Council’s planned care charge rises ‘could prove fatal’

Leading disabled campaigners have warned that a council’s proposals to increase care charges will force them and others to quit their jobs and stop their volunteering work, and will push many others into poverty.

One influential campaigner warned that she could be forced to reduce her care from 63 hours a week to just seven, and might have to consider residential care, if Greenwich council goes ahead with its plans.

Another said the Labour-run council’s changes could force her to quit her job with a disabled people’s organisation in another London borough.

A third disabled resident said she feared she would have to quit her work as a self-employed consultant, and her campaigning work with organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), if the council presses ahead with its plans.

Another Greenwich resident, Fred Williams, who receives 38 hours of support a week, said he would refuse to pay any new charges imposed on him by the council.

He has been refusing to pay all care charges requested by Greenwich council since 1995, when new laws on charging were introduced by the Conservative government.

Williams plans to take legal action against the council if it continues with its proposals.

He said they could even prove fatal for some disabled people in the borough, many of whom have already experienced cuts through the introduction of universal credit and personal independence payment.

He said: “For many, it will mean a loss of care, they won’t be able to afford the extra charges, it will end up being a choice of food, heating or paying for the little care they can afford. In time, this could be fatal.

“Is Greenwich council going to take full responsibility for these deaths?”

Among 11 proposals, Greenwich council wants to increase the hourly rate it charges for home care; force recipients of the higher rate of disability benefits to contribute more towards their care; remove subsidies for delivery of frozen ready meals; remove its cap on charges for home care; and increase charges for service-users with savings of between £14,250 and £23,250.

The council’s own equality impact assessment of its proposals warned there was a “risk of impacting on income of most severely disabled people”.

Another disabled resident, Kate Brown, in an open letter to the council that was supported by the grassroots group WinVisible, has said that her charges would increase from £65 per week to £105 per week or more.

She said in the letter: “This sounds overdramatic, but if I had to cut down to pay the extra, it would be on food, or the clothes and bedding that I need as I am double incontinent.”

She has already seen her support package cut from 168 hours to 27.5 hours a week, following the closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015.

Greenwich is just the latest local authority to announce plans to increase charges or restrict access to care and support, as the government continues to delay publication of its long-awaited green paper on how to deal with the adult social care funding crisis.

Anne Novis, who chairs Inclusion London, and received a commendation from the Metropolitan police only last month for her work as an independent advisor to the force, said she was likely to have to quit both those voluntary positions if the council’s proposals went ahead.

Because she was left some money when her mother died, Novis will be hit hard by the reduction on the cap in charges. She is set to lose support worth £3,500 a month.

She said: “If that is removed as proposed, I will have to pay for all my care, an impossible request if I am to live.”

Within a year, she fears she will be forced to claim housing benefit and will probably be hit by the bedroom tax, because of the lack of smaller accessible properties in the borough.

She said: “If they remove the cap, I will be faced with paying all of it or the cheaper option of going into a care home.”

Another option is to cut her care from 63 hours a week to one hour a day, which would still cost more than £300 a month.

She said: “I will not be able to do anything. My life just comes to existing, not living, not contributing to all the things I do. That’s what people need to hear about.”

She added: “I fear I will end up in hospital, as I will not be able to afford the care I have been assessed as needing.”

Novis said the council’s plans would “push all service users into more poverty”, because they are already struggling with the benefits freeze and increased living costs.

Jenny Hurst, another well-known disabled campaigner and Greenwich resident, told Disability News Service that she fears the care charge changes could force her to quit her job – supporting disabled people being assessed for care in another borough – and rely instead on benefits.

She said the Greenwich consultation document says people will only be charged what they can afford.

But she said: “I support people on a regular basis with little or no savings, some with not a penny to their name, who are in debt and struggling to afford household bills and food on a week by week basis who are told [by their council] that they can afford over £100 a week towards their care.

“Calculations are done according to a standard formula, using figures from the government, with minor tweaks… not considering the person’s actual living costs.

“They have all been told that, according to the government’s calculations, they can afford to pay towards their care. The reality for them is that they can’t.

“Greenwich’s consultation document shows that Greenwich will also be following the same government figures in the calculations.”

She added: “People should not have to pay for support to do the most basic tasks that non-disabled people take for granted.”

Eleanor Lisney, another high-profile disabled Greenwich resident, as a DPAC co-founder, said: “My care package is just enough to ensure I have my personal needs taken care of so that I am presentable for the work I do.

“I get my meals cooked and help to maintain hygiene at home, shopping and some leisure activities and campaigning work.

“I don’t think I can afford that if I have to pay for it myself.

“I think, ultimately, I fear that we will be stripped of dignity and choice if we are not afforded the basic daily functions that a non-disabled person takes for granted.

“It is disingenuous to say it is only imposed on people who can afford it, because many of us are walking the line with poverty and the safety net is not there for us.”

A new DPAC group in Greenwich, which Lisney, Hurst and Novis have set up, aims to challenge the proposed increased charges.

Their fight against Greenwich council’s proposals is supported by Inclusion London.

Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said: “Social care charges are a tax on disability.

“More and more research is illustrating how care charges are pushing disabled people into deeper poverty and forcing some to make unenviable choices between heating and eating.

“Hammersmith and Fulham council have scrapped social care charges and Inclusion London hopes that Greenwich council will learn lessons from their colleagues and reduce the burden on disabled people who have already been hit disproportionately hard by a decade of austerity.

“We will continue supporting disabled people in Greenwich to campaign against the proposed changes and we will explore all possible means to prevent Greenwich council from implementing their proposals.

“We will make sure disabled people in Greenwich understand their rights, have access to advice, including legal advice, and can challenge councils’ decisions when necessary.”

Greenwich council refused to say if it was concerned that its proposals might push some disabled people into poverty, or if they might force some service-users to give up their voluntary or paid work.

It also refused to say if it believed that the changes would force some disabled people into residential care.

But Cllr Averil Lekau, cabinet member for adult social care and health, said in a statement: “Hundreds of people have had their say on a range of proposals that we are consulting on, and I have personally met and listened to residents who may be affected.

“The consultation has now closed, and all the responses will be collated, analysed and used to inform our decision.

“Since 2010, our funding has reduced by a staggering £1,400 per household, totalling some £125 million, largely as a result of funding that the government has taken away from us.

“At the same time, the population has grown, and more people have had to use our adult social care services.

“Many other councils have already increased the amount they are charging – something we have resisted for years.

“Unfortunately, we are at the end of the line and have to make some incredibly difficult decisions.

“However, whatever changes are brought in, we will make sure that there will be rigorous assessments so that the people who are least able to afford any increases are protected.

“I note that the new prime minister has pledged to fix the social care crisis – I very much hope that this means putting an end to austerity and giving councils the money they need to provide crucial services for their most vulnerable residents.”

22 August 2019

 

Family fight for ‘misdiagnosed’ autistic man who fears being left to die in hospital

An autistic man who has been kept in locked mental health units for four years has told his mother he fears he will never be released.

The user-led campaign group Autistic UK is supporting the family of Ikram Khan, now 23, who have been fighting since 2015 for the release of their son.

They say he has been wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia, and has been kept under heavy medication for four years, and kept locked up in a series of mental health units at a cost of £13,000 a week.

It is the latest example of a young autistic person forced into a hospital unit, and kept under heavy medication, rather than being supported to live independently in the community.

At one stage, Ikram was so heavily dosed on anti-psychotics that he lost the ability to recognise his family.

Ikram, who has two brothers and three sisters, has told his mother, Monaka Bibi, from Birmingham: “It looks like I am going to die here.”

He told her: “Mum, they took me when I was 19. I never got the chance to work. I can’t do that if I’m locked up.”

Another patient in Priory Woodland View, the private mental health unit near Coventry where he has been kept under section for more than a year, has told Ikram he has been there for 20 years. Now he fears the same fate.

Ikram’s primary school told his family they thought he had Asperger’s syndrome, while his secondary school later attempted to have him assessed for Asperger’s, but he refused to attend the assessment.

He was first sectioned four years ago, at the age of just 19, when – his mother says – he was told he was being taken to an NHS mental health centre for some “activities”.

She was then phoned later that day and told he had been sectioned.

She was given three different explanations for her son being sectioned, she said.

She says he has never been violent, and the only incident of any aggression happened when he was 19, after he was placed on powerful anti-psychotic medication by local mental health services, and even then he had only spat at a fellow college student.

His mother said that after the medication was reduced “he really regretted his actions” and “reverted to his mild-mannered self”.

One doctor specialising in patients with learning difficulties has previously told the family that Ikram is autistic and does not have schizophrenia, but the family say that that diagnosis has been ignored by Forward Thinking Birmingham (FTB), the local NHS provider of community mental health services for children and young people.

FTB took over provision of these services in 2016, after Ikram was first sectioned.

Although in the last couple of months Priory Woodland View has allowed him weekly home visits, his family say he still spends half of the week detained under section in a locked ward in the hospital.

He has to take five separate drugs to counteract the side-effects of the powerful anti-psychotic medication Clozapine he is forced to take.

His mother said: “They just want to keep him locked up. They have no reason.

“They are paying £13,000 a week to lock him up. It will cost them a lot more to keep him in hospital than to keep him in the community.

“The mental health system is a minefield and finding one’s way around seems impossible.”

As well as securing his discharge, the family want a “proper second opinion” on his diagnosis of schizophrenia, with full disclosure of his previous hospital records.

They say the private hospitals and mental health professionals now responsible for him being detained have yet to see these records, and that he has never had any hallucinations.

They believe the records would show that the symptoms taken by his doctors as signs of psychosis were in fact the result of an infection and his autism.

And they say that FTB has told them it cannot find suitable accommodation for him in the community, and that the family home is too noisy.

Ikram’s mother said her son’s ordeal had “devastated” her life – affecting her health, and forcing her to give up her volunteering work, quit her job and put her studies on hold.

The family is just one of several being supported by Autistic UK, a grassroots group run by autistic people, which is seeking legal help for them.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, said: “Ikram has been robbed of four years of his life. Why? Because of medical ignorance and mismanagement.

“He has missed four years when he could have been getting a job, making new friends, maybe even going to uni. He will never get those years back.

“Too many autistic and learning disabled people are experiencing this fate – rotting away in assessment and treatment units or mental hospital wards when they should be out in the community experiencing what life has to offer.

“We at Autistic UK want to know why, when the NHS is so strapped for money, they are spending tens of thousands of pounds a week per person to lock these people up when it would be so much cheaper, and so much more humane, to give them support in the community.

“Why are so many lives being irreparably damaged so needlessly?”

She added: “We are asking for the NHS, social services, and the governments both local and national to cooperate to resolve the horrific abuse that is happening all over the country.

“This is a human rights crisis. Please act before more lives are ruined.”

In May, an interim Care Quality Commission report found more than 70 disabled children and adults – all of them autistic or with learning difficulties – in long-term segregation in facilities across England.

The government has agreed to have all their cases reviewed, although it is not clear whether Ikram’s is one of them.

A spokesperson for Priory Woodland View said: “We cannot comment in any detail about individual cases.

“However, we take all complaints seriously and ensure they are thoroughly investigated.

“We are exploring the family’s concerns in detail and are seeking to offer as much support as we can, whilst discussions regarding his placement are ongoing.”

An FTB spokesperson said FTB would not be responsible for discharging Ikram, and that “due to patient confidentiality we’re not able to share specific details of cases”.

He refused to clarify the role that FTB played in such cases.

But he said in a statement: “We’re unable to comment on individual cases due to confidentiality.

“When working with partner organisations we do everything possible to ensure the care patients receive is the most appropriate for their needs.”

22 August 2019

  

Failure to fund access costs of general election candidates is ‘denial of democracy’

Disabled politicians preparing to contest the general election likely to be called within months will be hit hard by the government’s refusal to fund their disability-related campaign spending, a Deaf parliamentary candidate has warned.

Kerena Marchant, who uses British Sign Language (BSL) and is a disability rights campaigner and a TV producer and journalist, will be contesting the Basingstoke seat at the next general election.

But she fears she will not be competing on a level playing-field with other candidates.

With most observers expecting a general election to be called by new prime minister Boris Johnson within months, Marchant is concerned that the government has made no attempt to provide support for those disabled candidates contesting seats.

This failure is likely to hit efforts to increase the number of disabled MPs, with only about one per cent of MPs currently self-identifying as disabled people.

Marchant was selected by Labour this year to fight the Basingstoke seat currently occupied by Conservative MP Maria Miller, a former minister for disabled people and currently chair of the Commons women and equalities committee.

Marchant has pointed out that a new temporary fund to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office – the EnAble Fund for Elected Office, which went live in January – is not open to parliamentary candidates.

Only disabled people fighting local government and Police and Crime Commissioner elections can apply for EnAble grants.

Marchant said the lack of funding for parliamentary elections “has completely cut disabled people out of the political arena” at a time when there is “growing talk and likelihood of a general election”.

She said she felt as though she was competing in “a race up a steep mountain and the other candidates are already over halfway up and I haven’t started.

“I not only have to fundraise for the campaign but also include some of my interpreting costs.”

She said that Miller’s time as minister for disabled people between 2010 and 2012, in a coalition government that “hit disabled people hard with austerity”, just “makes me want to run faster”.

She added: “We are living in a time when disabled people have taken the brunt of the government’s austerity cuts and many are living in poverty, many are unable to fulfil their potential, their futures stolen.

“Tragically, thousands have lost their lives because of the cuts and the Department for Work and Pensions is a hostile environment.

“This lack of financial support for disabled candidates puts disabled people in a separate political class and denies them democracy and peer representation in parliament at the time they most need it to fight back.”

Marchant was only able to contest the selection process for the seat because her constituency Labour party provided some funding for interpreters.

Now she has been selected, the local party is also making phone calls on her behalf, providing party volunteers to accompany her on visits and carry out note-taking duties, and paying for some interpreters at meetings.

Meanwhile, she has applied for a bursary from the party to cover her disability-related expenses.

The EnAble fund is a temporary, partial replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF), which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years and had provided funding for expenses such as BSL interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.

In contrast to EnAble, AEOF was open to disabled people seeking election to parliament.

Marchant said: “The government have deliberately kicked [AEOF] into the long grass and left it there, hoping that it is hidden and forgotten.

“Throughout this period when MPs have written letters and asked questions about it, they have used delays, diversions and excuses.

“There must be other disabled candidates hit by this or not standing. The sad thing is that if there is a snap election this autumn it could be the last chance to stand until 2024.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “Disabled people are seriously under-represented in the House of Commons.

“Disabled people need access to funding for disability-related expenses for general elections too.

“It would be a breach of article 29 of the UN disability convention [on participation in political and public life] if funds were not available for general elections.

“Failure to extend the fund to cover general elections will damage efforts to increase the numbers of disabled MPs.”

A long-delayed evaluation report into AEOF, when it was finally published last June, found that it had been “very expensive” to run.

The average cost of processing each grant by the company that secured the contract was £52 for every £100 spent on grants in the first two years, and £13 for every £100 spent on grants in the final year.

It also found that only 14 per cent of disabled people applying for grants were Conservatives while 39 per cent were Labour candidates.

AEOF’s partial replacement, EnAble, is administered by the disabled people’s organisation Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA), but with central government funding.

The Scottish government has set up its own fund for disabled candidates for local and Scottish parliament elections, delivered by Inclusion Scotland.

DR UK said it was in discussions with the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and LGA about extending the fund to cover a snap general election.

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “We are aware that the current fund does not cover general elections, and we have spoken to the GEO/LGA about this.

“Discussions are ongoing about the possibility of making the EnAble Fund available for this very scenario [a snap general election].

“So yes, we would like to see the fund extended for this.

“As an organisation we believe that the barriers preventing disabled people from standing for local/national elections should be removed and part of this is through supporting individuals with disability-related expenses.”

He added: “The fund is designed to provide financial support for reasonable adjustments and its impact was demonstrated in the English local elections [where it helped 19 disabled people win seats on local councils].”

Asked about a possible snap general election, a GEO spokesperson said she would not comment on “hypothetical scenarios”, but she said in a statement: “There is not a general election currently scheduled for the time period of the fund but we will consider parliamentary by-elections on a case-by-case basis.

“The EnAble Fund for Elected Office runs between the financial years of 2018-2020.

“It was always intended to be used for the English local elections in 2019, and allocating the money across two financial years ensures all of the money can be allocated to candidates.

“This is an interim fund whilst the government undertakes a programme of work with disability stakeholders to help major political parties best support disabled candidates.”

22 August 2019

 

Tourist attraction could face legal action after ‘years of access failings’

A world-renowned London tourist attraction could soon be facing legal action after failing for years to address its glaring access flaws, according to a former adviser.

Disabled broadcaster, journalist and access consultant Mik Scarlet said it was “shocking” that a top London tourist attraction like Camden Market was so “unwelcoming and unsafe” for disabled people.

He previously spent more than six years working two days a month advising the market on its access.

But almost nothing was done by its owners to act on his advice, he says.

He was taken on as an access consultant at a time when he was one of the market’s most outspoken and high-profile critics.

Now, he says, he feels like he was just “paid to shut up”.

It is now three years since he stopped working for Camden Market, and he believes the situation has become so bad that its accessibility failings are a significant health and safety risk to many disabled visitors.

Scarlet, who lives in Camden, told Disability News Service (DNS): “This is an internationally-famous tourist attraction. It really puts Camden on the map.

“It needs to start being inclusive and represent London in the 21st century.

“It is no longer an access issue. I think it’s gone past that. I think it’s a health and safety issue now.

“You can’t guarantee walking around the market that you won’t trip and fall.”

He added: “I rant on Twitter a lot about this and every time I do, I’m contacted by people who either say, ‘We came, it was awful and it ruined our holiday,’ or, ‘We don’t even go there although we’ve always wanted to because we know how bad it is.’

“I don’t understand why the council or the people who run it aren’t embarrassed to be known internationally as somewhere that is so [inaccessible] that disabled people will either go there and it will ruin their holiday because they will get hurt, or not go there at all because they know they will have an awful time. I just don’t get it.”

The huge, sprawling market, which stretches north from Regent’s Canal in Camden, dates back to 1974 but it is now internationally-renowned and has become a huge tourist draw for the capital.

It is the city’s largest market and is open seven days a week, but for wheelchair-users and blind and partially-sighted visitors, large parts of it are practically a no-go area because of the state of disrepair of the cobbled walkways.

Scarlet believes the cobbles, which have steadily deteriorated over the years, are the biggest access failing.

But there are also problems with the accessible toilets – one of which he says became notorious for being used by some stallholders to dispose of their used cooking fat – lifts, poor ramped access to shops and wayfinding around the maze of stalls, shops, bars and clubs.

Scarlet began working one day a month for the market about 10 years ago and spent more than six years writing reports, attending meetings and offering advice on access.

Earlier this year he was invited to a meeting with new management and he says he was promised a “rolling programme of upgrades”.

He said: “That was just after Christmas. It’s now the end of August and I haven’t seen anything done.”

He believes the only solution now is to talk to a solicitor about taking legal action against the market for disability discrimination under the Equality Act.

But he is also frustrated with Labour-run Camden council, which he says has done nothing to force the market to improve access.

He compares it with one of his current clients, Derby City Council, which pressures licensed premises to improve access and has a fund to help businesses make access improvements in keeping with the historic environment.

Scarlet remembers taking the head of athlete engagement for the London 2012 Paralympics, who was preparing information in advance of the games, on a tour of the market.

The cobbles were so bad that the man had to be strapped into his wheelchair by his personal assistant, who also had to “gaffer-tape his head to his headrest”, said Scarlet.

He later advised athletes not to visit the market until they had competed, warning them: “It is so inaccessible you will injure yourself before the games.”

DNS tried repeatedly yesterday (Wednesday) to contact Camden Market about Scarlet’s concerns, but no-one was available to comment.

But a Camden council spokesperson said: “Camden Market is an important part of the character, culture and heritage of Camden Town and the borough.

“The council wants to ensure the market is accessible to all and has encouraged the owners to share their vision strategy, to ensure that this aspiration is realised.”

He said the council’s building control service can advise businesses on accessibility audits, but there are “instances where either due to factors such as space or impact on structural integrity, or public safety, such access provision may not be possible”.

He said there had been no complaints received by the council’s licensing service relating to access to Camden Market businesses.

22 August 2018

 

New figures raise fresh questions over Atos PIP assessments

The amount of time that nurses and physiotherapists spend carrying out face-to-face disability benefit assessments can vary hugely, depending on where the test takes place, according to analysis of new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

Although the figures do not prove that disabled people in some parts of the country are receiving more careful and considered personal independence payment (PIP) assessments than claimants in other areas, they do raise concerns that this could be happening.

And they suggest that there could even be such contrasting experiences for claimants being assessed compared with those in neighbouring towns, cities and counties.

The figures only relate to face-to-face PIP assessments carried out by healthcare professionals working for outsourcing giant Atos, as data is not yet available for those parts of the country covered by DWP’s other PIP contractor, Capita.

And Atos* insisted yesterday (Wednesday) that there was “no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly” and that any variation shown in the figures was not “untoward”.

The figures show that the average time spent on face-to-face PIP assessments in one part of the south-east of England in August 2018 was just 43.5 minutes.

In the same month, the average time spent on face-to-face assessments in another part of the south-east region was 62.6 minutes, more than 40 per cent higher.

In one part of the north-west of England, in June 2018, assessments were taking an average of 47.2 minutes, compared with 63.1 minutes in another part of the north-west.

In January 2018, average face-to-face assessment times in the north-west varied from 49.4 minutes in one area to 64.7 minutes in another.

The figures are likely to be significant because each of them are averages based on hundreds – and sometimes more than 1,000 – assessments carried out in each area every month in 2018.

They are contained within data files secured from DWP under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater.

The files he obtained have previously shown that 37 per cent of disability assessment reports completed by Capita were found to be significantly flawed.

Data released through a parliamentary question later revealed that the proportion of assessment reports completed by Atos that were found to be significantly flawed reached more than 36 per cent last year.

The new analysis of the data files will only add to these concerns about the performance of DWP’s two PIP contractors.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Fluctuations and variations are to be expected in PIP assessment times.

“PIP assessments cover a mix of different types of cases such as new claims and award reviews as well as localised approaches to disability living allowance (DLA) to PIP transitions.”

But Slater said the figures suggested a “postcode lottery” in how “local parts of Atos carry out DLA to PIP transitions (probably the most stressful part of PIP for those on DLA).

“I wonder how much the DWP centre knows about these localised approaches or does it just let them do whatever they want?”

The data files show figures for different areas within seven different regions: south-west England, south-east England, London, east England, north-east England, north-west England and Scotland.

The fluctuations appear to be less severe in London and the south-west and more striking in the south-east and north-west of England.

An Atos spokesperson said: “With the focus rightly on quality there is no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly.

“A significant factor in the variation of assessment duration is the proportion of home consultations carried out in an area and those carried out in assessment centres.

“Home consultations often take considerably longer to complete than those in an assessment centre.

“The mix of home versus assessment centre consultations is not fixed across the country, with some areas more reliant on home consultations than others.

“Individual claimant circumstances can also be a factor in causing variation at a local level.

“So taken as a whole, significant variation on assessment duration on a case-by-case basis is not uncommon or untoward.”

*Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK

22 August 2019

 

Disability Labour crowdfunds costs for conference access hub after party ‘snub’

Disabled delegates who are providing free access and mental health advice and support to delegates at next month’s Labour conference have had to launch an “embarrassing” crowdfunding appeal after they say the party refused to pay for any free accommodation.

At last year’s annual conference in Liverpool, the “disability hub” run by Disability Labour provided support for numerous disabled delegates, with the party paying hotel costs for one volunteer.

The hub played a key role in exposing the disablist actions of right-wing journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, who had mocked the conference safe space on social media.

This year, Disability Labour – which is affiliated to the party – plans to expand the number of volunteers offering support and advice to disabled delegates.

It expects to receive many more requests for support because of the access problems usually faced by disabled visitors to party conferences in Brighton.

Two years ago, when Labour last visited Brighton for its annual conference, many disabled party members spoke of the access problems they faced, including uneven pavements, the shortage of accessible accommodation, and problems with lifts and accessible toilets at the conference centre itself.

But four of the disabled volunteers planning to run the disability hub next month, including Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, need accessible accommodation near the conference centre.

Disability Labour has asked the party to provide two fully-accessible twin rooms for five nights across the week of the conference, with another eight volunteers with lower access needs paying for their own accommodation costs.

But they say the party has so far offered only a free space at the conference for Disability Labour to run the disability hub, even though the volunteers will be providing a free service for disabled delegates.

Disability Labour has been raising the issue with the party for several months.

It originally asked for three accessible rooms in the main conference hotel, which is located beside the conference centre, but when it was presented with a bill for £5,800 it asked if the party could provide two free accessible rooms instead.

At one stage, the party suggested rooms at £150 per night in another hotel, but it was too far from the main conference venue.

Following a breakdown in communications, Disability Labour has now been forced to launch a crowdfunding appeal, asking party members to contribute £3,600 towards its conference costs.

Springfield, who is a clinical nurse specialist, told Disability News Service: “We were staggered when we were told we would have to pay.

“It’s really, really embarrassing. We should not be in this position.

“We felt in Liverpool last year [that Labour was] really taking disability equality seriously, but with what is happening now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It is soul destroying.

“We had a major success last year. We changed the whole atmosphere around the way delegates were looked after.”

She said Disability Labour had left it until the last minute to launch the crowdfunding appeal in the hope that the party would provide the funding.

Springfield accepted that the dispute would not reflect well on the party.

But she said: “We shouldn’t be in this state. It’s 2019 and the party needs to recognise that the Equality Act needs to be followed and needs to be worked through.

“We have people with the skill and abilities to do that and they are preventing it happening.

“The party has got the money. I know we have got a general election coming up, but it is not a massive amount of money. And it is all of our income.”

Since last year, several Disability Labour members have been trained in providing mental health first aid, and they will be providing this service to disabled delegates at the conference, as well as providing advice and support on access issues.

Three of them, including Springfield, are trained as access consultants.

In all, Disability Labour will be able to call on three nurses and a psychiatrist if needed for mental health-related issues.

Sarah Taylor, another Disability Labour member who will be volunteering on the hub during the conference, said she was “very disappointed” with the party.

She said: “It is so important that my colleagues have accommodation.

“We are supposed to be the party of equality and if we can’t ourselves keep within the terms of the Equality Act and put our money where our mouth is… it’s a sad show.”

After DNS contacted the party’s press office this week, a Labour party spokesperson said: “The Labour party is an inclusive organisation that prides itself on being accessible to all who share its values.”

Yesterday (Wednesday), it released a new statement: “Party officials have been discussing this matter with Disability Labour since July.

“Like last year, we have offered to provide them with an accessible hotel room.”

Disability Labour confirmed that a new approach from the party had come hours earlier, after DNS had contacted the press office, and involved an offer of three discounted rooms, two of which were accessible.

None of the rooms would be free, with one being charged at £215 per night and the other two at £235 per night, although Disability Labour would only need two of the rooms, at a total cost of £2,250.

This morning, the party provided an updated statement: “Party officials have been discussing this matter with Disability Labour since July.

“The party offered in July to provide Disability Labour with an accessible hotel room free of charge.”

But Kathy Bole, a Labour county councillor in Suffolk, who has been leading discussions with the party, said that at no point had she received an offer of a free, accessible room for this year’s conference.

Labour sources later said that an email offer of a free accessible room was made last month to five members of the Disability Labour executive, although not to Bole.

But Springfield and Disability Labour co-chair Wayne Blackburn denied receiving this offer, while a third member of the executive – who the party claimed had also been copied in on the email – also could not remember receiving such an offer.

22 August 2019

 

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com