Ten years on, campaigners ask again: ‘If these are not hate crimes, what are?’

Six new cases in which disabled people have been the victims of brutal and degrading assaults have cast fresh doubt on the criminal justice system’s ability to recognise, punish and prevent disability hate crime.

It is 10 years this month since journalist Katharine Quarmby and colleagues at Disability Now magazine drew public attention to the failure to deal with disability hate crime by highlighting five horrific murders of disabled people, and asking, “If these are not hate crimes, what are?”

Now Disability News Service (DNS) has had to ask that question again, in the wake of repeated failings by police, prosecutors, judges… and politicians.

Three of the six new cases, spread across England and Wales, were murders, another saw the offender jailed for manslaughter, while two victims survived the violent assaults.

One case saw a man with learning difficulties tortured for a month in a “prolonged period of sadistic torture and humiliation”, including having his teeth knocked out with a hammer and chisel, and being forced to eat one of his own testicles, before his body was dumped on wasteland.

Another saw a man, again with learning difficulties, stripped and tortured over 24 hours, in a prolonged, sadistic assault described by a judge as “gratuitous degradation”.

But in neither case did the police treat what happened as disability hate crime*.

All but one of the six cases were dealt with by the courts in the last two months, with the other crime sentenced last December.

In all of the six cases, which all led to convictions, the offences involved violent, repeated assaults on the disabled person.

Four of the victims were people with learning difficulties, while the others had long-term health conditions and physical impairments.

But in all six cases, the attacks were not treated as hate crimes by the police officers investigating the crimes, although in one of them the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) disagreed and asked the judge to increase the sentence because prosecutors believed the crime was motivated by disability-related hostility.

Apart from this one exception, in case after case the CPS has told DNS that the offences could not be treated as hate crimes because “there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people”.

These cases appear to highlight how difficult it is to prove an offence is a disability hate crime under current legislation, particularly if police officers have not collected the necessary evidence.

The courts have a legal duty** to increase sentences for offences found to be motivated by disability-related hostility, under Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

But even in the one case in which CPS disagreed with the police, and treated the offences as disability hate crime, the judge is believed to have refused to increase the sentence.

The six cases suggest yet again – following many other horrific offences reported by DNS over the last eight years – that there are enduring and troubling flaws in the way the criminal justice system, particularly within the police and judiciary, deals with the most serious disability hate crimes.

The failure to acknowledge that offences were caused by disability-related hostility –described nine years ago by a director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken [now Lord] Macdonald, as “a scar on the conscience of criminal justice” – means that sentences are not increased, so there is no deterrent effect, and no public recognition of the problem.

This is likely to mean there is less pressure placed on the government and wider society to reduce the widespread incidence of disability hate crime.

Here are brief details of the six cases.

Case one: Jimmy Prout, who had learning difficulties, was found dead on wasteland near his home in North Shields in March 2016.

For months, he had been tortured by a group of people he considered his friends. He was even forced to eat his own testicle.

Two of his attackers were jailed for murder, and the other two for causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult, with sentences ranging from nine years to a minimum of 33 years in prison for the ringleader.

Northumbria police said the circumstances of the murder “did not meet criteria to be considered a disability hate crime”, and that Prout had not been targeted “because of any disabilities”.

A CPS spokesman said: “The possibility of this case being a hate crime was considered, but there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person as a motivation.”

Case two: Craig Eade, who also had learning difficulties, was attacked in his own home, in Gateshead, over false rumours that he was a sex offender.

He was attacked with a hammer, kicked and stamped on, and strangled, and then finally had his throat cut when his killer realised he was still alive. His body was dumped in a wheelie bin.

His attacker, 36-year-old Paul Watkins, from Gateshead, admitted murdering Eade and was jailed for life and must serve at least 18 years in prison.

Northumbria Police said this case, too, “did not meet criteria to be considered a disability hate crime” because Eade was not “targeted because of any disabilities”.

A CPS spokesman said: “The possibility of this case being a hate crime was considered, but there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person as a motivation.”

Detective chief inspector Andy Fairlamb, of Northumbria Police, said of the Prout and Eade cases: “We take hate crime extremely seriously and in any death, a routine line of enquiry is to establish if the death is related to any disability or vulnerability or is believed to be hate-related.”

Case three: An unnamed disabled man with muscular dystrophy was subjected to a “sustained and prolonged attack” by a teenager from Rhyl, north Wales, who stamped on his head, hit him with a radiator, and then smashed his head through a window.

The teenager was jailed for 32 months.

A spokeswoman for North Wales Police said: “North Wales Police can confirm that this occurrence was not tagged as a hate crime, and inquiries are underway to determine why this happened.”

She said the court was aware of the victim’s “vulnerability”, and so could have increased the sentence on those grounds – although not on the grounds of it being a hate crime – “had the judge seen fit to do so”.

Asked if the case showed that the force needed to review its procedures and policies on recognising and dealing with disability hate crime, the spokeswoman had declined to respond by noon today (Thursday).

A CPS spokesman said: “The possibility of this case being a hate crime was considered, but there was not sufficient evidence to prove hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person as a motivation.”

Case four: Wheelchair-user Manfred Jaedke, 61, from Boston, Lincolnshire, was found in July 2016 in his bungalow with 65 injuries on his body, after being savagely beaten to death by a neighbour he had been drinking with.

His killer, Vidmantas Svedarauskas, was given a life sentence, and must serve a minimum of 15 years in prison.

A spokeswoman for Lincolnshire Police said the motivation for the murder was “thoroughly explored during the murder investigation, including extensive enquiries into Svedarauskas’ background in Lithuania.

“There was no evidence to support the murder having been motivated by hate and was therefore not recorded as such.”

She said the judge had been “very robust” in his sentencing, “stating that one of the main aggravating factors in the case was that Manfred was extremely vulnerable”.

She added: “He was elderly, a very unwell man because of his previous strokes, his heart condition was bad and he was disabled and wheelchair bound.

“He was unable to defend himself, therefore Manfred’s disability was taken into account upon sentencing.”

A CPS spokesman said: “There was no evidence to determine to a criminal standard the motive for this attack.

“Consequently, it would not have been possible to prove that it was motivated by hostility towards disabled people or a disabled person.”

Case five: A man with learning difficulties was forced into a cold bath and had his head pushed under water, was strangled with an electrical cord, and threatened with an electric drill, by two women who stripped and tortured him, in an attack that lasted 24 hours.

The man had met one of the women through an online dating site, and had thought they were in a relationship, but when he arrived at her flat, she locked the door and told him: “You’re going to die today,” before calling a friend to join her in what became a prolonged and violent assault.

He was knocked unconscious with a pole, threatened with a knife, punched, kicked and hit with a hammer and a bottle, and only escaped when an unexpected visitor saw him covered with blood and called the police.

The judge described the assault as “gratuitous degradation”. He jailed both women to two years and four months in jail.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said the offences were “initially recorded as domestic violence due to the relationship between the victim and one of the convicted women.

“At no point did the victim or anyone else state that the attack on the victim was targeted or motivated because of his learning difficulties.

“We do however recognise that the victim’s learning difficulties made him particularly vulnerable in the prolonged attack.

“The investigation was also subject to review and this did not change the recording of the offence.”

Despite the police refusal, prosecutors did treat the attack as a disability hate crime.

A CPS spokesman said: “This offence was recognised as a hate crime motivated by hostility to the victim because of his disability and at sentencing a submission was made by the CPS to treat that hostility as an aggravating factor.”

The CPS has not been able to confirm whether the judge agreed to increase the sentence.

Case six: Paul Sandford was attacked and punched to death while he was hooked up to a dialysis machine.

Again, his attacker had made unfounded allegations that the victim was a paedophile.

After the attack, Sandford was rushed to hospital with a bleed on the brain, a fractured eye socket and severe cuts and bruising to his face and hands. He died in hospital five days later.

His attacker was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 12 years.

A spokesperson for South Yorkshire Police said: “This case was not recorded as a disability hate crime by South Yorkshire Police due to the clear wishes of the victim and statements given by him, prior to his death.”

A CPS spokeswoman said: “There was no evidence presented to us by the police of the defendant being motivated by hostility towards the victim’s disability.

“Nor was there any evidence that the defendant demonstrated any such hostility at any point. For these reasons, there was no application for an uplift [in the sentence].”

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said the cases made “further grim reading”, 10 years on from Quarmby’s first story, while the “total inconsistency” across the criminal justice system was “appalling”.

He said he would like to see new “tighter and understandably clear” legislation that focused solely on disability hate crime, but was not convinced that that would be politically achievable.

What can be done, he said, is for MPs and ministers to “force the whole criminal justice system to comply with the current disability hate crime requirements.”

He added: “Where communities, disabled people, CPS and police work together on training and implementation and have effective and closely-monitored reporting processes then results are good, as we have generally experienced across Lancashire.”

But he said that too many parts of the country had seen “substantial reductions in diversity policing and the proper training input using the knowledge of disabled people”, and in these areas disability hate crime was “still a massive issue, as cases aren’t charged correctly”.

He said the reaction of the CPS in some regions was “still too much by the old book with clear failures to identify and promote section 146**”.

He added: “The court system in terms of disability hate crime is still a mockery and if section 146 is even mentioned, too many of the judiciary just don’t get it, or don’t want the complication, thereby creating a double whammy for the victim – that of being victim of the crime and ultimately being a victim of sloppy justice.

“Where communities, disabled people, CPS and police work together on training and implementation and have effective and closely monitored reporting processes, then results are good.

“It can be done, but it depends on the inclusion of disabled people to create a mindset change in police, CPS and the judiciary practice, and this is where the sieve of justice is far too leaky to be of any practical use to disabled people in their seeking their legal rights.”

Anne Novis, a disability hate crime expert and chair of Inclusion London, said: “We will never give up on fighting for equality of justice for victims of any sort of disability hate crime.

“We will challenge the statutory agencies that still have not integrated the learning from too many awful murders of disabled people and the underlying perception that we are not as ‘worthy’ or ‘valued’, that pervades society and government polices at this time.

“All who deny the perception of our communities and organisations that such cases are hate crime, need to realise, we, Deaf and disabled people, are the experts, no one else!”

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “We have one of the strongest legal frameworks in the world to protect those who become a victim of hate crime.

“This has resulted in more prosecutions than ever before.

“The government will give careful consideration to whether the current legislation requires change following the views of the home affairs select committee in its hate crime report.***”

A Home Office spokesman said: “All forms of hate crime are unacceptable and those who commit these awful crimes should be prosecuted.

“We have some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle hate crime but it is not just about legislation.

“That is why last year the home secretary published a comprehensive new hate crime action plan that is driving forward action to tackle hate crime across government and the criminal justice system.”

Last year, DNS reported that angry campaigners had attacked that action plan for its “totally disrespectful” failure to address problems around disability hate crime.

The Home Office spokesman added: “Disability hate crime is significantly under-reported by victims, and that is why the government is working with community groups to raise awareness of hate crime and how to report it amongst disabled people, their carers and families.

“We have also asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services to assess the police response to ensure it is dealt with effectively and efficiently, and we are working with the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service to ensure that all those who commit hate crimes receive heavier sentences.”

He also pointed to new joint training between the police and CPS staff to improve the way the police identify and investigate hate crime, and a national strategy and operational guidance published by the College of Policing to ensure that police deal with hate crime effectively.

And he said CPS was working on a policy statement covering crimes against disabled people, setting out service standards expected when disabled victims and witnesses seek prosecution and attend court.

Neither the CPS nor any of the police forces involved in the six cases raised any concerns about the way the criminal justice system deals with disability hate crime in their responses to questions from DNS.

But a CPS spokesman said: “Wherever there is evidence a crime was motivated by hatred based on a victim’s disability, we will always treat it as a hate crime.

“In some cases, disabled people may be the victims of offences which do not amount to hate crime.

“In these cases, prosecutors will still present evidence of aggravating factors in court, as these will have an impact on the seriousness of the offence and any possible sentence.”

*The Crown Prosecution Service defines a disability hate crime as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or perceived disability”

**Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 imposes a duty on the court to increase sentences for offences motivated by disability-related hostility, while the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 doubles to 30 years the starting point for sentences for disability hate crime murders

***This inquiry looked at the violent consequences of online hate crime and mentioned disability hate crime only in passing

20 July 2017

 

 

Jared O’Mara calls for action on bullying and harassment by MPs

A newly-elected disabled MP is calling for action to address the bullying and harassment he has witnessed in the House of Commons, in a bid to introduce a new culture of “decorum and professionalism” into parliament.

Jared O’Mara has previously spoken to Disability News Service (DNS) about some of the access barriers he has faced in parliament since he defeated former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to win the Sheffield Hallam seat in June.

Now he is calling on the House of Commons to draw up a policy on bullying and harassment by MPs, and to carry out a regular access audit of the parliamentary estate.

Many disabled people were appalled when O’Mara – who is unable to stand for longer than five or 10 minutes – described earlier this month how he had been unable to attend a couple of debates in the main Commons chamber because there were no seats available.

But he has now told DNS that he wants the parliamentary authorities to introduce an anti-bullying and harassment policy that would prevent the kind of behaviour he has witnessed in the Commons chamber.

He said he had not been bullied or harassed directly, but had been affected by the comments and “jeering” directed against male MPs who have taken advantage of new rules allowing them not to wear ties.

The new rules are believed to have been introduced by the Commons speaker, John Bercow, after O’Mara made it clear he was unable to wear a buttoned shirt and tie because of his impairment.

All male MPs are now allowed to speak in the Commons chamber without wearing a tie, while O’Mara has also been allowed to wear a tee-shirt under a jacket.

But O’Mara said that comments made by the transport minister, John Hayes, who warned that he would refuse to take interventions from any male MPs who were not wearing ties, had made him feel “really upset and uncomfortable”.

He said he had taken these comments as “harassment”, even though they were not directed at him.

A spokesman for Hayes had failed to respond to a request for a comment by noon today (Thursday).

O’Mara said: “There has been other jeering when MPs have been not wearing a tie. It’s Neanderthal and bestial.”

He said he was also disturbed by the general “heckling and shouting” at fellow MPs that takes place in the Commons chamber during debates.

He said: “That comes under that umbrella of bullying and something I would like to take up, so people are more civilised while in the chamber and so they don’t make other people uncomfortable.”

He said that this kind of “very shrill, aggressive, intimidating environment” could cause problems for MPs who have anxiety or other mental health problems, and he warned that some MPs could even be avoiding the chamber because they do not find it a comfortable environment.

O’Mara said: “I just want to get some decorum and professionalism in the chamber and get it into the 21st century.”

He said the kind of “bully boy, public schoolboy rubbish” he had witnessed was “not right”, but many MPs were “ingrained in that culture”.

He said: “I want to make it a comfortable environment and make it an inclusive environment.

“I don’t know if I am going to be able to change it. Certainly, I am going to have a try.”

He said he wanted to “speak to anyone I can” to address the need for action on some of the barriers he and others were facing, and was planning to meet with the Commons speaker, John Bercow.

A House of Commons spokeswoman said that “bullying or harassment of any kind in the workplace is totally unacceptable and we are committed to creating an environment in which everyone is, at all times, treated with dignity, courtesy and respect”.

But although there are policies that have been drawn up to protect staff working in parliament from harassment and bullying, there does not appear to be any code of conduct that prevents such activity in the Commons chamber.

The MPs’ code of conduct refers only to financial interests and rules on lobbying, while a Respect policy refers to dealings between House of Commons employees, MPs and staff working for MPs, but makes no reference to behaviour in the Commons chamber, and the Valuing Others policy in the staff handbook applies to House of Commons staff and managers.

The House of Commons spokeswoman said: “The House has limited jurisdiction over MPs as it is not their employer.

“The political parties and the whips also have responsibility for ensuring that their MPs act according to these rules, and are likely to have policies outlining how they do this.

“Should an MP have a concern about bullying or harassment, they are able to write to the speaker, approach the commissioner for standards or speak to their party whips.”

She said the speaker can ensure MPs follow the rules during debates, by directing an MP to withdraw a remark, suspending a sitting of the House, suspending MPs or asking them to be quiet.

She said: “The style of debate in the House has traditionally been one of cut-and-thrust; listening to other members’ speeches and intervening in them in spontaneous reaction to opponents’ views.

“This style of debate can make the Commons chamber a rather noisy place with robustly expressed opinion, many interventions, expressions of approval or disapproval and, sometimes, of repartee and banter.

“Ultimately it is the chair, the speaker of the House of Commons, who controls the House and who speaks and when.

“Members have the right, when speaking, to be heard without unendurable background noise (deliberate or accidental) and the chair will call for order if it appears there is an attempt to drown out a member or when a number of members are leaving the chamber, or conversing loudly.”

On access, she said the House of Commons continues “to work towards making parliament more accessible to enable members of both houses and staff with disabilities to access facilities and fulfil their roles when working on the estate”.

She said the House of Commons was working with organisations including the Business Disability Forum, Action on Hearing Loss, and the National Autistic Society, and its own workplace equality network, ParliAble.

She said: “We are doing our best to adapt and find solutions to problems before they arise, and we are very keen to hear from anyone who may have suggestions about the ways we can develop and improve services for those working in or visiting parliament.

“We are always working to improve access (for example, a project to improve signage across the estate is currently underway), and whilst we recognise that there are always further improvements we can make, the pace and extent of change is of course limited by the age and nature of the building and the fact that we are operating within a grade II listed building and UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

O’Mara’s comments drew support from Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams.

She said: “I have spoken to Jared about the barriers that he has faced since arriving in parliament.

“He has rightly raised a number of serious issues which we are working with the parliamentary authorities to resolve as a matter of priority.

“The Labour whips have found Jared a room close to the chamber, and I understand that the Labour party are looking at what immediate support can be provided for Jared while he is setting up his parliamentary and constituency offices.

“As we set out in Labour’s manifesto with and for disabled people, access to political life is a vital part of breaking down the barriers that disabled people face in our society.

“Jared has rightly demonstrated that there is much more work to be done, particularly in terms of ensuring that the parliamentary estate and working practices are accessible to everyone.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, also welcomed O’Mara’s comments.

She said: “Stopping the hostile work environment would remove another barrier which deters would-be disabled politicians from seeking to enter the Commons.”

She added: “Disability Politics UK strongly supports Jared O’Mara MP in his effort to change the Commons’ policies and procedures which could in turn lead to a change in MPs’ behaviour.

“Freedom of political speech is one of the most highly protected forms of communication in international human rights law.

“However, that does not include the ‘right’ to create a hostile, intimidating work environment for fellow MPs.

“The speaker and the Commons have to act on Jared O’Mara’s proposals.”

20 July 2017

 

 

McDonnell calls for disabled-led solution to care crisis, as DPAC occupies parliament

Labour’s shadow chancellor has called for disabled people themselves to be given the job of designing the solution to the social care funding crisis.

John McDonnell was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) as activists from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) were protesting about cuts to social care, in parliament’s central lobby yesterday (Wednesday).

He said there were two strands to finding a solution to the social care crisis: “One is more money, and two is a system that is designed by disabled people themselves.”

Both he and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supported the actions of the activists who protested in the heart of parliament, within earshot of the main Commons chamber, while there was also support from Green party co-leaders Caroline Lucas MP and Jonathan Bartley.

DPAC had arranged the lobby of parliament – as part of its week of action – so activists could raise concerns with their MPs about cuts to independent living support, with campaigners coming from as far as north Wales to take part.

The protest came two years after DPAC came close to forcing their way into the main debating chamber of the House of Commons during prime minister’s questions, in a last-ditch protest against the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in June 2015.

Yesterday’s lobby took place as Theresa May was taking part in the last prime minister’s questions before the summer recess, but police officers barred the path of activists – including several affected by the government’s decision to close ILF – to prevent them approaching the Commons chamber.

Instead, they chanted from the central lobby, calling for May to resign, shouting “no justice, no peace” and “Tories out”, and warning that “care cuts kill”.

McDonnell, a long-standing supporter of disabled people’s right to independent living, told DNS, just yards from the protest: “DPAC have been consistently campaigning to expose what is going on.

“They want to bring their voice to parliament on a regular basis to make sure their MPs are aware just how much people are suffering.”

He said the protest was “exactly what people have the right to do, to demonstrate, to make sure MPs are aware what they are experiencing, what disabled people are experiencing”.

He said it “was perfectly justifiable in the light of what is happening, with people’s suffering as a result of austerity”.

McDonnell said that any solution to the social care crisis had to come from disabled people themselves.

He said: “Nothing for us without us is a fundamental principle of this. Measures, certainly over the last seven years, have been imposed on disabled people by central government without any real understanding of what people’s life experiences are like.

“Every individual MP must have experienced what has happened in recent years, with the withdrawal of care and the withdrawal of benefits, which has plunged people into absolute desperate poverty, and we know how many people have lost their lives as a result as well.

“The whole point now is of course we need more funding but at the same time we need a system that is designed by disabled people, because they know best [how that should be done].”

He added: “We’re already in crisis, individual disabled people are already in crisis. We know what the UN has said about what the British government has done, we know what communities right across this country are saying.

“This government has got to act, and if they won’t act they should stand down from power and allow Labour to come to power to tackle this.”

Corbyn also spoke to DNS and offered his support for the protest.

He said that cuts to social care had led to many disabled people “losing the possibility of a genuinely independent life and genuinely supportive accommodation”, which he had seen in his own and other constituencies.

He said this was why Labour had said during the general election campaign that it would put more money into social care.

He said: “Social care we did raise a great deal in the general election.

“It often gets assumed that all social care needs are for older, dependent people.

“Of course, many are, but there are also those with disabilities or often quite young people with very special needs that need social care, of whom some obviously are here today.

“I do fully understand that and that is why we made the points we did during the election campaign.”

Corbyn also backed the right of disabled activists to protest in the heart of parliament, saying that “everyone has a right to protest”.

McDonnell had earlier liaised with Commons security staff after a DPAC activist had become distressed when he was prevented from accessing parliament because he was wearing a tee shirt which raised awareness about invisible impairments.

After McDonnell’s intervention, he and another activist, who was wearing a DPAC tee shirt, were allowed into parliament.

DPAC is calling for “urgent action” to tackle the social care funding crisis, and for the government to ensure that the green paper and consultation promised by May will address issues such as upholding disabled people’s right to independent living; protecting the futures of disabled younger people; ensuring the necessary infrastructure to support the use of personal assistants; and enabling councils to fulfil their obligations under the Care Act 2014.

DPAC said that “most basic choices such as when to get up, go to bed or use the toilet, when and what to eat, and the choice to leave the house are no longer in the hands of disabled people but subject to local authority budget allocations which are becoming ever more restricted”.

Activists who took part in the lobby told DNS why they wanted to speak to their MPs about independent living.

Disability activist Nathan Lee Davies travelled from Wrexham, north Wales, to attend the lobby and put pressure on Theresa May to fulfil her promise to review social care funding.

He said: “We just want disabled people to be assured of independent living in the future, and young disabled people to have the chance to live their lives.

“It is looking very, very bleak at the moment.”

Several campaigners from Camden wanted to raise their concerns about the council’s plans to increase charges for council-funded social care in the north London borough, while at the same time spending £44 million renovating its old town hall building.

One carer, who has an adult disabled son, said the imposition of new charges of more than £30 a week on his care meant he might not be able to afford the therapies and supplements he needed to stay healthy.

She said: “When I die, what the heck is going to happen? Will he get so little money that he can’t get his supplements and therapies and will continue being ill?”

Claire Glasman, from the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible, said: “We are very worried that other boroughs are going to use Camden as an excuse to hike up their charges as well.”

She said she had heard from a carers group in another London borough that the council had quoted Camden’s actions as a reason for increasing charges.

Glasman also said that one disabled woman from Camden had given up her council-funded support because it imposed charges on her, having warned the local authority that that was what she would do.

Now she has had to ask WinVisible to find help with reading her letters and visiting the doctor.

Glasman said this was quite a common problem, and added: “They want people to be self-financing and self-managing, which is their jargon for ‘get on with it yourself’.”

Sue Elsegood, from Greenwich, said she wanted to talk to her MP about a concern faced by disabled people who previously received support from the Independent Living Fund and were now receiving personal health budgets.

She said that she and other disabled people in such situations were now being told that they cannot receive funding to pay for their own PAs when they are admitted to hospital.

She said a friend who was in hospital had lost her one-to-one PA support, and had to rely on assistance from nursing staff. This also meant that her PAs were not being paid while she was in hospital.

Elsegood said: “I am terrified at the prospect of going into hospital. It doesn’t make any logical sense because it will save money if people recover more quickly in hospital, and it also supports the hospital staff.

“It would be impossible for someone who has 24-hour support at home to have their daily needs and general welfare met [in hospital].”

Elsegood said she had not been warned about the policy before she was transferred to a personal health budget.

She said some wards had only one member of nursing staff to seven patients, whereas she and other former ILF-users might require one-to-one support.

She said she was also at the lobby to add her backing to protests against the austerity cuts, because many disabled people had had their social care packages cut and “are really struggling”.

Roger Lewis, from DPAC, said the government was “redefining disabled people as outsiders” and “a burden” and “not economically viable” through its cuts to social care, and was suggesting they were entitled only to the “lowest acceptable level of care”.

He said the cuts to social care had most affected local authorities that were already “hit hardest” by government cuts and had the highest levels of deprivation and social inequality.

And he called on the government to reopen the Independent Living Fund which “kept people out of residential care and allowed then to live in their communities equally”.

He said he was most concerned by the “reintroduction of residential living” as an acceptable form of support and one that was part of a private market.

He said the years of cuts had “pushed us back 30 years” on independent living.

20 July 2017

 

 

DR UK’s new boss pledges better links with other DPOs and grassroots groups

The new boss of Disability Rights UK (DR UK) has pledged to do more to involve young disabled people in the organisation’s work, and improve its relationships with other disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and grassroots campaigning groups.

Kamran Mallick took over as chief executive of the national, pan-disability, user-led organisation this month, following the retirement of Liz Sayce.

His previous job was as chief executive of Action on Disability (AoD), an organisation he helped to double in size over nearly 13 years in charge.

He says he has already been made “very much aware” by other disabled people since his appointment of concerns that DR UK had grown too close to the government.

But in his first major interview since his appointment, he has told Disability News Service that he has no plans for DR UK to stop engaging with government.

Instead, he will build on his own experience of “working round the table” with the local council, in Hammersmith and Fulham, while at the same time working closely with an influential and outspoken grassroots organisation, Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts (HAFCAC).

He said: “We found a working pattern where HAFCAC were the vocal group within the borough and what AoD and I were doing was listening and supporting that group but [also] working round the table with the local authority.”

He said it was a “balancing act” to be trying to influence the council and yet also “show people round the table the viewpoint I was coming from and the injustices of the impact on equalities and things that were happening to disabled people”.

That dual approach with HAFCAC appeared to work.

As HAFCAC’s Kevin Caulfield told an event held to launch new research on personal assistance earlier this month, Hammersmith and Fulham council has abolished charging for care services, ringfenced the funding disabled people had previously received from the Independent Living Fund, and set up an independent review of the decision by a previous administration to scrap the direct payments support service.

But Mallick said there had to be a limit to working closely with government, or other organisations.

He said: “It’s important to remember there is always a line that we draw where you say, ‘This is my line and I won’t cross that,’ where things are being done that are fundamentally wrong.

“Having that red line is really important. It’s important to me, and I know it’s important to many [other] disabled people as well.”

He is unwilling to say yet what those red lines might be, but he is clear about some of the areas where he believes the government has been wrong over the last seven years: the move from disability living allowance to personal independence, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, cuts to employment and support allowance, cuts to social care, and cuts to the government’s Access to Work programme.

He said: “I am aware of some of the criticism levelled at DR UK and people have felt since they heard I was joining that they wanted to tell me those criticisms, and so absolutely I will be looking at those.

“I do want to understand what the criticisms were, what the substance of that was, our position, DR UK’s position, and whether or not we would change that.”

He said it was too early to say too much about how DR UK might change under his leadership, but he stressed that he wanted to build closer relationships with other DPOs and see the organisation work more closely with younger disabled people.

There was also a hint – but no more – that he might take a tougher line on some issues, although he was clear that he wanted to continue to engage with the government.

He said there might be a change of approach from DR UK on some key issues, and was “keen” to examine DR UK’s stance on some of those areas.

Like Liz Sayce before him, he will draw in his work on his own lived experience as a disabled person.

In his case, he spent his early years in a special school, before his parents managed to convince the local authority to transfer him to a mainstream school at the age of 14, just before he started his GCSEs.

But that led to further barriers, both at school and afterwards, as he tried to build a career after graduating with a degree in business studies.

After his A-levels, he made the decision to move away from home so he could live independently, and studied for his degree part-time while he worked with Hounslow council’s social services team in its performance improvement unit.

This was followed by a year’s secondment with a local DPO, and a move to the spinal injuries charity Aspire, where he headed a national IT and training programme, before moving to AoD.

While he joined AoD (or Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability, as it was called at the time), the organisation had a turnover of about £400,000, with much of this coming from the local authority.

He focused in his time in charge on “creating a diversified portfolio of income sources and on growth”, and by the time he left, the number of staff had doubled from 12 to 24, and the turnover had trebled to £1.2 million, with local authority grants just five per cent of that.

Four years ago, he changed the organisation’s remit to allow it to work across Greater London, so he could expand its employment service.

Even though the council stopped funding its benefits advice service, he kept it going through funding from trusts and the use of AoD reserves.

He leaves AoD at a time when his work on supported internships for young disabled people – which saw employment success rates of as much as 70 per cent – has just been recognised with a huge City Bridge Trust grant for Inclusion London to build on its work.

The model he developed grew over seven years, from working with one private sector multi-national at the start to now working with six private and public sector organisations, offering 50 internships, with about 70 per cent of those young disabled people in work at the end of the year.

Mallick believes it was the time he spent at AoD that has equipped him for the DR UK job, learning about both the barriers faced by disabled people and their positive attitudes to those barriers, and working with the local authority and local disabled activists to produce “positive change”.

He said: “I found what I regard as very innovative solutions to some of the barriers people were facing.

“I then changed the remit of that organisation (AoD) to be more regional rather than just one borough.”

Now he says he wants to bring that knowledge and experience to a national organisation and “use that to influence what I hope I can do here”.

His immediate priority is to learn about DR UK “and the broad spectrum of the areas that it is trying to work in, where it is being successful, where there is room for improvement”.

DR UK, he said, is “led by disabled people, it’s user-led, so it has an incredibly important part to play.

“I see it as being representative of disabled people across the country and ensuring we are listening to disabled people about what’s going on for them in terms of equality and rights nationally.

“The thing I really want to do is ensure we remain relevant, and do that by encouraging young people to come in, and for us to start listening to young people” and “bring young disabled people’s voice into the work of DR UK so that they can influence what DR UK is about and what it does and focuses on in the future”.

He contrasts this aim with his own upbringing as a young disabled man, when he had no contact with any disability organisations other than when he was attending a special school.

He also wants to “bring DR UK closer to DPOs, so that we continue to hear from DPOs who are doing the frontline work, who are doing the day-to-day, who are experiencing what is going on locally, because that is where I have come from.

“I have come from a DPO that I grew. I am very proud of that and I want to not lose connections with DPOs.

“I think that’s something that would be of strength to the organisation so it has support from DPOs in what it is doing and saying.”

This hope for closer working relationships also applies to grassroots organisations such as the Spartacus Network and Disabled People Against Cuts.

He said: “I think it’s important to have relationships with those groups because they have a view, they have an opinion.

“They have things that they want to be heard and I think it’s important that we do hear that voice and we do not cut that voice out.”

He said he almost fell into the disability sector, forced into that area because of the barriers he faced while trying to find a mainstream job with his business degree, having “endless interviews” and “never really getting anywhere”.

He “absolutely” sees this as discrimination, with employers “making assumptions about me based on how I looked as a wheelchair-user, people’s pre-conceived ideas of me, what I can and cannot do.

“At that point, at a younger age, they [disability discrimination] weren’t the words I would have given it at that point because I didn’t have those words, but now looking back on it, absolutely, they were very much the barriers we all talk about that disabled people face.

“So I experienced all those through schooling, in education and then in trying to find work and build a career for myself.”

His schooling, he said, was a “very mixed experience” that he “would not wish on anyone”.

He moved from being “looked after and almost cared for” at a special school, where although he made friends there was no formal curriculum and he did not feel he was learning or being challenged, to a mainstream school where he “enjoyed the challenge of learning” but faced bullying.

He wanted to study physics, but the physics lab was up a flight of stairs, so he had to take a bus to another school for his physics lessons.

He said: “My experience has helped form my belief in inclusive education as the right way to be educated at all ages.

“I had huge challenges there, but that’s part of what built my character today.”

20 July 2017

 

 

Concerns over council’s post-18 support after ombudsman ruling

A local authority is facing claims that it is breaching the rights of disabled teenagers by denying them the support they need as they prepare for the transition to adulthood.

The claims come from the grandmother of a disabled teenager, after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman published a highly critical report into the failings of Labour-run Croydon council.

The ombudsman found that the grandmother, Mrs A, had been “stretched beyond capacity” after the council’s children’s services left her without any respite care for two years in 2015, following years of repeated calls for an improved package of respite care as she struggled to care for her grandson on her own.

His care package ended suddenly in 2015 when his school said it could no longer meet his complex needs – he has very high support needs and life-threatening epilepsy – and she was left with no respite at all.

But Mrs A, who has been caring for her grandson since her daughter died in 2004, also complained to the ombudsman about the council’s failure to plan for her grandson’s transition to adult services, and to complete his education, health and care plan (EHCP), which would lay out his support package up to the age of 25.

As well as finding against the council over its failure to provide suitable respite provision since 2015, the ombudsman said Croydon was at fault for failing to transfer her grandson to an EHCP within the statutory timescales.

Mrs A told Disability News Service this week: “There is a severe problem in Croydon and we are just the tip of the iceberg.”

She has spoken to many other families in the borough who have faced a similar refusal by the council to provide the services they need – including further education funding – as their disabled child turns 18.

She also said that advocacy and advice services for carers in Croydon have been “overwhelmed” by the demand for their services, because of the council’s rejection of so many requests for post-18 funding.

She said that other families had just “walked away” from council services because it was “easier to just go without”.

She said: “For me, that is a deep injustice. There are some very, very vulnerable families in Croydon because they just don’t have a voice.”

She said the ombudsman’s ruling was a “significant victory”, following several years of an “uphill battle” with the council.

She believes that the council ignored what she sees as its duty to safeguard her much-loved daughter’s two children, who were left grief-stricken and vulnerable by her sudden death nine years ago.

A council spokesman claimed there had been a national increase in the number of children with special educational needs that councils had to support since the implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014 and the introduction of EHCPs, which had been reflected locally.

He said: “As such, our provider of special educational needs information advice and support has mentioned they are receiving more calls and referrals than previously, but has not indicated this is more than they can cope with.”

He claimed that each request for an EHCP was “reviewed and treated on its own merits” in “close liaison with families and providers”.

He said: “We always plan for the best possible outcomes for each young person, with a focus on employment and independence in or near the young person’s local community.”

And he said the council followed the relevant codes of practice “to ensure that there has been due regard to young people’s and parental preferences where possible and that education provision is suitable and an efficient use of public resources”.

He said the council was “extremely sorry for the distress caused to the family” and had “accepted and acted upon the ombudsman’s findings”.

The spokesman said the council was “working towards having a much more structured transition in place when disabled children move into adulthood”, which would “ensure that no one slips through the net and all families are able to get the help they need”.

The council has also set up a parents’ reference group “to support regular consultation and the development of a co-production approach to future special educational needs and disability provision planning”.

A spokeswoman for the ombudsman said she was unable to comment on whether it was investigating similar cases against Croydon council.

But Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said in a statement: “This case involves a catalogue of unacceptable failings by London Borough of Croydon, which has left a family stretched to breaking point.

“Even before the respite package came to an end, this family was struggling.

“The grandmother made repeated calls for extra help and yet she was left to cope alone with her teenage grandson where ordinarily he would have had one-to-one specialist support at school.”

The council has agreed to apologise to the family for the failures identified in the report.

It will pay Mrs A and her grandson £5,000 each for the harm caused by not having suitable respite for two years and it will pay Mrs A another £1,250 for the distress caused by the two years of complaints.

The council has agreed to complete a transition plan for her grandson and issue his EHCP as soon as possible, as well as reviewing its policies and procedures and drafting a new transition policy.

But Mrs A said her dealings with the council had left her highly sceptical that it would implement the changes recommended by the ombudsman.

*Under government reforms which came into effect in September 2014, following the Children and Families Act, local authorities in England have until April 2018 to move all disabled children eligible for support from SEN statements to new education, health and care plans (EHCPs). The plans last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support a family should receive across education, health and social care.

20 July 2017

 

 

Disabled MP credits mainstream education for new parliamentary career

A newly-elected disabled MP has said that she would never have been elected to parliament if her mother had not fought for her right to a mainstream education.

Marsha de Cordova used part of her maiden speech to other MPs – during a debate on the scheduling of parliamentary business – to highlight the importance of her mother’s efforts to keep her out of the special school system.

She told fellow MPs: “When I was at primary school, the headteacher thought that it would be better if I was sent to a special school, but my mother was having none of that and fought tooth and nail to keep me in mainstream education.

“I can safely say that I would not be the woman I am today, or an elected member of parliament, had it not been for her.”

De Cordova said she had been a disability rights campaigner for most of her life and that she believed disabled people “should have the right to participate in society equally”, including the “right to a good education, the right to travel and access public transport, and the right to work”.

She also said that government policies on social security and social care had “disproportionately affected disabled people” over the last seven years.

And she said she was particularly concerned about disabled people’s employment opportunities, with less than half of working-age disabled people in jobs, compared with 80 per cent of the non-disabled population.

She said: “That is just not good enough. We need to change that.”

De Cordova also made it clear that she would stand up for her constituents in her seat of Battersea, who had voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and would draw in her work on the values of “openness, tolerance, social justice and co-operation”.

In a speech that focused strongly on Battersea, she said she represented “one of the youngest, most diverse and most well-educated constituencies in the country”.

She also focused on housing issues.

She said: “We are increasingly divided, not least on housing.

“Private rents have soared. Housing is insecure. Glistening new developments are rising up around us, but the cost of housing puts them way beyond reach.

“It is a scandal that people under 35 have simply been frozen out of home ownership. Too many people are confronted with housing pressures that are getting worse.”

And she called for the spirit of the pioneering efforts that led to some of the oldest council housing in the country being built in Battersea, in the 1870s, to be “reignited”.

20 July 2017

 

 

Senior civil servant admits draft industrial strategy failed on disability

A senior civil servant has admitted to MPs and peers that the government’s industrial strategy will not be “fit for purpose” unless it corrects its failure to consider disability and other equality issues in a green paper it published in January.

Alex Williams, the civil servant responsible for sector deals* for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was twice forced to acknowledge to the all party parliamentary group for disability (APPGD) that the government’s industrial strategy would need to address the previous failure to mention disability and equality issues, when it is published later this year.

In its first meeting of the new parliament, the APPGD focused on the government’s attempts to halve the disability employment gap.

But Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), told the meeting that both the green paper and the government’s earlier national infrastructure plan “may not even be legal documents” because of their “complete omission of equalities”.

He said he believed the government had breached its public sector equality duty to look at all of its policies and programmes through the “prism” of equality and fairness, and he asked why there was “a complete omission of equalities in the drawing up of these documents”.

Despite the equality duty, there is not a single mention of disability or disabled people, or even equality, in the 132-page Building Our Industrial Strategy green paper, while there is just one mention of disability (relating to investment in special educational needs) and no mention of equality in the 113-page 2016 National Infrastructure Delivery Plan.

According to DR UK, the national infrastructure delivery plan references more than 600 projects worth more than £483 billion of public expenditure (including £48.6 billion on social infrastructure, £88.4 billion on transport, and £9 billion on housing), while the draft industrial strategy mentions about £64 billion of public spending.

Williams told the meeting: “The document wasn’t our industrial strategy, it was very much a call to action to contribute to what our industrial strategy should be.

“I will very, very firmly take away that point. If we publish a similar statement…. without that due consideration it will not be a fit for purpose document.”

When Connolly then asked the government to “prove that disabled people are being listened to and you are complying with your legal duties”, Williams added: “Yes, that message is being very, very clearly registered with me.

“If we publish an industrial strategy towards the end of this year that doesn’t take that into account, that will not be a fit-for-purpose document.”

Connolly was one of the authors of Ahead Of The Arc, a report published by the APPGD in December on how to halve the disability employment gap, which called on the government to adopt a “new, innovative and multi-dimensional approach combining incentives, persuasion, funding and legislation”.

After the meeting, Connolly told Disability News Service: “The [industrial strategy and national infrastructure] documents play into a toxic narrative that starts with cutting benefits, proceeds to reduced back-to-work employment support, and ends in invisibility in the country’s economic policies.

“Putting this narrative into reverse requires an inclusive economy.”

A newly-elected disabled MP, Labour’s Jared O’Mara, told the meeting that the government’s cuts and reforms to legal aid had made it much harder for disabled people to take employment tribunal cases when their employers had failed to make reasonable adjustments for them at work.

He said this meant that the Equality Act was “just legislation on paper and it just has no teeth”.

In April, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that government reforms to legal aid in England and Wales had harmed disabled people’s access to justice in family law, housing, employment, debt and benefits cases.

It also said there had been a 54 per cent drop in employment tribunal claims on the grounds of disability discrimination between 2012-13 and 2015-16, following the introduction of tribunal fees of up to £1,200 across Britain in July 2013.

The government’s Disability Confident employment campaign was also heavily-criticised in the meeting, by another of the Ahead Of The Arc’s authors, Professor Kim Hoque, of Warwick Business School.

He said there were “pretty severe doubts” that enough employers would sign up to the scheme to make a significant impact, and that even if they did, there was no guarantee that they would introduce the necessary changes to their policies and practices.

He said Disability Confident would only have an impact on disability employment if enough large, private sector employers signed up, and he had doubts that they would.

The latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that of 41 employers that have achieved the highest Disability Confident “leader” status, there appear to be only four large mainstream corporate employers – Barclays, Fujitsu, KPMG and Lloyds Banking Group – that are not involved in disability or providing employment services.

Professor Hoque said: “With regard to whether organisations that sign up will actually put the necessary support in place, the evidence doesn’t bode well.”

He co-led research that found three years ago that Two Ticks, the predecessor for Disability Confident, was nothing more than an “empty shell” used as a public relations tool.

That study found that one in five Two Ticks workplaces adhered to none of the five commitments they had to make to sign up to the scheme, while there was no evidence that Two Ticks workplaces were any better than non-Two Ticks workplaces.

He told the meeting: “Whether Disability Confident will be any better remains to be seen.

“There is no particular reason to think that it will. It’s very similar in nature to Two Ticks.”

Concerns about Disability Confident were also expressed by Dr Lisa Cameron, the SNP MP who chairs the APPGD.

She said she had attended a Disability Confident awareness-raising event, which had been well-attended by employers in her constituency.

But when she followed up with those employers six months later, “no-one had made any strides in terms of employing anyone with a disability”.

She said: “All the Disability Confident events we are running do not appear to be enough in themselves to generate change.”

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington said he believed the key issue was the need to implement laws that had already been introduced, because there was already “enough legislation to sink battleships”.

And he called on the government to look at where there was “bureaucratic intervention” with disabled people, such as ensuring jobcentre staff were suitably trained to deal with job-seekers, and know the difference between “dyspraxia, dyslexia and dyscalculia” or have the time to seek further advice if they do not.

Paul Milton, a disabled campaigner who attended the meeting, said the employment problems faced by disabled people were caused by the failure to enforce existing laws.

He said: “The legal rights and requirements are there but they are not enforced. Until they are enforced we will carry on having this problem. We are going around in circles.”

Andy Shipley, policy manager for the spinal injury charity Aspire, told the meeting that the government was failing to lay out “a coherent vision for disability that cuts across departmental agendas”.

He said this vision needed to address barriers such as inaccessible public transport, the lack of accessible housing, an inaccessible built environment and insufficient social care support packages.

He said he wanted to know how the government was “going to facilitate the participation of disabled people” and allow them to contribute to society.

20 July 2017

 

 

Equality watchdog and parts of disability movement ‘fail to highlight achievers’

A government adviser has criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and parts of the disability movement for failing to do enough to highlight “disabled achievers”.

The criticism comes in a new report which was co-authored by the government’s disability employment adviser, Professor Francis Davis, who was appointed to the Office for Disability Issues in April to work on promoting social enterprise and improving employment opportunities for disabled people.

In the report, A Sector Deal For Disability, published by the independent thinktank Localis and the University of Birmingham, Davis and his co-author Liam Booth-Smith say that parts of the disability movement have treated “leadership”, “role models” and advocating social mobility with “caution”.

As a result, they say, “disabled people are being marginalised and excluded” from positive initiatives supported by the government.

They say EHRC has shown “enduring interest” in the number of women appointed to FTSE boards, and in championing those rising to the most senior roles from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

But they say there is either no mention of “disabled achievers” in EHRC’s published strategies or there is an “almost uniform assumption” that disabled people are “dependent on” entrepreneurialism, business or civil success rather than being responsible for it themselves.

And they point out that the state-owned British Business Bank has to report on BAME take-up of its start-up loan schemes but “has no such responsibility with regard to disabled people”.

They warn that the commission’s “historic omission in this regard”, combined with its decision to make the role of disability commissioner redundant in order to “develop a more generic approach [to equality] risks compounding this gap”.

And they say that disabled achievers such as the Tory peer Lord Shinkwin, his predecessor as disability commissioner Lord [Chris] Holmes, the late singer-songwriter Ian Dury and former home secretary David Blunkett “provide a challenge to a culture of disability advocacy that runs the risk of not celebrating the achievements, example and challenge that individual journeys of success can contribute”.

They conclude that “this caution regarding ‘success’ in parts of the disability community is adding to the obstacles that disabled people face” and that it is “time to champion disabled leaders beyond sport and most especially in the economy”.

Lord Shinkwin and the EHRC chair, David Isaac, are currently engaged in a stand-off over the Tory peer’s role on the commission’s board.

Isaac told Lord Shinkwin that the role of disability commissioner had been made “redundant” just 36 hours before he was due to attend his first board meeting, and that he would instead be just a commissioner.

Lord Shinkwin refused to attend board meetings until his position was clarified and has said he does not accept the abolition of the post.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “We are championing the interest and contribution that disabled people make across all of society and will continue to do so.”

The Localis report also calls on the government to make a “bold” commitment to creating a new “sector deal”* for disability as part of the government’s industrial strategy.

It says such a deal should offer better support and incentives to employers, training providers and disabled people.

And it highlights the government’s failure to mention disability in its industrial strategy green paper, a criticism also made in last week’s meeting of the all party parliamentary group for disability (see separate story).

The report says a disability sector deal should be “about shifting the perception of disability as a barrier to full participation in our economy”; should encourage “investment and confidence in our emerging assistive technology companies so that they might become world leaders in their field”; and should “send a message” to disabled people that the government “stands ready and willing to support them in meeting their potential”.

Among the report’s other recommendations is for the government to abolish employers’ national insurance contributions for disabled employees, and to support start-up businesses owned or led by disabled people.

*A sector deal is an agreement between a particular sector of the economy and the government, aimed at making that sector more competitive and stimulating growth

20 July 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com