Police could face XR legal action over disabled people’s right to protest

The Metropolitan police faces claims that it breached disabled people’s right to protest during this month’s Extinction Rebellion (XR) demonstrations in London, after a wheelchair-user was arrested because she needed support from a personal assistant (PA).

During the same action outside New Scotland Yard, officers arrested another disabled activist who was standing outside their headquarters asking – peacefully – for the return of vital independent living equipment.

Members of the XR Disabled Rebels network are now considering possible legal action in response to this and other measures taken by the police force during this month’s XR climate change actions in the capital.

They say the measures taken have added to growing concerns about the actions of police across the country, including admissions from two other forces that they have passed information about disabled protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The Metropolitan police apparently refused to provide a written guarantee that it would not pass information from this month’s protests to DWP.

A small group had been outside New Scotland Yard in central London on Friday to protest against the confiscation of equipment that had been intended to make this month’s climate change protests more inclusive – and safer – for disabled people.

The equipment confiscated by officers included two mobile accessible toilets and showers, wheelchairs, ramps, noise-cancelling headphones for autistic protesters, and solar-powered charging equipment for wheelchairs and scooters.

The plan was to carry out a short, peaceful, non-disruptive protest.

The group of about 10 activists were twice given permission to continue their protest – which called on the force to “give us back our access kit” – by police officers patrolling the area.

Sandra* and Bob Williams-Findlay, two of the disabled activists taking part in the protest, then approached the entrance to New Scotland Yard to ask to speak to Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick.

Sandra said: “We wanted to tell her that this equipment had been taken and was very important because it made it accessible for disabled people to be able to peacefully protest.

“It had been hard going for all of us and disabled people had stayed away [as a result of the equipment being confiscated].

“Once people heard that there were not toilet facilities, it was more difficult, and they didn’t come.

“We wanted to make a stand as disabled people and speak up about the injustice of this.”

She said the force’s actions would affect future protests by disabled people, and she added: “Our voices are not going to be heard.”

Officers refused to accept a written complaint that Sandra and Williams-Findlay asked to be handed to the commissioner.

They rejoined their fellow protesters as about 20 police officers arrived, threatening the group with arrest if they failed to disperse.

One of the members of the XR Disabled Rebels network, Tracey Lazard, said that one of these officers was “visibly shaking with anger” as he told her that protests linked to Extinction Rebellion had been banned, under section 14 of the Public Order Act, unless they took place in Trafalgar Square.

That section 14 order was later extended to cover Extinction Rebellion protests across the entire city.

Lazard said: “He was right in my face, saying, ‘section 14, if you don’t move now you’re under arrest.’

“It’s my understanding that it’s good practice that there should be a series of warnings, but literally after a minute and a half tops I was arrested.

“There was no attempt to have a conversation and negotiate us leaving. It was completely unnecessary, aggressive policing, with no factoring in of the extra time it might take for me to pick up or drop stuff and for us to move.”

Lazard was taken to Lewisham police station and spent nine hours in a cell before being released pending further investigation.

Most of the rest of the group returned to Trafalgar Square, but one disabled protester, Nicki Myers, stayed outside New Scotland Yard for about an hour.

Myers, who has a life-limiting condition, could not be arrested for being part of an Extinction Rebellion “assembly” while she was on her own.

But eventually she needed support from a personal assistant (PA) to adjust her oxygen levels and hand her vital medication. And when the PA joined her, both of them were arrested.

Officers argued that she had become an “assembly” by being joined by the PA.

The two wheelchair-users were then surrounded by police officers while they waited for vehicles to take them to London police stations, and they were prevented from talking to legal observers or receiving food or water from fellow activists.

Although her friend, who uses a manual wheelchair, was taken into police custody, officers could not find a vehicle that would take Myers’ electric wheelchair.

Eventually, she was de-arrested, but was told she would need to return to be interviewed at a police station at a future date.

Myers said she believed the police actions breached her right to protest and the Equality Act.

She said: “If a single person has the right to be alone [under section 14] then a single person with a PA should have that right also.

“I want them to investigate. I want to challenge it in court. If they don’t follow up, then I will take a civil action instead for wrongful arrest.”

She said she believed the police actions showed that disabled people’s right to protest was “at huge risk”.

She said: “Any disabled people’s organisation that does any kind of protest should be extremely worried.

“The treatment of activists, particularly disabled activists, seems to be getting worse.

“I think we are seen as an easy target, which is horrific. The police have a duty of care and they are not exercising that duty of care.

“We want our equipment back. This is not over. People are still at risk while they are in London because we haven’t got the equipment.”

Myers said that in meetings held in the months leading up to Extinction Rebellion, senior police officers refused to provide written confirmation that information about disabled protesters would not be passed to DWP.

They also refused to provide written confirmation that they would ensure the wellbeing of disabled people and look after their equipment while they were in custody.

Lazard said she thought the police’s treatment of disabled protesters – including the confiscation of independent living equipment, the treatment of Myers and the general police approach to disabled protesters – was “legally challengeable” and “really ethically dubious”.

She said: “They have gone after kit that was clearly disability access stuff. That has taken away many disabled people’s legal right to lawfully protest.”

She said other disabled activists had made it clear on social media that they had cancelled plans to join the XR protests because of the confiscation of the access equipment.

Lazard said there was an increasing fear and anxiety among disabled people about being seen on a protest, and that the police actions were “undermining our legal right to protest”, which was “really worrying”.

She pointed to the “hostile environment” that had been created, including the “utterly outrageous” treatment of Nicki Myers, and other police forces that had previously admitted passing on information about disabled protesters to DWP.

She said of the actions of the Metropolitan police: “We are going to be speaking to some lawyers and seeing what the options are.”

This could include examining the equipment confiscation, the treatment of Myers, the general approach to policing and the failure to provide disabled protesters with extra time to respond to a police order, with the possibility that some of the force’s actions could even be seen as targeted disability hate crime.

Activists in the wider Extinction Rebellion movement were so appalled at how the disabled protesters had been treated that they organised a solidarity protest – again, entirely peaceful – outside New Scotland Yard two days later, with estimates suggesting that as many as 1,000 people may have attended.

All three of the disabled people who had been arrested on Friday were at the gathering.

Myers told those present: “Today I am overwhelmed by you guys being here supporting XR Disabled Rebels.

“I’d like to tell you that disabled people have a rich history of civil disobedience and every right we have was fought for.

“Our accessible buses we got because people chained themselves in the road. We are useful in XR.”

Another disabled protester, Mary Ellen, told the gathering that she also had been “overwhelmed” to see so many people there.

She said: “I just wanted to express my gratitude to all of you for standing up for our planet and for being here to support disabled people to have an equal right to stand with you in peaceful rebellion.”

She also asked them to continue to stand with disabled people, and told them how Disabled People Against Cuts had been fighting the government’s austerity cuts since 2010, “fighting their austerity, fighting their inequality, fighting their cuts, fighting their sanctions, fighting their brutality, and fighting for our lives, literally”.

A police spokesperson has so far failed to respond to concerns about the treatment of Nicki Myers and her PA and the failure to provide confirmation in advance about the treatment of disabled protesters, including whether information would be passed to DWP.

But she said that officers refused to accept the written complaint on Friday because they are unable to accept correspondence handed over in person at New Scotland Yard “for security reasons”.

And she said in a statement: “It is the police’s role to provide a lawful and proportionate response to any planned protest, balancing the potential impact on the community with the human right to protest.

“At the time of assemblies outside New Scotland Yard on Friday, 11 and Sunday, 13 October conditions under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 had been imposed on Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’.

“The conditions stated any assembly by those involved in Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’ could only lawfully take place in Trafalgar Square. Therefore, the assemblies outside New Scotland Yard were unlawful.

“The [Metropolitan police] does not single out or disproportionately target any group or community.

“If those involved in an assembly to protest break the law, they are liable to arrest. Those people can also expect to be charge, prosecuted, and receive a criminal record.

“Officers have powers to seize any equipment which they believe will facilitate unlawful protest.

“Equipment is not seized on the basis of who it belongs to, but on its ability to enable unlawful protest which could cause serious disruption to the community.

“When officers make arrests, they do so with dignity and respect.

“The health and wellbeing of people in our care and custody is a priority, and we do all that is possible to provide appropriate facilities and support for individuals on a case by case basis.”

*Sandra has requested that only her first name is used

17 October 2019

 

Ministers push ahead with single face-to-face assessments for disability benefits

Ministers are pushing ahead with controversial plans to merge two disability benefit assessments into one, despite concerns raised by disabled campaigners.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) wants to offer a single face-to-face assessment – with the agreement of the claimant – that would replace and merge the current work capability assessment (WCA) and the assessment for personal independence payment (PIP).

A parliamentary petition calling on DWP to abandon the plans was signed by more than 7,000 people earlier this year.

But the new work and pensions secretary, Therese Coffey, mentioned the proposals as she gave evidence for the first time yesterday (Wednesday) in front of the Commons work and pensions select committee.

In an evidence session marked by apparent frustration and even anger from some opposition MPs, Coffey also insisted that – despite repeated and serious concerns raised by disabled activists, campaigners, charities and MPs – the new universal credit (UC) benefit system was “broadly working well”.

And she claimed that the five-week wait for a first payment for new claimants – and the system of advance payments for those in need, which must then be repaid out of future monthly payments – “does work”.

Liberal Democrat MP Heidi Allen told her: “Imagine living on such a tiny amount of money that it is not enough to live on and then you have to pay some of it back.

“How can that work?”

But Coffey said: “For those people who are claiming universal credit for the first time, I do think the advance works.”

Coffey’s confidence came just days after a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference heard from the boss of a local homeless charity how UC was causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, and that the “killer” for her clients was the five-week wait for a first payment.

Coffey also told the committee that there had been a “drop in satisfaction” with DWP among disabled people.

She said that a single assessment would be an “important part” of improving the experience of disabled claimants, “as long as we can make sure that customers actually want that to happen and that we have people adequately trained on that”.

She stressed that the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, was “very keen to make sure it is absolutely the decision of the person going through the process about whether to have one or two assessments”.

Tomlinson himself had appeared to dismiss the idea of a single assessment in April, when he told MPs that there had been “confusion” over the government’s plans, which he said would merely offer a “very few people” the chance to have both their PIP assessment and their WCA on the same day.

But Coffey told the committee that Tomlinson was “very much engaged in trying to make [a single assessment] happen”.

And John-Paul Marks, DWP’s director general for work and health services, told MPs that the plan was to offer disabled people a single, joint assessment.

He said: “We recognise that a PIP assessment is about independent living and the employment and support allowance assessment is about fitness for work and these are not the same thing, so we have got to be careful about understanding how this would improve customer experience.

“Would it improve trust, would it improve engagement, would it make it easier for people?

“If we can do the feasibility and show that’s true, then it is a helpful improvement.”

But he said that some people might want to continue to have separate assessments.

He said that “trying to merge those two things into a single face-to-face contact might work for some people but it might not work for everyone so that’s why we do want to be cautious and make sure get it right and base it on evidence”.

Coffey also heard a claim from Labour MP Neil Coyle that ministers had decided that those disabled people previously receiving enhanced disability premium (EDP) on top of benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) would be “deliberately made worse off under universal credit”.

He pointed to a court ruling in January that found DWP had acted unlawfully in how it treated recipients of disability-related premiums when they were moved onto UC.

But Coyle said that the “transitional protections” now agreed by DWP would only help those who had been receiving SDP and not those who had only received EDP.

He said there were about 100,000 disabled people receiving SDP, compared with 900,000 receiving EDP and he suggested DWP was “deliberately” targeting compensation at the smaller group and was in effect saying that the 900,000 would be “deliberately made worse off under universal credit”.

Marks told Coyle: “To be honest, that is a choice that has been made.”

He told Coyle that ministers had decided to pay more to those disabled people who were not expected to work, who were previously in the support group of ESA and were now in the new limited capability for work-related activity group of UC.

He said this group would on average be £100-a-month better off under UC.

He added: “So when decisions were made by previous ministers – with advice – it was about how do you get the right choices with what’s available, given the resources and the choices that have to be made.

“Every choice has to be around support for vulnerable people and incentives for work and fairness for the taxpayer and so that is the balance that has been struck on SDP.”

Asked if all those on EDP would be worse off when they move onto UC, a DWP spokesperson told Disability News Service this morning: “We are committed to ensuring that everybody receives the support they need.

“The severe disability premium and the enhanced disability premium are different premiums with different qualifying conditions.

“Many people transferring from enhanced disability premium are better off under universal credit.

“Transitional payments introduced for those claimants who were receiving the severe disability premium recognise their very specific circumstances.”

DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new UC system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.

But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.

17 October 2019

 

Queen’s speech social care pledge ‘is waffle and a smokescreen’

The government’s promise in this week’s Queen’s speech to introduce proposals to solve the adult social care crisis has been dismissed by leading disabled campaigners as “waffle”, a “smokescreen” and “the same old platitudes”.

A speech laying out Boris Johnson’s first programme of priorities for his government, delivered by the Queen, included a pledge to “bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age.”

In a briefing accompanying the speech, the government said it would “bring forward substantive proposals to fix the crisis in social care to give everyone the dignity and security they deserve”, which would include “setting out legislative requirements”.

But in his introduction to the briefing document, Johnson ignored social care completely.

The announcement came as the Care Quality Commission, in its annual assessment of the state of health and social care in England, warned that the “failure to find a consensus” on a future adult social care funding model “continues to drive instability in this sector” and said there was “an urgent need for Parliament and government to make this a priority”.

The government’s Queen’s speech pledge to reform social care was dismissed by leading disabled figures.

Mark Harrison, of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, who helped draw up plans for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS), an idea overwhelmingly approved by Labour members, although not yet by party leaders (see separate story), said: “The Tories have no intention of solving the social care crisis.

“They are not serious. If they were, they would have a bill and a legislative timetable.

“The smokescreen in the Queen’s speech is designed to confuse and give the appearance of action when the reality is the opposite.

“The relatively small sums of money being promised don’t go any way to meeting the need or addressing the funding cuts since 2010.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, who has written in support of ROFA’s “radical and transformational” NILSS plans, said: “As for the present minority government’s waffle about social care, perhaps the least said the best.

“We are used to modern UK governments making announcements of new money that really isn’t there.

“But to announce inadequate social care proposals they aren’t even in a position to implement, takes us to a new low.”

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a crossbench peer and chair of the Independent Living Strategy Group, said she was working on her own proposals, which would be laid out in a private members’ bill.

She said: “Although the announcement on social care was at least mentioned in the Queen’s speech yesterday, there is nothing to suggest that it is going to be anything more than the same old platitudes that we have been fobbed off with for years.

“I am so weary of fine words that never materialise into action; it will take strong, progressive action to make me believe that anything is going to change.

“That’s why I am attempting to develop my own private members’ bill, on the right to independent living.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said it was unclear from the Queen’s speech whether long-delayed plans for a social care green paper had now been scrapped.

He criticised the failure to mention disabled people in the part of the speech relating to social care.

He said: “Did the government think that disabled people would simply disappear following the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund in 2015?

“The government legislative agenda in relation to social care makes no direct reference to disabled people, which is totally unacceptable.”

Like others, he was critical of Labour’s own announcement on social care this week, which pledged to provide free personal care for older people and only to “work towards” extending that to working-age adults.

He said: “GMCDP believes we need a clear timescale and commitment from both the government and the opposition parties to consult on their social care plans.

“That means actively engaging with and listening to disabled people and our organisations.

“To be clear, what we need, what we demand, is that all political parties accept the need for legislation that enshrines disabled people’s universal right to independent living.

“Furthermore, just as health care is free at the point of delivery, so should social care.”

Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said: “This Queen’s speech is a bad news for disabled people who have been hardest hit by austerity.

“There is nothing in it to make our lives better.

“Proposals for social care and mental health are not the radical change that we need, but are just patching up an already broken system which breaches our human rights and does not comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“The government has been promising to reform social care for years and it looks like their main concern is cost, not the radical rethinking of the system and setting up a service that would promote our right to independent living.”

She said this reflected the lack of meaningful engagement with disabled people and their organisations.

Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “Once again, a commitment to reform social care but only so far as ‘bringing forward proposals’, which we have heard many times before. Will this time be any different?”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said the funding offered by the government for adult social care was “totally inadequate and fails to address people’s real needs”, describing it as like “an Elastoplast being applied to a fracture”.

Elsewhere in the Queen’s speech, the government promised to continue work to reform the Mental Health Act – following last December’s publication of an independent review of the act – with a white paper promised by the end of the year.

Bott said that people experiencing mental ill health “must be at the centre of any reform”.

And Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “The mental health section of the Queen’s speech briefing says there will be a white paper by the end of the year.

“Despite all the political rhetoric, this shows how slowly mental health is moving as an issue under this government. They have been in office since 2010.”

There will also be a controversial new bill that would tackle electoral fraud – which would require voters to show photographic identification, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has described as “clearly discriminatory” – but would also make it easier for disabled people to vote at polling stations.

This would allow a wider range of people to assist disabled voters and would require returning officers to provide equipment to support voters with sight loss and other impairments who face barriers in voting.

King said: “It is good that there is going to be more support for disabled voters. But the proposals say nothing about the accessibility of polling stations.

“We’ve seen how personal independence payment assessments are held in inaccessible buildings and polling stations continue to be held in premises without proper access.”

17 October 2019

 

‘Disappointment and sadness’ over Labour’s social care policy

Frustrated disabled campaigners have expressed “massive disappointment” at Labour’s latest policy announcement on social care, after it failed again to commit to introducing a legal right to independent living if it wins power.

Jeremy Corbyn promised on Tuesday that a Labour government would introduce free personal care for older people in England – ensuring support for getting in and out of bed, dressing, eating and bathing – and would only “work towards” doing the same for working-age disabled people.

Corbyn criticised Boris Johnson for failing to set out in this week’s Queen’s speech any legislation on adult social care, or to provide details of any proposals or set a time limit for any reforms (see separate story).

And he said Labour’s plans would extend state-funded social care to hundreds of thousands more people.

But those plans fall far short of proposals for a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) for England, and a legal right to independent living, which were overwhelmingly backed by Labour members at the party’s annual conference in Brighton last month.

It came as the Care Quality Commission, in its annual assessment of the state of health and social care in England, warned that the “failure to find a consensus” for a future adult social care funding model “continues to drive instability in this sector” and said there was “an urgent need for Parliament and government to make this a priority”.

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said she was “massively disappointed” that Labour did not seem committed to the NILSS proposals that had been backed by its own members.

She said Labour’s plans for a National Care Service “will not meet the needs of thousands of disabled people of all ages who want to live independently and have control over who provides that care and how it is delivered”.

Mark Harrison, of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), who helped draw up the NILSS plans, said Labour had failed to co-produce its proposals with disabled people and their representative organisations, as required by [article four of] the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

He said: “If they had consulted disabled people and implemented the policy on independent living and social care passed at the recent conference and the TUC Congress in September, it would not look like this.

“Their policy is free personal care for older people (and working towards free personal care for working-age people) rather than the National Independent Living Support Service approved unanimously by party members at conference.”

He said the party’s plans were also not in line with those proposed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has called for a legal right to independent living.

Harrison said: “We need the Labour front bench to take the UNCRPD seriously and work closely with representative disabled people’s organisations to develop a plan for achieving disability equality and addressing the last nine-and-a-half years of austerity cuts which have disproportionately hit disabled people and our families.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, who has written in support of ROFA’s “radical and transformational” NILSS plans, said: “First and most important, we have to hope that Labour’s early announcement about social care will not come to be seen as a lost opportunity, rather than a first response to broader extraordinary political circumstances.

“What we have to hope is that Labour will ultimately commit itself to an approach to future social care policy that is closely in line with achieving independent living as set out in the UNCRPD.

“This must be the goal, although we know that it may take time, but the UN convention recognises this and has introduced the concept of ‘progressive realisation’ knowing that while states cannot be expected to have all the resources in place in the short term they must have concrete steps in place towards it.

“The current announcement does not yet put us in this crucial place.”

Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said her organisation was “disappointed” with Labour’s focus on personal care, rather than independent living.

She said: “Our lives are so much more than just being clean and fed.”

She said the proposals “reflect the lack of meaningful engagement with disabled people and our organisations” and called on Labour to rethink its policy in co-production with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said Labour’s announcement and the lack of reference to NILSS was “disappointing”.

He said: “Whilst free personal care for older people is obviously welcomed, extending that right should and must be extended to all, including disabled people young and old.

“GMCDP believes we need a clear timescale and commitment from both the government and the opposition parties to consult on their social care plans.

“That means actively engaging with and listening to disabled people and our organisations.

“To be clear, what we need, what we demand, is that all political parties accept the need for legislation that enshrines disabled people’s universal right to independent living.

“Furthermore, just as health care is free at the point of delivery, so should social care.”

Michelle Maher, from WOWcampaign, said she viewed Labour’s announcement with “great sadness”.

She said: “The closure of the Independent Living Fund stripped disabled people of a lifeline and impacted disabled people grievously. Labour know what that impact is.

“They have been at the fringe events [at the party conference], they saw the protests.

“We are not invisible; they know the facts. The continued attacks on personal independence payment and social care are getting worse.

“Social care is a lifeline, it is our human right, our access to society. Labour need to get behind this as they have with other cuts to support.”

The Labour party had not been able to comment by noon today (Thursday).

17 October 2019

 

Disabled job-seeker banned from using toilet on DWP work programme

A disabled job-seeker who signed up to the government’s new Work and Health Programme was banned from using the toilet, washing his hands or accessing drinking water.

Ryan*, from north London, was attending a voluntary programme run by the charity Shaw Trust, which was supposed to help with his search for a job.

But when he turned up to the first session at the offices in Cricklewood, having cycled there in the rain, he asked to use the toilet to wash his hands, and was told the facilities were only for staff.

Ryan, who has experience of depression and anxiety and receives universal credit after previously being found fit for work – he was sacked from his last job after an anxiety episode – was told to use a nearby café instead.

When he insisted that he only wanted to wash his hands, he was escorted to the kitchen area, while a member of staff watched over him “like a prison officer”.

The following week, while attending his second weekly session, he asked to use the toilet, to be told again that the facilities were only for staff and that he should use the nearby café.

Ryan did not want to have to ask to use the facilities in a café, so he “cycled home really fast” after the session and used his own bathroom instead.

He is now refusing to return to the offices in Cricklewood Lane and has asked Shaw Trust to refer him to another service. He has also lodged a complaint about the way he was treated.

Ryan said: “This was a breach of my human rights.

“It is an unacceptable way to treat people, especially disabled people.

“I believe in fighting for my rights, so I made a complaint. I just feel that it is degrading.”

He added: “I’ve attended many jobcentre-sanctioned courses over the years and never have I experienced anything like this.

“In my opinion it’s not fit for purpose for holding any type of work programme-related support.”

Shaw Trust is one of the largest 25 charities in the country and says it provides “specialist services to help people gain an education, enter work, develop their career, improve their wellbeing or rebuild their lives”.

But last year, Disability News Service revealed that the charity had promised to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the work and pensions secretary and pledge never to do anything that harmed the public’s confidence in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in order to win the Work and Health Programme contract.

The £398 million, seven-year Work and Health Programme is replacing the Work Programme and the specialist Work Choice disability employment scheme across England and Wales, with contractors paid mostly by results.

Most of those referred to the scheme are expected to be disabled people.

Shaw Trust is one of the five main Work and Health Programme contractors.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “I think any organisation raking in so much money to supposedly provide services to disabled people can afford to provide premises which have a toilet and facilities for attendees to get both hot or cold drinks during the day.

“But, sadly, this Shaw Trust failure comes as no surprise given their previous track record in failing to meet disabled people’s needs on workfare-type programmes.”

A Shaw Trust spokesperson said: “Shaw Trust seeks to provide services in communities, and co-locates these services to ensure they are accessible to all clients.

“On this occasion the premises, which belong to our partner, in Cricklewood do not meet our required standards and this is already being addressed with them.

“The wellbeing of those participating on our programmes is a priority for Shaw Trust and we are already in contact with [Ryan] to support him at alternate locations to meet his individual needs.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to comment.

*He has asked for his full name not to be used

17 October 2019

 

Disabled peer misses Queen’s speech after Underground flouts court ruling

A disabled peer was forced to miss the state opening of parliament after London Underground failed yet again to alert wheelchair-users to broken lifts on the network, despite a critical court ruling in January.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell was forced to retrace her steps on the tube network to Waterloo station, and then wheel in the wind and rain to the Houses of Parliament, after she arrived at Westminster station to find the lifts were out of order.

By the time she arrived at the House of Lords, it was too late to take her place for the Queen’s speech.

She has already written to Transport for London’s chair and chief executive about her experience, and she plans to raise it with a transport minister.

The crossbench peer, who has spinal muscular atrophy and has repeatedly had to be admitted to hospital with life-threatening chest infections, told Transport for London (TfL) that “wheeling in the cold has its own dangers”.

The latest London Underground failure comes just months after a judge ruled that it twice discriminated against a disabled campaigner by failing to warn him that vital lifts that would allow him to complete his journey on the tube network were out-of-order.

Doug Paulley found himself stranded and confronted with inaccurate and incomplete information and unhelpful staff on trips to London in October 2016 and May 2017, a similar situation to that faced by Baroness Campbell on Monday.

A judge ruled that London Underground breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for its disabled customers by failing to let Paulley know about lift closures on its network.

The judge ruled that it was not reasonable for London Underground to expect wheelchair-users and other passengers who rely on lifts to check the organisation’s website for closures before every journey they make.

London Underground was told to do more to alert passengers when its lifts were out of order across the 12 stations with step-free access in the central zone – which include Waterloo and Westminster – which should include placing white boards at station entrances to ensure passengers know about problems before they start their journey.

This does not appear to have been done on Monday and led to Baroness Campbell missing the Queen’s speech.

Paulley said it appeared from Baroness Campbell’s experience that London Underground had failed to act on January’s court ruling.

He said: “It’s sad that disabled people are still suffering unduly disrupted journeys because London Underground don’t bother to take the smallest of effort to publicise broken lifts.”

Mark Evers, London Underground’s chief customer officer, said: “I would like to apologise to Baroness Campbell for her recent experience on the tube which fell far short of the customer service that we strive to provide.

“Making London’s transport network more accessible is one of our top priorities and we understand how challenging it can be for our customers when lifts are taken out of service, either for planned maintenance or due to a fault.

“We try hard to alert our customers in advance to any issues, for example through real-time lift information on our website, and to provide up-to-date information at stations and on trains.

“However, it’s clear that some of the recent improvements we’ve made to keep customers up-to-date weren’t carried out properly in this case.”

A TfL spokesperson said London Underground had introduced a real-time information app for station staff which allows them to report lift faults, via their iPads, directly to the control centre.

It has also installed poster frames next to lifts in stations, and prints posters with key alternative routes “that can be quickly deployed in the event of a lift fault”.

She added: “We have also introduced an initiative at all step-free stations which involves distributing prompt cards to station staff to remind them of the actions to take when a lift goes out of service.”

17 October 2019

 

Disappointment at mayor’s scaled-back plans for Liberty arts festival

Disabled artists have expressed disappointment at the mayor of London’s scaled-back plans for the capital’s annual disability arts festival, which has continued to shrink in size since its heyday in the mid-2000s.

Liberty was originally launched by Ken Livingstone in 2003 as a festival celebrating both disability arts and disability rights.

The first eight Liberty festivals were held in Trafalgar Square before the venue was moved to the South Bank in 2011.

Liberty was then merged with National Paralympic Day – a decision that itself was widely criticised by disabled artists – and the location moved to the Olympic Park in east London.

Last year, the festival was renamed Liberty Unbound and was held for the first time across three London boroughs – Enfield, Hounslow and Lewisham – in late August and early September.

This year’s Liberty will be held in late autumn – 23 and 24 November – in venues across the north-east London borough of Waltham Forest, which mayor Sadiq Khan has named as his first London borough of culture.

There is a line-up of critically-acclaimed disabled artists, including Nwando Ebizie, Jess Thom’s Touretteshero and Byron Vincent, and a Deaf Rave club night, with performances, installations and screenings of the documentary The Unlimited House of Krip, but there are concerns that the festival has lost its original scale and commitment to disability rights.

Dr Ju Gosling, artistic director of Together! 2012*, who has contributed to many Liberty festivals over the years, said the new format “seems focussed on showcasing disabled artists to non-disabled people, with disabled people having to criss-cross Walthamstow for 36 hours if they want to access all of the activities, which clearly creates significant barriers”.

She said: “All of the acts are great, of course, and I would welcome any and all of them to Newham, where we continue to have one of the lowest cultural engagement rates in the UK.”

But she added: “I still believe there is a huge need for a summer-based outdoor festival – late November hardly being ideal for disabled people to access outdoor installations, etc – which brings disabled people together on one site to enjoy our own cultural activities, as promised by article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Most of us don’t live in fully accessible homes, so we only see our friends at events like Liberty – there are quite a number of people whom I haven’t seen since 2017 when the last single-site festival took place.

“Liberty began as ‘The Mayor of London’s Disability Rights Festival’, but all of the elements which supported our rights, from information stalls to gaining resilience through social networking, have seemingly been abandoned.”

David Hevey, chief executive of London-based Shape Arts, said: “I hope Liberty returns to the scale it used to have.

“Let’s hope this is the beginning of it going back to a large scale.

“It’s great that it’s keeping going. It’s got a great legacy. I just hope that it achieves a more national pre-eminence again.”

Kevin Walsh, executive director of Graeae Theatre Company, said: “Liberty Festival is one of the cornerstones of the modern disability arts landscape and it is great that it returns for another year.

“We have been supportive of the programme reaching parts of London outside the centre, as it is taking the festival to boroughs that would benefit from a bit more Touretteshero and Candoco [Dance Company] in their lives.

“That said, something has been lost by not having a celebration in the centre of London.

“It was with great pride that we belted out tunes and danced across Trafalgar Square to the random passers-by who just came to frolic in the fountains.

“There is something brazen and sexy about introducing tourists to 40 years of progress in disability arts.

“Front and centre, loud, proud and chaotic, Liberty Festival was always a little bit of naughtiness on a summer’s day.

“We’ll be there in Walthamstow, though, the line-up sounds awesome and we love what [access to live music charity] Attitude is Everything are doing to support Waltham Forest venues.”

A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “This year’s Liberty festival will take place across an entire weekend, showcasing deaf and disabled artists and performers.

“By partnering with Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture we are holding a range of events across a variety of locations so there are more opportunities for Londoners to enjoy the works.

“We are working closely with Waltham Forest to ensure that all sites are accessible to the widest possible audience.”

He said the London Borough of Culture programme was “designed to bring arts and culture to the doorsteps of Londoners” and that Liberty would be “family-focused to help break barriers and educate children”, including panel talks, workshops, emerging artist commissions, local artist performances, and performance pieces.

He added: “While some events take place outside, there will also be indoor events as part of the festival.”

*Together! 2012’s Disability History Month Festival begins on 22 November in Stratford, east London

17 October 2019

 

‘Definitive’ account of austerity decade ‘provides evidence of government’s shame’

The government is continuing to breach disabled people’s rights despite repeated exposure by the United Nations, according to a new book that provides a “definitive” account of the harm caused by a decade of cuts and reforms.

In Second Class Citizens, disabled researcher Stef Benstead looks at the conclusions of various UN investigations that have examined the UK’s provision for disabled people and how it has changed and have concluded that the government has been “gravely breaching disabled people’s rights”.

In contrast, says Benstead, the UK government “remains confident that it is a world leader in disability rights, and that in recent years it has improved its provision through better targeting of resources and more support to help disabled people get and stay in work”.

Her book, published by the Centre for Welfare Reform, includes a series of examples describing how government cuts and reforms have impacted on individual disabled people.

It has been described as “essential reading” by the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said it provided “the definitive verdict on government welfare reform, the UK’s shame”.

He said: “It’s a policy against the evidence, against human rights and most of all against disabled people. Here the truth gap is filled with the real voices of disabled people.”

Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, described the book as “a benchmark study of the treatment of disabled people under austerity”.

He said: “It is illuminated by numerous powerful personal stories illustrating the human impact of austerity, and a devastating critique of the shift from a positive vision of social security to today’s welfare system based on a culture of blame and the myth of dependency.”

Benstead has previously worked with the Spartacus online network, which produced a string of influential research reports on cuts to disabled people’s support between 2012 and 2017, and the thinktank Ekklesia.

She is currently working with the user-led Chronic Illness Inclusion Project and Church Action on Poverty.

Her book presents evidence on the impact of policy changes that have affected disabled people since 2010.

But she also looks at the history of how disabled people have been treated by society and the state, and examines the development of the welfare state and post-war campaigns for a more inclusive society, and the Thatcherite policies of the 1980s and the “gradual erosion of the welfare state”.

Benstead describes how politicians began to frame benefit recipients as “scroungers and frauds and the benefit system as a costly mistake”, before extending this argument to recipients of out-of-work sickness and disability benefits.

She then begins to examine the impact of the austerity policies introduced by successive Tory-led governments from 2010, including cuts to social care and employment and support allowance, growing claims by ministers that work should be seen as a health outcome, and substantial increases in the use of conditionality and benefit sanctions imposed on sick and disabled people.

Benstead also examines the introduction of universal credit, which she says is “a mess, deliberately designed to fail to cope with reality” and has left people “trapped in unsuitable homes without enough money to cover their rent, the support they need or their food and bills”.

Her book – which includes many personal stories that illustrate the dehumanising impact of austerity – concludes that sick and disabled people are being failed by the government, which is “failing both to provide the opportunity to work for those who can, and an adequate alternative income for those who can’t work”.

Since 2010, says Benstead, governments have “caused substantial harm to sick and disabled people’s health, living standards and social inclusion”.

She says they have done so “without any moral or economic justification”, failing to uphold one of governments’ “most fundamental reasons to exist: to ensure and improve the access to basic rights of its most vulnerable citizens”.

She adds: “Sick and disabled people in the UK today are treated as second-class citizens, and until this situation is rectified the UK Government will continue to be violating international law by its ongoing breach of disabled people’s rights.”

17 October 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com