-activist who “brilliantly” exploited links between research and activism, who died last week.

One friend and former colleague described her as “a force for good and an exceptional champion of all disabled people”.

Her death has left many members of the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement shocked and devastated.

Jolly, who died after a short illness, was a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and had worked over at least two decades at local, national and European levels to further the cause of disability rights.

Her death came just days after a report by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) confirmed allegations of “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the UK government.

Jolly, who lived in Leicestershire, had played a significant role in bringing those allegations to CRPD’s attention, and providing the evidence needed to prove those claims over several years.

She was a long-time board member of the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), and also a member of the Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED), of the National Union of Journalists, and of the editorial board of the journal Disability and Society.

Despite her influence on the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, Jolly shied away from the spotlight, and never sought media attention.

Friends and colleagues this week described how she combined anger at injustice, determination, joy and vibrancy, and said she was both “a warrior and tireless campaigner for disabled people’s human rights” and a generous, caring and supportive mentor of other disabled activists.

Linda Burnip, who had worked closely with Jolly for years as a fellow co-founder of DPAC, including on the complaint to the UN, said in a statement issued on behalf of DPAC’s steering group that disabled people had “lost a friend and advocate and a fighter for our movement”.

She said: “Debbie was one of the main people involved in initiating the UN inquiry into the UK’s grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights, which will be a lasting testimony to her life and work.

“Debbie was a warrior and tireless campaigner for disabled people’s human rights and most of all she never wanted to be hailed as a heroine or praised by others for the work that she did.”

A DPAC colleague, Ellen Clifford, added: “The enormous hole she has left is testament to what a rare and amazing person she was.

“She never courted publicity or self-aggrandisement but believed in the collective struggle and was uncompromising in her commitment to the social model of disability.

“To those she valued she was also endlessly supportive and caring. Her belief in me gave me a rock that at many times I would have been lost without.”

But Clifford added: “However, she would want us not to mourn but to organise and to continue the fight that she dedicated her life to. And so, though it hurts, we have to go on.”

Another DPAC colleague, Bob Ellard, said Jolly was “an admired colleague and a truly great activist. But more than that she was a much-loved friend.

“She mentored me with great patience when I joined the disabled people’s activism community and she taught me so much.

“I will always cherish her memory and be thankful that I had the chance to know her.”

John McArdle, co-founder of DPAC’s Scottish sister organisation, Black Triangle, said: “It’s because of the work, love and dedication of women like Debbie that the world continues to carry on, so this generation of disabled people and those yet unborn will have a future and a hope.”

He said the UN report would stand as Jolly’s “last will and testament”.

Jamie Bolling, ENIL’s executive director, said Jolly would be “greatly missed” and was “much appreciated for her leadership skills and her straightforward messages on independent living”.

Jolly was employed by ENIL between 2007 and 2009 on a project promoting independent living across Europe, and had served on the ENIL board since 2013.

She was also active in ENIL’s Alliance Against Disability Cuts, pushing the European Parliament to counter the impact of austerity measures on disabled people, and was involved in ENIL’s project to promote independent living in Turkey, as well as working with Bulgaria’s centre for independent living.

Bolling said: “A strong believer in the user-led grassroots groups, she made sure ENIL is able to engage with and support disabled people active at the local level in their countries.”

And she said that the CRPD inquiry Jolly helped to spark would “hopefully help change the policy and practice not just in the UK, but will encourage other groups in Europe to take similar action”.

She added: “Debbie was in full force fighting the battle against institutionalization of disabled people, and for deinstitutionalization.

“Her research on independent living is greatly appreciated and will continue to be of relevance for years to come.”

The artist-activist Ann Whitehurst and academic and cultural critic Dr Paul Darke – co-founders of the disability arts organisation Outside Centre – met Jolly for the first time on the same day in 2007, when she was speaking about Rethinking Disability Representation in Museums and Art Galleries, a major piece of academic research she was working on.

Whitehurst and Darke worked on a short film of ENIL’s Freedom Drive in 2009, which Jolly was involved in organising, and which they say “stands as a testament to her work, her commitment and her internationalism”, as well as her passion.

Jolly also wrote the main essay for their photo-book about the London 2012 Paralympic Games, All Swim In The River Of Life And Lean Towards Salvation, which, they said, “made the book and totally outshone our (art) work for its (political) passion on disability”.

Darke said he and Whitehurst had met Jolly regularly for lunch in Wolverhampton over the last few years, “discussing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all of which we agreed were intertwined and, as such, ever elusive”.

Darke said: “Ann and I will both miss Debbie greatly; not just her company but her ability to educate, to teach, to listen, to inspire a political passion, and to drink more tea than us at any one sitting.

“Debbie was one of the best and will be missed at a time when she is more needed than ever.

“Tears, words and emotional responses will never be enough to describe her contribution to us and many other individuals but sadly it is all one can muster at the loss of a great friend, mentor and supporter of disabled people, of me, of Ann and of disabled people across Europe.

“The future was indeed bright with Debbie and seems much gloomier without her to lead us to the light that is now gone.”

Whitehurst added: “I can’t bear to be without the intellectual stimulus and joy and vibrancy of her. We are beloved comrades, beloved friends.

“I will not think of Debbie in the past tense. In her spirit and her intellect she is the theory, the analysis, the resolve of DPAC.

“As long as it remains steadfast to upholding the political and social principle of full equality for all and the social model of disability, she will remain intellectually, passionately, alive through it.”

John Clarke met Jolly through his work as organiser of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) in Canada, which itself was experiencing austerity-driven cuts to disabled people’s support.

He said: “Despite the disadvantage of her only ever appearing to us in the form of email messages, her fine qualities came through very clearly.

“Disabled people in the UK have faced austerity, abandonment and an accompanying assault on their dignity.

“Resistance is hard and despair all too easy but Debbie had within her the anger, the love, the determination and the political judgement that has enabled DPAC to ensure that disabled people have not just resisted austerity but have given a lead to others.

“In September, I was able to travel to London for the DPAC week of action, meet Debbie in person and entirely confirm the view of her I had already formed.

“We are so sad she has gone but so proud and grateful that Debbie Jolly lived. We’ll take her contribution with us into the struggles for justice that lie ahead.”

As well as her work with DPAC, ENIL, ANED and other organisations, Jolly leaves behind an impressive catalogue of academic and journalistic publications.

She studied at Leeds University’s hugely influential Centre for Disability Studies, under Professor Colin Barnes, at a time when the atmosphere at the centre was “very communal” and drenched in the idea of disability activism.

She received a post-graduate diploma in disability studies, and many of her subsequent articles can be read online on the centre’s website.

Barnes said Jolly was  “not a theorist”, but a “strong advocate of social model thinking”, and was a “great loss to the disabled people’s movement”.

He paid tribute to her role in co-founding DPAC, which he said was “probably the most important organisation campaigning for disability rights in the UK”.

He said: “She wasn’t interested in being interviewed or being a major personality; she found that to be unnecessary.”

Dr Alan Roulstone, former professor of disability studies at Leeds, said Jolly had been a “first-rate researcher” and had managed “brilliantly to build and actively exploit links between evidence and activism”.

He said: “She was critical of orthodoxies and wasn’t afraid to question ministers, charity chief executives and academics alike.

“Debbie was a very strong, focused person, but immensely human, softly-spoken and considerate.”

She was, he said, “a force for good and an exceptional champion of all disabled people”.

Among the academic work she leaves behind is an article from 2010, for ENIL, in which she gauged the mood of disabled people internationally on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its effectiveness.

She concludes, two years before she would start to push for the UK government to be investigated for breaches of the treaty: “Many respondents said that monitoring and evaluation processes must be strengthened with sanctions applied to those governments that did not implement or ratify.”

Roulstone said Jolly was “central to the research on direct payments from the early to mid-2000s” and was “lead researcher on a number of very robust studies, ranging from direct payments to transport access and welfare to work”, including a piece of work for the Disability Rights Commission in 2006 on disabled people’s use of public transport.

Another article, published in the wake of the 2011 Dilnot report on the funding of social care, and subtitled “eight things disabled people should know about the Dilnot report”, expressed Jolly’s contempt for “a series of ideologically driven ‘cuts’ by a government intent on removing the fabric of a post-war welfare state”.

She says later in the article that the system was “in crisis” and “constantly denies individuals and families the support and investment that a relatively wealthy country is capable of providing.

“A crisis matched by the erosion of disability rights and supports fought for by disabled people over the past 20 years in a regime that is severely impacting on the lives of disabled people now, and that will impact negatively on future generations.”

Another influential article, A Tale of Two Models, was published by DPAC in 2012, and took aim at neo-liberalism, the American insurance giant Unum, and the so-called biopsychosocial model of disability, while delivering a passionate defence of the social model.

In the article, she critcises the way the big disability charities try to speak for disabled people in a bid to secure “lucrative government contracts”, and how they helped design the work capability assessment, and then spoke out and campaigned against it.

“This is not about getting people into work – there are no jobs, much less jobs for disabled people,” she wrote.

“It is not about even about ‘thinking yourself well’ or tortured nonsensical models shored up by dubious academics in the pay of Unum.

“This is about denying benefits, denying illness and denying disability: It’s about something Unum have a successful history of: denying pay outs for disabled people while capitalising on fear and risk.

“It’s about an ideological regime of misery and austerity in the twelfth richest country in the world.

“It amounts to the biggest government benefit fraud in social welfare and human rights in contemporary history.”

In her own short biography on ENIL’s website, Jolly calls for more grassroots campaigns, which she says would help in “motivating more disabled people to demand change, engage in rights arguments and in developing more of our own solutions to our imposed social and economic inequalities”.

Her son, Oliver, said in a statement this week that his mother was “an incredible human being” and that her family were “immensely proud of her” and “utterly devastated to have lost her, and for disability rights to have lost such an important campaigner”.

Activists last night dedicated a protest outside parliament – which called for an end to welfare reform and highlighted the need for the government to be held to account for the UN report – to Jolly, while her family said they would donate the money they would have spent on a traditional funeral to DPAC.

Oliver said: “The concept of a funeral made little sense to Debbie. She felt that a person could be mourned without the need of such ceremonies.

“We feel that Debbie would rather have money go towards the cause she dedicated herself so passionately towards and therefore have decided not to have a conventional funeral, but instead we will donate the money saved to DPAC.”

17 November 2016



Disability Confident will be ‘trivially easy’ for employers to abuse, research suggests

The government’s scheme aimed at encouraging employers to take on disabled staff is “trivially easy to abuse” and allows organisations to describe themselves as “Disability Confident” even if they do not comply with anti-discrimination laws, new research suggests.

Disability Confident was relaunched this month, but disabled researcher David Gillon says his analysis shows it is little better than the scheme it has replaced, the much-criticised Two Ticks.

The scheme has also been criticised this week by a leading organisation of employers, the Business Disability Forum.

Gillon’s analysis comes just days after Disability News Service revealed that many of the organisations that have signed up – and have declared themselves “disability confident” – have troubling track records when it comes to their attitudes to disabled people, including outsourcing giants Capita and Maximus, as well as Northampton police, which has had to refer two separate incidents involving young autistic men to the police watchdog.

Gillon says Two Ticks was “a sham” and “rarely policed”, but Disability Confident was even weaker in some key areas.

He says: “The reality for disabled people was that employers would sign up to Two Ticks, add the logo to their headed paper in order to impress their customers and the great and the good, and then carry on not employing disabled people in just the same way they always had.”

He says employers will be able to do exactly the same if they sign up to Disability Confident.

Research published in 2014 by academics at two business schools showed that less than one in six (15 per cent) organisations that displayed the Two Ticks symbol kept all five of its commitments, while almost one in five (18 per cent) carrried out none of them.

But Gillon says that employers can get away with keeping fewer commitments than under Two Ticks and still display the Disability Confident logo, while any pretence at monitoring by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been dropped.

Under the newly-relaunched scheme, employers can apply for three levels: Disability Confident Committed (level one), Disability Confident Employer (level two) and Disability Confident Leader (level three).

Employers can reach the first two levels simply by assessing themselves on their own performance, after which DWP will send them a badge and a certificate that they can use to promote their “disability confidence”.

It is only if they want to become a Disability Confident Leader that their self-assessment has to be “validated” by another organisation.

Gillon says employers can declare themselves Disability Confident by doing less than under Two Ticks, because at level one – the level likely to be chosen by most employers – there is no longer a requirement to provide disability equality training for all staff, and no annual self-assessment of how to improve.

And he says that the new commitments that were not offered by Two Ticks, and which an employer must make under Disability Confident level one  – such as making reasonable adjustments for disabled staff and jobseekers, and ensuring an inclusive and accessible recruitment process – are no more than are required under the Equality Act.

Of the nine level one options, of which they have to to choose only one, an employer could become Disability Confident simply by offering unpaid work experience.

At level two, employers must make more commitments, but most of them would be considered reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act, says Gillon, while there are still no checks on whether the employer is carrying out these pledges.

One of the few strong new measures is to encourage suppliers and partner firms to be Disability Confident, and to identify and share good practice with them, he says.

But employers can still assess themselves as level two – and be assessed successfully by another organisation as a level three employer – if they have an inaccessible environment for both employers and customers.

This is because “providing an environment that is inclusive and accessible for staff, clients and customers” is only an “option”, and so an employer can choose another option instead.

Gillon says this suggests that membership as high as level three can therefore be granted to employers that are still breaching the Equality Act.

And he says it is also possible to achieve Disability Confident level three – becoming a Disability Confident Leader – without employing a single disabled person.

He concludes: “We were promised a stronger scheme with increased external supervision, [but] we have been delivered a weaker scheme with no external supervision.

“The replacement for Two Ticks turns out to be worse in almost every respect.

“It is trivially easy to look at the way that Two Ticks was abused and see that Disability Confident further enables that abuse rather than preventing it.”

The Business Disabiity Forum, a membership organisation, formerly known as the Employers’ Forum on Disability, which “makes it easier and more rewarding to do business with and employ disabled people”, is also critical of aspects of Disability Confident.

George Selvanera, the forum’s strategy and external affairs director, said the process of improvement on disability employment was “not straightforward” and requires “strong leadership and must always be grounded in the lived experience of disabled candidates and employees themselves”.

The forum runs its own Disability Standard, a “best practice management tool that helps employers plan and measure their disability improvements across 10 functional areas of any organisation”.

Selvanera said that Disability Confident was “helpful in drawing light on the benefits for employers from recruiting and retaining disabled people”, but he said the forum believed that level two status should “only be available to employers that are experienced at employing disabled people”.

He said: “It seems risky to the scheme to have employers self-assess and then publicise that they’re confident at recruiting and retaining disabled people when they don’t have any actual experience, whether in the past or currently, of doing so.

“We think as well that it will be helpful to make sure only organisations with appropriate expertise are validating organisations as Disability Confident Leaders.”

He added: “It’s not yet clear what metrics Disability Confident will use to measure success and its own contribution to the recruitment and retention of the one million plus extra disabled people the government aims to have in paid employment as part of halving the disability employment gap.

“So we think it’s important also we must not have excessive expectations of what Disability Confident on its own [will] deliver.”

A DWP spokeswoman dismissed Gillon’s analysis.

She said: “The researcher appears to have misunderstood the scheme. The scheme was developed by a task group that included employers, disability charities, and disabled people*.

“This has helped ensure a balance between a scheme that is accessible and straight-forward for employers to use – particularly smaller employers – whilst being rigorous and commanding the confidence of disabled people.”

And she suggested that Disability Confident could not be compared directly with Two Ticks.

She said: “The new scheme is fundamentally different and explores a whole range of employer practices to ensure disabled people can be successfully recruited, retained and developed.

“Building on the previous two ticks scheme, we have worked with employers and disabled people to develop a new Disability Confident assessment and accreditation scheme, that is both accessible for employers, particularly smaller ones, and rigorous enough to command the confidence of the disabled community.”

Asked whether employers could call themselves Disability Confident while still breaching the Equality Act, she said: “Legally all employers must comply with the Equality Act.

“The DC scheme is about encouraging employers to be inclusive and to do more in recruiting, retaining and training disabled people.”

And asked if employers could achieve level three status with no disabled employees and an inaccessible environment for staff and customers, she said: “The scheme has been designed so that all employers, regardless of size or sector, can sign up.

“Some employers may not be in a position to take on permanent employees but can still offer opportunities including apprenticeships, training or supported internships.

“‘Proactively offering and making reasonable adjustments as required’ is a core action within the Disability Confident Employer level (page eight) and ‘Ensuring there are no barriers to the development and progression of disabled staff’ is also a core action (page 19).”

But Gillon said in response to the statement: “As a replacement for Two Ticks, Disability Confident is confused, opaque, and has gaps so wide you could sail a supertanker through.

“It could have been so much better, and could easily be reworked to address its flaws.

“But ultimately, the disability employment gap will only be filled when employers treat disability as normal and employ disabled people as they would any other.”

*In July, Mike Adams, the disabled chief executive of Purple (formerly ecdp) – and a member of the task group – said he would have liked to have seen the new version of Disability Confident “much stronger and more ambitious”.

17 November 2016



Damian Green faces fresh accusations of misleading MPs over disability benefits

The work and pensions secretary is facing accusations that he misled MPs about his government’s disability benefit reforms for the second time in a month.

Damian Green was responding to an urgent question about last week’s Supreme Court ruling that the “bedroom tax” discriminates unlawfully against some disabled people.

His Labour shadow, Debbie Abrahams, had called on the government to “formally apologise for the pain and suffering inflicted on disabled people and families caring for a disabled child” as a result of the “discriminatory” bedroom tax.

But Green told her that the bedroom tax – which the government calls its spare room subsidy removal scheme – was “patently not” unlawful because the Supreme Court had found in the government’s favour in five of the seven cases it was hearing.

He added: “Her basic analysis is wrong. The government are spending £50 billion a year on disability benefit, which shows that we want a practical system that cares for people with a disability. This court case does not alter that at all.”

He made a similar claim on his own website in March, when he argued in a letter to a constituent that the government was “committed to supporting those most in need, and currently spends around £50 billion every year on benefits alone to support people with disabilities or health conditions”.

But Green appears to have vastly exaggerated the amount spent on disability benefits every year by the government.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) freedom of information response, sent to Disability News Service (DNS) in December 2015, showed how ministers justified their frequent statement that they spend “about £50 billion” a year on services and support for disabled people.

The breakdown provided to DNS showed that this £50 billion figure includes spending on adult social care, specialist disability employment support, housing-related support, concessionary travel and disabled facilities grants, none of which are disability benefits.

Using this response, DWP’s own spending figures for 2014-15 show that it spent about £35 billion on disability benefits, far short of the figure quoted by Green. Even projected figures for 2015-16 only come to about £37 billion.

Despite DWP’s own figures showing spending was only £35 billion, or £37 billion at the most, a spokeswoman insisted that Green had not misled MPs and that “the Secretary of State was correct in his statements about spending on disability benefits”.

The spokeswoman had failed to clarify this apparent discrepancy by noon today (Thursday).

Only last month, Green refused to apologise after telling MPs that “many more people are eligible to receive personal independent payment (PIP) than were eligible to receive disability living allowance”.

DWP figures from June show that only about seven in 10 disabled people who were previously claiming DLA were being found eligible for PIP.

17 November 2016



Abrahams ‘uninvites’ DPO… because it wanted to talk about independent living

Labour’s relationship with the disability movement has suffered another blow after the party invited a disabled people’s organisation to speak at a major consultation launch, and then withdrew the invitation after discovering what it was planning to speak about.

The party’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, had asked Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) to speak at the relaunch event of her Disability Equality Roadshow, alongside party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The plan had been for Corbyn, Abrahams, and someone from the coalition to speak at the launch event in Manchester, with the party citing GMCDP’s “promotion of a rights-based approach to disability [and] extensive experience of campaigning to assert the rights of disabled people”.

But when GMCDP said it wanted to talk about the twin issues of independent living and assisted suicide, the party began to raise concerns.

The coalition was told that Labour did not have a formal policy position on the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), and there were concerns that this would be a difficult issue for Corbyn and Abrahams to respond to if it was brought up at the meeting.

The coalition reassured the party that it would not “would not be looking to put anyone on the spot” or expect any policy commitments on the day, and that independent living was far wider than just the ILF.

Despite that reassurance, Abrahams’ office withdrew the invitation, and invited bedroom tax campaigner Paul Rutherford to speak instead.

Labour is already facing anger and frustration from disabled people at its continuing failure to appoint a shadow minister for disabled people, four months after Abrahams was promoted from that post to be shadow work and pensions secretary.

The coalition – which still attended the event – said it had been “immensely disappointed” at Labour’s decision, when the two subjects were “two of the most serious matters facng disabled people today”, and added: “We are astounded that the Labour party does not want to hear us.”

GMCDP is now writing to Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who has a long history of supporting the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, to request a meeting to discuss the contents of the speech it was not allowed to deliver.

Joe Whittaker, GMCDP’s chair, said he was “disappointed” with Labour’s decision.

He said: “GMCDP have important contributions to offer the Labour party.

“We are open to meeting with Labour party politicians and officers at any time, to express the concerns of disabled people, to support the Labour party in bringing an end to the callous indifference of the current government, as they deliberately undermine the lives of many disabled people.

“The Labour party should be reaching out and actively listening to disabled people’s organisations.

“As the official opposition, the Labour party need to be listening to disabled people and supporting our work to expose the disproportionate damage being imposed on disabled people, in this Conservative construction of austerity.”

Asked for a response, Abrahams refused to apologise and appeared to question the coalition’s claims.

She said: “For the launch event, a shortlist of several speaker options was drawn up. Unfortunately, there was only one time slot for a speaker.

“I was delighted that members of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People participated in the roadshow and the input from them and other attendees was incredibly valuable and much appreciated by myself, Jeremy and the whole team.”

The GMCDP speaker had been planning to thank Corbyn for standing outside the court of appeal to show support for legal actions against the ILF closure, and for speaking up about it in parliament, “unlike the majority of politicians who shrugged their shoulders and walked away”.

GMCDP had also been planning to call for a national, needs-led system of independent living support, independent of local authorities, free at the point of delivery and paid for through taxation.

It was to add: “This system should build on the learning from the Independent Living Fund and be a key strategic mechanism for ensuring disabled people’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are fully and consistently realised across the country.”

GMCDP was also planning to restate its “vehement” opposition – and the opposition of the wider disabled people’s movement in the UK – to the legalisation of assisted suicide, which would “give the state the power to end our lives through fear and coercion and then sold to us as ‘choice'”.

It would have told Corbyn and Abrahams: “Imagine the power we could harness if all those, either for or against assisted suicide, could instead turn their energies to fighting for better palliative care for all.

“Fight for a better funded NHS and a social care system that enables people to maintain their choice, control and dignity.

“Not being able to wipe your own bum, or hold a spoon or dress yourself are not reasons to kill people or lock them away in residential care or withdraw their support so they become prisoners in their own homes.”

17 November 2016



Welsh government has ‘sold disabled people down the river’ on post-ILF plans

The ruling Labour government in Wales has been accused of “selling disabled people down the river”, after deciding that local authorities will be handed all financial responsibility for supporting former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

The Welsh government has decided that, after a short transition period, the £27 million-a-year provided by the UK government to support former ILF-users in Wales will be passed directly to councils.

There will be no new Welsh ILF – even though such a scheme has been set up in Scotland – and no continuation of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme the Welsh government has been running as a stopgap since the fund closed in June 2015.

Instead, Rebecca Evans, the social services minister, said in a statement – following a public consultation and advice from a stakeholders group – that funding for WILG would continue in its current form through 2017-18, but would transfer to local authorities during 2018-19.

All former ILF-recipients will have their support needs met solely by their local authority by 31 March 2019.

The Welsh government has not yet decided whether the funding it will transfer to local authorities during 2018-19 will be ring-fenced for former ILF-recipients, or even for social care spending.

Evans appeared to mirror the arguments of the UK government when it closed ILF last year, claiming that continuing under the present system would “provide support to former ILF recipients in a different way to which care and support would be provided to other disabled people in Wales”.

She added: “As a result I have concluded future support to former ILF recipients through normal social care provision from local authorities would be the most effective approach.”

But David*, a former ILF-user from Wales, said he felt “let down” by Evans’ decision.

He said it appeared that the Welsh government had “simply sold disabled people down the river by washing their hands of all responsibility for social care to former ILF recipients and transferring the pressure onto irresponsible local authorities”.

He said he would now be at the mercy of his “heartless” local authority for provision of the care and support he needs.

He said: “This is not something I am confident about due to the fact that my social worker has already stated that without WILG I would face a reduction in my hours of care from 86.5 hours a week to a ridiculous 31 hours per week.

“I cannot cope with such a reduction as I am an active member of my community and like to think that I contribute positively to society.”

He said he was struggling to live independently because he had a progressive condition and already needed more support than he received.

He added: “I have been using all my time and energy to try to retain the hours I currently have and obtaining more seems like an impossible task.”

Disability Wales, the national, user-led organisation representing disabled people in Wales, had been pushing the Welsh government to create a Welsh ILF.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said Evans’ decision was a setback for the independent living movement in Wales.

She said ILF had been a “valuable resource” for many years for former recipients and had “supported their ability to live independently”.

She added: “The concern is whether that will be able to continue.”

She and David both said they were concerned that former ILF-users in Wales would now experience similar cuts to their support packages to those that have been seen in England.

Only last month, Channel 4 News reported that 80 per cent of councils in England had cut the care packages of some former ILF-users in the wake of its closure, while two-thirds had not ring-fenced the money given to them by central government.

Davies said: “Everything is pinned on the hopes that the new Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act will lead to people being able to access a range of support in the community, but obviously that is a big ask in a climate of cuts in local authority services.

“Given the act only came in in April, it is not a lot of time to transform the way social services are delivered.”

David said he believed the Welsh government would “hide behind” the new act.

He said: “This is a highly-regarded piece of legislation that promises much if it is rolled out correctly.

“It would be great to live in a society which was co-productive and full of accessible, well-funded social enterprises to help me live independently.

“I won’t hold my breath, though, as for such an inclusive society to exist we need major investment into infrastructure and cultural changes to our disabled-unfriendly society.”

Asked whether the funding that will be passed to councils from 2018-19 would be ring-fenced for former ILF-recipients, or even for socal care, a Welsh government spokesman said: “As funding is not due to be transferred to local authorities until 2018-19, the exact basis of this will be subject to future discussion between the Welsh government and local authorities.

“Whatever the outcome at the point of transfer, local authorities will become responsible for providing the support that former ILF recipients in Wales require, and for meeting the cost of this.”

*Not his real name

17 November 2016



Call for drama schools to act after diversity research leaves campaigners ‘speechless’

Leading disabled actors have accused drama schools of not doing enough to recruit disabled students, and of hiding behind a “contrived” excuse for their failure to do so.

Research by the campaign group Act for Change shows that not one of 473 final-year students across 17 major drama schools in England declared themselves to be a disabled person.

The research cross-referenced the students with their entries on the casting website Spotlight.

This week, disabled actors Mat Fraser, Jamie Beddard and Steve Varden criticised drama schools for failing to recruit more disabled students, while the disabled-led theatre company Graeae said it was “frustrating” that the diversity of D/deaf and disabled people was not yet represented within drama schools.

Ayesha Casely-Hayford, chair of Act for Change, said the charity was left “speechless” by the results of its research.

But she said that she and her colleagues were also pleased to have uncovered the results, because it meant they could “bring it to people’s attention”, while the research meant there were now “a lot of questions to be asked”.

The disabled writer, director and performer Jamie Beddard, a former associate director of the disabled-led theatre company Graeae, said that drama schools were “part of the problem rather than the solution”.

He said: “Drama schools have traditionally hidden behind the contrived excuse that a lack of employment prospects for disabled performers across the wider industry would mean training is setting people up to fail.

“This is palpable nonsense, and now more than ever, there is an appetite for trained disabled actors, and the tiny trickle who have emerged are more in demand than their non-disabled counterparts.”

Graeae also expressed concern.

Richard Matthews, Graeae’s marketing and development manager, said: “The diversity of D/deaf and disabled people isn’t represented within drama schools across the UK, and that is frustrating, especially when we know how much talent is out there yet to be discovered.”

In a bid to address the barriers faced by many D/deaf and disabled young people who want to enter the industry, Graeae has launched a crowdfunding bid to pay for the second year of its Ensemble programme, which will provide six months of high-quality training in theatre-making for six disabled people between the ages of 17 and 26.

Matthews said: “Drama schools are all at various stages of change – some more progressive than others, but with still a long way to go.

“It’s through our new model of exchange with the Ensemble programme, alongside our work with the industry, that we will catapult huge shifts in attitudes and inclusive approaches. We need to work together.”

In the pilot phase of the programme, Graeae took on six D/deaf and disabled young Ensemble artists, and delivered workshops to many more.

It has signed up five drama schools and wants over the course of the programme to train 18 D/deaf and disabled young people – providing “a stepping stone into further drama school training, or to start gaining employment within the industry” – as well as running a summer school scheme.

It is also working with drama school tutors, course leaders, and marketing and admission teams.

Disabled actor and performer Mat Fraser, best-known currently for his appearance in the hit US TV show American Horror Story, said: “We shouldn’t even have to have the Ensemble training programme, but with the continued extremely low numbers of disabled applicants, clearly it is very much still needed.

“It’s extremely disappointing that numbers have not significantly risen for applications, and I would urge all drama schools to actively seek more disabled students as well as go to see as many productions that use disabled actors, to have whatever it is that’s scaring them off removed by familiarity, because I suspect that is part of what is slowing progress in this area.

“There is little evidence to the contrary. We have to do better.”

Steve Varden, who starred in the 2004 film Cloud Cuckoo Land, believes he was the first “severely disabled” person to audition successfully and be admitted into a performing arts school – in Coventry, in 1985 – although he had to quit the theatre studies course after one term for personal reasons.

He said: “I have done a few very short theatre and drama-type courses since leaving Coventry but I never made it or really contemplated going back to the full drama school experience.

“That is probably because I know that prejudice, misunderstanding and a distinct lack of equality exists within those types of highly competitive institutions.

“All of my performance breaks and opportunities have come about from personal connections with people (including myself) who have had the vision, courage and confidence to believe in my skills and abilities.

“It is making these often scarce and rare connections that is really so difficult to achieve when the likes of drama schools, producers and casting agents are so closed and no doubt frightened of such creatively progressive encounters.”

17 November 2016



Sanction death man’s sister turns to courts after coroner turns down inquest call

The sister of a disabled man who died after being left destitute by having his benefits sanctioned is to seek the help of the high court after a coroner refused for the second time to hold an inquest into his death.

David Clapson, who had diabetes, died in 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food.

But despite the circumstances of his death, and clear links with the sanctions system, no inquest was ever held.

Now Clapson’s sister, Gill Thompson, is to ask the high court for a judicial review of the coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest.

Her announcement came as new Department for Work and Pensions figures showed a sharp rise in the number of sanctions imposed on claimants of the out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance.

In May 2016, there were 1,199 decisions taken to impose a sanction on an ESA claimant, but in June that shot up to 1,749. In January, the figure was as low as 900.

The number of JSA sanctions also rose, although not as steeply, from 12,067 in May to 14,049 in June.

Thompson has been campaigning for an inquest to be held in a bid to secure answers and change the sanctions system she believes led to her brother’s death.

She has now set up a crowdfunding account to pay for the latest stage in her legal battle, and to take the case to the high court.

She previously raised the money to pay for the earlier stages of the legal action through more than 900 crowd-funded donations.

Her latest bid has already raised more than £5,000 of the initial £10,000 target in less than 48 hours.

Her solicitor, Merry Varney, from human rights lawyers Leigh Day, is arguing that Clapson died an “unnatural death” because of the benefit sanction imposed on him shortly before he died.

Earlier this month, Varney wrote to the Hertfordshire senior coroner, Geoffrey Sullivan, to ask him to overturn the decision not to hold an inquest.

But he has now written back to say he will not order an inquest.

Sullivan says in his letter that “the evidence does not support either a direct or contributory causal link between the imposition of the benefit sanction and Mr Clapson’s death.

“In addition… there is no evidence as to whether the benefit sanction was imposed properly or not.”

Thompson said she found the coroner’s decision “hard to understand”, because her brother “had no food in his stomach” at the time of his death and “was in the middle of a sanction”.

She said the reason she was campaigning was not to “cause trouble” but “just to put something right”.

She said: “I’m not a troublemaker. I’m not doing it to be awkward or for revenge.”

Varney said: “We believe there is huge public interest in an investigation into the role played by the imposition of a benefit sanction in Mr Clapson’s death.”

She said Clapson had not been entitled to an immediate hardship payment after being sanctioned, while Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance on diabetes “does not in our view properly recognise the importance of food and access to chilled insulin for people like David”.

She added: “Despite our client’s best efforts, there has been no open and thorough investigation of this matter at all.

“There is an urgent need to assess the risks posed by benefit sanctions to those who receive them, and the decision-making of DWP staff when imposing benefit sanctions on vulnerable and at-risk individuals.”

Clapson’s case was mentioned in prime minister’s questions earlier this month by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who described his and other such deaths as “institutionalised barbarity”.

An autopsy held after Clapson’s death found his stomach was empty, and the only food left in his flat in Stevenage was six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines. He had just £3.44 left in his bank account.

But there has never been an inquest, even though DWP admitted that it knew he was insulin-dependent.

Meanwhile, work and pensions secretary Damian Green announced this week that jobseekers who are homeless or have a mental health condition will now be able to access hardship payments immediately if they are sanctioned.

The payments are supposed to act as a safety net to cover day-to-day living costs, and are issued immediately to claimants who meet certain criteria, such as having children, or certain long-term health conditions.

Other claimants cannot claim hardship payments for the first 14 days of a sanction.

Green said the change was expected to help about 10,000 people over four years from 2017-18.

17 November 2016


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