Four opposition parties demand DWP answers over WCA deaths ‘cover-up’

Two opposition parties are writing urgent letters to work and pensions secretary Esther McVey – while a third is demanding an investigation – about a possible cover-up over documents linking the “fitness for work” test with the deaths of benefit claimants.

Senior figures from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats said this week that they were writing urgently to McVey to ask whether the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had shown the documents to the independent expert the government commissioned to review the work capability assessment (WCA) in 2013 and 2014.

The Green party’s co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, said the failure to be clear about what happened with the documents had “all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up”. He has called for an independent investigation.

The SNP also said it would be seeking answers from DWP.

Dr Paul Litchfield was commissioned by DWP to carry out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has so far refused to say if he was shown letters written by two coroners and a number of secret DWP internal “peer reviews” into deaths linked to the WCA regime.

Litchfield, who was recognised by the prime minister with a CBE in last month’s birthday honours, published the two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of them mentioned the documents, all of which link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

A spokesman for Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said she would be writing to McVey “as a matter of urgency”.

Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions spokesman, said: “I will be writing directly to the secretary of state, Esther McVey, to seek clarification whether or not her department, the DWP, ever showed [Litchfield] the documents linking the WCA to the deaths of benefit claimants.

“The public has a right to know, particularly now he’s been awarded a gong.”

Neil Gray, the SNP’s social justice spokesman at Westminster, added: “This issue has thrown up a number of questions for the DWP and we need a clear and definitive statement on what people knew and when. We will be seeking those answers.”

Even though DWP possessed all the coroner’s letters and peer reviews, it has claimed in a freedom of information response that it holds no information in its records on whether they were shown to Litchfield while he was reviewing the WCA.

Since Disability News Service (DNS) revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that DWP and its ministers deliberately covered-up evidence of the fatal impact of the assessment on sick and disabled people.

The coroner’s letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013 and each warned of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

The call for evidence for Litchfield’s second review was issued on 10 June 2014, five months after coroner Mary Hassell had written to DWP following an inquest into the death of Michael O’Sullivan, who had had significant, long-term mental health problems.

Hassell had told DWP that the trigger for O’Sullivan’s suicide had been the conclusion by civil servants that he was fit for work, but she said that neither DWP nor the Atos doctor who had assessed him through the WCA process had asked his GP, psychologist or psychiatrist for information about his mental health.

Hassell told DWP that it needed to take action “to prevent further deaths” like Michael O’Sullivan’s.

But despite that urgent call, Litchfield’s second review failed to mention Hassell’s letter or a similar letter sent to DWP by another coroner in 2010 following the suicide of Stephen Carré.

Litchfield’s two reviews also failed to mention the peer reviews.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”.

One of the aims of these reviews is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

Litchfield has so far refused to comment about the documents.

But Professor Malcolm Harrington, the independent expert who carried out the first three reviews of the WCA in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has already told DNS that he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter (the second letter had not yet been written by the time he completed his third review) nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

Bartley said this week: “If the Department for Work and Pensions failed to show Dr Litchfield vital documents linking the work capability assessment with the deaths of benefit claimants, DWP are clearly implicated in a cover-up.

“If he was shown them but didn’t mention them in his reports, then so was he.

“This has all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up over the fatal impact of the assessment on sick and disabled people.

“There is no justification for secrecy, it is clearly in the public interest for the truth to be told and there should be an independent investigation of what happened.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “As we’ve previously said, this was an independent review, and DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request.

“Any evidence used was referenced in the review.”

19 July 2018

 

 

O’Mara asks for forgiveness and understanding as an autistic MP

A disabled MP has spoken of how being diagnosed as autistic has helped him to understand his behaviour as a younger man that led to his suspension from the Labour party.

Jared O’Mara has told Disability News Service (DNS) that he was diagnosed in January this year by a psychiatrist, three months after his suspension from the party.

He was heavily criticised by disabled campaigners last year when a series of offensive remarks he made about other minority groups and women as a younger man came to light.

But O’Mara has now appealed for understanding and forgiveness for the comments he made as a younger man on an internet chat forum, pointing out that he and other autistic people “don’t understand the social nuances of language and humour in the same way as neurotypical people do”.

The Sheffield Hallam MP told DNS this week: “I still don’t now, and I’m scared that I might be bullied again for my language choices and how I express myself.”

His comments have this week secured support from two leading autistic campaigners, who suggested that he should be forgiven.

O’Mara “unreservedly” apologised again for the comments and said he was “horrified” at the offence he had caused and still felt “so sad and ashamed”.

But he said: “Parliament is a very scary and threatening place and I don’t think it has anticipated what the needs of members with mental health disabilities, autism and other learning disabilities will be because it hasn’t anticipated that it would get any members who have such disabilities (or who would go on the record about having them as I have).”

O’Mara – who also has cerebral palsy – said he believed that people with invisible impairments were “made to feel ashamed and treated worse” than those with physical impairments.

He added: “We can work and we can contribute and take part in public life, but only if great effort is put into providing us with the understanding and adjustments that we need and that, I may add, we are legally entitled to.”

He also said that he found political correctness “scary” as an autistic person, and that he believed it had been “weaponized” by people across the political spectrum “to bully those who make language and humour choices and errors that fall outside of its arbitrary realms of acceptability, even when those people passionately believe in equality for all”.

He said: “I am not a homophobe, I passionately believe in LGBTQ equality, I am not a sexist, I am an inter-sectional feminist and I am not a racist because I simply don’t judge people in terms of their ethnicity or nationality and to do so seems ridiculous for me.”

He said he had nearly taken his own life “as a result of being falsely labelled these and from being bullied and harassed and I want to stop being publicly shamed in this way.

“We should not judge people on their diction, register or choice of words nor their humour, we should judge them on what they believe, their policies and what’s in their hearts, particularly when they have ASD [autistic spectrum disorder] or a learning disability as we don’t understand the social nuances of language and humour in the same way as neurotypical people do.”

O’Mara also stressed his strong opposition to disability hate crime, and said he had “been called spastic and cripple and been beaten up for being disabled on several occasions”.

But he said there was no comparison between this kind of abuse and the discussions he had had on the internet in his 20s – he is now 36 – which had been private discussions in chat forums with long-time friends.

He said he had “erroneously misunderstood the taboo words I used to be slang and not terms of abuse, loaded with so much darkness” and also had not been “aware of how my use of humour could be misunderstood”.

He told DNS: “Those chats were meant for people in that era and exclusively for the people I was chatting with who understood that I held no prejudices against marginalised groups and who understood the context.”

Labour launched an investigation last October into a series of comments O’Mara had made on these internet chat forums and comments he denied making to a woman in a nightclub.

He was told last week that he would be re-admitted into the party, given a formal warning and told to attend equality training.

But he quit the party soon afterwards, telling his constituents in a letter that he had “not been listened to or been given a fair investigation” by the party and had “been made unfairly to feel like a criminal”.

He said he could not continue “under the pretence that I feel there is a place of acceptance and empathy for me as a working class, underprivileged disabled man within the Labour Party”.

He said: “Nobody should be made to feel ashamed for mistakes they make when they are young.”

Two leading autistic campaigners offered their support to O’Mara this week.

Dinah Murray, who leads the autistic-led National Autistic Taskforce’s communications and advocacy subgroup – but was not speaking on behalf of the taskforce – said: “Many adolescents take a while to get the hang of what may or may not be acceptable to whom.

“Society is nuanced and it is true that a lot of the boundary setting (these days especially) is far too fluid or volatile to make any lasting sense and thus does not suit autistic (or most other) dispositions.

“It is arguably the situation of being marginalised and precarious because of his autism, rather than the autism itself, which was behind his ill-judged attempts to be part of the gang.”

She also said that “a person’s autism can make them more vulnerable to manipulation and ill treatment” and that “an autistic person who adopts the bullies’ way of talking may be hiding from a particularly vile form of persecution”.

She added: “Youthful folly is the norm, and everyone needs to be given another chance. To me he seems to have spoken very honestly about past mistakes and with sincere regret.

“I feel very sad that he has experienced another round of bullying as a grown-up to the point that he’s left the Labour Party to which he had devoted so much time and effort.”

Another leading autistic rights campaigner, Adrian Whyatt, said he believed the MP’s comments were “valid” if he had a “formal genuine diagnosis” (which O’Mara has) and that being autistic “may explain his use of inappropriate language”.

He also said that O’Mara had “disowned his remarks from this distant past” and “appears to have repented of them”.

He said: “That should surely be enough in what still purports to be a Christian country. Where is the forgiveness?”

Another autistic campaigner said the impact of O’Mara’s autism on his use of language was “a complex area” and he added: “It can be difficult to gauge the impact, the way people will take things.

“Sometimes we speak or type before really thinking about our message.

“I have said some politically incorrect things in my time. I may inadvertently do so in the future.”

But he also pointed out that he “would have to know the person in question to really be able to tell where they are coming from”.

The disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, which was highly critical of O’Mara last October when his remarks emerged, and Disability Politics UK, which said last year that O’Mara was “entitled to due process and a fair hearing”, both declined to comment this week.

But Stephen Brookes, who has recently retired as a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and was outspoken in his criticism of O’Mara last October, said the MP “really doesn’t seem to accept what his offence meant, both in relation to those he insulted and why it matters to equality and society”.

Brookes said: “O’Mara let many people down with his original offence and has done nothing to convince me there is any difference now.

“He abused others in totally inappropriate language, and which any of us as disabled people would challenge if made against us by a non-disabled person, so to now use the ‘disabled card’ denies equality and as an excuse is even worse in my view.”

But he also suggested that O’Mara should have done more to declare his invisible impairments and seek support from the Commons authorities when he became an MP.

Brookes said: “That was why the House [of Commons] didn’t work for him and he left himself open to all kinds of criticism.”

O’Mara, who believes he is parliament’s first autistic MP, has asked his constituents for patience, understanding and sympathy.

He told them in the letter: “I ask for everybody to go on the internet and read about autism, and about my other disabilities; clinical depression, cerebral palsy and anxiety.

“Then, with that reading and research, seek to exercise empathy over apathy and antipathy.”

He told DNS: “Young people make mistakes but regularly learn from them, I certainly have.

“My message to all disabled people is that I still dearly hope to be a force and a voice for them (and for equality as a whole) in my work as an MP, and after then too when I eventually leave.”

19 July 2018

 

 

Watchdog’s ‘issues of concern’ over regulator’s treatment of PIP complaints

A regulator has been told there are “issues of concern” about the way it deals with complaints against health and care professionals, including those who write dishonest benefit assessment reports.

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) agreed in January to look at concerns about the way regulators deal with complaints about nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics who carry out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments for the outsourcing giants Capita and Atos.

It agreed to act after being contacted last year by disabled activist Mark Lucas, who has twice appealed successfully against the results of what he believes were dishonest PIP assessments.

Hundreds of disabled people have come forward over the last 18 months to tell Disability News Service (DNS) how assessors working for Atos and Capita wrote dishonest PIP assessment reports on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Many also raised concerns about the apparent refusal of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to take their complaints about these assessments seriously.

Only this week, Lucas received an email from HCPC, explaining that it would not take any further action over his complaint about an occupational therapist who had assessed him for PIP.

He believes the assessor deliberately downplayed the seriousness and frequency of his seizures, but HCPC told him it did not believe this had happened and even if it had, “it would be considered a minor error, which would not be capable of amounting to an allegation of impaired fitness to practice”.

Lucas has twice been found ineligible for PIP following assessments, but on both occasions was later awarded eligibility for the PIP standard daily living rate after appealing to a tribunal.

Frustrated at HCPC’s failure to take another complaint about a PIP assessor seriously, he contacted PSA – which reviews the work of the regulators of health and care professionals – last year.

PSA incorporated Lucas’s concerns into its annual review of HCPC, which found this month that the regulator was meeting only four of the 10 required standards for the way it deals with complaints against healthcare professionals, including those who carry out PIP assessments.

Last year, before Lucas contacted the regulator, PSA had reviewed 100 complaints made to HCPC, including a small number relating to PIP assessments.

David Martin, PSA’s concerns and appointments officer, said the 2017-18 review “concluded that there were issues of concern about the HCPC’s process across all of its activity”, in relation to fitness to practise.

These concerns include the way it deals with the initial stages of the fitness to practise process, and how it determines if there is a “case to answer” against a health and care professional.

Among PSA’s concerns are that HCPC makes it too difficult for complaints about a healthcare professional to be accepted into the fitness to practise process, while other cases are closed at the initial stage instead of being referred to an investigating committee panel.

Martin said HCPC had confirmed that PIP assessment work “should be considered in the same way as any other professional activity of its registrants” and that its procedures “require it to fully consider the concerns it receives about PIP assessors”.

He said: “The HCPC was clear that it considers registrants, acting as PIP assessors, are exercising their professional judgement.

“It therefore considers that allegations of misconduct or lack of competence when carrying out PIP assessments could constitute a fitness to practise concern to be investigated in accordance with its usual process.”

He said HCPC was now “undertaking an action plan” to address the concerns PSA has raised about its fitness to practise processes, and that PSA would probably review further HCPC cases in detail over the next couple of years.

A similar annual review by PSA of NMC is due to be published later this year.

An HCPC spokesman said: “The PSA audited a sample of 100 of our cases as part of their review of our yearly performance review in 2016-17.

“While a small number of these cases related to PIP, the audit was not specifically looking at HCPC’s handling of PIP cases.

“HCPC registrants who are employed in assessor roles are recruited because of their skills and experience as registered health professionals. Therefore, their work and conduct needs to comply with our standards.

“If in the course of conducting a PIP assessment a concern is raised regarding a registrant’s fitness to practise, ie lack of competence or misconduct, then this will be investigated following the same robust and thorough processes and applying the same tests as concerns raised in relation to any other area of a registrant’s practice.

“We have also provided input into the PSA’s review into how regulators approach fitness to practise concerns in relation to PIP assessments and have confirmed our view that the PIP assessment process requires the registrant to employ their professional competencies.

“This year we continued to meet the majority of the PSA’s Standards for Good Regulation.

“Although we did not meet all the standards relating to fitness to practise, the PSA has acknowledged our on-going work to improve our performance in this area and stated that we have made ‘significant progress during this review period’.

“We continue our programme of improvement work to address the issues that were previously identified.”

But Lucas was heavily critical of PSA’s efforts to address his concerns.

He said PSA was “a joke” and a “toothless quango”.

He said: “I am not happy with the way PSA have treated me and it is behaviour that I have been subjected to on many occasions over the last few years.”

Lucas said that complaints processes are “designed to abuse” disabled people because they first “promise the earth”, then “forget” the complaint, and finally “communicate the result from the complaint in a letter with preapproved techniques of neutralisation and consolatory phrases like ‘we realise you will be disappointed’”.

He said: “This experience of the last few years has given me anxiety over making complaints.

“I have spent much time and written many letters, but it is all for nothing because organisations like the PSA are just for show.”

19 July 2018

 

 

Brexit bill ‘will give ministers power to exchange trade deals for rights’

The government’s trade bill – which will give ministers powers to give up disability rights protections in exchange for deals with other countries – proves disabled people were right to be concerned about the impact of Brexit, say campaigners.

Disability and human rights organisations have written to trade secretary Liam Fox to express alarm about the bill, which gives ministers “delegated powers” to change legislation including the Equality Act in exchange for future trade deals.

These trade deals are those previously agreed with other countries by the EU, and which have already been scrutinised by the UK parliament and the EU, but which could now be altered post-Brexit.

The trade bill was passed by MPs this week but will now be debated in the House of Lords.

The letter, sent by Liberty and signed by organisations including Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Disability Law Service, RNIB and the UK human rights consortium Just Fair, tells Fox that the bill as it stands includes “no safeguards to prevent ministers from using these new powers to remove rights granted by Parliament”.

And it says the powers could be used, for example, to change parts of the Equality Act that require public transport to be accessible for disabled people.

The letter adds: “We urge you to add a commitment to the text of the Bill to protect human rights and equality laws during the process of legislating for the UK’s exit from the EU.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has told Disability News Service that it shares the concerns in the Liberty letter.

EHRC’s own briefing document on the bill warns that the delegated powers currently in the bill are “wide enough to allow a future reduction in the protection of fundamental rights”, such as on worker’s rights, equality and non-discrimination, inclusion of disabled people and access to social protection.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said: “Ever since the referendum result, we have been concerned about the potential impact of Brexit on disabled people.

“We think it is a matter that should concern us all, however people voted.”

DR UK has drawn up a manifesto on what the disability rights sector should be seeking from a post-Brexit Britain, including the need to retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Bott said: “The trade bill, in allowing ministers to change laws like the Equality Act to gain international trade agreements, demonstrates that we were right to be worried and for this reason we agreed to be a signatory to the letter put together by Liberty.

“Words and platitudes are not enough. We need our rights guaranteed in legislation, not watered down.

“This bill demonstrates that we have to be vigilant in defending our hard-won rights.”

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said: “This trade bill turns crucial protections into bargaining chips.

“With no consent from parliament or the public, ministers would be able to dispose of vital protections against discrimination and prevent equal access to jobs, education, transport and public services simply because another country thinks equality gets in the way of trade.

“Human rights are not up for negotiation – MPs must press the government for a cast-iron legal commitment that they won’t be undermined in the name of trade.”

The Department for International Trade (DIT) failed to comment on the call for an explicit commitment in the bill that it would not be used to undermine rights.

Despite the concerns raised in the Liberty letter and by EHRC, a DIT spokesman claimed it was “wrong to state that the continuity powers in the trade bill can be used without parliamentary scrutiny, and we have made a clear commitment to parliamentary debate on any changes which may have to be made in order to transition these from EU to UK agreements”.

He said the trade agreements had “already been scrutinised by parliament and the EU” and the government had made clear that it would keep these agreements “the same as much as possible and only make technical changes when needed”.

He said DIT would respond to Liberty’s letter in due course.

19 July 2018

 

 

Disabled passengers question watchdog’s rosy view of airport assistance

Disabled people who use UK airports have questioned a report which found significant improvement in the provision of assistance to passengers over the last year.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) third annual report into the assistance provided at the UK’s 30 biggest airports ranked 16 of them as “very good”, and just one – Manchester (see separate story) – as poor.

Last year, just six airports were ranked as “very good”.

Disabled passengers are entitled to free assistance when travelling by air under European Union regulations, and CAA is the regulatory body that monitors the quality of this assistance.

The CAA report for 2017-18 points out that Heathrow, which last year was rated “poor” but is now said to be “good”, had invested £23 million in its assistance service, through new equipment, new technology and additional resources.

Gatwick, Stansted and Birmingham were all classified as “needs improvement”.

CAA said that more than four-fifths of disabled passengers surveyed said the quality of assistance provided in 2017-18 was at least satisfactory, but one in 10 said it was “very poor”.

The regulator also said that the airports often criticised airlines – which usually fund the assistance service through local agreements – for being “more focussed on cost saving than in ensuring a high quality assistance service”.

The CAA report adds: “If this is happening it is not consistent with the brand values of major airlines.”

Responses from disabled passengers on social media suggested CAA’s report had exaggerated the quality of airport assistance services.

They were responding to disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who had asked disabled people who use airports what their experiences have been.

Most of those who responded – although not all – were scathing of the services they have received at UK airports.

One, tweeting at @strictlywheels, said she had to complain “probably every other time we fly”, with a lack of consistency and wheelchairs being treated “appallingly”.

Another, Tom Staniford, @tomstaniford, said the service was “mostly awful”, due to “poor quality, slow service, lack of care [and] ignorance”.

British wheelchair basketball player Billy Bridge, @Billy_Bridge8, said he flies frequently but in the last four or five years he has experienced just one smooth journey.

He said: “Airports just can’t seem to grasp how much easier they can make flying for disabled people.”

Disabled academic Professor Tom Shakespeare, @TommyShakes, was one of the few who said his experiences had been “almost always positive”, although he said he always takes himself to the departure gate, rather than relying on the airport’s assistance service.

But another, @celticchickadee, told Baroness Grey-Thompson that airports “seem to be struggling more and more with capacity”, either because of cutting staff or failing to keep pace with demand.

And @prettytwitten said: “I don’t complain every time I have a bad experience or I’d be complaining every time I went somewhere. There is always something.”

Ruth Murran, @ruth_murran, added: “My good experiences are because of individuals, rather than the system.

“I am fortunate in being able to wheel myself to the gate so can mostly avoid being patronised. Hate the uncertainty and unpredictability.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson told Disability News Service said she believed the quality of airport assistance was “getting worse” and was “too variable” and that the CAA figures did not reflect the experiences of disabled passengers.

She said that flying was “one of the few time times I feel disabled”.

She said: “From the people who’ve been in touch with me, many don’t complain because they’re exhausted by the whole process, or it is too hard to do so.

“It all depends on people as well as the process and understanding what disabled people’s needs are.

“Personally, I’ve had more challenges flying in the last two years than the previous 20.”

She added: “The lack of understanding about how important it is to bring a personal mobility aid to the gate still astounds me.

“They should be brought in a timely manner and disabled people shouldn’t be made to feel grateful for getting on or off a plane.”

Baroness Sugg, the aviation minister, said in response to the CAA report: “It’s essential that passengers with reduced mobility or hidden disabilities get the service they deserve every time they fly.

“The CAA has stepped up its work in this area and plays an important role in showing where improvement still needs to be made.

“I welcome the progress made by airports to improve accessibility and will continue to work with all of the aviation industry to make flying easier for disabled passengers.”

19 July 2018

 

 

Councils that part-own Manchester Airport ‘must address embarrassing assistance’

A leading disabled people’s organisation has called on the local authorities that part-own Manchester Airport to address the “embarrassment” of it being found to be the worst airport in the country at providing assistance for disabled passengers.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced in its third annual review of the assistance provided at the UK’s airports that Manchester is now the only one assessed as “poor” for assistance.

In last year’s review, the airport was one of four described as “poor”, but CAA says the other three have all improved over the last 12 months.

Disabled passengers are entitled to free assistance when travelling by air under European Union regulations, and CAA is the regulatory body that monitors the quality of this assistance.

Manchester Airport is part of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which is nearly two-thirds owned by Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities, with Labour-run Manchester City Council owning more than a third of MAG.

CAA’s annual review of assistance services for 2017-18 said of Manchester Airport: “Information provided to us shows that disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility took significantly longer to move through the airport than other passengers, with an unacceptable number of disabled and reduced mobility passengers waiting more than 20 minutes for assistance with, in some cases, passengers left waiting for assistance for more than an hour.

“This is not an acceptable situation for passengers that need to use the assistance at the airport.”

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) called on the 10 councils and the elected mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, to pressure the airport to improve its services to disabled passengers.

Brian Hilton, GMCDP’s digital campaigns officer, said: “Manchester Airport is a major gateway to both the region and the country and I would hope that the mayor is suitably embarrassed and stirred into action that at present we are officially the worst airport in the country for disabled access.

“12 months have passed since the CAA first highlighted Manchester Airport’s failings in relation to disabled people and its failure to improve since then shows a total disregard for disabled people.”

He said anecdotal evidence suggested that “whilst policies might be in place to assist disabled people, practices and procedures are still sadly lacking”.

He said the coalition had called for action to improve the airport’s performance in its manifesto for last year’s mayoral election, which Burnham won.

Hilton warned last year that many staff at Manchester Airport “treat disabled people little better than cattle, moving people without telling them what was happening or where they were going”.

A spokeswoman for Manchester City Council refused to say what action the local authority would take to ensure the airport’s provision of assistance improved, or whether it was embarrassed about the airport’s performance.

But she said in a statement: “It’s important to us that our local airport is accessible to everyone, and it’s clearly also important for the many thousands of international travellers who pass through the airport every day.

“As major shareholder in MAG, we’re pleased the CAA report recognises a number of positive changes made by the airport over the last year to improve services for people with disabilities.

“We’re confident that the airport’s £1 billion long term transformation programme – Manchester Airport Transformation Programme – will deliver the further changes needed to significantly improve services for all passengers.”

A spokesman for Burnham said that it was important to note that MAG “does not fall under the purview of the mayor”.

He said: “While he is in frequent contact with the management of the airport and makes his views and opinions heard he has no direct control over its running.”

But Burnham said in a statement: “It is important that all public spaces, including transport hubs, across Greater Manchester are fully accessible.

“The CAA’s report is clear in identifying areas where Manchester Airport should improve its accessibility.

“I welcome the improvements already implemented and will be in regular dialogue with Manchester Airports Group to ensure further steps are taken.

“Across the city-region there is much to be done to improve accessibility on public transport though progress is being made; every Metrolink tram and tram stop has step-free access and the new Bolton transport interchange has been designed with disability access at its heart.

“But I will continue to challenge the transport operators to ensure that all facilities are fully accessible.”

19 July 2018

 

 

DWP is asked why ‘not fit for work’ universal credit claimants are being sanctioned

A minister has been asked why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled claimants are apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the government’s new universal credit system.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that more than 1,100 claimants of universal credit were being sanctioned in February this year (1,108), even though they had been moved into the “working enough” or “no work-related requirement” group.

They have usually been moved into these groups because they have been found not “fit for work” or are not expected to look for jobs.

The figures also show a striking increase in the number of claimants in these two groups who were being sanctioned from January 2017 (649) to February 2017 (1,109).

The concerns have been raised by the Commons work and pensions committee, after it was sent the figures by employment minister Alok Sharma.

In a letter to Sharma, the committee’s chair, Frank Field, says: “What is the point of applying sanctions to people who cannot work and are not expected to look for jobs?

“The DWP have yet to make the case that benefit sanctions work to get people into employment and it’s difficult to see how they can have that affect for people who are ‘working enough’ or cannot work.

“Benefit sanctions are the only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated, and the picture DWP paints of the policy doesn’t match the troubling stories we’ve heard.”

The committee also raised concerns with Sharma that DWP’s figures “consistently understate” the number of benefit claimants being sanctioned, particularly those on the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA), where there is a high rate of successful appeals.

In Field’s letter, he says that DWP removes a sanction decision from its statistics if it is overturned at an appeal.

This had been pointed out by Dr David Webster, a leading researcher on unemployment and sanctions at the University of Glasgow, when he gave evidence in May to the committee’s inquiry into the benefit sanctions regime.

Webster had told the committee that the only reason DWP had not abandoned ESA sanctions when the National Audit Office reported in November 2016 that their use led to a fall in the time claimants spent in work was because of “embarrassment”.

Field asks Sharma in his letter to publish pre-appeal sanction figures so that “the true picture can be understood”.

In one month, in December 2016, the pre-appeal figures would have been 57 per cent higher (1,173) than the figures published by DWP (749).

By January 2018, the pre-appeal figures were still 30 per cent higher (544 rather than 420).

Asked to respond to the points raised by Field in his letter to Sharma, a DWP spokeswoman declined to explain why disabled people were apparently being sanctioned when there were no conditions attached to their universal credit.

She did not dispute the universal credit sanction figures but said that “where someone’s situation changes and they have different conditionality, we can adjust an ongoing sanction amount”.

And she claimed that “only a small proportion of sanction decisions are appealed and in the cases where they are overturned, the claimant’s payments are backdated”.

19 July 2018

 

 

McVey’s U-turn means DWP will pay at least £100 million more to disabled claimants

Disabled people will be paid more than £100 million extra in backdated benefits owed by the government, after a U-turn by work and pensions secretary Esther McVey on the eve of a court hearing.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had previously only agreed to offer a partial backpayment to an estimated 70,000 disabled people who for years did not receive the correct level of out-of-work disability benefits.

The underpayments were caused by the botched migration of former claimants of incapacity benefit and other benefits to the new employment and support allowance (ESA) from 2011 onwards.

The department failed to realise that many of the claimants were entitled to income-related ESA – and therefore to associated disability premiums – rather than just the contributory form of ESA.

Although DWP had previously agreed to pay back as much as £340 million to those affected – with average payments likely to be about £5,000 – it had said it would only backdate arrears to 21 October 2014, the point at which the upper tribunal ruled that DWP should have assessed claimants for both income-related and contribution-based ESA when deciding their entitlement.

DWP had been refusing to pay back another £100 million to £150 million in arrears that dated from before 21 October 2014.

But yesterday (Wednesday), McVey announced that claimants would receive arrears backdated to the date they moved onto ESA, with some claimants now likely to receive up to £10,000 more in arrears.

It is just one in a series of major errors by DWP senior civil servants relating to disability benefits, with the department now believed to be carrying out six separate trawls through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits.

In a written statement to MPs, McVey said that individuals contacted about their backpayments could expect to receive the “appropriate payment” within 12 weeks after the “relevant information” has been gathered.

Those who have already received arrears payments from 21 October 2014 will have their cases looked at again, with additional arrears paid dating back to the date they were moved onto ESA.

The announcement came as DWP was about to face a court hearing in a judicial review case taken by the Child Poverty Action Group on behalf of a claimant who was underpaid from 2012.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, welcomed McVey’s announcement, which came hours after a report by her committee had attacked DWP’s “culture of indifference”, which saw it take six years to start to address its ESA error.

She said: “I was appalled by the department’s apparent indifference to correcting its mistakes.

“Today’s statement, coming so soon after publication of our report, indicates DWP finally intends to treat this problem with the seriousness it deserves.”

Hillier had said earlier, in publishing her committee’s report, that DWP “simply didn’t listen to what claimants, experts, support organisations and its own staff were saying.

“Its sluggishness in correcting underpayments, years after it accepted responsibility for the error, points to weaknesses at the highest levels of management.

“Indifference has no place in the delivery of vital public services. It must be rooted out wherever it is found.”

19 July 2018

 

 

Disabled comedian reduced to tears after public humiliation by train guard

A disabled comedian has described how she was reduced to tears after being publicly “shamed” by a train guard who forced her to move her mobility scooter to make way for a mother with a baby buggy.

Tanyalee Davis was on a Great Western Railway (GWR) train from Plymouth to London Paddington with her partner, following a performance in the city, when she was asked to move.

She had placed her scooter in the unreserved space for wheelchairs in the first-class carriage – the only carriage on the train with a wheelchair space – and had taken a nearby seat with her partner, as she had been told she could not sit on the scooter during the journey.

But a guard insisted she fold up the scooter so the woman could put her buggy in the space, and then threatened to call the police when Davis complained at how she was being treated.

Much of this was caught on film by Davis’s partner.

It was even announced on the intercom that Davis was holding up the train, and that it would be forced to stop indefinitely at the next station.

She was forced to move her scooter to the area by the train doors and had to keep moving it throughout the journey to avoid blocking other passengers.

Davis said she cried most of the rest of the journey to Paddington because of the way she had been treated.

Friends and supporters, including fellow disabled performers Liz Carr and Penny Pepper, and the campaign group Transport for All, took to social media to express their concern at her ordeal.

The woman had refused to leave her buggy by the carriage doors and insisted that Davis should move her scooter so she could put her buggy in the wheelchair space.

David described her ordeal on YouTube and said she was “sick” of the way she was treated as a scooter-user.

She said: “Just because I have a mobility scooter doesn’t make me a pariah. It doesn’t make me less disabled.

“I have the smallest possible scooter you can have and I can turn it on a dime so there’s no reason why I should get discriminated against.”

She added: “I don’t know what it is about this country. They really make you feel disabled.

“I’m just trying to make a living, trying to make people laugh and share all my good experiences, but this country really drags a person down.”

Fellow disabled comic Steve Day said on Twitter: “I am disgusted that @GWRHelp operates rules and procedures that discriminate against and humiliate people like my friend @TanyaleeDavis.

“I want to know how they are going to redress this.”

Pepper said on Twitter that what had happened to Davis was “outrageous and scary” and “totally unacceptable and totally an act of discrimination” by GWR.

And accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley – who himself secured a Supreme Court victory on access to the wheelchair space on buses – added: “A disabled person in a scooter is told to vacate an unreserved train wheelchair space to accommodate somebody’s baby buggy; then is shamed over the PA to the whole train for objecting. Shocking.”

In another YouTube video, Davis later thanked those who had supported her.

She said: “I can’t even tell you how amazed I am by the amount of support that I have received via my website, YouTube channel, through the BBC websites, ITV websites, everything, it’s been amazing.”

She stressed that she was “certainly not” looking for the guard to be sacked.

She said: “I couldn’t live with myself if somebody lost their livelihood because of an incident that I was involved in.”

But she said she had been working in the UK for 15 years and had been involved in “non-stop situations like this”.

Davis, who is touring her stand-up show from September, added: “I really hope this will give a new voice to people with mobility scooters.”

And she said she hoped it provoked a national discussion about the public transport needs of people who use smaller mobility scooters.

GWR has launched an investigation into the incident and has made it clear that it “should not have happened”.

One GWR spokesman said in a radio interview that a team from the company had watched Davis’s video and had been “collectively horrified”.

He said: “We got it wrong, it made no sense. A wheelchair space is a wheelchair space, it’s not for luggage or pushchairs.

“The priority is really clear. Tanyalee should not have been asked to move.”

A GWR spokesman added: “No one travelling with us should be left feeling like this.

“This should not have happened, and we have been in touch with Tanyalee to apologise directly.

“She has asked to speak with a senior member of our team to talk about her experience – and how we might avoid it happening again – and we have said we would be very happy to arrange this as soon as possible.”

19 July 2018

 

 

Council’s disabled facilities grant investment leads to ‘unprecedented’ improvements

A local authority says it has achieved an “unprecedented” improvement in waiting-times for disabled people seeking grants to make their homes accessible.

Ashford Borough Council in Kent decided last October to invest an extra £200,000 capital funding in the disabled facilities grant (DFG) scheme, and part-funded an occupational therapist to work in the borough on assessing applications.

The Conservative-run council says these decisions have had a striking effect, completely eliminating the waiting-list for assessments of about 80 cases in just nine months.

And the average time from a claimant being referred to the work being completed was cut from 18-24 months to between six and 12 months.

The value of grants approved rose sharply, from £727,834 in 2016-17 to £822,504 in 2017-18.

Sophie Fournel, service manager at Centre for Independent Living Kent (CILK), said her organisation would welcome any improvements to the DFG system, although they had not been contacted by the council about the new measures.

She said CILK had not received any requests for advocacy or support with DFG applications for about six months, which could suggest that disabled people were now finding the system quicker and easier.

She said: “We would very much welcome a more streamlined DFG process. If that is what Ashford are doing, that’s brilliant.”

A report to the council’s cabinet said: “The performance has been unprecedented and within a relatively short period, there has been a massive turn around in waiting times and in predicted spends.”

Now the council has agreed to provide further support for the scheme.

As well as extending the occupational therapist’s post by another year, the council agreed at a cabinet meeting last week to relax the means-test that had prevented some disabled people from securing DFG support.

This means that £10,000 will be disregarded before a person’s income and savings are calculated through the means-testing system. This would have helped 12 of the 15 applicants who were turned down for support last year.

The council has previously only been offering grants that are mandatory under its statutory duty – which sets the maximum grant of £30,000 – but councillors agreed at the cabinet meeting to extend the scheme by providing about £90,000 of discretionary grants, which would provide a “fairer and improved service” for disabled people in the borough.

19 July 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com