Fury over MPs’ refusal to quiz minister on ‘staggering’ WCA suicide figures

“Furious” disabled campaigners have attacked MPs on a Commons committee for refusing to ask the minister for disabled people about figures showing attempted suicides among people claiming out-of-work disability benefits doubled between 2007 and 2014.

The new figures, showing how suicide attempts rocketed after the introduction of the work capability assessment (WCA), emerged last week and were passed to the Commons select committee on work and pensions, as well as at least one member of the committee, Labour’s Neil Coyle, in advance of yesterday’s evidence session with Sarah Newton.

The session was part of the committee’s inquiry into the government’s assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).

Activists yesterday expressed their anger at the committee’s failure to ask Newton about the figures.

One said it was “disgraceful”, another said she was “furious”, while a third prominent campaigner said she was “stunned”.

A leading mental health campaigner said the failure was “a dereliction of duty by the whole committee”.

The new analysis of NHS statistics, prepared by the independent social research institute NatCen and published by Disability News Service (DNS) for the first time last week, shows that in 2007 – a year before the introduction of the much-criticised WCA – 21 per cent of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants told researchers they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

The following year, IB began to be replaced by ESA, with eligibility tested by the WCA, under the New Labour government.

But by 2014, following six years of the WCA – and four years of social security reforms under the new coalition government, and austerity-related cuts to disability benefits and services – more than 43 per cent of claimants were saying they had attempted suicide.

Over the same period, the proportion of adults questioned for the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) who were not claiming IB (in 2007) or ESA (in 2014) and had attempted to take their own lives remained statistically stable (6.0 per cent in 2007 against 6.7 per cent in 2014).

The figures strongly suggest that government cuts and reforms, and particularly the introduction of the WCA, have had a serious, detrimental – and sometimes fatal – effect on the mental health of a generation of claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

After learning that the minister would be questioned this week, DNS and at least one other campaigner had passed on this research to the committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Frank Field.

After DNS drew Coyle’s attention to the figures, five days before the hearing, he said: “I’m sure it will be raised.”

A committee spokeswoman also agreed, the same day, to forward the information to “the specialists developing the briefing for the session”.

Yesterday, the committee spokeswoman refused to comment on the failure to ask the minister about the figures.

Coyle had also failed by noon today (Thursday) to respond to messages left with him and his office.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said: “Any MP who remains silent about this rise in self-harm and suicidal ideation should be held to account.

“The failure of the committee to mention these figures constitutes a dereliction of duty by the whole committee.

“These figures should have been the first item on their agenda and we can barely believe that they weren’t even mentioned.”

She added: “We are only too well aware of why Tory committee members would want to suppress these figures, but it seems extraordinary that Labour MPs are repeatedly missing opportunities to flag up the appalling effects of welfare reform, and this begs the question of why they are choosing to do so.

“It may be that they feel implicated in the carnage that is currently being visited upon disabled people, since it was Labour who introduced the WCA, or it may be that some in the Parliamentary Labour Party actually agree with the brutality of the benefits system.

“We had been hoping that under the present Labour leadership our best interests would be promoted but this doesn’t seem to be what is happening.

“If disabled people are to support Labour wholeheartedly, they need to improve their support for us.

“While we can berate the Labour party for helping to suppress these appalling figures, we don’t want to forget the cruelty of Tory MPs who are pressing forward with reforms that they know are driving people to suicide.”

Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It is disgraceful that members of the work and pensions committee have failed to ask the minister about the horrendous increase in attempted suicides when they had such a good opportunity to do so.

“They have totally failed disabled people by this blatant omission and it is clear to see that Heidi Allen’s tears [the Tory committee member was reported to have cried in the Commons chamber after Field described the impact of universal credit on his constituents] didn’t last long and that Neil Coyle’s concerns are very limited.”

John McArdle, co-founder of the Black Triangle campaign, said: “We are all bitterly disappointed that the NHS NatCen suicide figures were not raised in parliament today by the work and pensions committee.

“The abject failure to speak out on the issue of the shocking increase in the rate of suicide and self-harm among our disabled community leads us to one conclusion: that there exists a conspiracy of silence between the Labour and Conservative parties on this, the gravest and most scandalous of issues.

“Disabled people and the families and friends of those who have either died or attempted to take their own lives by their own hand as a direct consequence of being put through the WCA disability assessment regime will today be asking themselves why the committee are not holding the government to account.”

Mo Stewart, who spent years researching the “totally bogus” WCA for her book Cash Not Care: The Planned Demolition Of The UK Welfare State, said: “I was stunned to learn that the disturbing evidence of the reported 43 per cent of attempted suicides of ESA claimants was not raised at committee.

“This detailed detrimental impact of the ESA claims process on public mental health makes the minister’s evidence to the committee even more suspect, as she attempted to insist that the assessors were professional and empathetic to the claimants; a claim that was challenged by members of the committee.”

Dr Jay Watts, a consultant clinical psychologist and member of the campaigning Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, who first brought the 2014 figures to the attention of DNS, said: “One wonders about the committee’s purpose if not to call the government to account, and listen to such clear, robust and indisputable evidence.

“I am furious, frankly, that this question remained unasked, leaving claimants in desperate straits over Christmas, no doubt reading articles that claim this is the year the country began to take mental health seriously.

She added: “How is it possible that the minister for disabled people was not asked about the doubling of attempted suicide rates so clearly linked to the policies of her department?

“How was she not asked to justify government policies in the wake of the thousands who have died as a result of the brutality of the ESA system?

“What greater priority could there be than immediate reform to stop the misery, despair and impoverishment which is leading so many disabled people to die by suicide?”

Last week, Watts said the figures showed “the greatest increase in suicide rates for any population that I can recall in the literature”, and pointed out that they were taken from “the largest, most reliable data set on the mental health of the nation out there”.

21 December 2017



Expert chosen by DWP appears to suggest scrapping ‘fitness for work’ test

The occupational health expert chosen by the government to review its much-criticised “fitness for work” test appears to have suggested that the assessment should be scrapped and replaced with a radically different process.

Dr Paul Litchfield, who led the fourth and fifth reviews of the work capability assessment (WCA), said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been “forced into rushing the design of the WCA”, before it was introduced by the New Labour government in 2008.

Litchfield, BT’s chief medical officer, was giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee for its inquiry into the assessment processes for personal independence payment and employment and support allowance (ESA).

He was speaking just days after new figures, published by Disability News Service, showed that the proportion of people claiming out-of-work disability benefits who had attempted suicide at some point in their lives doubled between 2007 – the year before the WCA was introduced – and 2014.

Litchfield, who was not asked about the figures by the committee, said there had been attempts to improve the WCA, but he warned: “There have been efforts to adjust it and improve it over time, but when it starts from a position which is designed as imperfect, you’re lucky if it gets more perfect, it is just as likely to get more imperfect as you adapt it.”

Litchfield told the committee: “The philosophical basis of what we do as a society does need to be revisited.”

He claimed that “the thinking that went into creating the current assessment” dated back at least to the early 1980s in the United States, and the WCA was simply an “evolution” of the previous assessment, the personal capability assessment.

He said the WCA was designed “very quickly to meet the legislative timescales… so it wasn’t a radical redesign of a system, it was an adaptation of what was there already”.

Litchfield said that the nature of work had “changed dramatically over that period” and it was now necessary to “think about as a society… how we want to distribute benefits to those who can’t work for whatever reason, and whether we want something which is specifically based on their health condition and their disability.

“If we do want that we need to think about how we would design that in the context of the modern workplace and the shifting demographics and the shifting disease profile that we are seeing in the population, so I think there does need to be that fundamental thinking that goes on but that inevitably is a 10, 15-year process and you can’t rush it.”

Despite those comments, disabled campaigners who have been calling for years for the WCA to be scrapped and replaced – because of its links to relapses, anxiety and distress among those with long-term health conditions, and the loss of many lives – are likely to be bemused by other remarks made by Litchfield to the committee.

He suggested that much of the reason for the failure of the WCA was that it was based on a “medical model” understanding of disability, which he said was now “largely discredited”.

He said that many experts were now more in favour of a “biopsychosocial model” approach.

But campaigners and researchers have previously pointed out that the biopsychosocial (BPS) model crucially underpins ESA and the WCA and also played a significant role in the tightening of eligibility criteria for ESA and other disability benefits by the coalition and Tory governments.

Research published last year by Professor Tom Shakespeare and Professor Nicholas Watson, and fellow academic Ola Abu Alghaib, argued that the BPS model was riddled with inconsistencies, misleading statements and “unevidenced” claims.

The BPS model was developed by Dr Gordon Waddell, an orthopaedic surgeon, and Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, who was DWP’s chief medical officer from 1995 to 2005.

Key to the BPS model, the three authors said last year, is the idea that “it is the negative attitudes of many ESA recipients that prevent them from working, rather than their impairment or health condition”, essentially branding many benefit claimants “scroungers”.

This allows supporters of BPS – including a string of New Labour and Tory government ministers – to draw a distinction “between ‘real’ incapacity benefit claimants, with long-term and incurable health conditions, and ‘fake’ benefit claimants, with short-term illness”, with the model responsible for a “barely concealed” element of “victim-blaming”, they said.

21 December 2017



Court orders Atos to pay disabled woman £5,000 over dishonest PIP assessment

A court has ruled that a disabled woman should be awarded £5,000 compensation by the government contractor Atos, after a dishonest report by one of its assessors led to her being awarded the wrong level of benefits.

Vanessa Haley, from Huddersfield, told the county court in her written evidence that the assessor had tried to “impede her entitlement” to the enhanced rate of the daily living component of personal independence payment (PIP) by “falsifying” her assessment report.

The assessment report also led to her being denied any PIP mobility support.

She was awarded the compensation after the court upheld her claim of maladministration against Atos and her allegation that it was responsible for causing her health conditions to worsen.

The news of her court victory came as the minister for disabled people gave evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee yesterday (Wednesday), as part of its inquiry into the PIP and employment and support allowance assessment processes (see separate story).

Disability News Service has been investigating claims of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system for more than a year, and has heard from nearly 300 disabled people who have made such allegations.

Haley was previously on the lower rate of care and mobility for disability living allowance (DLA), but the impact of her multiple health conditions had worsened since her last DLA award in 2013.

The Atos assessor, a paramedic, visited the former teacher and film-maker at her home in January 2016 as part of her reassessment for PIP, which is gradually replacing working-age DLA.

But she told the court that he “consistently and repeatedly ignored” her answers and evidence in his report, and misrepresented what he saw during the face-to-face assessment.

One example she gave was that he described her as looking “well kempt and casually dressed”, when she had not washed her hair in 10 days and was wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown.

He also said he had seen her “move her body around the sofa herself and raise her legs on and off the floor herself”, and claimed that she was able to “lay back and put her head against the sofa”.

But she said she was seated when he came into the room and her legs were already up, and she only lifted them with her hands to put them on a cushion.

She said: “I tried to move myself but couldn’t as I don’t have the upper body strength.

“My mum offered to lift me but she’s 73 and that’s not fair to her, so I sat in a great deal of pain for the rest of the assessment.

“I didn’t lay back either as my sofa doesn’t allow that, it’s a straight back.”

The assessor said that because of her movements on the sofa and because she said she could drive an automatic car – which he said “suggests adequate power and movement in her limbs and joints” – she was “able to move for more than 200 meters (sic) safely and reliably”.

The assessor also claimed that she had been “able to recall all of her medical details and history without prompting or referring to written notes”, when she had actually had to pass a written list of her conditions to her mother to read out for her.

The county court awarded Haley £5,000 when Atos failed to offer a defence to her claim for damages.

The battle to secure the correct level of PIP support has had a significant impact on her mental health, leaving her unable to leave her home.

She now experiences “constant paranoia” about being misdiagnosed by GPs and other healthcare professionals. She has also begun self-harming.

Haley, who has significant physical and mental health impairments, was also left so depressed by the assessment process that police had to be called to her home last year after she threatened to take her own life.

As a result of the misleading and dishonest assessment, she was originally granted only the standard daily living rate of PIP, at £55 per week, instead of the enhanced rate, at £83, and was not awarded anything for mobility.

She was only awarded the enhanced rate of daily living and the standard mobility rate after appealing to a tribunal, which ruled in her favour in March this year, 14 months after the PIP assessment took place.

Because of the original decision, she was forced to rely on credit cards and financial help from her family, and was left severely in debt.

Haley said she had only taken the court case because she was persuaded to do so by her disabled friend Bret Lowther, who was a law student.

He took his own life in October, but his efforts helped secure her court victory.

She said: “He and most others saw the toll that it had taken on me and how much further my health deteriorated.

“I agreed to it, because he was going to deal with all the legal process and complaints to the various bodies.

“I didn’t do it for the money, but Bret said that there had to be a monetary value attached to it.

“I wanted and still do want this diabolical treatment of the sick and disabled to be exposed and stopped.”

She said it was “exhausting constantly being worn down by the machine that is the Department for Work and Pensions and the PIP system.

“It is rarely absent from my thoughts, and as a result my anxiety is through the roof.”

She said she was “angry” that she and other disabled people were being “dismissed and lied about”, because “through no fault of our own we have found ourselves in unfortunate and reduced circumstances.

“We are constantly being lied about, repressed and vilified. Many disabled people have become even further isolated by this system and have lost much, if not all of their care.”

An Atos spokesman said: “We were made aware this week of this judgement and our initial internal investigation indicates that we did not receive the claim form at our registered office which is why no defence was filed to the claim.

“Until this investigation is complete we must reserve our position.”

21 December 2017



Samaritans refuses to criticise government over suicide report’s ESA failings

A mental health charity has refused to criticise the government for failing to warn local services that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are at a hugely-increased risk of attempting to take their own lives.

Samaritans – the leading charity working on suicide prevention – has now been asked twice by Disability News Service (DNS) for its response to the Department of Health’s failure to highlight claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) as a high-risk group in its national suicide prevention strategy.

At least some of Samaritans’ work is funded by the Department of Health (DH), while the National Suicide Prevention Alliance, which Samaritans co-chairs, is also DH-funded.

When asked by DNS whether it was concerned about DH’s failure to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group, a Samaritans spokeswoman said: “The public health evidence is clear that the greater the level of deprivation experienced by an individual the higher their risk of suicide.

“This risk worsens for people experiencing multiple negative life events, such as poor health, unemployment, poor living conditions or social isolation.

“Financial problems such as unmanageable debt or difficulties accessing benefits are also a risk factor for suicide.

“National suicide prevention strategies need to target efforts towards the most vulnerable people and ensure that suicide prevention is a priority in welfare, education, housing and employment policies.”

When asked again for its response to DH’s failure to highlight the ESA figures in its suicide prevention strategy, a spokeswoman said: “My colleague… has already sent you our response to your query which we stand by.”

Last week, DNS reported that DH had failed to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group when it published the latest version of its national suicide prevention strategy in January.

The strategy was published four months after NHS Digital produced the results of its Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), which showed that more than 43 per cent of claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

But the suicide prevention strategy fails to mention this figure or to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group.

Last week, DNS published new figures which showed that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014.

The figures show that in 2007 – a year before the introduction of the much-criticised work capability assessment, which tests eligibility for ESA – 21 per cent of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants told researchers they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

IB began to be replaced by ESA under the New Labour government the following year, in 2008.

But by 2014, following six years of the WCA – and four years of social security reforms under the new coalition government, and austerity-related cuts to disability benefits and services – more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants were saying they had attempted suicide.

The figures were calculated for DNS by Sally McManus, who leads research on the survey for the independent social research institute NatCen, on behalf of NHS Digital.

McManus has now calculated further figures, which show that the proportion of IB/ESA claimants who have ever deliberately self-harmed also rose sharply from 2007 to 2014, as had the proportion of claimants who had had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.

In 2007, the proportion of IB claimants who said they had self-harmed was 14 per cent, and this rose to 34 per cent of ESA claimants in 2014.

And in 2007, the proportion of IB claimants who said they had had suicidal thoughts was 39 per cent, which rose to 66 per cent of ESA claimants in 2014.

21 December 2017



Murdered disabled refugee ‘was repeatedly failed by council and police’

A disabled refugee who was murdered after years of racist harassment and abuse was repeatedly failed by a police force and his local authority, according to a long-awaited review into the events that led to his death.

The review by the Safer Bristol Partnership found that both Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset police were guilty of institutional racism and discrimination in the way they dealt with years of complaints by Bijan Ebrahimi.

But disabled campaigners have also raised concerns at the failure of the council and police to recognise Ebrahimi as a victim of disability hate crime.

Ebrahimi was murdered on 14 July 2013, but the report found that he had been the victim of years of racially-motivated offending after coming to the UK from Iran as a refugee in 2000.

Although there are repeated references in the report to Ebrahimi’s “vulnerability”, the review “uncovered no evidence to indicate that any of [the] victimisation was motivated by his disability”.

But it did point out – following concerns raised by disability hate crime campaigners in the aftermath of his murder – that he was “a disabled man wrongly labelled by some local members of the community as a paedophile”.

The report says: “There have been a number of recent cases documented in which disabled men have been similarly labelled, targeted and even murdered because of such labels.”

The review also points out that an inquiry into disability-related harassment by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in 2011, “made a number of findings that resonate with this review”, including the tendency of public bodies to “respond to individual incidents rather than patterns of behaviour and to focus on victims’ behaviour and suggest restrictions to their lives rather than deal with perpetrators”.

The review’s publication comes two months after the conviction of a man for the brutal murder of another disabled refugee in Bristol.

Friends of Kamil Ahmad told Disability News Service in October that, like Ebrahimi, he had repeatedly told police officers that he was being threatened and racially abused.

Ahmad’s murder in July 2016 took place little more than a mile away from the Brislington area of the city where Ebrahimi had been murdered three years earlier.

The review into the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi says that both the council and police force appear to have given little consideration to “the context of his life in Bristol as a single Iranian man living alone with a number of specific difficulties in relation to disability, speech and language and health”.

The council had decided that he did not fulfil the “threshold criteria” to be viewed as a “vulnerable tenant”, which, the review concludes, could have “been important in highlighting Mr Ebrahimi’s circumstances and what was required to address them”.

Among the review’s 14 recommendations, it calls on the council to undertake an “immediate review” of its tenants who have “multiple, complex needs” to ensure their needs are being met.

It also says the council should change its “vulnerable tenants policy” so that “the qualifying threshold criteria definition of a vulnerable tenant does not exclude those who are able to ‘live independently’”, and draw up a new policy for “accurately assessing existing and new tenants for vulnerability”.

The council said afterwards that these recommendations had already been implemented, while it was “currently trialling a new approach to assessing vulnerability for new tenants” and was “continuing to monitor our approach to vulnerability to ensure that we meet the needs of our tenants”.

The review says that Ebrahimi was the victim of “a pattern of repeated harassment, assault and criminal damage, some of it serious and much of it racially aggravated” from 2005 until his murder, and that he made at least 44 allegations to the police, many of which were wrongly not recorded as crimes.

He also made many allegations to the council and other agencies in the city.

The review found that he “suffered real injuries, his property was repeatedly damaged and he has been observed to be in real distress and fear as a result of this victimisation”.

Ebrahimi had repeatedly asked police officers for help and protection in the three days leading up to his murder, following an unprovoked attack and further threats.

But instead of providing protection, police officers arrested him – twice – and refused his further appeals for help, after he told them he was being threatened by some of his neighbours, who wrongly claimed he was a paedophile.

Shortly after his final phone call to police, Ebrahimi was beaten and kicked to death, and his body set alight, by 24-year-old Lee James, who lived just a few doors away in Capgrave Crescent, on the edge of Bristol.

The review concludes that there was little evidence of “purposeful commitment” to investigate the victimisation Ebrahimi had experienced over the years, by the council or police force, or to “bring anyone to account for having perpetrated it or bring it to a halt”.

It says that he was “repeatedly targeted for racist abuse and victimisation by some members of the public, that this was repeatedly reported to Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council and that representatives of both organisations repeatedly sided with his abusers.

“The more incidents that were reported, the more ingrained this pattern of responses became right up to Mr Ebrahimi’s death,” it adds.

And it concludes that there is evidence of “both discriminatory behaviour and institutional racism on the part of Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset Constabulary”.

Bristol and South West Disabled People Against Cuts (BSWDPAC) said the review showed “a systemic failure by both Bristol City Council and the police to give due recognition to the intersection of disablism and racism, both in their own institutions and in dealing with perpetrators of hate crime”.

A BSWDPAC spokesman said: “Despite the patterns identified in hate crime research, disabled people, refugees and asylum seekers subjected to violence and abuse are often labelled as ‘unreliable’, or as perpetrators of crime themselves.

“As a consequence, victims, often those that experience mental distress, are not listened to or believed.

“Rather than be supported, victims are often portrayed as ‘other’ and the context of their lives, distress and trauma is ignored and invalidated.

“Despite Bijan Ebrahimi’s attempts to be heard as a victim of racist abuse, he was wrongly labelled as ‘the primary problem’ with police making reference to Bijan ‘suffering from a mental health problem’.

“As Dr Sarah Carr identifies in a recent report, ‘victims may not describe or recognise their experience as a disability/mental health related ‘hate crime’, and professionals may not classify or recognise it as such.’

“We would urge the council and police to take action that learns from such research, and to truly include disabled people, refugees and asylum-seekers in addressing hate crime.”

Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and the author of Scapegoat, a pioneering investigation into disability hate crime, who has written about the death of Bijan Ebrahimi, also raised concerns about the failure to recognise the disability hate crime aspects of Bijan Ebrahimi’s ordeal.

She said: “I welcome the multi-agency review and its finding that institutional racism was a key factor in the harassment and violence that Bijan Ebrahimi suffered and it is also good that the unconscious bias that may have motivated some of the attacks around Bijan’s disability was also briefly hinted at in the report.”

But she said she was disappointed that the report did not go further than this, given that the kind of false accusations of paedophilia made against Ebrahimi “are so damaging” and are often made against disabled men.

The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, who was only elected in May 2016 – becoming the first mayor of black African-Caribbean descent of a European city – said the council accepted all the review’s findings.

He said: “We appreciate that no amount of lessons learned or changes in practice can possibly mitigate the impact this had on Bijan and his family.

“However, we assure the family and the public that every effort will continue to be made, building on the considerable work that has already been completed by the council as part of the Safer Bristol Partnership, to further identify how we need to change and improve.

“We are committed to working with the family and other partners to achieve this objective in memory of Bijan.”

The publication of the review was delayed by nearly four years to avoid prejudicing criminal trials, and an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which published its findings in July.

21 December 2017



Councils’ response to taxi discrimination laws has been ‘inadequate’, says activist

Only about a third of local authorities have taken action to protect wheelchair-users from discrimination by drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles, more than eight months after the government gave them new powers to do so.

The figures, compiled by transport access campaigner Doug Paulley, also show that nearly half of local authorities across England, Wales and Scotland have no firm plans in place to apply the new laws.

On 6 April, the government finally brought into force legislation that imposes fines of up to £1,000 on drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles who refuse to accept wheelchair-users, try to charge them extra, or fail to provide them with appropriate assistance.

But the new laws only apply in those areas of England, Scotland and Wales where the local authority has drawn up a list – under section 167 of the Equality Act – of all the wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles in their area.

The government had already been encouraging councils to start drawing up such lists for seven years before the law was brought into force.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has also said that it should take no more than six months from April this year to bring in the new measures.

But responses to freedom of information requests to local authorities from Paulley have painted a bleak picture of progress since the law was finally implemented, he says.

He already has information from more than 300 of the 347 local authorities that could use the new powers – if they choose to do so – and just 37 per cent have created a section 167 list; while another 15 per cent intend to do so by the end of March 2018.

A further 21 per cent say they intend to create a list but have no timescale for when they will do so; 15 per cent have not made a decision on whether they will do so yet; and 12 per cent – nearly one in eight – have no current intention to draw one up.

That is a slight improvement on the figures from his previous research, at the time the laws were introduced, when 18 per cent were undecided on whether to produce a list and 26 per cent had no plans to set one up.

But Paulley, a wheelchair-user himself, said progress since April had been “inadequate”, despite some improvement in understanding by councils of the law and why the lists are required.

He said the freedom of information responses showed “a complete disregard for disabled people’s rights and an incredible administrative inertia amongst authorities”.

He also said that he feared they showed the new laws were “clunkily constructed and unusable” because – from the responses he has received so far – not a single driver has been prosecuted since they were introduced, even though discrimination is widespread.

And he said the new figures were particularly worrying because of the stagnation in the numbers of wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles in England and Wales, which fell from 50,065 in 2013 to 49,421 in 2015 and then rose slightly to 49,516 in 2017.

He said there was also a postcode lottery in availability, with many areas having few if any wheelchair-accessible taxis or private hire vehicles.

Disability News Service (DNS) has contacted three of the local authorities that told Paulley they have no plans to create a section 167 list: Nottingham City Council (NCC); Rushcliffe Borough Council, in Nottinghamshire; and Liverpool City Council.

Nottingham’s refusal is particularly controversial because the council originally told Paulley earlier this year that it would not be creating a list, but when subsequently contacted by BBC’s The One Show, insisted that it would be doing so.

Now its latest response says once again that it “does not currently have any documented plans to produce such a list”.

An NCC spokeswoman said the council instead publishes a list of companies that provide wheelchair accessible taxis, because a list of wheelchair-accessible vehicles would “become out of date very quickly”.

But it has failed to explain why it appears to have lied to The One Show, or why it does not want to protect wheelchair-users from discrimination.

A Liverpool City Council spokesman said there was a local bylaw that allowed it to act against drivers who discriminate against wheelchair-users.

It took the council more than five days to provide a copy of the bylaw, and when it was eventually emailed to DNS it showed that the rules only cover equipment and physical access to the vehicle, and say nothing about driver behaviour and discrimination against disabled passengers.

By noon today (Thursday), Rushcliffe had not been able to explain why it has refused to create a section 167 list.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “Disabled people must have the same opportunities to travel and access to transport as everyone else.

“In April we implemented legislation to ensure wheelchair users travelling by taxi or private hire vehicle receive the assistance they require.

“We strongly encourage councils that have not already done so to use these powers.”

She said the department was “encouraged” by the response from those local authorities that had already created section 167 lists but “would like to see more authorities making the most of these powers”.

21 December 2017



Regulators face possible action over failure to discipline lying PIP assessors

The body that oversees the UK’s health and care regulators is considering taking action over their failure to punish nurses, paramedics and physiotherapists who write dishonest benefit assessment reports.

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) is to look next month at whether it should examine the failings of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

PSA, which is accountable to parliament, is responsible for overseeing nine UK healthcare regulators, including HCPC and NMC.

It has confirmed that it will be looking at the work of NMC and HCPC after being contacted by disabled activist Mark Lucas, who has twice appealed successfully against the results of what he believes were dishonest personal independence payment (PIP) assessments.

He has lodged a complaint with HCPC over its failure to discipline an occupational therapist who assessed him for PIP.

Lucas has twice been given zero points after PIP assessments, once this spring and once in 2015.

But on both occasions he was later awarded nine points – and eligibility for the PIP standard daily living rate – after appealing to a tribunal.

Frustrated at HCPC’s failure to take his complaint seriously, he contacted PSA, which has powers to take action against regulators like HCPC and NMC.

He was told by David Martin, PSA’s concerns and appointments officer: “At this present time, we cannot say that decisions about PIP assessors has been considered as a topic for our work in its own right.

“However, we do acknowledge this is an important topic and one that we may need to consider more closely.

“We therefore intend to discuss the issue further in the New Year to determine what we need to know about the regulators work and whether there is any action that we could take, that may improve regulation.”

PSA has the power to look at individual cases that have not been dealt with properly, and potentially refer them to the high court – but only if they reached a full HCPC or NMC fitness to practise hearing – but also to look at wider problems with the regulators in particular areas, such as how they deal with complaints about PIP assessors.

Martin is currently on leave, but PSA’s director of standards and policy, Christine Brathwaite, told Disability News Service (DNS) that the issue of flawed PIP assessments and how they were dealt with by the regulators would be considered in January.

She added: “In this particular case what you are raising is potentially an equality issue.”

Lucas said he was encouraged that PSA had agreed to examine the problem, and added: “I hope they will put pressure on the regulatory bodies.”

Lucas said he believed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was using HCPC and NMC to help “legitimise bad medical assessments”, and that the two regulators were failing to take the action necessary over nurses, physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals who lie in their assessment reports.

PSA’s confirmation that it could act over the failures of the two regulators came as the minister for disabled people gave evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee yesterday (Wednesday), as part of its inquiry into the PIP and employment and support allowance assessment processes (see separate story).

Nearly 300 disabled people have come forward over the last year to tell DNS how their assessors wrote dishonest assessment reports while working for private outsourcing companies Capita and Atos, on behalf of DWP.

Many of them have raised concerns about the apparent refusal of NMC and HCPC to take their complaints seriously.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council declined to comment this week.

But John Barwick, HCPC’s acting director of fitness to practise, said: “The HCPC would welcome the opportunity to share its experience of dealing with complaints about healthcare professionals who carry out assessments for personal independence payment should the PSA decide to look into this area.”

He added: “Our fitness to practise process is designed to protect the public from those whose fitness to practise is impaired.

“If a registrant’s fitness to practise is ‘impaired’, it means that there are current concerns about their ability to practise safely and effectively.

“This may mean they should not practise at all, or that they should be limited in what they are allowed to do. We take appropriate action to make this happen.

“Sometimes registrants make mistakes or have a one-off instance of unprofessional conduct or behaviour that is unlikely to be repeated.

“This means their overall fitness to practise is unlikely to be impaired. Fitness to practise proceedings are not a general complaints resolution process nor are they designed to resolve disputes between registrants and service-users.

“Anyone can raise a fitness to practise concern about a professional registered with us.

“We consider every concern raised individually to first determine whether there is credible evidence which suggests that the registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired.

“Where there is evidence that a registrant’s fitness to practise may be impaired then the concern will be fully investigated and the evidence put before an independent panel of one of our practice committees to determine whether a sanction is required.

“The Professional Standards Authority reviews every final hearing decision made by all the fitness to practise committees of all the health and social care regulators under its remit.

“The PSA can refer decisions to court to be considered by a judge if they decide that they do not protect the public properly.”

21 December 2017



Minister fails to back measures to protect claimants from dishonest assessors

The minister for disabled people has refused to approve two key recommendations made by the independent reviewer of its new disability benefit, which would have made it easier for claimants to protect themselves against dishonest assessment reports.

Among the recommendations made for improvements to personal independence payment (PIP), Paul Gray said earlier this year that all assessments should be recorded, although claimants should be able to opt out if they wanted to.

He also said that all PIP claimants should be given a copy of their assessment report when receiving the letter from DWP telling them if their claim has been successful.

But despite telling parliament that she had accepted all Gray’s recommendations, Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, has failed to accept either of these suggestions.

In DWP’s response to Gray’s second review of PIP, Newton’s department claims it has “partially” accepted the two recommendations.

But it says that “given the scale of the challenge” of providing copies of assessment reports to every claimant and “the high cost to the taxpayer… this is not an option we will be pursuing.”

On automatic audio recording of assessments, having already completed one pilot of audio recording of 400 assessments, DWP now says it is “looking at a further feasibility study”.

Providing copies of assessment reports to all claimants and audio-recording assessments would both be likely to make it harder for assessors working for the discredited outsourcing companies Atos and Capita to produce dishonest accounts of assessments.

Over the last year, Disability News Service (DNS) has collected nearly 300 cases in which PIP claimants say that the assessment reports prepared by their assessors were dishonest.

DNS has also revealed that complaints about the PIP assessment process rose by nearly 900 per cent last year, while the number of complaints upheld rose by more than 700 per cent.

Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, which is investigating the assessment processes for PIP and employment and support allowance (ESA), said the government’s response to Gray’s review – including the recommendations on providing copies of reports and recording assessments – “offered a series of promises to do almost nothing for claimants” and contained “a remarkable variety of different phrases for not taking action now”.

He gave the example of a disabled woman with cancer from his Birkenhead constituency, who was doubly incontinent but had been refused PIP, and was having to clean and reuse her babies’ nappies because she had no money.

He said: “We have heard literally thousands of accounts of the stress and suffering caused by the assessment process for PIP and ESA.

“We have heard of the externalised costs of this process, right through to the tribunal system that is left to overturn so many of the decisions that this process generates. But the human cost is immeasurable.”

He added: “Paul Gray made really clear, helpful, evidence-based recommendations, several [of] which have been clearly articulated in evidence heard by the committee.

“This response is a terrible missed opportunity that will provide no comfort to the claimants facing this ordeal.”

Among the examples he gave, he said DWP had responded to Gray’s recommendation that evidence provided by carers and companions should be given sufficient weight by saying it would “investigate how assessments could be better structured” to allow this.

And on allowing assessors more time to consider additional evidence provided by claimants, DWP said it would “develop a process to gather information… on the timescales needed to prepare for assessments”, said Field.

Yesterday, Gray – a former DWP permanent secretary – gave evidence to Field’s committee, and told him that he was “probably a little disappointed” with the government’s response to his review.

He said he was “struck to some degree” by Field’s concerns about the government’s response because, even with recommendations that were fully accepted, “there is use of words like ‘explore’, ‘consult’, ‘look into’”.

He said the current system, which means PIP claimants must bring their own specialised recording equipment if they want their assessment recorded, was “incredibly clunky”.

He said it would “significantly improve people’s trust in the system if audio recordings were available” and “would have very beneficial behavioural impacts if assessors know they are being recorded”.

He added: “I am not persuaded by what I’ve read this week of the reasons for not doing that and I think it would significantly improve trust, transparency and lead on to more general beneficial effects.”

He also said that giving people a copy of their assessment report automatically was “important to improve trust”, and that he was “not persuaded by the government’s response”.

Newton told the committee later that she agreed that the availability of audio recording of assessments was “not good enough”.

She said she approached this issue with “a very positive attitude towards wanting to record the assessments because I think it will be of huge benefit to the person doing the assessment and to the person who is being assessed”.

She added: “This is something I am looking to change and I have made that commitment that I will be looking to change that.”

But she confirmed that there would have to be further tests first, and if there was a change it would need alterations in the contracts of the assessment companies.

Meanwhile, results from the latest stage of research into the PIP process, carried out on behalf of DWP by Ipsos MORI and based on more than 1,200 telephone interviews, has found that more than one in four (26 per cent) of those questioned said that the “measurements and functional tests” used in the assessment were not “relevant and appropriate”.

One in four (24 per cent) said the questions asked by the assessor were not “relevant and appropriate to my condition”.

And more than one in five (22 per cent) said they did not believe the assessor had listened to them during the assessment.

The same proportion (22 per cent) said they did not believe the assessor had understood their application form and supporting evidence.

Only 65 per cent said the venue was easy to get to, and only 83 per cent said the assessment venue was accessible.

But nearly nine-tenths of those questioned (89 per cent) said the assessor had treated them with respect and dignity.

21 December 2017


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com