Watchdog orders DWP to publish secret reports on Atos and Capita PIP failings

The information commissioner has ordered the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to release documents that are likely to expose the widespread failings of two of its disability benefit assessment contractors.

DWP has been attempting to prevent the documents being released since receiving a Freedom of Information Act request from campaigner John Slater in December 2016.

He said the documents – if and when they are eventually released – will reveal the truth about what DWP knows about Atos and Capita.

Last month, the two outsourcing companies, which are paid hundreds of millions of pounds to carry out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments, told members of the Commons work and pensions committee that they had never met contractual quality standards on the reports their staff write for DWP.

The documents Slater has been seeking could provide further evidence of such failings, and fuel campaigners’ fears that Atos and Capita have been told by DWP to find a certain proportion of claimants ineligible for PIP.

Under the terms of their contracts to assess claimants across England, Wales and Scotland for their eligibility for PIP, Atos and Capita must provide monthly reports to DWP that cover “all aspects of quality, including performance and complaints”.

The reports include detailed “management information”, including the number of complaints made against assessors, what proportion of assessments led to claimants meeting the PIP criteria, and the average length of time taken for face-to-face assessments.

Slater, who works in programme and project management when he is not campaigning on issues around freedom of information, had asked DWP to provide copies of these reports for every month of 2016.

He told Disability News Service that the reports would provide “raw data” on the companies’ performance, before DWP “has had a chance to massage it”.

He said: “I suspect what they will show is not only that the contractors are struggling but also how bad DWP is at managing contracts.”

DWP has continued to try to block Slater’s request, initially claiming that it did not hold the information he had requested, before arguing that releasing the monthly reports would prejudice the “commercial interests” of Atos and Capita.

It later told the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that releasing the information “will give rise to items being taken out of context… [and] will be misinterpreted in ways that could lead to reputational damage to both the Department and the PIP Providers”, and would “prejudice the efficient conduct of public affairs” by DWP.

It also warned ICO that the information could be “maliciously misinterpreted to feed the narrative that the Department imposes ‘targets’ for the outcomes of assessments”.

But ICO has now dismissed those arguments and has ordered DWP to release the reports, although it could now appeal against this decision to the information rights tribunal.

ICO concluded that it “has not been satisfied that disclosing the withheld information would be likely to damage the commercial standing of Atos and Capita” and “has not been persuaded by the DWP that it could not provide the necessary explanation, or context, to avoid misunderstandings”.

ICO also ruled that DWP had breached the Freedom of Information Act by initially failing to say within 20 working days whether it held the information Slater had requested.

Slater has a similar appeal being dealt with by ICO relating to management information reports provided to DWP by Maximus, the contractor that carries out work capability assessments on its behalf.

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The information commissioner’s ruling that the DWP must comply with John Slater’s freedom of information request on the performance information on the PIP contract is potentially very significant for disability campaigners.

“If the DWP cannot find a way to block or dodge this request (and they will try very hard to do this) this disclosure could reveal the full extent of the calamity that the PIP contract has visited on disabled people.

“It will also reveal exactly how much the DWP has known all along about how terrible performance on this contract has been.

“We as campaigners will be able to compare what they knew about the contract with the public statements that they have made, revealing the scale of lies and disinformation put out by the DWP to the public and parliament.

“While this in itself is not likely to be enough to bring down the festering sore that is PIP, it might represent another milestone on the way to achieving the end of PIP.

“We at DPAC applaud the work done by John Slater, and wish him well in continuing to pursue this and other investigations into the DWP that he is making.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have received the ICO judgement and we are currently considering our position.”

18 January 2018

 

 

Newton dodges questions on government’s disability record by pulling out of meeting

The minister for disabled people pulled out of a meeting with MPs, peers and disabled campaigners, days after agreeing to be questioned about her government’s disability employment strategy.

Sarah Newton had promised to attend this week’s meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for disability (APPGD) to discuss Improving Lives, her government’s new work, health and disability strategy, which aims to see one million more disabled people in work over the next 10 years.

She had originally refused to answer questions at the meeting, and then said last week that she would answer questions if they were submitted in advance.

But two days before the meeting was due to take place, Newton pulled out completely and decided to send two civil servants in her place.

As well as being questioned about the strategy, Newton was likely to have been asked about the highly critical report produced last autumn by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD) on her government’s implementation of the UN disability convention.

Disability News Service had submitted a question asking if Newton was concerned about figures from an NHS survey which suggest a possible link between the introduction of the discredited “fitness for work” test and a “shocking” rise in the proportion of claimants of out-of-work disability benefits who said they had attempted to take their own lives.

Newton could also have been asked about cuts to personal independence payment, allegations of dishonesty among many of the healthcare professionals who carry out disability benefit assessments, and problems with the rollout of universal credit.

Tabitha Jay, director of the government’s work and health unit and one of the two civil servants Newton sent in her place, told the meeting the minister had been forced to withdraw “due to parliamentary business and her very challenging diary”.

But Philip Connolly, policy and development manager for Disability Rights UK, which runs the secretariat for the all-party group, told DNS before the meeting that the APPGD was a “constructive environment” for a minister to answer questions about government policy.

He said: “One would hope that someone who has been in post for seven weeks would be very happy to speak to a plan for getting a million disabled people into work.

“The minister said she was coming early last week. Then she had some anxieties over the agenda.

“She appeared unwilling to answer questions, then she said she would answer questions if she could see them in advance, so we offered to do this, and then she was suddenly too busy.

“When you’re the minister, you would expect to answer questions wherever you go.

“You should not become the government’s chief spokesperson if you’re not happy to answer questions wherever you go.”

Sue Bott, DR UK’s deputy chief executive, had said earlier: “The APPG had an expectation that she would come and she had undertaken to answer questions, and then all of a sudden it appears that she has a conflict in her diary.”

She said the minister’s decision to withdraw was “very disappointing”.

Bott said: “There are many issues that disabled people and people concerned about disability want to raise, not least of them being the government’s response to the UNCRPD report.”

It is just the latest in a series of embarrassments for Newton since she replaced Penny Mordaunt as minister for disabled people in November.

Following her appointment, Newton was criticised by a disabled people’s organisation in her own constituency over her voting record on disability issues.

She then failed to attend or organise any events – or even post a message of support on social media – on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) last month.

And last week, DNS reported how she misled MPs who were debating the Independent Living Fund about how her newly-appointed boss, Esther McVey, had been severely criticised by three court of appeal judges over her decision to close the fund.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We would not comment on details of the minister’s diary arrangements.”

18 January 2018

 

 

Civil servant sparks fresh concerns over ideological basis of jobs strategy

The civil servant who leads the government’s work and health unit has sparked fresh concerns that the new disability employment strategy could be heavily influenced by the discredited “biopsychosocial” (BPS) model of disability.

Tabitha Jay told a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for disability (APPGD) yesterday (Wednesday) that the social model of disability underpinned the strategy, which has an aim of seeing one million more disabled people in work over the next 10 years.

But she also appeared to suggest that the BPS model was “running in parallel” to the social model within the strategy.

The BPS model places blame for being unemployed on the individual disabled person and their supposed negative attitudes towards working, whereas the social model explains that it is the barriers in society – and not people’s impairments – which disabled people.

Jay was only speaking at the event because the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, had withdrawn at short notice after originally promising to answer questions about the strategy.

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, had asked the civil servants about the disparity between the government’s claims that it believed in the social model and the new strategy, which appeared to be underpinned by the BPS model.

Clifford told Jay and Karen Jochelson, who heads the Office for Disability Issues, that the question of which model underpinned the strategy was “fundamental to its impact and effectiveness”.

She pointed out that the UK government had told the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities in July that it “embraces the social model of disability”, while the former minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, had assured her that the strategy would be consistent with the social model.

But Clifford said the strategy, published in November after Newton’s appointment, was in practice underpinned by the BPS model, which was “very dangerous and very harmful” and accounts for “a lot of the damaging impact” of the work capability assessment and other welfare reforms.

She said: “That fundamental underpinning is what is at the heart of a lot of things that haven’t been working with welfare reform, and it’s also unethical.”

Clifford said these concerns had been picked up by many psychologists, highlighting government reforms such as efforts to integrate health and work, and placing therapists in job centres.

The disabled crossbench peer the Countess of Mar agreed with Clifford’s concerns and said that people with ME were being “forced to take exercise regimes which are making them sicker, defeating the objective of getting them back to work”.

Responding to Clifford’s question, Jay claimed that the social model “is the government’s model of disability”.

But she added: “The one million target is about both people with disabilities and people with health conditions, some of which may be very temporary.

“There are all kinds of different people within the one million and some of them might benefit from a health approach, so there are different things running in parallel.”

Karen Jochelson, who heads the Office for Disability Issues, added: “We do think the social model underlies a range of government policy.

“Any good policy-maker needs to think of a range of factors that may affect the potential users of services or policies, so that would incline one to think about the social model.”

Clifford said after the meeting that the comments appeared to show that Jay did not understand the social model.

She said: “What we have been told is that the social model doesn’t apply to people with long-term health conditions.”

She said she was concerned that Esther McVey, the newly-appointed work and pensions secretary, had previously highlighted her support for the principles of the BPS model when she was employment minister.

In a foreword to a 2013 discussion document on the government’s disability and health employment strategy, McVey wrote: “A person’s belief about what they can do can be as important as other factors, including their health condition, in determining how likely they are to find a job.”

Jay told Disability News Service after the meeting: “Access to relevant health services at the right time can be a barrier for disabled people in employment, I think. That is our position.

“We are committed to the social model. The whole philosophy of the government’s approach is the social model.”

But when asked whether the government was also committed to the BPS model, she said that that question would need to be answered by the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) press office.

DWP’s press office had not clarified that point by noon today (Thursday).

Campaigners and researchers have pointed out that the BPS model underpins employment and support allowance (ESA) and the work capability assessment, and has played a significant role in the tightening of eligibility criteria for ESA and other disability benefits by the coalition and Tory governments.

Research published last year, led by Professor Tom Shakespeare and Professor Nicholas Watson, argued that the BPS model was riddled with inconsistencies, misleading statements and “unevidenced” claims.

The BPS model was developed by Dr Gordon Waddell, an orthopaedic surgeon, and Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, who was DWP’s chief medical officer from 1995 to 2005.

Key to the BPS model, said Shakespeare and Watson, is the idea that “it is the negative attitudes of many ESA recipients that prevent them from working, rather than their impairment or health condition”, essentially branding many benefit claimants “scroungers”.

This allows supporters of BPS – including a string of New Labour and Tory government ministers – to draw a distinction “between ‘real’ incapacity benefit claimants, with long-term and incurable health conditions, and ‘fake’ benefit claimants, with short-term illness”, with the model responsible for a “barely concealed” element of “victim-blaming”.

18 January 2018

 

 

DRILL funding paves the way for personal budget co-operatives

Five user-led organisations have secured £150,000 for a research project that will set up what it is believed will be the UK’s first cooperatives for disabled people who receive care funding through personal budgets.

The project, led by Cheshire Centre for Independent Living, aims to work with disabled people who receive personal care or personal health budgets and want control over their support but do not want to become a direct employer of their personal assistants (PAs).

It is one of 10 schemes across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that have been handed funds in the latest tranche of awards from the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme.

Cheshire CIL and its partners aim to set up two or three small user-controlled cooperatives in the north-west of England, each of which would act as a PA agency, pooling the skills and experiences of a small number of disabled people, and spreading the costs of employing PAs between them.

The hope is that each co-operative will begin with up to half a dozen disabled people pooling their resources and together employing a small team of PAs, with the PAs and the disabled people all being members of the co-operative.

The first co-operative is likely to start operating within the next six months.

The other four disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) involved in the project are Breakthrough UK, Disability Equality North West, Disability Association Carlisle and Eden, and Merseyside Disability Federation.

Tom Hendrie, head of policy and communications at Cheshire CIL, said the five DPOs, which cover Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside and Lancashire, had worked closely together for many years and were “really excited” about the new project.

He said: “The more control that is in the hands of disabled people the better.

“This falls between the model of lots of individual employers and the traditional model of an agency that is not run by people who use the services.

“More and more people are getting packages that are too small to employ someone.

“People may be getting only the equivalent of a couple of hours a week so they can’t find someone to employ directly and they are obliged to go to an agency.

“This is an attempt to bring together all those little packages and retain the kind of control that people would have if they employed people directly.”

He added: “If a PA goes off sick or on holiday at the moment it is quite hard to find a replacement without going to one of the traditional agencies.”

A co-operative model is likely to be particularly useful, he said, because of the social care funding crisis, with many disabled people who have been PA employers for many years now struggling with smaller care packages.

And because the co-operatives will be non-profit, costs should be lower.

Hendrie said the consortium would like to hear from other DPOs interested in setting up similar schemes.

DRILL has also announced nine other recipients of funding this week.

In England, The Alliance for Inclusive Education has secured £40,000 to lead a project to examine the impact of accessibility plans – introduced under the Equality Act 2010 – on inclusive education, and the possible gaps between what is set out in law and the practice of schools and other education providers.

The hope is that the research will explain a reported increase in requests for disabled pupils and students to transfer into special rather than mainstream education.

Black and minority ethnic people living with sickle cell disease (SCD) will lead the advisory group on a two-year research project, led by De Montfort University, to examine the “barriers and enablers to employment” facing people with SCD, with £100,000 DRILL funding.

The self-advocacy organisation My Life My Choice will co-produce a research project with the National Development Team for Inclusion, with £40,000 funding, looking at the barriers faced by people with learning difficulties in developing and sustaining sexual relationships.

And the Shaping Our Lives network of service-users, together with the University of Worcester and the Foster Care Co-operative, will work with four fostering agencies over two years to examine how to challenge the barriers that prevent disabled people from becoming foster carers, while co-producing a toolkit and detailed guidance, with £140,000 DRILL funding.

Carmarthenshire People First, in Wales, will work with My Life My Choice and People First Dorset, the Welsh community interest company Barod – which grew out of the Welsh People First movement – and Social Firms Wales to examine how to support self-advocacy organisations, and individuals with learning difficulties, to generate income and employment, through £150,000 of DRILL funding.

In Scotland, DRILL has provided £82,000 to fund a project that will seek to improve the design and “findability” of accessible toilets when travelling, which will be co-produced by the Scottish Alumni group of people with dementia and led by the Edinburgh Centre for Research on the Experience of Dementia.

DRILL is also providing £150,000 funding for each of three projects in Northern Ireland.

Disabled researchers will work on a project, led by the Mental Health Foundation, to co-produce a physical activity programme for people with mental health conditions.

A two-year project, led by the British Deaf Association, will investigate the barriers to the justice system faced by deaf people in Northern Ireland.

And Positive Futures will lead a two-year project to secure the right support within the criminal justice system for people with learning difficulties who have been victims of sexual violence.

DRILL is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and delivered by Disability Rights UKDisability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

It is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.

The 10 grants were approved by DRILL’s central research committee, which is chaired by Professor Tom Shakespeare, who said: “I welcome this next batch of timely, targeted, transformative projects funded by DRILL.

“From developing new social care models to improving access to the justice system for people who are deaf, these projects address some of the key barriers which affect disabled people’s ability to live independently across the UK.”

18 January 2018

 

 

Friends pay tribute to tenacity, wit and wisdom of Sir Bert Massie

Disabled campaigners, MPs and peers have come together to celebrate the “wise counsel, charm and achievements” of the “remarkable” Sir Bert Massie, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) throughout its seven years, who died in October.

The memorial event in the House of Lords heard from a string of disabled friends and colleagues of Sir Bert, and other leading figures who had worked with him during his decades fighting for disabled people’s rights.

Many spoke of his work on the DRC, while others remembered his role in helping to secure civil rights for disabled people through the first Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who hosted the reception on behalf of Sir Bert’s wife Maureen, said they had not been able to find a room large enough for everyone who wanted to attend, which she said was “a huge testament to Bert’s friendship and formidable influence in the universal campaign for disability rights”.

She said she had “learned from his influencing style. Bert always had a game plan, pulling it off… sometimes without a trace of his fingerprints.

“He was a consummate strategist and was deeply flattered when I told him he would make a first-rate master criminal.”

Baroness Campbell said Sir Bert had taught her “a great deal about how to survive in the corridors of power and make positive changes”.

She said: “Negotiating and toying with ministers and prime ministers was his favourite sport.

“What’s more remarkable was that they became his greatest admirers.”

The disabled Labour peer Lord [David] Blunkett said Sir Bert had made “an enormous contribution, not just to disability rights, but to ensuring that the voice of people with disabilities was heard in ways that it hadn’t been before”.

He told the reception that “navigating through all the organisations that speak for, on behalf of and with people with disabilities is an absolute nightmare”.

He said: “Speaking as someone who has a disability, you find that while the nation as a whole is full of awkward buggers, those working within the sector that deal with disability have an edge on everybody else.

“Bert had the temerity and courage to take on the task of working his way through this.”

Lord Blunkett said that the memory of “Bert’s expertise and his excellent way of persuading people to do things they didn’t want to do” and his “tenacity in keeping going over those years” should “light a candle and keep us all going”.

Sir Bert’s wife, Lady Massie, told the event that her husband had “never wavered fighting for the rights of disabled people”, and she paid tribute to his “wonderful achievements”.

Ann Frye, former head of the Department for Transport’s mobility and inclusion unit, and one of the event’s organisers, said Sir Bert had almost completed his memoirs, which she and Bob Niven – DRC’s former chief executive – had promised to complete and ensure were published.

She said it was a “very, very funny book as well as an emotionally moving book” and she promised to “make it a best-seller”.

Joe Hennessy, who worked with Sir Bert on the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, as trustees of the original Independent Living Fund, and as governors of the Motability scheme, paid tribute to his “wit and charm, his stubbornness, because you need to be stubborn when you’re campaigning in this business”, and his “quite remarkable contribution”.

Phil Friend, former chair of Disability Rights UK, told the reception: “How many of us now are living lives independently as a result of his campaigning [including for accessible taxis and buses]?

“He wasn’t alone, he was a great team player. He worked with a lot of other people.”

Friend paid tribute to Sir Bert’s “irreverent” sense of humour, and added: “I remember him with enormous affection, his journey was not dissimilar to my own [they both had polio as children] and I really do miss him.

“I think all of us in this room who had anything to do with him will be feeling both happy for him, in the sense that I think he is somewhere very accessible now, but for what he gave us when he was around.”

Labour MP Maria Eagle, who worked with Sir Bert when she was minister for disabled people and he was chairing DRC, praised his “wise counsel, his long memory and his great sense of humour and understanding”.

She said: “He was a fantastic Scouser, first and foremost.

“Given his upbringing and the way in which he was viewed… as a disabled person who had no potential when he was very young, the fact that he came through that to be the person that he was, to be so wise, to be such a people person, to be so completely able to understand and relate to anybody, to crack jokes, to have a laugh, and to understand precisely what was going on and what was the best way through difficult problems, was nothing short of utterly remarkable.

“He was always going forward, and he was always going forward to improve the rights of disabled people in this country, to show to government, to anybody and everybody, that it was a no-brainer: why would you not have full civil rights for disabled people?”

She said Sir Bert was “an absolute joy to know” and “a very accomplished man” and “never ever had a shade of upset or bitterness or negativity in his approach to anything, when he would have been perfectly entitled to have all of those things, given some of the unprepossessing ways in which he was treated because of his physical disability when he was very young”.

She contrasted his leadership and DRC’s “fine achievements” with the less impressive performance of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in supporting disabled people and advancing the cause of equality.

Eagle said: “And that just reflects even better on the organisation that he established and led, with the wisdom with which he did it, the humour with which he did it, and it just reminds all of us just what an accomplished person he was.”

The Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley told the reception: “Bert really summed up things the way that I believe in them, which is that if you can do enough good, have enough fun, and [with] the things you fail at initially, just keep going and eventually they will give way. Well done Bert!”

Andrew Braddock, former head of access and mobility at Transport for London, who worked with Sir Bert on introducing low-floor buses for wheelchair-users, said Sir Bert was “undoubtedly a great man”.

Lord Sterling, the Conservative peer and co-founder of Motability, praised Sir Bert’s “pragmatic common sense”, and added: “It’s been a privilege and an honour to have somebody like a Bert Massie, part of us, ongoing, who will always be talked about.

“You never die when you’re a Bert Massie.”

Lord Borwick described how Sir Bert helped him make the London taxi the first wheelchair-accessible form of public transport in the UK, when the Tory peer was chief executive of Manganese Bronze Holdings.

He said Sir Bert had helped him “navigate the complex world of disability”, and he said he was “a remarkable chap and a great friend” and “a most astonishing man, a great man”.

He said: “Bert had this extraordinary ability to be the second most militant person on any subject.

“He would always make certain there was at least one other person who was much more extreme than him so that he was not only the second most militant person but the second most reasonable as well.

“He actually defined reasonable. By persuading somebody to make the taxi wheelchair-accessible, he was able to argue for accessibility to all other forms of public transport.”

John Hougham, former chair of ACAS, who was DRC’s deputy chair, said Sir Bert’s appointment of commissioners meant DRC was able to “hit the ground running” because of their “calibre” and “wealth and depth of experience”.

He said Sir Bert had been “pre-eminent” in ensuring DRC had taken the right legal cases, with the commission taking an average of 55 a year throughout its seven years, many more than the other rights commissions.

He said: “We managed to influence legislation in a whole range of fields, employment, access to transport, goods and services, and education.

“Bert never let us forget that running like a thread through all of our work – and this was a rock-solid belief – was that equality for disabled people was something that people should want to do, should want to aspire to, rather than be forced into it through compliance.”

He also paid tribute to the importance of Sir Bert’s leadership in driving forward DRC’s work on the new disability equality duty, which made it necessary to build equality into public sector policies and procedures “from the outset, rather than reacting to coercion or people bringing up complaints”.

This included an emphasis on disabled people being part of developing public sector policies, and not just being consulted on them but “being actively involved”.

Hougham said that an independent evaluation of DRC at the end of its seven years found it to be “a highly active commission which has achieved a great deal”.

He said: “All of us who were part of those achievements of those seven years felt and still feel extremely privileged to have had that opportunity of working with Bert, getting all those different achievements brought out into the open for the benefit of disabled people.”

18 January 2018

 

 

DPAC calls national day of action to demand universal credit is scrapped

Disabled activists are organising a national day of action to push for the government’s new universal credit benefit system to be scrapped.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) believes that the “punishing” universal credit (UC) regime, which is slowly replacing six working-age benefits, is “rotten to the core”.

DPAC says UC is too flawed to be simply “paused and fixed” – the “wimpish” policy that the Labour opposition has adopted – and that it is “an economic and political disaster bringing further distress and impoverishment to those forced to endure it”.

Part of the aim of the day of action on 1 March is to focus on Labour’s failure to adopt a “stop and scrap” policy, with the possibility that some protests could be aimed at the party.

The day of action will include a protest in Westminster, with activists meeting outside the visitors’ entrance of the House of Commons.

A DPAC spokesperson said: “No civilized government should impose this on its citizens and no opposition party should want to simply pause and fix it.”

Among the impacts of UC on disabled people that have alarmed DPAC are the introduction of mandatory health and work conversations for all disabled claimants; the difficulty of an online-only system that makes it “difficult or impossible” for some disabled people to claim; and the possibility that disabled people with part-time jobs that suit their support needs will be forced into unsuitable full-time jobs.

A key concern is over the scrapping of severe (£62.45 per week) and enhanced disability premiums (£15.90 per week), which are currently added to some means-tested disability benefits to help with the costs of disability.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) argued this week that it had “simplified and rationalised the various, complex disability premiums” that exist in the current system, but without explaining how it had done so and who would lose out.

DPAC also points to widespread problems faced by all UC claimants, such as the introduction of “harsh” sanctions for those who have jobs, as well as those who are out-of-work, if they fail to meet the terms of a “claimant commitment” (an agreement to look for work or increase earnings).

It also highlights the long delays faced by claimants before they receive their first UC payment; reported increases in rent arrears among UC claimants, caused by housing payments no longer being paid direct to landlords; and letting agents reportedly refusing to rent properties to UC claimants.

Campaigners have warned that the rollout has been leaving hundreds of thousands in debt, and forcing people – many of them disabled – to borrow from loan sharks, pawnbrokers and payday loan companies, while many have been left facing eviction because of the rollout.

Following these and other concerns, chancellor Philip Hammond announced in November’s budget a package of improvements to UC that will cost £1.5 billion over the next five years (£300 million in 2018-19), including removing the seven-day waiting period for new claimants so that entitlement starts on the day of the claim.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Universal credit lies at the heart of our reforms to transform the welfare system, so it supports those who can work and cares for those who can’t.

“And it’s working. Under universal credit people are finding a job faster and staying in it longer than under the old system, while having the right help in place for people who need it.

“We have listened to feedback and are bringing in a £1.5 billion package of improvements announced in the budget to make it easier for people moving onto universal credit.

“Continuing to roll out universal credit in a safe and controlled way will mean many more people will benefit from moving into employment.”

She said it had “always been part of the design of universal credit that we would simplify and reduce the number of different rates for sickness and disability” and that those currently claiming the severe and enhanced premiums would not see their benefits reduced in cash terms when moving onto universal credit, unless their circumstances changed.

But such claimants can see their benefits reduced if there is any change in their circumstances.

DWP argues that this “requirement to make a new claim to benefit where there has been a change of circumstance is not new”.

Despite requests from Disability News Service to clarify exactly how disabled people previously in receipt of the premiums will be affected by UC, DWP has so far been unable to do so.

But it claims that anyone who is in the ESA support group and only qualifies for the enhanced disability premium will be better off under UC by more than £90 per month.

The DWP spokeswoman said the health and work conversations would “help ensure that people are supported during the initial stages of claiming benefits” and that any actions agreed would be voluntary, while “safeguards will be put in place to ensure there are appropriate exemptions from attending”.

She said DWP understood that some people would need extra support in making a UC claim, including claims being able to be taken over the phone, or appointments made for visits to people’s homes.

Work coaches will provide “ongoing support for people who need it and that can be face-to-face, via text message, over the phone or through people’s online journals”, while there are computers and free wi-fi in all Jobcentre Plus offices for the public and claimants to use, and jobcentre staff can input claimant details for those who need support.

She said the claimant commitment sets out what is expected of claimants “in return for the support they will receive”, with claimants “encouraged to tell their work coach what they can manage and what is realistic and achievable for them”.

And she said that sanctions were “only ever used in a small minority of cases” and it was “right that we encourage claimants to do everything they can to prepare for, or find work in return for benefits”, while claimants can ask for a reconsideration of the sanction decision and then have a right to appeal to a tribunal.

She said that most claimants were “comfortable managing their money but advances are available for anyone who needs extra help, and arrangements can be made to pay rent direct to landlords if needed”, while anyone applying for UC can apply for a 100 per cent advance, while there was “budgeting support” for those who need it.

18 January 2018

 

 

Trio of disabled campaigners back Changing Places petition

Three leading disabled campaigners have backed a petition that calls on the government to force all new large buildings to include a Changing Places toilet.

The petition, launched by Lorna Fillingham, who has a disabled child, has now been signed by more than 50,000 people, and will soon be delivered to the prime minister.

The campaign has been boosted by support from the crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell – herself a regular user of Changing Places toilets – Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike, and journalist and presenter Mik Scarlet.

There are currently only about 1,060 Changing Places toilets – facilities with extra space and equipment for disabled people who cannot use standard accessible toilets – across the whole of the UK, even though there are believed to be more than 250,000 disabled people who need them.

Guidance provided under British Standard 8300 recommends that such facilities should be included in larger buildings and complexes such as motorway services, sports stadiums, shopping centres, airports, town halls, schools and hospitals.

But Fillingham, who is working closely with Wafula Strike on the campaign, wants the government to make changes to building regulations to ensure that planning permission cannot be granted for such developments unless they include a Changing Places toilet.

The call in Fillingham’s petition mirrors a recommendation in last year’s report on disability and the built environment by the Commons women and equalities committee, which called for all large building developments to include a Changing Places toilet.

Baroness Campbell told Disability News Service (DNS): “I completely support the campaign.

“I heavily rely on Changing Places facilities and their absence does hamper my ability to accept certain engagements far from home or work.

“Parliament has an excellent Changing Places facility which means I can carry on with my work to the early hours.”

Wafula Strike said: “Every human being has a right to access a toilet and it’s very sad that a section of the disabled community are not able to use suitable facilities to change in.

“It breaks my heart that in the 21st century disabled people, their parents and carers are denied this basic right.”

Scarlet said he also supported the petition.

He said Changing Places facilities were “essential for a forward-looking business that wants to future-proof any major project.

“Imagine if every train and bus station in every town had a Changing Places toilet, how that would change lives.”

But he said that for too long the building industry had provided only those facilities that had to be included under building regulations.

He said: “Changing Places toilet provision has to be put into building regulations or we’ll see no real change.

“But it would be nice if architects and developers put them in before this happens, to future proof and do the right thing.”

Fillingham says in her petition that her seven-year-old daughter is now “too large for a baby changing unit and our only other option is the toilet floor, which is unsanitary, unhygienic and in my mind inhumane as well as undignified.

“I don’t know what body fluids may have spilled there, or what might have been brought in on someone’s shoes or wheels.

“This is a completely unacceptable and unreasonable situation for anybody to be exposed to.”

She told DNS this week: “It really is time for change.

“I’ve heard too many harrowing stories now, of disabled children being changed on toilet floors and of disabled adults having surgery to have suprapubic catheters fitted in order to avoid having to use the loo when they are out and about as there is such a lack of Changing Places facilities.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We know that providing these accessible toilets is very important for some people with disabilities so we have worked with Mencap and the Changing Places campaign to improve facilities.

“There are now 1,060 of these toilets across the UK, up from just 140 in 2007, and we have helped fund the development of a new website so people know where to find them.”

He said the department was committed to promoting accessibility and had commissioned research to assess whether guidance in the building regulations “adequately meets the needs of disabled people when new building work is carried out.

“We will consider the findings of that research as they relate to Changing Places toilets and how to promote their provision further.”

Asked if the department would consider making the inclusion of a Changing Places toilet compulsory for new larger buildings and complexes, he declined to comment further.

18 January 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com