Shadow chancellor backs calls to prosecute Iain Duncan Smith over WCA deaths

Labour’s shadow chancellor has called for Iain Duncan Smith to face criminal charges over allegations that his failure to address a coroner’s concerns about the “fitness for work” test led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

John McDonnell made the call during a speech to the TUC Disabled Workers Conference in London on Friday (19 May), and his backing was reportedly greeted with enthusiasm by the audience of disabled trade unionists.

The Scottish-based grassroots group Black Triangle, backed by many other disabled activists, has led calls for the former work and pensions secretary to face a criminal investigation for misconduct in public office following his apparent refusal in 2010 to address a coroner’s concerns about the safety of the discredited work capability assessment (WCA).

They want to hold Duncan Smith and his former employment minister Chris Grayling to account in court for their failure to improve the safety of the WCA, even though they were warned that it risked causing further deaths.

Scottish police are currently assessing whether to launch a criminal investigation, after an approach from Black Triangle’s co-founder John McArdle.

McDonnell backed the efforts of Black Triangle on Friday, and later confirmed his position to Disability News Service through a spokeswoman, who said: “Black Triangle are taking action against Iain Duncan Smith and what he said [at the conference] was that he would support that action.”

Just hours after McDonnell made his speech, the conference voted to send a motion it had unanimously approved – calling for the WCA to be scrapped and replaced “by a fair and humane process” – to the TUC’s annual congress in September, selecting it out of 22 motions discussed by delegates during the two-day conference.

The WCA motion, proposed by the Communication Workers Union (CWU), refers to government-funded research which concluded last November that the programme to reassess people claiming incapacity benefit through the WCA could have caused 590 suicides in just three years.

It also highlights the letter written to the Department for Work and Pensions in 2014 by coroner Mary Hassell, following an inquest into the death of a north London man, which found that his decision to take his own life had been triggered by being found fit for work.

The motion says: “Conference believes that enough is enough and that the time has come for action before more lives are lost.

“The DWP and government have been brought into disrepute and must be held to account.”

Jonathan Bellshaw, the CWU delegate who proposed the motion, told the conference that there was “damning evidence” of the links between suicides and the WCA.

He said: “One death linked to the WCA is one too much. 590 deaths… shows a government not fit for purpose.

“In some countries, that would be cause for a government to be removed by a vote of no confidence.

“Here in the UK, the government continues to ignore all this and ignores clear evidence that their policies are killing people. That’s the truth.”

Another delegate, Hilary Mellor, from Unison, added: “The fact that several hundred suicides have been linked to the WCA is totally unacceptable, unjustifiable and immoral. It is imperative that we stand together to fight this injustice.”

McArdle said after the conference that securing McDonnell’s support for a prosecution was “absolutely amazing”.

He said: “We warmly welcome the support of the shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

“John has been an outstanding supporter of the disabled people’s movement, especially since the foundation of the Black Triangle campaign and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) in 2010.

“We believe the reason he is able to stand by us is because our complaint to Police Scotland is soundly founded in law.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, said: “DPAC are delighted that John McDonnell fully supports Black Triangle’s attempts to bring Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling to account for their failure to act when the deaths of thousands of disabled claimants could have been avoided.”

Meanwhile, SNP MP Deidre Brock has told ministers during a House of Commons debate that they should listen to Black Triangle, and that its attempt to bring Duncan Smith and Grayling to court could “commend the ingredients of the government’s poisoned chalice to their own lips”, which she said would be “even-handed justice”.

Disabled activists have also welcomed the decision of the Cannes film festival jury to award its Palme d’Or award for best film to Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, which follows a man who is found fit for work through a WCA after a heart attack, but faces destitution because he is too ill to work.

Black Triangle – including its medical adviser Dr Stephen Carty – advised scriptwriter Paul Laverty on the WCA and how DWP’s sanctions system works.

McArdle said: “I can only say we feel absolutely elated that it has won to such enormous fanfare.

“This is going to break hearts of stone and will – without any doubt – change minds and direct hearts towards our cause with empathy and compassion.

“It is a magnificent win for all of us in our collective movement for justice and respect for our fundamental human rights.”

26 May 2016



DWP ‘puts child abuse trial at risk’ by insisting on PIP reassessment

A traumatised child abuse victim has branded the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “shameful” for trying to force him to attend a benefits reassessment, when he is waiting to give evidence at an institutional abuse trial.

David* has severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by the horrific child abuse he suffered as a child, and which has led to several suicide attempts.

He is a key witness in a trial that he hopes will bring the perpetrators of that abuse to justice, but he says that the “abhorrent” actions of DWP and its contractor Atos are putting that at risk.

He has been told that he cannot discuss the abuse with anyone or allow DWP or Atos access to his medical records because the court proceedings are now live and the case is sub judice.

And he fears that if he attended the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment, he would be breaking the law and putting the trial at risk.

Even though the toll of the criminal investigation on David’s mental health has been harrowing, resulting in a series of self-harm episodes, DWP has continued its attempts to force him to submit to a PIP reassessment, even though it has been told repeatedly that the case is sub judice.

DWP civil servants have approached the police force investigating the allegations to ask about his evidence, and – he claims – even told a police officer investigating the case that they believed his claims were not genuine and that he was “trying it on”.

Disability News Service (DNS) has seen an email from one of the force’s police officers which proves that a colleague had to tell DWP at least twice that its actions were causing David “considerable stress and distress”, and had to remind the department that he was a witness in their investigation.

David said DWP have made “multiple” contacts with the police force, and with his mental health consultant.

A DWP spokeswoman said the department had “no record of any contact with the police”.

David said his consultant wrote to DWP on several occasions warning of his “severe PTSD”, the impact of the criminal case on his mental health, that removing his benefits would be devastating and life-threatening, and that none of the health professionals could discuss his case any further until the legal process was over.

David said the DWP harassment had caused his PTSD to worsen.

He said that losing his benefits could result in the court case collapsing, because he would “not be in any fit mind to give evidence”.

He told DNS: “It’s as if human life, human dignity and justice mean nothing to the DWP.

“Their crude bullying is inept and invasive. This is a truly horrendous ordeal. They are humiliating me and their irrational behaviour is causing me real mental anguish.

“I see them as no different to those who harmed me as a child.”

David currently receives PIP and employment and support allowance, and was originally told that he would not be reassessed until the end of the trial.

But he has now been told by DWP that he will lose his PIP for being “non-compliant” if he does not attend the reassessment. Atos sent him a letter on Friday (20 May) telling him that he had to attend an assessment on 1 June.

He said: “Being told I will be non-compliant and will be punished is just the same as when I was a child, refusing sexual advances and being humiliated and punished.”

He added: “My case is before the courts, and nothing must be done to interfere or hinder that.

“Everything must be done to support me, not what they are currently doing with no regard for the consequences.”

Other victims in the case have already taken their own lives, and he fears he will not be in a psychological state to give evidence if his benefits are ripped away by the government.

He said: “I am at a loss what to do. It is causing me undue alarm and distress when I am going through a very, very stressful process.

“It is destroying what dignity I have left. The treatment is humiliating and degrading.”

He has now asked for a meeting with work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb.

The DWP spokeswoman made it clear that if David wanted to continue to receive PIP he would need to be reassessed.

She said: “We are sorry for any distress our contact may have caused the claimant.

“PIP reviews ensure that people are receiving the right levels of support and where possible assessments are carried out in a way that is most convenient for the claimant.”

She said it was important that David had a PIP reassessment because he had also been awarded points for a physical injury, so he needed to be reassessed to see if he still required the same level of support.

And she said that he had been told that DWP did not need to discuss his court case or the history surrounding it, but only how his impairment affected his ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

*He cannot be named for legal reasons

26 May 2016



Eight Premier League clubs set to break promises on access, MPs hear

At least eight Premier League football clubs are set to break their promises to meet decent standards on access for disabled supporters in time for next August’s deadline, MPs have been told.

Joyce Cook, chair of the user-led charity Level Playing Field, told the Commons culture, media and sport committee’s inquiry into the accessibility of sports stadiums that the continuing failure of some Premier League clubs on access was “obscene” when there was so much money at the top end of the sport.

The Premier League announced last September that all 20 clubs had agreed to comply with the Accessible Stadia Guide – which was published 13 years ago, and includes guidelines on accessible information, the minimum number of wheelchair spaces for spectators and the location of viewing areas for disabled fans – by August 2017.

It was forced into making the pledge by a series of embarrassing reports on the discrimination faced by disabled supporters at many Premier League grounds.

But Cook told the committee this week that she believed many Premier League clubs would not meet the August 2017 deadline, and that one club had even suggested it only had to produce a plan for how it would comply with the guidelines by August 2017.

When Jesse Norman, the Conservative chair of the committee, pointed out that Premier League clubs were spending hundreds of millions of pounds on transfer fees, Cook said: “I personally find [the lack of action on access] obscene when you look at the money available, particularly money at the top end of the Premier League level.”

She said that Premier League clubs had ignored the issue “time and time again”, and had had 20 years to make the improvements since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

She said: “We were so excited by the Premier League pledge, but now we are increasingly worried.”

She added: “We have eight clubs we are seriously worried about.”

The Premier League club Liverpool received the harshest criticism in the evidence session.

Cook said that the first phase of redevelopment work taking place at the club’s Anfield stadium was focused on improving hospitality facilities, which would leave the club with only 75 per cent of the number of wheelchair spaces recommended by the guidelines.

The club insists it will only proceed with phase two of its plans if it raises enough revenue from the sale of these hospitality spaces, she said.

Cook said: “It’s deeply frustrating and we think deeply unacceptable, considering how long disabled fans at Liverpool – home and away – have had to put up with extraordinarily poor conditions, a complete lack of facilities, [and] a huge waiting list that goes on forever.

“Their own disabled fans are frustrated about it, but they are not budging.”

Another Premier League club criticised was Chelsea, which hopes eventually to build a new, more accessible stadium.

But Cook said current access for disabled fans at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground was “appalling”, even though the club was owned by “one of the richest men in the world”, Roman Abramovich.

Cook was more positive about the commitment of the Football League, which governs clubs in the three divisions beneath the Premier League, and she highlighted Derby County’s “ongoing commitment to access and inclusion”, and also praised measures taken by fellow Championship side Bristol City and the non-league club Wrexham.

Cook said the access situation was “dire” across a range of sports, although the governing bodies of Premiership rugby, cricket and rugby league had recently been “extraordinarily supportive, as have the clubs”.

The following day, giving evidence to the same inquiry, Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said the Premier League would produce a progress report on the pledge in July, which would be published.

He said he did not want to introduce legislation yet, because he wanted “to give people time to get their houses in order”.

But he said: “If a sport decided for whatever reason that they would not do that, we have to look at all options.”

And he said he would “pass judgement” on the Premier League clubs when the report was published in July.

He said: “Where there are problems then there is not anything off the table. I wouldn’t want to be one of the clubs that wasn’t receptive.”

Liverpool and the Premier League had not commented on the claims by noon today (26 May).

26 May 2016



School admissions process ‘discriminates against disabled parents’

A disabled parent has accused his local authority of discriminating against him by refusing to take his access needs into account when deciding which primary school his son can attend in September.

Youcef Bey-Zekkoub believes the school admissions process discriminates against him and other disabled parents because although it pays some attention to the access needs of disabled children, it ignores the access requirements of their parents.

Bey-Zekkoub has asked education secretary Nicky Morgan to act because there is nothing in the school admissions code that recognises the access barriers disabled parents face.

His three-year-old son Adam has been attending a nursery class at the Streatham site of Henry Cavendish school in Lambeth since last September.

The only reason he applied for a place for Adam in that nursery class last year was because it was the only school that was accessible to him in the area.

Because the school is so accessible, with dropped kerbs nearby, refurbished pavements outside, two accessible parking bays, an accessible toilet and helpful staff, he has been able to play a full part in his son’s education, reading stories to him with other parents every Friday, attending a school assembly, and attending a parents group and a consultation event.

But he has now been told by Lambeth council that his son has not been given a place in the reception class this September, and will instead have to attend another school, which has no accessible toilet for his dad to use and will mean a “totally impossible” journey to and from the school.

Bey-Zekkoub has checked all of the other local primary schools and says they are not accessible for him, because of his various access needs, including limited use of his upper body and hands.

He highlights these schools’ steep ramps, heavy school doors, a lack of dropped kerbs, their location on steep hills, uneven pavements, and the “inaccessible streets and pavements which make the journey extremely difficult or impossible to do especially in winter time”.

Bey-Zekkoub has told Morgan that there is nothing in the school admissions code that refers to the needs of disabled parents, and added: “I believe the schools admission code should advise local authorities and schools to take in consideration disabled parents’ needs when offering places to children.”

And he said he believed it was a problem faced by other schools, and other local authorities across the country.

He has appealed the decision to refuse a place for Adam at Henry Cavendish, but fears that it will be turned down because there are no grounds for making an appeal that involve the needs of disabled parents.

He told Disability News Service: “I strongly believe that it is unfair and discriminatory that children who have disabled parents are not able to attend school because local authorities failed to support and/or provide reasonable adjustment to their disabled parents.”

He also believes that the council could be discriminating against his son, under the parts of the Equality Act covering discrimination by association.

Bey-Zekkoub is being supported by The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), which has written to Morgan to ask her to consider the omission of the needs of disabled parents from the code “as a matter of priority”.

In her letter, ALLFIE’s chief executive, Tara Flood, said she believes that the admissions code breaches the Equality Act 2010 by discriminating against disabled parents.

Flood says in her letter: “The government is very keen to talk about increasing choice for parents, but in Mr Bey-Zekkoub’s case he is left without choice and in fact is now in a worse situation because unless the school place decision is overturned, he will no longer be able to play an active role in the education of his son.”

A Department for Education spokesman confirmed that Lambeth council does not offer children priority with admissions to Henry Cavendish based on their parents’ impairments.

He said: “The admissions code requires all admission policies to be fair.

“Any parent can object to the schools adjudicator if they consider an admission policy to breach the admissions code or to be otherwise unfair and the parents’ rights of objection are clearly set out in the school admissions code.

“We will consult on revising the code in due course, and would be happy to receive comments from parents and representative bodies on how it can be improved to make the admissions system clearer and fairer. We will respond to this letter in due course.”

The spokesman claimed that the admissions code does allow local authorities to adopt their admissions criteria to give pupils priority based on medical or social needs, and does not restrict this to the needs of the child.

But he said the Equality Act was clear that schools cannot discriminate in deciding who is offered admission, and that schools and local authorities have to consider the impact of their policies on disabled people in order to comply with their public sector equality duty.

A Lambeth council spokesman said Adam’s case had been “fully assessed” by the council’s MEDSOC panel, which considers school admissions cases involving children with “exceptional medical or social needs”, and includes senior members of staff from its special educational needs and disabilities, school admissions and safeguarding teams, and an educational psychologist.

He said: “After serious consideration of all the notes and supporting documents provided regarding this case, it was noted that there are several community schools significantly closer to the parent’s home that are fully accessible by car and wheelchair and that the preferred option was not the only school, nor closest school, that could meet the parent’s needs in terms of accessibility.

“The request for consideration under the MEDSOC criteria was, therefore, not upheld.”

26 May 2016



Activists protest outside premiere of ‘disability snuff movie’

Appalled activists protested outside a London premiere last night after describing the film as a “disability snuff movie” that suggests disabled people are better off dead.

The protest outside the Curzon Mayfair cinema in London’s West End was coordinated by the disabled people’s anti-euthanasia campaign group Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK) in response to the release of the film Me Before You.

Disabled campaigners have criticised the film-makers responsible for the “emotional and epic love story”, because they say it suggests yet again that disabled people are a burden on society and should opt for euthanasia.

Me Before You caused a storm of protest from disabled people on social media this week, both in the UK and the US, over both its attitude to disability and its choice of a non-disabled actor, Sam Claflin, to play the lead role of a banker left quadriplegic after an accident.

Claflin’s character apparently travels to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland and has an assisted suicide because he doesn’t want to live as a disabled person and does not want to be a burden on the woman he loves.

But disabled actor Liz Carr, a leading member of NDY UK, who took part in the protest, said: “This film is offensive to disabled people, the vast majority of whom want to live – not die.

“Our lives and those of our loved ones are not mired in tragedy, as depicted in this film.”

Critics of the film include the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, co-founder of NDY UK, who sent a tweet to author Jojo Moyes, who wrote the best-selling book on which it was based, asking: “Are you taking on board disabled people’s grave concerns about the film?”

The film is being promoted with the hashtag #LiveBoldly, and Baroness Campbell responded on Twitter: “#MeBeforeEuthanasia #LiveBoldly? We already do! #MeBeforeYou Enough film, drama and docu makers. When are you going to reflect our real lives?”

Some campaigners believe that Claflin was forced to abandon a live question and answer session on Twitter this week after being bombarded with critical tweets from disabled people, most of which he ignored.

One disabled Twitter user asked him: “Why should I have to sit here tweeting about how us disabled people WANT TO LIVE? This disgusts me. #AskSam #LiveBoldly.”

Another asked Claflin: “How do you feel about profiting off the message that death is better than disability? #AskSam #LiveBoldly.”

Jo Verrent, the disabled senior producer with the Unlimited disability arts programme, asked Claflin on Twitter: “Did you consider how damaging the storyline was to disabled people who want to #LiveBoldly and not be killed off? #AskSam @mebeforeyou.”

Another campaigner, tweeting at @PilgrimKitty, asked Claflin: “Is being dependent on others really so bad that the only viable solution is death? #AskSam #LiveBoldly.”

Not Dead Yet UK took the lead in the social media campaign in the UK, with a series of tweets criticising the film.

It tweeted: “#MeBeforeYouPremiere Where message is disabled people are burdens and should opt for #Euthanasia #LiveBoldy.”

It added: “Non-disabled actors playing disabled people is just not acceptable. There are 1000s of disabled actors.”

Disabled model Chelsey Jay called on the government to “publicly condemn” the film, and for the media “to stop the suppression of disabled actors and other creatives”.

US Paralympic athlete Lacey Henderson was another who tweeted her anger, describing it as a “tragic and disgusting portrayal of disability”.

The disabled journalist and presenter Mik Scarlet said on Twitter that the film “reinforces stereotypes that led to a suicide attempt when I became #spinallyinjured. Think on that.”

The storm over the film came just days after Scarlet’s union, Equity, saw its motion calling for “greater representation and more accurate portrayal” of disabled people on stage and screen passed unanimously by the TUC Disabled Workers Conference in London.

Lauren West, a member of the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners, also spoke out.

She said: “Our members were deeply troubled by the trailer and premise of the Me Before You film.

“It is utterly disappointing to see, again, a non-disabled actor playing a disabled role.

“Then, to have the disabled character choose suicide as an outcome is an alarming and misleading representation of life for many people with disabilities.”

She said that young disabled people were “fed-up of being excluded from mainstream media”.

She added: “When a disability storyline finally happens, it is misleading, inaccurate and sends out the wrong message.

“Disabled people are crying out for fair representation, and accurate portrayals. Me Before You does nothing towards achieving this.”

So far, neither Claflin nor Moyes, nor anyone from the team behind the film, have responded to a request from Disability News Service to discuss the concerns.

26 May 2016



TUC Disabled Workers Conference: PIP U-turn ‘could be turning-point’ in fightback

Union delegates say the government’s decision to reverse planned cuts to its new disability benefit could be a turning-point in the fightback against its repeated attacks on disabled people.

The TUC Disabled Workers Conference in London voted in favour of an emergency motion which welcomed the government’s decision to “backtrack” on the proposed cuts to personal independence payment (PIP).

The cuts were originally announced in the budget in March by chancellor George Osborne, but were abandoned just days later after the resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Janine Booth, co-chair of the TUC disabled workers committee and an RMT delegate, who proposed the motion, told fellow delegates: “This is our victory and it can become a turning point.”

She said disabled people had been “on the back foot” for too long, as “millions and millions of people… believed that most people who claimed to be disabled were not and all those who were deserved pity and not resources”.

She said: “Disabled people became more frequently abused in public.

“The Tories were confident that no matter how inhumane, they would get away with it because disabled people were too weak to fight back. Now that plan is falling apart.”

Booth contrasted the present mood with the “pit of despair” that activists had been in during last year’s conference, as a result of the government U-turn and a new Labour leadership that supports their campaigning efforts.

Roger Lewis, a delegate from Lambeth Trades Council and a member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), warned that the government would make further cuts to disability benefits “if it is allowed to get away with it”.

He said: “This motion is extremely important to make sure this conference lends its voice to the call to keep up the fightback.

“We need the whole of the trade union movement to get behind it, a united response from the trade union movement on a scale we have not seen in the last few years.”

The motion was passed unanimously, with the conference agreeing to “step up campaigning” to reverse the “numerous cuts and attacks on disabled people”, through lobbying, demonstrations and direct action.

During the first day of the two-day conference, disabled delegates joined DPAC activists for a direct action – calling for “no more deaths from benefit cuts” – which blocked the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street and brought traffic in part of London’s West End to a standstill.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) distributed copies of its new guide to reporting poverty to delegates at the conference.

The guide – put together by Rachel Broady, equality officer of the union’s Manchester and Salford branch, and the charity Church Action on Poverty – is based on the experiences of people relying on benefits and living in poverty, as well as guidelines drawn up for NUJ by Broady.

The guidelines stress that the “development of discriminatory language and the demonisation of the working poor and benefit recipients, through the use of stereotypes and misinformation, is an insult to workers, trade union organisations and readers”.

And they state that newspapers and magazines “should not originate material which encourages discrimination on grounds of being working poor or a benefit recipient”, while editors should “ensure that coverage of social security stories should be placed in a balanced context”.

The conference was attended by 25 unions, from major organisations such as Unison, Unite and NUT, to smaller unions such as Equity, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the senior civil servants’ union the FDA, with nearly 200 disabled delegates attending.

26 May 2016



TUC Disabled Workers Conference: ‘Most disabled teachers face harassment’

Four-fifths of disabled teachers face harassment and discrimination at the hands of head teachers and other senior managers, disabled union delegates have been told.

Members of the TUC Disabled Workers Conference heard of the “growing evidence of increasing and blatant discrimination against disabled teachers”, not only through a failure to make reasonable adjustments but also by discriminating against them on pay and career progression.

Delegates were told that a survey carried out at last year’s consultation conference for disabled members of the NASUWT teachers’ union found 82 per cent had been harassed, bullied or discriminated against by head teachers, senior managers or deputy heads.

One disabled delegate, Rebecca*, told the conference that many school leaders were “vindictive” towards their disabled staff.

She said that one teacher announced that he was going to buy a mobility scooter to help him move around, but was told by his head teacher not to do so because it would look bad for the school.

Another disabled teacher, Catherine Scarlett, a delegate with the NUT teaching union, described the ordeal she had gone through at the hands of senior management at her school.

Scarlett described to Disability News Service (DNS) last month how after she became disabled she was told by one manager that if she had been a horse she would have been “taken out and shot”.

She told the conference that her experience demonstrated that there needed to be a body with “some proper teeth” to enforce the Equality Act, as employment tribunals were not equipped to deal with discrimination issues.

Scarlett said: “We need somebody to get in there quickly, enforce it and to be able to sort it out before people lose their jobs, before people are traumatised.”

Rebecca told Disability News Service afterwards that the NASUWT survey results showed “the reality in teaching”.

She said: “If you have some kind of little weakness… they will scrutinise you… they will try and manage you out.”

“The more you hear, the more it’s a reality. It’s a different teaching union to Cath [Scarlett] but the same situation, you hear about it more and more.”

Her husband, an NASUWT area secretary, sees a huge number of cases of stress, anxiety and depression caused by “bullying, harassing managers”, she said.

And she said the rise in harassment and discrimination was because teachers were increasingly being held accountable for their pupils’ results.

She said: “Testing is everywhere, throughout the whole system. [Head teachers] are under pressure, so the only way they can manage is to bully staff.”

Rebecca said she had been forced to quit her own job 10 years ago after her head teacher had made her life “hell”.

She said: “He told me that if he had known I had a disability he wouldn’t have taken me on. He made my life hell for six years, so I empathise with Catherine.”

Although the pupils she taught secured superb GCSE results, and she worked long hours, none of that was taken into consideration by the head teacher, and she became so “worn down” that she experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Another female teacher in the same school had cancer, and was criticised for taking too much time off work, while a third female teacher kept working during chemotherapy and was “throwing up in the toilet and going back and teaching” because she didn’t want management to know she was ill.

Rebecca resigned from her job because she couldn’t cope with going through a grievance procedure, and eventually became a supply teacher on a far lower income.

The conference was attended by 25 unions, from major organisations such as Unison, Unite and GMB, to smaller unions such as Equity, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the senior civil servants’ union the FDA, with nearly 200 disabled delegates attending.

*She has asked not to be identified

26 May 2016



Peer support ‘could provide impetus for government’s jobs pledge’

Providing support from their peers is an effective way of boosting disabled people’s job prospects, and should be used far more in government work programmes, according to two new studies.

The research from Disability Rights UK (DR UK) and The Work Foundation concludes that “peer to peer” support or mentoring is an “effective” way of boosting disabled people’s employment prospects, although it is currently still “under-developed and under-evaluated”.

A review of research in the area, led by The Work Foundation, part of Lancaster University, found “promising” evidence that peer support can improve job retention, cut sick leave and help disabled people find a new job or move into education.

DR UK then carried out research to identify and share examples of how peer support is being used in practice.

The disabled people who took part in the research said that peer support – people with similar experiences, providing emotional and practical support – offered them “hope, self-belief, encouragement and good role models”.

They also trusted the people supporting them and felt in control, in contrast to reports of anxiety and pressure that have been linked to many government welfare-to-work schemes.

DR UK concluded in its study: “Powerful themes of hope, confidence and achievement come through from a range of sources and types of peer support – based on the empathy, learning and encouragement that come from people who have ‘been there too’.”

Disabled people’s organisations (DPO) – which have peer support “in their DNA” – are keen to provide such schemes, said DR UK.

One DPO told DR UK: “As a disabled people’s organisation peer support is the thread that all our work is built around and enables our organisation to support people effectively.

“Our organisations are experts in peer support and the positive impact it has on people’s lives. This should be formally recognised and invested in by government.”

One scheme examined by DR UK – a government-funded project run by Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, a DPO in Hampshire – provided peer support through a job club.

In less than a year, nearly one-third of participants – most of whom had faced significant barriers to employment – had secured jobs, when DWP’s target had been for just four per cent to do so.

Spectrum’s own results show that half of those taking part had secured employment, a work placement or volunteering.

One participant said: “The J2E [Journey to Employment] course gave me my confidence back that I had lost for so long with job searching, and made me feel so much more relaxed about upcoming interviews. Suffice to say, I got the job.”

Another said: “I was quite nervous to begin with as I haven’t worked in a group for a considerable time.

“Everyone was friendly and I settled in with ease. It felt more like friends helping each other.”

A key conclusion of the research is that the benefits of peer support tend to last longer because that support and networks that are built up do not always disappear when the programme is finished.

Examples of peer support examined by DR UK included job clubs, support with Access to Work claims, and schemes focusing on leadership skills, such as DR UK’s Leadership Academy, as well as schemes focusing on wider life outcomes.

Both of the studies suggested that peer support for employment could deliver indirect benefits – such as growth in self-belief, self-confidence and social skills – that could also boost job and career prospects.

Liz Sayce, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “Disabled people’s user-led organisations have been particularly influential in developing peer support.

“They are well-placed to connect employment peer support to a range of other life issues – such as housing or debt problems – that can prevent someone finding work or moving up the career ladder.

“Scaling up peer support could also provide badly-needed impetus to the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap.”

Among the recommendations agreed by DR UK and The Work Foundation are for a new national network on employment-based peer support; investment by the government in testing peer mentoring delivered by disabled people; and encouraging the use of peer support to bring together objectives on both employment and health gains, through the government’s new Joint Work and Health Unit.

26 May 2016



TUC Disabled Workers Conference: ‘Stage and screen must do more on inclusive casting’

Arts leaders must do more to tackle the “acute” lack of opportunities for disabled actors on stage and screen, according to union delegates.

Members of the Equity performers’ union called for “greater representation and more accurate portrayal” of disabled people, in a motion agreed unanimously by the TUC Disabled Workers Conference in London.

The motion also called for “greater inclusive casting… where an actor’s talent and not their impairment drives their talent on stage or screen”.

Actor Cindy-Jane Armbruster told the conference that disabled people were portrayed as “the objects of pity or we are put on a pedestal as superhumans in so-called inspiration porn, or objects of scorn as benefit scroungers… anything but well-rounded human beings”.

She said: “I believe very strongly that we need to change these stories, we need to tell better stories, we need to see ourselves represented on stage and on screen for our sense of self-identity. We need to know we are not alone.”

She pointed to a survey last year by the Act for Change project, which campaigns for better representation across the live and recorded arts and found that just one in 326 actors performing on the London stage over the Easter weekend had a visible impairment.

She added: “Having stories told about us and by us will make it harder for policy-makers to make us invisible, to dehumanise us or, worse, get rid of us.”

Heidi McGeogh, of the Musicians’ Union, told the conference: “We really do need to see positive images of disabled people.

“It’s going to affect how we are treated by society and how we are valued by society.

“People believe what they see on the telly and on the stage and read in the papers.”

Iain Scott-Burdon, a BSL-user from Unison, said: “I don’t like to see false disabled people.”

He pointed to TV companies that were making programmes featuring hearing actors playing BSL-users.

He said: “This is unacceptable. There is a lot of Deaf talent out there. There’s a lot of disabled talent out there.”

Mik Scarlet, another Equity member, told the conference that he used to work on BBC’s From the Edge magazine programme, which had nine disabled presenters and more than 30 disabled programme-makers, while Channel 4 and ITV also put out disability programmes.

The disabled journalist and presenter said: “Where have they gone? They have disappeared. Now we have The Undateables and the [Paralympic] Superhumans.

“We need more talent on screen, and we need to promote the concept that we need disabled programming made by disabled people.”

Roddy Slorach, a University and College Union (UCU) delegate, and author of A Very Capitalist Condition, which examines the history and politics of disability, said the representation of disability in the media needed to be about “overcoming this sense of otherness”, which was “not actually an easy thing to do”.

He called for “an end to disability as a form of discrimination” and “a celebration of the diversity of humanity” that looks at who disabled people are rather than using “negative stereotypical images”.

The conference was attended by 25 unions, from major organisations such as Unison, Unite and NUT, to smaller unions such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the senior civil servants’ union the FDA, with nearly 200 disabled delegates attending.

26 May 2016


News provided by John Pring at