Paralympic movement still run by non-disabled people, survey shows

The organisation that manages Britain’s Paralympic team still only has one disabled board member, three years after a survey found that most of the UK’s leading disability sports organisations were run and controlled by non-disabled people.

A follow-up survey of 11 of the UK’s most influential disability sport organisations – carried out by Disability News Service (DNS) – shows that just one of them is run and controlled by disabled people.

And only one of the 11 has increased the proportion of disabled people on its board since the last survey in 2013.

The new survey also shows how few disabled people are employed by the 11 organisations, with one of them having just one disabled employee out of 18 paid staff.

Its results raise fresh doubts about the much-touted “legacy” from the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and the Paralympic movement’s commitment to disability rights.

The British Paralympic Association (BPA), which manages Britain’s Paralympic team, took nearly four weeks to respond to the survey, eventually admitting that it has just one disabled board member out of nine, the same number as three years ago.

And just three of BPA’s 33 paid staff say they are disabled people, according to an internal survey.

Another organisation, Boccia England, does not have a single disabled person on its eight-strong board (three years ago it had one disabled board member), while Disability Snowsport UK has just one disabled board member out of eight (the same as three years ago).

This time, the survey also asked the 11 organisations about their paid staff, and found that just 27 of 163 employees (16.6 per cent) consider themselves to be disabled people.

Boccia England does not have a single disabled employee among its nine members of staff, matching the absence of disabled people on its board. Its interim chief executive, Jerome Pels, did not respond to a request for a comment.

The representation on Scottish Disability Sport’s board has fallen from two of eight in 2013 to two out of 10 now, while it has just one disabled member of staff out of 18 employees.

Disability Snowsport UK said three of its 14 staff had impairments, although it is not clear how many of them consider themselves to be disabled people.

It said: “DSUK fully believes in equality and as such all roles are open to anyone and we appoint the most suitable candidate out of those that apply.”

But Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, one of the country’s greatest Paralympians and now a campaigning crossbench peer, said it was “disappointing” that the numbers were so low and that “more should be done” to increase the number of disabled people on boards and employed in disability sport.

She said the survey confirmed what she had felt and heard anecdotally, that there had been a gradual fall in the last few years in the number of disabled people involved in sports coaching and administration.

She said: “As the governance of sport is under ever closer scrutiny, so should the representation of disabled people.”

She added: “Sport could learn a lot from the co-production model used in disability rights to ensure that sport is not something that is done ‘to’ them.

“I think that it is incredibly important that disabled people work in the sport sector, both as a personal opportunity for themselves, but also in order to influence policy at the highest level.

“In the way that the number of women on boards has changed, there must be pro-active work to ensure the voice of disabled people is recognised, otherwise sport becomes something that is delivered ‘to’ disabled people, rather than something that involves them.”

As in 2013, the board of the British Amputee and Les Autres Association (BALASA) is 100 per cent disabled – the only one of the 11 organisations that is run and controlled by disabled people – while the organisation has no paid employees.

Richard Saunders, its chair, said he found BPA’s attitude “rather strange” and that at least 40 or 50 per cent of its board should be disabled people.

He said: “I think it sends the wrong message out. BPA said they were going to look at it but it’s not on their agenda.

“When you look at the BPA they have a very narrow board, their expertise is very narrow, it is on advertising and on getting money in.”

The UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability (UKSAPLD) still has only one disabled person on its board of directors, and also has no disabled employees among its staff of one full-time and two part-time employees and two interns.

Three years ago, the organisation’s chief executive, Tracey McCillen, admitted that “change was overdue”, and that she hoped a governance review would lead to a “fair representation” of disabled people on its board, which was committed to finding “meaningful ways” to support people with learning difficulties to become directors.

In 2014, UKSAPLD secured funding for a project to help its athletes build a “credible CV”, and 13 of them have now become ambassadors for the charity, with another 10 in “athlete representative” roles.

McCillen said the charity was also moving towards setting up an athlete advisory committee as a further step towards eventually appointing board members with learning difficulties.

But she admitted that progress had been “slow”, and although there had been two vacancies on the board for 12 months, a lack of funding was a “major, major issue” in moving forward.

She added: “There’s no barrier to disabled people sitting on the board but… it has to be skills-led.”

The number of disabled people on the 12-strong board of British Wheelchair Basketball (BWB) has fallen from six to five in the last three years, while just four of its 26 staff are disabled.

Charlie Bethel, chief executive of BWB, said its policy was “the best person for the job”, and he said his board was “extremely effective”.

He said: “Our membership, whilst the largest in disability sport, is still relatively small and of those members, not everyone wants to be on a board and it would be a missed opportunity to be introvert [and] not look for talent further afield.

“Those that are not disabled on the board come with skills and experience that is immense.”

As for paid staff, he said that BWB employs “a wide spectrum of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, gender and disability.  We do not discriminate.”

He added: “On a personal note, I would like to see a lot more members applying for jobs and as such we promote all adverts through to our clubs and on our website.

“If people have the skills we require and the experience, then the staff would be more reflective of the members.”

Bethel added: “In no way does the approach of BWB suggest disabled people are not up to running the sport, but we would be doing a dis-service to everyone if we only appointed on disability.

“I would argue our membership of staff and board members is far higher than most other Paralympic sports, if not all, including the British Paralympic Association.”

In 2013, there were five disabled people on the 12-strong board of WheelPower, but now there are just three disabled people out of 11 board members, while seven of its 19 staff are disabled, although only one of them works full-time.

Martin McElhatton, WheelPower’s chief executive, said in a statement: “We have no concerns re the change in the number of disabled people on our board and our position is unchanged in that we seek the right people with the right skills and experience to either work for the organisation or as members of the board.”

He said that the charity’s president, chair and chief executive (McElhatton himself) are all wheelchair-users.

The proportion of disabled people on the board of British Blind Sport (BBS) has fallen slightly to two out of six since 2013, while its only disabled employee in a six-strong workforce has recently moved to a better job.

Alaina MacGregor, BBS’s chief executive, agreed that it was important for an organisation like BBS to have disabled board members and staff, and she suggested it was “a little bit naïve” for any disability sports organisation not to have disabled people represented in some way.

But she said: “We can only provide roles for people who apply for them. We encourage visually-impaired or disabled people to apply for posts and we are a very fair and equal opportunity employer.”

She admitted that the lack of any disabled staff was “not ideal”, but she said BBS was working with the charity Action for Blind People to work on how visually-impaired people can use their sports skills and confidence to secure paid employment.

And she said BBS was hoping to add another of its members to the board, while the seven members of its visually-impaired sports forum – one for each sport – six of whom are disabled, feed their thoughts into the board.

The English Federation of Disability Sport’s 10-strong board has three disabled members – the same as in 2013 – while six full-time staff out of 25 are disabled people.

Barry Horne, its chief executive, said it was “constantly seeking ways to improve our own equality and diversity, especially with disabled people” and that it works “to increase disabled people’s inclusion at every level and support other organisations to do the same”.

He said: “Although our charity name immediately determines the nature of our work with disabled people, it does not mean that disabled people automatically apply for positions.

“Just as the word ‘sport’ in the charity’s name does not mean we only employ ‘sporty’ people, the word ‘disability’ does not guarantee applications from disabled candidates.

“But we always actively encourage disabled people to apply for our vacancies.”

Disability Sport Wales (DSW) says it has improved the representation of disabled people on its board, although the numbers are not directly comparable with 2013.

Three years ago, it said that a maximum of three of its 12 directors were disabled, while today it says five of its nine trustees have an impairment, although not all of them consider themselves to be disabled people. Three of its 10 staff are disabled people.

Jon Morgan, the organisation’s executive director, said: “The ambition of DSW was to set out to increase the number of people with an impairment on the board, underpinned with a really strong skills mixture… we have outstanding individuals on our board, really high calibre.”

He said that “lived experience” was important but so was “wide experience”, because board members need to “operate at high level”.

He added: “You can only work with the individuals that come forward.”

2 June 2016



Disability Confident attracts just 40 mainstream private sector partners… in three years

The government has signed up only about 40 mainstream private sector employers to its flagship Disability Confident employment scheme in the three years since it was launched by the prime minister, new figures reveal.

An analysis by Disability News Service (DNS) shows that – with the exception of 15 law firms, and recruitment, welfare-to-work and employment specialists, which often have a financial interest in disability issues – the government appears to have persuaded just 26 non-disability-related private sector organisations to sign up to its national scheme, and one of those is a small café in Cornwall.

Disability Confident was launched in July 2013, and its aims was to “debunk the myths around employing disabled people and encourage employers to take advantage of the wealth of talent available”.

But fresh analysis of the partners signed up to Disability Confident shows that of the 126 organisations, nearly half – an estimated 55 – are focused on representing or working on behalf of or for disabled people, such as Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People, Mencap and Disability Rights UK.

Another 18 are public sector organisations, while there are also three quangos and one sports governing body, but only about 40 mainstream private sector companies*.

Those 40 include major employers such as Airbus, Asda, Honda, Balfour Beatty, Barclays, Fujitsu, National Grid, Taylor Wimpey and Sainsbury’s… and the Cornish Maid Café in Falmouth, Cornwall.

The analysis suggests that the efforts of successive Tory ministers for disabled people – Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Mark Harper and Justin Tomlinson – have failed to persuade more than a tiny minority of businesses across the country to take the scheme seriously.

David Gillon, a disabled activist and blogger who has led criticism of Disability Confident since its launch by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2013, said the numbers were “astoundingly pathetic”.

He said there were gaping holes among “private sector big names”, with Asda, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s signed up, “but no Tesco or any of the second-tier retailers”, and “huge holes where entire industries are missing – no train operating companies, no airlines, none of the big logistics companies”.

He said there was one government department, a handful of local councils, only one NHS trust, and no police forces, while “the number of partners who are dependent on DWP contracts is really quite remarkable”.

Gillon said Disability Confident had signed up “a handful of massive big-name firms”, but that there was a “huge hole where all the large and medium scale companies should be, and then a tiny handful of small companies.

“And that small business take-up seems to be entirely from companies that are run by someone with an interest in disability employment, or that are non-profits with a focus on employing disabled people.

“Whether big or small, these are the employers who don’t need Disability Confident’s message.

“There’s no sign of any penetration into employers who actually have problems with employing disabled people, whether through incompetence or outright discrimination.

“It seems Disability Confident is only confident enough to preach to the converted.”

Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the analysis by DNS showed “yet more evidence of this Tory government failing disabled people”.

She said: “I am concerned at the small numbers of employers who have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme.

“In addition, the lack of evaluation or transparency of the Disability Confident scheme raises questions about the transparency of employers, who should be held accountable to a framework of standards, as well as sharing best practice.

“I know from speaking to disabled workers, as I did recently at the TUC’s Disabled Workers Conference, that some employer attitudes are too often a barrier to effectively addressing the disability employment gap.

“Yet Disability Confident is not seen as a mechanism that has improved attitudes since its launch in July 2013.

“If the Tories were serious about improving the situation, there would be a series of measures in place to support into employment those disabled people who are able to work.

“Yet in recent weeks they have dropped the promise to introduce a white paper on plans to close the disability employment gap by the summer, delaying any form of action by months or possibly years.”

She added: “The 40 mainstream employers currently listed as active partners in Disability Confident will certainly not be able to support the 1.3 million disabled people who are able to and want to work.”

DWP refused to respond to the DNS analysis or comment on the number of partners, instead claiming that more than 550 employers had “registered their interest to become more Disability Confident” since December.

A DWP spokesman said: “The programme is supported by a range of major employers and small businesses across the UK – but we want to go even further to remove barriers, increase understanding and ensure disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential in the workplace.”

Disability Confident has frequently been criticised for its “patronising waffle”, which activists say ignores “institutionalised disability discrimination” at a time when ministers have been smearing disabled benefit claimants as “workshy”.

The former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was even accused of lying to his own party members about the success of the campaign when he told the 2014 party conference that more than 1,000 employers had “signed up” to Disability Confident, when in fact just 376 had just expressed some interest or support for the campaign, and far fewer than that had signed up as partners.

And last July, the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, announced that Swansea had become the UK’s first “Disability Confident City”, but was then unable to explain how and why it had earned the accolade.

*The figures in this article are estimates produced following an analysis of the Disability Confident partners’ page by DNS and have not been confirmed by the Department for Work and Pensions

2 June 2016



Cancelled inspections by care watchdog rise 360 per cent in one year

The number of inspections by the social care regulator that are cancelled or rescheduled every month has risen by more than 360 per cent in just one year, the watchdog’s own figures have revealed.

The figures – revealed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) following a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS) – show that 25 inspections of adult social care services were cancelled in April 2015, but that this shot up to 103 in April 2016.

The figures also show the number of inspections that had to be rescheduled rose from 25 in April 2015 to 130 in April 2016.

The freedom of information request was originally submitted by DNS in an attempt to discover the impact of changes to CQC’s troubled Experts by Experience (EbE) programme, in which people with experience of using services accompany CQC inspectors on their inspection visits of health and care services.

The EbE programme was hit by criticism after three of four new contracts to run the programme were awarded to Remploy, the formerly government-owned disability employment business which is now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus.

In February, DNS reported that the decision to hand the three contracts to Remploy/Maximus had led to confusion, chaos and a stream of resignations, with some Experts even being told to print their own ID badges.

Experts had previously been paid more than £17 an hour to take part in CQC inspections, but many were furious when they discovered Remploy planned to cut their pay to just £8.25 per hour (or £9.40 in London), although CQC later agreed to subsidise these wages for existing Experts for the first six months of the Remploy contracts.

The new figures released to DNS show that inspections that were cancelled or rescheduled as a result of “insufficient non-CQC resources” (which includes those where there problems with securing Experts to take part in inspections) rose from six in July 2015 (when CQC began to collect the figures) to 26 in April 2016, an increase of more than 330 per cent.

One Expert said the figures were “embarrassing”, but he said they did not surprise him because he was currently having more inspections cancelled by Remploy than those that went ahead.

He said: “The inspectors [I speak to] are all saying the same thing: there are not any Experts available. That is what they are being told by Remploy.

“Quite a lot of this I suspect is because of Remploy’s chaotic handling of the contract.”

He said he had real concerns about the impact of so many cancelled inspections on CQC’s ability to root out abuse and other poor practice in care homes, community-based social care services and home care agencies.

He said he believed that the inspection programme was “woefully and dangerously underfunded”, while inspectors were “dropping like flies because they are way too over-worked”.

A CQC spokesman refused to say whether the increase in cancellations and rescheduled inspections due to “insufficient non-CQC resources” was connected with the decision to hand the contracts to Remploy/Maximus and the subsequent reported chaos within the EbE programme.

And he refused to say whether the overall cancellation and rescheduling figures were due to funding problems within the regulator.

But he said it was “clear that the majority of our inspections are able to go ahead, as planned”.

He said: “When we do have to make arrangements to reschedule planned inspections of adult social care services, there are many possible reasons behind this.

“For example, in adult social care these include urgent inspections or enforcement activity being required elsewhere; changes to the provider’s service, such as closure or relocation; and changes needed due to sickness, annual leave and other personal circumstances.

“When making these decisions, we always prioritise our activities according to where we have the greatest concerns as this is in the best interests of people who are receiving care.”

But he refused to explain why the number of cancellations and rescheduled inspections had risen by more than 360 per cent in just one year.

He added: “The Care Quality Commission continues to have formal meetings with suppliers of the new Experts by Experience services which began in February 2016 on a monthly basis and we will continue to closely monitor their progress in helping us deliver our programme, which will significantly expand the number of Experts by Experience that we involve on inspections.

“Our commitment to inspect every adult social care service that was registered on or before 1 October 2014 at least once using our current regulatory approach by the end of March 2017 remains and we are on track to do so.”

2 June 2016



‘Discriminatory’ PIP guidance means thousands could lose blue badges

Disabled people whose mobility is affected by mental health conditions or autism are having their blue parking badges snatched away by local councils in England as a result of the introduction of the government’s new disability benefit.

Government guidance issued after the introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) advises councils how to deal with blue badge applications from disabled people who formerly claimed disability living allowance (DLA) but have now been reassessed for PIP.

Because of this guidance, disabled people who have had a blue badge for many years are now being told they no longer qualify for a blue badge, simply because they have moved from DLA to PIP.

The Department for Transport guidance, published in October 2014, 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 – including many people with autism and mental health conditions – 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.

The updated blue badge application form included in the guidance document has no sections in which disabled people with problems planning and following journeys can provide evidence to show why they need a blue badge.

When asked if the Department for Transport (DfT) had carried out an equality impact assessment of the new guidance, a DfT spokesman said: “Not that I am aware of.”

By noon today (2 June), the DfT press office had been unable to produce an accurate statement that did not contradict the content of its own guidance documents.

Campaigners believe the concerns have taken this long to emerge because most of those affected are long-term DLA claimants with high support needs, who are only now beginning to be reassessed by the Department for Work and Pensions for their eligibility for PIP.

Christine Stringer’s 50-year-old son, who has autism, mental health problems and learning difficulties, has had a blue badge since shortly after leaving school, but it runs out later this month and now needs to be renewed.

But she has been told on the phone by her local authority, Walsall council, that he will no longer be eligible because he has recently been moved from DLA to PIP, even though he still receives the enhanced rate for both mobility and care.

Stringer said: “They rang to say he didn’t qualify because he didn’t have any mobility issues. It was quite a shock after 30 years of having one.

“His behaviour makes him a danger to himself and to others in public spaces. A blue badge has always been helpful for that.”

One of her concerns is that he might be forced to use public transport because he no longer has a blue badge, and that a member of the public might over-react to something he does, which could lead to him being sectioned.

She said: “They are very fond of sectioning people these days. I am just afraid that he may run into trouble as a result of not having a blue badge. I don’t know how we are going to cope.”

She said she believed the changes discriminate against her son and other disabled people in his situation.

Another Walsall parent, Jane Collier Westley, said she feared her 22-year-old daughter, Abigail, would be in the same position as Christine Stringer’s son.

Although Abigail Collier has not been reassessed yet, her mother fears she will lose her blue badge – which she has had since she was about eight – after she is moved to PIP from DLA, even though she is certain to be granted the enhanced mobility rate.

Collier Westley said her daughter had no sense of danger and can “throw tantrums” and “kick off at any time”.

With a blue badge, her family or care workers can be much closer to the car in case there are problems, but she said that losing it would “have a massive impact”.

Walsall council had refused to comment by noon today (2 June).

*This article was amended on 3 June to show that people who receive the standard or enhanced PIP mobility rates under the moving around criteria now receive a blue badge automatically. It previously stated that people had to receive the enhanced PIP mobility rate under the moving around criteria to qualify automatically.

2 June 2016



Premier League silent on whether clubs can break promises on access

The Premier League has refused to say whether its clubs will be allowed to break a public pledge to reach basic access standards for disabled fans by August 2017.

The promise was made by the Premier League last August, and was widely welcomed at the time by disabled fans and politicians, with Justin Tomlinson, minister for disabled people, claiming it as “a huge achievement”.

According to that announcement, all 20 clubs agreed to comply with the 2003 Accessible Stadia Guide – which includes guidelines on accessible information, the minimum number of wheelchair spaces and the location of viewing areas for disabled fans – by August 2017.

But now that public pledge has been thrown into doubt.

Last week, MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport committee’s inquiry into the accessibility of sports stadiums were told that at least eight Premier League clubs were set to break the promise.

In her evidence to the committee, Joyce Cook, chair of the user-led charity Level Playing Field, said that at least one club claimed it had been told by the Premier League that it did not have to meet those standards by August 2017, but only had to produce plans for how it would do so in the future.

She also revealed to the committee that a Premier League executive had said at a public event that there would be no penalties for clubs that failed to meet the guidelines by August 2017.

This week, the Premier League refused to say whether clubs would face a penalty if they refused to meet the pledge.

The Premier League also refused to say whether clubs had been told they only needed to produce plans by next August for how they would meet the guidelines.

Cook told Disability News Service that she was concerned by the Premier League’s refusal to clarify its position.

She said: “It is disappointing to learn that the Premier League has not answered these two key questions.”

Cook said the failure to respond made it even more important that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had agreed to publish a Premier League progress report on the access pledge next month.

The Premier League was only forced into making the pledge last year by a series of embarrassing reports on the discrimination faced by disabled supporters at many grounds.

That pressure had increased in February 2015 after the Premier League announced that it had secured more than £5.1 billion from the sale of live UK television rights for the three seasons from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

Cook said last week that the failure to take action on access was “obscene” when there was so much money in Premier League football.

She said that clubs had ignored the issue “time and time again”, and had had 20 years to make the necessary improvements to their grounds since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

2 June 2016



Charity Commission launches probe into arts charity after founder is sacked

The Charity Commission has launched an investigation into concerns about the running of a user-led mental health arts charity that has sacked its founder, after she spent 25 years building its reputation.

Michelle Baharier called on the Charity Commission to take urgent action to save CoolTan Arts, after she was sacked by what she says was a “kangaroo court”.

She was dismissed last week by a disciplinary panel set up by the charity’s board of trustees, but which she didn’t attend and plans to appeal against.

She claims the allegations of bullying and harassment were “pathetic” and “made up”, and were exaggerated by a small group of senior figures at the charity who had fallen out with her.

The Charity Commission is now investigating claims she has made about the way CoolTan is being run.

A spokeswoman for the commission said: “We can confirm that we have an open case into CoolTan Arts and we are currently in correspondence with the trustees about our concerns and complaints made against the charity.

“At this time we are unable to provide any further information until our case has concluded.”

Baharier believes the charity she built up from scratch could be forced into liquidation by the end of the year if the commission does not take urgent action.

CoolTan, based in Southwark, south London, offers creative workshops, self-advocacy, art projects, and a volunteering and training programme to service-users with experience of mental distress, as well as running “stigma-busting cultural walks” and a public art gallery.

Baharier, who had been suspended from her position as chief executive since last October, said she now fears for the charity’s future.

She said: “I have been treated as a criminal with no rights at all and have not even been allowed to collect personal belongings from CoolTan which have been there for 20 years.”

She said that what had happened to the charity was “a tragedy”, and added: “I am devastated at my loss, a precious unique charity which has been torn apart.”

She has secured backing from hundreds of supporters of CoolTan since her suspension last October, including leading figures in the arts and disability arts worlds, including Maggi Hambling – one of the charity’s patrons – Penny Pepper, Ju Gosling, Colin Hambrook, Clare Allan – another patron – and Caroline Cardus, and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Among her concerns is that she believes CoolTan has spent a year’s worth of funds in the eight months since she was suspended, and is rapidly depleting financial reserves she built up over the last 25 years.

She is also angry that the trustees have paid expensive human resources consultants to deal with the dispute, rather than using the free services of the conciliation service ACAS.

The charity even tried to access her medical records from her doctor and community mental health team, she says, and claimed that she had lied about being a disabled person, when she has an Access to Work package to support her at work.

Baharier said she was also “really concerned” about the lack of mental health-related skills among the remaining CoolTan staff.

She said: “They don’t have many disabled people there anymore with lived experience.

“I cannot name one member of staff who has their own mental health experience, let alone the proper skills.”

She fears that with mental health provision “at an all-time low, when CoolTan goes bust it will send people into crisis”.

Baharier is now taking legal action over her dismissal, with an employment tribunal due to take place in October.

CoolTan’s interim senior management failed to provide a statement by noon today (2 June), as did the chair of trustees, although one trustee, Richard Truss, said that “the case against [Baharier], which we only very reluctantly pursued, was based on the evidence of a number of independent testimonies of staff members who had suffered bullying.

“We had no choice but to proceed, especially as many of them are quite vulnerable people.”

2 June 2016



Labour backs away from McDonnell’s calls for a shadow minister for neurodiversity

The Labour party has refused to back calls from its own shadow chancellor to create a shadow minister for neurodiversity.

The support for the idea from shadow chancellor John McDonnell came after a disabled campaigner wrote an open letter to new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn last year.

In the letter, Monique Craine praised Corbyn’s decision to appoint a shadow minister for mental health, but said she now wanted to see him do the same for neurodiversity.

And last month, McDonnell tweeted: “I am supporting call for Labour to develop an Autism Manifesto and appoint a Shadow Minister for Neurodiversity & will consult on details.”

And this week, Craine was reported to be meeting McDonnell to discuss the idea.

But despite McDonnell’s backing, the party has refused to comment on the idea of creating a new shadow ministerial position for neurodiversity.

Craine said in her letter that people with neurological differences such as ADHD, autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia and Tourette’s syndrome made up a fifth of the population and yet often felt they were ignored by politicians and “treated as second class citizens”.

She said the Conservative government appeared to want to increase the barriers faced by neurodiverse people, for example by increasing school exclusions of children who display “undesirable” behaviours, and altering the school curriculum to make it less accessible to disabled children.

Her letter added: “We are potentially the future innovators, the leaders, the entrepreneurs, the inventors; yet we are being failed.

“Very few of us reach our potential because we lack the understanding and acceptance needed within society.”

Craine has so far been unavailable to discuss McDonnell’s announcement.

But Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOWcampaign, welcomed McDonnell’s backing for the idea, which he said would “address the prejudice faced on a daily basis by those suffering from diverse neurological conditions who are judged to be ‘different’ by others”.

Jones, who himself has an acquired brain injury, added: “However, whilst neurodiversity suggests these differences are caused by normal variations in the human genome it should also be recognised diverse neurological conditions can be caused by infection, by acquired brain injury and by many other acquired routes.

“The shadow minister for neurodiversity must ensure they represent all who suffer exclusion caused by these diverse neurological conditions and not just those born with these conditions.

“One of the first questions they should ask themselves is, ‘Different to what?’ What is ‘normal’?”

2 June 2016



Employment support overhaul is vital, says new report

The government must work closely with disabled people and user-led organisations to rebuild trust damaged by the flawed work capability assessment (WCA) if it wants to improve its failing welfare-to-work programmes, according to a new report.

The report by The Work Foundation, part of Lancaster University, calls for an overhaul of the employment support available for disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.

And it warns that a “culture of mistrust” has built up within the social security system, which was “particularly felt by those with long-term health conditions”.

The report, Is Welfare To Work, Working Well?, concludes: “Though we identified pockets of good practice and innovation, overall we saw a system of support that was not as effective or comprehensive as it might be.”

It points out that, despite the government’s 2015 manifesto pledge to halve the disability employment gap, the latest Office for National Statistics figures showed the gap was widening.

Among the report’s recommendations is for a far greater reliance on local, small-scale providers of employment support, and for greater integration between welfare-to-work organisations, health providers and business stakeholders at a local level.

It calls on the government to work with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to co-produce a new, “fundamentally reformed” way of assessing “fitness for work” that would replace the WCA.

The report suggests that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should separate the assessment of benefit eligibility from assessing the claimant’s barriers to work, such as their employment history, confidence, access to transport and housing issues.

The report also warns that many disabled people face discrimination at the hands of potential employers.

Alex Johnston, operations manager for West of England Centre for Inclusive Living, which was consulted by the researchers, welcomed the report, but said that it “probably doesn’t go far enough”.

He said he would have liked to have seen more emphasis on how employers can be a barrier to employing disabled people, and more recommendations on what could be done to support them “to be more aware and have a better understanding of what it means to employ a disabled person”.

Although he welcomed calls for changes to the way the government pays Work Programme and Work Choice providers, he said he would have liked more emphasis on the importance of peer support schemes, in which disabled people provide support to help other disabled people move towards the jobs market.

He pointed to the apparent success of DWP’s J2E project, which has devolved funding to local disabled people’s organisations to provide peer support and is based on using “local expertise and local knowledge to get people into work”.

Johnston said he would also have welcomed more discussion about paying welfare-to-work providers for “softer outcomes” – such as enabling a disabled person to gain voluntary work, a work placement or training – rather than only if a client secures a job.

And he said he would have liked more in the report about supporting disabled people who already have jobs, as WECIL does through a project with local employers.

He added: “We would have liked to see a little bit more about freedom for risk-taking, for organisations to take different approaches to supporting disabled people into work.”

Johnston said he believed the government was now making progress on disability employment.

He said: “From conversations we have with DWP and the rhetoric from central government about halving the disability employment gap, it feels like we are moving in the right direction.

“But if I was cynical [I would say] let’s see what your feet are doing rather than what your mouth is saying, and how that will translate into supporting disabled people’s user-led organisations in the field.

“What is that actually going to look like?”

2 June 2016


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