‘Fit for work’ suicide man’s sister tried to take her own life after DWP ordeal
The sister of a man driven to suicide by the “fitness for work” system tried to take her own life after being “treated like a criminal” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over her benefit claims.
Eleanor Donnachie believes her brother Paul was a victim of DWP’s failure to ensure the safety of people with mental health conditions in vulnerable situations who apply for employment and support allowance (ESA) through the work capability assessment (WCA) system.
She told Scottish journalists earlier this year how DWP had ignored her brother’s need for support and instead punished him for missing appointments for a face-to-face assessment by sanctioning his benefits.
Now Eleanor, from Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, has spoken for the first time about her own struggles with DWP and how fighting for ESA and personal independence payment (PIP) drove her to attempt to take her own life earlier this year.
She told Disability News Service (DNS) that she feels she has been treated “like a criminal” by DWP, just as her brother was.
And she has joined the family of another victim of the UK government’s social security policies in backing calls for former Tory DWP ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling to face a criminal investigation by Police Scotland for their failure to make the WCA safe.
It came as the disabled president of the Liberal Democrats, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, also backed calls for an inquiry – and possibly a criminal investigation – into the failings of Duncan Smith and Grayling.
Paul’s body was discovered in January at his home in Glasgow, but he is believed to have taken his own life in November after losing his ESA.
His sister believes DWP had failed to contact Paul’s GP to ask for detailed information about his mental health, and ignored its own guidance by failing to send someone to his flat to talk to him face-to-face about his support needs.
He had previously claimed jobseeker’s allowance and filed a complaint because of the way he had been treated by his local jobcentre. He was sanctioned several times and fell deeper and deeper into debt.
She says DWP knew that Paul attended mental health support groups and counselling sessions, and that he was taking anti-depressants.
But the department removed his ESA when he failed to attend a WCA on 30 June last year – the second or third assessment he had missed. His benefits were stopped and the withdrawal of his payments was backdated by four weeks.
DWP also contacted Glasgow City Council, so his housing benefit and council tax benefit were both stopped.
Eleanor believes that by this stage Paul was so ground down by fighting DWP that he stopped opening his post.
The council wrote to him on 19 November to say there had been a mistake and that his housing benefit was being reinstated, but the letter arrived too late. He never opened it, and may have already been dead when it arrived.
In a final indignity, Eleanor’s much-loved younger brother was sent a summons for a £3,000 council tax debt by Glasgow City Council in January, after his body had already been discovered.
Eleanor believes DWP should have treated him as someone in a “vulnerable” situation.
She said: “They didn’t do anything to help him. They should have arranged a home visit, but the only time that happened was when the council sent the bailiffs round to kick his door down. And that’s when they found him.
“They hounded him to death. They have taken my brother’s life.
“They are driving people to suicide. I have told DWP that I hold them totally responsible for my brother’s death.”
Extracts from secret DWP reviews, published earlier this month by DNS, have revealed that its staff have repeatedly failed to follow strict guidelines on how to support benefit claimants who express thoughts of self-harm or threaten to take their own lives.
Eleanor said she was fully behind attempts by the Scottish grassroots group Black Triangle to persuade Police Scotland to launch a criminal investigation into the refusal of Duncan Smith and Grayling to act on a letter written by a coroner weeks before the 2010 general election that warned ministers that the WCA process risked causing further deaths of people with mental health conditions.
The family of another victim of the WCA, David Barr, have also backed calls for a criminal investigation into the failure to ensure that further medical evidence is obtained before an ESA decision is reached in such cases.
The cases of Paul Donnachie, David Barr and a third ESA claimant, Ms D E, who also died as a result of a failure to secure further medical evidence, have been submitted to Police Scotland in a dossier put together by Black Triangle.
Eleanor told DNS: “They should be prosecuted. Also the workers that work for them, they should be prosecuted as well.”
Baroness Brinton said the failure of the two ministers to act on the coroner’s letter, which then led to further deaths, would be more serious than deaths that happened because a minister had made a particular policy decision.
She said: “There should be an inquiry. I am not proficient in saying if it should be a criminal inquiry…
“Absolutely, if the coroner said this needed to be looked at and it wasn’t looked at, at the very least the department was negligent in not carrying that forward.”
As well as fighting for justice for her brother, Eleanor is also fighting DWP, just as Paul did.
Her own WCA took place on 14 January, the day before police officers told her that her brother’s body had been found.
She has now spent months fighting DWP for both ESA and personal independence payment (PIP), and although she has finally been found eligible for ESA, she has been turned down for PIP.
Eleanor has a number of complex health conditions, including fibromyalgia, vertigo, high blood pressure and depression.
After many years working in social care, she passed college courses that saw her accepted by Glasgow University onto a sociology and history degree, but had to leave the course last year when her health worsened and was causing her concentration and memory problems.
Despite those serious health problems, she was found fit for work, and after she applied a second time for ESA – after being diagnosed with vertigo in January – and was again found fit for work, she told her local jobcentre that she was going to take her own life, “the same as they had forced my brother to do”. Police officers were sent to her house to check on her welfare.
Despite her high support needs, she was given zero points in both her WCAs.
She was only finally placed in the ESA support group days after telling DWP that she was going to tell the media how she had been treated.
Despite the ESA award, her PIP has been turned down, a result confirmed during the mandatory reconsideration stage and at tribunal, even though DWP was told she had attempted suicide.
The tribunal refused to accept a letter written by her doctor, supporting her PIP claim, because it was not written on headed paper.
The letter describes her “complex conditions which limit her ability with tasks such as sitting, standing and going on journeys unaided”, problems with co-ordination, concentration and short-term memory, and vertigo.
The impact of her impairments means that she often forgets she has left pans cooking on the stove, while her chronic fatigue frequently leaves her too tired to get out of bed and dress herself.
She has told DWP that she has twice attempted suicide since becoming ill. She says her latest attempt was the result of her treatment at the hands of DWP, and that she believes the department is doing to her what it did to her brother.
She said: “I couldn’t take it anymore. It was terrible. They treat you as if you are a criminal.
“When I tried to do it, I just felt it was the final straw. I still have suicidal thoughts but I just tell myself, ‘Don’t let them win.’
“I am a fighter, I have always been a fighter. Now I’m fighting for Paul.”
When approached about Eleanor Donnachie’s ordeal, and that of her brother, DWP said PIP was awarded on the basis of how someone’s condition affects them day-to-day rather than just on the condition itself.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “The decision on whether someone is eligible for PIP is taken after consideration of all the supporting evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical expert.
“If someone disagrees with a decision they can challenge it, including appealing to an independent tribunal.”
She said that fitness for work decisions were taken following “a thorough independent assessment, and after consideration of all the supporting evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist”.
And she said that if a claimant’s circumstances change, then their eligibility for benefits can change too.
She added: “Suicide is a tragic and complex issue, so to link a death to someone’s benefit claim is misleading.
“We are fully committed to ensuring that people who are too sick to work get the support they need.”
22 September 2016
A benefits assessor working for the outsourcing company Capita repeatedly “lied” in her report, after carrying out a face-to-face assessment of a disabled nurse which was observed by her husband, a retired GP.
The disabled woman and her husband have asked not to be named – so their claims have not been put to Capita or the Department for Work and Pensions – but they have provided proof to Disability News Service (DNS) that they are both on their respective professional registers.
They believe the behaviour of the Capita assessor, herself a registered nurse, makes her unfit to remain in her profession.
Although DNS has received a string of credible reports from disabled people who say their benefits assessors lied in reports written after face-to-face medical assessments, this account is particularly credible because the behaviour was witnessed by both a nurse and a doctor.
The woman, Mrs A, lodged a complaint with Capita even before she knew the result of the test because she and her husband were so appalled that last month’s assessment at their home in south Wales was so rushed, impersonal and poorly carried out, and ignored key questions.
Mrs A, who has significant support needs due to a series of medical conditions, had already had to fight to have her disability living allowance (DLA) restored after it was stopped by DWP when her personal independence payment (PIP) claim form was lost in the post, while “rude and confrontational” staff then refused to provide her with a replacement form.
The couple say the assessor made almost no eye contact during the PIP assessment, but spent most of the time typing on her laptop, while she continually interrupted Mrs A as she tried to explain the impact of her impairments on her daily life.
Mrs A said that when she and her husband saw the report the assessor had written, their “worst fears were confirmed”.
As a result of the report, Mrs A’s previous entitlement to the higher rates of both the mobility and care components of DLA were downgraded under PIP to the standard daily living rate and no entitlement at all to the mobility element.
She has now put in a second written complaint, this time about the content of the report and what they say are the assessor’s lies.
Both Mrs A and Dr A say they have a duty as healthcare professionals to expose the assessor’s actions.
Among their many concerns is that the report stated that there was no evidence that Mrs A was wearing hearing aids, when the briefest of checks would have shown they were in place behind her ears.
The report failed to mention her painfully swollen leg, and said that Mrs A refused to stand, when in fact the assessor had recognised she was in too much pain to stand and so did not ask her to do so.
Among many other concerns, the report failed to point out that Mrs A was clearly “distressed, in pain and anxious”, and failed to note the forgetfulness and slowness of thought she showed during the assessment.
Dr A said the report was “an absolute fabrication”.
He said: “The actual examination was laughable. It took a few moments.
“My wife couldn’t even stand up… yet somehow she was able to infer that she could walk more than 50 metres but less than 200.
“How do you infer that from someone who wasn’t even able to get up out of the chair?
“She said she couldn’t see the hearing aids. She didn’t even look to see if the hearing aids were in place. How difficult is it to move a couple of hairs?”
He added: “It was appalling. Every single sentence in that report can be torn apart.”
Mrs A, who is not able to do clinical nursing work because of her impairment, said she believed the assessor “had an agenda”.
She said: “I feel hurt that a nurse, who is also a colleague in a way, would behave in this manner.
“Nurses are supposed to act with integrity in all that we do. We know how important recording of information – truthfully – is.”
She added: “We feel the nurse is acting dishonestly.
“I cannot understand how if you are a nurse you wouldn’t act impartially. I don’t understand how you can be both a nurse and a PIP assessor.
“The public rely on the integrity, honesty and openness of nurses. As a nurse myself, this kind of behaviour has to stop.”
22 September 2016
Some bus companies are taking advantage of a loophole that means they can avoid their legal obligations to ensure their buses are accessible to disabled people, the industry’s own trade association has admitted.
The admission from the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) came despite repeated efforts from a government agency to block attempts to find out whether companies were using the loophole.
Access laws state that all buses and coaches have to meet the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) – which date back to 2000 – but coaches have until January 2020 to comply, while all single-deck buses have had to comply since January 2016.
The regulations require vehicles to have a wheelchair space and boarding facilities, priority seating, colour-contrasting step edges, and other features “to enable disabled passengers to travel in comfort and safety”.
But one of the ways that companies are dodging the regulations is by simply removing the hanging straps in buses, placing “no standing” signs in their vehicles, and then applying for new carrying capacity certificates to authorise them to operate as coaches rather than buses.
It is one of three loopholes discovered by disabled campaigner Doug Paulley and reported last month by Disability News Service (DNS).
But the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) – which is responsible for ensuring that bus and coach operators comply with regulations on transport accessibility – has repeatedly blocked attempts by DNS to discover whether it has heard of such cases.
When asked whether it was aware of companies applying for new carrying capacity certificates to allow them to switch their vehicles from “buses” to “coaches”, a DVSA spokesman would only say that the agency had “no evidence to suggest that operators are flouting Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations”.
But a CPT spokeswoman then told DNS that there had been cases of companies applying for new certificates to alter their vehicles from buses to coaches, and that this information had been handed to them by DVSA.
The CPT spokeswoman said: “We have spoken to DVSA and whilst there is evidence of vehicles being altered in this way, this is only a small number.
“The vast majority of vehicles operating local services already comply with PSVAR and the remaining double decks [buses] will do so by the end of 2017.
“Therefore, we aren’t able to comment any further without more evidence. It may be an idea to contact DVSA for their comment.”
DNS has lodged a complaint with DVSA about the actions of its communications department.
Paulley said: “It is disgusting how some operators are getting around the mandatory requirement for buses to be accessible when that deadline has been in place for a good 15 years.
“Accessibility should not be an after-thought or a ‘nice to have’ and it is shameful that the DVSA claim not to know about it when they clearly did.”
He added: “Rather than expending effort in finding a way around the regulations that require their buses to be accessible, they should expend the energy in making their buses accessible.”
The second loophole apparently being used is to block-book inaccessible buses for contracts to provide free school transport.
Buses that provide only free school transport do not have to meet PSVAR, but Paulley believes some councils are trying to cut costs by using inaccessible vehicles, while at the same time allowing members of the public to use the buses as fare-paying passengers, and also charging some pupils, which should invalidate the PSVAR exemption.
The third loophole used by bus companies is to take advantage of regulations that allow inaccessible vehicles that are more than 20 years old to be used for a maximum of 20 days a year.
DVSA has said it has “no evidence” of these two loopholes being used, even though one of its officers told Paulley that he was “suspicious that some local authorities are seeking to minimise cost by allowing the general public to use [inaccessible buses] for a fare and thereby putting them in scope of PSVAR”.
DVSA said last month that the comments made to Paulley in an email “reflect the personal views of a member of staff and are not shared by DVSA”.
The Department for Transport said last month – before CPT’s admission emerged – that it was “working with operators, disability groups and local authorities to ensure that disabled people, parents with buggies and those who are less mobile can easily get onto buses and trains.
“We have brought in tough rules and nearly 90 per cent of buses in England are fully accessible.”
22 September 2016
Liberal Democrats have voted for a new social security policy that will scrap the “fitness for work” test and all benefit sanctions, despite many disabled party members calling for a more radical approach to welfare reform.
The vote at the party’s annual conference in Brighton means that scrapping the work capability assessment (WCA), all benefit sanctions, the personal independence payment (PIP) 20-metre rule, the bedroom tax and the benefit cap are all now party policy.
Members were voting on a policy paper that called on the party to devolve the provision of employment support to local authorities, which would also be asked to deliver – or contract out – the eligibility test that replaces the WCA.
This replacement test would introduce a “real world” element into the assessment of eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.
The policy paper, Mending The Safety Net, called for the benefit sanctions system to be reformed so there was “greater scope for discretion with a stronger safety net to prevent sanctions causing extreme hardship”.
But party members voted strongly in favour of an amendment that said benefits sanctions were “fundamentally wrong and leave people destitute who are already in poverty”, and should be replaced with a scheme that provides claimants with incentives to engage with the system, rather than punishing them when they do not.
The motion, as amended by the call to scrap sanctions, was carried by 363 to 202 votes, and now becomes party policy.
Before the vote there were suggestions that some disabled activists may quit the party if the motion was carried, because they did not believe the policy paper put enough distance between the Liberal Democrats and their former coalition partners in the Conservative party.
But so far that does not appear to have happened.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, the party’s new work and pensions spokeswoman, told the conference that the policy paper was “thoroughly well thought out” and “an innovative, practical and humane roadmap for the sort of welfare system we want in this country”.
She said: “Don’t be fooled into thinking that this makes the paper just tinkering at the edges of the current system.
“It is not just tinkering, it is the most radical plan I have ever seen for welfare reform.”
She said the “real world test” that would replace the WCA was based on a pioneering system in the Netherlands, and she added: “It will help to ensure that claimants are not put through impossible hoops for non-existent jobs.”
Jennie Rigg, who chairs Calderdale Liberal Democrats, spoke against the motion, saying that benefit sanctions were “unjustifiable, inhumane and immoral” while the motion was “fundamentally flawed” and “mired in coalition policy-think”.
She said that devolving assessments to local level was “not going to make them any better”.
After the vote, she said on Twitter that the new policy was “tinkering at the edges of the benefit system and keeping most of the Tory bull***t in place” and that she was “utterly devastated that lib dems voted for it”.
Ryan Mercer, the party’s candidate to fight Putney at the next general election, speaking against the motion, told the debate: “We don’t need to mend this broken safety net, we need to replace it with something far more ambitious.”
Lib Dem activist Sarah Noble, also arguing against the motion, said: “We must be forward-thinking, not sliding backwards into this coalition-think.
“We need a radical alternative to our failed and discriminatory welfare system. This isn’t it.”
Dr Kirsten Johnson, who proposed the sanctions amendment, told the conference that the sanctions system was “inhumane”, and added: “We must, we must, we must scrap benefit sanctions. It is the moral and it is the decent thing to do.”
But Lord [Jonny] Oates, who was Nick Clegg’s chief of staff throughout the coalition, and is the party’s former director of policy and communications, argued against scrapping sanctions.
Lord Oates, who served on the working group that drew up the policy paper, said that it proposed “radical changes” to sanctions that would allow “greater flexibility and discretion”, and added: “If we reject sanctions… the public will think we have gone mad.”
Matthew Clark, a disabled party member making his first speech at conference, who supported the motion, said the Tory benefits system was “creating a sticky web, trapping and entrenching vulnerable people who can be and deserve better”.
He said he had “wasted valuable time not developing myself but learning how to jump through hoops” to secure the support he needed, while he said he had faced a “long battle” to regain his benefits after they were removed, in what he said was a “centralised and impersonal” system.
He said that many disabled people feared the “complex” benefits system and were afraid to even ask simple questions of DWP in case they were sanctioned.
But he opposed calls to scrap sanctions completely and backed a failed bid, through another amendment, to retain the benefit cap at a level equal to average household earnings.
Former Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott, who chaired the working group, said she was “very proud” of the policy paper, which she said had “strong policies and a Liberal heart” and was “radical” and would “enable us to campaign for a fairer benefits system now”.
She said that one of the “most important and bold measures” was the scrapping of the WCA.
Arguing against banning sanctions completely, she said that some charities had told the working group that placing conditions on receiving benefits “can have a role in ensuring vulnerable people engage”.
George Potter, the disabled activist who was a member of the working group that drew up the paper, and was a key critic of the impact of austerity policies on disabled people while the party was in coalition, told Disability News Service (DNS) after the debate that he was “disappointed that the motion went through, even though it has been amended to commit us to abolishing sanctions”.
He said: “It doesn’t go anywhere near far enough in tackling the failure of the welfare system around disability issues or to offer a coherent vision for the future of the welfare system generally.
“However, the reactions from the floor during the debate make me optimistic that there is plenty of appetite for this topic to be revisited at a future conference and I’m now going to be working with a broad coalition of party members to bring something better to a future conference.
“In the meantime, I’m at least glad that the party has accepted the principle of scrapping the WCA and sanctions – it’s encouraging that at least we’re moving on from this idea that welfare should be about punishing people for non-compliance with arbitrary, bureaucratic regulations.”
Among the reforms he had wanted to see was for both ESA and PIP to be scrapped, and replaced with a disability pension for those unable to work, which would provide them with a decent income – similar to the system in Germany – and a new additional living costs benefit for disabled people.
He said this would focus more on providing the necessary support for disabled people and less on how to ration it.
22 September 2016
The Liberal Democrats have announced plans for a dedicated NHS and social care tax, but have stopped short of following the Green party and Labour in backing a national, free, needs-led system of support.
Norman Lamb, the party’s health and care spokesman and a former social care minister in the coalition, told the party’s annual conference in Brighton that there was a need for a new tax – perhaps through an extra one pence on national insurance – to deal with health and care systems that are now “on their knees”.
But he told Disability News Service (DNS) that the solution presented in a report on the impact of the closure of the Independent Living Fund by Inclusion London – a national, needs-led system, free at the point of delivery, and funded by taxation – would impose “very substantial costs to the health and care system beyond what the system is currently paying for”.
He said of the parties that have backed that call: “They are talking about not just maintaining the current offer, they are talking about substantially increasing it.
“They have got to be straight with people about the consequences of that.”
Lamb said he had heard “some really disturbing things” about disabled people having their personal budgets cut, with many organisations “expressing massive concern about support being undermined”, and local care providers in his area of Norfolk raising concerns about “what look like arbitrary decisions to reduce care packages, driven by financial necessity”.
He said: “It’s quite bleak, really. I feel that both the health and care system are on their knees and I feel that the care system is on borrowed time.”
He said he was “horrified” by what was happening to social care.
During the coalition years from 2010 to 2015, he said, “the NHS was protected and social care wasn’t”.
Money was transferred from the NHS to social care to compensate for cuts in local government spending, but “because it was not ring-fenced, that money leaked out to prop up other local government services, so it didn’t work effectively enough to protect social care”.
He said: “That’s why there has to be new thinking here and we have to move away from a fragmented system that always disadvantages social care.”
Speaking later, alongside Labour’s Liz Kendall at a conference fringe event, he called on the prime minister to set up a cross-party commission that would “confront the growing crisis in the NHS and social care system”.
In a joint statement, backed by former Tory health minister Dr Dan Poulter, Lamb and Kendall said there needed to be a “national conversation with the public and with healthcare staff about how we ensure a properly-funded and sustainable NHS and care system”.
Lamb told DNS: “At the election, none of the parties came up with solutions to the scale of the problem.
“Labour proposed cutting local government spending; we had nothing significant to say on social care beyond implementing [the recommendations of the Dilnot report] – which in itself was quite a significant breakthrough – but we didn’t have anything more than that, and the Tories had nothing at all.
“There was a sort of conspiracy of silence and the trouble is that because this involves more money, everybody balks at talking about this openly.”
Lamb also announced that he had set up a panel of “independent health experts” to “consider the case for a dedicated NHS and care tax”.
But he admitted to DNS that he had not appointed any disabled people or service-users to that panel.
He said the suggestion that he should have done so was “an entirely legitimate perspective, so I am completely up for that”.
Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the party’s disabled president, told DNS later that “if he has the capacity to expand it, he needs that [service-user] voice on the panel”.
Lamb said: “The political parties always obsess about funding the NHS. We have got to start obsessing about funding for the NHS and care.”
And he said there had to be a pooled budget for health and social care to provide an incentive to prevent ill-health and “deterioration of health”.
He said in his speech to conference that the government’s spending plans would lead to a reducing percentage of national income being spent on health and social care “at a time when demand is rising by about four per cent a year”, which “just makes no sense”.
He told DNS: “The NHS has a status as a national religion in this country. A lot of people don’t get what social care means; social care sounds a bit old-fashioned.”
When DNS suggested that using “independent living” rather than social care might secure more support, he said: “It is better and it’s a more Liberal concept from my point-of-view, because it is giving the person the right to determine their own priorities and make their own choices.”
And asked whether a call for a National Health and Independent Living Service could help secure more funds, he said: “I’m attracted by that sort of proposition because the terminology we use is unhelpful in the public discourse.
“Fundamentally, we have got to shift away from a divided budget which ends up distorting priorities and shifting resources into repairing damage once it’s done rather than preventing damage in the first place.”
Lamb’s call for a National Health and Care Service was backed by his party leader, Tim Farron, in his main speech to conference.
Farron said: “If the great Liberal William Beveridge had written his blueprint [for a welfare state] today, when people are living to the ages they are now, there is no doubt that he would have proposed a National Health and Care Service.
“He would have been appalled about the child who has to look after their disabled parent or the hundreds of thousands of women across the country who are unable to work because they are disproportionately the care-givers.
“So let’s today decide to do what Beveridge would do. Let’s create that National Health and Care Service.”
22 September 2016
The Liberal Democrats have become the first political party to pick a candidate to fight a parliamentary seat from a shortlist containing only disabled people.
Former MP Stephen Lloyd, who lost his Eastbourne seat at the 2015 election by just 733 votes, was selected by his party to fight a possible snap general election. There were two disabled candidates on the shortlist.
Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the party’s disabled president, said she was now hoping that at least one more local party in one of the Lib Dems’ 10 per cent most winnable seats would agree to select a prospective parliamentary candidate from an all-disabled shortlist.
Lloyd said he had always believed that his impairment – he is hard of hearing – should not be a barrier to being an MP “but instead something that allows me to appreciate the barriers that many other disabled people still experience”.
He said: “I was very active in parliament on disability issues and this is something I will continue if given the privilege of serving Eastbourne again.
“I am proud the Lib Dems have taken the unprecedented step of having a disabled-only shortlist.
“With around 10 million people in this country having a disability, I would like to see many other disabled people given the opportunity to serve our nation.
“There is still some way to go to having a fair representation of people with disabilities in parliament but at least this is a step in the right direction.”
Another disabled candidate, Kelly-Marie Blundell, has been selected to fight the target seat of Lewes – where Lib Dem Norman Baker lost by 1,083 votes in 2015 – from an all-women shortlist.
The party now has at least three disabled candidates who will be fighting the party’s best-performing 10 per cent of seats.
Baroness Brinton said she believed the party was now “making progress” in improving the diversity of its candidates, and its MPs.
The party voted overwhelmingly at its spring conference in favour of measures to improve the diversity of candidates fighting Westminster seats at the next election.
Among those measures, any local party is now able to select a candidate from an all-disabled shortlist; and in the best-performing 10 per cent of seats – excluding those with sitting Lib Dem MPs – shortlists have to include at least two candidates from under-represented groups.
In seats where the party won more than 15 per cent of the vote in 2015, the local party has to prove that it carried out a “thorough search” for candidates from under-represented groups.
The measures were introduced after the party was left after last year’s general election with just eight MPs, all of whom were white, non-disabled, straight men.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told conference this week that the party’s new diversity policies were “radical and ground-breaking” and would make sure candidates “reflect the country we seek to represent”.
But he said that party activists also needed to take action themselves.
He said: “Doing it right at the top is about giving a signal all the way through the party.”
Farron said the party was “habitually and regularly choosing, perhaps without thinking about it, white blokes, straight blokes” from “comfortable backgrounds” to fight national and local elections.
He said: “If we don’t practice positive action in our own lives, no amount of constitutional amendments will [increase the number of candidates from under-represented groups].
“It’s all of our responsibility.”
22 September 2016
A local authority has employed the outsourcing giant Capita to clear a backlog of annual reviews of its service-users’ care packages, in an apparent attempt to cut costs and help fill a hole in its budget.
The “pilot project” has so far resulted in an average cut of seven per cent in disabled people’s support packages.
One service-user who contacted Disability News Service said that Capita was “blitzing” all of the disabled people receiving support through direct payments, on behalf of Southampton City Council (SCC).
The Capita employee who carried out the assessment admitted cutting the direct payments packages of more than half of the disabled people they had assessed so far, and said that the aim of the exercise was to cut costs.
The service-user* said they were particularly concerned that the review was being carried out by a company with an appalling record of assessing disabled people for their eligibility for the disability benefit personal independence payment, on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
The service-user said: “I was understandably nervous about my assessment, given the reason it was being done and by whom.
“At least there is an appeals process for benefits. I’m not sure what you can do if care hours are cut on the say-so of a Capita assessor.”
Earlier this year, the Labour-run council was forced to backtrack on controversial plans to force disabled people with high-cost support packages out of their own homes and into residential and nursing institutions.
It had announced plans to review the personal budgets of every disabled person with a package of more than £500 a week, and consider if it would be cheaper to fund them for extra care housing, or nursing or residential care.
But it was forced to scrap the plans after opposition from disabled people, including Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, a user-led organisation which campaigns and provides services in Southampton, and Disabled People Against Cuts.
Ian Loynes, chief executive of Spectrum, said that service-users in Southampton, like those in many other authorities, had “not been receiving annual reviews regularly for a long time”, although some reviews had been taking place before the latest Capita programme began.
He said he believed that “virtually all” local authorities were now carrying out similar cost-cutting programmes, because of reduced funding from central government.
He said: “We do have intermittent reports both in Hampshire and Southampton that [council] care managers are starting a review meeting with the user with a ‘we have to save money’ message, which is completely unacceptable, and when we have challenged this with direct evidence, the senior managers claim it was just an isolated incident and should not be happening.
“Whether it is isolated bad practice or likely to be routine depends on my changing levels of cynicism.”
But he said Spectrum probably only heard of a minority of such cases.
Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “It seems extraordinary that Southampton council, who understandably are facing difficulties in balancing their social care budgets, would further compound the problem by spending money on outsourcing the backlog of annual care package reviews.
“If their sole intention is to cut the cost of care packages then, once again, they are skating on thin legal ice.
“Starting a review with the words ‘we have to save money’ is unhelpful and contrary to statutory guidance.
“Rather there should be a genuine conversation about what is needed to live a good life and whether the current package achieves that.”
A council spokesman said that SCC had a “long-term strategic partnership with Capita”, which included “working together on projects to improve and transform services as part of our drive to deliver a modern, sustainable council”.
He said: “Through this partnership, the council has contracted Capita to deliver a pilot project to address an existing backlog of reviews in adult social care.
“We are committed to carrying out timely and thorough adult social care reviews, to make sure that people have the support they need to live safe, healthy and independent lives, as far as possible, and to comply with the Care Act 2014.
“As part of the pilot, social workers are visiting people who have not had their support plans reviewed during the last year.
“Some of these people receive direct payments, some receive services commissioned by the council and some are living in residential and nursing placements.
“Learning from the pilot will help us decide whether this is the best way of making sure that we keep on top of reviews and people have the support that they need.
“Some of the care and support packages have increased, while some have reduced following a review, as people’s needs have changed or they are now able to maintain their independence in alternative ways, such as through care technology.
“The overall reduction in care and support payments so far following these reviews has been less than 10 per cent.”
The council spokesman later confirmed that the average reduction so far was about seven per cent.
*The service-user has asked not to be named
22 September 2016
The president of the Liberal Democrats has admitted that her party needs to rebuild trust among disabled people, after five years of coalition government ended with a shattering defeat at last year’s general election.
Baroness [Sal] Brinton, herself a wheelchair-user, said she understood that many people, particularly those on the left, found the idea of the coalition “difficult”.
But she told Disability News Service (DNS) that she had “no idea” how long it would take before the party could win back that trust with disabled voters.
The depth of anger was demonstrated by the reaction to last week’s DNS story in which a leading disabled Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Kelly-Marie Blundell, discussed the party’s proposed new social security policy.
But Baroness Brinton insisted that, since the Conservatives assumed total control after the 2015 election, many disabled people had told her: “‘Now I understand what you guys were trying to do, you were trying to stop them making things worse.’
“Whilst we may not be forgiven, we are on the road to it.”
Speaking to DNS at the party’s annual conference in Brighton this week, Baroness Brinton said that one of the areas the party had led the way on was mental health, with its health spokesman Norman Lamb’s “absolute championing of that over the years”.
She said: “It’s been something the party has talked about for a long time.
“It’s quite unusual for a health spokesperson, a shadow secretary of state for health, to spend so much time on mental health, but he does it because he believes it is absolutely so important.
“I think that by continuing with that we will start to build up that trust again.”
She said that many people had forgotten the state the country was in in 2010 after the banking crash “and all of the things that the country faced”, while Labour had not wanted to go into coalition with the Lib Dems, while the public probably “wouldn’t have wanted them to either”.
She said that there were things the party did well in coalition, and it was only now becoming clear what kind of policies the Conservatives would have introduced if they had been governing alone.
Among those areas where the government’s policy appears to have hardened since the Liberal Democrats left government has been around equality.
She points to the Access to Elected Office fund, which Liberal Democrat ministers ensured was introduced, but which has now “gone into the long grass since we left the coalition”.
She said: “We were the ones who insisted on it being there.”
The fund offered grants to disabled people to pay for their additional impairment-related costs in standing for election as a councillor or MP, but has been lying dormant since the 2015 general election.
It means that possible parliamentary candidates like David Buxton, who relies on British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, can no longer secure the government funding to pay for that support.
Baroness Brinton said: “They are not even being honest and saying they are going to kill it.
“They have literally said it is in the in-tray waiting for a decision, and it’s been like that since this time last year.”
“[David Buxton] couldn’t afford to go for a top seat because he couldn’t afford the BSL interpreters’ bills for the amount of public meetings he would have to do.
“We are a small party, we are not rich. If he wants to go for a seat I am going to have to help him fundraise, and I think that’s wrong. I think that’s something the state should be doing.”
Baroness Brinton was one of the members of the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee that reported in March on how the act had affected disabled people.
Peers debated the report earlier this month, and members of the committee demanded that Theresa May’s government rip up the “frustrating” and “clichéd” response that had been provided when the government was led by David Cameron.
But Baroness Brinton told DNS that peers who spoke in that debate had now received a letter from Home Office minister Baroness Williams, in which she answers questions raised in the debate.
Baroness Brinton said committee members were “furious” with the response, which she said failed to address the issues raised during the debate.
She said: “It is very rare for a select committee to be completely unanimous in its response to the government’s response [to a report].
“To say we were all angry is an understatement and we are determined to continue the fight on all of those recommendations.
“Theresa May talks about inclusion but the recommendations and the lack of a very small amount of money to deliver those recommendations – it really is very small, many of them at no cost at all – demonstrates that they are not prepared to follow through.”
22 September 2016
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com