Government repeatedly ignores its own advisers on ‘toxic’ train access

The government has repeatedly ignored concerns raised by its own accessible transport advisers about the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running trains without a member of customer service staff on board, official documents have revealed.

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) has been warning the Department for Transport (DfT) of its concerns for more than two years, according to letters, minutes of meetings and responses to public consultations.

DPTAC’s warnings have only emerged because of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the rail users’ campaign group The Association of British Commuters.

DPTAC – most of whose members are disabled people – first wrote to a senior DfT civil servant in April 2016 to warn of the “toxic combination of driver-only operated (DOO) trains and unstaffed stations”.

It warned then that such a combination, if there were no customer service staff on the train, was unlawful under the Equality Act.

But DPTAC has continued to raise the issue with the government, with further warnings issued in a response to a consultation in February this year; in its response to the government’s draft transport accessibility action plan; and even – two months ago – in a face-to-face meeting with transport accessibility minister Nusrat Ghani.

Ghani dismissed those concerns in the meeting.

In its response to the draft action plan, DPTAC warned that “the increasing emphasis on technology and automation, and changes in passenger practices, are leading to a reduction in the levels of available customer services that all passengers, particularly disabled people, need and rely on”.

It added: “Our advice is that, trains without a member of customer service staff, combined with unstaffed stations make it impossible to reduce the need to pre-book, and create a ‘toxic’ combination for many disabled people that excludes them from using rail.”

DPTAC called on ministers to “urgently research” whether train operating companies were delivering accessible rail services or were excluding disabled people, and whether DfT’s policies were “acting in a way that undermines the fundamental principle of accessibility”.

But despite DPTAC’s pleas, the government’s new inclusive transport strategy, launched last week, included no measures to address the staffing issue.

In its response in February this year to a consultation on the new Great Western franchise, DPTAC said there were 29 Great Western Railway stations that were unstaffed or only staffed part-time and were served by driver-only operated trains with no regular onboard staff available.

In the meeting with Ghani in May, DPTAC’s Matthew Smith asked the minister if she agreed that rail franchise agreements should ensure there were on-board staff – in addition to the driver – whenever trains call at unstaffed or part-staffed stations.

The notes of the meeting make clear that Ghani did not consider that greater use of DOO trains, alongside other measures to improve access, would have a significant impact on disabled passengers, and that she believed that it was an issue in which DfT’s view “does not follow that of DPTAC’s concerns”.

DPTAC told the minister in response that it believed that “the impact of the combination of DOO and unstaffed stations has not been properly considered and that its advice to the department is that such an evaluation is needed urgently”.

DfT this week refused to answer a series of questions about the documents.

It refused to say whether it agreed with DPTAC that using DOO trains without a member of customer service staff, combined with unstaffed stations, created a “toxic” combination for many disabled people that excluded them from using rail services.

It also refused to say why Ghani dismissed those concerns in her meeting with DPTAC, and why the inclusive transport strategy included no measures to address the rail staffing issue.

DfT also refused to say if it agreed that unstaffed or part-staffed stations served by DOO trains with no regular on-board staff breached the Equality Act.

And it failed to explain why it ignored DPTAC’s call for research on whether this was excluding disabled people from rail travel, and whether its own policies were “acting in a way that undermines the fundamental principle of accessibility”.

Instead of answering the questions, a DfT spokesman issued the following statement: “Disabled passengers must have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society, and it is essential that the services they rely on are accessible and work for them.

“With modern trains the driver is responsible for operating the doors, leaving the second crew member free to spend more time helping passengers, including people who need assistance getting on and off the train.

“The transport secretary has been clear that with a growing railway we need more staff, not fewer.

“On Southern Rail – the only operator to introduce these changes since January 2017 – there are now more trains that run with a second crew member than before the changes were introduced.”

The DfT spokesman also said that train companies must comply with the Equality Act and have a legal obligation to provide equal access to disabled passengers.

And he said they must also publish a disabled people’s protection policy under the terms of their licence, which sets out their plans for disability access and must be approved by the rail regulator.

2 August 2018

 

 

Supreme Court ruling ‘risks bringing in euthanasia by the back door’

Disabled campaigners have warned that a Supreme Court ruling has removed a vital safeguard that protected the lives of brain-damaged patients who have been left unconscious.

The Supreme Court ruled this week that families and doctors will no longer have to seek a court order if they agree to end the life of a patient with a “prolonged disorder of consciousness” (PDOC)* by withdrawing food and fluids.

The court had been hearing the case of a man, Y, who never regained consciousness after a heart attack left him severely brain-damaged and in a permanent vegetative state (PVS).

Y had to be kept alive with water and liquid nutrition, but his family and doctors agreed that it was in his best interests for this to be withdrawn so he could be left to die.

The NHS trust that was treating him sought a declaration from the courts that they could do so without an order from the Court of Protection.

This was granted by the high court, but the official solicitor appealed to the Supreme Court, which this week unanimously dismissed the appeal.

Disabled campaigners have raised grave concerns about the judgment.

Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK) said that it campaigns against changes in the law on assisted suicide and does not comment on issues outside this area but was still “deeply concerned about anything which leads to vulnerable disabled people being put at a greater risk regarding their life chances”.

Dennis Queen, an NDY UK member, said: “In my personal opinion the removal of independent oversight of the Court of Protection [in the case of doctors deliberately killing patients] is severely damaging to the individual’s right to live and decide.

“It could be said to begin to allow euthanasia by the back door.

“The difference between removing mechanical life support from a brain-dead patient and removing basic sustenance from a patient with some brain damage is phenomenal.

“It’s the difference between allowing somebody to die and actively killing them.

“PVS patients can and do recover. The consequences of their brain damage can vary wildly.

“People this has happened to are part of our network. We know some people remember every single thing, too.”

Queen added: “Death by dehydration is a torturous way to die. Completely unlike instant suffocation, it typically takes weeks to die during which internal elements of the body literally rip open, including organs, the tongue and so on. It’s not a humane way to die.

“I am deeply concerned that this is a way they can evade current law on killing live patients whose lives they’ve decided are not worth living.”

Nikki Kenward, campaign director of The Distant Voices, a user-led campaign group which opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide, said this week’s ruling meant thousands of people could now be “at risk of dying against their wishes at the behest of doctors and families”.

She said she feared it was another step on the “slippery slope” towards the legalisation of euthanasia.

Kenward, who herself recovered from being in a “locked in” state for five months, said that putting more power into the hands of doctors and families “alarms me a great deal”.

She pointed to two people who had previously taken part in Distant Voices workshops, both of whom have recovered from being in a PVS after being “given up on by the hospital”.

One recently gave a speech at her daughter’s wedding and the other is now healthy, a father and in his late 20s, said Kenward.

Another campaign group, Care Not Killing, said the ruling could affect up to 24,000 patients in a PVS (those who are awake but not aware) or a minimally conscious state (MCS, those who are awake but only intermittently or partially aware).

Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of Care Not Killing, said: “The Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent.

“Taking these decisions away from the Court of Protection removes an important layer of legislative scrutiny and accountability and effectively weakens the law.

“It will make it more likely that severely brain-damaged patients will be starved or dehydrated to death in their supposed ‘best interests’ and that these decisions will be more influenced by those who have ideological or financial vested interests in this course of action.”

He added: “Given that it costs about £100,000 per year to care for a person with PVS or MCS, the potential ‘saving’ for the NHS could be as much as £2.4 billion annually if most seek to go down this route.

“Given the huge and growing financial pressure the health service is under is this really an additional pressure, no matter how subtle, we want to put medical staff and administrators under?”

Compassion in Dying, the sister organisation of the pro-assisted suicide campaign group Dignity in Dying, welcomed this week’s ruling.

It described the ruling as “an important move towards more person-centred care, because it means that what’s best for the individual can be decided by their medical team and loved ones, and acted upon more quickly, rather than spending months or even years waiting for a court decision”.

Y died last December but the Supreme Court decided that the appeal should go ahead “because of the general importance of the issues raised by the case”.

Lady Black, who delivered the judgement, which was agreed by the four other Supreme Court justices who heard the case, disagreed with the official solicitor, who had argued that common law or the European Convention on Human Rights meant the Court of Protection should be asked to rule on every case.

The official solicitor had argued that the patient’s “vulnerable position” was safeguarded by having an “independent and neutral person” who can “investigate, expose potential disputes, and give the patient a voice in the decision-making” through a court hearing.

But Lady Black concluded that if the Mental Capacity Act and relevant medical guidance – particularly that of the General Medical Council – was followed, and there was agreement among family and doctors on “the best interests of the patient”, there was no need for a court order.

She said that, “although application to court is not necessary in every case, there will undoubtedly be cases in which an application will be required (or desirable) because of the particular circumstances”.

*PDOC includes patients left in a permanent vegetative state or in a minimally conscious state.

2 August 2018

 

 

Charities help government with cover-up over blue badge changes

Disability charities have helped the government cover up the reason it was forced to announce changes to rules that prevented thousands of disabled people with invisible impairments secure blue parking badges.

The Department for Transport (DfT) won widespread praise this week for announcing changes to the disabled people’s blue badge on-street parking scheme, following a public consultation held earlier this year.

The changes mean that people with invisible impairments should find it much easier to qualify for a blue badge.

Disability charities including the National Autistic Society (NAS) – which was quoted in the DfT press release – expressed their support for the government, with NAS saying it was “thrilled” with the move.

But the charity failed to mention that the government had only been forced into the changes because of its previous decision to tighten the rules in 2014.

The support of charities like NAS was then reported by mainstream media including the Independent, the Observer/Guardian online and the BBC, most of which repeated the government’s line that the announcement was the biggest overhaul of the system in 40 years.

None of the coverage mentioned that the consultation had only been necessary because of a judicial review legal case taken on behalf of an autistic man with learning difficulties.

David*, who has since died, had had a blue badge for 30 years but was told by his local council that he no longer qualified because of new DfT rules.

His family took legal action against the government and his local council because of new guidance issued by DfT in October 2014, after the government had begun to replace disability living allowance (DLA) with the new personal independence payment (PIP) disability benefit the previous year.

DfT was forced to settle the judicial review claim in 2016 by agreeing to review the new blue badge guidance.

It was that review that led to this year’s consultation – which heard from more than 6,000 individuals and more than 230 organisations – and the announcement of changes to the scheme this week.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the way the changes had been presented had been “a complete lie”.

She said: “Until the changes were brought in with PIP, people in receipt of higher rate DLA mobility component always qualified for a blue badge.”

She said the changes were “forced through” by the legal action, which was taken by a DPAC supporter.

Disabled activist Nicky Clark, whose daughter lost her blue badge after moving from DLA to PIP, and who started the Parking Points campaign because of the changes, said the government’s announcement had been “nauseating” and “incomplete”.

She said: “Those who are paid to protect, defend, support and represent disabled people, should be apologising for taking away the legitimate eligibility to a blue parking badge in the first place, not patting themselves on the back for returning them.

“None of the charities and organisations currently complimenting the government are, I feel, giving credit where its due.

“As we find increasingly these days, the real work in changing government policy lies not with the charities talking behind closed doors with unprecedented access, but instead the real work is being done by disabled people, their legal teams and the judiciary.”

She added: “Ultimate praise is reserved by me for those who fought for and gained a judicial review. It’s a stressful and difficult process and not undertaken easily.

“They have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people by their combined efforts.”

This week, DfT refused to say why it failed to mention that it had been forced into the consultation by the legal action and that the only reason that was necessary was because of changes to the guidance it had introduced in 2014.

NAS had faced similar questions about its support for the government in January, when DfT announced a consultation on the changes and the mainstream media had again failed to report on the reason why the government was being forced to change the blue badge rules.

The blue badge guidance currently states that it is only those who qualify for the standard or enhanced mobility rates of PIP under the “moving around” criteria – those with physical impairments that mean they cannot walk very far – who should automatically qualify for a blue badge.

Those who qualify for the PIP enhanced mobility rate because they have problems planning and following journeys are no longer automatically entitled to a blue badge, as they were if they claimed the upper mobility rate of DLA for the same reasons.

And the updated blue badge application form included in the DfT guidance document in 2014 had no sections in which disabled people with problems planning and following journeys could provide evidence to show why they needed a blue badge.

The government has now decided to change the rules so that they make it clearer that eligibility is not only for those with mobility impairments.

There will now be eligibility for disabled people who cannot walk or undertake a journey: “without it causing very considerable difficulty when walking”; “without there being a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious harm to the health and safety of that person or any other person”; or “without it causing very considerable psychological distress to that person”.

There will also be eligibility for a blue badge for anyone who receives at least 10 points for the “planning and following journeys” activity of PIP because they cannot make any journey without overwhelming psychological distress.

The new rules will still have to be introduced through secondary legislation, with guidance drawn up by DfT and “medical professionals and key stakeholders”.

Sarah Lambert, head of policy at NAS, said the government’s changes went further than correcting the problems introduced in 2014 and that NAS had been campaigning for blue badge eligibility to be widened for several years before 2014.

She said: “We’ve made no attempt to cover up the role of the legal case you refer to and our response has been based entirely on welcoming the change and explaining it to our supporters, as well as acknowledging the role our supporters have played (eg responding to the consultations).

“However, we recognise that we haven’t acknowledged the role of the legal case in bringing about change, and we will add this detail to the news story on our website.”

She added: “It’s our charity’s mission to help bring about change that can make a significant difference to autistic people’s lives, as the new regulations and guidance will.

“We also need to publicise this change so we can increase public understanding of how the world might need to change to become more autism friendly.

“By being quoted in the DfT press release, we managed to get the message to millions of people about the difference having a blue badge will make to autistic people.”

Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, also failed to mention that the government had been forced by a legal action into making the changes.

She said: “It’s absolutely right that disabled people are able to go about their daily life without worrying about how they will get from one place to another.

“We’re taking an important step forward in ensuring people with hidden disabilities get the support they need to live independently.”

Authorities in Scotland and Wales have already made changes aimed at addressing the problems with the guidance.

DfT said it believes the new rules will see a six per cent increase in blue badge applications (53,000) in the first year, and an “initial surge” of 44,000 new badges (five per cent) costing £1.7 million in extra administrative costs for local authorities.

Meanwhile, the charity Disabled Motoring UK warned today (Thursday) that the extension in eligibility could “have disastrous consequences for all blue badge holders, especially wheelchair-users, as there is simply not enough parking to meet demand” and “may make the entire scheme not fit for purpose”.

The charity said it had called on DfT to “consider proper enforcement of the scheme before it looked to extend it” and added: “We implore the government to look at the issue of proper blue badge provision and enforcement as a matter of urgency so that the scheme maintains its integrity.”

*Not his real name

2 August 2018

 

 

Sale of 17 Leonard Cheshire homes ‘makes mockery of user-involvement pledge’

The disability charity Leonard Cheshire has been accused of making “a complete mockery” of its supposed commitment to service-user involvement after it suddenly told residents of 17 of its care homes that it plans to sell them to other care providers.

The plan will see about one-sixth of its 104 residential services being sold off to other providers, with the aim of completing the sales next spring.

The charity said that it had made “some difficult decisions” about residential homes that were “not in the right places with easy access to community amenities and with scope to grow”.

It comes two months after allegations of “insensitive and abusive” behaviour over the way Leonard Cheshire executives told disabled residents of another of its residential homes – Greathouse, in Wiltshire – that it was about to be closed because they could not afford to keep it open.

Leonard Cheshire insisted that the sale of the 17 institutions was not part of a long-term plan to shed all its residential homes from its portfolio of services.

A spokeswoman for the charity said: “We intend to reach significantly more disabled people with a range of community, residential and outreach services over the coming years and are committed to providing high quality residential care.”

But Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said the charity’s behaviour made “a mockery” of its supposed commitment to “user involvement, empowerment and partnership with its service users”.

He led a major piece of research that was based on talking to Leonard Cheshire service-users about involvement, empowerment and independence – funded by the charity and the Department of Health – which produced reports in 2000 and 2001.

He said: “It highlighted many serious problems with its residential services as experienced by service users.”

He said Leonard Cheshire refused to allow the reports to be published and failed to act on their findings.

He said: “Now, many years later, all the [rhetoric of its founder] of enabling and supporting service users to live independent lives has been exposed as meaningless by what looks like a badly thought through and rushed decision to offload what the organisation now seems to see as a loss-making enterprise.

“Could they be reminded, as many development charities are currently being reminded, that their primary responsibility should be to their supposed ‘beneficiaries’ and this process shows very little sign of this.”

He added: “The issue is not whether the homes are being closed or sold on; what matters is there is neither any clear future security for residents and their families, nor have they had any involvement in the overall policy and decision-making.

“Despite efforts that have been made to establish clearly what has been happening, there has been a fundamental failure of transparency in this process.”

Disabled activist Doug Paulley, who lives in one of the charity’s residential homes that is not being sold, in Wetherby, Yorkshire, and is a fierce critic of the way the charity is run, also criticised Leonard Cheshire for its failure to consult residents or staff.

He said: “Disabled people’s empowerment, control, respect: what precisely can one infer about their actual attitude to such, when they have unilaterally decided to do this without consulting or even informing residents at all during the decision-making process?”

He said he was concerned about the “great stress” caused to residents by the uncertainty.

And he questioned what would be done about the “inevitable outflowing of staff” and the impact this would have “on continuity for residents”.

He added: “What happens if they don’t manage to sell one or more homes?

“There are lots of care homes on the market as a result of the social care crisis and there doesn’t seem to be any great appetite to buy care homes. As we saw with Southern Cross.

“They haven’t said what will happen if they don’t manage to sell them.”

The Leonard Cheshire spokeswoman said: “Leonard Cheshire has set out to reach significantly more disabled people.

“To make this ambition a reality we have had to make some difficult decisions about a small minority of our services.

“These services are not in the right places with easy access to community amenities and with scope to grow.

“Other providers will be better placed to invest in their long-term future.”

The Leonard Cheshire spokeswoman said that all funds raised from the sale would be invested in community, residential and outreach services in the UK.

She said the charity was “confident” that it would find a “high quality care provider” for all 17 homes so that no disabled people would have to find new homes.

She added: “Trustees made the decision on 29 June and we have advised residents and staff of this at the earliest practical opportunity.

“We are acutely aware that this is a stressful and worrying time for residents, staff and their families and the decision hasn’t been taken lightly.

“Senior management have visited staff and residents at all services currently affected and an open dialogue between them and decision makers at Leonard Cheshire will continue.

“The continuity of care and support for our residents and staff is our overriding concern.”

2 August 2018

 

 

MPs launch probe into enforcement of Equality Act

A committee of MPs has launched an inquiry into the difficulties faced by disabled people and other protected groups who need to enforce their rights under the Equality Act.

The Commons women and equalities committee said it was concerned that the 2010 act “creates an unfair burden” on individuals who want to enforce their right not to be discriminated against, for example by having to take their own legal cases through employment tribunals and county courts.

Among previous inquiries by the committee that raised concerns about enforcement of the act was an investigation into disability and the built environment, which concluded earlier this year that the burden of ensuring an accessible environment “falls too heavily at present on individual disabled people”.

This was also a concern raised two years ago during an inquiry by a House of Lords committee into how the act protected disabled people from discrimination.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the disabled president of the Liberal Democrats, who sat on the Lords committee, said this week that the government’s response to its findings had been “woeful” and “shameful”.

She highlighted the government’s delays in acting to protect the rights of wheelchair-users to priority use of the wheelchair space on buses, despite a Supreme Court ruling in January 2017.

Baroness Brinton said the delays in implementing that ruling showed that “procrastination is the order of the day, and in the meantime the lives of disabled people are just getting harder and harder”.

She said: “The bus regulations are very easy to remedy. The Supreme Court even said what [the government] can do and we are now 18 months on and they have not lifted a finger, and it just shows they do not care.”

She said that Brexit was often the excuse for the government’s failure to act, with many civil servants moving from other departments to the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Baroness Brinton said: “Brexit is the excuse for not doing anything at all at the moment.

“When they want to they can do it, but they choose not to. That says more about the government’s attitude to disabled people than anything else.”

She said that the women and equalities committee’s new inquiry into enforcement of the Equality Act was “very good news” because there were “so many gaping holes”.

Disabled campaigners including Doug Paulley, who took the bus wheelchair space case to the Supreme Court, have repeatedly highlighted the flaws in the Equality Act which mean that disabled people have to take legal action themselves if they are discriminated against.

Paulley has said that these flaws mean the act is “effectively unenforceable by 99.9 per cent of disabled people”.

Catherine Casserley, who has practised discrimination law for more than 20 years in law centres, for the former Disability Rights Commission, and currently as a barrister with Cloisters, warned two years ago that disabled people had “very significant problems” enforcing their rights under the Equality Act, with so many advice centres and law centres closing.

Among the areas the women and equalities committee will focus on in its inquiry are how easy it is for people to understand and enforce their rights under the act; how well enforcement action works as a way of achieving widescale change; and the effectiveness of the equality watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as an enforcement body.

EHRC has previously said, in evidence to the Lords committee in 2015, that it is a “strategic regulator” and that it is the courts’ job to enforce the Equality Act, while its own tools “are not the tools of enforcement”.

But its new chair, David Isaac, has since said that he wants it to become “a more muscular regulator” and “support organisations and individuals to meet their equality and human rights obligations and, where necessary, help people enforce their rights”.

An EHRC spokeswoman said this week: “We welcome the opening of the inquiry into the enforcement of the Equality Act and look forward to working with the women and equalities committee to highlight our compliance work and legal successes, and to identify ways to increase the effectiveness of the Equality Act.”

Maria Miller, the Conservative MP who chairs the women and equalities committee, said: “Many of our inquiries inevitably focus on the problems with enforcement of equality legislation and critique the role of the EHRC.

“This inquiry will provide the opportunity for a more systematic review of the causes and identify possible solutions.

“We want to look at whether the Equality Act creates an unfair burden on individual people to enforce their right not to be discriminated against.”

Written evidence to the inquiry can be submitted through the committee’s website. The deadline for submissions is 5 October 2018.

2 August 2018

 

 

DWP agrees to pay thousands to disabled duo in universal credit court case

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has finally agreed to pay compensation to two disabled men who saw their benefits drastically reduced when they were forced onto the new universal credit.

The high court had ruled in June that DWP unlawfully discriminated against the two men, known as TP and AR for legal reasons, under the European Convention on Human Rights.

But DWP forced their lawyers to another court hearing to prove the losses they experienced.

An agreement announced this week meant the full hearing did not need to take place, with each of the men now set to receive thousands of pounds in compensation.

But DWP is still appealing the finding of discrimination.

TP had been forced to move to an area where universal credit had been rolled out so he could access specialist healthcare, following a diagnosis of end stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer.

AR had also had to move to a universal credit “full service” area, in his case because the imposition of the bedroom tax meant his previous home was unaffordable.

Before moving, both men had received the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) on top of employment and support allowance.

SDP and EDP are aimed at meeting the additional care needs of disabled people with high support needs who live alone with no carer, but these premiums are being scrapped under universal credit.

When they moved home, both men were advised by DWP staff that their benefits would not change, but each of them saw their income drop by about £178 a month when they were moved onto universal credit.

They were told government policy was that no top-up “transitional protection” payments would be paid for disabled people in their position until July 2019, when the so-called “managed migration” of those on “legacy benefits” like ESA onto universal credit begins.

Transitional protection should mean that those with existing premiums who are moved over to universal credit, as long as it is part of managed migration, should not see their benefits reduced, as long as their circumstances remain the same.

TP said in a witness statement: “The constant money worries have made me more isolated and more depressed; both because of my social isolation and because of the anxiety.

“The stem-cell transplant and chemotherapy was very gruelling and the anxiety around my finances and universal credit has made it all a lot worse.”

AR said: “Since moving from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, with the consequent reduction in my benefits, my quality of life and my happiness has markedly reduced.

“Not seeing my family regularly contributes to my depressive/manic cycle. If you are isolated it means that you spiral further into a depressive cycle.”

TP will now receive £3,277 for past financial losses and £3,240 for the pain and distress he has been caused, as well as £173.50 a month to cover the shortfall in his benefits pending transitional protection coming into force.

AR will receive £2,108 for past financial losses and £2,680 for the anxiety and distress he was caused, as well as a monthly payment of £176 to make up the shortfall in his benefits.

DWP had initially attempted to keep the terms of the agreement secret.

Ariane Sacco, from the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible, said AR and TP “should never have been put through this loss of benefit”.

She said: “The compensation amount seems small for the stress, anxiety and deprivation they suffered, in Mr P’s case, while undergoing chemotherapy.

“Immediately after the judge’s ruling in June, the cruel DWP asked to appeal the judgement, then they had to be pressured with another court hearing to settle compensation, then wanted it kept secret.”

She said work and pensions secretary Esther McVey and DWP were “continuously battling and undermining” disabled people’s successful court victories, “but all of us who support the legal challenges are determined to fight for what people need.

“More and more is coming out about how universal credit creates poverty, eviction, destitution – including from DWP staff speaking out, and from official agencies.”

Sacco said that mothers and children were “particularly hit by the harsh and bureaucratic universal credit regime, computerisation, delayed payments, the two-child limit and loss of income support premiums.

“There is a growing movement for universal credit to be stopped and scrapped.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “This again demonstrates the government’s mistreatment of disabled people.

“These men were assured by the government that they wouldn’t lose out on universal credit but they were left thousands of pounds out of pocket, which severely impacted on their wellbeing.

“Esther McVey should now compensate all those who lost out, reverse cuts to transitional protection, and withdraw her appeal against the original finding of discrimination.

“The government must also stop the roll out of universal credit and fix its fundamental flaws.

“The next Labour government will transform our social security system, ensuring it is there to support disabled people to live independently and with dignity.”

Tessa Gregory, from the law firm Leigh Day, who represented AR and TP, welcomed the financial settlements.

But she called on McVey to compensate all other claimants in similar positions, and to reconsider her decision to appeal the finding of discrimination.

She said AR and TP had called on McVey to “urgently” reconsider draft regulations which currently only compensate disabled people in their position with a flat rate payment of £80 a month.

Gregory said: “This plainly does not reflect the actual loss suffered by our clients and thousands like them and compounds the unlawful treatment to which they have been subjected.”

DWP refused to answer a series of questions about the case, including how many disabled people it believed had so far lost out on EDP and SDP in the move to universal credit, and whether McVey would reconsider her decision to compensate others in the same position as AR and TP by only £80 a month.

But a DWP spokesman said: “The government is appealing the decision of the judicial review, but in the interim we have agreed to make payments to the lead claimants.”

Figures published by DWP suggest that, in February this year, there were 4,000 SDP claimants and 14,000 EDP claimants (including 3,000 who received both EDP and SDP) who have been moved onto universal credit.

DWP has previously said it will stop moving claimants of SDP onto universal credit until the introduction of transitional protection next year, while all those who have already lost out through such a move will receive some backdated payments.

But it has not offered them the full compensation agreed with AR and TP and there has been no mention so far of claimants who previously received EDP but not SDP before their move onto universal credit.

And DWP has still not been able to explain how it justifies not providing equivalent levels of support to new disabled claimants of universal credit, who will receive lower payments than those transferred onto universal credit from legacy benefits such as income-related ESA.

DNS has been forced to complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office about DWP’s refusal to offer a detailed description of how the introduction of universal credit – and the loss of the premiums – will impact disabled people financially.

2 August 2018

 

 

County council crisis sparks fears for service-users

Campaigners in Northamptonshire have raised serious concerns about the impact on disabled people of the growing financial crisis enveloping their county council.

Northamptonshire County Council announced this week that it will need to find up to £70 million of savings in the current financial year, from a budget of about £440 million.

And last night (Wednesday) councillors were due to agree the priority areas they intend to protect from further cuts, with documents suggesting the first priority would be “keeping vulnerable people safe”, followed by “keeping people who are not classified as vulnerable, safe”, and then “complying with statutory duties where there is [no] risk of harm”.

Last week, the council issued its latest section 114 notice, which warns of the risk of an unbalanced budget.

The council effectively – although not technically – declared itself bankrupt when it issued a previous section 114 notice earlier this year.

Another meeting of the full council next week will discuss and approve the council’s response to the latest section 114 notice, with the council’s cabinet agreeing the council’s spending priorities on 14 August.

With adult social care now accounting for nearly 40 per cent of council budgets, there are growing concerns about the impact of the financial crisis on disabled people, despite its legal duty to meet all “eligible” care needs.

Ian Davies, a founder member of the pioneering self-advocacy organisation Northamptonshire People First (NPF) – which was set up in 1990 and was previously called Central England People First – said he was concerned about the impact of the council’s financial crisis on disabled people in the county.

He said: “It doesn’t matter where you are, in the home listening to the news on the TV or on the streets talking to local residents, wherever you go you always hear some talk of what’s going to happen and what they think might happen.

“It will be a problem. There are going to be a lot of people affected by what has happened.”

He said he also feared for the future of NPF, the only remaining self-advocacy group run by people with learning difficulties in the county.

Davies said: “We can be very proud of ourselves to be where we are at the moment, but it is what happens after today.

“My life has been built up around the whole thing. It built itself up from a day service.”

He also said that bus services in the county had been cut after council funding was withdrawn, which would also have a significant impact on many disabled people in Northamptonshire.

Kelly Edwards, NPF’s office coordinator, said the organisation’s service-users were now having to pay more in care charges, while others were having their support packages cut, because of the council’s financial problems.

She said: “I think that’s going to get worse.”

And she said that council funding for another support service had been cut, creating greater pressure on NPF.

She said: “We have had a few conversations with people who live independently and rely on that service.

“They don’t know how they are going to deal with their paperwork and their benefits and their finances.

“I think we will find a lot more people knocking on our door wanting support.”

2 August 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com