Queen’s speech: Government appears to dump Mordaunt’s WCA election promise

A Tory election promise to “dismantle” the work capability assessment (WCA) through new legislation appears to have been abandoned, with the Queen’s speech containing no mention of any new social security bill.

The speech contains brief details of all planned legislation over the next two years – rather than the usual 12 months – so the absence of a social security bill suggests work and pensions ministers have abandoned planned reforms to the much-criticised “fitness for work” test.

The minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, told a national disability hustings event a few days before the general election that a Conservative government would “legislate to reform the work capability assessment”, which “treats people like they are part of a sausage factory”.

She then added: “We have managed to get into the manifesto a legislative commitment to dismantle the work capability assessment.”

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats promised in their general election manifestos to scrap the WCA.

Disability News Service (DNS) tried repeatedly after Mordaunt’s comments to confirm what she meant by the promise to “dismantle” the WCA, as there was no mention of scrapping the assessment in her party’s manifesto.

The manifesto did promise that a Conservative government would “legislate to give unemployed disabled claimants or those with a health condition personalised and tailored employment support”.

When contacted about the failure to include a social security bill in the Queen’s speech, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We have been told not to say anything at the moment.”

He directed DNS to the Number 10 press office, which had not commented by noon today (Thursday).

Ministers are expected to respond in the next few months to the consultation on its controversial work, health and disability green paper, which was published last October.

It is not yet clear how the absence of new legislation will affect proposals laid out in the green paper, which include a suggestion that all people on out-of-work disability benefits – even those who are terminally-ill or have the very highest support needs – could in future have to stay in regular touch with their local jobcentre or risk having their benefits sanctioned.

22 June 2017

 

 

Queen’s speech: May ‘abandons’ election pledge on access

A Conservative election promise to tackle some of the discrimination faced by disabled people appears to have been abandoned, with no mention of the pledge in yesterday’s Queen’s speech.

The manifesto promise to “review disabled people’s access and amend regulations if necessary to improve disabled access to licensed premises, parking and housing” was absent from the speech and the associated briefing notes.

The speech includes 27 bills and draft bills that the government plans to introduce over the next two years, with much of its focus on the process of leaving the European Union, and it also details 30 pages of non-legislative action the government plans to take.

But the only mentions of disabled people in the 82-page briefing document come in the pledge to “make further progress to tackle the gender pay gap and discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality, faith, disability, gender or race”.

The associated two-paragraph section on disability refers only to measures the government has already taken, appointing 11 new disability sector champions, and continuing efforts to promote the use of social enterprises that support disabled people.

There was also no mention of the need for more accessible housing in the Queen’s speech, or in the briefing notes.

But separate plans to address the discrimination faced by people with mental health conditions in the workplace were included in the speech.

The prime minister had promised before the election that there would be “sweeping changes to the Equality Act”, and that a Conservative government would reform the act to prevent workplace discrimination, to protect employees with “intermittent” conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Although yesterday’s speech made no mention of such legislative change, there is a reference to the pledge in the briefing notes, which say the government will look at how to ensure “those with mental ill health are treated fairly, protected from discrimination, and employers fulfil their responsibilities effectively”.

On its wider plans for mental health reform, there apparently will be no new bill in the next two years, even though the Tories had promised in their manifesto to introduce “the first new Mental Health Bill for 35 years”.

Instead, the briefing notes promise to “work towards a new Mental Health Act” and “consider what further reform of mental health legislation is necessary, including changes in how the [Mental Health Act] is implemented on the ground”.

This will include examining why rates of detention under the act are increasing, and why a disproportionate number of black people are being detained, as well as a review of community treatment orders, which are being used far more often than intended when they were introduced by the last Labour government.

The government also promises to publish a green paper on children and young people’s mental health.

There will be relief among human rights campaigners that there was no mention in the speech of scrapping the Human Rights Act.

Last year, user-led organisations warned that the government’s “horrifying” plans to replace the act with a British bill of rights would lead to a loss of vital legal protection for disabled people.

That bill was mentioned in last year’s Queen’s speech but was never introduced, and the 2017 Conservative election manifesto said that a Tory government would not consider replacing the Human Rights Act until the process of leaving the European Union had concluded.

Another omission from the Queen’s speech likely to please many disabled activists was the prime minister’s plan to increase the number of grammar schools.

Laws currently ban any new selective schools and prevent existing non-selective schools from becoming selective, but the government wanted to expand existing grammar schools, create new selective schools and allow non-selective schools to become selective.

Inclusive education campaigners say that expanding grammar schools – secondary schools which select pupils via an entrance test – will discriminate against disabled children and lead to more segregated education in special schools.

A spokesman for the Department for Education suggested yesterday (Wednesday) that the government had not yet abandoned its plans, despite there being no mention of grammar schools in the Queen’s speech or the briefing notes.

He said the government would be responding to its Schools that Work for Everyone consultation “in due course”, and added: “Grammar schools are part of that consultation. It will set out our plans for everything within the consultation.”

22 June 2017

 

 

Queen’s speech: Government will consult on social care funding, but silence on needs of working-age disabled people… again

The government has confirmed in the Queen’s speech that it plans to consult on its proposals to address the funding crisis affecting older people’s social care, but has again failed to make any mention of the needs of working-age disabled people.

Conservative plans for the funding of social care for older people – particularly on charging – were widely seen as one of the reasons the party failed to secure an overall parliamentary majority in this month’s general election.

But it was also criticised for failing to include any mention of how it would reform the funding of working-age social care.

Yesterday’s Queen’s speech includes 27 bills and draft bills that the government plans to introduce over the next two years, with much of its focus on the process of leaving the European Union.

The speech includes a pledge to “bring forward proposals for consultation” on social care.

But the briefing notes published alongside the speech ignore the social care needs of working-age disabled people, and say instead that the government will “work to address the challenges of social care for our ageing population” by “bringing forward proposals for consultation”.

They also say that “further reform is required to ensure that the system is prepared to meet the challenges of the increasing numbers of over 75s”, and that the consultation will “set out options to improve the social care system and to put it on a more secure financial footing, supporting people, families and communities to prepare for old age”.

A Department of Health (DH) spokesman said that the consultation was likely to be via a green paper – although a white paper was also possible – which would be published “fairly soon” and “almost definitely” this year.

The controversial social care charging policy proposed by the Tories in their manifesto originally revolved around allowing every older person to retain at least £100,000 of their assets and savings, while the value of people’s homes would be taken into account – when calculating charges – for those receiving domiciliary care as well as those receiving residential care.

But following widespread criticism, May announced that there would also be a lifetime cap on the amount spent on care charges, although she did not say at what level this would be set.

Asked if the consultation would include these proposals, the DH spokesman said: “She will consult on those limits, that is our understanding.”

22 June 2017

 

 

Shock after inquest ignores ‘fitness for work’ and jobcentre concerns

A coroner has declined to explain why he failed to take evidence on the apparent links between the government’s “fitness for work” test and the death of a disabled north London man.

An inquest into the death of 56-year-old Lawrence Bond, held on Friday, was expected to hear details of how he was found “fit for work” last autumn and then visited Kentish Town jobcentre hours before he collapsed and died in the street on 12 January.

Despite the failure of assistant coroner Dr Richard Brittain to examine those aspects of the case, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed that it is carrying out an internal, confidential investigation – known as an internal process review – into the circumstances of Bond’s death.

The former electrical engineer had visited the jobcentre earlier on the day he collapsed and died from a heart attack, and was awaiting the result of an appeal against being found fit for work.

There had been hopes that the inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court would hear from the healthcare professional from the government contractor Maximus who had assessed Bond and found him fit for work, as well as jobcentre staff who had seen him on the day he died.

But no witnesses gave evidence at the inquest, with the coroner only reading out written statements from Bond’s GP, the first paramedic to attend him after he collapsed, a police sergeant who investigated his death, and the pathologist who carried out a post-mortem.

Dr Brittain concluded that Bond’s death was “non-suspicious” and that he had died of natural causes.

The inquest did hear detailed evidence which showed how ill he had been at the time he died, with conditions including heart disease, the lung condition sarcoidosis, diabetes, cirrhosis, depression, anxiety, agoraphobia and high blood pressure, and that he had been referred to a respiratory clinic.

His sister, Iris Green, who had not been able to attend the inquest, told Disability News Service (DNS) today (Thursday) that her brother had been desperately unwell, which would have been obvious to anyone who saw him, including the healthcare professional from Maximus who assessed his fitness for work last autumn.

She said her brother had visited the jobcentre on the day he died, and had been asked to climb some stairs.

She believes he told a member of staff that he would have a heart attack if he did so, and when told he could use the lift he asked if someone could accompany him because of his claustrophobia.

He was told this was not possible, but it was agreed that someone would come down to speak to him.

His sister said: “He was so distressed by then that [after leaving the jobcentre] he went to see a friend, who calmed him down, because he was very anxious and frightened.”

He collapsed later that day at a bus stop.

She said the stress of what happened at the jobcentre “definitely” contributed to his death. “He was worried about work, about money. They weren’t going to give him [disability benefits]. He didn’t know how he was going to live.”

She said that the decision to find her brother fit for work and the events that took place at the jobcentre should have been discussed at the inquest.

But she said the coroner may not have been aware of what had happened.

She said: “To look at him you could have seen that he was unwell. His breathing was terrible.”

She said her brother – who also had Asperger’s syndrome – had been told by his GP last June that he should not be working.

He had previously lost his job because of depression, and because he was falling asleep at work and experiencing serious breathing difficulties.

She said: “The doctor took one look at him and gave him a doctor’s certificate for two months and said, ‘You’re in no way fit for work.’”

Despite that “fit note” from the doctor, he had started a new job within a few days because he had wanted to work.

But his sister said he lost that job within a couple of months because his new employer realised how unwell he was, and was worried that the work would cause him to have a heart attack.

He was then assessed by Maximus, which resulted in him being found fit for work.

His sister said she was also unhappy that the coroner had failed to read out a written statement she had made in which she criticised her brother’s GP surgery for the repeated difficulties he faced in securing appointments.

Laila Victory, a close friend of Lawrence Bond, said she had been “very surprised” at the way the inquest had been conducted, and said she felt that he had been let down.

She said: “It wasn’t thorough at all. I thought the reason for the inquest was partly to establish whether he had been let down by the system.

“Obviously he had health issues. It was obvious when he went to be assessed. It was obvious that he was unfit for work.”

It is believed that Bond was assessed at the same north London assessment centre that found another disabled man, Mr A*, fit for work four years ago.

A different coroner at the same court found in January 2014 that Mr A had taken his own life as a direct result of being found fit for work and ineligible for employment and support allowance, the out of-work disability benefit.

That result, and the “prevention of future deaths report” the coroner sent to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – warning that other people with mental health conditions could die if DWP failed to take urgent action to make the test safe – have proved hugely significant in the continuing campaign to scrap the WCA and hold ministers accountable for their failings, and for the deaths of other benefit claimants.

Activists had hoped that Bond’s inquest would have a similar impact.

Claire Glasman, from the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible, said the inquest had been “shocking”, and that questions about the death of Lawrence Bond needed to be asked and answered.

She said: “It’s really upsetting. It’s not justice. He deserves better.”

She said there should have been statements from the Maximus healthcare professional whose assessment led to Bond being found fit for work, and from staff at the jobcentre.

She said: “They never even mentioned that he had been to the job centre just before what happened.”

Another disabled campaigner who attended the inquest, Robin Brook, from the local men’s group Payday, which campaigns on carers’ issues, said: “Nobody was called. It wasn’t justice.

“It just seemed like a paper exercise. They weren’t treating him like a human being. It’s wrong.”

A spokeswoman for the coroner said: “Coroner Brittain is unable to provide comment, even to correct any factual inaccuracies, as this would be incompatible with his judicial role.”

A DWP spokesman said: “The department is conducting an internal process review to ensure DWP processes were followed correctly.”

Asked about links between Lawrence Bond being found fit for work, his attendance at the jobcentre and his death, he said: “This is a matter for the coroner to decide.”

He said there had been no communication between the coroner’s office and DWP in relation to the case.

After Bond’s death in January, about 100 activists and their allies – including WinVisible – took part in a protest and vigil.

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell spoke at the protest, as did film director Ken Loach, who drew a comparison between Lawrence Bond’s death and that of the main character of his film, I, Daniel Blake, which was released last year.

The film features a man with a long-term health condition who is found fit for work through the WCA process, and eventually collapses and dies while trying to appeal that decision.

22 June 2017

 

 

Women left in her own urine has benefits slashed after ‘dishonest’ assessment report

A disabled women left to sit in her own urine for two hours by a physiotherapist who was assessing her benefit claim has had her benefits slashed, after the assessor wrote a report she believes is full of “lies”.

Disabled people were outraged last week after Maria Lane described the “inhuman” experience she endured during her personal independence payment (PIP) assessment earlier this month.

She told – and showed – the assessor just 10 minutes into the assessment that she had had an accident and had emptied her bladder into her incontinence pad, and that urine was leaking into her trousers.

But she said the female assessor – who works for the government contractor Atos – “looked for a second at the pad” and then continued typing for the rest of the two-hour assessment.

Despite Atos launching an investigation and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) describing her claims as “very concerning”, Lane has now been told that her benefits will be cut.

Maria Lane is just the latest PIP claimant to come forward – following the launch of a DNS investigation earlier this year – to describe how healthcare professionals employed by Atos and fellow government contractor Capita have been guilty of widespread dishonesty in the reports they compile after carrying out face-to-face PIP assessments.

The 59-year-old has a number of long-term health conditions, including diabetes, osteoarthritis – which affects all of her joints and has spread into her spine – sciatica, a slipped disc, high blood pressure, and depression.

She is waiting for a major operation on her bladder, because of severe incontinence which means she has to wear pads permanently.

Lane has now seen the report written by the Atos assessor, and she said she was “gobsmacked” when she read it.

She said the report states that she showed the physiotherapist her pad, but fails to point out that she also told her that she had emptied her bladder 10 minutes into the assessment.

The report also claims that she was asked to spell various words – which she said did not happen – while there were other “lies”, including accounts of tests that did not take place, she said.

Lane has also provided further details of her ordeal at the assessment centre in Enfield, north London, describing how the assessor forced her to walk up a long corridor before the assessment began.

When she had to keep stopping because of the discomfort she was in, the assessor – who was walking behind her – told her to keep walking.

She said: “I was walking and kept stopping and she kept making me go and go. She was getting annoyed with me.

“She made me walk from one end of the building to another. I can’t remember how many times I stopped. I said, ‘I can’t walk anymore.’”

As a result, the assessor wrote in her report that she could walk 50 metres, a finding which has been used by DWP to justify reducing her entitlement from the enhanced to the standard rate of the PIP mobility component.

She was previously receiving the enhanced rate of PIP for both the daily living and mobility components, but has been told that both will be reduced to the standard rate, which means a drop from £141 to £78 a week.

She currently has to spend up to £55 a week on incontinence pads, which is paid for with some of her PIP.

She had also been concerned that she would have to hand back her Motability vehicle, which she needs for her hospital appointments.

But because she has been a Motability* customer for 10 years, she will not have to return the vehicle for at least six months, thanks to a support package introduced by the charity for those who lose their entitlement to the enhanced rate of mobility support through the government’s PIP reassessment programme.

Motability’s chief executive, Declan O’Mahony, has also promised that no move to reclaim her vehicle will be made at least until the Atos and DWP investigations into her complaint have been completed.

She hopes this will be long enough for her to win her appeal against having her benefits cut.

Although she is appealing against the DWP decision, with the help of Citizen’s Advice, she has been left terrified by what the cut in payments will mean.

She said: “What am I going to do? I am worried sick. I keep telling them that it is not food or clothes I have to buy – these things are for my condition.

“I am so upset. It is embarrassing for me to beg them to give me money to buy them.”

One of her daughters is lodging a complaint about the assessor with the regulator, the Health Care Professions Council.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We expect the highest standards from our assessment providers, and work with them continuously to ensure that PIP is working in the best way possible.

“All claimants deserve an objective, accurate and high quality service and we are working with Atos to look into the issues Ms Lane has raised.

“Claimants who disagree with a PIP decision can request a mandatory reconsideration (MR) in the first instance, and appeal to an independent tribunal if they still disagree after the MR.

“Due to recently announced changes to the Motability’s transitional support package, those losing eligibility to the Motability scheme following DLA-PIP reassessment have the option to keep their car for up to six months after an initial PIP decision is made.”

*Motability is a DNS subscriber

22 June 2017

 

 

New disabled MP was former campaigns officer for BCODP

One of the two disabled Labour MPs elected to parliament for the first time earlier this month is a former campaigns officer for the British Council of Disabled People (BCODP), it has emerged.

Jared O’Mara caused one of the shocks of the general election when he ousted the Liberal Democrat former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg from his Sheffield Hallam seat.

But it has now emerged that O’Mara was a press, parliamentary and campaigns officer for BCODP – at the time the country’s leading representative organisation of disabled people’s organisations – for a short period about 10 years ago.

In one BCODP newsletter from 2006, he wrote about working with prominent disabled activists such as Jane Campbell [now Baroness Campbell], Rachel Hurst and Tara Flood on opposition to a bill that would have legalised assisted suicide.

O’Mara, who until this month helped run a bar and live music venue in Sheffield, was also quoted in the now-defunct Disability Now magazine, in May 2006, calling on Gordon Brown, at the time Labour’s chancellor, to do more to alleviate disability poverty.

Flood, now director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: “I really hope that he takes what he learned when he was at BCODP and applies it now he is an MP.”

She also welcomed the election of another new disabled Labour MP, Marsha de Cordova, who spoke in her post-election address of her passionate commitment to disability rights

Flood said: “It’s great that the House of Commons is a tiny bit more diverse than it was on 8 June.”

But she said that what was important was what the two politicians do now they are MPs.

She said: “What they do now as disabled people in parliament is what really counts.”

Anne Pridmore, who chaired BCODP at the time O’Mara was working there, said she had been surprised to hear of his election.

She said: “He wasn’t [at BCODP] very long. He was very young and quite new to disability. He was young and enthusiastic.”

Pridmore – who also welcomed de Cordova’s victory – said she was pleased to see the election of a former BCODP staff member to the House of Commons, and said it would “most definitely” be useful to disabled people to have an MP who had been so close to the disability movement.

Despite his experience with BCODP, there may be some concern among some disabled activists that O’Mara, who himself has cerebral palsy (cp), is also a long-standing trustee of Paces, a specialist centre in Sheffield for children with cp which specialises in conductive education and also runs a special school*, of which he is a governor.

Conductive education is still seen as controversial among many in the disability movement, years after Professor Mike Oliver described its reality as “oppressive to disabled people and an abuse of their human rights”.

*The disability charity Scope, an advocate of conductive education, describes it as a system of learning that “teaches those with movement difficulties to learn actively to achieve purposeful movement which can then be applied throughout daily life and learning”.

22 June 2017

 

 

Agencies ‘should have been aware of risks faced by Lee Irving before his murder’

The agencies involved in supporting a disabled man who was imprisoned and tortured to death should have been aware of the risks posed by the people he was living with, according to an independent report.

The author of the serious case review, a former deputy chief constable, also suggests that the brutal murder of 24-year-old Lee Irving two years ago should have been treated as a disability hate crime by the judge who sentenced those responsible.

Irving’s body was found on 6 June 2015 near the house in Newcastle where he had been living with the people responsible for his death, including James Wheatley, who is serving a minimum sentence of 23 years for his murder. Three others were convicted of complicity in his death.

Irving, who had learning difficulties, had been repeatedly kicked, punched and stamped on by Wheatley, in attacks that took place over nine days, leaving him with multiple broken bones, including 24 broken ribs.

A serious case review has now concluded that there had been “clear indications” of the threats he faced from those he was living with.

As early as his teenage years, there had been concerns about Irving being bullied at school, and that he “could be easily led, chose bad company and that he exhibited challenging behaviour”.

The report also says that two safeguarding referrals that raised concerns of the “serious threat” to his safety “could have prompted greater consideration and action within the safeguarding process”.

While all of the “many agencies” that were involved in his case – which included Newcastle City Council, NHS bodies, Northumbria police and the probation service – “tried hard to provide a service to Lee Irving and his family”, those efforts were “not adequately co-ordinated or led”.

Irving’s family had made “specific warnings” to the authorities about his living conditions, and believe more should have been done to protect him, although they have now concluded that he was so determined to place himself at risk “that only secure accommodation would have protected him”.

The report also says that it had become much harder to protect him once he made the transition from children’s to adults’ services in 2008.

Irving was reported missing 13 times between 2008 and 2013, and was arrested 30 times between 2011 and 2015, for offences such as drunkenness, possession of weapons, shoplifting, burglary, begging and assaulting his mother.

In September 2011, the National Probation Service carried out an assessment and concluded that he was “incredibly vulnerable to the influence and harmful behaviour of others”, while it found the following year that he “seems to understand that he is being used and bullied but seems to put up with it rather than be rejected by his peers”.

From 2012, his life “slid into a chaotic cycle of offending, being reported missing and associating with so called ‘friends’ who exploited him”, and by 2014 the agencies supporting him were told he was being exploited by those he was living with.

The report also discusses the judge’s failure to treat Lee Irving’s murder as a disability hate crime.

His family were appalled that it was not treated as a hate crime, despite requests from Northumbria police and the Crown Prosecution Service for the judge to do so.

The review’s author concludes that, although he was not allowed to question the judge’s decision, Irving’s death should still be considered as “directly connected if not motivated by his disability and vulnerability”, and he later compares the murder to “other reported disability hate crimes”.

Vida Morris, chair of Newcastle Safeguarding Board, said in a statement released alongside the report: “Although his case was not legally a disability hate crime, it is our opinion that it is still appropriate to view his death as connected or motivated by his disability.”

The serious case review makes eight recommendations, in areas including disability hate crime training; partnership working and joint decision-making between agencies; the management of repeated safeguarding alerts; and the transition between children’s and adults services.

Ewen Weir, director of people at Newcastle City Council, said it had become harder to care for Irving after he turned 18.

He said: “From then we had to take into consideration his wishes and could not always convince him, despite our best efforts, that he still needed care and the company he was keeping did not have his best interests at heart.”

But he added: “While all agencies tried to engage with Lee, there was insufficient challenge and support among partners.

“I know that Lee’s family felt excluded from some of the decisions that were taken about his care and that their warnings about his living conditions were not acted upon effectively. For that we are truly sorry.”

22 June 2017

 

 

London 2012 legacy scheme questioned over links to local DPOs

A new research centre that plans to create a centre for “disability expertise” on the Olympic Park – as part of the London 2012 Paralympics legacy – has faced questions about its commitment to collaborating with local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

The Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDIH) wants to spread innovative ideas across inclusive design, assistive technology, sport, arts and inclusive development and use the new centre as a “springboard for change” to improve the lives of disabled people in the UK and internationally.

GDIH says it wants to ensure that disabled people are involved in the leadership of all of its programmes and to “promote that ethos and that way of working” internationally.

Its aim, it says, is to “change the way we think about disability through co-design, collaboration, and innovation”, and to become “the leading place to come to research, study, practice and share disability innovations”.

This week, the hub’s director, Vicki Austin, told Disability News Service (DNS) that she wanted GDIH to develop into a global centre for “disability expertise”, drawing on local communities, DPOs and disabled people.

The hub launched last September, but only appointed its 15-strong board of directors – two-thirds of whom are disabled people – last week.

It is moving its current base to University College London’s (UCL) new campus on the Olympic Park in east London.

But despite its commitment to ensuring that disabled people lead its programmes, there are questions over its apparent failure to work with local disabled people and DPOs.

When asked which DPOs it had worked with since its launch, Austin mentioned Together! 2012, which is led by the disabled artist and author Dr Ju Gosling, and has been working since the Paralympics to make the main London 2012 host borough of Newham into an international centre of excellence for disability arts.

Together! 2012 is the most prominent DPO in the borough, and the only cultural organisation in east London to have been developed in response to the Paralympic legacy, while Gosling herself has an international reputation as a disabled artist, based in Newham, and is a leader on work looking at the relationship between disabled people and technology.

But Gosling disputed Austin’s claims that the hub had been working with Together!, and said she had in fact been frustrated by her attempts to set up a meeting with GDIH, and had been trying to do so since January, in a series of emails seen by DNS.

Her last emailed attempt to set up a meeting was on 16 May, which has still not received a reply from GDIH.

She said: “They haven’t made any contact with us, and we have tried and tried and tried.

“I find it discourteous and disrespectful and very disappointing. They clearly don’t know what co-production means.”

A spokeswoman for the hub did not dispute the six-month delay in arranging a meeting, although she claimed that Austin had had “discussions” with Gosling as the hub was being developed.

Austin said that GDIH had also been working closely with members of the Olympic Park’s built environment access panel (BEAP), and that it had been using them “as our initial sounding board”, as an interim arrangement before its board was appointed.

One meeting was apparently held in the hub’s current home on the Olympic Park, so panel members could meet the team, while the panel’s chair, Peter Lainson, is a member of the hub’s working group, and two of his fellow disabled panel members have now been appointed to the GDIH board.

But DNS has spoken to one member of the panel who said they were surprised to hear that GDIH was claiming such a close connection with BEAP, and believed the panel had not been involved with the hub in any significant way.

The hub emerged from work at UCL and has some post-London 2012 funding from the London Legacy Development Corporation, although that is due to run out next year.

None of GDIH’s other founding partners – the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, the University of the Arts London’s London College of Fashion, Loughborough University in London, Saddler’s Wells Theatre, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum – are user-led organisations.

The GDIH board will be led by the disabled Conservative peer Lord [Chris] Holmes, former disability commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and London 2012’s director of Paralympic integration.

He said he was “delighted” to be “part of a project with such potential to transform lives”.

He said: “I have personally benefited from assistive technology and believe truly inclusive design not only removes barriers to disabled people but also, essentially, benefits everyone by leading to ground-breaking technological solutions or applications and truly excellent design.”

Early GDIH projects include working with an “innovation lab” set up by a disabled people’s organisation in India and the International Committee of the Red Cross to develop new products to help disabled people, particularly in the global south.

The hub is also involved in the development of a masters programme in disability design and innovation, which will begin in September 2018.

Another project is the development of a digital/audio “wayfinding” tool that would help blind and partially-sighted visitors find their way around the Olympic Park.

Austin said a crucial part of its approach was to ensure that disabled people were involved in leading its programmes.

She said: “If there is an opportunity to amplify that message, and also the talents of those people, then that is what we intend and want to do.

“We are particularly interested in harnessing the power of technology as it develops and a lot of that technology is being developed in institutions by non-disabled people.

“If we are able to challenge some of that and engage people in both academic and non-academic programmes and also challenge some of the academic approaches in a way that puts co-creation and co-design right at the heart, not only are better products made but also it challenges the status quo.”

Next month, the hub will host a disability innovation summit, running alongside the 2017 World Para-Athletics Championships, to “explore research and ideas, looking at innovation in tech, design, development, culture and art”.

22 June 2017

 

 

Disabled voter secures legal settlement over polling station discrimination

A council will have to carry out an audit of disability access at every one of its polling stations, after agreeing to pay compensation to a wheelchair-user who was prevented from voting at elections in 2014.

Adam Lotun said the settlement showed that Kingston council in south-west London regarded disabled people as “second-class citizens”.

Last week, Disability News Service reported how a partially-sighted voter said he believed he had been discriminated against at a polling station when trying to vote in the general election earlier this month, while the disability charity RNIB said it was responding to “a steady stream of complaints about blind and partially-sighted people’s experience of the voting process”.

Lotun’s incident happened as he was trying to vote at the 2014 local authority and European elections.

He has since seen documents which show there were complaints made about access at the Sunray Community Centre, where he tried to vote, dating back to the early 1980s, as well as at other polling stations in the borough.

And he has questioned why the council had failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled voters at the community centre, years after the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and the subsequent disability equality duty, which came into force in December 2006 and required public sector organisations to promote disability equality.

Lotun said that although the Sunray polling station was now accessible to people with physical impairments, he did not believe it was “fully accessible” to those with other access needs, which meant the council risked being challenged again on accessibility.

Lotun, who was represented by the disability discrimination law specialists Fry Law, also questioned why the council had employed an expensive QC to fight the case, when the discrimination was so obvious and could have been settled far earlier through mediation.

And he has said that he received threats and abuse in the streets after he first lodged his legal claim against the council, and that those people who made those threats should now “hang their heads in shame”.

Lotun had been unable to enter the community centre in 2014 because it was not wheelchair-accessible, and staff were unable to let him in through the rear fire exit because a gate was locked and they did not have a key.

Lotun’s wife, who uses hearing aids, was able to enter the polling station but discovered there was no hearing loop to help her communicate.

At one point, the staff suggested carrying Lotun and his wheelchair into the building.

By the time council staff had ensured wheelchair access to the polling station, it was early evening, and he had decided he was not going to return to try to vote.

He said: “I wasn’t going to go out again. I have been mugged so many times in the dark.”

Kingston council has agreed to pay Lotun compensation – although he is not allowed to say how much – and carry out an audit of access at every polling station in the borough.

Chris Fry, founder of Fry Law, said: “The Equality Act enshrines the principle of universal participation, and local authorities offering venues for the purposes of voting should all follow Kingston’s lead by ensuring that they are accessible.

“We have seen a marked improvement in suitability of venues since I began looking at this as part of the #PolledOut campaign three years ago.”

A Kingston council spokeswoman said: “At the May 2014 European and council elections a resident, who was a wheelchair-user, was unable to vote at their polling station, the Sunray Community Centre.

“Since then the council took steps to ensure that the Sunray Community Centre was fully accessible to people with disabilities and the necessary work was completed prior to the general election in 2015.

“The council is not aware that there were any complaints regarding access to polling places at the recent parliamentary election.”

She added: “The council is aware of its responsibilities under equalities legislation and strives to ensure that buildings that it uses as polling places at elections are accessible to those with disabilities.

“To this end the council will be reviewing access arrangements at all buildings currently used as polling places as part of the next polling place review.”

But the council has refused to say if it would apologise to Lotun, why it spent money employing an expensive QC to fight the case when there appeared to have been a clear breach of equality laws, and which adjustments it has made to the community centre.

The Electoral Commission’s report on this month’s general election – which will include its views on voting accessibility – will be published in September.

It is also part of a group, led by the Cabinet Office, that is looking at how voting can be made more accessible.

A commission spokeswoman said: “The Electoral Commission provides guidance to help ensure that there is equal access to voting for all.

“Polling station staff must ensure that disabled voters are not offered a lower standard of service than other voters.

“Our guidance includes guidelines on the layout of a polling station and recommends that polling staff make sure that the needs of voters with a range of disabilities are considered.”

22 June 2017

 

 

Disability-related honours handed to special school heads and service-providers

The Cabinet Office has defended the diversity of the UK honours system, despite the latest disability-related recipients being dominated by special school teachers and other professionals recognised for providing services to disabled people.

The Queen’s birthday honours list, announced this week, includes MBEs, OBEs and CBEs for at least 10 people for their work in special schools, and at least another 10 for recipients who work for organisations providing services to disabled children.

Another four are recognised for volunteering or service provision in disability sport, and three for providing employment support services to disabled people.

But the list appears to include only two or three disabled people recognised for campaigning around inclusion and disability rights.

The Cabinet Office has pointed to its own figures which show that 6.5 per cent of those recognised in the list consider themselves to be disabled people, while it insists that the process of selection is “transparent and robust”.

Nominations are considered by one of nine expert honours committees, each chaired by a non-civil service chair and with a majority of non-civil service members.

The main honours committee usually takes the collected recommendations for approval to the prime minister, but this year, because of the general election, Theresa May played no part in the process.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “The independent honours committees introduced a diversity and inclusion group in 2014 with the objective to increase the diversity of the UK honours system.

“The recently published Queen’s birthday honours list is the most diverse ever, with 69 (6.5 per cent) of the successful candidates recognised considering themselves to have a disability.

“We need to continue to raise awareness of the honours system in all communities and we welcome more nominations from people who have undertaken outstanding work in their communities either in a voluntary or paid capacity.”

Among those few disabled people recognised in the area of inclusion and rights was John Binns, a trustee of the mental health charity Mind, and a leading advocate of promoting openness about mental health in the workplace.

He is a former partner at the international accountancy and consultancy giant Deloitte and after a period of depression in 2007 he launched a programme within the company to raise awareness of mental health, including setting up a mental health champions network.

Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, said Binns had “used his own experience of depression to inspire others to share and work together to achieve real change in how businesses approach mental health”.

Another disabled person recognised with an MBE was wheelchair curler Angela Malone, who won a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games.

British Curling’s performance director Graeme Thompson said the MBE was “recognition of her achievements as a great ambassador for our sport and her contribution in inspiring others to participate in wheelchair curling”.

22 June 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com