‘Shocking’ Rio funding crisis could see 50 countries forced to withdraw

Paralympians have spoken of their shock at learning that 50 of the poorest nations could have to withdraw from next month’s Paralympic Games in Rio because of financial problems facing Brazil’s organising committee.

Thousands of athletes from countries that were relying on travel grants from the Rio 2016 organising committee may not now be able to take part in the games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said this week.

The grants should have been paid by the organising committee to individual countries more than two weeks ago, although it has now promised to do so by the end of the month, only days before the opening ceremony on 7 September.

Sir Philip Craven, the British president of the IPC, and himself a retired Paralympian, said: “Failure to do so could result in a number of countries being unable to attend the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games event they have been planning and preparing for for a number of years.”

Reports this week suggested that the financial crisis had been partly caused by the Rio Olympic organising committee dipping into funds set aside for the Paralympic games in order to deal with its own financial problems.

An IPC official later told BBC World News that 10 countries were “really in jeopardy” of not being able to attend, but that the number forced to pull out could be as high as one in three of the 165 countries due to take part.

One British Paralympian has told Disability News Service (DNS) that losing so many countries, if it happened, would be a huge backwards step for the Paralympic movement.

Keryn Seal, a member of the British blind football team that competed at London 2012, said the reports of financial problems were “shocking” and suggested “tragic mismanagement”.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) that suggestions that 50 of the poorest countries might not be able to attend Rio 2016 because of money taken out of the Paralympic pot by organisers of the Olympic Games were “very sad”, and he questioned what message that would send out about how the comparative importance of the two events was viewed.Top of Form


He said the potential loss of so many countries risked devaluing the event and damaging the reputation of the Paralympics.

He said: “It would take it backwards massively. At the moment you get Paralympic finals where there are only four or five people in them.

“What’s going to happen if you lose 50 countries? The credibility of it could take a big dip.”

Another member of the blind football team, Robin Williams, said on Twitter that the “potential disaster” was an “utter disgrace if true”, and later added: “What’s also a disgrace is that you have to go to the disability section of the BBC sport website to read about it.”

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals, told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight that the scale of countries potentially affected was “shocking” and could see nearly half of the competitors not being able to take part.

She said: “No athlete wants to win a medal because there are several countries who haven’t been able to make it purely for financial reasons.”

And she said that budget cuts to areas such as adapting accommodation and providing transport would set “a really negative tone for the games”.

Jonnie Peacock, one of the stars of the British athletics team, who will compete in the T44 100 metres in Rio, also expressed concern.

He told DNS: “I don’t know enough about the situation to be honest. If it is true then it’s very sad and I sincerely hope that something is done as it’s my dream to compete in Rio and it would hurt if that dream was taken away from me.

“For me and my race, it won’t affect me because I know my main rivals will be there whatever happens, and that’s what I’ve got to focus on now.”

Sir Philip said the situation was “pretty precarious”, but rumours that the games might not go ahead at all or that some sports could be cut from the programme were “totally unfounded” and “not true”.

He said that the mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, had pledged to meet the full costs of the Paralympics by providing a further £36 million, but there was currently an injunction on any further public funding on Rio 2016 unless the organising committee released “full financial spending details”.

Sir Philip said: “Clearly, the simplest and easiest way round this is for the Rio 2016 organising committee to be open and transparent with its financial records in order to allow this additional funding to come in.”

If the funding crisis is not resolved, Sir Philip warned that there would have to be “further cuts” on top of those made by the IPC, the International Olympic Committee and the Rio Olympics.

He said that this could “impact on the services offered to the athletes who have dedicated years of their lives to reach and compete at these games. This is the last thing that we want to do.”

This could mean reducing the frequency of buses laid on for athletes to reach venues, or cutbacks to the food available in the athletes’ village.

This morning (18 August), the IPC was tweeting that the injunction on spending any more money on Rio 2016 had been lifted by the Brazilian courts so “money can now be injected into the Rio 2016 @Paralympics” which it said was “a step in the right direction”.

But in a further blow for the Rio games, the organisers have announced that they have so far sold only 12 per cent of available tickets for Paralympic events.

Peacock told DNS earlier this week that television pictures of empty seats at the Olympics were “a disappointment”.

Asked whether he had concerns about Paralympic ticket sales, he said: “It’s a lot of seats to sell out and London did immensely well.

“We got into the spirit of the games over here and everybody wanted to buy a ticket.

“For me, I still believe it’s going to be a good crowd there. I’m going out there to try and focus on my race and try and do what I can to win it.”

Peacock said he believed that the Paralympics would still be “huge” in Britain, even if there were disappointing ticket sales in Rio, and he praised the work of Paralympic broadcaster Channel 4 and his sponsors BT in promoting the Paralympics.

The British Paralympic Association had not commented on the funding crisis by 11am today (18 August).

18 August 2016



Bus companies ‘using loopholes’ to evade access laws

Public transport providers and local authorities are using loopholes in legislation to avoid their legal obligations to ensure that buses are accessible to disabled people, campaigners fear.

They believe that transport companies are using three different loopholes to allow them to cut costs and use ageing, inaccessible buses.

Access laws state that all buses and coaches have to meet the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) – which date back to 2000 – but coaches have until January 2020 to comply, while all single-deck buses have had to comply by January 2016.

One of the ways that some bus companies have been dodging the regulations, it is believed, is by simply removing the hanging straps in buses, and placing “no standing” signs in their vehicles.

This means they can call their vehicles coaches instead of buses, because there are no standing passengers.

Another tactic is to block-book inaccessible buses for contracts to provide free school transport.

Buses that provide only free school transport do not have to meet PSVAR, but the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has told disabled activist Doug Paulley that it believes some councils are trying to cut costs by using inaccessible vehicles, while at the same time allowing members of the public to use the buses as fare-paying passengers, and also charging some pupils, which should invalidate the PSVAR exemption.

The third loophole used by bus companies is to take advantage of regulations that allow inaccessible vehicles that are more than 20 years old to be used for a maximum of 20 days a year.

Paulley, who is currently awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether disabled people should have priority in using the wheelchair space on buses, said he has caught a bus that was inaccessible to wheelchair-users, despite the PSVAR, and which was taking advantage of both the 20 days-a-year loophole, and the free school transport loophole.

He said: “When the government put the deadlines for accessibility in place, they set the deadlines at the projected lifetime of buses and predicted that all existing buses would be worn out and out of circulation by now.

“It seems bonkers to me that operators are playing silly buggers to get round the ban on using inaccessible buses, to enable them to use recently bought, ancient and inaccessible buses on scheduled bus services. And I think it treats us with contempt.”

Paulley is also concerned that the law is almost impossible to enforce for a disabled person because it comes under criminal legislation, rather than civil law.

This means that any breach of the law would have to be proved “beyond reasonable doubt” instead of “on the balance of probabilities”, even if an organisation could be persuaded to take on the prosecution.

He added: “It’s perverse that something that was considered so important that failure to comply was made a criminal offense, is so easily sidestepped and not enforced or enforceable.”

The Department for Transport failed to comment by 11am today (18 August), despite repeatedly promising to do so.

18 August 2016



Nearly one in three staff laid off by HMRC are disabled, says union

Nearly a third of employees who have lost their jobs in an HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) compulsory redundancy programme are disabled people, union officials have revealed.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) demonstrated against the redundancies outside HMRC’s Reading offices this week.

They are angry that out of 79 compulsory redundancies across the UK, as many as 24 staff members who left their jobs this week are disabled people.

They say the decision to make so many disabled staff members redundant makes a mockery of government claims that it wants to halve the disability employment gap.

In Reading, of three administrative assistants who lost their jobs, two are disabled people.

Many of those affected by the redundancy programme are staff at the lowest pay level, which is disproportionately occupied by disabled and black and minority ethnic staff, said the union.

David Wilmott, a disabled administrative assistant who has been made redundant, and himself a PCS member, said he was the only disabled person in his office of between 30 and 40 employees, but he was one of just two who lost their jobs, because the redundancies were aimed at those on low pay grades.

Wilmott, from Peterborough, who had been working for HMRC for 13 years, said he felt he had been “singled out” for redundancy.

He said HMRC had failed to abide by the redundancy guidelines it should have followed, by offering him other job opportunities that were not accessible to him.

He also said HMRC had not offered him a promotion, even though he had been in the pool of administrative assistants who could potentially secure promotion for about three years.

Wilmott said HMRC’s behaviour demonstrated the government’s hypocrisy over its claims that it wants to halve the disability employment gap.

He said: “They say one thing and do another. It makes one speechless, considering what they have done.”

His mother, Christine, said: “This has dragged on for over three years. I can see the stress it has caused him. It has been awful.”

Despite the union’s figures, HMRC equality impact assessments of the redundancies affecting both Wilmott – who worked in debt management – and the Reading office concluded: “We are not aware of any potential adverse impacts that would disproportionately affect staff in this exit programme due to their disability.”

Mark Leopard, who is responsible for equality issues for PCS in Reading, said the move to make so many disabled employees redundant was clearly discriminatory.

He said: “You hear what the government are saying about getting disabled people back into work, while on the other hand they’re pushing people out of work and not really making the effort to keep people in work.”

Leopard said he believed that some of those who have lost their jobs will take legal action against HMRC.

He said: “I think there is a clear case there of discrimination, a failure to take disability into account.

“We are not going to change their minds at this late stage but they need to be embarrassed about what they’ve done.”

He said that one reason that so many disabled people were losing their jobs was because the redundancies were concentrated among the lowest pay grades.

He said HMRC’s attitude to disability had also been demonstrated by its reluctance to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people on these pay grades.

He said: “If you’re a senior civil servant, they give you a laptop and a Blackberry and you can work flexibly.

“If you’re a disabled person, an administrative assistant or an administrative officer, it doesn’t happen.”

The PCS protest was supported online by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “This government professes to want to halve the disability employment gap, so they harass disabled people off employment and support allowance, usually onto the dole, where they are subject to sanctions.

“Then they do everything possible to prevent us gaining work: they cut Access to Work funding, take away funding support with personal independence payment, take away adapted mobility cars and more.

“When disabled people do have jobs, in spite of the government’s best efforts, they turn a blind eye to workplace discrimination and in a final staggering move they sack their own disabled employees.

“There is only one conclusion that’s possible: that this government simply have it in for us.”

An HMRC spokesman said: “We do not recognise the estimates being quoted regarding disabled staff members.

“We have made every effort to explore redeployment options, but unfortunately for this group this has resulted in them leaving the department on compulsory redundancy terms.

“This is no reflection on the contribution and commitment of the people affected.”

He said that 79 people across the UK would be leaving HMRC through compulsory redundancy, and that HMRC had “started meaningful consultation” with the unions in August 2015.

He said: “This is because either their role has come to an end, or their office has closed and they could not be redeployed locally.

“All of these people turned down an offer of a voluntary redundancy package, and HMRC explained at that time that they were at risk of compulsory redundancy.”

Asked if its actions had been discriminatory, he said HMRC had followed the relevant Cabinet Office protocols and had carried out a five-month consultation process with unions.

He said: “The Cabinet Office only gave HMRC permission to move to compulsory redundancy when it was satisfied that HMRC had explored all reasonable avenues for redeployment for all the people concerned.”

Asked whether there had been a reluctance to offer reasonable adjustments to disabled staff on lower pay grades, he said: “HMRC provide a range of resources and help, available to all our staff who feel they need extra resource.”

He also confirmed that equality impact assessments had identified “no potential adverse impacts that would disproportionately affect staff in this exit programme due to their disability”.

He added: “Managers have held regular meetings with staff to discuss their individual circumstances, and put any mitigation in place.

“HMRC continued to look for redeployment opportunities for all these staff until their last day of service.”

18 August 2016



New pre-natal testing technique is ‘further NHS step towards eugenics’

Government plans to introduce a new, safer form of pre-natal testing for Down’s syndrome and other conditions send a message to disabled people that they are “better off being dead than being born”, according to a leading activist.

The Department of Health (DH) is believed to be poised to give the go-ahead to non-invasive pre-natal testing (NIPT) across the NHS.

Supporters of NIPT claim it is a safer form of pre-natal testing for Down’s syndrome that will eliminate many of the miscarriages caused by pregnant women opting for an invasive amniocentesis.

Those who test positive after NIPT will still need to have an invasive test to confirm the diagnosis.

A study funded by the NHS National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) found that introducing NIPT instead of more invasive tests for pregnant women with a more than one in 150 chance of having a child with Down’s syndrome would identify 102 more fetuses with the condition, and prevent 25 miscarriages a year.

But campaigners say that pregnant women choose to abort about 90 per cent of fetuses identified as having Down’s syndrome, so the new technique would prevent 25 miscarriages but lead to 92 more abortions of fetuses with Down’s syndrome every year.

Some academics point to research by Professor Lyn Chitty, at Great Ormond Street Hospital, for the UK National Screening Committee, which found that 30 per cent of women given NIPT decided to carry a Down’s syndrome fetus to term, compared with six per cent under the current system.

But even if that proves accurate when NIPT is rolled out, the NIHR research suggests that it would still see an increase of more than 70 babies with Down’s syndrome aborted every year, compared with 25 fewer miscarriages.

Disabled activist Simone Aspis, founder of the training and consultancy organisation Changing Perspectives, said she was “deeply concerned” by the prospect of NIPT being available from the NHS.

She said: “Any test that is being used to eliminate disabled people is definitely a form of eugenics.

“What message does it send to other people about disabled people and difference – you’re better off being dead than being born.

“The more you screen out, the less tolerant people become of people who are different from themselves, and the more the expectation is that you abort a disabled baby.”

But she said that introducing such tests also contributes towards “moving the goalposts”, a gradual process in which society is gradually defining more and more people as disabled and therefore expanding the number of fetuses that are suitable candidates to be aborted.

Aspis said the key issue was not whether one pre-natal test was better than another because it reduced miscarriages, but “what kind of society do we want?”

She said: “We are always going to end up in a system where resources are tight, and there is elitism, so there is going to be the potential for wanting to be eliminating people who are not deemed to be productive.

“Someone who is deemed to be averagely productive now will end up [in 10 or 20 years’ time] being labelled with an impairment and therefore be subjected to medical procedures, screening out, and abortion eugenics.

“This money could be much better spent in keeping people alive and upholding their fundamental human and civil rights, such as under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).”

Last month, the disabled academic Professor Tom Shakespeare offered his opinions about NIPT for BBC Radio 4’s A Point Of View, in which he said that the “major benefit” was that it would lower NHS costs and “more importantly it will also avoid the dozens of miscarriages which result from amniocenteses each year”.

He added: “The down side is the potential delay of several weeks before those women at high risk receive a final confirmation of the status of the pregnancy.”

He is chairing a Nuffield Council on Bioethics working group, looking at the ethical and social aspects of NIPT, and said in the recording that he was concerned that the NHS puts “a lot of energy and expense into ensuring that these tests are scientifically robust” but less into “achieving balanced information and sufficient counselling” about life with disability.

He pointed out that “advocates for people with Down’s syndrome argue that having the condition does not prevent you from having a good life”, and highlighted his own inherited genetic condition, restricted growth, which he passed on to his two children, but which “never stopped any of us flourishing”.

He also warned that NIPT was a technology that had been driven by the commercial sector and that providers were “competing to offer more and more information through these blood tests”.

Professor Shakespeare said the government’s decision on NIPT was “not just a minor technical upgrade of fetal anomaly screening in the UK” but was instead “a step change”.

He said in his BBC recording: “By offering a more accurate and less risky screening test for Down’s syndrome today, we are also taking another step down the path to more widespread testing for conditions in pregnancy tomorrow.”

This meant, he said, that there was a need for: better availability of balanced information through genetic counselling in pregnancy; up-to-date online information about conditions; and a “wider debate about what information we are prepared to provide in pregnancy” through genetic testing.

But Aspis said that even with improved genetic counselling, would-be parents would still make their decisions on whether to abort their children on how they perceived disability, in a society in which there was “a lot of hatred towards disabled people”.

Her concerns about NIPT are shared by the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign, a grass-roots initiative supported by people with Down’s syndrome, families and advocate groups and led by Saving Down Syndrome, which aims to “raise awareness around the discriminatory and eugenic nature of the practice of antenatal screening worldwide”.

The campaign has written an open letter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, warning that introducing NIPT would have “a profound long-term effect on the community of people with Down’s syndrome and further enable the effective ‘screening out’ of those with certain disabilities from the UK population before they are even born”.

It called on Hunt to delay the introduction until there is “a full ethical review” of NIPT and the government’s fetal anomaly screening programme, involving people with Down’s syndrome and their families, to ensure NIPT is “consistent and compliant” with the UNCRPD and other human rights obligations.

The letter adds: “This must be accompanied with medical reforms to ensure every parent with a disability diagnosis receives balanced information and support to ensure that [NIPT] testing does not lead to the further screening out of people with Down’s syndrome.”

A DH spokeswoman said: “We want women to make informed decisions and access safe and appropriate tests.

“We are considering this carefully and will make an announcement in due course.”

18 August 2016



Paralympians’ surprise at IPC failure to store samples from London 2012

British Paralympians have expressed surprise and disappointment after learning that drug cheats from the London and Beijing Paralympics will escape exposure because the world governing body could not afford to store blood and urine samples for future retesting.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) did not start storing samples until the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi.

This means that they will not be able to retest medallists from Beijing and London, even though UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), which is responsible for ensuring sports bodies in the UK are compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code, said retrospective re-testing of urine and blood samples was a “really vital tool” in countering doping in sport.

The IPC previously secured praise for banning all Russian athletes from next month’s Paralympics in Rio, after receiving proof that Russian Paralympic athletes were part of a state-sponsored doping programme.

But it then told DNS that it had not stored samples from the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics because it did not have the funds to do so.

Current and retired Paralympians this week expressed their surprise at the IPC’s admission.

In response to last week’s DNS story, David Weir, one of the most high-profile of Britain’s Paralympians, and winner of four gold medals in London, tweeted: “Hundreds and thousands they pay at the top but they can’t store drug tests. #amateurorganisation.”

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals before retiring, told DNS: “I think most people will be surprised that they haven’t been storing the samples.”

In the same week that the IPC expressed concern that as many as 50 countries might not be able to attend the Rio games because Brazil’s organising committee had run out of money to pay their travel expenses, she added: “I presumed that they were kept for four to five years. It seems that funding is an issue on so many levels.”

Keryn Seal, a member of the ParalympicsGB blind football team that competed at London 2012, said it was “unfortunate” that drug cheats would escape exposure, but he said that Paralympic sport was still “in its infancy” on a global level.

He said: “Retrospective testing from this time onwards is really, really vital.

“It’s hard for me to be angry because I’m not directly affected. I’ve never felt I’ve missed out on a medal because of somebody who may have been doping.

“Those guys in the individual endurance, power-based sports where it is more directly affecting them, I can see why they would be more angry.”

He added: “It also highlights that the IPC and Paralympic sport as a whole needs more help, needs more assistance, more funding, in this kind of area.

“If we want disability sport to gain more credibility then it has to have the support in terms of anti-doping and the ability to keep these samples, re-test these samples, and treat disability sport the same as Olympic sport and able-bodied sport and have that retrospective testing.

“This is just another part of the jigsaw that needs to be put in place. The fact that they are keeping samples from Sochi onwards now is a step in the right direction.”

But Seal said he believed that an even bigger issue for the Paralympic movement was to address concerns around the classification system, which he said “can be over-generous to some [athletes] and not to others”.

He said: “My sport is pretty lucky but in other sports it is definitely tricky.”

It is a view shared by Robin Williams, another member of the blind football team at London 2012, who said on Twitter: “Doping in #Paralympic sport is one thing, but I suspect far more dodgy medals will be won by cheating/bending the classification systems.”

Another of Britain’s highest-profile Paralympians, Jonnie Peacock, told DNS: “This is the absolute first I have heard of this.

“For me, it’s how you progress from here. It’s how you learn from these mistakes. As long as [the IPC] have learned from it and they improve, what’s done is done, as long as they improve and get better.”

UKAD refused to say whether it was aware that the IPC had not been storing samples from London and Beijing.

But a UKAD spokeswoman said in a statement that sample storage was “an incredibly important tool for anti-doping organisations” and “provides a 10-year window within which to catch those who choose to cheat the system as new analytical methods, technology and detection tools develop”.

She said: “It also acts as a huge deterrent for those who are considering breaking the rules to gain an unfair advantage.

“Anti-doping is underfunded around the globe and UK Anti-Doping encourages sports to invest more in protecting their sport and clean athletes.”

But when asked what UKAD thought of the IPC’s failure to start storing samples before Sochi, she said: “Sample storage and retrospective analysis of samples at the Paralympic Games is a matter for the IPC.”

The British Paralympic Association had not commented by 11am today (18 August).

18 August 2016



PIP computer system crashes again… twice

Problems with the flawed computer system used to deal with claims for the government’s new disability benefit have left hundreds of callers stuck in lengthy telephone queues.

The system used for new personal independence payment (PIP) claims has crashed twice in a fortnight, leaving disabled callers unable to get through to lodge their claims.

On 28 July, PIP claimants were unable to reach the helpline for five hours, with call handlers not able to receive any calls, a whistle-blower has told Disability News Service (DNS).

And less than two weeks later, on 9 August, there was a crash of the CAMlite software – used across DWP as part of the move towards universal credit – leaving call-handlers unable to take any calls for more than four hours.

The problems have been worsened by the decision of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to send out more than 40,000 letters in August to recipients of working-age disability living allowance (DLA), telling them they need to apply for the replacement benefit PIP, as part of the process to reassess every working-age DLA claimant.

The problems are just the latest to have hit the computer system used to deal with new PIP claimants, with DWP continuing to deny that it is fundamentally flawed.

Earlier this summer, DWP claimed that the system – designed and maintained by IT giant Hewlett Packard Enterprise – was just being affected by minor “technical glitches”.

That response came despite a whistle-blower telling DNS that the PIP CS software designed to deal specifically with PIP claims was “appallingly bad”.

The whistle-blower told DNS earlier this year that the software was so poor that, at least once a month, staff were unable to process claims coming through on the helpline and had to tell callers to ring again, because of problems with the system.

The whistle-blower, who works for Serco, the company that runs the telephone helpline that deals with all new PIP claims, said DWP had “messed up” by sending out too many letters to DLA claimants in August.

They said: “As a result, on August 1st, 2nd and 3rd, there were over 300 callers in the queue, with waiting times well over 20 minutes.

“On every day since then there have been times when the queue was over 100 callers.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are aware that there have been intermittent IT issues which have impacted our PIP telephony services.

“As with any IT systems, it is inevitable that from time to time there will be technical issues.

“We work hard to fix any issues as soon as they arise and all claims are processed with the minimum delay possible – in fact, PIP claims are now being cleared four times faster [than] they were in January 2014.”

She said the latest problems “have been fixed and the PIP telephony services are working normally”.

She added: “We continue to monitor the service closely and identify opportunities to improve our systems.

“Our processes are kept under regular review and are closely monitored to ensure that any disruption to claimants is kept to a minimum and that claims continue to progress smoothly.”

PIP, which is gradually replacing working-age DLA, has been mired in controversy, delays and backlogs ever since its launch in April 2013.

DNS reported last month that Motability expected that 35,000 vehicles would have to be handed back by disabled people during 2016 as a result of the government’s programme to reassess people for PIP, and cut at least 20 per cent from spending on working-age DLA.

Activists who took part in a national day of action last month – organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), WinVisible and the Mental Health Resistance Network – said they believed PIP was “rotten to the core” and pointed to growing evidence of the “shoddy nature” of PIP assessments, carried out by the government’s contractors, Capita and Atos.

In February, DWP figures revealed that only two-thirds (68 per cent) of PIP claimants were satisfied with the service they received from DWP, compared with an average of 82 per cent across all 10 benefits surveyed.

18 August 2016



Experts call for focus on Access to Work, adjustments, attitudes… and funding

Disabled experts have suggested a raft of ways in which the government could help to fulfil its commitment to halving the disability employment gap.

The ideas came during a public evidence session held at Somerset House in central London, part of an inquiry by the all-party parliamentary disability group into how to increase the number of disabled people in paid work.

The session was organised by Disability Rights UK, which runs the parliamentary group’s secretariat, alongside students from King’s College London, who are working on the inquiry.

Henrietta Spalding, head of advocacy for the disfigurement charity Changing Faces, told the inquiry session that she believed there should be mandatory training for managers on disability and health conditions.

She said that people’s attitudes and biases needed to be “re-ordered, re-aligned” so that disabled people can “present the skills, strengths and experiences that they have”.

She described the discrimination experienced by a skilled and qualified nursery nurse with a congenital condition, who has had dozens of interviews but has failed to secure a job. “They don’t give her a fair chance to present who she is. She’s not able to even be heard.

“You have either got to be doubly good or you’re going to be discounted. She is being screened out.”

Spalding pointed out that the reasonable adjustment needed for people with facial disfigurements in the workplace was usually a change of attitude among work colleagues and managers, rather than any change to physical barriers.

She said: “People need to know how to do it. People don’t get it right just on their own. People need to know how to get it right.”

She also stressed the importance of having role models for disabled people who are considering their futures and careers, to avoid them having low expectations.

She said: “They are the people who have succeeded, they have found a way to navigate and manage.”

Paul Milton, an artist and ambassador for the British Dyslexia Association, told the inquiry session that there were “a lot of hidden hurdles” facing disabled people seeking employment, including the difficulty of securing qualifications for people with dyslexia.

He called for “nitty-gritty” support for disabled people, and enforcement of the Equality Act.

He said: “It needs to be there in real life because people can just say, ‘No, you’re not suitable.’ We need to enforce the Equality Act. It doesn’t work.”

Graham Price, a member of the management board of Shaping Our Lives, said it was “absolutely absurd” that it was not possible for a disabled person to lodge a claim through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme until they had started their new job, which meant an employer often had to wait months before the support for their new employee was in place.

Price also said it was “nonsense” that the government claimed to want to close the disability employment gap at the same time that it was cutting funding to councils that were supporting user-led organisations “who themselves are offering a lifeline to unemployed disabled people”.

Pierre Marsh, of the user-led dyslexia charity AchieveAbility, called for a more positive attitude to reasonable adjustments from employers.

He said: “If you go up to an employer and say, ‘I need reasonable adjustments,’ they will say, ‘I will get someone else.’”

He said that employers usually only provide reasonable adjustments if they are forced to do so by legal threats.

But he said: “When you do start to look at the possibilities of making reasonable adjustments, you start looking at people in a completely different context.

“You look at what they bring to the table to make the organisation better. That’s the concept of reasonable adjustments.”

Marsh, who attended a special school but later secured a degree and a masters, said: “The issue is intellect and how do you capture it and put it into the workplace.”

And he called for the “useless” department that runs the government’s Access to Work (AtW) programme to be scrapped and replaced by an organisation that “captures capability” and allows disabled people’s skills to be matched to the areas that need them.

Kevin Millin, a quantity surveyor and founder of Disabled People in Construction, said that impairment was seen as a “weakness” in his industry, which was slow to act on equality issues and “unless forced to will not make changes”.

It took him years working in the industry, with its culture of long working-hours, before he felt able to disclose his impairment, he said.

But he told the evidence session that construction companies were capable of “rapidly changing if they are forced to”, and pointed out that the government was the biggest “employer” in the industry, spending hundreds of billions of pounds on projects.

He suggested that companies bidding for government construction contracts should be told that they will only be successful if they employ a certain proportion of disabled people.

Dr Jacquie Nicholson, a member of the founding steering group of the National Association of Disabled Staff Networks, which mainly focuses on the further and higher education sectors, called for funding for networks of disabled employees, which provide vital peer support and an opportunity to talk about “difficulties as well as positives within the workplace”.

She said: “There are benefits for the organisation to hear from disabled staff about policy development but also for the staff in terms of their own confidence and developing their own skills.”

Jacqueline Winstanley, who runs consultancy Universal Inclusion and chairs Fluidity, a charity which facilitates inclusive self-employment, called for the focus of disability employment within government to move away from the benefits-focused Department for Work and Pensions and towards the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS).

She called for DBEIS to develop a programme to promote inclusive entrepreneurship, in partnership with disabled people, and said there was a need to see disabled people “no longer as tax burdens but as creative citizens who can grow businesses”.

Jane Cordell, a former senior diplomat and now founder of the coaching and equality consultancy Getting Equal, said there needed to be much more publicity about AtW.

Five years ago, Cordell lost her employment tribunal appeal in a disability discrimination case against the Foreign Office over the cost of providing her with lip-speakers.

She said: “I want to see adverts on bus shelters about AtW. Small employers haven’t heard about it.”

And she said there needed to be more support for disabled people to become self-employed.

She said: “A disabled person needs to feel less afraid that they can start something and grow it.”

Cordell said that disabled people needed to be able to access mainstream staff networks and not just those networks set up for disabled staff members.

She said: “Deaf colleagues are not being able to break out of deaf circles. At the moment, most influential people aren’t disabled.”

And she said the government should focus more on social enterprises, which she said were increasing at about nine times the pace of other sectors.

Rosemary Berks, a senior manager with user-led Darlington Association on Disability, also stressed the importance of social enterprises in providing jobs for disabled people.

She said: “We don’t believe in tokenism. We believe in real jobs for people.

“Social enterprise is one way we can get people together with a common aim, but it’s really difficult to get funding.

“If you want something to happen you have got to resource it. You think because we are a charity that we can do things for nothing.”

She said that AtW only supports businesses that can turn a profit, and she pointed out the risks of disabled people having low expectations and being pigeon-holed.

She said: “I was unemployed for 20 years because my doctor told me I couldn’t work, and I believed him.”

Dr Mandy Maddock, of the user-led community interest company Disabled Parents and Carers Together, also raised concerns about the lack of funding for user-led organisations.

She said: “We have found it is very difficult to set up our social enterprise because funding is very difficult to get.

“They have all got the right words but when it comes to putting that into action and we say, ‘Fund us to do this,’ then they say no, we have not been successful.

“I think it is because people do not believe in us enough. We believe in ourselves, the difficult bit is to get others to believe in us.”

Meanwhile, the disability and Deaf arts organisation DaDaFest has been awarded a £275,000 Big Lottery Fund grant to increase the chances of young disabled people finding work as artists and producers in the creative sector, through training, mentoring and placements within arts organisations.

The DaDaFest Rookies scheme, which is led by young people, builds on the organisation’s successful Young DaDaFest programme, which has seen more than 2,500 young people take part in arts events and projects.

Ruth Gould, artistic director of DaDaFest, said: “We are so proud that the young people have led, shaped and developed this programme.

“DaDaFest are excited about being able to support new and emerging talent and confidently believe that in three years’ time the result will see many young people in jobs, on the stage, in galleries and in film and TV and enrich the arts sector to be more reflective of an inclusive and diverse society.”

18 August 2016



Countdown to Rio: Nicholls looks for a ‘crowning’ achievement

She joined Hannah Cockroft on her lap of honour after finishing seventh behind Britain’s double gold medallist in the T34 200 metres in London 2012.

But four years on, Mel Nicholls believes she has a real chance of causing an upset and beating Cockroft in one of her three events in next month’s Rio Paralympic Games.

In London, the T34 track races were sprints – 100 and 200 metres – but in Rio there will be a T34 100 metres, a 400 metres and an 800 metres, a race which gives the mid-distance specialist Nicholls a much better chance of a medal.

She told Disability News Service: “I have definitely got a chance.”

A silver medal in the 800 metres at last year’s world championships was a “great boost”, she said, coming as it did soon after an injury lay-off.

She’s world record-holder at 1,500 metres and loves the tactics of the longer races.

Nicholls said: “I am much more of a distance racer, I am not a sprinter. It definitely goes in my favour.

“[The 800 metres] is still a short middle distance but you have got a good lap of time for some tactics, which I absolutely love. That’s my thing.

“I see it as like a game of chess. Once you’re into the rhythm you can kind of see it… I know where people are, I know what I can do, and you just play it out, and that makes it really exciting.

“With the 800, it’s almost anybody’s race. There are about five of us who can medal. I definitely want to be in that top five.”

London 2012 was her first major competition as a wheelchair athlete, and she took part just four years after the last of three strokes which left her disabled.

The build-up to Rio has been completely different to London, when she was “a complete unknown”.

She said: “I wasn’t on the radar [at London]. I am now. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but since London I’ve been on the team and it’s my job, so there is a lot of different pressure.

“That’s really exciting, but it’s a very different feeling.”

Nicholls describes herself as a “perfectionist”, both as a person and as an athlete.

She said: “There’s no harder taskmaster than I am on myself. You want to be the best you can be.

“Also, I don’t want to let my team down. I’m really part of the team. My coaches, the country, everybody that’s invested in me and the sport, I feel I owe them back.

“Always I want to please people; I want to please my coaches, my friends, my family. I work myself the hardest because I don’t want to let anybody down.”

She copes with the stress and pressure partly through support from a sports psychologist and mindfulness training, which she said has “probably been my biggest help in my training”.

The mindfulness proved crucial at last year’s world championships, she said, when she had only returned to training a month before, after an injury, and was lacking in confidence.

She said: “I got a silver medal and it was my mind that got me through that race. Your mind is powerful and you can do a lot with that.”

Like many Paralympians, she has had to make sacrifices. She hasn’t seen her mother, who lives in France, since last year.

Nicholls said: “I don’t see my friends very much; sometimes they can get quite frustrated about that. I don’t see my family.

“They understand that. It’s a short time and a small price to pay, I think. I know that they are there backing me and afterwards it will be worth it.”

She is looking forward to the “vibrance and the colour” of Rio – “I am a fan of bright colour, everyone knows me for always being in pink” – and to being part of a team environment again.

She said: “That was the main thing I noticed from London. I had never been in a team environment before and it felt like a big family.

“The people supporting you back home and the team around us, it was a big family, and everyone was there for the highs and the lows.”

She said that putting on the Rio 2016 ParalympicsGB team kit for the first time was “wonderful”.

She said: “Putting on the kit is something really special. I can imagine putting on a wedding dress, it’s that kind of experience… I will take this over getting married any day.”

She added: “We have this amazing crown design, which I absolutely love. It’s very regal. I love the royal family, I absolutely love the Queen, so I think it’s fantastic. If I could wear a crown to race, I would.”

Like many Paralympians, she is hoping to inspire the next generation of athletes, as she was inspired herself by watching the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

She remembers joining Cockroft on her 200 metres lap of honour in London.

She said: “It was the children, their faces, and they all wanted to high-five you. You could see the magic in their eyes, and that was really special, and that was disabled children or able-bodied children.

“For me, if one person is going to take up sport, that’s such a positive, that’s what I want to do.”

Nicholls put her wish to inspire the next generation of Paralympic athletes into action five years ago by starting an academy with her coach, basing it at the Coventry Godiva Harriers athletics club.

There is now a core group of at least 10 athletes at every session, three times a week, and another 40 people who drop in and out; some of those who attend the sessions are amateurs and some of them professional athletes.

She said: “Some of the children do it because it’s a social thing, they have friends there, but they are getting better and better.

“The older guys want to come and get fit because they haven’t had the opportunity before.

“So we have Paralympic athletes training with everyone else; everyone just mixes in.

“It’s a social thing, it’s a confidence thing, a health thing and a competitive thing as well.”

One of those training with her at the academy is 15-year-old Kare Adenegan, who watched Nicholls and Cockroft race four years ago in London and made headlines last September after becoming the first athlete to beat Cockroft in her senior career.

Adenegan will be racing alongside and against both Nicholls and Cockroft in Rio.

18 August 2016


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com