Labour MP told to quit influential post after ‘offensive’ minimum wage call

Disabled activists have called for a Labour MP to resign as chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, after he called for employers to be allowed to pay some disabled people less than the minimum wage.

Frank Field made the call in a new collection of essays on employment and disabled people, which was published earlier this month.

Three years ago, a Tory minister, Lord Freud, faced calls to be sacked after he was recorded making the same suggestion at a fringe event at the Conservative party conference.

Disabled campaigners have lined up to criticise Field.

Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOWCampaign, said Field’s “offensive” suggestion “reinforces a discriminatory and prejudicial stereotype that disabled people are worth less than others”.

He said: “If Frank Field wants to close the disability employment gap, the WOWCampaign suggest that he starts by putting together a robust plan to tackle the prejudice and discrimination that disabled people face from employers, which both acts as a barrier to them joining the workforce and stops them from achieving their true potential.

“Sadly, rather than do the hard bit, he has pandered to prejudice and ignorance and said some disabled people are not worth the minimum wage.

“Many people in post-Brexit Britain will read ‘some’ and think ‘all’.”

Jones said the Labour party should suspend Field from party membership and withdraw its support for him as chair of the work and pensions committee.

He added: “Prejudice such as this must not be tolerated. A minimum is a minimum for all.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said Field’s suggestion was “grossly offensive and totally unacceptable”.

She said: “Field is a disgrace as both chair of the work and pensions select committee and a so-called Labour MP, and DPAC believe that he must resign his select committee post with immediate effect.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), was also critical, but stopped short of calling for Field to resign.

He said: “We think Frank Field MP is misguided in advocating that disabled people are paid less than the minimum wage.

“I am totally opposed to any such suggestion. It would set us on the slippery slope to sheltered employment and performing menial tasks at day centres.

“We have a right to work and to have the support in work we need to reach our full potential.

“We respect Frank Field’s position as chair of the DWP select committee and I would like to invite him in to engage in a dialogue with disabled people on this issue.

“I think we need to defeat this whole idea, in parliament and outside it, rather than focus on one individual. We should win the argument through debate in the democratic process.”

Neil Coyle, a Labour member of Field’s work and pensions committee and a former DR UK director, said: “I completely disagree with Frank and made that clear at the launch of the report.

“Disabled people’s living costs are higher and they are more likely to live in poverty.

“Disabled people should not be penalised in work and already earn less for the same jobs as non-disabled people.”

Stephen Lloyd, the disabled Liberal Democrat MP and his party’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “I am disappointed that the chair of the work and pensions select committee, Frank Field, has fallen into the trap – some would say right-wing trap – of advocating a lower wage for some people with certain disabilities.

“No reliable evidence has ever been shown that this is effective and it also perpetuates the stereotypes that some disabled people are worth less than others.

“This is both wrong and insulting.”

In his essay, The Future Of Employment Support For The Disabled, Field says that “more bold thinking is required” if the government wants to reduce the disability employment gap.

He suggests that some disabled people will never be productive enough to compete “on a level playing field” for job opportunities, and that this challenge was made “all the more daunting by the otherwise welcome introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW)”.

He says that the introduction of the NLW “cuts even further adrift from the labour market those individuals whose work has an economic value below the legal minimum wage”.

And he suggests granting a “specific exemption” to the NLW “to those whose disabilities are deemed so severe that they will never be capable of enough output to warrant payment of the minimum wage, but who might nevertheless enjoy significant wellbeing gains from involvement in an appropriate workplace environment”.

Such workers, he said, “might be permitted to earn a small amount of money a week with zero or negligible impact” on their receipt of employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit.

He admits there is a risk that “unscrupulous employers” would take advantage of such an exemption, while he says it would be “important to guard against the risk of negatively affecting the perception of disability employment more broadly”.

But he says the NLW already does not apply to the under-25s and apprentices*, so this exemption could be extended to “those facing the severest barriers to work”.

After being approached for a comment by Disability News Service, Field – who is seen as being on the right of the Labour party and not close to the leadership – claimed it was “absurd” that his idea was about cutting the NLW.

He said: “It is about building a properly resourced package, including work buddies, if we are to provide the stepping stones that will enable people living with severe disabilities to achieve a life’s ambition to work.

“How do we ensure they can fulfil that ambition, in a way which ensures employers meet the sacrosanct requirement to pay the National Living Wage, which is proving incredibly difficult under the present system?

“Not to have that discussion is a betrayal of disabled people and I am not prepared to do that.

“We must have the courage to consider ideas like this one, building ways into gainful, meaningful work.

“Individuals and organisations who claim to represent the views of disabled people should be demanding that politicians discuss ideas like these that could make the dream of work a reality, not trying to silence the debate.”

The essay collection, Opportunities For All, has been published by the Learning and Work Institute, with support from the charity Shaw Trust, and features an introduction by the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt.

A spokesman for Shaw Trust said: “We were very pleased to support the publication of these essays, which represent a range of views on the debate.

“However, these are the views of the original authors and not Shaw Trust.”

Three years ago, Lord Freud, at the time the welfare reform minister, only kept his post after he publicly apologised for suggesting at the Tory party conference that some disabled people were “not worth the full wage”.

He also faced a Labour motion in the House of Commons which expressed no confidence in him as minister for welfare reform and called on David Cameron to sack him.

DPAC organised a protest outside the Department for Work and Pensions’ headquarters, WOWcampaign launched a petition calling for Lord Freud to be sacked, and Labour leader Ed Miliband said they were “not the words of someone who ought to be in charge of policy relating to disabled people”.

Lord Freud said in his apology that “all disabled people should be paid at least the minimum wage, without exception, and I accept that it is offensive to suggest anything else”.

*Under-25s are still entitled to a minimum wage, which is set at lower rates than the NLW, depending on their age, while apprentices are entitled to an even lower rate if they are under-19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship

21 September 2017

 

 

Disgraced PIP assessor escapes being struck off

A disgraced former disability assessor and paramedic has avoided being struck off, despite a tribunal concluding that he made offensive remarks about disabled benefit claimants.

Alan Barham was sacked by the government outsourcing giant Capita last year after being exposed by an undercover reporter working for Channel 4’s Dispatches.

He later contacted Disability News Service (DNS) to protest about the way he had been treated, claiming he had been made a “scapegoat” by Capita.

Barham told DNS earlier this year that nearly everything he was caught saying by Dispatches was standard practice, and was therefore “driven by Capita”.

But the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service this week found four allegations against him – relating to comments he made to the undercover reporter – were “proved” and that he was therefore guilty of misconduct and his fitness to practise as a paramedic was “impaired”.

Despite those findings, the tribunal did not strike him off but instead handed him a five-year caution order, which will mean that the word “caution” will appear next to his name on the Health and Care Professions Council website for the next five years.

The tribunal heard he had been working for Capita as a PIP assessor for two years when he was filmed by Dispatches.

The four allegations found proved by the tribunal panel were that Barham had boasted of finishing one assessment report before a claimant had even arrived for their PIP assessment; that he told the undercover reporter that it was usually “informal observations” of how claimants behave during the assessment that assessors “catch them out on”; that he had said that assessors can usually “completely dismiss” everything they are told by a PIP claimant; and that he had made an offensive comment about a claimant’s weight.

Two other allegations – relating to taking pictures on his mobile phone of the cover pages of assessment reports, to ensure he was paid for the work he had done – were found “not proved” because there was no proof he had breached the confidentiality of PIP claimants.

In evidence to the tribunal this week, Barham admitted that the comments he had made were “disgraceful, aggressive and nasty”, and that he had been “embarrassed and ashamed to see himself in the footage”.

The tribunal found he had “demonstrated genuine and heartfelt remorse for his actions” and that he had had an “otherwise unblemished career”.

Although the panel said it was “paramount that the public is able to trust the integrity of the PIP assessment process” and that claimants need to have confidence that assessors “carry out the PIP assessments in a fair and sensitive manner”, they concluded that a caution was a suitable sanction because Barham’s behaviour had been “a lapse which was both isolated and limited”.

But the husband of one of the PIP claimants Barham assessed was furious at the panel’s decision not to strike him off.

As a result of Barham’s face-to-face assessment of her, a month before the documentary was screened, Jacqueline Nicholls had been found ineligible for PIP.

It was only after the documentary was aired and the Department for Work and Pensions agreed that she could be reassessed that she was granted the enhanced rate for both the daily living and mobility components of PIP.

Capita upheld a complaint lodged by Jacqueline and her husband David that Barham had made inaccurate assumptions about the impact of her brain injury and had even lied in his report.

Barham later insisted to DNS that his assessment had been correct, according to Capita procedures.

These allegations – and those concerning another PIP assessment he carried out – were not heard this week by the tribunal panel because HCPC had decided earlier this year that they were not serious enough to merit findings of misconduct or lack of competence.

On hearing of the result of his hearing this week, David Nicholls told DNS the punishment Barham had received was “totally unbelievable” and that he should have been struck off.

He said: “When I found out that he was not struck off I could not believe it after all the misery he has caused, supported by agencies like Capita that have no care for what they are charged to do.

“There is something very wrong with the system that allows people like this to get away with such things.”

Barham was approached by DNS following this week’s hearing but had not commented by noon today (Thursday).

21 September 2017

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Universal credit rollout ‘will ruin lives of hundreds of thousands’

The lives of hundreds of thousands of people will be ruined if the government does not halt its rollout of universal credit, according to a disabled Liberal Democrat MP.

Stephen Lloyd, the party’s shadow work and pensions secretary, told this week’s annual conference that the rollout of universal credit was increasing rent arrears and other debts and forcing people – many of them disabled – to borrow from loan sharks, pawnbrokers and payday loan companies.

He was speaking on an emergency motion at the conference which called on the government to pause next month’s planned accelerated rollout until problems with the implementation of universal credit – which is at the heart of the government’s welfare reforms – could be addressed.

Lloyd called on the Labour party to join the call for a “pause” in the rollout before it is due to accelerate, and said that the lives of “hundreds of thousands of people not yet on universal credit… will be ruined if we don’t act”.

The motion was passed with just one delegate voting against.

Delegates agreed with the principles of universal credit – such as simplifying the social security system, improving work incentives and tackling poverty – but warned that its implementation was causing huge problems.

Lloyd told the conference that the policy had “shambles written all over it” and that the ministers responsible were behaving like “22-carat, copper-bottomed, red-nosed, purple-booted” clowns.

He said that delays in awarding universal credit meant many were not receiving their first payments for two or even three months.

The latest Department for Work and Pensions figures show that, for all new universal credit claimants, only 76 per cent receive their first payment in full and on time.

Even without delays, claimants do not receive their first payment for six weeks.

Lloyd said the Liberal Democrats had supported the introduction of universal credit in coalition, but the Conservatives had since taken more than £3 billion out of the programme, with the work allowance – the amount people can earn before their benefits start to be reduced – “slashed to the bone”.

The taper rate – which decides how much of their benefits universal credit claimants can keep for every extra pound they earn – had also been “cut to ribbons”.

This had left the principle behind universal credit “utterly worthless”, he said, and he added: “Universal credit is no longer a progressive, reliable policy; it is a complete train wreck.”

Lloyd said that Gloucester City Homes housing association had told the work and pensions committee that 85 per cent of its universal credit claimants were in arrears, compared to just 20 per cent of other tenants.

He told delegates: “The Tories’ incompetence and ideological fixations over universal credit are leading to appalling consequences for thousands of people.

“And if universal credit is not checked, stopped right now in its tracks, so the failings can be addressed, it will be tens of thousands of our fellow citizens slipping into grotesque levels of debt.”

He said that many of those affected would be disabled people.

Kelly-Marie Blundell, the disabled party member who came second after fighting the Lewes seat in June’s general election, said: “Universal credit is a good idea badly implemented.

“The reality on the ground is that people are in poverty because of a broken welfare system.

“Beveridge [the Liberal economist and social reformer, whose 1942 report for the wartime government laid the foundations for the modern welfare state] said there was a line below which no-one should be allowed to fall.

“The current system… means people are falling below that line on a regular basis.”

Fran Oborski, a disabled Liberal Democrat councillor from Wyre Forest, said: “In 44 years as a councillor, I have never done as much housing case work as I am doing these days.”

She said the concept of universal credit was “excellent” but the payment delays were “horrendous”.

She said: “We have to get this process modified before it is totally rolled out.

“It has to be postponed until the government can give all of us the reassurance that the universal credit rollout is going to work for the people who need it.”

County councillor Neil Hughes, who stood unsuccessfully at the general election in the Penrith and The Border constituency, said the party needed to act on universal credit to atone for supporting the introduction of the bedroom tax while in coalition government with the Tories.

He spent time living homeless in Brighton in the early 1980s, and was only able to rent a place to live then because he received an advance social security payment.

The motion that was agreed by party members called for everyone claiming universal credit to be told they could claim a sum of money in advance while waiting for their first payment*.

Hughes also said the government needed to change its policy so that universal credit was no longer paid a month in arrears.

Another disabled party member, Avril Coelho, told the debate that delays of up to three months in universal credit payments meant claimants were being forced to rely on food banks and homeless shelters.

She said the rollout needed to be halted so that “many people do not fall into this awful trap”.

Coelho, a member of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, told Disability News Service after the debate that she feared lives could be lost if the government refused to halt the rollout, with the risk of disabled people and others being left homeless this winter.

She said she had met many disabled people in the Twickenham and Richmond area, where she campaigns, who were “struggling to make ends meet” because of the flaws in the universal credit system.

Coelho, who is currently fundraising for the charity Crisis because she fears the impact of the universal credit rollout on homelessness in London, said disabled people she had met could not afford to feed themselves and their children and were having to use food banks “because their [universal credit] claims have taken so long and they have been waiting and waiting and waiting”.

If the rollout was not halted, she said, too many people and their families would be left “going hungry, not being able to pay their bills, potentially losing the roof over their heads, finding themselves rough sleeping and relying more and more on charity when the government could have done something about it.

“The Tories don’t care about the most needy and vulnerable people. I absolutely believe that this proves it.”

Meanwhile, two Labour members of the Commons work and pensions committee, the disabled MP Marsha de Cordova and Ruth George, have called for work and pensions secretary David Gauke to review the expansion of the roll-out.

They pointed to a swathe of new evidence to the committee from councils, charities and landlords that showed the system was not robust enough to deal with the accelerated rollout.

De Cordova said: “The government have admitted that at present – when just five areas a month have been rolled out – only 80 per cent of applications are being processed within six-seven weeks, with 20 per cent having to wait considerably longer.

“The system is creaking when 57 areas have been rolled out over the course of this year.  It will not cope with 55 further areas each month.”

The work and pensions committee last week launched a new inquiry into DWP’s readiness for the universal credit accelerated rollout.

*Advances can be paid in the initial stages of a claim to help people with “short term budgeting issues”. Claimants can receive up to 50 per cent of their monthly entitlement, if the government is confident they will be able to repay the money. 

21 September 2017

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Party votes to bring UN disability convention into UK law

The Liberal Democrats have voted to incorporate the UN disability convention into UK law.

Party members overwhelmingly passed an emergency motion that noted how the UK government was accused last month by a UN committee of causing a “human catastrophe” by cutting disabled people’s support.

David Buxton, the Deaf party activist who proposed the motion, said the government’s response to the UN committee’s concerns was to be “scathingly dismissive” of a report that produced more than 80 recommendations for improvements on how it implements the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

He said: “It cannot be allowed to continue to shirk its responsibilities.”

Stephen Lloyd, the disabled MP who speaks for the party on work and pensions, told the conference that it was “an absolute disgrace” that the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had had to write such a critical report on the UK government’s progress in implementing the UN convention.

He said: “It is shameful that a UK government… could be written of in such a way.

“It shows how utterly appalling this government is on disability.”

Although the party’s disabled president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, had told Disability News Service before this year’s general election that the party would incorporate the UN convention into UK law, it was not in the Liberal Democrat election manifesto.

Such a move would give disabled people legally-enforceable rights to independent living, accessibility, an adequate standard of living, and many other areas covered by the convention.

Baroness Brinton told the conference on Tuesday that the promise would be carried out by strengthening the Equality Act 2010.

She said the government’s response to last year’s report from the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee – which made 55 recommendations for strengthening the act – had been “woeful”.

She also highlighted how some disabled people had been driven to take their own lives by the discrimination they had faced in the benefits assessment process.

Baroness Brinton said she had shared on social media two of her many experiences of discrimination as a wheelchair-user on London buses, but she said this was nothing compared to the experiences of other disabled bus-users, particularly outside London.

She said the government’s continued failure to respond to Doug Paulley’s Supreme Court victory in January – when the court found First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people through its  policy on the use of wheelchair spaces – had been “appalling”.

She called on fellow members to “shame” the government into “helping disabled people to live the lives they are entitled to” by voting for the motion.

Buxton, who founded the Liberal Democrat Disability Association 25 years ago, said the government’s response to the recommendations from the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee had been to “sweep them under the carpet”.

But he warned the conference that many people had not forgotten the party’s role in backing coalition policies such as the bedroom tax and cuts to disabled people’s support between 2010 and 2015.

He said: “When in government the Liberal Democrats did block some of the Conservative… funding cuts but unfortunately voters have not realised the efforts and successes that we made in these matters.

“It was only after the 2015 general election that the voters began to see the true colours of the destructive steam-roller that is the Conservative government when they made public their intentions to further cut funding for disabled people.”

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said the government had been shown as “heartless at best and cruel at worst”.

She pointed to cuts to housing benefit, the disability benefits personal independence payment and employment and support allowance, social care, and Access to Work, and to the failure to re-open the Access to Elected Office Fund.

Evan Mortimer, a non-binary, disabled party activist, told the debate: “Too many disabled people are suffering, but all too often they get ignored, or worse, accused of being scroungers.

“It is that false narrative, pushed over many years by many parts of the media and far too many politicians, that allows the government, the private companies they employ, and parts of the public sector to treat disabled people so appallingly.

“In many ways, what the government is doing is a reflection of society’s indifference to disabled people.

“Society has many problems but the government should be challenging those and not reinforcing them and making things worse.”

Meanwhile, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission was due to warn today (Thursday) that the UK’s reputation as a champion of human rights was now “seriously under threat”, following the government’s response to another UN examination.

David Isaac was set to speak out as the UK government faced a five-yearly review of its overall record on human rights.

In May, the UK received 227 recommendations from the UN on how it should improve its human rights record, but it accepted just 96 of them (42 per cent).

The British Institute of Human Rights and other civil society organisations, including Disability Rights UK, also expressed disappointment, and said the UK’s figure was far lower than 67 per cent, the average proportion of recommendations accepted by other countries in the UK’s region (the Western European and others UN group).

They said they were worried about “the regressive climate for human rights in our country”.

Ben Donaldson, head of campaigns at the United Nations Association – UK, said: “Championing human rights should be a core part of the UK’s vision for a global Britain.

“Instead, the UK is falling behind the international community and is resorting to dismissive rhetoric.

“This conduct directly undermines the rules-based system and harms the UK’s national interest.”

21 September 2017

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Fresh evidence of PIP lies leads to call for video evidence

The Liberal Democrats have called for disability benefit assessments to be video-recorded, after their annual conference heard fresh evidence that healthcare professionals were writing dishonest assessment reports on behalf of the government.

The party’s disabled work and pensions spokesman, Stephen Lloyd, told Disability News Service (DNS) that he was in favour of introducing pilot schemes to test video-recording of face-to-face assessments for personal independence payment (PIP).

He was speaking after party members highlighted continuing concerns over dishonest PIP assessments, during a debate on last month’s report by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found that the UK government’s cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”.

A motion overwhelmingly carried by party members noted that evidence of the “inappropriate and dishonest” PIP assessment process showed the system was “target-driven and designed to penalise” disabled people.

DNS has now collected more than 250 allegations that healthcare professionals working for the government contractors Capita and Atos have compiled dishonest PIP assessment reports.

Maureen Rigg, vice-chair of Stockton Liberal Democrats, told fellow delegates that she had recently supported a friend with a fluctuating health condition – who had previously been claiming disability living allowance – to a face-to-face PIP assessment.

Her friend was asked by the nurse carrying out the assessment to stand up, and when she tried to do so “she almost fell into the desk”.

Rigg told the conference: “The nurse said, ‘For heaven’s sake, sit down before you hurt yourself.’”

Despite this incident, the nurse’s assessment report described her friend as “slightly unsteady on her feet”, and as a result of the report a DWP decision-maker found her ineligible for PIP.

Rigg said: “If that is typical of assessments, there is something wrong with the system.

“There has to be some sort of assessment, but my goodness, it needs to be a fair one, it needs to be a proper one and it needs to be based on the facts.”

DWP’s original decision was confirmed by a mandatory reconsideration – the first stage of the appeal process – and Rigg’s friend is now waiting for her appeal to be heard by a tribunal.

Baroness Brinton told the conference in Bournemouth that some disabled people had been driven to take their own lives by the discrimination they faced during the benefits assessment process, while some claimants were secretly recording their own face-to-face assessments to protect themselves.

She said: “The Department for Work and Pensions process is manifestly failing them.”

Caroline Macdonald, a member of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, from North Edinburgh and Leith Liberal Democrats, said: “We are hounded as scroungers, as cheats.

“There is real ignorance and prejudice and a lack of knowledge and understanding about the conditions we live with.”

She said the PIP process was “not fit for purpose” and that public money was being wasted on benefit appeals.

Lloyd told DNS after the debate that, as a result of the repeated allegations of dishonest PIP assessors, he believed the government should carry out pilot projects to test the video-recording of face-to-face assessments.

21 September 2017

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Disabled MP promises to ‘harry’ and ‘shame’ ministers

A disabled Liberal Democrat MP has promised to “harry” and “shame” the government in parliament over its “shameful” record on disability rights.

Stephen Lloyd, the party’s shadow work and pensions secretary, told Disability News Service (DNS) that he would use his own 25-year commitment to the social model – and his in-depth knowledge of work and pensions issues – to attack the government over its failings.

He said: “I am a politician who understands, supports and utterly endorses the social model of disability.

“I am interested in helping provide the tools for disabled people who can work to work and I am determined to do what I can in Westminster with my party and my own expertise to then support people who cannot work in having a dignified life.”

He said he planned to reach out to Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams – who he respects and previously worked with on the work and pensions select committee – to work together to hold the government to account.

He said this was likely to include areas such as personal independence payment, the “outrage” of the cuts to payments to new claimants in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance, and the work capability assessment.

And he said he was convinced that the accelerated rollout of universal credit would be “a car crash, beyond a car crash” (see separate story).

He pointed out that the new work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, previously a Treasury minister for seven years, had “sat at the right-hand side of [former chancellor] George Osborne as George Osborne gutted universal credit”.

Lloyd was first an MP between 2010 and 2015, during the years his party was in coalition with the Conservatives, before losing his seat in 2015, and being elected again in June this year, and he said some of the public did not give the Liberal Democrats the credit they deserved for their part in restraining the worst excesses of the Tories.

He said: “To the day I die, I believe the coalition government was sane, sensible government and we saved the country from catastrophe and I am convinced of that even though obviously I am not stupid, I realise the public disagree with that and we got annihilated.

“It would probably be better politically suited if I didn’t [say that], but I’m damned if I’m going to lie at my age.”

Lloyd had earlier told the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth that it was “an absolute disgrace” that the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had had to write such a critical report on the UK government’s progress in implementing the UN disability convention.

He said: “It is shameful that a UK government… could be written of in such a way.

“It shows how utterly appalling this government is on disability.”

Party members overwhelmingly voted for a future Liberal Democrat government to incorporate the UN convention into UK law by strengthening the Equality Act.

Lloyd said he believed that former Conservative prime minister John Major – whose government introduced the first Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1995 – would be “incredibly disappointed”, if not “disgusted”, to see a Tory government criticised so heavily by the UN committee.

Lloyd – who was himself involved in a minor way in the discussions that led to the DDA – told DNS after the debate: “John Major was crucial to the DDA.

“I think he would be appalled at this government’s record on disability.

“I think he would be appalled at the Conservative government being framed in such a way by a UN body, absolutely appalled.”

He said that he was not sure whether he was more angered by the UK government’s “Trumpist disdain” for the “astonishing” UN report “or the fact that the UN condemns us so strongly”.

And he promised to use all of the parliamentary tools at his disposal, such as early day motions, Westminster Hall debates and questions to the prime minister, to “call out” the government on its failures and “to harry them, to shame them” over their record on disability.

He said: “The Tories can be shameless but I am very good at shaming people.

“I know the subject and I know parliament and I think I can use it to make it very, very difficult for them.”

21 September 2017

 

 

Lib Dem conference: ‘Charities have failed and must now allow service-users to be heard’

A former care services minister has called for a new social movement that is driven by the views and voices of service-users – rather than the charities that try to speak on their behalf – to push for change in the social care sector.

Paul Burstow said that the current campaigning model, driven by charities, had failed to persuade the government to reform social care and provide it with sustainable future funding.

And he called on the charity sector to step back and instead enable the voices of service-users to be heard, which he suggested was the only way to push the issue into the mainstream of political debate.

Burstow, a former Liberal Democrat MP, who was one of the architects of the Care Act 2014 as a coalition minister, and was appointed this summer as the new chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, was speaking at a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Bournemouth.

The meeting had heard from the party’s shadow health secretary, Norman Lamb, another former care services minister, who spoke of his efforts to persuade the government and the Labour party to work together with his party to find a solution to the care funding crisis.

Burstow said that the “lived experience” of service-users needed to be at the centre of the social care debate if that debate was to move from the fringes to an issue that was “absolutely mainstream” in the mailboxes of MPs and local councillors.

He said this would be “a challenge for the charity sector” which was “very good at promoting its own activities” but not necessarily always at providing opportunities for their “beneficiaries” to highlight their own experiences and feelings.

He said there was a need for a new “social movement” for social care but that it “does need to be driven by the views and voices” of disabled and older people themselves rather than the charities.

He added: “Unless we do that, we are doomed.

“The charity sector is very wedded to a model of campaigning that is trying to persuade the government to change, but it has not succeeded.”

Burstow was speaking at the end of a fringe meeting he had chaired on behalf of the disability charity Dimensions and the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, which represents charities that provide services in the social care sector.

The meeting included two service-users on the five-strong panel.

Dimensions, which provides support to people with learning difficulties, later welcomed Burstow’s comments.

Alicia Wood, head of public affairs for Dimensions, told Disability News Service that Burstow was “absolutely right” and that she was “thrilled” that he had made the comments.

She said: “I don’t think it’s intentional, but I think the social care debate is led by people who don’t use social care and I think that the ear of government is held by charities and I don’t think they are willing to let it go.

“Certainly I don’t think at the moment that it feels like they are willing to get behind disabled people’s organisations and disabled people to lead that, either.

“I think he’s absolutely right, I think it’s why we’ve failed.”

She said Dimensions had never been a campaigning organisation, but had decided that now, as one of the biggest charity providers, it “had a duty to support people’s voices”.

She said: “Dimensions have never had to think about this before and now we are thinking about it, saying we do need to do something, [but] we would want to do it in the right way, which isn’t about us, it’s about people that need social care.

“Our strategy is basically to get people with learning disabilities at the table of government and in the media.

“I think we need to use our might as a big organisation to support the broader voice of disabled people.”

She called on other charities to put their resources into supporting disabled people and carers to have “a real voice at the table of government because it is the authentic voice that government will listen to”.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the national servicer-user and disabled people’s network Shaping Our Lives, said it was “good to hear people like Paul Burstow call for a more user-led approach”.

But he said Burstow had not done so “when he was in a position to make this happen” as a coalition minister, when he had also “presided over massive cuts to social care”, so it was “difficult not to feel that he is strong on talking the talk but not on walking the walk”.

He said: “If he really wants a user-led movement, then why didn’t he involve user-led organisations like Shaping Our Lives (with whom he is in contact) as part of the process of building it.

“He needs to support service-users and our organisations, not speak on behalf of us.”

But he said Burstow “has really got it right about the traditional voluntary/charity sector, which has largely sat on its hands during the appalling years of cuts and welfare ‘reform’ which have so damaged so many disabled people’s lives and led to a UN outcry.

“Only when we have a user-led political strategy can we have real hope, and so far the only party that offers any prospect of that is Jeremy Corbyn’s and John McDonnell’s Labour party.

“Here are leaders who determinedly challenged welfare and social care cuts consistently over the years.”

He added: “Both Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb sadly presided over massive cuts in social care as ministers under the coalition government, so it is perhaps not surprising if the Labour party is not very responsive to their calls for a united front.”

21 September 2017

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Lamb calls for cross-party solution to social care crisis

The Liberal Democrats’ shadow health secretary has called on the Conservatives and Labour to work on a cross-party basis to find a solution to the growing social care funding crisis.

Norman Lamb said that politicians needed to accept that none of the parties had come up with a “sustainable solution”.

Lamb, who was speaking at a fringe meeting at his party’s annual conference in Bournemouth, spoke of the “shameful” way the Conservatives had tried during this year’s general election campaign to abandon their previous promise to cap lifetime care costs, proposals which were “roundly condemned” and proved disastrous for voters’ perceptions of Theresa May as prime minister.

Since 2015, he said, he had made it his mission to persuade the government of the need for a cross-party approach to the social care funding crisis.

He said: “There is no better case to put to Theresa May than what happened during the election campaign.

“She tried to do it on a partisan basis and she came horribly unstuck.”

But he said he feared that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did not have “any real interest” in collaborating with Theresa May and instead saw social care as “something to bash the government with”, which he said was “irresponsible”.

Before the election, he formed a group of eight Conservative, eight Labour and seven Liberal Democrat MPs to work together on the issue.

But he said he feared that the government was “so focused on this overwhelming priority of Brexit that other critical challenges are not getting the air-time and attention that they need”.

He said: “I will continue to make the case. It is the rational way of doing things.”

But he said he feared the country would “pay an awful price” if the “inertia” continued much longer.

Lamb was speaking at a fringe meeting organised by the charity Dimensions, which provides services for people with learning difficulties, and the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, which represents charities that provide services in the social care sector.

Lamb said it would make life more difficult for the government if the solution to the crisis “came from the people experiencing the failing of the system rather than opposition politicians.

“It would be most powerful if coming from the users of a dysfunctional system

“We have to encourage those let down by the dysfunctional system to say, ‘we demand change’.”

He added: “Despite what the government has said about increases in funding for social care, the finances of county councils are impossible.

“The public has no idea what is coming down the track [in further cuts].

“I keep saying to the Tories: ‘You can own this nightmare and we can attack you mercilessly, or you can share finding a solution and we are prepared to step up to the plate.’”

Gary Bourlet, co-founder of Learning Disability England, whose members are people with learning difficulties, families, service-providers and commissioners of services, told the fringe meeting: “We are spending too much money on buildings instead of people’s lives.”

Bourlet, who brought the People First movement to England in the 1980s, said social care reform also needed to be about health, education, jobs and housing.

He said: “It needs to be about the aspirations of disabled people and their families so disabled people can see a real future.

“Disabled people need to work more with families and providers. In Australia, they changed the government’s policies by coming together.

“At the moment, we are living in an uncaring society. Nobody seems to care about people with learning disabilities or autism.

“The reason why we need to pay more tax is to support our development in our social care.

“If we stop paying the tax then a lot of people will go without support and be unable to build the confidence and self-esteem and be part of a community.”

Mark Brookes, another leading self-advocate, who works for Dimensions, said he had seen a significant change for the worse in social care in the eight years he has been working for the charity.

He said the situation “has not been so good and money has been cut”, and told the meeting that disabled people were living in “hard times”.

He added: “Funding is being cut by local authorities left, right and centre, especially during the last three years around budgets.

“I think it’s going to get worse.”

In his main speech to the conference, Lamb later highlighted the need for cross-party co-operation to solve the NHS and social care funding crisis.

But he also raised the issue of the long waits for treatment in children’s mental health care, and Care Quality Commission figures showing there were 3,500 beds in locked mental health rehabilitation wards, which he said was “a contradiction in terms”.

He said he was also appalled by the continuing widespread use of facedown restraint in mental health wards, four years after he published guidance as a care services minister to try to end the practice.

He pointed to the case of an autistic 15-year-old, who had been subjected to repeated, heavy use of restraint, and confined to a small, cell-like room, in an independent hospital.

Two years after he helped to get her out of the placement, he said her life had been “totally transformed” and she had not been subjected to restraint on a single occasion since she left the hospital.

Lamb said it was a “stain on this country’s reputation” that many other people were being subjected to similar treatment.

And he said it was “a scandal of our time” that there were so many people in prison because of their mental ill-health, where their “chances of proper care and treatment are not good”, while there were “a catastrophic 40,000 cases of self-harm” in prisons last year, with a suicide on average every three days.

Meanwhile, a new survey of social workers in England by Community Care magazine and the Care and Support Alliance has provided “shocking evidence of just how threadbare the social care safety net in England has become”.

More than two-thirds of the social workers who responded to the survey said they felt they were expected to cut people’s care packages because of local authority funding pressures.

More than a third believed they could not provide people with the care they needed; more than a quarter were not confident that the reduced care packages they had to oversee were “fair and safe”; and more than four-fifths said service-users’ family and friends were being expected to provide more support to fill in the gaps where care packages had been cut.

One social worker said: “I had to reduce the care package for three brothers who live together. Each has either a mental health problem, physical or learning disability.

“They had a substantial care package for 15 years. It kept them safe from financial abuse and enabled them to live in the community.

“After reducing the care package two of them went into residential care and died. The other was admitted to hospital with dehydration and hypothermia.”

Another social worker said that cutting care packages had “led to individuals becoming more isolated, engaging in risky behaviour and being exploited”.

21 September 2017

 

 

Disabled activist ‘is fighting for his life’ as he hands petition to Welsh government

A disabled activist has handed in a petition of hundreds of signatures that calls on the Welsh government to reverse its decision to close its version of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

Nathan Lee Davies says he is fighting the decision to scrap the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) because he is terrified of the prospect of his cash-strapped local authority taking over full responsibility for providing his care package.

He has been told that without WILG his own care package would be reduced from 86.5 hours to just 31 hours a week.

He says that such a cut would put an end to all his current community activities, including his involvement with Wrexham Glyndwr University, Wrexham football club, Disabled People Against Cuts, FDF Centre for Independent Living, and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales.

He is also writing two books, and a blog, and is working with Disability Arts Cymru to create a performance and exhibition of his poetry.

He told Disability News Service (DNS): “I cannot cope with such a limited number of hours per week. This is why I am fighting with every fibre of my being.

“It really is a case of life or death. I have no interests in merely existing. I want to live.

“Without help and support I would be unable to do any of this work that involves me in the community.”

The Labour-run Welsh government announced last November that, after a two-year transition period, it would transfer all of the £27 million-a-year provided by the UK government to support former ILF-users in Wales directly to councils.

There will be no new Welsh ILF – even though such a scheme has been set up in Scotland – and no continuation of the interim WILG scheme the Welsh government has been running as a stopgap to “ensure continuity of payments to recipients” since the Department for Work and Pensions closed ILF in June 2015.

Funding for WILG will now transfer to local authorities during 2018-19, with all former ILF-recipients in Wales having their support needs met solely by their local authority by 31 March 2019.

Since the Welsh government’s announcement, Davies has been campaigning to persuade it to reverse the decision, including setting up the petition – which has now been signed by more than 500 people online and in person – and collecting photographs of supporters holding one of his campaign postcards.

He said: “The current system allows users the security of depending on receiving their funding from three different ‘pots’ – WILG, local authorities and our own personal contribution.

“This gives us a sense of security and ensures that we cannot be dictated to as mere passive recipients.

“Instead, all parties have to be in agreement about what will benefit the individual the most.

“This is something worth fighting for.”

But instead of this three-tier system, he said, the Welsh government had now “sold disabled people down the river.

“They are washing their hands of all responsibility for social care to former ILF recipients and transferring the pressure onto local authorities.”

A Welsh government spokeswoman told DNS in a statement: “Organisations that represent disabled people who have been recipients of the Independent Living Fund, recommended that their future support would be best provided through local authority social care provision, with consistent arrangements in place to support disabled people in Wales.”

But Disability Wales, which was part of the stakeholder advisory group the Welsh government consulted, has made it clear to DNS that it did not support passing funding to local authorities.

The Welsh government added: “We would be surprised if Disability Wales were suggesting that certain disabled people in Wales should have their support needs met in a different way to other disabled people.”

Davies said he believed the Welsh government had listened only to the local authorities on the advisory group.

He has been supported by the north-east branch of the Labour left-wing grassroots campaign Momentum and the Unite union in Wales.

But he said he was disappointed that Disability Wales – the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales – had not supported his campaign.

Miranda Evans, policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales (DW), said they were not able to support the petition – which is critical of the Labour party in Wales – because it was too party political.

But she stressed that DW’s preferred option was for a new Welsh independent living scheme – a Welsh version of ILF – that would protect those currently receiving WILG funding and would also be open to new members.

DNS has seen DW’s response to an early consultation on the Welsh government’s plans, and it makes it clear that none of DW’s members or the other disabled people it had consulted about the future of WILG were in favour of handing the funding directly to local authorities, and had instead “expressed strong opposition” to this.

It also stressed that such an option was “totally unacceptable to existing ILF recipients, their carers and other disabled people”.

21 September 2017

 

 

Some television companies say just one per cent of staff are disabled, says Ofcom

As few as one per cent of the employees working for some UK broadcasters have described themselves as disabled people, according to new research by the industry regulator.

Ofcom’s Diversity And Equal Opportunities In Television report says disabled people appear to be “significantly under-represented” across the television industry, at just three per cent.

The Ofcom report – which focuses on the five main broadcasters, but also looks at another 342 smaller organisations – found that only one per cent of staff working for ITV and Viacom (which owns Channel 5) describe themselves as disabled.

Sky is only slightly better, at two per cent, while Channel 4 performed best with disabled people making up 11 per cent of its workforce.

Although the report says that only four per cent of BBC staff say they are disabled, this figure represents the calendar year 2016 and new figures, following a diversity and inclusion census carried out towards the end of last year, show a much higher proportion, at 10 per cent*.

The Ofcom report says there is a “worrying” lack of data on disability, with no information on 30 per cent of staff across the television industry.

ITV provided disability data on fewer than half of its employees, while Sky provided disability information on just two per cent of its staff.

Ofcom also says it has now started enforcement action against 57 broadcasters, because of their failure to provide any data on gender, race and disability.

Simon Balcon, a member of the deaf and disabled members committee (DDMC) of the performers’ union Equity, welcomed the Ofcom report.

He said: “I think that it’s great that reports like this actually exist, and that attention to the issue of casting actors with disabilities is getting more attention.

“I also think that more can be done, though. While the BBC is doing more than other channels to be progressive with its casting, actors with disabilities are less visible than on other channels, strange as this may seem.

“I would echo the report’s concern… that there is a worrying lack of data for disabled people, as this does not give us a full picture.

“However, I am glad the Ofcom is taking action against those who refuse to supply information.”

Balcon said the report showed there was “certainly more that broadcasters can do for freelancers with a disability [particularly actors and other artists], as only one per cent are in this category.”

And he said he agreed that “more monitoring needs to be done, as the picture may not be accurate at present.

“More organisations must monitor their employees and those employed as freelancers, and then we can get a clearer picture.”

Sharon White, Ofcom’s chief executive, says in the report: “Disabled people are particularly poorly represented at all levels of the industry.”

The report concludes: “Broadcasters have an obligation, as a condition of their licences, to take measures to promote equality of opportunity in employment.

“Without accurate monitoring, it is unclear how some broadcasters can identify any gaps, ensure the relevance of their equality and diversity policies, and plan engagement with their employees to promote these policies.”

The report is Ofcom’s first from its new Diversity in Broadcasting monitoring programme, which will reveal how well broadcasters’ employment policies are promoting equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion.

*The BBC data includes both television and radio staff

21 September 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com