Equality watchdog ‘considering legal action against government’ over rail access failures

The equality watchdog is considering legal action against the government over its failure to ensure an accessible rail service, according to a leading disabled expert.

The potential legal action emerged in the wake of anger directed at rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) – which runs Southern, Thameslink, Gatwick Express and Great Northern – after it issued “grossly insulting” guidance to staff on how to deal with disabled rail passengers.

Among the advice in the Pit Stop guidance was that staff should not attempt to place “persons of reduced mobility (PRM)” on a train “if there is a possibility of delaying the service”.

It also tells staff that any PRM wishing to travel by train to an unstaffed station should be taken to the nearest staffed station to their destination and then “assisted into a taxi”.

And it says that “ill passengers need to be removed from the train as quickly as possible” because “not taking action will cause thousands of other passengers to be stuck on trains”.

For people “who are fitting”, the guidance says, staff should “wait for the convulsions to stop and be ready, if appropriate, to move them once they have started to wake up”.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the guidance was “shocking” and “grossly insulting to disabled people, who are being treated as second class citizens”.

Although other disabled campaigners were outraged at GTR’s guidance, they also said it was an inevitable consequence of government rail policies.

Ann Bates, a leading transport access consultant and former rail chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, said she blamed both the government and GTR for the guidance.

She believes the guidance is a direct result of government policies that force companies to cut staff and run driver-only operated (DOO) trains – with no second member of staff on board to help disabled passengers on and off trains – and run more services with fewer delays.

Bates said she has been discussing the discrimination faced by disabled rail passengers with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and has been told it is considering legal action under the Equality Act against the government.

She said: “I think we have more than enough [evidence]. They have not provided the right reasonable adjustments. It is blatantly prejudicial.”

Asked whether EHRC was considering legal action against both GTR and the government, she said: “I think the EHRC were going towards the government as opposed to GTR because [the problems that have been seen at GTR have also] moved to other franchises.”

It was the government, she said, that had written the franchise agreements with the train companies, although the [GTR] guidance would be useful evidence for any legal action.

She said legal action against the government would be justified because its policies had forced rail companies to run train services without a second member of staff.

She said: “If there’s nobody on the train and an unstaffed station you have virtually told me I cannot travel on three-quarters of the network.”

Bates, who has previously worked as a consultant for Southern, said the GTR guidance was “insulting” and “the most ridiculous piece of guidance I have ever seen”.

She said: “Never before has there been such awful attack on PRMs and ill people.

“I should have the same right to get on a train as some nimble, middle-aged man with a briefcase.

“Of course we take longer to board but if we have turned up in plenty of time, if they can’t find the ramp or they can’t do this or they can’t do that, that’s nothing to do with me.

“I have fulfilled my half of the bargain, they have to fulfil theirs. It [should be] a level playing-field.”

Bates was at London Bridge station last December, having pre-booked assistance and arrived early, but was told by a member of staff at the station that she could not board the train because he could not contact the station she was travelling to – East Croydon – to confirm there was someone there to help her off.

He told her this was “the new policy”.

Bates said that paying for a taxi was not a “reasonable adjustment” under the Equality Act, partly because of the shortage of accessible taxis in many parts of the country.

She added: “Why would I get a taxi to join the same traffic queue I had paid to avoid?”

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “We cannot comment on on-going cases, but we are working to ensure transport companies are aware of their responsibilities under the Equality Act, and to improve access to transport for disabled people.”

She added: “Access to public transport is something that many people take for granted, but for disabled people it is crucial to their ability to live independently.

“Transport service providers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that everyone is able to use those services.

“We are closely monitoring access to transport for disabled people to ensure that this is happening.”

Stephen Brookes, the minister for disabled people’s rail sector champion, said the GTR guidance was “appalling and unacceptable” and “massively discriminatory”.

But he said it was important not to focus only on GTR because the attitude to disability across the industry was “appalling and unacceptable”, while the use of DOO services was “discriminatory”.

Brookes said he believed the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, needed stronger powers to “take a proactive approach” to ensuring that rail companies comply with their disabled people’s protection policy (DPPP), which describes the assistance they provide disabled passengers.

He said that the “increasing disaster of rail company DPPP guidance” demonstrated the need for “far better regulation” rather than just “advice”.

He added: “For older and disabled people the impact of changes, reduction in train staff and new but still badly designed frequently inaccessible trains is making rail travel almost a ‘no go’ scenario for many disabled people, never minding the restrictive costs.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the guidance showed that the journeys of disabled passengers “can be disrupted for no more reason than that the GTR cannot ensure a decent level of staffing”.

DPAC said GTR believes it “has the right to refuse access, remove passengers or alter their mode of transport provided these passengers are of reduced mobility” because the company “holds Speed, Efficiency and Shareholder’s Profits supreme”.

DPAC took part in a protest against the guidance on Monday outside London Bridge station, alongside campaigners from the Association of British Commuters (ABC).

Transport for All (TfA), the user-led organisation which campaigns for an accessible transport system in London, which had members at the DPAC/ABC protest, backed the idea of legal action.

Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said the leaked GTR document “clearly establishes that the priority is to run trains on time, which is understandable given the fines incurred and the criticism GTR have faced over recent years”.

But he added: “That this comes at the expense of passengers requiring assistance to overcome the barriers inherent in British railways is completely unacceptable.”

He said the guidance was “explicit” that disabled passengers should be “left stranded” if the short time the train had while stopping at a station did not provide enough time to deploy the ramp or escort a blind person to a seat.

He said: “The impact is most keenly felt on the frequent occasions when things don’t go as prescribed, when staff forget you’re waiting, when the destination can’t be contacted.

“As staff disappear from the railways it is becoming increasingly clear that disabled people are the ones that suffer. The revelations in this document reveal why.

“Disabled people are not asking for special treatment. We are asking for reasonable support to overcome the barriers we face using the railways and that when the system fails we are not let down or scapegoated.

“When we turn up on time we expect to be able to board a train of our choosing. This is no more or less than every other passenger.”

A GTR spokesman said: “We place a high priority on making our services accessible to all and actively encourage people with restricted mobility to use our trains.

“Our policy remains the same, which is to offer assistance to all passengers to help them with their journeys.

“We have a responsibility to make sure each service leaves on time to avoid knock-on delays, skipped station stops and cancellations to other services which would affect thousands of other passengers, many of whom may also have mobility difficulties.”

He said the term PRM included all passengers who need assistance, including those with heavy luggage, bikes and buggies.

The spokesman said that since GTR “modernised the role of around half of our conductors in January 2017” there were now “more staff on more trains, with more time to help passengers, especially those with mobility difficulties”, and there had been “improvements to punctuality, reliability and passenger satisfaction”.

He said: “In the very rare instance where a train without its on-board supervisor calls at an unstaffed station where a passenger with restricted mobility needs help to board or alight, we have tried and tested procedures in place to help the passenger make their journey.

“All of our policies and procedures meet fully all disability discrimination laws and regulations.

“We take our obligations seriously and continue to focus on improving customer experience for all our passengers, including those that may need more assistance from us on their journeys.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) refused to say whether it believed the GTR guidance showed that disabled passengers would be the victims of the push for more trains, fewer delays, and fewer on-board and station staff.

Asked about the government facing possible legal action, a DfT spokeswoman said: “We expect all train companies to do everything possible to make travel easy for those with disabilities.

“It is vital that all passengers, including disabled passengers, can turn up and go when using public transport and train companies have a legal obligation to provide the same access to the disabled.”

She said DfT was working with the transport-user watchdog Transport Focus on research to identify the challenges facing disabled rail passengers, which will be used to improve services.

24 May 2018

 

 

Survey of disabled members finds ‘unacceptable’ discrimination within Labour party

A new survey of disabled Labour members has revealed “very disturbing” levels of disability discrimination throughout the party.

The survey has been released by disabled party activists who have become frustrated at the party’s continuing refusal to take seriously their concerns about widespread discrimination both among local constituency parties and the national Labour party.

The survey of 100 disabled party members shows three-quarters of them (75 per cent) believe there is disability discrimination at all levels of the party, while more than half (55 per cent) have personally experienced such discrimination.

Nearly half (47 per cent) said they had personally experienced a “denial of opportunity” that had been offered to non-disabled members of their constituency party.

And nearly nine-tenths of those surveyed (88 per cent) said they believed that the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) does not “adequately support disabled members”.

Three-tenths (30 per cent) said disability discrimination within the party had deterred them from standing as a candidate in an election.

The survey was organised by Project 125, a campaign seeking to improve the participation and representation of disabled people at all levels of the party and to persuade Labour to select 125 disabled parliamentary candidates to fight the next general election.

Project 125 was launched after last year’s party conference, at which disabled members accused Labour of years of “blatant discrimination” and “inexcusable inaccessibility” at the conference itself.

Jon Fletcher, founder of Project 125, told Disability News Service that the survey figures were “very disturbing”.

He said the party leadership “need to be looking at how they can stop this discrimination”.

He said: “They need to start talking to us and actually dealing with the issue rather than burying their head in sand hoping we will go away.”

And he warned that members of the campaign were willing to embarrass the party leadership into action, in the way that some Jewish campaigners have done over alleged anti-semitism in the party.

He said: “If we have to embarrass them in the way anti-semitism has embarrassed them then we have to do it.”

Fletcher said he had launched the campaign because of the party’s refusal to accept it had a problem with disability discrimination.

He and fellow disabled member Nicola Morrison are both standing as Project 125 candidates in the upcoming elections to the NEC.

They said in a joint statement: “The level of disability discrimination and perceived lack of awareness of disability issues is unacceptable and we are willing to work with the Labour Party to ensure in future no disabled member experiences disability discrimination.”

The campaign has attracted more than 600 members in less than eight months.

Fletcher said Project 125 would now set up discussion groups around the country to “see if we can establish why these things are happening”.

The Labour party had not responded to a request for a comment by 10am this morning (Thursday).

24 May 2018

 

 

Office for Disability Issues staff levels have plummeted since 2010, DWP admits

The number of staff working in the government’s Office for Disability Issues (ODI) has plummeted by more than two-thirds under the coalition and Conservative governments, new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.

In March 2010, just before the Tory-led coalition came to power, there were the equivalent of 48 full-time staff working in ODI.

By March 2012 that had fallen to 29 full-time equivalent staff.

Although there are no figures for 2013, 2014 and 2015, by 1 January 2016 there were just 20 full-time equivalent staff working at ODI.

DWP insists that part of the reason for the fall is that “elements of the work that was carried out by ODI is now being taken forward by specialist units across government”, such as the Work and Health Unit (WHU), jointly set up with the Department of Health in 2015.

But following the launch of WHU, the numbers continued to fall, to 13.65 in January 2017 and just 11.5 in January this year, although they rose again slightly to 15.45 by May this year.

The numbers were released to Disability News Service by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a freedom of information request.

Meanwhile, the ODI website has not been updated in more than six months.

In all of 2017, the website was updated just three times, compared with five updates in 2016, and 17 in 2015.

Only last month, DWP admitted that none of the bodies it set up to engage with disabled people and their organisations as part of its disability strategy had met in nearly a year.

And earlier this month, DWP refused to say whether it still followed the Fulfilling Potential strategy, which was supposed to describe the government’s commitment to “a society where disabled people can realise their aspirations and fulfil their potential”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “ODI remains the focal point for cross-government disability issues, working on a range of issues to empower disabled people and enable them to participate fully in society, but their team is [by] no means the only people working on disability issues.

“ODI has an oversight role to provide advice and facilitate engagement, as departments focus upon disability as part of their policy.”

She also pointed to this week’s announcement by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, of a new “interdepartmental ministerial group on disability and society”, which “will include ministers from a wide range of departments to oversee and drive forward the work of government in tackling the barriers faced by disabled people and to ensure their voice is heard in policy development and legislation”.

No further details of how the group will operate and who will be involved have yet been released.

But there was confusion following the announcement because the coalition had previously announced it was setting up an “inter-departmental ministerial group on disability” in February 2014.

Successive governments have failed to explain what happened to that group, and why it appears to have been scrapped at some point in the last four years.

But the DWP spokeswoman said: “The IMG in 2014 was set up and run under a previous parliament.

“It is normal practice for different governments to set up new structures and protocols.”

She had not confirmed by 9am today (Thursday) when the previous IMG was scrapped.

The DWP spokeswoman added: “This government is determined to build an inclusive society that enables everyone to realise their full potential and as such remains committed to ODI facilitating the work across government for disability issues.”

DWP’s admission of the cuts to ODI staff since 2010 will cast further doubt on the government’s commitment to disability rights and equality, and its pledge in 2013 to make the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) “a living reality for disabled people in Britain”.

Last August, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told a UK government delegation – led by ODI – that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”, which was “totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in”.

The committee later told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

In its “concluding observations” on the progress the UK has made in implementing UNCRPD, the committee raised concerns and made recommendations on all but three of the 33 treaty articles it could have breached.

It was, said the committee, the highest number of recommendations it had ever produced for a country undergoing the review process.

24 May 2018

 

 

Trio of disabled politicians welcome ‘partial victory’ on Access to Elected Office Fund

Three disabled politicians are welcoming a “partial victory” over the government, after a minister announced 12 months’ worth of new funding to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office.

Women and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt announced that the government would provide “up to” £250,000 to assist disabled people with the additional impairment-related costs they face in standing for election in the next 12 months.

The funding will be the first to help with such costs – although a new fund has been set up in Scotland by the Scottish government – since the UK government froze its Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF) in 2015.

Despite the announcement, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has still not published a long-awaited review of AEOF, which ran from 2012 to 2015.

A GEO spokeswoman said the publication of the review was now “imminent”, and that “arrangements” for the new funding would be announced “shortly”.

But she stressed that the funding did not mean AEOF had been reopened but that it was “a new arrangement drawing on lessons from the fund”.

Lawyers for Labour’s Emily Brothers, Liberal Democrat David Buxton and the Green party’s Simeon Hart had written to the government to warn that the government had breached the Equality Act by failing to complete the review and reopen the fund.

They say they have effectively been unable to stand as candidates in a general election since the government froze the fund.

More United, the cross-party campaign group which is supporting them, said the legal action had not been withdrawn because it had not yet received a formal letter from the government.

Buxton said initially that it was “a partial victory” while Brothers said she was “delighted” with the new funding but that there was “still a good way to go to secure a long term solution”.

Buxton, Brothers and Hart later called on political parties to adopt all-disabled shortlists in target parliamentary seats “so that disabled candidates can make as much progress as possible in the next 12 months”.

AEOF offered grants to disabled people to pay for some of their additional impairment-related costs in standing for election, usually as a councillor or MP, such as the costs of British Sign Language interpreters, taxis, support workers or assistive technology.

Buxton said the funding was “so important as major parties are already engaged in selecting candidates for target seats ahead of the next general election” and it would “allow disabled candidates to compete in elections on a level playing field”.

He called on all political parties to use all-disabled shortlists in some target seats “and to tackle other barriers that disabled candidates face”.

Brothers said: “I hope that all political parties will engage in the 12-month programme of work to tackle barriers facing disabled candidates and through that process recognise that the right of disabled candidates to participate in elections at all levels can only be guaranteed whilst a central government fund exists to support disabled candidates with the additional costs they incur.”

Hart said public support for the campaign had been “fantastic”, and he added: “MPs from major parties, and some of Britain’s most prominent disabled public figures have all sent a clear message to the government that the fund must be restored to create a level playing field.

“We’re determined to keep up the pressure in the coming months in order to secure a long-term solution.”

Mordaunt told MPs that the representation of disabled people in the country’s parliaments, assemblies and councils was “far too low”.

But she said the task of supporting disabled candidates was ​“primarily political parties’ responsibility… just as they must also support disabled employees”.

She said GEO was to take part over the next 12 months in “a programme of work to help political parties to best support their disabled candidates and to consider how independent candidates can be supported, too”.

While this is taking place, she said, the government would provide “up to a quarter of a million pounds to support disabled candidates for elections in the forthcoming year”.

24 May 2018

 

 

Motability faces calls to increase grants or cut prices after MPs’ fierce criticism

Disabled activists have told Motability it would be “obscene” not to expand a fund that provides grants to customers with high support needs, after an inquiry heavily criticised the decision to pay the executive running the car scheme £1.7 million.

A report by the work and pensions and Treasury select committees says the £1.7 million paid in 2017 to Mike Betts, the chief executive of Motability Operations, was “totally unacceptable” when the company received “substantial and unique support” from the government.

No other vehicle leasing company can compete with Motability because of the public funding it receives through the mobility allowances of its customers – paid directly from the Department for Work and Pensions – and the £700 million a year it receives in tax exemptions, says the report.

The report also says that the level of reserves held by Motability Operations – at £2.4 billion – is “out of proportion to the risks it faces” and it calls on the company to cut its prices or make “very substantially higher charitable donations”.

It concludes that it is “difficult to square the high levels of executive pay and significant financial reserves at Motability Operations, the company that runs the scheme, with its charitable objectives and the wider context of pressures on welfare expenditure.

“Motability badly needs a new roadmap for how it manages the scheme’s finances.”

The National Audit Office (NAO) is now set to carry out an inquiry into the way the scheme is run.

The company makes donations every year to Motability*, the charity that oversees its work, and to the Motability Tenth Anniversary Trust, a charity which provides grants to existing and prospective members of the scheme.

Since 2011, the report says, Motability Operations has donated £345 million to Motability and the trust, about a quarter of the £1.4 billion it generated in profits, while its reserves have grown from £1.1 billion to £2.4 billion.

But at a time when Motability Operations has reserves of £2.4 billion and Betts is earning £1.7 million a year in salary, pensions, incentives and bonuses, campaigners are calling on the company to follow the committees’ recommendation and increase its donations.

They point to rules introduced four years ago for Motability’s Specialised Vehicles Fund (SVF), which mean that only disabled people who spend more than 12 hours-a-week in education, work, volunteering or caring can qualify for grants enabling them to lease a drive-from-wheelchair (DFW) vehicle.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said it was “obscene” that Motability was refusing to provide such grants to those not meeting the rules when Betts was earning “a whopping 1.7 million pounds a year” and had seen his remuneration package rise by 78 per cent in nine years.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, said: “While the Motability scheme itself and especially the Special Vehicles Fund has provided independence and choice for many disabled people it looks very much as if their finances and operational practices need an urgent overhaul.”

Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, said: “It is impossible to calculate the human happiness that has resulted from the freedom and independence that Motability scheme – the first and only scheme of its kind – offers disabled people.

“But the organisation operates as a monopoly that faces no competition in accessing disabled people’s often hard-won PIP benefits.

“The levels of pay pocketed by its executives and the cash reserves it is hoarding are totally out of whack with [the] reality of its position in the market.

“That one member of staff is paid over ten times what the prime minister earns, is one example of where Motability needs to get a grip of itself and realise the privileged position in which it trades.

“Its executives must co-operate with a full NAO investigation into the value it is offering the taxpayers who fund a significant chunk of its operations.”

A Motability spokeswoman said: “We welcome that the report recognises that the scheme ‘provides an extremely valuable service to disabled people’ and one that has helped ‘millions of disabled people… have their lives greatly enhanced’.

“This reflects our priorities of always providing outstanding customer service, value for money, sustainability, and putting disabled people and their families on the road to freedom.”

She said Motability and Motability Operations had both already made clear they would welcome the NAO review and now “look forward to engaging with the NAO”.

But she added: “Given the National Audit Office is to conduct its review, we won’t be making any further comment at this stage but will be more than happy to once the review has been completed.”

*The Motability charity is a Disability News Service subscriber

24 May 2018

 

 

DWP should think again on ESA backpayments… and offer compensation, MPs hear

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should reconsider its decision to offer only a partial backpayment of the money owed to 70,000 disabled people who for years were not receiving the correct level of out-of-work benefits, MPs have heard.

One Conservative member of the public accounts committee, Anne Marie Morris, suggested that DWP should offer compensation to claimants who had been “very seriously and very significantly” disadvantaged by the department’s errors, in addition to backpayment of the money they were owed.

She said the lives of the claimants affected would have been “fundamentally changed” by the failure to award them the correct level of employment and support allowance (ESA).

The underpayments were caused by the botched migration of former claimants of incapacity benefit (IB) and other benefits to the new ESA from 2011 onwards.

The department failed to realise that many of the claimants were entitled to income-related ESA – and therefore to associated disability premiums – rather than just the contributory form of ESA.

Although DWP has agreed to pay back as much as £340 million in total to those affected – with average payments likely to be about £5,000 – it will only backdate arrears to 21 October 2014, the point at which the upper tribunal ruled that DWP should have assessed claimants for both income-related and contribution-based ESA when deciding their entitlement.

DWP is refusing to pay back another £100 million to £150 million in arrears that date from before 21 October 2014.

It insists it can legally only pay arrears to those whose claims were still live on 21 October 2014 and who were subsequently underpaid.

Daphne Hall, vice-chair of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) and editor of the social welfare advisers’ website RightsNet, told the committee that the claims should be “backdated in full”, while there should also be “financial redress” for those affected.

She told the committee – which was hearing evidence for its inquiry into the ESA errors – that it was “just incomprehensible” to think what the failure would have done to the lives of the claimants.

Hall said the premiums were intended to pay for some of the extra costs of disability, such as extra heating or the use of taxis to help avoid social isolation, with some of the claimants only receiving two-thirds of the correct benefits as a result of DWP’s errors.

Because claimants were wrongly excluded from income-related ESA, it meant they were also not entitled to other passported entitlements, such as free school meals, dental care and prescriptions.

In a report submitted to the committee, based on a survey of its members earlier this month, NAWRA said welfare rights advisers had been contacting DWP about the issue since 2011.

Advisers on RightsNet first began to realise that it could be a systemic problem in early 2014.

But Hall told the committee that DWP had been backdating payments in full on individual cases until as late as January this year “because they knew it was an official error” rather than the result of a legal ruling, and that DWP had admitted this to the National Audit Office (NAO) in April 2014.

The NAWRA report contains examples of four cases from just one adviser which were backdated fully by DWP in 2016 and 2017.

The report says there is “clear evidence” that, well before the 2014 legal ruling, “DWP knew that failing to assess for [income-related ESA] at the point of conversion was an official error, and that in cases where it failed to happen full backdating should be given”.

It adds: “The DWP’s decision to limit backdating was only made in late 2017, presumably to minimise their losses.

“NAWRA strongly condemns this decision, which seeks to take money that rightly belongs to people who are severely disabled.”

DWP first became aware of the issue in 2013 but did not recognise it as “systemic” until 2014 – according to a report by the National Audit Office earlier this year – and failed to recognise its legal responsibility to identify the people affected and develop a response until July last year.

Peter Schofield, DWP’s new permanent secretary, who was appearing before the committee for the first time, told MPs: “We got it wrong. I’m not going to defend the fact that we got it wrong because that is clearly what the court has said.”

But the Labour MP Shabana Mahmood told him that the ESA rollout process suggested “cultural institutional failure” within the department.

Mahmood also told him that staff at the DWP “coalface” had repeatedly raised the alarm about the ESA rollout, but they had been ignored.

She said: “It seems to me that when the DWP makes an overpayment you’re very quick, straight off the bat with a threatening letter and lots of action being taken against people who frankly can’t afford to pay the money back.

“[But] this episode seems to suggest your department is not that interested in dealing with issues of underpayment.”

When she asked him why so many people in his department were “asleep on the job”, he said they had not been “giving enough priority to this alongside other things that we were doing in the department”.

He said everyone owed a backpayment would receive that money by April next year, although it would only be backdated to October 2014.

He insisted that DWP would also not go further and pay compensation to those affected, even if they had had, for example, to pay prescription charges as a result of not being awarded income-related ESA, because it would not be “consistent with managing public money”.

Schofield admitted that DWP appeared to have failed to secure legal advice when it was beginning the migration from IB and other benefits to ESA.

He said: “Clearly the procedures that should have been followed to get legal advice were not.”

He said DWP would make “absolutely sure” that it obtained legal advice throughout the process of the current migration of a number of working-age benefits to the new universal credit.

24 May 2018

 

 

Relegated Premier League clubs ‘should use part of “parachute” millions on access’

Some of the country’s top football clubs have been told by the equality watchdog to spend some of the millions of pounds they receive when promoted and relegated from the Premier League to improve access for disabled fans.

The call to spend part of the “balloon” and “parachute” payments on disability access came in the final report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on the accessibility of Premier League football stadiums.

The report found significant improvements since the watchdog sent a letter to all 20 Premier League clubs in December 2016 to ask for information on the steps they had taken to meet their legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled supporters.

The total number of wheelchair spaces has risen from 3,024 in April 2017 to 3,724 in April 2018, while the number of clubs providing the recommended number of amenity and easy access seats has risen from eight to 17.

All 20 of the clubs that were written to in December 2016 now provide accessible toilets to the required standard, compared to just 10 in April 2017.

And all 20 also now provide support or aids to support people with sensory impairments, compared to seven in April 2017.

One of the richest Premier League clubs, Chelsea, has signed a legal agreement with EHRC to improve access at its Stamford Bridge stadium.

The commission had written to Chelsea last October warning that there could be “unlawful acts” taking place that were “contrary to the club’s duties as a service provider under the Equality Act 2010”.

Two other clubs, Burnley and Watford, have signed informal agreements with EHRC to fulfil their obligations under the act.

But the watchdog said it was “disappointing” that four more clubs – Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Hull City* and Sunderland* – had refused to sign informal agreements, although they each promised to improve their facilities for disabled fans.

The watchdog warned that if they “fall short against the improvement plans that they have shared with us” it will use its legal powers to “ensure they meet their obligations towards their disabled supporters”.

Among the report’s recommendations is for the Premier League to redraft its handbook to place a greater emphasis on the access pledge first made by its members in September 2015 that they would comply with guidance on accessible sports stadiums laid out in the Accessible Stadia guide.

When a club is promoted to the Premier League, it is given two seasons to meet these standards, but the handbook currently makes no mention of this.

The report adds: “The Premier League is the richest football league in the world and cannot use affordability as a barrier to undertaking work.”

The report also calls on the Premier League to consider insisting that clubs that are promoted or relegated from the league should ensure they use some of the millions of pounds they receive in “balloon” (for promoted clubs) or “parachute” payments (for relegated clubs) “to improve disability access at their grounds more quickly”.

Clubs that have been relegated can expect about £100 million over three years if they do not return to the Premier League within that time.

A Premier League spokesman said that its 20 current members would be asked to consider the two recommendations.

The commission also plans to meet governing bodies of other football leagues and “seek to influence other sports’ governing bodies” so they take a “strong leadership role on the issue”.

Tony Taylor, chair of Level Playing Field, which represents disabled sports fans, welcomed the report and supported the use of parachute and balloon payments to improve access, although he said it was important to be “pragmatic about the art of the possible”.

But he said: “The Premier League pledge has demonstrated what can be done in a relatively short period of time, but in reality disabled fans have been treated unfairly for many years.

“It is going to take time to regain their trust and for them to have the confidence that they can enjoy their match day experience.”

And he said the Premier League pledge was not “aspirational” but should instead be “the very minimum that disabled supporters can expect of their clubs”.

Taylor said: “It is pleasing that some clubs have taken this on with some gusto, but others still have a way to go and we will continue to monitor and press for more than the bare minimum.”

He added: “There is little doubt that it has taken the threat of enforcement by the commission to drive change at some clubs, but the overall picture is positive.

“Clubs now recognise the importance and benefits of good access and there have been increases across all facilities for disabled fans.”

He said Level Playing Field would continue to work with the clubs and governing bodies to provide advice and support.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said the commission had seen “some excellent examples of how clubs engaged with disabled fans to introduce many positive changes” but had also “met some resistance”.

He said: “It’s pleasing that so many clubs – including Chelsea, one of the world’s biggest – have taken our threat of legal action seriously and are now working with the commission to deliver real change. It’s important that all clubs make disability access a priority.

“We’re proud of the important part we’ve played in ensuring Premier League football clubs change their ways and the experience of their disabled fans.

“There was no excuse for the poor standard of facilities we saw at some clubs last year. As a result of using our powers this won’t be the case in future.

“Disabled people must be able to participate equally in all aspects of life.”

Bill Bush, the Premier League’s executive director, said: “In the last three years clubs have made huge improvements to disabled access for their fans.

“The scale and scope of the work undertaken – from enhanced car parking and ticket purchasing options to increasing the wheelchair bay provision – is unprecedented in any other sport or entertainment sector.

“The league and the clubs are considering the details of the EHRC report and will respond in due course.

“We will continue to engage constructively with disabled supporters and are committed to making future improvements to keep pace with rising standards.”

Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, said she was “so pleased that the Premier League is making significant progress on accessibility, setting an example to clubs all over the country to do right by all of their fans.

“But there is still more work to be done, and I would urge all clubs to ensure they’re meeting the standards required by law.”

*Both Hull City and Sunderland have been relegated from the Premier League since EHRC wrote to them in December 2016

24 May 2018

 

 

Project DRILLs down into social isolation of young people with learning difficulties

Young people with learning difficulties are at risk of “significant social isolation”, with the risk increasing as they approach adulthood, according to a new report delivered through a ground-breaking research programme.

The young people interviewed for the report “unanimously” said they needed practical help, emotional support and communication skills to maintain friendships.

Eight young people with learning difficulties were employed and trained to take part as peer researchers for the Young People and Friendships report, which was due to be launched at the Welsh assembly today (Thursday).

The peer researchers worked with 85 other young people with learning difficulties who were aged between 14 and 28 and lived in the Gwent region of south-east Wales.

All the young people were at significant risk of social isolation and almost all did not see friends outside either structured activities or education settings, with friendships “dependent upon local segregated services”.

They faced a “complex web of barriers” to having a full social life, including discrimination within the education system; inaccessible public transport; and difficulties in using communication tools such as mobile phones, with some prevented from using social media by their parents.

In some cases, social media and online gaming increased isolation and disconnection with the local neighbourhood, particularly among boys and young men, but it also enabled some friendships to be maintained,

About two-thirds of the 85 participants in the research had experienced bullying during the transition years from childhood to adulthood (14 to 25), with most believing they were picked on because they were disabled.

One participant in the study said: “Sometimes bad friends upset me, they pull faces at me and I feel like they hate me. They sometimes used to pick on me in school, use bad language.”

Another said: “They abuse you, harass you and use you. They put pressure on you and put you in the middle. Boys will fight you and bully you and pretend that it is all a joke.”

Participants felt unable to do anything about bullying or hate crime in the local community, other than avoiding certain areas, not going out or only going out with their parents.

The report says: “None of the participants wanted to criminalise other young people, but they did want non disabled young people to be better informed about hate crime, respect and [to be] more knowledgeable about disability.”

They also wanted it to be easier to report disability hate crime.

The report also found that young people with learning difficulties did not have the same opportunities to undertake work experience at the same age as their non-disabled peers.

The peer researchers were clear that segregating young disabled people was “morally wrong and creates second class citizens”.

One of the peer researchers said: “I feel that being referred to [as] ‘special’… is a derogatory term. But people have got used to it.”

Among its conclusions, the report says that health and social care services should do more to fund support for building and maintaining friendships.

And it calls for research into the effectiveness of the teaching of independent living skills “as a matter of urgency” because of difficulties highlighted by the research.

The research was part of the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme and was led by the Swansea-based social enterprise CARP Collaborations, in partnership with The Building Bridges project.

DRILL is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and delivered by Disability Rights UKDisability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

It is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.

24 May 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com