DWP’s latest confession on safety: ‘We keep no record of complaints linked to deaths’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing fresh allegations of negligence – potentially criminal – after admitting that it keeps no records of how many of the complaints it receives involve the death of a claimant of disability benefits.

The admission came in response to a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS), which arrived just 24 hours before the launch of a new parliamentary petition* calling for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings.

It adds to mounting evidence that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose and will fuel calls for urgent changes to its policies and administration of benefits to ensure it makes the safety of all claimants a priority, as demanded by the petition.

DNS had asked in the freedom of information request how many of the complaints submitted to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) about DWP involved a claimant of a disability-related benefit who had died before that complaint was submitted.

The request followed an ICE report into the death of Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress and took her own life 15 days after her disability benefits were stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill.

The ICE report concluded that DWP had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her death, and that it had been guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.

ICE reviews complaints about government departments that deal with benefits, work and financial support, but can only investigate concerns after that department has delivered its own “final response” to a complaint.

Responding to the freedom of information request, DWP said that ICE did not record “the category of information you have requested” because the department itself “uses high level corporate complaint categories to record customer complaints” and these do not include whether a claimant has died.

The only categories DWP offers are: “DWP staff don’t treat me with respect”; “you take too long”; “you’ve got it wrong”; “you haven’t given me the information that suits my needs”; “I can’t access the system”; and “DWP policy is unfair”.

Previous freedom of information admissions by DWP have shown that it has carried out scores of secret peer reviews (later renamed internal process reviews) into the deaths of benefit claimants.

And government-funded research concluded three years ago that DWP’s programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the work capability assessment was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.

DWP had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

DNS had asked whether DWP agreed that it was seriously negligent to fail to analyse how many complaints it was receiving in which a claimant had died, particularly those linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of vital benefits.

DNS had also asked how DWP would be able to respond to serious flaws in the system that were leading to loss of life if it did not know how many such complaints were being received about various aspects of its service.

And DNS asked whether Joanna Wallace, the independent case examiner, had any concerns about the failure to record this category of information.

*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

21 March 2019



Jodey Whiting petition: Seventh family demands justice over DWP benefit deaths

The disabled daughter of a woman who took her own life after losing her disability benefits has explained why she believes ministers and senior civil servants should face prosecution for the deaths they have caused.

Hayley Storrow-Servranckx spoke out this week to back a new parliamentary petition that calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and for that inquiry to pass any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants to the police.

The petition – Justice for Jodey Whiting. Independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP* – brands DWP “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose” and demands urgent action to make the safety of all benefit claimants a priority.

Within five days, the petition had secured more than 6,000 signatures. It needs to reach 100,000 within six months to be eligible for a debate in parliament.

The relatives of Susan Roberts this week became the seventh family to back the petition, in addition to support from four grassroots groups of disabled activists – Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign – and DNS.

Storrow-Servranckx told DNS that she would feel a sense of “justice” if she saw former DWP ministers facing charges in a criminal court.

She said: “It would be some form of justice for those people who are not here anymore and have not got a voice.

“That’s all we have ever wanted, the families, we just want justice, because without [DWP’s actions] our family members would still be here, no question about it.

“To have somebody in front of a judge and jury and to be sentenced for crimes that made somebody kill themselves is exactly what needs to be done and needed to be done a long time ago.”

Storrow-Servranckx said she believed there should be a police investigation just as there would be if she was responsible for causing someone’s death by suicide.

The body of her mother was discovered in May 2016 by a care worker at her warden-assisted flat near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, the day after she had received a letter saying her appeal against losing her personal independence payment (PIP) had been turned down.

An inquest into the 68-year-old’s death did not record a verdict of suicide, but her daughter is convinced that she took her own life, because of the way she died, and because her body was discovered surrounded by her PIP paperwork and a “do not resuscitate” notice.

She had previously received an indefinite award of disability living allowance, at the higher rate of mobility and the low rate of care, but she was told she was not entitled to PIP.

DWP had taken just six days to reject her mandatory reconsideration, before she had even had a chance to send a letter explaining why she disagreed with the initial decision, with a civil servant telling her that “it was not felt any further evidence we received would change the findings based on your assessment”.

In her letter, which she left beside her body, she described the impact of ME on her daily life, which she said provided a window of just two or three hours every day in which she was free of symptoms such as exhaustion, dizziness and inability to concentrate.

She said she had chronic, progressive ischaemic heart disease, and was experiencing “excruciating pain” from a gall bladder that could not be removed because of her heart condition.

Her letter also described how a care worker visited her every day to provide painful rectal irrigation and then give her a shower, how she was deeply depressed and had been so “for a long time”, and that her doctor knew that she wanted to die.

She did not attend her tribunal appeal, which was decided only on written documents and again found her ineligible for PIP.

DWP has previously insisted that there was “no evidence to suggest any link” between the death of Susan Roberts and her benefit claim, and that neither the department nor Atos – the much-criticised outsourcing company which assessed her – believed they had made any mistakes in her case, pointing out that the tribunal had “upheld the original decision”.

But Storrow-Servranckx said her mum had made it clear in her original PIP claim form that she had suicidal thoughts, and DWP had made no effort to protect her.

She said her mum had written on her PIP form that she had contemplated suicide and had told her doctor how much she wanted to die, but could not take her own life because of her Christian faith.

Storrow-Servranckx, who herself has been assessed for both PIP and employment and support allowance, said the thousands of deaths linked to the actions of DWP had been “swept under the carpet” and needed to be “brought up and discussed in the House of Commons”.

She said: “It’s not just my mum. There are thousands and thousands of other people – including other members of my own family – who are affected.

“The benefits system has clearly failed. It is not working. It is dangerous.

“They clearly must hold their hands up and say, ‘Our failing system has caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people.’”

She said she now hoped the petition – and the support from the other six families – would encourage other relatives to come forward and speak out.

*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

21 March 2019



Jodey Whiting petition: DWP ‘has blood on its hands’, says Green party

Labour and the Green party have backed a petition that calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and an investigation into potential criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants.

The Green party co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, himself the father of a disabled son, said this week that DWP had “blood on its hands”.

Less than a week after the launch of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* last Friday (15 March), more than 6,000 people have already signed it.

It needs to reach 100,000 signatures by 15 September to be eligible for debate by MPs in the House of Commons.

Among those who have supported it are the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson and the disabled comedian and writer Francesca Martinez.

The petition now has the support of the relatives of seven disabled people whose deaths are linked to DWP failings.

Since last week, the daughter of Susan Roberts has backed the petition (see separate story), telling Disability News Service (DNS) that she would feel a sense of “justice” if she saw former DWP ministers facing charges in a criminal court.

The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black TriangleDisabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.

DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found last month.

Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress, had had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill and took her own life just 15 days later.

As well as an inquiry, the petition says that evidence of misconduct by civil servants and ministers should be handed to police for a possible criminal investigation into misconduct in public office.

It also says that DWP should be branded “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose” and calls for urgent steps to ensure that the safety of all benefit claimants is a priority for the department.

Two years ago, the Green party issued its own call for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions.

A letter sent in February 2017 to the then work and pensions secretary Damian Green, co-signed by Bartley, said: “The more time passes without an inquiry, the longer concerns will remain and questions will hang over the procedures used by your department to handle benefits.”

The party compiled a dossier of 50 deaths of benefit claimants where the party said it had “good reason to believe” their treatment at the hands of DWP had been a factor in their deaths.

This week, Bartley told DNS: “The DWP clearly has blood on its hands.

“The evidence of the department’s failings is now overwhelming and there must be an independent inquiry with those responsible held to account.

“This should include turning over the findings to the police for criminal charges to be brought, where appropriate.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, also said this week that the campaign and petition had her “full support”.

Asked to comment on the petition, a DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and, in the tragic case where someone dies, ensuring that we respond swiftly and sensitively.

“We have changed guidance so that our staff update a claim where someone has died within 48 hours, making sure we stop all unnecessary contact as quickly as possible.

“And we have robust safeguarding in place to protect and support vulnerable people, including the resource to carry out safeguarding visits.”

*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

21 March 2019



CQC admits one in five social care services have not been inspected in two years

Nearly 5,000 adult social care services – nearly one in five – have not had an inspection by the care regulator in the last two years, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) have revealed.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) figures have raised fresh doubts as to whether the regulator is fit for purpose, while Labour’s shadow social care minister has said they are “highly concerning”.

The figures were released to Disability News Service days after the latest revelations concerning a care home run by the National Autistic Society, where autistic people were taunted, abused and ill-treated by staff.

Mendip House, in Somerset, had itself not been inspected by CQC for more than two years when whistleblowers came forward and exposed the abusive regime in 2016 (see separate story).

The new FoIA figures show that 4,859 adult social care services have not been inspected by CQC in more than two years, out of 25,590 services in total (19 per cent).

Many of the 25,590 are new services that are still awaiting a first CQC rating, so the proportion of services that have been open for at least two years and have not been inspected for at least two years will be even higher than 19 per cent.

But the figures also reveal other concerns about the commission and its work.

They show striking falls in the number of inspections carried out by the watchdog over the last couple of years; a significant increase in the number of inspections cancelled or rescheduled; and a sizeable drop over the last three years in the number of adult social care inspectors working for CQC.

A CQC spokesperson said that some of this was due to a new method of regulation, adopted in 2014, which was based on “ratings and risk”.

She claimed the commission was now “even better at identifying risk, meaning that we can prioritise our activity to where the need is greatest”.

The FoIA response showed the number of CQC’s “full-time equivalent” adult social care inspectors fell from 881 in December 2015 to 812 in December 2018.

The number of adult social care inspections that were cancelled or rescheduled rose from 6,498 in 2017 to 8,296 in 2018.

And the number of adult social care inspections carried out by CQC fell from 15,271 in 2016 to 13,106 in 2017, and again to 11,618 in 2018.

Statistics provided by the regulator to its latest public board meeting (PDF) in February raise further concerns.

They show that only three-fifths of planned inspections of adult social care services that had been branded “inadequate” or “requiring improvement” were carried out on time.

Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow minister for social care, said: “It is highly concerning that nearly one in five social care establishments have not been inspected for over two years.

“We saw in the recent Mendip House case how quickly a care home can deteriorate – often in a matter of months.

“As government cuts to social care budgets force providers to cut corners, infrequent inspections are putting disabled and older people at risk.

“We cannot allow providers to provide poor quality care due to a lack of oversight: that is why Labour’s plans for ethical commissioning would require local authorities and the CQC to better monitor care providers.”

CQC said that its decision to inspect services seen as good or outstanding only every 30 months helped explain a “significant” number of re-scheduled inspections, and many of the services that had not been inspected in more than two years.

By February 2017, it said, it had finished inspecting all adult social care services registered with CQC in October 2014 and had then moved to the next phase of its new ratings- and risk-based model of regulation, with “increased focus on using information and intelligence to form a better picture of what is happening in the delivery of people’s care to assess and prioritise risk”.

It also said it had introduced new roles to “complement the inspection workforce”, such as assistant inspectors.

CQC has so far failed to say if it believes the figures show it is a failing organisation; whether it needs an injection of funding; and whether it is putting the safety of disabled and older people at risk and is therefore likely to be exposing them to serious breaches of their human rights.

It has also failed to say whether the Mendip House abuse scandal showed that its risk-based system was putting the safety of disabled people at risk, and that it therefore needed to introduce annual, unannounced inspections of all adult social care services.

But it did say: “CQC has a healthy budget, a strong and hardworking workforce and we continually review all of the resources at our disposal in order to be as efficient as possible in ensuring care providers are living up to their legal responsibilities.”

Debbie Westhead, CQC’s interim chief inspector for adult social care, said in a statement: “In 2014 we completely overhauled the way we regulate adult social care, moving to a ratings and risk based model.

“We are now even better at identifying risk, meaning that we can prioritise our activity to where the need is greatest.

“We know from our latest State of Care report that most people are getting good care; over four-fifths of adult social care services are rated as good or outstanding, a testimony to the hard work of thousands of frontline staff.

“In 2018 we moved the frequency of inspections for good and outstanding services to 30 months.

“However, if during this time we get any information of concern we will prioritise our activity to ensure that we are protecting people from risk.

We are now taking more enforcement action than ever before because we are using the information and analysis at our disposal more effectively in order to target our inspection activities to those services where there is the greatest risk to the quality and safety of people’s care.

“Since April 2017 to January 2019 we’ve taken around 2,000 enforcement actions against all adult social care providers and we will continue to take action wherever necessary to make sure that all people are getting the good, quality care they need.”

21 March 2019



Autistic campaigners to protest outside charity over regime of care home abuse

Autistic campaigners are to protest outside the headquarters of a national autism charity next week to highlight what they say is its abhorrent failure to act on a regime of abuse that took place at one of its care homes.

The protest in London on 29 March by two autistic-led organisations – Autistic Inclusive Meets and Autistic UK – will highlight the lack of justice for those abused at Mendip House, in Highbridge, Somerset.

Official reports show the National Autistic Society (NAS) failed to share the results of internal investigations into Mendip House with Somerset County Council or the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

But there is also anger that CQC decided earlier this month not to prosecute the charity, and instead fined it just £4,000 for financial abuse by staff, despite the regime of “taunting, mistreatment and humiliation of residents”.

After a whistleblower came forward three years ago, a council investigation revealed [PDF] widespread abuse at the home.

CQC had failed to uncover and halt the abuse through its inspection regime, and had not inspected the home for more than two years by the time it was contacted by the whistleblower.

It then carried out an urgent inspection in May 2016 and began civil enforcement action to close Mendip House.

A council investigation discovered that staff had thrown cake at autistic service-users, taunted them with food, and used their money to pay for staff meals on outings, with nearly £10,000 later having to be repaid.

One resident was sent to his room because he refused to eat an onion, another was made to crawl on the floor on all fours, and a resident “absconded” from the home without staff realising.

Medication went missing, and one resident was said to be “known to flinch in the presence of particular employees”.

Newspaper reports also suggest that one resident was “slapped, forced to eat chillies and repeatedly thrown into a swimming pool”.

One report suggests that one service-user was forced to eat a pizza covered in mustard, and yogurt mixed with mustard, and when they were sick, had to drink their vomit in a glass of water.

An audit by NAS in October 2015 identified “43 areas for improvement”, but the charity failed to report this to CQC.

And although five members of staff – including the manager and deputy manager – were sacked, and Mendip House was closed in August 2016 before CQC could take any further regulatory action, concerns have also been raised about six other services on NAS’s large Somerset Court site, which remain open.

A safeguarding review commissioned by the council revealed that “critical information” about the wider Somerset Court site, including “poor staff conduct, alleged assaults and drug use or sale”, had not been shared beyond senior managers at Somerset Court, who took no action.

The council’s own inquiry concluded that NAS was “a large provider where the risks of them not investigating and managing safeguarding incidents effectively in their services remains high”.

It also highlighted concerns about the charity’s “staff recruitment, incident reporting, decision-making, disciplinary procedures and the attitude of the senior management”.

Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of AIM, said CQC’s decision to fine NAS only £4,000, and not to prosecute the charity, was “disgusting”.

She said: “We need to say this can’t happen again. We can’t take this lying down, we can’t just say nothing.”

She added: “I can’t understand as an autistic adult, as an owner of an autistic organisation, how this could happen.

“There’s no justice for the victims, no justice for their families.

“The NAS is worth millions, £4,000 is what it costs approximately to keep someone of highly complex needs in care for two weeks and that’s all they were fined, that’s all they were worth: £4,000. I’m devastated.”

Errol Kerr, chair of Autistic UK, said: “The entire situation surrounding Mendip House is abhorrent.

“Not only have the NAS attempted to suppress knowledge about the abuse, but they have refused to take moral responsibility even in the face of a CQC investigation.

“What is worse, however, is that the body that is supposed to enforce codes of good practice, the CQC, has let us down on every level.

“Ruling that a fine of £4,000 was all that was needed in this situation clearly shows that the CQC has no regard for the years of inflicted trauma, manipulation and exploitation of at-risk, vulnerable autistic people.”

He said it was “of paramount importance” to defend the autistic people who were affected.

NAS apologised for the abuse, which it said was “appalling”, and the failure of local managers to take action when abuse was reported to them.

An NAS spokesperson said the charity “should not have allowed this mistreatment and abuse to happen” and that it had introduced a “range of improvements” since 2016.

He said it was still running the other services at Somerset Court because “there is a need”.

Asked how NAS could speak on behalf of autistic people on rights issues after what had happened, he said: “We will never stop campaigning with and for autistic people and their families.

“We don’t believe that withdrawing from active campaigning would benefit anyone.”

Asked whether its long-serving chief executive, Mark Lever, should consider his own position, the spokesperson said he had already announced – last month – that he would be leaving the charity.

The spokesperson added: “We want to make sure that any protest runs as smoothly as possible and are of course ready to cooperate in any way we can.

“As at last year’s protest, we will be ready to hear their concerns and welcome the opportunity to discuss the changes we’ve made to our systems and practices since 2016.”

CQC has declined to say whether its failure to inspect Mendip House for more than two years before the whistleblower came forward had helped the abusers avoid exposure.

It has also declined to say why it allowed the other Somerset Court services to stay open and why it failed to expose the abusive regime through its regular inspection process, rather than having to be alerted by a whistle-blower.

But Debbie Westhead, CQC’s interim chief inspector of adult social care, said in a statement: “The people who lived in Mendip House were very badly failed by those whose responsibility it was to care for them.

“When CQC inspected in May 2016 we rated Mendip House as inadequate, and began action to cancel the registration of Mendip House.

“This action was overtaken by the National Autistic Society decision to close the service; a decision that we supported.

“We also investigated whether we could prosecute the National Autistic Society for failing to keep people safe, but were not able to do so due to insufficient evidence.

“The descriptions of abuse at Mendip House are extremely distressing and the final decision not to proceed with the prosecution was a complex and difficult one.

“Separately, the police explored the possibility of criminal prosecutions against individuals but were also unable to proceed due to lack of corroborating evidence.

“The action that we were able to take was a fixed penalty notice against the provider for failing to protect people from financial abuse, resulting in a fine of £4,000, which is the maximum amount allowed in law.”

21 March 2019



Still no replacement for Newton, seven days after resignation

The government has given no indication of when – or even if – it intends to appoint a replacement for the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, who resigned last week over Brexit.

Nearly a week after Newton’s resignation, no replacement has been announced.

A spokesperson for Number 10 said yesterday (Wednesday): “As soon as there is one, we would announce it in the usual way.

“I haven’t got any guidance on when that appointment will be.”

As the appointment of a new minister will be a political decision, he suggested that Disability News Service (DNS) contact the prime minister’s press secretary, Paul Harrison, but he had not responded by noon today (Thursday).

Newton was the seventh Conservative minister for disabled people since the 2010 general election, following Maria Miller, Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Mark Harper, Justin Tomlinson and Penny Mordaunt.

Only last month, she was forced to apologise to MPs after DNS caught her misleading MPs about support for disabled people for the fourth time in less than a year.

In December, Newton was unable to explain why she had failed to make any public statement to support disabled people’s battle for rights on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

It was the second year in a row – following her appointment in November 2017 – that she had demonstrated a lack of interest in domestic and international efforts to further disabled people’s rights on the UN day.

And in October, she appeared to breach the ministerial code of conduct after refusing to answer questions from DNS at her party’s annual conference and then suggesting that civil servants could answer them for her instead, even though it was a political event.

21 March 2019



Domestic violence services even worse 10 years on, says report

Regressive government policies have disproportionately affected the ability of disabled women who have experienced violence and abuse to access the services they need, according to a new report.

Shaping Our Lives (SOL), which has written the report, says some services have been discriminating against disabled women under the Equality Act because of a lack of knowledge and training, and a “pitiful” lack of accessible buildings.

It says that these failures are a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The report, A Refuge for All, was published this week after two years of research led by disabled women with experience of violence and abuse.

It compares the situation with the findings of the Making the Links report published 10 years ago by Women’s Aid, which found that although disabled women were twice as likely to experience domestic violence and abuse as non-disabled women, they faced significant barriers in accessing services.

SOL’s report concludes that little has changed in the last 10 years and in some cases provision has worsened.

Because of cuts to services, disabled women have often not been able to secure local support, and they have faced lengthy waiting-times and have had to travel long distances to secure support.

Just as there was 10 years ago, there is a lack of accessible information; refuges and other buildings providing services are still inaccessible; and there is still a lack of knowledge and understanding by professionals.

Disabled women also still face the risk of having their children removed by social services if they escape an abusive or violent partner.

Research suggests that the number of disabled women experiencing violence and abuse has been increasing, says the report, while disabled victims of domestic abuse “suffer more severe and frequent abuse over longer periods of time than non-disabled victims”.

The project worked in two areas, Bexley in south-east London, and Birmingham, to examine how local services could be made more inclusive for disabled women.

The report concludes: “The pilot site interventions demonstrate that training and advice from disabled women and user-led organisations can have an enormous impact on services’ readiness to work confidently with disabled women and that a number of small inexpensive adaptations can improve the accessibility of the service delivery.”

SOL’s Becki Meakin, the project manager and author of the report, said: “It was very worrying to hear about the experiences of disabled women seeking support from violence and abuse.

“I expected to see progress in the last 10 years, but instead access to services has worsened and sometimes was non-existent in a woman’s local area.”

She added: “The regressive funding policies for violence and abuse services has reduced provision for all women, but it has disproportionately affected access for disabled women who in turn are almost three times more likely to experience violence and abuse.”

The report was funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Tampon Tax Fund.

Among its recommendations for improvements, the report calls for a central resource of information for disabled women; investment in more accessible refuge spaces; disability equality training for staff; access action plans for each service; and co-production of services with disabled women.

Meakin said: “I believe that only by listening to and working equally with disabled women experiencing violence and abuse will we be able to increase their sense of self-worth and remove the practical, prejudicial and systemic barriers that exclude them from using violence and abuse services.”

The project has also published a toolkit which can be used by services to assess themselves against best practice and devise a plan of action for improvement, often at low cost.

Ashley Stephen, co-founder of Disabled Survivors Unite, who helped with the project, said: “This project is vitally important and showcases the unique barriers that disabled women face in accessing domestic abuse services.

“One disabled woman being turned away due to an inaccessible refuge is too many.”

Disability Labour also said the report was of vital importance.

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “As someone who is a survivor of domestic violence, I know how inaccessible refuges can be.

“It is important that women fleeing domestic violence have a safe space, not only in terms of physical and emotional safety, but also that it meets their accessibility needs.

“We know that domestic violence services are receiving far less money than they need to be able to provide these crucial services, which undoubtedly save lives.

“We would encourage councils to ringfence such funding and look to supporting refuges to enable much-needed adaptations to be made.”

21 March 2019



Disabled young people have been cheated by support reforms, MPs hear

Disabled young people have told MPs how they have been “cheated” by the government’s new system for supporting pupils and students through school and college.

MPs on the Commons education committee heard how disabled pupils were being denied a voice in drawing up their education, health and care plans (EHCPs), and how they were not receiving what had been promised in those plans.

The committee also heard that EHCPs were too focused on education, rather than being “life focused”.

The committee heard from seven disabled young people on Tuesday as part of its inquiry into the impact of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms introduced by the government through its Children and Families Act 2014*.

Three of them – Jordan, Ben and Eva – were part of the RIP: STARS research team, a project led by disabled young people and researchers at Coventry University, which also included support from The Alliance for Inclusive Education, and looked at the quality of EHCPs and whether they met disabled children and young people’s rights.

Jordan said some of their findings had been “stunning”, and that he and many other disabled young people “feel we were cheated out of the education system and treated poorly by them”.

He said they made the “atrocious” discovery that disabled children “weren’t actually being involved in the process of their EHCPs”, with the main discussions taking place “without talking to the child themselves”.

He said plans were “either being delayed, mistaken, poorly done and they are not meeting the needs of the child”, and he called for something to be done to ensure that plans “are being carried out correctly by staff” and “not just ignored and forgotten”.

Eva, another member of RIP: STARS, said: “We found out that what was written in the plan was not being followed through, so many children aren’t receiving the support and the correct education that they need and they are missing out on their education and childhood.”

She said the plans were not preparing disabled children and young people for independence and adulthood.

Eva said the plans should use the language of the social model of disability “so children are not defined by labels and they are not seen as a problem”.

She added: “Disabled children have a right to mainstream education, so they should achieve support to achieve this and be in mainstream education if they choose to do so.”

Ben, a third disabled young person from RIP: STARS, said EHCPs were “too educational focused and not life focused, so children are not receiving the support they need in other important areas such as developing independence, having choice and control, achieving aspirations, life goals, friends, access in the community.”

He said it was not right that disabled pupils who do not fit in with the “norms and roles and rules of education” were often “shipped off, excluded, offloaded, or hidden in other places” and “forgotten about”.

Francesca, one of two deaf pupils on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s (NDCS) young people’s advisory board who gave evidence, told the committee that a lack of support at school meant she missed out on social situations and on learning “how to be confident and empowered”.

She said she had even been encouraged to use a separate “SEND room” at lunch, which also made it harder to build friendships with non-disabled pupils.

She said: “It’s showing to the other students that these people need to be kept separate, which I feel is the wrong attitude completely.

“It should be about inclusivity and empowering those people.”

Francesca said that meetings about EHCPs sometimes happened without the disabled young person being present.

She said: “It’s really frustrating because you feel you can make your own decisions because it is your own support.”

Another member of the NDCS advisory board, Ella, said she was “really struggling” to secure the support she needed through the EHCP process, with the local council currently refusing to provide her with a plan because it did not think she was deaf enough.

As a result, she said, her grades were “far below what they should be”.

And she said the only people the council would listen to were her parents, and not her.

Simran, who is studying accountancy and management at Queen Mary University of London and was with the charity my AFK, said: “As a disabled woman, I have to work harder than everyone else to achieve anything.

“I think it’s a great shame that young people with SEND are left unsupported and their achievements are unappreciated.

“I’m a 21-year-old studying accountancy and I want to be an accountant, I want to work, I want to contribute to the economy and society, but I feel like there’s not very many opportunities for me to do so.”

Kashifa, who is studying at college and was also with my AFK, said she had received “a lot more support” when she was at school.

She said: “Even though we had meetings about me going to college, I’m not sure they really understood my needs when I got there.

“I think people make a judgement about what you’re capable of based on your appearance.

“I know people mean well and they know you get anxious in certain situations, and they want to try to protect you, but this just means you won’t be able to try anything because people think you won’t be able to cope, so the opportunities stop.”

She added: “I don’t need people to tell me I need to be realistic, either.

“I want to work things out for myself and then be able to make the choice.

“I don’t need to be protected all the time, I just need the chance to try different things and then I can decide.”

*Under government reforms which came into effect in September 2014, local authorities in England had until April 2018 to move all disabled children and young people eligible for support from SEN statements to new EHCPs. The plans last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support they should receive across education, health and social care.

21 March 2019



Shared space schemes must be halted, mayor’s commissioner told

A disabled campaigner has told London’s walking and cycling commissioner that all shared space street developments should be halted because they are too dangerous for disabled and older people.

Dr Tom Pey, chief executive of the Royal Society for Blind Children and a leading opponent of shared space developments, said such schemes were based on “flawed” principles and caused a minority of drivers to become “more angry and reckless”.

He said: “Why would we want… reckless drivers driving around in places where there are no footpaths?”

Shared space schemes often remove kerbs and controlled crossings from a street, encouraging vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists to share the same space, posing greater risks for partially-sighted and blind people, as well as other disabled people, including many of those who are neuro-diverse, or have mobility impairments, learning difficulties or are deaf.

Pey was speaking at the Access All Areas event on accessible transport, organised by Transport for London (TfL), and was sharing a stage with the mayor of London’s walking and cycling commissioner, Dr Will Norman.

Norman stressed that the priorities of the mayor’s transport strategy for the capital’s roads were the needs and safety of pedestrians, cyclists, users of mobility aids and public transport, and a key target was to reduce unnecessary car journeys.

But he repeatedly declined to comment on the mayor’s policy on shared spaces.

Pey said Norman should not try to “conflate” the issue of encouraging pedestrians and cyclists with shared spaces.

He said it was a “research fact” that shared spaces created a less safe environment.

He said: “Shared space started in Holland, in continental Europe, where they are [now] being abandoned because they do not work for disabled people.

“Research shows that where there is a shared space, disabled people just don’t go there anymore because it isn’t safe.”

Norman said cities like London “always need new solutions” and new types of infrastructure.

He said: “Do we always get them right all the time? No. Will we sit down and work with people? Yes, and we’ve got a track record of doing that.”

But Norman then gave an example of how TfL had installed zebra crossings across bus stop bypass schemes – where the bus stop is placed on an island, with pedestrians forced to cross a cycle lane to reach it – a solution heavily criticised last month by National Federation of the Blind of the UK.

In January, NFB UK filmed a succession of cyclists riding through a zebra crossing introduced as part of a bus stop bypass scheme in Manchester, even though a blind man with a white cane was waiting with his cane on the crossing.

Pey told Norman: “I don’t want to sound hyper-critical of TfL but I think what would be really helpful would be if we took this shared space, a bit like a No Deal Brexit, if we took it off the table and then everybody can sit down and sign up… to a city that is safer.

“It’s not just disabled people who find it difficult to navigate in London, it’s older people, it’s visitors, it’s lots of people, and we have got to find an integrated solution for this.

“We all have to learn how to do things differently, including the regulators of this city.”

TfL had not responded by noon today (Thursday) to a request from Disability News Service for clarification on its policy on shared space developments.

But it says 95 per cent of its bus stops are now accessible, while there are more than 200 step-free stations across its network, including 78 London Underground (LU) stations, 58 overground stations, six TfL-run rail stations and all Docklands Light Railway stations and tram stops.

Eight more underground stations are set to be step-free by March 2020, with work underway at a further seven.

The Access All Areas event also included workshops and an exhibition of accessibility innovations, including an electric bus and taxi, a driverless car, and a new Station Real Time Information App.

The app allows LU station staff to report station incidents that may affect passenger journeys, such as a lift going out of service, and also allows LU staff to record disabled passengers who wish to use TfL’s Turn Up and Go service, which provides assistance to disabled passengers who have not booked help in advance.

21 March 2019



Disabled people ‘must keep fighting for their right to travel on public transport’

Disabled people must keep fighting for their right to travel on public transport, and should “challenge the status quo”, an accessible transport campaigner has told a conference.

Alan Benson, chair of the user-led, pan-London organisation Transport for All, told Transport for London’s Access All Areas conference that the pace of access improvements to the capital’s public transport system had slowed since the “watershed” of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Benson, a wheelchair-user, said that in the last week he had missed a train because of slow assistance from rail staff, missed buses because the wheelchair spaces were full, and had been stuck at Bank tube station because the lift broke.

But he also told the accessible transport conference that in the last week he had travelled successfully to 10 locations across the city using public transport run or managed by Transport for London (TfL).

Among improvements made by TfL, he highlighted the Please Offer Me A Seat scheme, which provides disabled people with a badge to let other passengers know they need a seat.

But he said he believed its most “transformative” scheme was a training programme provided to TfL managers by Transport for All (TfA) and Inclusion London, another pan-London user-led organisation.

He said: “Disabled people, many of whom are here today, are teaching the people who commission and run the services just what impact their choices have.

“The results are transformative, both now and for the future. No-one else in the British transport sector is doing this.”

He told the conference: “Public transport is vital for disabled and older people to contribute to society, but most importantly we know that access to public transport is our right.

“Don’t give up. We are where we are today because, to quote Newton, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We are those shoulders for those that come after us.

“But mostly don’t give up because you have rights, the right to live the life you want to. And when your journey does go wrong, tell TfL. They do listen.”

He also said that passengers and transport operators should “challenge the status quo” so as to produce new ideas and “turn conventional thinking on its head”.

Benson said the transport industry needed to take more risks and not be so “resistant to change”, and he suggested that TfL should allow disabled passengers who were happy to take such risks to do so.

He said: “I know, for example, that there are some wheelchair-users who are perfectly comfortable using an escalator and I know of one who regularly does it, but it is definitely not widely known or it’s not [something] that staff are very comfortable supporting.”

Gareth Powell, TfL’s managing director of surface transport, told the conference that 84 per cent of disabled Londoners “say transport is affecting their ability to get around and live their lives”, which he said was “not good enough”.

He said: “We want to try harder and listen to what suggestions you have and make that better.”

Powell admitted that there were too many examples of TfL infrastructure projects that, even if they provided step-free access, still failed to be fully inclusive, for example by ignoring the access needs of autistic people.

He welcomed the TfA and Inclusion London training programme and said: “I have colleagues in design teams right across TfL who are being trained in how to design projects better so that right at the start of these projects we make them as inclusive as possible and see that all the way through to the end of those projects.”

But he warned that there were significant “challenges” with funding, with TfL “struggling to get our voice heard with central government”.

He said TfL had had its annual operational grant from the government cut from £700 million to zero, while there was no long-term certainty over funding for capital investment.

Powell said the government’s imminent three-year spending review would be “a critical moment for us to make sure that all of our infrastructure needs are on their agenda”.

TfL says 95 per cent of its bus stops are now accessible, while there are more than 200 step-free stations across its network, including 78 London Underground (LU) stations, 58 overground stations, six TfL-run rail stations and all Docklands Light Railway stations and tram stops.

Eight more LU stations are set to be step-free by March 2020, with work underway at a further seven.

The Access All Areas event also included workshops and an exhibition of accessibility innovations, including an electric bus and taxi, a driverless car, and a new Station Real Time Information App.

The app allows LU station staff to report station incidents that may affect passenger journeys, such as a lift going out of service, and also allows LU staff to record disabled passengers who wish to use TfL’s Turn Up and Go service, which provides assistance to disabled passengers who have not booked help in advance.

21 March 2019


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com