Chancellor ignores social care, weeks after UN’s independent living warning

Disabled campaigners have criticised the chancellor’s failure to provide any money in the budget to solve the social care funding crisis, despite a warning from the UN.

Although Philip Hammond announced some extra funding for the NHS, there was no mention of social care in his budget speech, or in the main budget report.

It came only days after the government left disabled campaigners “completely frustrated” by admitting that it will side-line the needs of working-age disabled people from next summer’s social care green paper (see separate story).

In August, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that the UK was “going backwards” on independent living, and called on the government to draw up a “comprehensive plan” to address the problem.

Despite that call, there was not a single mention of disabled people, disability, independent living or social care in the chancellor’s 7,700-word speech to MPs yesterday (Wednesday), repeating his failure to mention disabled people or disability in his 6,700-word budget speech in March.

The chancellor did announce an extra £335 million for the NHS in England this winter, £1.6 billion in 2018-19, and another £900 million in 2019-20 – still far short of the extra £4 billion-a-year health leaders say it needs – as well as overall increases of £2 billion for the Scottish government, and £1.2 billion more for the Welsh government, but he allocated nothing to social care in England.

In March, the chancellor allocated just £2.4 billion in extra money for social care over the next three years, a sum described by disabled campaigners at the time as “meaningless” when set against the scale of the funding crisis.

A survey of social workers in England by Community Care magazine and the Care and Support Alliance, published in September, found that more than two-thirds felt they were expected to cut people’s care packages because of local authority funding pressures, while more than a quarter were not confident that the reduced care packages they had to oversee were “fair and safe”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday, in his speech responding to the budget, that by March next year more than £6 billion will have been cut from social care budgets since 2010.

Linda Burnip, co founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “As expected, the Tories have completely ignored yet again the human disaster they have allowed to develop in relation to social care and have failed to address in any way the ever increasing lack of funding to support disabled people’s human rights to live independently in the community with adequate levels of support.”

Disability Rights UK said: “There will be deep disappointment amongst disabled people that there was no mention of social care in the budget.

“The crisis in services looks set to continue unabated.”

The Local Government Association said it was “a completely false economy to put money into the NHS while not addressing the funding crisis in adult social care” and “sends a message that if you need social care, you should go to hospital”.

The disability charity Sense warned the government that it “cannot save the NHS if it delays dealing with social care”.

And another disability charity, the MS Society, said the failure to provide more money for social care was “even more alarming” than the refusal to meet the NHS funding gap, and “provides nothing to prevent the current crisis from worsening”.

The budget report did include one disability-specific spending announcement, with an extra £42 million for the disabled facilities grant – which provides funding to make disabled people’s homes more accessible – increasing the total budget for this year (2017-18) to £473 million, although this was not mentioned in Hammond’s speech.

There was also relief that the government finally agreed to introduce measures to soften the impact of the botched rollout of universal credit (UC), which is gradually replacing six working-age benefits.

Campaigners have been warning that the rollout is leaving hundreds of thousands in debt, and forcing people – many of them disabled – to borrow from loan sharks, pawnbrokers and payday loan companies, while many have been left in rent arrears and facing eviction.

Hammond announced a package of improvements to UC that will cost £1.5 billion over the next five years (£300 million in 2018-19), including removing the seven-day waiting period for new claimants so that entitlement starts on the day of the claim.

Claimants will also be able to secure an advance, equal to a full month’s UC payment, within five days of making a claim, and will be allowed to make online applications for advances.

They will also be allowed to pay back the advance payment over 12 months, instead of the current six, while claimants moving from housing benefit to UC will receive an extra two weeks of their housing benefit award to ease the transition.

The Treasury told Disability News Service that the changes will cause a further three-month delay to the rollout of universal credit, so it will now reach all jobcentres – although not all claimants – by December 2018 rather than September 2018.

Further details were due to be announced today (Thursday) by work and pensions secretary David Gauke.

Citizens Advice Scotland welcomed the “significant” changes, and said they would “make a real difference to those claimants who are currently experiencing hardship”, but warned that there were “other problems with universal credit which we believe still need to be addressed”.

23 November 2017



Benefit assessors ‘must be held accountable’ for report failings, MPs hear

The healthcare professionals who carry out disability benefit assessments on behalf of the government should be held accountable for failing to report what they are told accurately, MPs have been told.

Members of the Commons work and pensions select committee were told repeatedly this week that assessors working for the outsourcing giants Atos, Capita and Maximus were producing reports that did not reflect what they had been told by the disabled people they were assessing.

They were hearing evidence from four welfare rights advisers as part of their inquiry into the assessment processes for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).

Disability News Service (DNS) has been carrying out a year-long investigation into claims of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system, and revealed last month that complaints about the process rose by nearly 900 per cent last year.

But Atos and Capita – which carry out PIP assessments – and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have repeatedly insisted that there is no dishonesty in the system.

David Bryceland, from Oxfordshire Mind, told the committee yesterday that he and his colleagues saw “many inaccuracies”, including major factual errors such as someone who lived in a ground-floor, one-bedroom flat being described in an assessment report as living in a three-bedroomed house.

He said: “Those are not easy mistakes to make, those are not slips of the pen.”

Kayleigh Nor-Val, a benefits adviser for Citizens Advice in Merthyr Tydfil, told the committee that she and her colleagues came across “so many” inaccuracies in assessment reports.

Martin Richards, a disability benefits adviser for the charity Involve Northwest, in the Wirral, questioned why healthcare professionals should be telling so many “untruths” in their assessment reports.

He said: “I don’t understand the motivation for the reason behind that, because if I went to see my consultant and he wrote untruths down, then there would be civil actions and things in place.”

Richards said the healthcare professionals “need to be accountable” for what they write in their assessment reports, and he said he believed they were “acting under orders”.

He said that two clients with mental health problems in the last six months had been unable to cope when their benefits were reduced because of “inaccurate” assessment reports.

Both of them had been sectioned because their reduced income meant they had had to reduce their care packages and “they couldn’t cope”.

All four of the experts said they believed that Atos, Maximus and Capita should be held accountable when their assessors include inaccurate information in their reports, while Bryceland said he believed civil servants who make the final decisions on the benefit claims also need to “take responsibility”.

Richards said: “I would agree that the contractor should be the one that gets penalized because I believe the healthcare professionals are acting under orders.”

He said again that he believed there must be some kind of “motivation” for the assessors to record the information inaccurately.

But Nor-Val went further and said she believed that individual assessors should be held accountable.

She said: “There should be fines against healthcare professionals who are making inaccurate statements.

“There should be fines, there should be repercussions for those healthcare professionals and those contractors.”

Gary Edwards, from Southampton Advice and Representation Centre, said that “trust needs to come back into this system”.

He said: “The trust is lost between claimants and the providers, the private contractors that the DWP use.”

He pointed to a PIP appeal tribunal he had attended the previous day with a man with complex mental health issues, who claimed that his assessment had lasted just seven minutes.

Atos and DWP had refused to say how long the assessment had lasted.

The claimant had originally been given just two points (a claimant needs eight points to qualify for the standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate, for both the daily living and mobility elements of PIP).

The tribunal ordered that he should be given 11 points and 10 points. Until this week, he had been without any PIP since June 2016.

Earlier, five disabled people who had themselves been assessed for PIP or ESA had also given evidence to the committee.

All five said they would like to see all face-to-face assessments recorded, and claimants given a copy of those recordings.

Three of the five raised concerns about assessors failing to produce accurate reports following their face-to-face assessments.

Thomas O’Dell said his ESA assessor was “like a smiling assassin”.

She had seen him being pushed into the room in a wheelchair by his father, and then take three steps while holding onto the table, but concluded in her assessment report that he could walk 50 metres.

He said she had touched his leg, and told him she would not continue with further physical tests because he was in too much pain, but then claimed in the report that she had completed a full examination.

O’Dell said she had “fabricated the whole assessment”.

He also said that one of his assessment reports had been altered by another member of staff who had not even been in the room for his assessment.

Another claimant, Amanda Browning, said her last assessment report had contained 21 factual inaccuracies.

She said: “At my appeal the tribunal noted that the assessor had been selective in reporting my capabilities and awarded in my favour.”

And Natalie McMinn told how the letter she received after her home assessment “was full of mistakes” and “contradicted itself”.

She said she had been “appalled” by her PIP assessor, and added: “A lot of the information I had given her as well as putting on the forms wasn’t reflected or was wrongly recorded in the award letter after her visit.”

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how the inquiry has produced more online written evidence from the public than any other investigation ever held by a House of Commons select committee.

23 November 2017



Government’s social care plans side-line needs of working-age people

The government has announced plans for a social care green paper that side-line both the needs of working-age disabled people and their user-led organisations, say frustrated campaigners.

Damian Green, the first secretary of state, said the government would publish a much-delayed green paper on “care and support for older people” by next summer – the government had previously said it would be published by the end of this year – but made no mention in a press statement of the needs of working-age disabled people.

In the same statement, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government was “committed to reforming social care to ensure we can guarantee everyone dignity and security in old age”.

Green also announced the names of a 12-strong team of “independent experts” chosen to advise the government on the green paper, none of whom are disabled people or represent user-led organisations.

It was only in a written parliamentary statement that Green said there would be “a parallel programme of work” on issues affecting working-age adults with care needs, to be led by the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

This work will be overseen by the same group of ministers responsible for the development of the green paper.

But DH has been unable to tell Disability News Service (DNS) what kind of report this parallel programme of work will produce – if any – or if its conclusions will be included in the green paper.

In August, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that the UK was “going backwards” on independent living, and called on the government to draw up a “comprehensive plan” to address the problem.

And all three main UK parties were criticised during this year’s general election campaign for ignoring the needs of working-age social care recipients – responsible for nearly half the annual spending on adult social care – and focusing instead on older people.

But there was no mention of social care in this week’s budget (see separate story), despite some new funding for the NHS.

A survey of social workers in England, published in September, found more than two-thirds felt they were expected to cut people’s care packages because of local authority funding pressures, while more than a quarter were not confident that the reduced care packages they had to oversee were “fair and safe”.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said she felt “completely frustrated” by the government’s green paper announcement.

She said: “Although we are promised a workstream looking at social care for younger people, it is clear it is almost entirely about older people and how much they should pay.

“How else do you explain the list of experts that contains not one disabled person or anyone knowledgeable and committed to the choice and control agenda.

“This isn’t about kicking social care into the long grass, it’s kicking it over the hills and far away.

“The government also seem not to have learnt anything from the recommendations of the [UN] committee that there needs to be better engagement with disabled people on all areas of policy.

“I would urge the government to listen to the concerns of the 90 MPs who have raised social care as an urgent issue to be resolved and to listen to the many voices of disabled people who are highlighting how the inadequacies of the current system are blighting our opportunities to live and participate as equal citizens.”

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said: “Given the extent of the social care crisis facing working-age disabled adults, there is deep disappointment that the green paper will only focus on older people.

“However, we know that the government’s real interest is in finding ways to make disabled people pay for their own care.

“This may be possible for older people who own their own homes but not for many working-age disabled people, many of whom are living in poverty.

“They have effectively devolved away responsibility for the right to independent living to local authorities.

“If central government starts expecting more from local authorities, then local authorities will respond with demanding the funding to meet those expectations.

“It’s an issue that they would simply rather avoid. We have to make sure they can’t escape it.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “What is perhaps most surprising about the government’s social care green paper proposals is that so many commentators seem to be treating them at face value.

“What they really represent is a terminally broken government’s own recognition that it is in no position to sort out long-term policies for anything.

“The government and its ministers can hardly have much confidence in their own long-term future let along making proposals for social care’s.

“What is really distressing is the continuing and complete absence of disabled people and other service-users, and our user-led organisations, grassroots carers and face-to-face practitioners in their team of ‘expert advisers’.

“As for the failure to include working-age disabled people in the green paper’s consideration and the Department of Health’s subsequent silence on the matter, we can get some idea of what’s in ministerial minds from the recent House of Commons debate on social care.

“The minister repeatedly emphasized the part more welfare reform – aka brutal and harsh cuts in welfare benefits – is clearly playing in the government’s future thinking.

“It won’t be this government that offers serious proposals for the future of social care, but the next one will have to.”

Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow social care minister, accused the government of “dragging its feet over the long-term funding of social care”, and added: “Alarmingly, it also does not appear that the green paper will consult on working-age people with social care needs.”

For the Liberal Democrats, Norman Lamb accused the government of “kicking the can further down the road, leaving the social care sector in a state of uncertainty”.

He later released a letter to the prime minister, signed by 90 cross-party MPs, including 22 former ministers and six former secretaries of state, calling on the government to establish an NHS and Care Convention to find “a sustainable long-term settlement for these services”.

Asked what its working-age programme would produce, a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The government is committed to listening to a wide range of views, including those of service-users and carers, in taking forward this work, and we will be guided by our findings in determining appropriate next steps.

“There’s nothing else we can add at this stage.”

She had said in an earlier statement: “We are not ignoring people of working-age. We recognise that people of working-age with care needs face a number of challenges and that there are many common questions about the sustainability of the care system.

“That is why we intend to take forward a parallel piece of work, led by the Department of Health and Department for Communities and Local Government, to consider the issues facing those of working-age in parallel to the engagement on care and support for older people.

“This work will report to the inter-ministerial group, alongside work for older people.

“The green paper will focus primarily on reform of care for older people, but will consider the interdependencies between different groups.

“We will engage with representatives of service-users in a range of ways.”

23 November 2017



Watchdog’s report shows impact of years of ‘hostile’ cuts on disabled people

Families which include both a disabled adult and a disabled child have lost more than 13 per cent of their income through seven years of government cuts, according to a new report by the equality watchdog.

The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been seen as “a vindication” of years of campaigning by grassroots groups to persuade the government to carry out such an assessment of the overall impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people.

Ministers have repeatedly ridiculed the idea of carrying out such a cumulative impact assessment (CIA), ever since disabled campaigners began calling for such research six years ago.

Both Pat’s Petition, and then the War On Welfare (WOW) petition campaign, demanded the government carry out a CIA, which led to two high-profile debates in the House of Commons.

The UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities added its voice to calls for a CIA in August, following similar calls by EHRC and even the government’s own benefits advice body, the social security advisory committee.

The EHRC report shows the cumulative impact on various groups – including disabled people – of changes introduced between 2010 and 2017 to income tax, national insurance, VAT, social security, tax credits, universal credit and the national minimum wage.

It shows that households that include a disabled adult will lose almost £2,500 a year, while families with both a disabled adult and a disabled child will face an annual loss of £5,500 by 2021-22 (more than 13 per cent of their income).

It also shows that the higher the support needs of the disabled members of the household, the greater the impact of the cuts.

Lone parents will be hit proportionally even harder, losing 15 per cent of their income.

The report – which details interim results of research conducted by Landman Economics and Aubergine Analysis for EHRC – also found that while “the poorest are set to lose nearly 10 per cent of their incomes, the richest will lose barely one per cent”.

Rick Burgess, one of the founders of the WOW campaign, which was signed by more than 100,000 people and led to a debate in the House of Commons in February 2014, said: “Vindication is nice, it’s just a shame it takes so many years, years in which thousands of disabled people were made destitute and many died.

“And note this changes nothing: we still live under an oppressive regime who lie and are not challenged on this by a largely supine media.

“I expect nothing from this government, they have shown persistently that the Conservative movement are institutionally disablist and hostile to the wellbeing of disabled people. The only solution is to remove them from power ASAP.”

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said: “The initial findings hold no surprises for disabled people living with the impacts of welfare reform, but they do prove that far from ‘targeting resources at those most in need’, as the government has repeatedly claimed for the past seven years, it’s the most in need they’re taking the most from.

“The interim report shows that disabled adults with disabled children are the worst hit and that the more disabled you are the more you are adversely impacted.

“This report also disproves the government’s claim that a cumulative impact assessment would not be feasible to undertake.

“Its findings add weight to the idea that their reluctance was instead motivated by having something to hide.

“The EHRC do not have the same resources at their disposal as the government and we continue to urge the government to carry out a fuller CIA to assess the cumulative impact of cuts to social care support in addition to benefit changes.”

Carole Ford, a member of the current steering group of the WOW campaign, said the government’s “steadfast refusal” to carry out a CIA “demonstrates an understanding that such an assessment would reveal that the policy of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ was in no way compassionate”.

Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, which was signed by more than 60,000 people and led to a debate in Westminster Hall in July 2013, said the failure to carry out a CIA was “disastrous for disabled people”.

She said she “unreservedly” welcomed the EHRC report, and added: “The findings of the impact on disabled people are truly shocking.

“Will this government and future governments learn from this disastrous experience and act more responsibly in future?

“Will the covenant with disabled people now ensure that no massive changes are ever introduced again without a full impact assessment first?”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “The report is clear evidence that the government’s reforms have been having a massive negative effect, driving disabled people deeper into poverty when they already don’t have enough money to live on.

“We’re acutely struck by the report’s conclusion that the reforms will continue to cause ‘particularly adverse impacts on disabled families’. This can’t go on.”

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The government can’t claim to be working for everyone if its policies actually make the most disadvantaged people in society financially worse off.

“We have encouraged the government to carry out this work for some time, but sadly they have refused.

“We have shown that it is possible to carry out cumulative impact assessments and we call on them to do this ahead of the 2018 budget.”

The commission also called on the government to “reconsider” existing cuts and reforms that have impacted on those who are “most disadvantaged”.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman refused to say whether it now accepted that CIAs can and should be carried out, or whether DWP accepted the EHRC figures.

But she said: “We carefully consider the equality impacts of individual policies on those with protected characteristics, including disability – in line with both our legal obligations and with our strong commitment to equality.

“HM Treasury publishes comprehensive distributional analysis* at the budget that is transparent and fair.

“The EHRC’s analysis does not paint a complete picture because it fails to take into account our successful jobs market or the steps we are taking to help people of all backgrounds get on in life, including expanding tax-free childcare, boosting apprenticeships and introducing the National Living Wage**.

“We are expecting to spend over £50 billion this year in benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions.”

*These analyses have only measured how changes affect households of different incomes, and do not examine the impact on different groups, such as disabled people

**The EHRC report does take account of reforms to the national minimum wage

23 November 2017



Rail minister’s postbag ‘is overflowing with complaints’ about passenger assistance

A disabled minister has told the rail industry that his postbag is overflowing with complaints from disabled passengers who are not receiving the assistance they need to use its services.

Paul Maynard, the rail minister, was speaking after the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) published new research on the quality of the assistance services provided by train companies.

He said the regulator’s research showed what was being done well by the industry, but also “what is not being done so well”, adding: “In this research we do learn rather a lot”.

ORR published three pieces of research: on the Passenger Assist scheme, which allows disabled passengers to book assistance in advance by telephone, email and the web; on Turn Up And Go (TUAG), which provides assistance to rail passengers who have not booked in advance, and which companies must provide “where reasonably practicable”; and on the overall performance of these two assisted travel schemes.

The free help provided by rail companies includes assistance such as boarding or leaving a train, help with luggage or with buying tickets, assistance finding passengers’ way about the station, or with booking the use of a ramp to board or leave a train.

As part of the research, mystery shoppers carried out more than 300 journeys across England, Scotland and Wales earlier this year to test how well TUAG was working.

But only four-fifths (79 per cent) of those who asked for assistance both with boarding and alighting on the same journey leg received it.

And of the mystery shoppers on 21 journeys who pressed the help buttons at stations to ask for assistance, only six received that help from rail staff.

One mystery shopper said: “I went to the ticket office which was full of staff and only one other customer, I spoke to a guy who just grunted and said that they didn’t have assistance.”

Another said: “The man refused to help me around the station and threatened to put me back on a train to [where they had come from]. A member of the public had to rescue me.”

A third mystery shopper, who has a cognitive impairment, said: “Member of staff did not seem to understand why I needed assistance. They seemed to assume that I should be able to manage.”

Another said: “I was informed someone would come to help me find a seat but no one showed up.”

And yet another said: “The staff were all very rude and made me feel humiliated.”

But there were also many positive comments, including one mystery shopper who said: “Helpful members of staff, I didn’t feel like I was in the way.”

Another said: “Journey was flawless, quality service was provided.”

The research also found that only four-fifths of Passenger Assist customers (81 per cent) received all the assistance they booked in advance, while more than one in 10 (12 per cent) received none of the help they booked.

It also found that more than half (54 per cent) of those disabled people and carers who took part in a survey were not aware of Passenger Assist.

Maynard said: “Getting people to the right place at the right time, and communicating information down the line; this is the bread and butter of any rail company.

“But for a variety of reasons, disabled people aren’t getting the service they are owed.”

He said some disabled passengers had been “made to feel an inconvenience” or had been confronted with staff who were “sceptical” as to whether assistance was really needed.

Maynard said his “inbox and postbag overflows with complaints from those who have not received the level of service they are entitled to when seeking passenger assistance on the railway” and that disabled people “need to see the strong hand of the ORR” guiding improvements to assistance services.

He said he wanted to see the regulator “wielding” its enforcement powers to “deliver justice” and acting as an advocate for disabled passengers by “challenging the industry at each and every opportunity”.

Despite the research findings, a consultation on ORR’s plans for improvements and raising awareness of the schemes found 71 per cent of TUAG mystery shoppers said they would recommend the service to other people with the same impairment, while 85 per cent of Passenger Assist customers said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service.

ORR is calling on rail companies to do more to increase awareness of the assistance available, strengthen reliability, and ensure all staff receive better training.

Stephanie Tobyn, ORR’s deputy director of consumers, said: “When travel assistance works as intended, passengers find it a good service, but clearly more needs to be done to make it more reliable and consistent.

“A growing number of people with disabilities are travelling by train, and we want to make rail travel easier and more straightforward for them.

“That’s why we’ve carried out this research and identified where the service can be strengthened.

“We’re looking forward to working with industry and passenger groups to make improvements to this important service.”

23 November 2017



Ofgem’s ‘very limited’ fuel price cap ‘will lead to deaths, ill-health and misery’

The energy regulator’s “discriminatory” plans to impose only a “very limited” cap on fuel prices will “will lead to deaths, ill health and misery” for hundreds of thousands of disabled people, say campaigners.

Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have written to Ofgem – with backing from another 30 organisations – to call on it to expand its plans for a new “safeguard tariff”.

Under Ofgem’s plans, fuel bills will be capped for those already receiving the current Warm Home Discount (WHD), which offers certain eligible households £140 off their winter 2017-18 fuel bills.

The safeguard tariff should be in place by February 2018 and will help about one million households, with Ofgem hoping it will “provide some short-term relief for vulnerable customers, ahead of government plans for an energy price cap being realised”.

Ofgem says the new safeguard tariff could cut bills by £120 a year for the average user, so saving them more than £250 a year in total.

But FPA and DPAC point out in their letter that the WHD is only available on a “first come, first served” basis and so more than a million of those eligible will miss out – on both the discount and Ofgem’s new price cap scheme.

And some energy suppliers do not even offer the discount, so ruling their customers out of benefiting from both schemes.

Campaigners, including DPAC activists, were at Ofgem’s London headquarters on Tuesday (21 November) to hand over a letter raising their concerns, and calling for the scheme to be expanded to everyone eligible for the WHD, whether or not they receive the discount.

Other disabled people’s organisations and grassroots groups that signed the letter include Inclusion London, Disability Rights UK and WinVisible.

The letter warns: “Disabled people often need more heat, for medical reasons or if they are home a lot, and can suffer much worse effects if they can’t afford to keep warm.

“What’s more, they have been hit the hardest by multiple cuts to incomes and services, leaving them in a poor position to deal with rising fuel prices.”

And they add: “There is a real risk that people who don’t qualify for the cap will even see their fuel prices rise, as suppliers try to recoup the losses caused by a cap on their prices.”

They dismiss Ofgem’s insistence that the exclusions from the safeguard tariff are necessary in order to bring in the cap quickly, and say it could easily be extended before next winter.

They say: “Energy prices are too high for everyone now, and thousands of people in all sorts of situations are dying from cold every year.

“As the body responsible for customer protection, Ofgem should be acting on this now.”

In an earlier response to a consultation on Ofgem’s plans, FPA warned that disabled people set to miss out on the cap would “suffer the most pain, injury and illness (both mental and physical), and potentially even death, if they cannot afford the heat they need”, which FPA said was “shocking and unacceptable”.

Eventually, FPA wants to see the cap introduced for all energy customers, and not just those on low incomes.

An Ofgem spokesman said: “Protecting customers in vulnerable circumstances is a priority for Ofgem.

“In order to extend our prepayment safeguard tariff to vulnerable consumers as quickly as possible, we decided that consumers in receipt of the Warm Home Discount should initially be eligible.

“It would not be possible for suppliers to obtain more data to identify additional consumers who are potentially eligible for Warm Home Discount but who are not receiving the benefit, in a consistent and robust way in time for the initial extension in February.

“We recognise that the Warm Home Discount scheme does not target all the customers we would like to protect.

“However, a vulnerable customer safeguard tariff for these consumers will still provide protection for people who are already targeted as fuel-poor.

“We believe that protecting a smaller group sooner is better than waiting until we can protect a larger group.

“We are moving quickly to explore whether to extend the safeguard tariff to around another two million vulnerable customers who are not in receipt of the Warm Home Discount next winter and will be asking for views next month on the best way to identify them.”

23 November 2017



Assessment regime causes disabled women ‘terrifying insecurity’, MPs are told

A grassroots group has warned MPs that the “terrifying insecurity” caused by the government’s regime of disability benefit assessments is driving disabled women to destitution, and even “hastening their deaths”.

WinVisible has submitted evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee about the impact of the assessments on some of the many disabled women they have supported with their employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) claims.

The campaigning organisation, which is based in north London and provides information, advocacy and support to disabled women, says the ESA and PIP assessment regimes are causing “a terrifying insecurity” among disabled women, and leading to “suicides or admissions to NHS psychiatric institutions”.

Benefit cuts imposed by the government and implemented by assessors from contractors Maximus, Capita and Atos cause “enormous suffering, destitution and [are] hastening deaths of sick and disabled people”, says WinVisible.

The evidence has been submitted as part of the committee’s inquiry into the PIP and ESA assessment regimes.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how the inquiry had produced more online evidence from the public than any other investigation ever held by a House of Commons select committee.

In its written evidence to the inquiry, WinVisible says many women experience “particular discrimination and suspicion” about their eligibility for disability benefits, including those with invisible impairments; those with mental distress; survivors of child abuse, rape and domestic violence; mothers deemed not eligible for support because they are caring for their children; and traumatised refugees.

One issue raised in the WinVisible evidence is that of disabled women whose PIP or ESA claims have been disallowed because they have missed their face-to-face assessments.

They provide details of one woman who lost her ESA entitlement because she was not able to run for a bus, due to a long-term health condition, and missed her assessment, even though she had rung the centre to tell them she would be 10 minutes late.

Another woman helped by WinVisible, a mental health service-user and child abuse survivor, was placed in the ESA work-related activity group after her assessment, and was pressured to apply for jobs.

On one occasion, when she turned up to a meeting in tears, an adviser for the government contractor Maximus told her: “You can choose to be a victim or you can go and get a job.”

Maximus was forced to apologise, and following intervention by WinVisible and the woman’s MP, the Department for Work and Pensions agreed to place the woman in the ESA support group, for those with the highest support needs.

Another disabled woman helped by WinVisible had her benefits removed for several weeks because she had to cancel a face-to-face assessment so she could attend an urgent NHS appointment.

One disabled woman told WinVisible: “The hoop jumping, form filling and getting support to get benefits, and keep them, has pushed me to the end of sanity and destroyed my faith in the powers that be.

“I have been made to feel like a criminal and guilty before being charged.”

WinVisible also raised concerns in its statement about the number of disabled women who face “unjust and unjustifiable” rejections of their requests for exemptions from face-to-face assessments.

Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, told DNS that many disabled women became suicidal because of their experience of the benefit assessment system.

She said: “They are absolutely distraught that their situation and their needs are not being taken into account, and they are faced with destitution.

“We felt strongly that we wanted to have our say on what is happening to us and the women that we know.

“It is very, very serious because people’s survival is at stake.”

23 November 2017



Takeover ‘is landmark sign of business noticing disabled people’s spending power’

The sale of a business set up by two disabled entrepreneurs to the online travel giant Airbnb is a “landmark” sign that businesses are taking more notice of disabled people’s spending power, according to the duo.

The Accomable website, set up by childhood friends Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley, has announced that it is being taken over by US-based Airbnb.

Accomable was only launched in 2015, with the aim of providing information to disabled travellers about verified, accessible properties all over the world, and “to enable anyone to go anywhere”.

Madipalli said he was “very sensitive to the fact that some in our community may be concerned that accessibility will again become an afterthought that is drowned out within a larger platform”.

But he told Disability News Service (DNS) that he had had no reservations about the sale.

He said: “We met with Airbnb’s founding team and senior management teams and were immediately impressed with their commitment to making their community more accessible.

“We were very aware that some people in our community might be concerned that accessibility would become an afterthought, but it’s always been our mission to help anyone go anywhere and with Airbnb I see we can achieve this and more.”

He said that “as part of Airbnb we’ll have the tools and resources ‎to continue what we were doing at Accomable but on a much bigger scale.

“This not only means we’ll be able to find and vet more accessible properties, but we’ll also be able to work with more disabled entrepreneurs to consider sharing their homes as hosts or leading accessible trips.

“We’ll also have the resources to cater to people with a wider variety of disabilities (this is something we covered a little on Accomable but not nearly as much as we’d have liked).”

He is now moving to San Francisco to work full-time for Airbnb, leading the team that develops and improves Airbnb’s accessibility features and filters.

In its own statement, Airbnb said Madipalli and his team would build on its efforts to make its services more accessible to disabled people, while the Accomable listings would gradually be included into the Airbnb database.

Sibley, who stepped back from involvement in Accomable last year but had kept a stake in the company, said he believed the sale was “a sign that bigger businesses want to take note of disabled people and their spending power”.

He said Accomable would have struggled on its own to have the impact it will have as part of Airbnb.

Sibley said the sale “furthers the case” for more businesses to invest in making their goods and services accessible, and should boost the confidence of other disabled entrepreneurs.

He told DNS: “I guess it’s a landmark moment, that a mainstream company has bought out a company founded by disabled people.”

But he said that, although there were disabled and older people who want to travel and for whom money is not a barrier, there are other areas where disabled people do not have the same sort of spending power.

Although the government keeps stressing the importance of the “purple pound” – the spending power of Britain’s disabled people – Sibley believes that years of government cuts to disabled people’s support and services are restricting its potential.

He said: “I do still feel very passionate that the way the government is going is making it harder to realise this sort of purple pound potential.

“People can’t get out of bed or bathed or showered regularly and [so can’t] go and get a job, so how can they then have the consumer spending power that would then keep all the other industries interested in that potential untapped market?”

He said the same government cuts were “hindering” the efforts of other disabled entrepreneurs who might want to follow in the footsteps of himself and Madipalli.

Madipalli declined to comment on the impact of government cuts on disabled people, but he told DNS that the sale to Airbnb “shows the value of the purple pound and I hope to see other companies follow our lead to make all aspects of their business more accessible.

“As someone who’s very passionate about new technology, I am hoping we’ll see new ways tech can help disabled people, and see even more disabled entrepreneurs build tech that allows for better accessibility.”

Sibley said the sale to Airbnb was “quite a nice closing of the circle”, because when he and Madipalli set up the website they called it “the Airbnb for disabled people, and we read stuff about Airbnb that kind of inspired when we were creating it what we were going to do”.

Sibley will now continue to focus on his consultancy work and his role as chief executive and founder of the online magazine Disability Horizons, where he is preparing the launch of a personal development zone for disabled people.

23 November 2017


News provided by John Pring at