Election 2019: Disabled Lib Dems complain to their party over candidate’s disablist tweets

Disabled Liberal Democrats have sent a formal complaint to their own party after it failed to take disciplinary action against a general election candidate who admitted posting a string of disablist “jokes” on social media.

The entire executive committee of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association (LDDA) has backed the complaint about public comments made on Twitter by Danny Chambers, who is standing in the key target seat of North Cornwall next month.

In his tweets, Chambers mocked people with epilepsy, ADHD and dyslexia, people with learning difficulties and benefit claimants.

Chambers has apologised for “any offence caused” and said the tweets were sent “many years ago” but has been allowed to continue to fight the seat for the party.

In its complaint letter, LDDA contrasts this treatment with the party’s decision to “immediately” open disciplinary proceedings over allegations of racist and homophobic tweets sent by another candidate, Kevin McNamara, who had been the party’s candidate in Thurrock but has now stood down.

The complaint, sent by LDDA’s co-chair Phil Stevens and backed by every member of the LDDA committee, points to the “extremely disturbing, upsetting and degrading comments” made by Chambers on Twitter.

It is also critical of the response from Chambers after his tweets were made public, which Stevens says “fails to constitute a genuine apology”.

His letter says LDDA believes Chambers’ behaviour was a breach of party members’ code of conduct and shows that his comments “were and are” contrary to the values in the party’s constitution, which promises to “safeguard a fair, free and open society… balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and… champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals”.

Stevens told Disability News Service (DNS) he was “furious” about the way the issue had been dealt with by the party.

A party spokesperson told DNS that the LDDA complaint “is now in our system and being processed”.

But he refused to explain why the party had treated McNamara and Chambers differently, or to respond to concerns raised by Stevens that disabled people were being treated by the party as “second-class citizens”.

The spokesperson also forwarded the apology made by Chambers, who said the tweets had been sent “many years ago” and that they “could be potentially insensitive to certain groups”.

He said: “I’m obviously extremely sorry for any offence caused and I’m not proud of it.

“Clearly these ‘jokes’ do not reflect my views and opinions and I regret any offence that they may have caused.”

He said he had since had “several very difficult and painful life experiences” and now wanted to “stand up for the vulnerable members of our society who don’t have a voice of their own”, and campaign on issues such as mental health.

But the LDDA letter says Chambers has “caused further offence” by failing to issue a “genuine apology”.

It adds: “The word ‘potentially’ is pernicious, as there is no question that the comments he posted were exceptionally offensive.”

21 November 2019


Election 2019: ‘Tories forced a million members of disabled families into poverty’

Labour has accused successive Tory-led governments of forcing a million more people in families with disabled members into poverty over the last decade.

In a new report, Labour highlights 10 areas in which successive Tory-led governments have failed on poverty as a result of their austerity policies.

As well as areas such as child poverty, in-work poverty, homelessness and the rise in the use of food banks, it also focuses on disability poverty.

The report, Poverty Britain, points to government figures that show the number of individuals in families that include a disabled person and were in relative poverty (after housing costs) increased from 4.3 million in 2010-11 to 5.5 million in 2017-18, an increase of 1.2 million.

The same figures – published by the Department for Work and Pensions in March (see summary results, table 7b) – also show that the number of individuals in families that include a disabled person and were in absolute poverty (after housing costs) rose by 700,000, from 4.3 million to five million people, over the same period.

Poverty Britain also points to Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) research that found disabled people had been disproportionately affected by austerity measures introduced by successive Tory-led governments between 2010 and 2017.

The research (PDF), published in November 2017, found that, on average, the impact of tax and benefit changes on families that included a disabled adult would reduce their income by about £2,500 per year; if the family also included a disabled child, the impact would be more than £5,500 per year.

Labour’s report also highlights a report by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found in November 2016 that the UK government was guilty of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights.

The committee concluded in the report that the UK government had discriminated against disabled people across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Most of the breaches – which were all under articles 19 (independent living), article 27 (work and employment) and article 28 (adequate standard of living and social protection) of the convention – were caused by policies introduced by Conservative ministers at DWP between 2010 and 2015.

It was the first such high-level inquiry to be carried out by the UN committee, and was a result of years of research and lobbying by disabled activists from Disabled People Against Cuts.

In the poverty report, the party pledges that a Labour government would scrap the Tories’ “unfair and counterproductive sanctions regime”, although it has not yet pledged to scrap sanctions altogether, as demanded by disabled activists.

It also pledges to scrap the work capability assessment and replace it with “fairer, more personal support”, abolish the “cruel” bedroom tax, and increase support through the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance, although it has not yet said how it will do this.

The Conservative party had failed to respond to Labour’s evidence on disability poverty by noon today (Thursday).

The report also reveals that Trussell Trust food banks have given away 65 million meals in the last five years, the equivalent of a meal for every person in the UK.

The party has pledged to end the use of food banks completely within its first three years in power.

Further details about Labour’s policies were due to be announced today in its manifesto (Thursday).

21 November 2019


Election 2019: Lib Dems fail to explain disability omissions… and snub disabled members

The Liberal Democrats have refused to explain why they have omitted disabled people from key measures in their equalities manifesto.

The equalities manifesto includes measures that address discrimination in the workplace, the criminal justice system and education, but they focus on LGBT+, race and gender while ignoring disabled people.

Even in areas where the party does claim that it wants to focus on the barriers facing disabled people, its press office has been unable to provide any further details of its policies in the last week, other than the various vague pledges included in the equalities manifesto.

The lack of information and clarity may be connected to the party’s failure to co-produce its disability policies with its own Liberal Democrat Disability Association (LDDA).

The party also apparently failed to invite any members of the LDDA executive committee to the launch of the equalities manifesto.

One key policy is to extend discrimination legislation to force all companies with more than 250 employees to publish data on gender, BAME and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.

But there is no mention of disabled employees, even though the TUC revealed this month that the average disabled worker receives about £1.65 an hour, or 15 per cent, less than the average non-disabled worker, while disabled people are far less likely to be in employment (51.8 per cent) than non-disabled people (81.6 per cent).

The equalities manifesto also says that a Lib Dem government would address the over-representation of people from BAME backgrounds throughout the criminal justice system.

But there is no mention of people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties, who are also heavily over-represented in the system.

In March, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched an inquiry into whether the barriers in the criminal justice system were exposing autistic and other neurodivergent people, people with learning difficulties and those with mental health conditions to discrimination.

The Lib Dems also pledged to tackle bullying in schools, but only mentioned bullying on the basis of “gender, sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression” and ignored disabled children and young people.

In August, research described how young disabled pupils had told researchers how they were targeted by school bullies because of their impairments, and were treated as social outcasts, while the Anti-Bullying Alliance has made clear that disabled pupils are more likely to experience bullying in school than their non-disabled peers.

But even with measures that appear to include disabled people, the party has been unable to confirm any details of their plans.

The manifesto speaks of tackling the rise in hate crime “by making them all aggravated offences”, a measure that disabled campaigners have called for for years, but the party has been unable this week to confirm whether this measure would include disability hate crime.

Currently, only crimes motivated by race or religious-based hostility are treated as “aggravated offences”, but the Lib Dem manifesto appears to suggest – although this is not clear – that this will be extended to offences aggravated by hostility to disability, sexual orientation or transgender status.

There is also a pledge to “increase accessibility to public places and transport by making more stations wheelchair accessible”, and other promises that refer to “improving the legislative framework governing blue badges”, “setting up a benchmarking standard for accessible cities”, and “banning discrimination by private hire vehicles and taxis”.

But with each of these pledges, the party has refused to provide any further details.

Possibly the clearest pledge in the equalities manifesto is the promise that a Lib Dem government would introduce a British Sign Language Act, which would give British Sign Language “full legal recognition”.

A party spokesperson said: “The equalities manifesto was produced with full input from disabled party members, including Liberal Democrat party president Sal Brinton and David Buxton, our parliamentary candidate for East Hampshire [and a Deaf BSL-user].

“The Liberal Democrats are proud of their record on disability issues and we will be setting out full details of their proposals in this area as part of our manifesto in due course.”

Yesterday’s full manifesto revealed no further details about any of these policies, although it did reveal further disability-related policies, in areas such as social care and benefits (see separate story).

Despite being asked last Friday about the manifesto’s omissions and the failure to invite LDDA to the launch or to ask LDDA to co-produce the manifesto, the party had refused to clarify its position by noon today (Thursday).

21 November 2019


Election 2019: Lib Dems overlook working-age social care reform… again

The Liberal Democrats have failed to offer a detailed policy on how they would reform care and support for working-age disabled people if they win the election, although they have pledged to reopen the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

The manifesto failure comes following criticism from within the party at September’s annual conference at its failure to address the working-age social care crisis.

Baroness Holly, the party’s health spokesperson in the Lords, admitted to Disability News Service at the conference that the issue had probably been “overlooked rather than ignored”.

Two months on, the party has failed to put this right in its general election manifesto.

Instead, the Lib Dems repeat their previous pledge to increase spending on health and social care – with £7 billion a year more through 1p on income tax, in the short term – and say they would develop a more joined-up health, public health and social care system through “pooled budgets” and “integrated care systems”.

In contrast with the Greens, who the previous day had promised a free National Independent Living Support Service for England, and a legal right to independent living (see separate story), the only free social care pledge offered by the Liberal Democrats was to “move towards” offering free social care in the last months of a person’s life.

The manifesto also offers a cap on an individual’s contribution to their lifetime care costs, as recommended by the Dilnot commission on the funding of long-term care, a measure included in the 2014 Care Act but never implemented by successive Tory-led governments.

There is also a brief reference to reinstating ILF in England – as previously agreed at its party conference – but no explanation as to how this would fit into its overall plans. ILF was closed by the Tory government in June 2015.

Elsewhere in the manifesto, which was published several days after the party’s equalities manifesto (see separate story), there is a focus on reforms to the social security system.

The party pledges to reduce the time new claimants wait for their first universal credit payment from five weeks to five days, and to increase spending by £6 billion a year on the benefits system.

It promises to increase the local housing allowance in line with an area’s average rents, abolish the bedroom tax, and scrap the sanctions system – “which does not encourage people into work, penalises people with mental health issues and deters people from claiming support” – and replace it with an incentive-based scheme.

A Liberal Democrat government would also reinstate the extra payments for new claimants of employment and support allowance placed in the work-related activity group, a move that was fiercely criticised when the payments were cut by the government in April 2017.

The party says it would also scrap the much-criticised work capability assessment and replace it with a new system “run by local authorities and based on real-world tests”.

Elsewhere in the manifesto, there is a strong emphasis on mental health, although with most of these policies focused on health services and “mental well-being” rather than rights.

It also pledges to introduce all of the recommendations made in last year’s Wessely review of the Mental Health Act, which was heavily criticised by user-led organisations for falling “significantly short of giving people with mental health diagnoses full human rights”, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

But the party does promise that it would close “urgently” all assessment and treatment units for people with learning difficulties and autistic people.

21 November 2019


Election 2019: Greens set to outdo other parties on independent living

The Greens have become the first major party to pledge to introduce a solution to England’s social care crisis that has been devised by the disabled people’s movement, if it wins power at next month’s general election.

The party says in its general election manifesto, published on Tuesday, that a Green government would introduce a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) for England, and back it up with a legal right to independent living.

The pledge comes as Labour’s manifesto, set to be published today (Thursday), is set to fall short of such a promise and pledge only to provide free personal care for older people.

The Liberal Democrats have already failed to offer a detailed policy on how they would reform care and support for working-age disabled people if they win the election (see separate story), although they have pledged to reopen the Independent Living Fund.

The Conservatives are set to offer even less, with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock promising only to “build a cross-party consensus” on social care reform, guaranteeing that no-one needing care would need to sell their home to pay for it, and promising just £1 billion extra a year for social care.

Last month, a Tory cabinet minister admitted there was “no consensus” in the government on how to solve the adult social care funding crisis, even though Boris Johnson announced that he had a “clear plan” for doing so when he took over as prime minister in October.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) originally promised that a social care green paper would be published by the end of 2017, and then July last year, before delaying it to the autumn and then the end of 2018.

After missing the December 2018 deadline, it was delayed until “the earliest opportunity” in 2019, before Hancock told MPs it would be published by April.

Hancock then said he could only promise that it was “coming in due course”. It has still yet to be published.

The Green party’s health and social care spokesperson, Larry Sanders – brother of US socialist senator Bernie Sanders – said the introduction of an NILSS would be remembered in 70 years’ time, just as the creation of the NHS in 1948 is today.

NILSS was drawn up by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), and would provide free support, funded by progressive, direct taxation, with the NILSS system to be designed by service-users and carers in partnership with local authorities and the NHS, and delivered “as far as possible” by service-users.

But despite Labour’s annual conference voting overwhelmingly for an NILSS to become party policy, it is thought the policy will not be included in the party’s election manifesto when it is published today (Thursday).

The Green party manifesto also promises to “fully embed” the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into UK law.

And it says this will mean that practices such as “compulsory treatment, chemical and physical restraint, isolation, and seclusion” of people with mental distress will be made illegal across the UK, with the party promising to “end these practices forever”.

But the UNCRPD pledge does clash with another of its manifesto measures.

Although the party promises to introduce a “fully inclusive education system”, with disabled children “fully supported” to attend their local mainstream school, it also says that it would retain segregated special schools “for when children and parents would prefer that option”.

This measure was shaped by the party’s co-leader Jonathan Bartley, drawing on his experiences with his disabled son, Samuel.

A Green party spokesperson told Disability News Service: “We will believe that a fully inclusive system is one where the parents of disabled children have the choice between local and specialist schools.”

But this would be a breach of article 24 of the UN convention, with the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities making it clear three years ago that “full realization” of article 24 is “not compatible with sustaining two systems of education: mainstream and special/segregated education systems”.

Meanwhile, the manifesto also pledges that a Green government would phase in a new universal basic income (UBI) to replace the current system of means-tested social security payments.

This would mean scrapping universal credit, a key demand of most of the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, although some disabled activists have raised concerns about UBI and have warned it could further isolate and impoverish disabled people.

Introducing UBI would mean an unconditional social security payment made to all UK residents.

The party suggests an adult UBI rate of £89 a week, with extra weekly payments for disabled people, lone parents and lone older people, and it says the supplement for disabled people would “help restore the benefits withdrawn from disabled people over the past 10 years, providing more financial security”.

The Green party manifesto also promises funding for local authorities to improve bus and train stations, to ensure “full accessibility for disabled people”.

The party spokesperson confirmed that this was a promise to make every station in the country  fully accessible to all disabled people.

The manifesto also includes a pledge to introduce job-sharing “at all levels of government, to make politics more accessible, especially for disabled people and people with caring responsibilities”, although it is not clear if this means a promise to introduce job-sharing for MPs, a long-held demand of many disabled campaigners.

It also promises to expand support for disabled people standing for election, by reopening the Access to Elected Office Fund.

This would fund disability-related campaign spending for disabled candidates running for elected office, making the fund permanent and ensuring it applies to candidates for parliamentary elections.

The government was accused last month of discriminating against disabled people standing at the general election – and breaching UNCRPD – by refusing to fund any of their disability-related campaign spending.

On housing, the Green party promises to support councils in England “to better provide housing for disabled people, supporting every council to draw up their own disability housing plans, and work to significantly increase the numbers of homes built to mobility standards over the next five years”.

The party says it would help councils deliver 100,000 social housing homes every year and that all of these homes would be built at least to the M4(2) accessibility standard*, although it has not said if there will be a target for the number of homes that will have to be built to the stricter M4(3) standard.

*Homes built to the M4(2) standard have 16 accessible or adaptable features, similar to the Lifetime Homes standard developed in the early 1990s to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use, while M4(3) homes are those that are supposed to be fully wheelchair-accessible

21 November 2019


Election 2019: Labour fails to set accessibility targets for ‘housing revolution’

Labour is refusing to promise that all the 150,000 council and social homes it would build every year would meet basic accessibility standards, despite the government facing legal action over its own failure to act on the accessible housing crisis.

Labour has announced plans for a “housing revolution” that would use £75 billion in new funding to build 100,000 council homes (an increase of more than 3,500 per cent) and at least 50,000 “genuinely affordable” homes a year by the end of the next parliament.

It described the plans as the “biggest overall affordable housebuilding programme since the 1960s”.

The announcement said there would be homes “available in every area for families, trapped younger renters, and older people in sub-standard homes”, but made no mention of working-age disabled people and the crisis in accessible housing.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also failed to mention the needs of disabled people when he announced the party’s plans, saying: “I am determined to create a society where working-class communities and young people have access to affordable, good quality council and social homes.”

And although shadow housing secretary John Healey said the housing would be built to “cutting-edge design and green standards”, he also failed to mention the accessible housing crisis.

Asked what proportion of the new homes would be built to the accessible and adaptable Lifetime Homes standard*, and what proportion would be fully wheelchair-accessible, a Labour spokesperson suggested that no targets would be set, and that many homes could be built that did not comply with basic accessibility standards.

He said it was “a really important issue for us”, and publicly funding the homes would give a Labour government “the ability to demand better standards than we often get in the private sector”.

But the spokesperson made it clear that any decisions on the accessibility of new homes “would be taken locally”, although Labour “would expect” that all homes that receive public funding would be built to the Lifetime Homes standard.

He added: “In many cases, councils and housing associations would no doubt be able to go further than this, particularly if they have identified a particular need for accessible accommodation, but those decisions would be taken locally.”

Only two months ago, the Conservative government was told that it could face legal action over its failure to take action to solve the crisis in accessible housing.

Tory housing secretary Robert Jenrick was told that he may have acted unlawfully by not complying with his public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

Research by Disability News Service showed last year that the home-building industry was engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes were built by trying to set targets in their local plans.

Campaigner Fleur Perry, who uses an electric wheelchair, has told Jenrick that it took her two-and-a-half years to find accessible housing in her home town of Swindon, a search she described as “like trying to find a needle in Loch Ness”.

She has spoken to disabled people who have been waiting for a decade for accessible housing or have been told by social services that it was pointless to even try to find somewhere.

Disabled people have been forced to turn down job offers, delay higher education opportunities or starting a family, live in just one or two rooms of their homes, or move into nursing homes, she says.

A report by the accessible housing provider Habinteg in June said that under a quarter (23 per cent) of new homes due to be built by 2030 outside London were planned to be accessible, and just one per cent of new homes outside London were set to be suitable for wheelchair-users.

*The Lifetime Homes standard was developed in the early 1990s to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use

21 November 2019


‘Horrific’ stats show how most disability benefit fraud allegations are false

A “staggering” and “horrific” proportion of allegations of disability benefit fraud that are made by the public are eventually found to be completely false, the government’s own figures have revealed.

The response by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to a freedom of information (FoI) request submitted by disabled activists has shown that nearly nine in 10 allegations of fraudulent claims passed to the department prove to be unfounded.

The FoI request was submitted by the Berkshire branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (Berkshire DPAC), which had grown increasingly concerned by years of government rhetoric that has stated or implied that disability benefit fraud was a huge problem and even a significant cause of austerity.

There has been mounting concern over those years that disabled people are being subjected to disability hate crimes as a result of this so-called benefit scrounger rhetoric, with disabled campaigners warning that such language has added to the “hostile environment” facing disabled people.

But the DWP figures show that nearly all reports of benefit fraud to DWP’s hotline and website have proved to be false and unfounded.

In both 2017-18 and 2018-19, the percentage of cases of alleged disability benefit fraud that were found to be “non-fraudulent” after examination by DWP was 89 per cent.

The figures relate to allegations made about claimants of both employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP).

The DWP response says: “All allegations of fraud received are checked to see if the allegation can be substantiated.

“In cases where there is no evidence of wrong doing, the referral will be closed at the earliest possible stage.”

A spokesperson for Berkshire DPAC said: “We asked this FoI after reading yet another horrendous story about the impact on a disabled woman of being hauled through an investigation because of a ridiculous allegation.

“It seems to us that going through the thoroughly discredited ESA and PIP assessments and sometimes having to wait months and months to go to tribunal, is bad enough, even if you win.

“We know that it is destroying people’s physical and mental health.

“If, on top of that stress, you then find yourself under investigation, because someone has made an allegation that you are claiming your benefit fraudulently, how are you expected to cope mentally?

“It worries us that the string of ministers responsible for the DWP and the media have encouraged the general public (for years) to think of us as scroungers and cheats at worst and as a burden on society at best.

“These stereotypes laid the groundwork for people who are jealous of us for receiving benefits (and we know this is quite widespread) and those who frankly just enjoy making trouble, to feel empowered by the chance to ring the DWP and make false allegations.

“It must be massively more worrying for people with invisible impairments, than for those of us with visible ones, but even we are not immune to being questioned by members of the public as to why, for example, we have a blue badge.

“Whilst the FoI response suggests that the DWP doesn’t automatically launch a full-scale investigation [when it receives an allegation of fraud], that will do little to reassure most disabled people, already feeling under threat from a profoundly unfair system.”

DWP says in its FoI response that not all allegations are dealt with by a fraud investigator, with some directed to the “compliance teams” that review people’s benefits and make any necessary corrections.

A DWP spokesperson refused to add to the FoI response.

He refused to say if DWP accepted that the figures showed that a hostile environment whipped up by ministers, other politicians and the media had led to an atmosphere in which a flood of false allegations of fraud had been made against disabled people.

He also refused to say if DWP was concerned about the figures and their effect on disabled people.

And he refused to say what action DWP would take to reduce the number of false allegations.

On Monday this week, at the launch of Disability History Month (see separate story), its coordinator, Richard Rieser, said disability hate crime “has been fuelled by ministerial-encouraged press saying that everybody out there is a scrounger, programmes like Benefits Street, and all the rest of it.

“The Sun ran its hotline to find how many ‘scroungers’ you could find, and this has led to a huge increase in hate crime on our streets against disabled people.”

The hostile rhetoric stretches back to the New Labour government, with ministers such as work and pensions secretary Peter Hain vowing in November 2007 to “rip up sicknote Britain”.

In 2010, Tory work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith told the Sun newspaper that he was “appalled” at how easy it had been in the past for people to claim incapacity benefit and cheat the system, and suggested that a large proportion of incapacity benefit claimants were cheats.

He added: “We don’t want to talk about scroungers in the future, we want to talk about British people being renowned the world over for working hard.”

The government’s efforts to promote the false idea that fraud was widespread was taken up by the mainstream media, with inaccurate stories in papers such as the Daily Mail (“Time’s up for the shirking classes: Just one in 14 incapacity claimants is unfit to work under new, tougher tests”) and the Daily Express (“Sick benefits: 75 per cent are faking”).

At the time, government figures estimated that the overpayment of incapacity benefit due to fraud was just £20 million a year, or 0.3 per cent of spending.

Senior New Labour figures also helped to add to this stigmatisation after the 2010 election.

The then Labour leader Ed Miliband claimed that some incapacity benefit claimants were “just not taking responsibility” and were “shirking their duties” and said that he understood why other people – those who “act responsibly” – were “getting angry”.

21 November 2019


Disability History Month’s stark messages after Tory austerity decade

Two leading disabled campaigners have delivered stark messages about the impact of a decade of austerity on disabled people, including the deaths of countless benefit claimants and the “unprecedented” loss of user-led organisations.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, and Richard Rieser, founder and coordinator of Disability History Month (DHM), were speaking at DHM’s launch event in central London on Monday.

This year’s DHM, the 10th annual celebration of disabled people’s history and culture, is focusing on disabled leaders and resistance.

Beresford told the event that organisations led by disabled people and service-users, and mental health survivor organisations, were “under threat as never before” and closing “at an unprecedented rate”.

He said: “The Minds and Rethinks cosy up to government and accept their regressive policies, yet say they speak for us, and our own organisations and initiatives are increasingly being made insecure, closing and lost.

“Our voices are being taken from us, our chances for resistance and change closed off.

“We must fight together to resist this, we must make this a public issue, we must band together.”

He said he was proud to be involved in both the mental health service-user/survivor movement and the broader disabled people’s movement, and said that it was important to build the links between the two movements because of the “shared discrimination and oppression that we have faced”.

But he said it was not possible to address discrimination and the devaluing of disabled people in society “without addressing the appalling consequences of so-called welfare reform”.

He said this had affected all disabled people but had hit survivors of the mental health system “in a particular way and [had driven] many to think of killing themselves, and too many to actually do so”.

Beresford also said that the emergence of the “mad studies movement” had provided the survivor movement with its own expression of the social model of disability and the philosophy of independent living.

He said: “We have stood the medical model of mental illness on its head, we have rejected it and all its biomedical and genetic trappings. Instead, we are highlighting the social oppression and exclusions that we face.

“We have taken over the language of madness that has so long been used to oppress us.”

He said this felt like “a break with the medicalised past” and the reliance on “sledgehammer drugs” and pressure to “force us into any paid work, however damaging it may be” and the emphasis on control, compulsion, coercion and institutionalisation.

Rieser told the event that there was a “wall” between disabled people and the rest of society.

He said: “That wall is what we are about in Disability History Month, looking at the lessons of the past and how people have challenged it, where we are now, what we need to do in the future to get rid of that wall.”

He compared the events that took place in Nazi Germany – which, under Hitler’s Aktion T4 programme, led to the murder of as many as 275,000 disabled people – with the impact of austerity on disabled people.

He said the Nazis’ view of disabled people as a “burden” was on a par with the events of the last decade, which have seen countless deaths due to austerity cuts.

He said: “Where’s the difference from actually setting up camps to do it or allowing people to die by withdrawing their benefits?

“There’s not that huge gap and there should be. In a civilised society it should not be allowed to happen.”

He said the UK was a rich country and yet treats disabled people “like rubbish”.

Rieser also said that many disabled people, because of their personal struggles, had “come forward as leaders”, even before the start of the disabled people’s movement, through a “determination… that there needed to be social justice, not just for themselves, but for wider society”.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, the crossbench peer, independent living campaigner and co-founder of Not Dead Yet UK, told the event: “No one person can claim that they were or are the leader at any time in our history.

“The success of our movement is because we are a connected enterprise.”

She spoke of how she first became involved in the disabled people’s movement in the 1980s after attending a conference of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP).

At that conference, she heard Mike Oliver – who died earlier this year – speak about disability pride, the social model of disability, exclusion and disabled people’s emancipation.

She said: “I was completely captivated… in 15 minutes, he unblocked a world for me that offered so much more than I ever imagined possible.”

She described the various stages that the disabled people’s liberation movement had had to go through in the UK, and said that it was the latest stage – being included in mainstream society – that had proved to be the most difficult.

She said: “This has been our hardest step, which we are still fighting and losing in equal measure now today.”

For this year’s Disability History Month – the 10th since its launch in 2010nine interviews have been filmed with present-day disabled leaders, including Baroness Campbell, Professor Beresford, Jaysaree Kalathil and Micheline Mason, on the subject of leadership and resistance.

Gary Bourlet, co-founder of Britain’s first People First group in 1984, spoke at Monday’s launch event about the early days of the self-advocacy movement in this country, and how he had had to use his benefits to buy envelopes and stamps to send more than 400 hand-written letters to promote the idea of People First.

He said: “There was resentment in those early days from providers and families.

“They weren’t used to people with learning disabilities speaking up in the 80s.

“People with learning disabilities themselves weren’t used to the idea. They didn’t have the confidence.

“We just had to keep spreading the word and holding conferences.”

Bourlet, now membership and engagement lead for Learning Disability England, said: “Self-advocacy, to me, is about speaking up for yourself, deciding what you want to do, now and in the future, and understanding your strengths and weaknesses and developing personal goals and standing up for your rights, making decisions instead of others making decisions for you.”

Michelle Daley, interim director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, spoke about four prominent black disabled leaders.

She said: “It was important to me when I came into the disabled people’s movement that I was able to identify with other black disabled leaders.”

She chose the nineteenth century author and abolitionist Mary Prince; Barbara Stewart, a poet, artist and disabled activist who worked in east London on hate crime and volunteered as a benefits adviser; and Nasa Begum and Millie Hill, who wrote about the importance of intersectionality.

Daley said: “Nasa and Millie [wanted people to understand] that change for disabled black people is unlikely to be achieved in a meaningful way while there remains inter-sectional oppression.”

Actor and activist Ellen Goodey spoke of the schools and college that had supported her through a mainstream education and of how she co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed Princess of the Graveyard Palace, a play about the history of people with learning difficulties, which examines issues such as pre-natal testing, abortion and eugenics.

Judy Hunt, the author of No Limits: The Disabled People’s Movement, A Radical History, spoke about her late husband Paul, who played a significant role in the development of the movement.

She described how he had been living in the Leonard Cheshire residential home Le Court, in Hampshire, in the early 1960s, and had embarked on a political journey which would lead to the formation of the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) 10 years later.

In his journal, he described the autocratic and patronising behaviour of the warden and matron, the management committee, the trustees and Leonard Cheshire himself, and how residents struggled to respond to that.

He believed the residents had to win representation on the home’s management committee “to be both heard and respected”.

She said: “Paul and a few others were also battling against the constant attempts by Cheshire and others to treat them as the passive, chronic sick dependants of charity.”

Louise Regan, membership and equality officer for the National Education Union, which hosted the DHM launch, told the event that the education system was “going backwards” on inclusion as a result of austerity.

She said government cuts to school funding had had a “disproportionate impact on children and young people with special education needs and disabilities”, which was having a “devastating impact on children and young people who are not getting the right support that they need”.

21 November 2019


Tens of thousands of disabled workers ‘let down by equality law enforcement failure’

Tens of thousands of disabled workers are being let down by the government’s failure to ensure equality laws are enforced in the workplace, according to a new report.

The Let’s be Reasonable report by UNISON, based on nearly 2,900 survey responses completed by disabled workers, was launched this week at the union’s headquarters in central London.

The survey found that two-thirds (67 per cent) of disabled workers across the UK who had asked their employer to make reasonable adjustments for them in the workplace had had all or some of their requests rejected.

UNISON said the survey showed that disabled workers were being turned down for reasonable adjustments in large numbers and were experiencing “unnecessary physical pain, mental health problems and job loss as a result”.

The survey found nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of those who required adjustments – such as adapted chairs, flexible hours, being able to work from home, or funding for a personal assistant – had been forced to wait a year or more to receive them.

And only eight per cent of those who needed reasonable adjustments had been allowed disability leave (time off from work for impairment-related reasons), an adjustment the union said was “virtually unknown in the workplace”.

In all, the survey found that more than a third (34 per cent) of those who told their employer they were disabled said that that employer had not been supportive.

The survey also revealed that nearly a third of respondents (31 per cent) had been unfairly treated because of their disability-related sickness record, and 28 per cent of this group had been subject to a disciplinary process.

Nearly a third of those surveyed (32 per cent) said they did not have equal access to promotion.

As many as 200,000 of the union’s members are believed to be disabled, with many working for local authorities, the NHS, police forces, schools and the voluntary sector.

UNISON is now calling for better enforcement of the right to reasonable adjustments in the workplace under the Equality Act, which it suggested could be done through a new standalone enforcement body.

It also wants to see a “much stronger” right to disability leave through the Equality Act, as well as statutory timescales for responding to requests for reasonable adjustments and for implementing those that have been agreed.

Of those respondents to the survey who had reasonable adjustments agreed by their employer, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) had to wait more than a year for them to be implemented.

And of those whose requests for reasonable adjustments were rejected, 32 per cent were told this was because of the impact it would have on team performance, while 23 per cent were told that cost was a reason.

One disabled worker who had not yet received the reasonable adjustments they needed says in the report: “They’re always looking into it. I feel like they are trying to make it uncomfortable for me in the hope I will quit.”

Another was told they “cannot work from home as no-one else in the department can”.

One disabled worker who had not had the reasonable adjustments they needed says: “My physical health and disability has plunged to its lowest level ever.

“Mental stress, palpitations and anger that they are rated ‘Disability Confident’.”

One UNISON member says: “I feel I am in a constant battle to remain in work… emotionally I’m at the point where I’m beginning to think about giving my job up because fighting my condition is tiring enough.”

UNISON also calls in its report for there to be a clear statement that disability leave is a legal right if a disabled worker is waiting for reasonable adjustments to be implemented.

Lord Low, the disabled crossbench peer, told the launch event that it was an “extremely welcome” report and that it was “dreadful” that two-thirds of workers had some or all their requests for reasonable adjustments refused.

He also welcomed the report’s emphasis on disability leave and said: “I don’t think enough attention has been paid to it as an adjustment.

“We need better enforcement of the right to reasonable adjustments. The suggestion of a standalone enforcement body or organisation is well worth considering.”

Emilie Oldknow, UNISON’s assistant general secretary, said: “We know that not only do employers need a carrot, but they also need a stick.”

Describing one disabled member who was not provided with the reasonable adjustments they needed and had to quit their job, Oldknow said: “Wasted opportunity, wasted talent, wasted lives.”

Michael Paul, head of advice and information for Disability Rights UK, said: “My call to action would be for every small, medium or large organisation to be empowered… to hold the difficult conversations with disabled staff and embrace difference.”

He said that reasonable adjustments “don’t have to be complicated or expensive”.

21 November 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com