Charities delivering DWP’s work programme ‘must promise not to attack McVey’

Disability charities that sign up to help deliver the government’s new Work and Health Programme must promise to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, official documents suggest.

The charities, and other organisations, must also promise never to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in McVey or her Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Disability charities like RNIB, the Royal Association for Deaf People and Turning Point have agreed to act as key providers of services under the Work and Health Programme – which focuses on supporting disabled people and other disadvantaged groups into work – and so appear to be caught by the clause in the contract.

At least one of them – RNIB – has also signed contracts with one of the five main WHP contractors that contain a similar clause, which explicitly states that the charity must not “attract adverse publicity” to DWP and McVey.

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.

All the disability charities that have so far been contacted by Disability News Service (DNS) insist that the clause – which DWP says it has been using in such contracts since 2015 – will have no impact on their willingness to criticise DWP and work and pensions secretary Esther McVey or campaign on disability employment or benefits issues.

But the existence of the clause, and the first details to emerge of some of the charities that have agreed to work for DWP – which has been repeatedly attacked by disabled activists and academics for harassing and persecuting disabled people, and relying on a discriminatory benefit sanctions regime to try to force them into work – will raise questions about their ability and willingness to do so.

It will also raise questions about their independence when delivering future statements on these issues.

The clause was revealed through a freedom of information request by DNS, with DWP finally producing contracts signed by the five main Work and Health Programme contractors, four months after the request was first submitted.

The contracts signed by the five organisations – the disability charity Shaw Trust, the disability employment company Remploy (now mostly owned by the discredited US company Maximus), Pluss, Reed in Partnership and Ingeus UK – all include a clause on “publicity, media and official enquiries”.

Part of that clause states that the contractor “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of DWP and ensure it does nothing to bring it “into disrepute, damages the reputation of the Contracting Body or harms the confidence of the public in the Contracting Body”.

The contract defines the “Contracting Body” as the work and pensions secretary, a position currently occupied by the much-criticised Esther McVey (see separate story).

And it warns that these promises apply whether or not the damaging actions relate to the Work and Health Programme, and it says they also apply to any of the contractor’s “Affiliates”.

This suggests that none of the organisations involved in providing services under the programme – and particularly those carrying out key elements of the contracts – will ever be allowed to criticise, or damage the reputation of, DWP or McVey during the course of the contract in connection with any area of the department’s work.

There is still considerable confusion over exactly how many disability charities will be paid to work for the five main contractors.

The contractual documents include the names of scores of organisations, including charities, local authorities, education providers and companies.

But some of the disability charities named – including Mencap and the National Autistic Society – made it clear this week that they have not agreed to carry out services under the Work and Health Programme, despite being named as “stakeholders” in the documents.

Other disability charities, though, have confirmed that they will be providing services under the WHP.

Among those organisations that have signed letters agreeing to provide services as a subcontractor for the Ingeus contract with DWP is the disability charity RNIB, which is currently “working on an agreement with them”, while it is already a subcontractor with Shaw Trust.

An RNIB spokeswoman said: “RNIB has a number of contracts for different services provided to the Shaw Trust as a sub-contractor.

“Some of the contracts do include a clause stating that when providing the services, we shall not do anything that may damage the reputation of the Shaw Trust (the contractor of the DWP) or of the DWP which has commissioned the services to be carried out by the Shaw Trust.”

That clause is almost identical to the one in the contracts signed by the five main contractors and says RNIB must not do anything to “attract adverse publicity” to DWP or “harm the confidence of the public” in DWP.

RNIB claimed that the clause “only refers to how we carry out the contracted services and does not restrict our campaigning ability. It relates solely to how we carry out the specific services.”

Another disability charity, the Royal Association for Deaf People (RADP), is described as a “core stakeholder” in the Pluss contract.

RADP had refused to answer questions about the contract by noon today (Thursday).

A third charity, Turning Point, is described as a “core stakeholder” in the Remploy contract, while it is also mentioned in the Ingeus and Shaw Trust contracts.

Turning Point had refused to answer questions about the contract by noon today (Thursday).

Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) – despite being mentioned in the Shaw Trust contract – says it has only agreed to provide support services in two London boroughs as part of the Ingeus contract.

An LCD spokesman said this work “in no way compromises our ability to campaign around issues related to payments or social care reform” or on the Work and Health Programme.

Action on Hearing Loss – formerly known as RNID – refused to comment on its presence in the Remploy contract with DWP, other than to praise its own campaigning work.

Business Disability Forum, which is mentioned in the Pluss contract, also refused to comment.

Remploy said the clause in its contract with DWP was “standard contractual language and has not impacted on our ability to support service users or engage with delivery partners”.

A Remploy spokesman said it was working “in collaboration with many organisations as we deliver the Work and Health Programme across Wales” and that the many stakeholders mentioned in the document were “public, private and third sector organisations across Wales that Remploy has identified and plans to engage with and signpost to as it delivers the Work and Health Programme”.

But he declined to say whether Remploy believed the clause also applied to its stakeholders and subcontractors.

Shaw Trust said the “publicity, media and official enquiries” clause had been present “in previous DWP contracts” and “does not and has not impinged on our independence as a charity”.

A Shaw Trust spokeswoman said the “stakeholders” named in the contract were “organisations we will engage with over the life of the contract to encourage voluntary referrals to the Work and Health Programme, or will engage to potentially source additional support to participants with wider requirements”.

She claimed that “no funds are proposed to be transferred in exchange for services” provided by these stakeholders, but she had not been able to clarify by noon today (Thursday) why these stakeholders would want to work for Shaw Trust for free.

A DWP spokeswoman appeared to suggest that the clause was partly intended to prevent those organisations providing services under the WHP from speaking out publicly to criticise DWP.

She said: “The department did not introduce this clause specifically for the Work and Health Programme contract.

“It has been used in DWP employment category contracts since 2015.

“The contract is the framework which governs the relationship with DWP and its contractors so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.

“The clause is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals working for any of our contractors from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, nor does it prevent contractors from raising any concerns directly with the department.”

19 April 2018

 

 

DPAC’s universal credit ‘crime scene’ protest is fresh call for action to disabled people

Disabled activists are hoping their latest protest in the heart of Westminster will empower other disabled people to follow their lead and fight the government’s social security cuts and reforms.

The action by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which involved scores of disabled protesters, focused on calls for the government to scrap its new universal credit working-age benefit system, which is being rolled out across the country.

DPAC believes universal credit has “too many flaws to be simply paused and fixed” – the solution proposed by the Labour party – and is “rotten to the core”, with foodbank use and rates of claimants being sanctioned “soaring” in areas where it has been introduced.

The action saw one group of activists occupy parliament’s central lobby and attempt to interrupt prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons.

After their path to the Commons chamber was blocked by five police officers, they repeatedly chanted “stop and scrap universal credit” and “benefits not bombs” as prime minister’s questions was taking place.

They later joined a larger group of activists opposite the Houses of Parliament, before marching to a traffic crossing in front of the House of Commons, where they blocked the road for more than half an hour.

One protester was dressed as a crime scene investigator, beside a banner which said: “#StopandScrap. Universal Credit is a Crime.”

The outline of a “murder victim” placed on the road had earlier been laid on the floor of parliament’s central lobby.

Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said at the start of the protest that he hoped other disabled people and the public would pay attention to the action.

He said: “This is about continuing to show that disabled people will not be passive recipients of these changes.

“We will continue to resist them at every opportunity and represent the interests of people who cannot be here but would want to say something if they were.”

But he added: “It is not enough to hear, you also have to respond, whether that is speaking to your local councillor, writing a letter to the media, calling up talk shows, taking direct action or joining a local group; whatever it is, we want people to respond.”

Greene said councils were not being given the resources to cope with the results of austerity, while the voluntary sector “has had its teeth pulled in terms of capturing what is going on and being able to respond to that.

“We are seeing that it is only through activism that we have been able to see any consistent, empowering response, which is why we are here today.”

He said the introduction of universal credit had the potential to be the most harmful of all the government’s social security cuts and reforms, putting not only people’s income at risk but also “the roof over their head”.

Disabled people are “right at the centre of that”, he said.

He added: “We spoke five years ago about people’s worlds shrinking. We are now talking about people’s worlds collapsing.”

At the end of the protest, Greene said he believed that years of high-profile protests by DPAC – which was formed in 2010 – had encouraged many other disabled people to take part in local and national demonstrations.

He said: “That’s how I judge our success. People see themselves reflected in these demos. There is no myth, no secret. We turn up and we take part. That’s it.”

Labour MP Laura Pidcock* supported the protesters as they blocked traffic outside the House of Commons, and said the action was “absolutely necessary”.

She said: “Sometimes when people won’t listen, what else are people supposed to do?

“I am very supportive of any demonstration when people feel a government will not listen.”

She said the rollout of universal credit had begun in her North West Durham constituency in December and there had already been threats of eviction.

Although she did not say she wanted to scrap universal credit, she said her party needed to “have a conversation” about how it was working.

She said that people who were experiencing universal credit themselves knew the government’s claims that it would be a simpler system and would provide a faster route into work were “not true”.

She said: “There has to be an overall assessment of, ‘is this the best that Britain has to offer in terms of social security?’”

Marion Nisbet, of Glasgow DPAC, had travelled by train from Scotland to take part in the protest in London.

She said she has been “part of the fightback” since she was asked in a work capability assessment (WCA) in 2011 why she had not killed herself, when discussing her suicidal feelings with an assessor working for the government’s contractor Atos.

She said: “I walked out thinking that that was what I was going to do. I felt totally humiliated and worthless.”

She said the WCA process – which is part of the universal credit system – was “nothing to do with empowering people back into employability” but was “state-sanctioned cruelty”.

She said: “As an unemployed disabled worker, there is nowhere I would rather be than at my work, but we have an Equality Act that is not worth the paper it is printed on when it comes to the employability of disabled people.”

She added: “I am sick and tired of watching sick and disabled people paying for the fact that the bankers ran away with the money.

“This has been an ideological, financial attack on disabled people, labelling them scroungers and skivers so everybody is convinced we are all at it and [that attack] needs to happen.”

Another disabled campaigner, Kay Nosae, said she had attended the demonstration because she wanted “to be doing something, to feel I have some power”, and to try to affect some of the many people walking past the protest in Westminster.

She said: “It is also partly all the history of disability protest. I want to feel I am carrying on the tradition of trying to do something, not just being passive and letting other people fight for us.”

Another reason she attended was because of her concerns about the removal of disability premiums in the move to universal credit.

She said: “The government said that no disabled person would lose out but obviously they have.”

She said she had spent days in bed before the protest and would probably spend days in bed recovering afterwards.

She added: “I cannot plan for my future because I don’t know how the benefits system is going to change.”

Gabriel Pepper, who took part in the lobby action, said universal credit was “a juggernaut”.

He said he believed the government did not care about the impact of universal credit, and was intent on rolling it out and its harsh conditionality while closing scores of jobcentres.

He said: “That combination is toxic. What do they think will happen?”

Other protests as part of DPAC’s day of action against universal credit took place across the country, including actions in Manchester, York, Sheffield, Norwich and Brighton, with others planned in Truro, Birmingham, Leicester, Edinburgh and Cardigan, Wales.

Among DPAC’s many concerns with universal credit are the “harsh” conditions imposed on claimants, without reasonable adjustments for disabled people; mandatory health and work conversations for disabled people; an online application process that is inaccessible to many disabled people; and the scrapping of severe and enhanced disability premiums, which are currently added to some means-tested disability benefits to help with the costs of disability.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been insisting since 2012 that “transitional protection” would ensure that no-one moving onto universal credit would see their benefits cut in cash terms.

But campaigners have remained sceptical, while also pointing out that the transitional protections will not apply if there are changes in the disabled person’s personal circumstances – for example if they move to a new home, or their relationship status changes – and will not apply to new claimants.

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

in less than two weeks, the high court is due to hear a judicial review of the financial impact of the introduction of universal credit on a terminally-ill man who has lost £178 per month in disability premiums after he moved back to London to receive treatment and had to claim UC for the first time.

*Pidcock said she had accompanied members of DPAC to a “very frustrating” meeting on Tuesday with Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, about concerns about disability benefit assessments.

She said Newton had been “very, very dismissive” and although the minister was considering some recommendations made by this year’s report by the Commons work and pensions committee into the assessment processes, had refused to remove the PIP assessment contracts from Atos and Capita.

She said: “I know they have a certain vision of the welfare state but I thought if I could meet with them on a human level and explain how difficult it is for people… but it didn’t make a difference.”

19 April 2018

 

 

Disabled people split over personal health budget expansion plans

Government plans for a huge expansion of personal health budgets could help to deliver independent living for disabled people, according to a leading disabled peer.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who has been receiving a personal health budget herself for more than a year, said the plans also had “huge potential” for “getting to grips” with the integration of health and social care support.

But the government’s plans faced determined opposition from other disabled campaigners this week, with many concerned that they could be part of a planned creeping privatisation of the NHS.

They were speaking after the government launched a consultation on the plans to expand the legal right for people to have choice and control over their healthcare through personal health budgets (PHBs).

One mental health activist said the plans were about “offloading us to the private sector”, and said she feared that funds would only be made available “as a temporary sweetener” until privatisation of the NHS was complete, when they would be withdrawn.

PHBs give individuals a pot of money to spend on their health and wellbeing needs, in agreement with a healthcare professional.

Some areas of NHS care will not be covered by a PHB, including GP services, unplanned hospital admissions, drugs and operations.

Currently, only about 23,000 people receive a PHB, but reports suggest that ministers want to increase this to about 350,000.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says the plans would allow individuals “to control and tailor their own health and care, based on their own individual needs, in a manner that abides by the constitutional values of healthcare being free at the point of delivery, based on clinical need, not on ability to pay”.

The consultation stresses that PHBs would remain optional.

The government is suggesting expansion could focus on five groups who have an ongoing need for NHS services: those with continuing social care needs; those with ongoing mental health needs; people leaving the armed services; people who are autistic or have learning difficulties; and people who access NHS wheelchair services.

At present, only those in receipt of NHS continuing healthcare – and children and young people receiving continuing care – have a legal right to a PHB.

But the government also wants to give more people the right to combine their PHBs and social care personal budgets into a single integrated budget – so they will only need a single assessment of all their needs – and potentially add other funding streams, such as disabled facilities grants.

It also proposes giving some service-users the right to receive their PHB through direct payments, which would enable them to take a cash payment to manage and pay for their own support.

But many disabled activists fear the plans are only the next step in a move towards privatising the NHS.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “Everyone who loves the NHS should fear the government’s determination to extend personal health budgets massively.”

He said PHBs were “the antithesis of the NHS founding principles of universality and needs-led provision”, particularly as the government had based PHBs on the same “failing” model used with social care personal budgets.

Under personal budgets, service-users are given an upfront allocation of funding, but that often bears no correlation to what is actually available for the service-user to spend on their support.

Beresford believes the same will happen with PHBs.

And he warned that “further encroachment of the NHS into social care is no way to bring about integration of health and social care.

“The great bulk of spending through PHBs is on social care – PAs, home care, respite, leisure and social needs – with a smattering of spending on fringe or complementary health services that the mainstream NHS will not commission.

“In effect, as a strategy to bring about integration, it will fail as it doesn’t grapple with the real problems of integrating clinical health and social care.”

He said PHBs were also “morally highly questionable” because they will extend the “anomaly” with NHS Continuing Healthcare, where “some will get free social care via PHBs and the rest will have to pay for exactly the same service”.

He said: “PHBs aren’t a gift horse; they are a Trojan horse for privatisation and the commodification of health.”

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said she also feared the plans were part of a long-term government strategy to privatise the NHS and move to an insurance-based system similar to the one that operates in the US.

PHBs, she said, would allow the government to separate those service-users who would be “uninsurable” and unprofitable under an insurance-based system, including those with severe and enduring mental health conditions.

She said: “I understand people with physical disabilities find PHBs excellent and it is really important to independent living that people are in control of their own lives.

“My fear is not in the here and now. It is what is going to happen in the future, what their motives are and what it will lead to.

“My fear is that it is a major step towards privatisation.”

McKenna said her own experience was that it was “practically impossible” for people with mental health conditions to secure a social care personal budget.

For those who were able to, she said, they were unable to benefit from the funding because the scheme was so badly run.

Clenton Farquharson, chair of Think Local Act Personal – a national partnership committed to health and care personalisation and community-based support – and a consultant on equality and inclusion, welcomed the government’s plans.

He said: “We know from our experience of personal budgets that when implemented well they enable choice, control and improve wellbeing.”

He said he was not concerned by claims that the government’s plans were part of creeping privatisation of the NHS.

He said: “Personal health budgets are motivated by an underlying principle to humanise a bureaucratic approach to supporting people with long term health and social care support.

“They are also driven by a need to effectively integrate health and social care that will help minimise costly, confusing and unsustainable processes that, in my experience, has had a negative impact on my life.

“I am not aware of any evidence that suggests the further expansion of PHBs is changing existing practice whereby clinical commissioning groups commission a range of services from both the NHS, community sector and private providers.

“If done correctly, PHBs can benefit people by offering a choice of affordable, quality, person-centred care that can significantly improve citizens’ health and wellbeing.”

Baroness Campbell, who has been working closely on the issue with James Sanderson, director of personalised care for NHS England, also dismissed concerns that expanding PHBs was “privatisation by the back door”.

She said that expanding PHBs could “help deliver independent living more effectively, by extending disabled people’s choice and control over the support they require to stay well and less reliant on hospital care and other health interventions.

“This is inevitably a more cost-effective approach to supporting well-being – a major principal of the Care Act.”

The government plans to outline its next steps in this summer’s adult social care green paper.

The PHB consultation closes on 8 June.

19 April 2018

 

 

Mother of ESA suicide mum-of-nine praises activist for confronting McVey

The mother of a woman who killed herself after her disability benefits were sanctioned has praised a disabled activist who confronted work and pensions secretary Esther McVey about her daughter’s death as she gave evidence to Scottish MSPs this week.

The activist, David*, had told Joy Dove of his plans to question McVey about her daughter’s suicide as the minister was giving evidence to the Scottish parliament’s social security committee on Monday.

Jodey Whiting, a seriously-ill mother-of-nine, from Stockton, took her own life last year after having her employment and support allowance (ESA) sanctioned.

She had her ESA stopped after missing a work capability assessment because she was in hospital being treated for a brain cyst, and never opened the letter telling her about the appointment.

David, from the campaign group Class War Scotland, who was sitting in public seats behind McVey, called out (listen from 52 minutes) as she was replying to a question from an MSP about her government’s policies on social security reform and whether she should apologise to the people of Scotland.

David called out: “What about Jodey Whiting, mother of nine, who committed suicide after her ESA was stopped?

“It was stopped because she missed an appointment.”

The committee meeting was suspended and David left the hearing.

When the hearing restarted, McVey responded to the request from SNP MSP Ben Macpherson for her to apologise for the “suffering and distress” caused by her government’s social security reforms**.

But instead of apologising, McVey said: “I am not oblivious to people who are incredibly vulnerable or who are in need, and obviously the gentleman felt he needed to have his points said about something that was very important to him about someone who was very vulnerable but what we aim to do with the money we spend from DWP, which is nearly £200 billion per year… [is] make sure that we reach out to the most vulnerable.

“If anybody does not get that support, it is not through lack of trying because that is what people are employed to do, to reach out and support people.”

She said it was important to have “as best oversight as we possibly can, learning from it all the time as best as we possibly can”.

After the meeting, David told Disability News Service (DNS) how Joy Dove had approved his plan to raise her daughter’s case with McVey.

He said: “She wants justice for Jodey.

“She is looking for answers and a reason why her 42-year-old daughter is now dead because of a Tory system that is purposely designed to hurt and damage people.”

David said he had wanted to ask McVey key questions about Jodey Whiting’s case but had become frustrated with the “stage managed” evidence session and the failure of MSPs to challenge or confront the minister about her government’s failings.

Joy Dove told DNS (see separate story) last night (Wednesday) that she had been delighted to hear how David had confronted McVey, which she saw as the latest step in her campaign for justice for her daughter, which includes a Justice for Jodey petition that demands a change in the law and an inquiry.

When she heard the recording of David mentioning her daughter’s name she said she “just felt great”.

She said: “I am so grateful to him. I am really pleased he did it.”

McVey’s appearance in front of the committee had to be suspended a second time after she was asked about the so-called “rape clause”, where women must prove non-consensual conception to qualify for tax credits and universal credit for a third child.

McVey argued that DWP’s decision to ask third-party groups to take that evidence from women who had been raped was “providing extra help and support” to them and was “an opportunity to talk about something that they never had before” and was therefore “potentially double support”.

Politicians and campaigners later called on her to apologise for her comments.

During the evidence session, McVey repeatedly resisted attempts by committee members to ask her to confirm that many people would be worse-off under universal credit.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone reminded McVey that Paul Gray, who chairs her own department’s social security advisory body, had said that universal credit would produce “more losers than gainers”.

But McVey said the committee needed to “look at the system in the totale” and consider also “the extra support for childcare costs, the increase we are seeing in the national living wage, the increase we are seeing in personal tax allowance” and “200,000 more people into work” in Scotland since 2010.

McVey’s reluctance may be partly because, in less than two weeks, the high court is due to hear a judicial review of the financial impact of the introduction of universal credit on disabled people with high support needs.

George Adam, an SNP MSP, told McVey that one of his constituents had been sanctioned because he had had a heart attack and was receiving treatment in the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

He said: “You’re saying it’s fit for purpose but these things keep happening, these things keep going on all the time, nothing seems to be changing for people in my constituency or across Scotland.”

McVey said that “vulnerable” people were receiving support from DWP and “people in that situation” would have “full mitigation and they would not have any sanctions” and that “for the vast, vast majority of people it is working”.

She asked for his constituent’s name and address so DWP could support him and “make sure all is now going well” and “find out what went wrong” and “learn from that” and other such cases.

Another disabled activist who attended the committee meeting was Marion Nisbet, of Glasgow Disabled People Against Cuts.

She also confronted McVey at the end of the session about the many deaths of disabled people who had been found fit for work through the work capability assessment, and her comments about the rape clause.

She said: “She didn’t turn around. She just totally ignored everything.”

After the evidence session, Macpherson and Adam spoke to activists holding a small demonstration outside the Scottish parliament, which the user-led grassroots network Black Triangle helped to organise.

A spokesman for Black Triangle said the protest had been organised to show McVey that disabled people had been “stripped of the support they require to survive by this brutal system”.

And he said that McVey and her government had shown themselves to be “steadfastly unmoved” by the comments of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which concluded last August that their cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused a “human catastrophe”.

The spokesman said: “It’s been eight years since Paul Reekie took his own life following a DWP-Atos work capability assessment (WCA).

“Sadly, the system has not changed for the better – it has become even more draconian.

“They are forced into semi-starvation, destitution and many – like Jodey Whiting – are driven to the ultimate tragedy, suicide.

“The entire, lethal disability assessment system – both the WCA and personal independence payment – must be scrapped in their entirety, along with universal credit, which must be seen as the final phase of their ‘welfare reform’ programme.”

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

**In November 2016, McVey’s predecessor, Damian Green, refused three times to apologise or even acknowledge the distress and harm caused by cuts and reforms, “particularly [through] the work capability assessment, sanctions and cuts and the wider austerity agenda”, when he appeared in front of the same committee.

19 April 2018

 

 

Mother of ESA suicide woman pledges to continue fight for justice

The mother of a woman who killed herself after being wrongly found “fit for work” has pledged to continue her campaign for justice, and for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to admit it was to blame for her daughter’s death.

The case of mother-of-nine Jodey Whiting, from Stockton, was highlighted this week after a disabled activist mentioned her name as he heckled work and pensions Esther McVey while she gave evidence (listen from 52 minutes) to the Scottish parliament’s social security committee (see separate story).

The activist, David*, told McVey: “What about Jodey Whiting, mother of nine, who committed suicide after her ESA was stopped?

“It was stopped because she missed an appointment.”

It is the latest in a string of distressing and tragic deaths that have been linked over the last eight years to the government’s social security reforms, and particularly to employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit, and its eligibility test, the work capability assessment (WCA).

Jodey Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, who herself receives ESA as a result of a number of health conditions, has been campaigning for justice for her daughter – including through a petition on the 38 Degrees website – and for an admission of blame from DWP.

Her daughter took her own life last year after being told she had been found fit for work.

She had missed a WCA appointment on 16 January 2017 because she was in hospital being treated for a brain cyst. It later emerged that the letter telling her about the appointment had been waiting for her at home, unopened.

DWP refused to back down, even after she wrote back explaining that she had been in hospital and had had pneumonia and had been receiving treatment for the cyst. She also had a number of other health conditions.

But despite the evidence she provided, DWP refused to give her another appointment to attend a WCA and confirmed that she had been found fit for work and would lose her ESA.

She was told she would receive her last fortnight’s ESA payment on 17 February.

She visited Citizens Advice, and an advisor wrote to DWP on 15 February 2017 to ask for another WCA appointment, but she took her own life six days later, just four days after her final ESA payment.

Her mother is also angry with DWP because the department sent a letter to her daughter about her claim after it had been told she had taken her own life, and continued to call Jodey’s phone and leave voicemail messages for her for more than two months.

Her complaints will be investigated by the Independent Case Examiner.

Her mother told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) that she was determined to secure justice for her daughter.

She said she remembered her crying as she told her she had lost her ESA, and asking her: “What am I going to do, mum?”

“I said, ‘Don’t worry, we will sort it out,’ but she never replied. I think it just wore her down.”

She said she was delighted that David had raised her daughter’s case so publicly during McVey’s evidence session on Monday.

He had told her in advance of his plan to confront McVey, and when she later heard the recording of him mentioning her daughter’s name in the committee hearing, she said: “I just felt great.”

It is moments like that that motivated her to continue with her campaign, she said.

“I am so grateful to him. I am really pleased he did it.”

She told DNS she would continue with her campaign for justice.

She said: “I have kept strong for my daughter, but I am heartbroken, I always will be.”

If she had had the chance to confront McVey, she said, “I would have broken down and said, ‘Look, you had no right [to treat my daughter like this].’

“It’s all wrong. It has got to stop. They can’t keep doing this to people.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have apologised to the family for attempting to contact Ms Whiting after her death.

“The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) is an independent office holder.

“As such, the DWP cannot comment on the work or decisions taken by the ICE.

“We will carefully consider the findings of the ICE.

“Suicide is a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to anyone’s benefit claim.”

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

19 April 2018

 

 

League table ‘would help government departments improve on assistive technology’

The government should set up a league table of its departments so it can compare their performance in enabling the use of assistive technology by disabled civil servants, a committee of MPs has suggested.

The Commons work and pensions select committee says in its Assistive Technology report that a league table would “incentivise” government departments to “improve quickly”.

Earlier this year, Disability News Service reported how a disabled civil servant told the committee how her career had stalled because of the failure of the IT systems in the Home Office to cope with the assistive technology she needed to do her job.

The new report says that civil service computer systems are often not fully accessible to users of assistive technology (AT), even though all departments are signed up to the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident programme as “leaders”, the highest level of accreditation.

It says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should introduce new AT-specific criteria at all three levels of Disability Confident – which is supposed to encourage employers to hire disabled people – and include detailed AT support in its new Disability Confident information portal.

Disability Confident should produce an annual report and league table on how government departments are meeting a central standard on AT-compatible IT systems, the report says.

The report is also critical of the Fit for Work service, which is also run by DWP, which provides advice to employers on how to support employees with health conditions, but “makes limited reference to AT”.

The report concludes that assistive technology already makes “a huge difference” to the lives of disabled people but has “vast untapped potential” and “could have a transformative impact on the disability employment gap” while providing “a huge opportunity to boost productivity”.

The report calls on the government to set up a new system that would allow disabled people to use the daily living element of their personal independence payment (PIP) to secure low-cost assistive technology, mirroring the long-established Motability scheme that allows claimants to use their PIP mobility payments to lease a car.

The idea was suggested to the committee by the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, and by Dr Stephen Duckworth, a disabled consultant and previously chief executive of the PIP division of the much-criticised outsourcing giant Capita, which assesses claimants for their eligibility for PIP.

He had told the committee that such a scheme would help disabled people “take responsibility, not just for independent living, but also for their future employment and contribution that they make back to society”.

And he said it could prevent disabled people being charged one thousand per cent interest rates on loans from payday lenders to fund the purchase of expensive assistive technology equipment.

The report also says that DWP should overhaul training for staff working on the Access to Work (AtW) scheme.

The report suggests that some AtW staff insist on recommending specialist pieces of assistive technology equipment when equally good mainstream equipment is cheaper, or even free.

Part of the problem, the committee says, is that training is only offered by providers of specialist equipment, providing a further reason for AtW assessors to recommend their technology. This should change, it says.

DWP should also train its work coaches and disability employment advisers on how AT can support disabled claimants, says the report.

And the report says the government “missed a trick” by failing to include an assistive technology category in the Challenge Fund it set up under its Industrial Strategy, which will see it investing in various key areas of research such as food production and “leading-edge healthcare” .

Frank Field, chair of the committee, said: “Assistive technology (AT) could be a real game changer for the UK economy, in many cases at little or even no cost.

“But DWP must vastly up its own game so that employers and disabled people – in or out of work – are fully able to benefit from all it has to offer.

“If we are finally to make any real progress towards closing the disability employment gap and ending the UK’s notorious productivity deadlock, government must put AT at the centre of its whole approach to supporting disability employment and boosting the economy, from Jobcentre Plus to the Industrial Strategy.”

The report’s recommendations were supported by the digital inclusion charity AbilityNet, which called on the government to raise awareness among employers and disabled people of the availability of mainstream AT.

The charity said the government should also promote the use of assistive technology support, such as Microsoft’s accessibility helpdesk, AbilityNet’s My Computer My Way website and the Disabled Living Foundation’s Living Made Easy website.

Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet, said: “There is a widespread lack of knowledge and understanding of what mainstream technology can actually do for disabled people.

“Users themselves do not know what their existing system is capable of, which adjustments would be relevant, or which menu to use to make that adjustment.

“If government can do more to raise awareness of accessibility options in partnership with organisations like AbilityNet and the major technology companies, everyone will benefit.”

Meanwhile, the work and pensions committee has launched a new inquiry on the use of benefit sanctions by DWP, and is seeking evidence, with a deadline of 25 May.

Field said: “Sanctions are an important part of any benefits system but they need to be applied proportionately and fairly and to account for individual circumstances.

“I’ve seen deeply troubling cases in my constituency that suggest these objectives are not always being achieved.

“We will be reviewing the evidence to see if sanctions policy is working properly and if not, we will recommend improvements.”

19 April 2018

 

 

‘Deep concern’ as launch of MPs’ inquiry into SEN support ignores inclusive education

Campaigners are “deeply concerned” that the launch of a new parliamentary inquiry into the educational support provided for disabled children and young people failed to mention inclusive education.

The inquiry by the Commons education select committee will investigate the impact of major reforms to the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system that were introduced four years ago through the Children and Families Act.

But The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) says the announcement of the committee’s inquiry – headed by disabled Tory MP and former education minister Robert Halfon – made no mention of inclusive education.

ALLFIE linked this with the Conservative party’s long-standing commitment to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”.

In 2015, a year after the act was passed, the party boasted in its 2015 general election manifesto of how it had “created 2,200 more special schools places through our free schools programme”.

Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said she was “deeply concerned, frustrated and angry” at the failure to mention inclusive education in the inquiry launch, which she said was not an accident or “ignorance” but a deliberate attempt to “avoid the issue”.

She said: “It is disingenuous of Halfon to have side-stepped the issue.”

She said the government was called out on its lack of progress on inclusive education last August by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), so the failure to mention inclusion was “not about ignorance, it is about actively avoiding the issue”.

Flood said the Children and Families Act was part of a “perfect storm” of measures that were harming inclusive education, which included “hugely damaging cuts to local authority SEND support services”, and an increase in the powers of schools to exclude pupils.

She said: “This is a perfect storm of policy and law dealing with the government’s ideological position of reversing the bias towards inclusive education.”

She said it was “absolutely extraordinary” that the education committee had made no reference to the concluding observations made by the CRPD last year after it had examined the UK government’s implementation of the UN disability convention.

CRPD was highly critical of the UK government’s approach to inclusive education, and the “persistence of a dual education system” that segregates increasing numbers of disabled children in special schools.

CRPD called instead for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”, which would include raising awareness of – and support for – inclusive education among parents of disabled children.

The government has a commitment to build the capacity of mainstream schools to educate disabled children through the UN convention, said Flood.

She said ALLFIE will be making these points to the committee “in the strongest terms”.

One of the areas the education committee’s inquiry will examine is the act’s replacement of statements of special educational needs with new education, health and care plans (EHCPs), which last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support a family should receive.

Local authorities in England had until this month to move all disabled children eligible for support from special educational needs (SEN) statements to new EHCPs.

But Labour warned in last year’s general election manifesto for disabled people that the EHCP assessments were “being used to restrict access to support” for disabled children and young people.

And in December, the education watchdog Ofsted warned that some parents were being asked to educate their disabled children at home because their schools were claiming they could not meet their needs.

That report said that the proportion of pupils with an SEN statement or an EHCP attending a state-funded special school, rather than mainstream provision, had risen from 40 per cent in 2010 to 45 per cent of pupils.

After the act’s introduction, ALLFIE warned that it had “thrown open a whole new door to segregation” because it weakened disabled children’s right to inclusion in a mainstream school.

The education select committee will also investigate the level of funding for SEND.

After the act was passed in 2014, the National Union of Teachers warned that the new SEND measures were “simply a cover for cost-cutting”.

The inquiry will also look at how well the education, health and social care sectors have been co-operating.

The education committee said the intention of the Children and Families Act had been to offer simpler, improved and consistent help for children and young people with SEND, while the government claimed the changes would give families greater choice in decisions.

But the committee now wants to review the success of those reforms, how they have been implemented, and the impact they are having on disabled children and young people.

Halfon said: “It has been four years since major SEND reforms were introduced and it’s important we examine whether the government’s stated ambitions for simpler, improved and consistent help for children and young people with SEND have been met.

“There are rising concerns about the quality and access to SEN provision which the committee… will want to explore in this inquiry.

“The committee’s current inquiry into alternative provision has heard considerable evidence that children with special educational needs are disproportionately excluded from school and over-represented in alternative provision.

“During the course of our quality of apprenticeships and skills training inquiry we’ve also heard that with young people with SEN have faced significant barriers in accessing apprenticeships.”

He added: “The 2014 act extended provision to young people up to the age of 25 and the committee is particularly keen to hear evidence about whether there is the right support available to enable young people to access appropriate post-18 opportunities such as studying at further education colleges and undertaking apprenticeships.”

The deadline for submitting evidence to the inquiry is 14 June.

19 April 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com