The government is facing accusations that its emergency planning for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has “abandoned” disabled people who use direct payments to employ their own personal assistants (PAs).
Although the government finally produced guidance for the social care sector on 13 March, that guidance is aimed at service-providers in the residential care, supported living and home care sectors, and not at individual disabled people who employ their own care staff.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has so far failed to produce any guidance for disabled people on what they should do if they or their PAs become ill with coronavirus, or suspected coronavirus, or how to plan for such an eventuality.
And it had failed to ease those concerns by noon today (Thursday), despite attempts by Disability News Service (DNS) to clarify its position.
There are also concerns over how disabled people employing their own PAs can secure supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, aprons and masks.
It came as the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that little had been done to protect the rights of disabled people across the world during the pandemic (see separate story).
Among those who have raised concerns about DHSC’s failure to provide guidance is Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a crossbench peer and independent living campaigner, who relies on PAs for her personal care.
She has written to care minister Helen Whateley, pointing out the “urgent need for greater information and planning” for disabled people who employ PAs.
She told the minister that she and other disabled employers of PAs were “feeling particularly vulnerable at this time, without any detailed information on our particular circumstances.
“As we are deemed to be in the highest risk group, I feel there is an urgent need for greater information and planning for this cohort.”
Another disabled campaigner who uses direct payments and PAs, who has asked to remain anonymous, expressed similar concerns.
She began showing flu-like symptoms this week and said she was originally advised by NHS 111 to “self-isolate”, after she described her symptoms over the phone.
But when she explained that she relied on care workers visiting her twice daily, she was put on hold by the telephone adviser, before eventually being told that it was OK for her care workers to come in as usual, as long as appropriate hygiene measures were taken.
She ignored this advice and is instead attempting to self-isolate without any support from care workers.
She said the information she received could mean that other disabled people could be receiving care from a care worker who has come “directly from houses of people in self-isolation, on direct instructions from 111.”
She said that disabled people on direct payments were “having to make a choice between your health and your care, the lack of which will impact on your health anyway”.
She added: “People all over are asking what happens if they need to self-isolate.
“There appears to be no official answer, support or plan of action. I’m in that situation and have had no joy from 111, social services or my GP.”
Anne Pridmore, director of Being the Boss, a user-led organisation which supports disabled people who employ PAs, and who employs PAs herself, wrote to the director of social services at her local authority, Leicestershire County Council, asking what arrangements were in place for people who employ their own PAs through direct payments.
She received only a standard letter referring her to the government guidance, which says nothing about disabled people on direct payments.
She said: “It feels to me like this government are just allowing disabled people and elderly people to die.”
Pridmore has posted a video on social media, in which she explains her concerns.
She told DNS: “It needs to be said. There are a lot of us in this situation.”
She has now been told by the council that if her care arrangements break down, she will be placed in a residential home.
But she said she would “rather be dead with the virus” than live in a care home, while she thought it was unlikely that any home would accept someone in her position anyway because of the risks of infection.
She said: “I just think it’s shocking. We have been abandoned.”
DHSC had not answered questions about the situation facing disabled people who employ their own PAs by noon today (Thursday).
Leicestershire County Council had also failed to comment.
*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
19 March 2020
Horrified disabled activists have raised concerns about an NHS consultant who appeared to suggest publicly that he and his colleagues would not attempt to resuscitate many older and disabled people if they became seriously ill with coronavirus.
Dr Matt Morgan, a researcher, author and critical care consultant, has been widely praised on social media for an emotive open letter he read out on Channel Four News that was addressed to “the elderly, frail, vulnerable, or those with serious underlying health conditions”.
In his letter, he tells this group of potential patients that he and his colleagues had not forgotten about them and that it “must be so hard listening to endless news reports that end with ‘don’t worry, this illness mainly affects the elderly, frail, vulnerable, or those with serious underlying health conditions’”.
Dr Morgan, who works in the intensive care unit at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, says in the letter that the health service’s “fancy machines, powerful drugs, and talented staff” do not “cure every disease” and intensive care sometimes “offers no fix”.
He then promises that he and his colleagues will be “honest” with patients in that situation and will use “all of the treatments that may work and may get you back to being you again”, such as oxygen, intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
But he then says that they will not use “the things that won’t work”, will not use “machines that can cause harm” and “won’t press on your chest should your heart stop beating”, as “these things won’t work”.
He even suggests that his open letter is from “all of the NHS”, rather than just himself, his department, his hospital, or his own health board.
His letter came as the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that little had been done to protect the rights of disabled people across the world during the pandemic (see separate story).
Catalina Devandas Aguilar said governments should be reassuring disabled people that their survival was a priority and establishing “clear protocols” to ensure that access to healthcare did not discriminate against disabled people.
Appalled disabled activists pointed out that Dr Morgan appeared to be saying that he and his colleagues would put a blanket “do not attempt resuscitation” notice on all patients with coronavirus who were “elderly, frail, vulnerable” or had “serious underlying health conditions”.
Dennis Queen, a disabled activist with Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), although not speaking on behalf of NDY UK, said: “I was deeply worried when I came across this Channel 4 video of a doctor apparently speaking on behalf of NHS staff.
“The message was aimed at all of us more vulnerable to infection and seemed to be outlining a limited treatment plan, in advance.
“He was graphic about all staff’s intent not to resuscitate us, in a way that struck fear into me.
“At no point did he explain how this differs from the treatment they offer anyone else.
“I couldn’t sleep that night because an ICU doctor in black scrubs seemed to have given me and my friends a blanket ‘do not resuscitate’ order, having never met us.
“This video is so alarming I haven’t shared it on my Facebook wall for other people to see because I’m worried it will cause widespread panic.
“This message was unclear, and it needs urgently clarifying who it’s from and what it means.”
Despite repeated requests, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, which runs University Hospital of Wales, had not been able to comment by noon today (Thursday).
*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
19 March 2020
A user-led network has raised grave concerns about the implications of proposed new emergency legislation on the rights of people in mental distress.
Today (Thursday), the government is set to publish an emergency coronavirus bill that aims to give ministers powers “to take the right action at the right time to respond effectively to the progress of the coronavirus outbreak”.
But the bill will include two measures that could affect the rights of people in mental distress, and the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) fears this could lead to both more coercion and more neglect, as well as fewer safeguards.
According to information released this week by the Department of Health and Social Care, the bill will allow someone to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act with the approval of just one doctor, rather than the current two, which it says will relieve the burden on frontline staff.
The bill will also allow the temporary extension or removal of some of the time limits in the Mental Health Act, if staff numbers become “severely adversely affected during the pandemic period”.
This could make it easier to detain people for longer in hospital under the act, but it could also lead to others being released more quickly into the community, potentially when there are no community mental health services available to support them at home*.
NSUN said it was concerned that significant changes to the law were being “rushed through with minimal informed scrutiny, and inadequate consideration as to their impact on the lives and rights of people who live with mental ill health, distress, or trauma”.
Akiko Hart, NSUN’s chief executive, said: “Whilst we understand that these are unprecedented times, any legislative change must be proportionate and thought through, and should protect all of us.
“Minimising some of the safeguards in an already coercive Mental Health Act, and extending its powers, is a step in the wrong direction.”
She added: “Keeping individuals unnecessarily detained beyond their section because of workforce pressures is a violation of their human rights.
“Equally, releasing individuals because of pressures on the workforce or the mental health estate is deeply irresponsible.
“Community mental health services have been depleted by years of funding cuts, and will be further reduced over the coming months.
“It is unclear from the wording of the proposal what the changes would look like in practice and what the impact might be on people who live with mental health difficulties.
“Our concern is that the proposed coronavirus bill would have serious consequences for some of the people it seeks to protect, and is a deep and onerous encroachment on both our civil liberties and our rights to appropriate support.”
NSUN’s concerns came as the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that little had been done to protect the rights of disabled people across the world during the pandemic (see separate story).
Other changes set to be introduced through the coronavirus bill will allow health bodies to delay carrying out an assessment for eligibility for NHS continuing care.
The bill will also allow local authorities to avoid meeting some disabled people’s assessed social care needs in full or delay some assessments of people’s care needs.
The government says councils “will still be expected to do as much as they can to comply with their duties to meet needs during this period and these amendments would not remove the duty of care they have towards an individual’s risk of serious neglect or harm”.
It says the powers “would only be used if demand pressures and workforce illness during the pandemic meant that Local Authorities were at imminent risk of failing to fulfil their duties and only last the duration of the emergency”.
Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, said: “Our approach to responding to this outbreak has and will remain driven by the scientific and clinical evidence so we do the right thing at the right time.
“The measures included in this bill will help support our frontline workers, protect the public and delay the peak of the virus to the summer months when the NHS is typically under less pressure.”
*NSUN’s understanding of what is currently being proposed can be found on this page, and it includes, under section 35/36 of the Mental Health Act, removing the cap on how long someone can be held in hospital while awaiting a report, which is currently set at 12 weeks
**Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
19 March 2020
Little has been done across the world to provide disabled people with the support and guidance needed to protect them during the coronavirus pandemic, despite many of them being in a high-risk group, a UN human rights expert has warned.
Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said disabled people feel as though they have been “left behind”.
She said: “Containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress and bath.
“This support is basic for their survival, and States must take additional social protection measures to guarantee the continuity of support in a safe manner throughout the crisis.”
She called on governments to take reasonable measures to ensure disabled people can reduce contact with others and cut the risk of contamination.
This should include allowing them to work from home, or providing access to financial aid.
She said: “Many people with disabilities depend on services that have been suspended and may not have enough money to stockpile food and medicine, or afford the extra cost of home deliveries.”
Devandas Aguilar also warned that the situation of disabled people in institutions, including mental health units and prisons, was “particularly grave” because of the high risk of contamination and the lack of external oversight which could be aggravated by the use of emergency powers introduced to deal with the health crisis.
She said: “Restrictions should be narrowly tailored, and use the least intrusive means to protect public health.
“Limiting their contact with loved ones leaves people with disabilities totally unprotected from any form of abuse or neglect in institutions.”
She said governments should be reassuring disabled people that their survival is a priority, and establishing “clear protocols” to ensure that access to healthcare does not discriminate against disabled people.
And she said it was crucial that information on how to prevent and contain coronavirus was accessible to everyone through sign language, and the use of plain language, accessible digital technology, captioning, relay services, text messages, and easy-read formats.
She also said that organisations run and controlled by disabled people should be consulted and involved at all stages of the COVID-19 response.
*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
19 March 2020
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has halted all face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits for the next three months, in a “precautionary” measure it says will protect disabled people from unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus.
The move will affect those claiming personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA), and some claimants of universal credit (UC), as well as recipients of industrial injuries disablement benefit.
It applies to those being reassessed as well as new claimants.
Those with a face-to-face assessment scheduled do not now need to attend and will be contacted to discuss alternative arrangements, which could involve either telephone or paper-based assessments.
Claimants do not need to take any action themselves until they are contacted by DWP.
Among other measures taken by DWP, people who need to claim ESA or UC because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a fit note.
And claimants of out-of-work benefits who tell DWP “in good time” that they are staying at home or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 will not be sanctioned, ministers confirmed.
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, will be among ministers and government officials facing questions suggested by members of the public, at a Commons evidence session on Wednesday (25 March).
The Commons petitions committee has organised the session after emailing more than one million people who have previously signed parliamentary petitions about coronavirus to ask them for questions they would like to put to the government about its strategy for dealing with the virus.
The committee received an “unprecedented” 45,000 questions as a result of its appeal.
Among those answering questions will be Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England; Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards; and Tomlinson.
Catherine McKinnell, chair of the petitions committee, said: “The impact of this virus – both in the UK and globally – cannot be underestimated, and we will continue to hold this government to account on behalf of petitioners to ensure it is effective in responding to the coronavirus and the impact it will have on the lives of every one of us.”
Meanwhile, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has halted routine inspections of health and social care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, it said, its primary objective will be supporting service-providers to keep people safe “during a period of unprecedented pressure on the health and care system”.
Ian Trenholm, CQC’s chief executive, said: “It may still be necessary to use our inspection powers in a very small number of cases when there is clear evidence of harm, such as allegations of abuse.
“In adult social care, our inspectors will also be acting as a support for registered managers, providing advice and guidance throughout this period in the absence of a single national body equivalent to NHS England.
“We are talking to social care providers about how to most effectively collect information from them to ensure that the government has a clear picture of the impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of conferences and other events that were due to take place in the coming months have been postponed or cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Among them is the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference, which was due to take place in Bournemouth in May. It is not yet known whether it will be postponed, cancelled, or held at some point in a different format.
The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) national conference, which had been due to take place in Manchester on 22 April, will no longer go ahead as planned.
ROFA is considering holding at least part of the event remotely to allow disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations to engage in post-election campaign planning.
Inclusion London has postponed all its face-to-face training and events that were due to take place between 18 March and the end of June, although some events and training will now take place online.
And four consultation events that were set to hear disabled people’s views on proposals to reopen the Independent Living Fund to new claimants in Northern Ireland have been postponed until later in the year.
*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
19 March 2020
A nursing home is facing an investigation into a “very serious” breach of data protection laws, after detailed personal information about its 36 disabled residents was apparently found in the street.
The four-page document contains the names of all 36 residents of Manor Hall, in Eastbourne, as well as their health conditions, mobility and personal care needs, dietary requirements, and even their end-of-life choices.
A member of the public, Michael Tobin, found the document in the street in Eastbourne, near a bin that had been knocked over.
He passed the information to the local Conservative MP, Caroline Ansell, and East Sussex County Council, and has also contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
A spokesperson for the home said it was investigating what had happened, and that the matter had been passed to the council’s safeguarding team, but she declined to comment further.
Ansell told Disability News Service (DNS): “It’s very concerning these confidential documents were found on a street and we very much thank the member of public for coming to my office with them.
“They were kept securely by my staff and have now been handed over to the adult social care team at East Sussex County Council.”
Sean Humber, a partner at Leigh Day solicitors, who specialises in data rights issues, said it appeared to be a “very serious” breach of the law.
He told DNS: “I have acted in a range of different cases involving the disclosure, either deliberately or more usually in error, of people’s medical information without their knowledge or consent.
“This is a very serious data breach both in terms of the number of people affected and the very sensitive nature of the personal information involved.
“The matter needs to be reported to ICO, who will almost certainly wish to investigate the matter.
“It seems very likely to me that the nursing home will end up facing a significant fine for failing to keep their residents’ personal details secure.
“In addition, all those identified on the list are likely to have very strong claims for compensation against the nursing home for breach of the GDPR*/Data Protection Act 2018 and misuse of their private information.
“Given the sensitivity of the information, the compensation could be considerable.”
Organisations must notify the ICO within 72 hours of becoming aware of a personal data breach unless it is unlikely to result in a risk to people’s rights and freedoms.
If an organisation decides that a breach doesn’t need to be reported, they should keep their own record of it, and be able to explain why it was not reported.
An ICO spokesperson said: “People have the right to expect that organisations will handle their personal information securely and responsibly.
“Where that doesn’t happen, people can come to the ICO and we will look into the details.
“When a data incident occurs, we would expect an organisation to consider whether it is appropriate to contact the people affected, and to consider whether there are steps that can be taken to protect them from any potential adverse effects.”
An East Sussex County Council spokesperson said: “Whilst we take any potential data breach seriously, and have been in contact with the nursing home, we are not in a position to comment further.”
A Care Quality Commission spokesperson said it was informed of the incident by the nursing home, which told the watchdog that it was “currently investigating”.
The spokesperson said care providers are required to maintain records securely, and have a duty to comply with the Data Protection Act and GDPR, although “we are aware this does still remain under investigation by the provider”.
He added: “We remain in close contact with the provider and await the outcome of the provider’s investigation into how this occurred, [and] what action they are taking in response.
“We will then consider what, if any, regulatory action is required.”
*The General Data Protection Regulation
19 March 2020
A key helpline that allows Deaf people and those with speech impairments to secure help with their disability benefit claims was out of action for at least six weeks, apparently without the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) even noticing.
Campaigners tried unsuccessfully for four weeks to call the DWP number using a textphone – a phone with a screen and keyboard which allows callers to exchange written messages with a similar device – but were always cut off before they could be put through to a helpline adviser.
The concerns have been raised by Rob McDowall, chair of Welfare Scotland, who has also asked DWP why it appears to have failed to monitor the personal independence payment (PIP) textphone helpline for weeks on end.
He said this failure “raises serious concerns” about DWP’s attitude to disabled people.
DWP did not appear to be aware of the service failure until McDowall alerted a civil servant on 27 February, following four weeks of failed attempts to use the textphone helpline.
The following week, another DWP civil servant confirmed to McDowall in an email that the number was “not working as expected”, that the issue had been “passed onto BT for further investigation”, and that he would “look to find out more about the monitoring of these lines and how issues like this this can be prevented in future”.
DWP has so far refused to apologise or explain why it failed to raise concerns itself about the helpline, when no calls were being taken for at least six weeks.
McDowall told Disability News Service (DNS): “Those who are chronically ill or disabled and who are deaf or hearing or speech impaired rely on assistive technology to level the playing field while enabling them to maintain independence in their communication and dealings with government agencies.
“The fact that the minicom/textphone number for the DWP’s PIP helpline has been down and inaccessible for nearly six weeks with no-one at the DWP aware of this fact raises serious concerns about the agency’s attitude to the needs of disabled people.
“Thankfully this is being investigated and hopefully those who rely on the service will once again be able to contact the DWP via text.”
A BT spokesperson said: “While there’s no evidence to suggest there’s a fault on BT’s network, we are working with DWP and their other suppliers to support their investigations.”
When DNS contacted DWP this week, a spokesperson refused to explain: why the department had failed to realise the textphone helpline was out of order until notified by McDowall; how long the textphone number had been out of order; whether other DWP textphones were out of order; and what steps it would take to improve monitoring of this and other DWP textphone numbers.
Instead, he said in a statement: “We are working to solve the issue with our PIP textphone service as soon as possible.
“Customers are able to use easily accessible alternatives such as the BT Relay and Video Relay Service.”
But McDowall said: “The DWP does have a video relay service which enables British Sign Language users to call the helpline via an intermediary who will translate.
“There is an option for customers to use BT Relay by dialling the main PIP helpline and pre-fixing it with the digits 18001 which will bring a Relay operator into the call to relay text and type responses back.
“One of the issues with this textphone number being down and having been down for some time is that the textphone number is heavily advertised and is presented on most DWP documentation, whereas the 18001 prefix is not shared anywhere near as widely by the DWP.
“Another is that textphone to textphone allows claimants to speak directly to the DWP and allows independence to be maintained.
“Using a relay is the least bad option and many who use textphone services feel it removes or hinders their independence to be forced to engage a relay.
“The DWP advise us that helping disabled and chronically ill people to maintain as much of their independence as possible is important.
“The fact this service has been down and was not reported or attended to until I contacted them doesn’t convince me of that.
“These calls are dealt with by specialist operators who have physical access to a textphone.
“Since they have not received any calls for at least six weeks, why wasn’t this reported by them and what have they been doing for six weeks with no calls coming in?”
19 March 2020
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been described as “callous” and uncaring by its own disabled employees.
One disabled employee said he was told by a DWP manager: “For all the use you are to me, you might as well not to be here.”
Another said he had experienced “harassment, intimidation and bullying” by DWP managers.
A third disabled employee said that advice on the workplace adjustments she needed to do her job – provided by occupational health experts – had been rejected by managers on four separate occasions.
And a fourth disabled staff member described how advice provided after his occupational health assessment – that he should be allowed to move to a workplace closer to his home – was ignored by DWP managers.
Another employee said DWP was often more intent on punishing staff members with experience of mental distress than supporting them.
They were all speaking out on DWP’s own intranet site, following a documentary expose by the BBC’s Panorama programme. Disability News Service has obtained a readout of the intranet discussion.
Last week’s Panorama* revealed that DWP had lost more disability discrimination cases at employment tribunal than any other employer in Britain since 2016 and had a “shocking track record” of discriminating against its disabled employees.
In the wake of the programme, two of the department’s most senior civil servants issued a statement to staff on the intranet site, in which they accepted mistakes had been made but insisted the documentary had not been a fair reflection of “the DWP most of us experience every day”.
But the reaction of disabled staff members to the post by Peter Schofield, DWP’s permanent secretary, and Debbie Alder, director general for people and capability, suggested the programme had been an accurate depiction of how many employees are treated.
Schofield and Alder described the programme as “both upsetting and frustrating” and claimed it “didn’t show the DWP most of us experience every day… where we have made great strides to encourage every person to feel ‘I Can Be Me’** is more than just a set of words”.
But they also accepted that “mistakes were made in the way we handled the cases shown in the programme” and that DWP had more to do to “make sure DWP is a kind, open and considerate place to work for everyone, whatever their circumstances”.
They also said DWP had launched a review of its “processes and actions”, following tribunal cases that had been taken against the department.
And they said DWP had taken other action, such as signing up colleagues to work as “fair treatment ambassadors”, launching a disability network, and providing a confidential helpline for staff to speak up about their workplace concerns.
But one disabled DWP employee said this statement “skirts around some of the key concerns raised by the Panorama documentary”.
She pointed to the issue – raised by the programme – that DWP commissions occupational health assessments of disabled staff but then fails to “fully take the advice on board”, which had now happened to her on four consecutive occasions.
She said: “Due to a change in my physical health I am seeking a transfer to the office nearest my home just seven miles away and some changes to my role.
“Not a lot to ask you might think.
“Sadly this saga has been going on since April 2019 with no sign of it being resolved any time soon.
“This is so disappointing and depressing as I have devoted almost 40 years to my career with DWP.”
A colleague agreed with her, saying he too had had an occupational health assessment that recommended a move closer to home, which was “ignored in the name of an estates strategy I am not allowed sight of”.
He said the request had been repeatedly rejected, and he added: “Our caring managers in operation.
“Given up now, as it clearly isn’t going to happen. Very disillusioned by the callous nature of it all.”
Another disabled DWP employee said he had had an occupational health assessment but was then told by a manager that it was “only advice and did not need to be acted upon”
He said: “I could write a book about my experience as a disabled employee trying hard to do as well in the DWP as I have in other lives.”
One manager told him: “For all the use you are to me, you might as well not to be here.”
He was also told that it was his fault that he could not see a test paper with dark green text on light green paper in a darkened room.
He added: “I have rather sadly come to the conclusion that the DWP has a problem with me and my disability.
“I have very complex needs but have done all sorts of things in past lives.
“Sadly the DWP has been the only place where I have not flourished and reached my full potential and as I am now only about 10 years from retirement I suspect I never will.”
One staff member said that DWP’s “I Can Be Me” campaign remained “just a set of words” as “at an individual level, discrimination and poor treatment remains commonplace”.
Another said: “I am afraid there is a lot of tokenism going on and not much action”.
One or two staff members did insist that the department had improved, with one saying DWP had “come a long way with the processes, policies and support we have today” and that she was “really proud to be on a team that do support me and encourage myself to [be] who I am”.
Another said he had a long-term health condition and had received “amazing support” from DWP colleagues and his line manager, and that he had been “very disappointed” with the Panorama programme because “for me it did not really give the whole picture”.
But another colleague said she had been with DWP for more than 40 years and that it had improved over that time in how it treated disabled people, but added: “We are very good at saying the right things but in many quarters the words and actions don’t match, especially when money and productivity are under threat”.
She said: “I wish I could say that I had never come across managers who see disabled staff as a nuisance, but sadly they are still around and still vocal.
“We are making progress, particularly with physical disabilities, but there is still a massive stigma attached to mental illness.
“I struggle against the pressure to issue sick absence warnings for people who have been off with mental health issues.
“Why do we think it’s OK to welcome someone back after an absence with depression or anxiety, then hand out a warning which will only make them more depressed and anxious.
“That’s not supportive that’s punishment.”
Another staff member said DWP had known he was disabled since 1996 and he had found it a “very painful experience”, including having line managers who had not believed him, as well as experiencing “harassment, intimidation and bullying”.
He said there was a “clear lack of understanding of the legal rights of a disabled person” by most senior managers.
He called on DWP to hold a conference for its disabled staff so they could highlight what needs to improve.
Another colleague questioned why it took a Panorama expose for Schofield and Alder to issue a joint statement on discrimination by disabled employees.
*DNS editor John Pring was a consultant on the programme
**I Can Be Me In DWP was launched in September 2017, with the aim to “encourage and enable people and teams to talk about inclusion openly, and what it takes for them to feel they can be themselves at work”
19 March 2020
Jobcentre staff have told a Conservative MP of their “grave concern” about the healthcare professionals who carry out disability benefit assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Anthony Mangnall, the MP for Totnes, learned of the concerns about the “pretty abrasive” personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process when he spent a morning at the jobcentre in Totnes.
He was passed similar concerns when he spent a morning with the town’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB).
He has also been passed concerns by constituents, who have told him they were deeply unhappy with the way the healthcare professionals who assessed them – who work for the discredited outsourcing company Atos – reported their face-to-face PIP assessments.
Mangnall, who was only elected for the first time in December, now plans to push the government to improve the PIP assessment process.
He said: “If people are complaining about the Atos service, then that is a problem and it is a problem we need to look into.”
He has already questioned the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, telling him about the “grave concern” expressed by jobcentre and CAB staff about PIP assessors, and asking for an assurance that those assessors are “of the highest calibre and able to judge each case on a proper basis”.
Tomlinson told him that all PIP assessors were healthcare professionals and “experts in understanding the effects of a health condition on an individual’s daily life” and that the department continued to “monitor performance, share best practice, and work with claimants, stakeholders and charities to improve training and guidance”.
But Mangnall has told Disability News Service (DNS) that he wants to ask further questions of ministers if he can secure more evidence to show that the process should be improved, because he believes it is currently “letting the side down”.
He said: “This is something that I find really concerning and so do a lot of my colleagues.
“When I asked the question [in the House of Commons], a lot of them did come up to me and show support for the question I was asking.
“I have got some fantastic constituents and this is a headache that they do not need.
“They need support from us and they don’t need a bureaucratic system like this holding them up, with people who don’t understand their situation.”
He has asked DNS for details of its lengthy investigation into dishonest PIP assessors.
DNS investigated allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors from late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.
Last September, DNS revealed that PIP claimants were now almost twice as likely to win their tribunal appeal than claimants of disability living allowance – which is being replaced by PIP for working-age claimants – were almost a decade ago.
Mangnall said he was now engaged in an “ongoing investigation” into the flawed PIP assessment process.
He said he had realised when campaigning during the election that PIP was one of the areas he needed to learn more about, and had been keeping a notebook of “concerns and complaints about the PIP assessment process”.
He said: “I was surprised by the reports from various constituents about the standards of PIP assessors and this lack of care. That is a concern to me.
“If people are complaining about the Atos service than that is a problem we need to look into.”
The MP suggested that he would push the government to allow all PIP claimants to record their face-to-face assessments if they wanted to do so.
DWP is still considering the findings of a trial of video-recording PIP assessments as well as other options for how best to improve “trust and transparency” in the process.
PIP assessments can currently be audio recorded, if the necessary equipment is provided by the claimant, but claimants have to inform the assessment provider in advance, and they must use equipment that allows them to produce two simultaneous copies of the assessment.
Disabled activists have responded to the government’s continuing failure to deal with the dishonesty and inaccuracy of the PIP assessment process by launching schemes to lend the necessary equipment to claimants so they can record their assessments.
19 March 2020
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com