Revealed: DWP’s secret, ‘financially devastating’ proposals for benefits appeals
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has drawn up secret plans for sweeping reforms that would make it far harder for disabled people to appeal against having their benefit claims turned down.
The heavily-redacted document was sent to Disability News Service (DNS) by DWP following a freedom of information request, but disabled activists from the grassroots campaign network Black Triangle managed to reveal the words behind the blacked-out areas.
The document, titled Appeals Strategy – Post Election Planning, was drawn up by civil servants just before last year’s general election, and contains 11 policies for a new government to consider, most of which are aimed at reducing the number of successful benefits appeals and cutting welfare spending.
Eight of the policies – which appear to be focused heavily on disability benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA), personal independence payment (PIP) and disability living allowance – were redacted by DWP so they could not be read.
Work on introducing two of the three non-redacted policies is already underway.
Among the eight redacted policies is a plan to introduce a completely new appeal system, which would mean far fewer appeals being heard by tribunals, for example those concerning a point of law, with others heard by “an alternative dispute regime”.
The document warns that such a move would “raise significant concerns around restricting access to justice”.
One of the most controversial proposals is to stop paying ESA to claimants while they wait for their appeals to be heard, a process which can take many months.
Ministers have already stopped paying ESA to claimants waiting for a mandatory reconsideration (MR) of their claim, the new compulsory stage of the appeals process.
The document warns that such a move would be “controversial”, particularly because the Commons work and pensions select committee has “continually called for the reinstatement of ESA during the MR process so would be likely to oppose the withdrawal of payment pending appeal”.
The document also suggests that ministers could reduce the time limit to appeal to a benefits tribunal – for those who miss the initial one-month deadline – from 12 months to just three, but warns again that this would “attract criticisms that we are limiting access to justice”.
Another idea would restrict appeal tribunals so they would only be allowed to consider whether DWP had followed the “correct decision making processes” rather than carrying out “a full review of the facts of the case”. Appeals that need the facts of a claim to be looked at would be heard instead by the high court.
A fifth policy would introduce charging for appeals, and it warns that such a proposal “attracted negative coverage in the media/lobby when reported previously”, while the introduction of fees for employment tribunals (ET) has been “blamed for the large reduction in ET appeals this year”.
Although DWP said last night (20 April) that the “speculative policy formations” in the document do not represent government policy, a spokeswoman admitted that they had been redacted under the Freedom of Information Act because they contain “information in relation to formulation of government policy”.
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said the policies being considered were “absolutely shocking”.
He said the document “lays bare the Tory government’s unrelenting quest to emasculate disabled people’s access to benefits, and to justice”.
McArdle said that the document, together with DWP’s attempts to hide secret internal reviews carried out into benefit-related deaths, and the refusal of its ministers to act on a coroner’s “prevention of future deaths” report following the death of ESA claimant Stephen Carré in January 2010, showed the government’s “driving force” was to “cut disabled people’s support, rather than address these issues and the grave danger to wellbeing and indeed life that they represent”.
He said: “They are now looking at how they can suppress our fundamental human rights even further.
“They are playing Russian roulette with disabled people’s lives and are looking to put more bullets into the chamber.”
McArdle said the policies would be a “flagrant violation” of article six of the European Convention on Human Rights, which he said protects “the right to a fair hearing and equality of arms before an impartial judiciary in an open, free and democratic society”.
David Beckett, who supervises the welfare benefits team at Coventry Law Centre, part of Central England Law Centre, said the “draconian” policies were “clearly about restricting the rights of appeal to claimants” and “restricting people’s access to justice”.
He said they could be “financially devastating” for people if introduced, and could mean the difference between “choosing to eat, choosing to heat your home, choosing to pay your rent… anything other than mere existence”.
He added: “Some of the potential measures are effectively saying, ‘We are not just restricting it, we are getting rid of your rights to access to justice,’ because people will not be in a position to challenge decisions.
“Most of the measures are about stopping people having any right of redress.
“Effectively it means far more DWP decisions would go unchallenged, particularly in relation to disability benefits.”
He said DWP’s assessment process appeared not to be fit for purpose, with three-fifths of PIP appeals successful.
He said: “If people are put off [appealing] by charges, or tribunals are not able to look at the facts of the case, people’s redress is significantly compromised and those decisions are more likely to stand.
“Effectively it cuts people’s benefits entitlement.”
He added: “The tribunal system does work, it works well. It just needs more resources.
“Access to justice should be a fundamental right. This is stopping that and it would mean people have no benefits, or significantly reduced benefits, and I am sure people could lose their lives as a consequence of that.”
Dr Eilidh Whiteford, SNP’s social justice and welfare spokeswoman, said: “Even for the Tories these proposals are utterly shocking – I want clear assurances from the new [secretary of state for work and pensions] Stephen Crabb that they will never see the light of day.”
“The UK government’s ridiculous denials are getting them in a tangle as these ideas were clearly being discussed as part of their policy development.
“It highlights once again the relentless attacks by this government on the disabled.”
Among other ideas proposed in the document is to provide “paper based” hearings at the first-tier tribunal (FtT), instead of claimants having the chance to make their case in person.
DWP suggests that this would cut spending on benefits, because fewer cases are overturned with paper-based appeals.
Beckett said such a change would cause “significant difficulties” for groups such as people with learning difficulties or dyslexia or for whom English was not their first language.
Other measures proposed include “controlling the FtT – ensuring tribunal decisions are accurate”, and forcing tribunals to adjourn a hearing if presented with “late documentary evidence” by a claimant.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “These speculative policy formulations were drafted by staff before the last election as part of their preparation for a new government.
“They have not been raised, do not represent government policy and have never been sent to ministers.”
But when asked whether ministers had permanently and definitively ruled out the eight redacted policies, the spokeswoman would only say that the department “has no plans to introduce these changes”.
21 April 2016

 

Secret DWP proposal to scrap ESA ‘substantial risk’ rules ‘would breach right to life’
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has proposed scrapping two benefit regulations that offer vital protection to disabled people facing the controversial “fitness for work” test.
In response to a freedom of information request, DWP has sent Disability News Service (DNS) a document titled Appeals Strategy – Post Election Planning, which was drawn up by civil servants just before last year’s general election.
The document lays out 11 policies that could be considered by ministers if the Conservatives won the 2015 election.
Most of the document was redacted – although disabled activists have succeeded in revealing the words behind those redacted areas (SEE SEPARATE STORY) – but one of the three policies that was not redacted is headed “Removing or amend ESA regulations 29/35”.
Disabled activists have been campaigning since 2012 to raise awareness of employment and support allowance (ESA) regulations 29 and 35, which they believe protects many claimants who have gone through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
They believe the regulations protect thousands of people every year who would otherwise be at risk of serious damage to their health if they were forced to carry out work or work-related activity that they were not well enough to do, following a WCA.
The DWP document states that removing or amending the two regulations would require “evidence of widespread misuse” to persuade campaigners and ministers’ own benefits advice body, the social security advisory committee, but says that such a move would produce potential savings.
It says that two previous attempts to remove the regulations were defeated, by the court of appeal in 1997, and again in 2003.
The document adds: “Changes to this area carry a significant handling and delivery risk.
“Changes would be perceived as restricting application of the safeguards and may be considered discriminatory.”
DWP admitted last night that it had mistakenly failed to redact this particular policy proposal in the document emailed to DNS.
The only other two policies that were left unredacted were allowing scanning and email of benefit appeal documents; and increasing the number of DWP “presenting officers” who attend benefit appeals. Work on introducing these two policies is already underway, according to DWP.
David Beckett, who supervises the welfare benefits team at Coventry Law Centre, part of Central England Law Centre, said that removing regulations 29 and 35 was “nothing other than cost-cutting”.
He said: “There is absolutely no evidence, as far as I am aware, of any abuse [of the two regulations].
“What there is is evidence of the department not applying those regulations in the first place, based on faulty assessments.”
John McArdle, co-founder of the user-led grassroots campaigning network Black Triangle, said such a move would violate article two of the European Convention of Human Rights, the right to life.
Months of campaigning by Black Triangle eventually persuaded the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, to agree to notify GPs of the existence of the regulations.
Black Triangle has been told by a source within the WCA contractor Maximus that its campaign has led to 55,000 disabled people being placed in the ESA support group, when they otherwise would have been forced to seek work or carry out work-related activity.
McArdle said the proposal appeared to be “a reaction to the tremendous success of our campaign, irrespective of the lack of co-operation we have received from the leadership of the BMA”.
He promised DWP that if it went ahead and scrapped regulations 29 and 35, it would be challenged in court.
The rules state that a claimant should not be found fit for work (regulation 29), or placed in the ESA work-related activity group (regulation 35), if such a decision would pose “a substantial risk” to their “mental or physical health”.
The WCA has caused mounting anger among disabled activists and claimants since its introduction in 2008, because of links with relapses, episodes of self-harm, and even suicides and other deaths, among those who have been assessed and found fit for work.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “These speculative policy formulations were drafted by staff before the last election as part of their preparation for a new government.
“They have not been raised, do not represent government policy and have never been sent to ministers.”
But when asked whether ministers had permanently and definitively ruled out the eight redacted policies, the spokeswoman would only say that the department “has no plans to introduce these changes”.
21 April 2016

 

Traumatised disabled teacher says council allowed bullying to continue
A maths teacher who was told by managers after she became disabled that if she had been a horse she would have been “taken out and shot” has spoken of a campaign of bullying and harassment that left her traumatised and suicidal.
Catherine Scarlett spoke out this week after an Ofsted report found the comprehensive where she used to work, Driffield School, in Yorkshire, to be “inadequate” in all five areas it examined, and placed it in special measures.
Her case has been described as “shocking” by the leading inclusive education consultant and campaigner Richard Rieser, who said it showed how the treatment of disabled teachers had failed to improve in nearly 30 years.
Scarlett has told Disability News Service how the school ignored her requests for reasonable adjustments, even though they were backed by her GP and the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme.
The school also refused to commission disability equality training, even though AtW said it would fund the training.
The school, its governors and East Riding of Yorkshire Council all refused to act after Scarlett reported the bullying and harassment she had been subjected to.
When she complained to the council’s human resources department, it insisted that the provision of reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act was “about equipment and not policy”.
She is now taking the school to an employment tribunal, and hopes to prove disability discrimination under the Equality Act.
She started working at the school in 1999, but it was not until 2012 that her physical impairment began to affect her job through a weakening of her right arm.
Scarlett said the bullying and harassment started almost immediately. “They ignored the requests for reasonable adjustments by my GP and kept emailing me and writing to me demanding that I got a diagnosis at my next hospital appointment.
“I began to crack with all the harassment, which included them stopping me and asking medical questions in busy corridors, calling meetings then cancelling them when I said I was taking the union rep, and then just dropping in to my classroom for the meetings.”
After she started using a wheelchair, she was told the accessible toilet was “down a flight of steps, round a corner and up another flight of steps”.
When she objected, managers “joked” that she would have to stop drinking or would need to have a catheter put in.
She was also told that she couldn’t be a teacher now she was using a wheelchair, because she wouldn’t have the necessary “presence” in the classroom.
She added: “I also struggled with doors as they had the door closers set too tight and so I couldn’t get in and out of the main doors to the building.
“It took over a term for them to put an automatic door in and change the door closers and put rails in the toilet.”
It took a year for the school to order her the specialist equipment she needed.
The school also moved her department to an inaccessible building, where most of the rooms were upstairs.
Although her new classroom was downstairs, the school said it would put in a platform lift so she could reach the rest of the maths department, but she warned that it would be inaccessible to her because of the controls. They went ahead and installed it anyway.
Her new classroom was so small there was not enough room for her to reach all of the children in her wheelchair, or to bring in the specialist chair that was supposed to provide her with the support she needed.
When she complained about the new classroom, she was told she was “being awkward and that soldiers coming back from Afghanistan adapted so why couldn’t I”.
Her psychologist advised the school not to cause her any further stress because she was suicidal, but just three days before going into hospital last June for possible tests for motor neurone disease – which was later ruled out – she was sent a letter saying she had been sacked.
Her internal appeal against her dismissal also took place while she was in hospital.
Scarlett said the Ofsted report vindicates many of her own concerns about Driffield and its leadership, and also those raised by parents, who she says were “fobbed off” by both the school and the council when they complained.
Ofsted said that governors had not “ensured they meet their duty under the Equality Act 2010 because not enough pupils develop tolerance of people who are different from themselves”, while a “significant number of pupils, and their parents, have deep-seated concerns about bullying”.
Ofsted also said that disadvantaged and disabled pupils were “more likely to be excluded or placed in the seclusion room than other pupils”.
Scarlett said she still cannot understand why the council refused to act on her concerns.
She said: “The school seemed intent on driving me to a nervous breakdown, and the council seemed to sit back and allow it to happen.
“Why didn’t they jump in? I just don’t understand why they thought it was acceptable to allow the school to carry on treating someone like this.”
She now has “really quite severe PTSD”, as well as the physical impairment, for which she has yet to receive a diagnosis. Although her children attend the school, she is too traumatised to attend parents’ evenings.
But she believes her case is far from unique.
She said government regulations state that a teacher must have the health and physical fitness to be able to teach.
“One of the big things in education is this idea that you have to be absolutely fit to be able to be a teacher. Successive governments haven’t got rid of it.
“As soon as teachers get sick and disabled, a lot of them are being pushed out. A lot of people hide their disabilities as they are too scared to disclose, so they are not getting the reasonable adjustments they need.”
Rieser said Scarlett’s case was “very strong”, and that the school had “a real attitude problem which amounts to disability discrimination in my view”.
He said: “She’s a young teacher with a promising career in front of her which effectively has been wrecked because the school were not prepared to make a few adjustments. I think it’s shocking.”
Rieser said the attitude that people with various impairments could not be teachers did not appear to have changed since he started writing about such discrimination in 1989 through an article in the Times Educational Supplement.
He said: “I really don’t think things have improved since then.”
And he warned that the government’s push towards making all schools academies – with decisions increasingly made by chains of “unaccountable, unelected” academies – would “squeeze out good teachers who might cost a little bit more because they need reasonable adjustments”.
He said both teachers and parents – who risk losing the chance of their children having disabled role models teaching in their classrooms – should be aware of the danger of the push towards academies.
He added: “There is also a message to head teachers, that they had better buck their ideas up and take account of the legal requirements of the Equality Act.
“They have a specific duty to make reasonable adjustments and that duty is an anticipatory duty.”
A spokeswoman for East Riding of Yorkshire Council said: “It is not appropriate to comment or respond to the statements made by Mrs Scarlett at the present time whilst there are ongoing legal proceedings.”
But she confirmed that Driffield’s head teacher was “no longer at the school”.
She added: “Clearly the outcome of the Ofsted inspection is very disappointing, but major steps are already in place to address the issues raised.
“The council is continuing, with external partner schools, to provide a high level of support to Driffield School while an urgent programme of action is implemented to secure the necessary improvements.”
Dave McCready, the school’s new interim executive headteacher, said in a statement: “Although the news that Driffield School has been placed into special measures will come as a shock to students, parents and the local community I am confident that the school has the capacity to make the rapid progress required to move out of this category.”
21 April 2016

 

Crime stats ‘are wake-up call’ on link between ‘demonization’ and targeted violence
Disabled people in England and Wales are now almost three-and-half times more likely than non-disabled people to be a victim of serious violent crime, according to new research that has been described as “a wake-up call to politicians”.
The new analysis of official crime figures by the charity Victim Support also shows people with a “limiting” illness or impairment are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime without injury, and 1.6 times more likely be a victim of personal theft.
While violent crime has fallen by almost half for non-disabled people over the 10 years to 2015-16, over the same period the proportion of disabled people with limiting impairments who were victims of violence increased by 3.7 per cent.
In 2005-06, non-disabled people were at greater risk of falling victim to violent crime than disabled people, but since 2011-12, the proportion of people with a limiting disability or illness who suffered violence has overtaken the proportion of non-disabled people.
One leading disabled activist, and a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, Anne Novis, said she believed the rise in violence against disabled people was closely connected to the demonization and blaming of disabled people for the economic crisis.
She said: “When a certain section of society is demonised as being the sole cause for the economic woes of a country, just like we are seeing with immigrants, then it’s like painting a bulls-eye upon us. We become the targets for all sorts of abuse, harassment and violence.
“Having to never go out alone, minimise my presence so I do not attract notice, avoid public transport, always carry a panic alarm, train my PAs on how to protect me and address hostile situations, setting up a self-defence pilot… all come about due to mine and others’ perception and expectation of hostility and possible violence.”
She added: “It’s not always about us being deemed an easier target, or being vulnerable, it’s the perception that as such we ‘cost’ more, get more benefits, help, special cars, etc.
“And as such we ‘cost’ too much, are a ‘burden’ and ‘unsustainable to support’; these are the words of government ministers, used to justify the cruellest of cuts targeting those least able to fight them.”
Novis said the time when violence against disabled people was rising over the last six years – 2010-12 and from 2014 onwards – appeared to coincide with the periods when ministers were making most use of so-called “benefit scrounger rhetoric” to try to blame disabled benefit claimants for the government’s deficit.
She said: “The language of hate and blame towards us from those who should be the ones who protect, continues to encourage derogatory abuse and criminal acts against disabled people.”
She said the research highlighted yet again the need for “perpetrator analysis” to show “what prompts and ‘gives permission’ for such acts”.
Stephen Brookes, another coordinator of the network, said that ministers – including the chancellor, George Osborne – MPs and right-wing media were all responsible for such rhetoric.
He said the report showed “what sadly we have known for years and many (including a lot of police forces) have tried to ignore, that disabled people are an easier target in every way”.
He added: “Of course, the portrayal of disabled people either and only as scroungers, or alternatively as poorly defenceless and incapable of self-protection, adds to the mix.”
The report, An Easy Target?, warns that the figures are likely to under-estimate the extent of violence and theft experienced by disabled people, as they were drawn from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which does not cover institutions or group homes.
It also says that the proportion of such crime that falls into the category of hate crime “is difficult to establish, largely due to low reporting rates and a lack of awareness amongst police, criminal justice professionals and even disabled people themselves as to what constitutes a hate crime”.
It warns that “neither health, social care or criminal justice professionals have the expertise and solutions necessary to start addressing the risk and tackling the causes of offending against disabled people”, so more research is needed “both into the causes of the increased victimisation of disabled people and how disabled people can be better protected”.
The campaigning journalist and author Katharine Quarmby, author of the ground-breaking book Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People, which investigates disability hate crime, carried out a small survey of 100 victims of disability hate crime last year on behalf of the hate crime network.
When asked why they had been targeted, many mentioned changes to disability benefits.
She wrote in Scapegoat that in times of economic hardship, people look for someone to blame.
Quarmby, another DHCN coordinator, said: “Sadly, at the moment in the UK, one target group is disabled people (other target groups include refugees and economic migrants).
“We should learn from the lessons of history, otherwise we repeat them. Political leaders, in particular, should be very careful not to blame particular groups for economic hardship, nor penalise them at times of trouble as it allows some in society free rein to turn against them.
“Sadly, the Victim Support report seems to suggest that this may be happening, right now, in the UK.
“The time-frame of the significant rise in the reported violent crime against disabled people corresponds directly to a time when disability benefit cuts were being accompanied by hostile rhetoric against disabled people who were being described as ‘scroungers’ and ‘fakers’.
“I welcome the report as a wake-up call to all of us – and to politicians in particular.”
Novis, who is also the independent chair of the Metropolitan police’s disability hate crime working group, said: “Until we have equality of access to hate crime law, funding to disabled people’s organisations to support victims and raise awareness, a consistent ‘zero tolerance’ message from those who represent us in government, we will continue to be the ones who others target because they get away it.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Any violent crime is cause for concern and can have a devastating impact on the victim.
“That is why our modern crime prevention strategy includes action to tackle a range of crimes – including violent crime.
“We also know disability hate crime is a serious issue which affects a considerable number of disabled people and their families each year.
“The UK has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect people from hostility, violence and bigotry.
“Later this year we are publishing a hate crime action plan to drive forward action against all forms of hate crime.”
21 April 2016

 

Tory peer faces calls to quit as EHRC commissioner over support for WRAG cuts
Disabled campaigners are calling for the resignation of the equality watchdog’s disability commissioner, the disabled Tory peer Lord [Chris] Holmes, after he voted in favour of disability benefit cuts when they had been condemned by his own organisation.
The letter to Lord Holmes at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been signed by many of the organisations that have led opposition to the government’s cuts and reforms to disability benefits over the last six years.
It comes a week after Disability News Service reported concerns over the government connections of Lord Holmes and the government’s preferred candidate to be EHRC’s next chair, David Isaac, at a time when the commission was preparing to investigate whether Tory welfare reforms have breached the human rights of disabled people.
The letter, written by Scottish disability rights campaigner Susan Archibald, has been signed by leading figures from organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle, Pat’s Petition, The Centre for Welfare Reform, Carer Watch, and the Spartacus online campaigning network, as well as Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives.
It is part of a new campaign from an alliance of anti-austerity, grassroots groups from Scotland and the north of England that are committed to fighting for equality – the Cross Border Alliance – that will “name and shame” public figures “colluding in the cuts to disabled people and not addressing disabled people’s rights”.
The letter has also prompted a petition, again calling for Lord Holmes to resign from the commission.
Archibald points in her letter to the decision of Lord Holmes to vote in favour of measures that will cut payments by £30 a week for new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group.
She points out that the commission expressed concern that this measure “will cause unnecessary hardship and anxiety to people who have been independently assessed and found unfit for work”.
In a briefing document published earlier this year, EHRC also said the measure would be “likely to have a disproportionately adverse impact on disabled people”.
In her letter, Archibald tells Lord Holmes, who chairs the commission’s disability committee, that his actions “will have a detrimental effect on disabled people’s lives” and undermine the UK’s human rights obligations.
She adds: “As a disability rights campaigner I am calling for your immediate resignation of the position you hold as disability commissioner and chair of the disability committee for EHRC as alongside my peers and other user led organizations we think you are no longer worthy of this position.”
Lord Holmes said in a statement: “It is public knowledge that I am a Conservative peer in the House of Lords.
“In that context, I will sometimes vote or take a position that is either personal or different from that of the EHRC.
“I completely respect people’s right to disagree with how I have voted in the past and I know these are deeply held views on these issues.
“But these are complex and sensitive issues. Public bodies would be immeasurably weakened if they were only drawn from people with only one viewpoint or one sort of background.”
An EHRC spokesman said it had been “robust in challenging the government to ensure its welfare reform programme protects the rights and standards of living of disabled people and supports their inclusion and independence, and this has been reported many times by DNS over the past year”.
He said the commission’s business plan “sets out an ambitious programme of work to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and human rights for disabled people.
“The strength of our board comes from the breadth and diversity of skills, experience and viewpoints our commissioners bring to bear on the important issues we tackle.
“It is not uncommon for commissioners to have different views on an issue, and we welcome the constructive and challenging debate through which the board reaches its collective decisions.
“The important thing is we have rigorous processes in place to avoid any conflicts of interest, including commissioners being required to comply with the principles of public life [first set out by Lord Nolan in 1995] and our code of conduct, with a register of interests publicly available.”
Meanwhile, the joint committee on human rights and the women and equalities committee last night (20 April) declined to recommend Isaac’s appointment as the new EHRC chair because of a “serious potential conflict of interest” relating to his role as a partner at the law firm Pinsent Masons, which has a “significant amount of business with the government”, including the Department for Work and Pensions.
21 April 2016

 

Fresh staff cuts at EHRC ‘will undermine its vital work’
The equality watchdog is set to make nearly 30 members of staff redundant, in what critics say is a blow to its efforts to enforce equality laws and hold the government to account over its record on disability discrimination.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) told staff on Tuesday this week (19 April) that as many as 29 of about 200 posts were at risk, with the possibility of some compulsory redundancies.
In a consultation paper titled Moving Towards A New EHRC, the commission talks of “fundamental changes to the way in which we do our work” and says that it will “examine opportunities for sharing services with other regulators, and build more alliances with third parties”.
It points as an example of such alliances elsewhere in the public sector to the link between NHS Blood and Transplant and the dating site Tinder to raise awareness about organ donations.
It also says that it will now “focus on a smaller number of bigger projects and programmes”.
The paper mentions an “unprecedented” decade of consecutive budget cuts to public bodies.
There will now be a 30-day consultation period on the proposals.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents many of the commission’s staff, said it was “appalled” by the proposals and although it was too early to talk of industrial action said that “we would never rule it out”.
A PCS spokesman said: “EHRC has been systematically hacked back in recent years, with budgets and staffing slashed under the coalition and now the Tories.
“This would further undermine this small but vital agency, at a time when the Human Rights Act is under threat and the government’s record on disability discrimination is rightly under massive scrutiny.”
The watchdog’s core budget for 2016-17 has been frozen at £17.1 million, a real terms cut, and it follows years of cuts to its funding since the formation of the coalition government in 2010.
In 2010, the commission’s annual budget was as high as £62 million.
A budget of £17.1 million is several million pounds less than the annual budget of the Disability Rights Commission when it was merged into the new “cross-strand” equality body in 2007.
At one time, EHRC employed as many as 525 people, after its launch in 2007.
An EHRC spokesman said: “While we do not comment on the detail of leaks, our business plan sets out our intention to develop and implement a new operating model this year which will ensure we have the right structure, people and processes in place to deliver our ambitious plans to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and human rights.
“Our role is as an independent and authoritative national body that delivers significant and sustainable impact.
“To undertake this function on the basis of constant improvement requires enhancing our culture and ensuring we have the best people with the right skills and expertise to perform our role effectively.
“We need to achieve this against the background of the government’s spending review, from which we have known for some time that we will need to make spending reductions, in common with other public bodies.
“We are confident that making these changes will enable us to deliver more impact.
“We will need to make every penny count but we are absolutely committed to driving real improvements on equality and human rights in Britain.”
The Government Equalities Office had not commented on the proposed redundancies by noon today (21 April).
21 April 2016

 

Abused, threatened and left stranded – young campaigners’ transport experiences
By Raya Al Jadir
Young disabled people have been abused, threatened and left stranded while using public transport, according to a new report.
End Of The Line 2016 follows a nine-month undercover investigation by Trailblazers – a network of 700 young disabled campaigners and their supporters that is run by the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK – and a survey of more than 100 of its members.
It comes seven years after a previous report on access to public transport by Trailblazers, and concludes that although “things have improved significantly” there are still “huge strides to be made”, mostly because of a lack of funding and the negative attitudes of transport staff.
One disabled passenger was even hospitalised because of a bus’s dangerous design, while others faced abuse and threats from both transport staff and other passengers.
The report reveals the “disturbing experiences” of Trailblazers across buses, trains, taxis and London’s tube network, and concludes that their journeys are often longer, more stressful and more expensive than those of non-disabled young people.
Two-thirds of those surveyed said they had been prevented from boarding a bus because of the negative attitude of the driver or members of the public, while a third said a taxi had refused to pick them up because they were disabled, and a quarter were unable to use their nearest train station because it was inaccessible to them.
There were also concerns about the lack of wheelchair-accessible taxis in rural areas.
The report also reveals that common routes on London’s public transport system take an average of four-and-a-half times as long for disabled passengers as non-disabled people.
Trailblazer Laura Bizzey, from the east of England, describes how she and her mother were physically and verbally harassed after her mother asked staff why there wasn’t a place to store wheelchairs in the train carriage they were travelling in.
She said: “A group of men started sighing and talking about her and then one stood up, grabbed my wheelchair, folded it up and shoved it to one side, saying, ‘There – that wasn’t too hard was it?’
“The situation escalated further, with another man grabbing my mum’s arms and shoving her to one side.”
Nirav Shah, another Trailblazer, describes how the driver of a taxi he had booked refused to pick him up because of the size of his wheelchair.
Ravi Mehta, from London, says in the report: “A bus driver told me I couldn’t get on because a buggy was on board. I said wheelchairs had priority and he said, ‘I don’t think so…’”
And Clare Watson, from London, says: “I have been verbally abused by bus drivers and other passengers.
“One time a bus driver shouted to me, ‘People like you shouldn’t be allowed on the bus.’”
Tanvi Vyas, manager of Trailblazers, said: “The fact that young disabled people are being denied life opportunities by an inaccessible network is a national disgrace.
“Reports of verbal and physical threats are deeply troubling and will dent the confidence of victims for years to come.”
The report includes a string of recommendations for improvements across public transport, and calls on the government, local authorities and transport operators to work with groups such as Trailblazers to address the concerns it raises.
The report was presented yesterday (20 April) to a panel of MPs and transport operators at a parliamentary event.
Among the panel members were Paul Maynard, the disabled MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for young disabled people, and representatives from transport and equipment organisations including Uber, Hailo, First Bus, Arriva, Q’Straint and Stagecoach.
21 April 2016

 

NDACA celebrates milestone in journey to tell story of disability arts
Some of the country’s best-known disabled artists have come together in the House of Lords to celebrate a project that will tell the story of the disability arts movement.
The reception marked the first year of the three-year, £1 million project that will bring together about 2,500 objects celebrating a history that dates back to the late 1970s, through the national Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA).
Much of the project will see the NDACA team travelling around the country to produce digital copies of the most significant work of disabled artists for the archive, which will be made available through an interactive website.
NDACA is also building a physical archive of some of the most influential work to come from the disability arts movement, and will produce pop-up exhibitions, a touring documentary, and work with Disability History Month.
Among the artists at the event in the House of Lords, which was hosted by NDACA’s patron, the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, was Tanya Raabe-Webber.
Raabe-Webber, best known for two collections of portraits, one of significant figures in the disability arts movement and another of pioneering disabled activists, said she felt “very proud” to be included in the archive.
She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I’m a big believer in saving history. I wanted to create these portraits but I also wanted somewhere for them to belong. I want the world to see them.
“I want these portraits to be seen and accessible by the general public for people to remember who these people were and how life has changed.
“The disability arts movement… highlights disabled people’s lives. It highlights our culture. That’s not recognised, our culture.”
Tony Heaton, chief executive of Shape Arts and founder of NDACA, told guests that the event was “a bit of a dream”, more than 20 years after he and fellow disabled artist Allan Sutherland began discussing the need for an historical collection and archive.
He told guests: “We sort of said we need to catch some of this history. If we don’t do it, somebody else will and it will probably be a non-disabled person and they will probably get it wrong.”
Heaton said the disability arts movement reflected the “unique creativity of disabled artists”.
He said: “It started here in the UK, formed in that red-hot cauldron of political insurgence where we really did take to the streets out here [outside the Houses of Parliament] and fought against the injustice of having no civil rights.
“There is still a lot to do but we should be really proud in this country of disability arts and what we have achieved.”
Sutherland told DNS that he remembered telling Heaton in the late 1980s: “We can save what is being produced by our movement but if we don’t take action, a lot of the stuff is going to go in the skip.”
He said the project was currently concentrating on “creating something that is successful online”, but was also building a collection which “will get used in all sorts of ways”.
He said: “There is stuff in the archive that could create exhibitions on every level from the Tate down to your local library.”
Asked why the project was important, he said: “It is so that young artists are aware of what happened before, so they know they are not the first people to be treading this way. There is a set of ideas that people can draw upon.
“I heard someone from The Women’s Library speaking about 10 years ago and she was saying that they had got loads of Suffragette banners but nothing from Greenham Common.
“Really important stuff can be that transient. It is so important to recognise the importance of preserving stuff.”
Baroness Campbell told guests that the archive was “a unique expression of disabled people’s liberation journey”.
She said: “Our story of escaping from institutions of isolation to demanding our rightful place in society has been an essential part of our liberation and our heritage.
“Champion this archive. It reflects the true story of our civil rights movement.”
Disabled artist Katherine Araniello welcomed the opportunity the archive would provide to show disabled people’s work, but she said it was important for this work also to become “more integrated fully into the mainstream”.
She told DNS: “There are a lot of artists that happen to be disabled and they make really good work, but their work should not be confined under just the umbrella of disability arts.
“Disability arts is a good thing as long as it filters into other areas of art. People need to give it value and recognition and see some of the work as being as interesting as any other art.”
She said she hoped some of the funding for the project would go to the artists themselves, “so they can continue to make work, because making work costs money”.
And she suggested that the event was perhaps “a sign of how disability arts is conforming”.
She said: “Disability arts is meant to be avant-garde and I haven’t seen anything tonight that tells me this is an avant-garde experience.
“I am not excited. It is just a very comfortable environment and we are all nice to each other and socialising.
“It’s good to reflect where we’ve come from but we desperately need to include exciting and edgy art that might not make an audience feel so comfortable.”
Singer and activist John Kelly, who performed three disability rights anthems, said afterwards that it was “weird” being a guest inside the House of Lords rather than taking part in direct action protests in and outside parliament.
He raised concerns that young disabled artists were not being given the opportunity to develop their talent, for example by mainstream venues and festivals.
He said: “Maybe this is a moment to stick a flag in the sand and say we need to give the next generation of young disabled people a platform, to see what they want to say about their experiences.”
He added: “You can see why young disabled people are struggling to get there, not because they haven’t got talent, but because they haven’t got support and they are not being given the opportunity.”
Journalist and broadcaster Mik Scarlet said he believed the disability arts movement would soon make a major breakthrough.
He said: “The disability arts scene is so political and always has been and that is why the art it makes is so amazing.
“Art has to come from a real position of struggle. Disability arts is going to be the next big arts scene that produces some work that changes the world.”
21 April 2016

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com