DWP refuses to name charities set to earn millions from new disability jobs scheme

The Department for Work and Pensions has refused to name the charities and other organisations being paid millions of pounds to help deliver its new disability employment programme across England and Wales.

All six of the new Work and Health Programme contracts went “live” last week, and DWP announced the main contractors in October.

But it has refused to say which smaller organisations are helping to deliver the programme as sub-contractors.

DWP’s reluctance to do so is likely to be linked to criticism that has been aimed at disability charities that were set to play a significant role in the new programme.

When Disability News Service contacted seven of the largest disability charities – most of which are not user-led – in December 2016, none of them ruled out seeking Work and Health Programme contracts.

But disabled activists have raised concerns that winning such contracts could mean that these and other charities would be unwilling to criticise the government on social security reform.

All seven of the charities contacted in December 2016 insisted then that any contracts they won from the government would have no impact on their campaigning work.

There are also major concerns about the programme itself, which is part of the government’s much-criticised Improving Lives work, health and disability strategy, with its “cruel and disastrous” emphasis on “work as a cure”, the placement of employment advisers in health services, and the continued use of benefit sanctions to “punish” disabled claimants.

Disability News Service submitted a freedom of information request last month in a bid to discover which voluntary and private sector organisations would be helping to deliver the Work and Health Programme (WHP).

But when DWP responded to the request earlier this month, it said the subcontracting organisations were still “subject to change”, but that it would “seek to publish a list of the confirmed main sub-contractors supporting the WHP” following “go live of all WHP contracts” in the week beginning 15 January.

That date passed last week, but no list has yet been published.

When DNS asked why it had not been released, a DWP spokeswoman said the department “will seek to publish a list of the sub-contractors in due course”.

She refused to comment further.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It is no surprise that DWP are unwilling to release details of firms involved in colluding to exploit disabled people for their own profits and this simply confirms the underhand way DWP run their programmes and their diabolical practices.

“We look forward, together with Boycott Workfare, to finding out which organisations will be involved in implementing the new disability employment programme.”

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said: “No one who is on the side of disabled people is celebrating the delivery of the Health and Work Programme, as it will wreck lives.

“Perhaps the successful bidders will choose to celebrate their wins in private, because they know these contracts are shameful.

“Disabled activists have called out charities on their close links with the DWP and their failure to remain independent of Tory ideology.

“The private firms who take on these contracts, along with the charities, will be closely watched by activists.

“Their identities can’t be protected by the DWP forever.

“We are used to the DWP being secretive. After all, they have so much to hide.”

The main WHP contractors are Remploy (in Wales); the charity Shaw Trust in central England and the home counties; Reed In Partnership in north-east England; Ingeus in the north-west; and Pluss in the south of England.

Remploy, formerly owned by the government, is now mostly controlled by the US company Maximus.

Maximus has a disturbing track record of discrimination, incompetence and fraud in the US, while Remploy slashed the pay of service-users who were taking part in inspections of health and care facilities, after taking on three Care Quality Commission contracts, and has since been heavily criticised for its performance in delivering those contracts.

25 January 2018

 

 

Local Mencap charity boss shared racist posts on social media

The boss of a local Mencap charity has admitted repeatedly sharing racist messages from far-right organisations including the BNP and Britain First on social media.

Patricia Chadwick has been sharing far-right messages on her Facebook page since at least 2015, alongside animal welfare posts and messages of support for the charity she chairs, Bolton Mencap – which supports people with learning difficulties – where she is also programme director.

Until this week, her Facebook page described her as “project director at Mencap”, as well as a former lecturer at Bolton University.

Among the messages she has shared are a 2015 BNP post which called on its supporters to “rise up and reclaim your country”.

She shared a Britain First post last summer calling for “no more mosques!” and last year also shared a call to “bring back the golliwogs”.

Earlier this month, Chadwick shared a post which said it “should be unconstitutional to use our tax money to help other countries when we have homeless and hungry people in our own country”.

And last August she shared a video that was described as “extremely graphic”, which apparently showed “Syrian terrorists beheading civilians”, although the video appears to have been removed by Facebook.

After Disability News Service (DNS) asked her about her Facebook activity, she deleted nearly all of her posts, and removed the reference to her job at Bolton Mencap.

When asked about the golliwog post, she claimed that she did not “see the harm” in golliwogs – widely accepted now as racist – and believed they were “a very innocent thing”, although she said Bolton Mencap does not sell them in its charity shop “in case it does offend anybody, because we’re in a multi-cultural area, so obviously we take that on board”.

She said: “Some of my friends are black as coal and they don’t mind them. They want the golliwogs back as well. I think it’s a minority of people that are being picky about it.”

She tried to claim that she had stopped sharing far-right posts on her Facebook page because she “did not think it was appropriate at all”, until DNS pointed out that she posted one earlier this month.

She said: “I went to multi-racial colleges, I have friends all over the world and I’m the least person that’s racist.

“I have taken them all off because I didn’t want to offend anybody as my friend group grows.”

When DNS pointed out that she had not removed the posts, she said: “I probably didn’t even read it.”

Asked about the post which demanded that foreign aid should be made “unconstitutional” while there are homeless and hungry people in this country, she said: “Yes, I do agree with that. Charity begins at home, doesn’t it?”

She added: “That’s what Bolton Mencap does, and that’s what Mencap does. We look after our own primarily.”

When DNS suggested that it was right to help people dying of starvation in other countries, she said: “No, I can’t agree with that.”

She accused DNS of just “picking out the bad bits” from her Facebook page, but then added: “If you read those posts, a lot of people in this country are fed up of it being an open door, giving money away to everybody, when we’ve got people who need help.

“To be perfectly honest, a lot of the people that live round here have been here for years and they are fed up of the ‘open door’ policy in England.

“You know, we’re only an island, we’ll sink shortly if it carries on. Let’s look after our own. That’s the top and bottom of it.”

After DNS shared a selection of her posts and comments with national Mencap, a spokesman for the charity said: “We have been made aware that Patricia Chadwick has made unacceptable comments in a personal capacity that go directly against the Royal Mencap Society’s values.

“We understand that Miss Chadwick may have a role at a local Mencap group called Bolton Mencap.

“This group is a separate charity and legal entity to the Royal Mencap Society, working independently of the national organisation.

“Whilst the Royal Mencap Society does not exercise control over Bolton Mencap or the personal opinions of its employees, we would hope Bolton Mencap can disassociate itself from such remarks.

“We have contacted Miss Chadwick to express our concerns of the harm that her personal remarks could be making to both Bolton Mencap and the Royal Mencap Society and to ensure that this activity does not impact negatively on the work and reputation of either organisation.”

He said Mencap could not take any further action until it has spoken to Chadwick and Bolton Mencap, which it has not yet been able to do.

25 January 2018

 

 

MPs launch inquiry into online abuse of disabled people, following Katie Price petition

Disability hate crime campaigners are to give evidence to MPs next month as part of a new inquiry into the online abuse of disabled people.

The Commons petitions committee has launched the investigation following a petition set up by former model Katie Price which was signed by more than 220,000 people.

Price’s petition called on the government to create a new criminal offence covering online abuse, and to set up a register of offenders.

She and her disabled son Harvey are to give evidence to the committee on 6 February about the disablist online abuse he has experienced.

Anne Novis, a leading disability hate crime campaigner and adviser on disability to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Metropolitan police, will also be giving evidence to the committee, as chair of Inclusion London.

Novis, also a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, plans to share details with MPs on the committee of Facebook sites that have been “set up to demean disabled people”, and of disablist attacks by some newspapers.

She also plans to raise concerns about government rhetoric around its social security reforms, which she said has demeaned disabled people, “giving permission to others to do the same online and elsewhere”.

She said that such rhetoric and abuse “must be challenged as totally unacceptable in today’s society”.

But Novis said she was not in favour of a new “add on” criminal offence, as suggested by Price.

Instead, she said, “we need fair and equal law on hate crime in all its forms, ensuring the law keeps up to date with communication methods, and recognition that verbal and written abuse and prejudice is unacceptable”.

Novis has spoken repeatedly of the need for disabled people to have “equal access to justice” on hate crime and the “inadequacy” of current disability hate crime legislation.

She said a register was “not necessary” because if abusers were charged appropriately – and disability hate crime law was strengthened – there would already be a public record of offenders, while it would be easy for abusers to use false names online.

Stephen Brookes, a fellow coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and a disability adviser to CPS and the Lancashire and West Yorkshire police forces, said he could support a “specific, clearly defined” new offence.

But he said he could not see how a register would be operated and maintained.

He said: “Online hate, where abusers mistakenly believe they are hidden behind a screen, can be particularly damaging.

“Several of the posts on the Disability Hate Crime Network reflect the fact that many disabled victims of online and social media abuse feel helpless and unprotected.

“One of our regular contacts received a Facebook post after reporting a hate crime which said, ‘You never tire of being the nastiest dirtiest GRASS. If you need a puncture in your wheelchair keep us in mind.’

“But this was not enough to get Facebook to take the post down.”

Brookes believes social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are not doing enough to protect people from online abuse.

He said: “We are told that a key aim of the [government’s new] online hate crime hub is to build a stronger evidence base and better understanding of the scope, nature and scale of online hate, in order to tackle it, but this all takes time, and so many times the perpetrators use the indistinct line between what they say is legitimate freedom of expression, and behaviour that is in contradiction of the ill-defined terms and conditions of social media sites, to get away with their actions.

“So there is a need to force companies to have a standard code of practice and not the current case-by-case approach, and this does need to lead to a better, clear and enforceable law.”

Labour MP Helen Jones, chair of the petitions committee, said: “Katie Price’s petition, which has been signed by more than 220,000 people, has brought to parliament an issue that has not been widely discussed – how online abuse affects people with disabilities and their families.

“The government and parliament are looking at how to tackle online abuse, and we’d like to ensure that the particular issues faced by disabled people are at the heart of those discussions.

“We’ll be speaking to disabled people and other experts about what needs to change.

“We’ve also invited Katie Price and her son Harvey to parliament to tell us about how online abuse has affected their family.”

The committee will be probing issues such as the impact of online abuse on disabled people; who is responsible for protecting people from online abuse; how well the law protects disabled people from such abuse; and the availability of support for victims.

It will also ask how to draw lines between legitimate freedom of expression, behaviour that contravenes the terms and conditions of social media sites, and abuse that should be against the law.

In her petition, which closed last year, Price said that trolling was “a major problem” that affects people “from every walk of life” and includes “racism, homophobia, body shaming and a whole range of other hate speech”.

She said she wanted to “help bring justice to everyone who has ever suffered at the hands of trolls” and “hammer home worldwide that bullying is unacceptable whether it’s face to face or in an online space”.

As well as other disability organisations giving oral evidence, including Dimensions UK and Mencap, the committee wants to hear directly from disabled people about their experiences of online abuse.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman refused to say if the government supported creating a new criminal offence covering online abuse, or setting up a register of offenders.

But he said in a statement: “We welcome the committee’s investigation. What is unacceptable offline should be unacceptable online and we are seeking to address these issues through our Internet Safety Strategy.”

Ministers have not ruled out introducing a regulatory framework, including a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, if technology companies do not act voluntarily to demonstrate their commitment to online safety.

It has consulted on measures including: a new social media levy, so companies contribute to raising awareness and countering harm caused by the internet; a code of practice to tackle bullying and intimidating behaviour online; and annual transparency reports that would be used to check the progress of companies in tackling such issues.

The consultation closed last month.

25 January 2018

 

 

Charities help cover up real reason government announced blue badge changes

Disability charities are facing questions over why they helped the government disguise the reason it had to change “discriminatory” guidance that was preventing thousands of disabled people with invisible impairments from securing blue parking badges.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced this week that it was proposing alterations to guidance that would “herald the most significant changes since the blue badge was introduced in 1970” and would “remove barriers to travel for people with conditions such as dementia and autism” in England.

Junior transport minister Jesse Norman claimed this “accords with the government’s manifesto commitment to give parity of esteem to mental and physical health conditions”.

The changes were welcomed enthusiastically by non-user-led disability charities such as Scope and the National Autistic Society (NAS), with NAS even quoted in DfT’s own press release, and they were widely supported by the mainstream media, including the Guardian, the Mirror and the BBC.

But what they and Norman failed to mention was that the changes had been forced on the government by a legal action taken on behalf of an autistic man with learning difficulties.

David* had had a blue badge for 30 years but was told by his local council that he no longer qualified because of new DfT rules**.

His family took legal action against DfT and his local council because of new guidance issued by DfT in October 2014, following the introduction of the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP) the previous year.

DfT was forced to settle the judicial review claim 15 months ago, by agreeing to review the new blue badge guidance.

It was that review that led to the government’s announcement this week that it was consulting on changes to the blue badge scheme.

Louise Whitfield, a solicitor with civil rights and judicial review experts Deighton Pierce Glynn, said she was “extremely surprised at the way in which the government is presenting the consultation”.

She said: “The main reason that people with those conditions have been excluded from blue badge eligibility is because of the changes that the government deliberately made to the blue badge criteria when they introduced PIP to replace disability living allowance (DLA).

“This meant that people who automatically had a blue badge before because of the DLA they received (higher rate mobility component), were no longer automatically eligible because they did not get enough points under the ‘moving around’ PIP criteria.

“This problem was compounded by the inadequate DfT guidance, leading many local authorities to decide that people with non-physical disabilities were not entitled to a blue badge, and would never be entitled, because they did not have the right kind of disability to meet the criteria.

“We have successfully challenged a number of these decisions, but there must be thousands of people who should have had blue badges but didn’t because of the change in the criteria coupled with the unclear guidance.”

She highlighted the government’s failure to carry out an equality impact assessment of the blue badge eligibility changes and the new guidance before they were introduced in 2014.

Such an assessment would have shown that thousands of people with invisible impairments were set to lose their right to a blue badge, with London Councils estimating that 3,500 people fell into this category in the capital.

Whitfield said: “It is also somewhat disingenuous of the government to present the consultation on the new proposals as if this had been all of their own making, when in fact many organisations, individuals and legal representatives on their behalf have been trying to get the government to undertake a review since the change in the blue badge criteria several years ago.”

She added: “We have repeatedly chased the government and their solicitors for updates on the review and have been told very little over the last 15 months.

“Nor have they had the courtesy to inform me or my client that the consultation is now underway.  The last time we chased them they didn’t even respond.

“Sadly, my client who brought the judicial review has now passed away, but I will be encouraging all my other clients to respond to the consultation making clear how devastating it has been for them to lose their existing badge and then have to battle for months, if not years, to get it reinstated just so that they can leave their home.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) accepted that it had faced a legal challenge over the regulations when they were changed, but failed to answer a series of questions, including whether it had failed to carry out an equality impact assessment on the 2014 changes; why it failed to tell Deighton Pierce Glynn about the new consultation; and why it failed to mention the legal challenge in its press release and consultation document.

In a statement, a DfT spokesman said: “Blue badges give people with disabilities the freedom to get jobs, see friends or go to the shops with as much ease as possible.

“We want to try to extend this to people with invisible disabilities, so they can enjoy the freedom to get out and about, where and when they want.”

An NAS spokeswoman admitted that it had “focused on the good news” in its statement on the government announcement.

She claimed NAS had opposed the government’s decision to link blue badge entitlement in England to only the “moving around” part of PIP mobility and had “raised this issue at the time and have continued to raise this issue since”.

She said its concern had always been “broader than the link with PIP” and that its “underlying aim has been to change the blue badge rules because it has always been a real struggle for those with a hidden disability to get one” and that “not very many autistic people ever qualified for higher rate mobility of DLA to get that automatic entitlement”.

She said NAS had not been “directly involved” with the legal case.

She added: “The government’s proposals go beyond that change and so are likely to ensure that more autistic children and adults who need a blue badge can get one and won’t first need to access DLA or PIP.”

*Not his real name

**The guidance currently states that it is only those who qualify for the standard or enhanced mobility rates of PIP under the “moving around” criteria – those with physical impairments that mean they cannot walk very far – who should automatically qualify for a blue badge.

Those who qualify for the PIP enhanced mobility rate because they have problems planning and following journeys are no longer automatically entitled to a blue badge, as they were if they claimed the upper mobility rate of DLA for the same reasons.

The updated blue badge application form included in the guidance document has no sections in which disabled people with problems planning and following journeys can provide evidence to show why they need a blue badge.

Authorities in Scotland and Wales have already made changes aimed at addressing the problems with DfT’s guidance.

25 January 2018

 

 

DWP U-turns on PIP mobility rules that were based on ‘unsupported opinions’

A government climbdown over new disability benefit rules that were found by the high court to be unlawful and “blatantly discriminatory” demonstrates its failure to base its policies on sound research and evidence, say disabled campaigners.

Esther McVey, the new work and pensions secretary, announced last Friday that she would not be appealing against the court’s finding, a decision that could mean that tens or even hundreds of thousands of disabled people will now be entitled to higher benefit payments.

Regulations that came into force last March had meant that people who are unable to plan or undertake a journey due to overwhelming psychological distress would receive fewer qualifying points when assessed for personal independence payment (PIP).

The new rules – which the government rushed through following an upper tribunal ruling which had found that such claimants should be entitled to those points – meant that many disabled people were entitled to a lower level of financial support for their mobility, and in many cases no mobility support at all.

But the high court ruled last month that the new rules were unlawful, “blatantly discriminatory”, and breached article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

McVey’s decision means, she told MPs this week, that her Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will now be contacting as many as 220,000 disabled people who could be entitled to backdated payments.

The legal case was supported from the beginning by the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London through its Disability Justice Project.

Svetlana Kotova, co-ordinator of the project, said: “This case is a great example of how disabled people should work with lawyers to stand up to the government and fight the injustice we experience.”

She added: “We knew those regulations were discriminatory and that’s why we supported this case from the start.

“The threshold for the government to justify its discriminatory decisions about benefits is very low and in this case they could not cross even that.

“The case laid bare the lack of evidence behind the DWP’s policy-making, which could not withstand scrutiny from the court.

“In this case, the policy decision was based on unsupported assumptions made by DWP employees.

“We knew from the beginning this justification was made up to mask the true purpose, which was to save money. We are delighted the judge saw it for what it was.”

Mr Justice Mostyn said in his judgement last month that DWP’s intention had been “to save money” and that the decision to introduce the new regulations had been “manifestly without reasonable foundation”.

He said the work and pensions secretary had relied on a senior civil servant whose advice that people with psychological distress “generally have a lower level of functional need” had been “no more than a subjective opinion or hypothesis” and “a generalised assertion” without “factual or evidential basis”.

Kotova said this was not the first time the government had failed to ground its policies in solid evidence.

She said: “We are outraged that the policy which has an impact on thousands of disabled people was based on unsupported opinions of the DWP’s experts.

“Sadly, the DWP does not know what our lives are really like and does not want to know, as they have failed to meaningfully engage with disabled people and our organisations for a long time.”

The government U-turn comes in the same week that the Department for Transport (DfT) was forced to propose changes to its blue badge parking scheme, following a legal case taken by an autistic man with learning difficulties (see separate story).

In that case, the man had had a blue badge for 30 years but was told by his local council that he no longer qualified because of changes brought in in 2014 following PIP’s introduction.

This had made it almost impossible for many disabled people whose mobility is affected by mental health conditions or autism to secure a blue parking badge.

The government failed to carry out an equality impact assessment of the changes before they were introduced.

25 January 2018

 

 

Open letter from mental health activists probes charity’s links to DWP

Disabled activists have called on the charity Mind to explain how seconding a senior member of staff to work for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the last year has affected mental health service-users.

In an open letter to the charity’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) raises fresh concerns about Mind’s closeness to DWP, and the impact this has had on its willingness to criticise government policy.

Mind’s decision to allow its policy and campaigns manager Tom Pollard to join DWP on secondment as a senior policy adviser sparked a protest outside the charity’s headquarters in east London in October 2016.

MHRN, which helped organise the protest, says in the letter that it is keen to discover “what came out of the secondment, and how it might impact on us”.

It also asks Farmer how the secondment helped alleviate the distress caused to disabled people by cuts to disability benefits.

The letter adds: “We would be interested to know if Mr Pollard found any of the DWP plans potentially harmful to people in mental distress and, if so, how he has intervened on our behalf.”

The letter points out that Farmer was found to have lied to service-users and other disabled activists who took part in the protest about his charity’s close links with DWP.

When Farmer left the building to speak to the protesters, he told them the charity had “no contracts with DWP” and that he was “not interested in future contracts at this stage”.

But after the protest, a disgruntled member of Mind staff leaked details that showed the charity was applying to join a DWP framework that would allow it to bid for employment and health-related contracts, each of which could be worth between £2 million and £30 million a year.

The leaked information also suggested that Mind had taken measures to avoid being named publicly, allowing it to dodge the potential “reputational risk” of bidding jointly for a contract with a controversial partner.

DWP has so far refused to publish the names of the organisations acting as the main sub-contractors under the Work and Health Programme, even though the scheme went live last week (see separate story).

The MHRN letter adds: “We believe that any role as advocate for people in mental distress has been compromised by governmental outsourcing of public services to charities, which requires such charities to supress any negative comment on government ministers.

“Now that the government has announced they will be pushing more people with mental health problems into work, can you please tell us to what extent Mind will be working further with the DWP to progress the government’s political agenda?”

The letter concludes: “We wonder if Mind only speaks on behalf of people with mental health issues who are well enough to work, or perhaps you are of the same view as the government; that no one is unable to work due to mental distress.

“Please can you clarify your position on this?”

A Mind spokeswoman said in a statement: “We want to assure the members of the Mental Health Resistance Network that we campaign passionately and independently for a better benefits system that works for those of us living with mental health problems.

“We will look into the many important issues that they have raised in their letter and respond in due course.”

She said later that Pollard’s secondment was due to end in April and had been extended to allow him to “complete work on a number of projects that were delayed because of the general election and subsequent changes in the ministerial team.

“As we have said before, we have no plans to bid or tender for back-to-work contracts from [DWP] that would include any element of mandation or sanction, an approach we believe to be cruel, inappropriate and ineffective.”

But the charity later appeared to suggest that some of its local branches are involved in sub-contracting under the WHP.

A Mind spokeswoman said: “Because the Work and Health Programme contract generally has elements of mandation, we decided Mind couldn’t be involved and sent a briefing to all local Minds detailing why.

“At a national level we won’t be getting involved in the contract or any sub-contracting and we have had very positive feedback from local Minds about our decision.”

But she said there was “no reason why a local Mind should avoid supporting people on the Work and Health Programme provided their participation in whatever courses or therapies we offer is completely voluntary”.

A spokeswoman added: “We are all very clear that if there is any suggestion that accessing a local Mind service is mandatory then we don’t want to be anywhere near it.”

25 January 2018

 

 

Watchdog’s use of service-user inspection scheme has fallen sharply since 2015

The care watchdog is only managing to send service-users to assist on just over half of its inspections of residential homes, care agencies and day centres in England, new figures have revealed.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has repeatedly insisted that it views the Experts by Experience (ExE) programme as a vital part of its inspections of both social care and health services.

But figures obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) show that, in the latest quarter, just 57 per cent of social care inspections involved an ExE.

That figure is 15 percentage points lower than it was in the third quarter of 2014-15.

The previous year, in October 2013, CQC had said it wanted to make greater use of the ExE programme.

Instead, the proportion of inspections using ExEs fell during 2014-15 and through to early 2016, during the chaotic CQC process that saw the former government-owned firm Remploy taking over three of four regional contracts to run the ExE programme at the start of 2016.

In the final quarter of 2015-16, just 23 per cent of social care inspections included an ExE.

That has slowly risen in the last two years, but it is still far lower (57 per cent) than it was in the third quarter of 2014-15 (72 per cent).

Claire Bolderson, a former ExE, now campaigns for improvements to the way Remploy runs its part of the programme and to the pay ExEs receive.

She said: “The whole idea was to put more money into the programme to substantially increase numbers, with the aim of increasing ExE involvement in inspections.

“This has obviously failed.”

Figures published by the Choice Support consortium, which won the other regional contract – across central England – appear to show that a significant cause of the ExE problems is the way that Remploy has managed its contracts.

Choice Support says its ExEs took part in 2,118 social care inspections in 2016-17 (38 per cent of the total), which – because there were 5,621 that year across the four regions – means there were just 3,503 across the three Remploy regions.

Choice Support also says it employs more than 320 ExEs in its one region, compared to what are believed to be about 500 employed by Remploy across its three regions, about half the number per region compared with Choice Support.

Although the Choice Support region is the largest of the four, it only accounts for 32 per cent of all inspections, with more than two-thirds taking place in Remploy areas.

The latest figures have added to concerns about CQC’s inspection record.

In November, DNS reported on figures – also released by the commission following an FoIA request – that showed how the number of inspectors working for the watchdog had fallen sharply over the previous year, with the number of adult social care inspectors falling from 850 to 787.

Remploy, the disability employment business formerly owned by the government but now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus, has attracted heavy criticism for its delivery of the three regional ExE contracts.

It was hit almost immediately by accusations of incompetence when it took on the contracts in February 2016, with claims of resignations, confusion and cutbacks.

Internal reports secured by DNS, again through an FoIA request, show CQC was forced to write “formally” to Remploy three times over its concerns about its performance on the ExE contracts.

And last October, DNS revealed that Remploy was failing to make the most basic background checks on its new ExE recruits.

Bolderson said: “They’re still not back up to the levels of 2014-15 and that’s with massive intervention from the CQC’s engagement team, who have had to focus a great deal of resources on trying to bring Remploy up to scratch, mostly by passing on concerns and complaints that we bring to their attention.”

She is critical of CQC for “handing this enormous contract to a company with no experience at all of running this kind of programme”, “no existing infrastructure to support the work”, and substandard training and recruitment programmes.

CQC is currently retendering all four ExE contracts.

A CQC spokeswoman said the failure to return to 2014-15 levels of ExE engagement “reflects the changing approach to our inspections – with fewer planned inspections and a lot more that are responsive and urgent – which by their very nature will not always be possible to include an Expert by Experience”.

She said this had “resulted in fewer requests for Experts by Experience support across all four regions”.

But when asked how many fewer planned inspections there had been, she then claimed that “all inspections are planned”, although she failed to provide any figures to back up her claim that more inspections were now “responsive and urgent”.

She declined to say whether 57 per cent was now its target, or whether CQC was still trying to increase the proportion of inspections involving an ExE.

The CQC spokeswoman said that because Choice Support had previously been involved in the ExE programme before the new contracts were awarded in late 2015 it “had already built relationships with inspection teams”, which helped explain its higher number of ExEs and inspections.

She said it was “never the aim” to have an ExE attending all CQC inspections because “it would not be practical” because of “factors such as the size, urgency and risk of a service”.

But she added: “Both Remploy and CQC have acknowledged that there were challenges in the implementation of the EXE contract in 2016 and we have worked together and with our Experts by Experience to address these issues in a systematic and co-ordinated way.”

25 January 2018

 

 

Benefits Street antidote ‘will not be a safe space for audiences’

An award-winning disabled poet, performer and stand-up is hoping that her new show – based on more than 80 interviews with disabled and working-class people and benefit claimants – will provide an antidote to reality TV “rubbish” like Benefits Street.

Jackie Hagan’s This Is Not A Safe Space combines poetry, stand-up, story-telling and “just gabbing for the audience”, and several sections where the audience hears recordings of her interviewees.

The aim, she told Disability News Service, is to show the people she interviewed as “real fully-rounded humans rather than two-dimensional things you would read about in the newspaper”.

Hagan says she first became aware of how some people had a “horrific attitude” towards council estates and benefit claimants when she moved from her home town of Skelmersdale to attend university in Manchester in 2000.

She says: “It was like, boom! Culture shock! And it took me a long time to get over it. It made me really ill.”

The anger has been “rumbling” all her adult life, and she adds: “It has taken this long to get to a point where I can write about it because I’ve just been too angry for so long.”

Those thoughts came together after she saw Ken Loach’s much-praised film expose of the disability benefits system, I, Daniel Blake.

She says she is “happy the film exists” but was still left “fuming” by the realisation that Loach had been forced to portray the main character as “a saint” who does not smoke or take drugs or “have a massive telly” so he could secure the audience’s empathy.

In her poem, I Am Not Daniel Blake, part of her new show, she says: “Don’t dismiss us as backward.

“What we are is knackered, from cold, broken homes and a world that says you’re pointless, worthless, should give birth less, shouldn’t spend precious little cash on fags, booze, crap food, drugs, things that make it temporarily better.”

Her new show was commissioned by the disability arts programme Unlimited and Contact Manchester and will be touring the UK in March and April.

Hagan’s writing is beginning to attract serious attention.

She has just been announced as one of five writers selected for the Your Voice, Your Story development scheme run by the hugely successful television production company Hat Trick, known for sitcoms such as Drop The Dead Donkey and Father Ted.

Sky Arts has also shown interest in This Is Not A Safe Space.

Her solo show Some People Have Too Many Legs won the 2015 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show, while her play Cosmic Scallies was commissioned by Graeae and ran at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer.

In previous shows, such as Some People Have Too Many Legs, she says she has tried to “look after” the audience, rather than shock them, and attempt to “make disability fluffy for people”.

This time, she wants her audience to feel “unsettled” and “unsafe”, just like her interviewees, who told her that “people like us need safety nets, but the government thinks they can’t afford them”.

She says: “The interviews I did, safety kept coming up… people worrying about losing their homes, it just kept coming up all the time. Their life is not safe. The idea of safety nets being pulled from underneath us.”

There are two types of people she is hoping to attract to the show: those she wants to educate; and those who are under-represented in theatre, disabled working-class people, who she wants to come and see their lives portrayed on stage.

Although she does not see herself as a political artist and says she has no “grand political plan” with the show, she says that “getting people to change their views on working-class and disabled people is definitely a political thing”.

She hopes to undermine what she sees as the “othering” of people like her – viewing them as less than human – who are working-class, disabled and claiming benefits.

She says: “It’s like people are trying to do that with people who need support, so they don’t have to give them that support, so they don’t need to deal with the problem.

“It’s like if we ‘other’ people enough then people don’t have to feel guilty or a sense of responsibility. My role can be to ‘de-other’ people.”

But she adds: “My skill is not shouting at people, it’s making sure that people understand that these are real people, and that you can empathise with people who aren’t saints, because none of us are.”

The first interviews she carried out were with people she met at the Bluesci arts and wellbeing centre in Trafford, Manchester, where she runs creative writing and poetry workshops, but she then also interviewed people from her home town of Skelmersdale, often finding them by word-of-mouth.

What surprised her in her research, though, was that the interviews were not unremittingly bleak.

“People’s weren’t like, ‘woe is me,’ people were really getting on with it in the face of utter shit,” she says.

“I expected it to be quite gruelling emotionally, but I had a laugh with most people.”

There were “grim” exceptions, such as the landlord who described how six sex workers in the road outside his pub had died in the last year, with one of them freezing to death.

Hagan represents this in the show with a pair of gloves on a table, and her fingers inching towards them.

She uses this kind of “object manipulation” throughout the show, with different objects representing the people she interviewed.

Underlying much of what she heard were concerns about the benefits system, with interviewees often needing to be reassured that their personal independence payment (PIP) claims would not be put at risk by their voices being recognised during the performance.

“People are so scared of PIP and the benefits system,” she says. “If they put a word out of place, [they think] they are going to get done and [they will be] on the streets.

“I wanted to use people’s voices, though, because people are just so interesting. The way people really speak. It’s just so human and nice.

“I think sometimes that theatre misses out on that because it makes things too slick.”

Her own PIP assessment was due to take place this week, and the show features two extreme and contrasting versions of an imaginary assessment.

She says: “I’m partially-sighted, I’ve got one leg, my hands don’t work and I’ve got bipolar, but it’s not enough anymore [to qualify for PIP], is it?”

She has said she wrote the show because she was “sick of seeing people like me misrepresented on rubbish shows like Benefits Street and ignored by theatre” and was “sick of people thinking we all just need to try a bit harder and stop spending our time drinking lager and watching our massive tellies”.

She went through a period of watching Benefits Street. “I felt like I was seeing myself in it, to some degree, but then I realised how other people were viewing it. Not with warmth.

“It was the fact that it was feeding people’s attitudes, that was what was terrifying, [the idea that] people on benefits are pointless.

“You have really got to lead people by the hand into not hating people.”

This Is Not A Safe Space will be at Creation Space, Basingstoke on 1 and 2 March; at the DeStress Fest at the Attenborough Centre, Leicester, on 23 and 24 March; at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, on 30 March; and at Camden People’s Theatre, London, from 17 to 21 April. All performances will be BSL-interpreted

25 January 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com