PIP claimant took his own life after paramedic ‘ignored his pain’ and DWP cut his benefits

A disabled man took his own life after describing how a paramedic ignored the “sheer amount of pain” he was in during a face-to-face assessment, leading the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to remove his benefits and plunge him into poverty.

Christian Wilcox, who had schizophrenia and a physical impairment, is the latest disabled person whose death has been linked to DWP’s deeply-flawed disability benefit assessment regime.

He had written online over the course of several months about how the lengthy process of reassessing his eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) was causing him significant mental distress.

The circumstances in which he died will add to calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions, and for DWP to be declared institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose.

This week, Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, who has led calls in parliament for an independent inquiry into benefit-related deaths, secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on the subject.

She spoke about the deaths of Errol Graham and Jodey Whiting, and more than 20 other disabled benefit claimants whose deaths have been linked to DWP’s actions.

Meanwhile, a freedom of information response from DWP to a campaigner showed how the department has been destroying secret internal reports into deaths linked to its actions (see separate story).

And Disability News Service (DNS) has also revealed this week how DWP civil servants persuaded a coroner not to write an embarrassing public report into the department’s failings in the Errol Graham case by misleading her about a departmental review into safeguarding (see separate story).

It is believed that Christian Wilcox’s body was not discovered until about six weeks after he took his own life in his flat in Croydon, south London.

He is believed to have died in late November, a few days before he was due to attend an appeal tribunal into DWP’s decision to remove his PIP.

His last Facebook post was on 22 November, five days before the tribunal hearing.

On Saturday, a pre-election Vote Labour sticker could still be seen in his window, while a bird-feeder hung above the window-ledge.

One neighbour told DNS that the way Wilcox had been treated by DWP was “disgusting”.

Wilcox had written on his Facebook page on 6 November that DWP had made the decision to remove his PIP after a paramedic who assessed him – on behalf of the discredited government contractor Atos – ignored the pain he was in during a physical examination.

It is believed he wrote the post after receiving a copy of his PIP assessment report.

He wrote: “Right, so the medical ignored the sheer amount of pain I was in… She was supposed to be a Paramedic. You’d think she would have noticed that. But this Govt have a rep* for a reason.”

He added: “Yeah, the Paramedic did a mechanical check of my motions. Me saying ouch, wincing, etc, was not recorded.

“She also noted my stick did not touch the floor a couple of times, when the room was so small I had to limp it. So I do smell rodents.”

Earlier, in a post published on 11 September – probably following his assessment – he had written: “Yeah, PIP. Needless to say my symptoms are up.

“The big fear being that I’m on the list of those to be culled, because of my work over the past nine-odd years.

“I’m definitely in pain, let’s put it that way. What a shit sandwich.”

From his posts, it appears that he worked – possibly voluntarily – supporting other people in mental distress.

The previous month, he had written: “I say this, as there will always be those who think that I am faking…

“You don’t choose to live a life where people usually treat you like shit. That is what it is like to be disabled.

“I miss life. I have a great home & location, but sadly no money. That’s how it goes down for me.”

Neighbour Terry Wood told DNS this week: “Christian felt like he had a life on the little money he had, but once it got taken off him, he had no life. Financially, he couldn’t get by.”

He said Wilcox was always “very, very quiet” but had told another neighbour that his benefits had been stopped and that he could “barely get by” and was “under a lot of stress”.

He added: “For them to stop his benefits… we all said it was disgusting.”

Wood has lived in the flats for about 17 years, and moved in after they were built, at the same time as Wilcox.

But he said he had no idea – until he saw his neighbour’s Facebook posts after he died – what he had been going through.

He said: “It is very, very sad. Ever since I have been here, I knew he had schizophrenia.

“I knew he would have days he was struggling. He had physical problems, he would always have a cane.

“He was up there for all that time [after he died] without anybody knowing.

“This is all over some bureaucrat trying to save a couple of pennies.

“It seems so sad. When you see someone take a body away and put it in a vehicle, it is like that person never existed.”

DWP refused to answer questions about the death of Christian Wilcox.

Atos failed to respond to repeated requests for a comment by 12.30pm today.

A spokesperson for Croydon council said Wilcox had not been in touch with the council since 2015.

At the time of his death, he was receiving full housing and council tax benefits. The council has arranged his funeral for next month.

A council spokesperson said: “This is a distressing case, and our thoughts go to Mr Wilcox’s loved ones at this time.

“We always encourage residents to get in touch if they need extra support.”

Because of the length of time it took before his body was discovered, one of Christian Wilcox’s two cats died, although the other one has survived after being taken in by a local rescue charity, South Norwood Animal Rescue Liberty (SNARL).

Tony Jenkins, from SNARL, said the rescued cat was now “thriving in his new home”.


Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

27 February 2020


Errol Graham: DWP ‘misled coroner over safeguarding review’

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants persuaded a coroner not to write a report that would have called for urgent action to prevent the deaths of benefit claimants, after providing her with misleading information about a safeguarding review.

Evidence obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) through the Freedom of Information Act shows that two senior DWP civil servants presented misleading information to last June’s inquest into the death of Errol Graham.

Graham starved to death two years ago after DWP wrongly stopped his out-of-work disability benefits, leaving him without any income.

He weighed just four-and-a-half stone when his body was found by bailiffs who had knocked down his front door to evict him.

But Dr Elizabeth Didcock, the coroner who heard the inquest into his death last summer, was persuaded by DWP’s evidence that she did not need to write a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report.

Such a report would have demanded urgent improvements to the department’s safeguarding procedures.

She said she did not need to write the report because she had been told that DWP was already carrying out a review of its safeguarding policy, which she was told would be completed in the autumn.

DNS has now listened to oral and written evidence given by two senior DWP civil servants, including David Carew, the department’s chief psychologist, who told the inquest he was leading the safeguarding review.

Both he and his colleague make clear that the review was set to be completed in the autumn, while Carew also told the coroner that there would be a report on its findings (“We are looking to report by the autumn on this.”).

He had earlier said, in a written statement made on 3 June 2019: “The timescale for completion of the review is Autumn 2019.”

When asked by the coroner which external organisations DWP might be talking to for the review, Carew said that “representative organisations, who act on behalf and for individuals, are really, really important, including advocacy organisations, welfare rights organisations… including also GPs and others”.

In the written statement, he said the review had “engaged a significant range of internal and external stakeholders”.

Carew also told the coroner: “I leave this building today very clear in my own mind that the work we are involved in in the current time has a degree of urgency about it.”

But DNS submitted questions about the safeguarding review to DWP last month, and its answers show that the evidence provided by Carew and his colleague was significantly misleading.

Each of the freedom of information (FoI) answers throws serious doubt on the evidence provided by DWP to the inquest.

Asked when the review was due to end, DWP says in the FoI response: “We do not hold this information. This work is ongoing and will continue as a key part of continuous improvement and learning.”

Asked if the review would be published, DWP says: “We do not hold this information. There is no formal commission to publish a review.”

And asked which organisations and individuals the review team met with as part of the review, DWP says: “There is no formal review team.

“DWP Officials conduct regular case research, consider coroners reports and engage through local networks in DWP operations.”

Asked for any documents relating to the review, including the final report, DWP says: “As set out… above we do not hold this information. There is not a final report.”

Dr Didcock has previously told DNS that she could “request an update on the DWP Safeguarding Policy Review if this has not been completed, and I shall do so”.

She told DNS this morning that she had “nothing additional to add to her previous reply”.

But Alison Turner, the disabled partner of Errol Graham’s son, who has led the fight to secure justice, said she believed DWP deliberately tried to mislead the coroner about the safeguarding review so she would not write a PFD report.

She said: “Inquests are about how you learn lessons. DWP showed they were not there with any intention to learn lessons.

“I don’t know how long they think they are going to keep getting away with it.

“They think they can keep sweeping it under the carpet.

“I think the carpet is getting a bit full of crap now and it is starting to fall outside.”

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, a member of the Commons work and pensions select committee, who has led parliamentary calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP, said: “It beggars belief that the government thinks it is acceptable to promise a safeguarding review to the coroner investigating the death of Errol Graham and then simply change tack without warning.

“We simply cannot trust this government to carry out any meaningful ‘continuous improvement and learning’ following the recent National Audit Office report which revealed DWP doesn’t even know whether any of its suggested improvements have been implemented and accepts not all its staff are aware of their own guidance following the internal process reviews.

“The government must commission a full, independent inquiry into the deaths of social security claimants and the associated actions and decisions of the DWP.

“No more excuses; people are dying, enough is enough.”

DWP refused to answer questions about the misleading evidence given to the inquest.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “This is a tragic, complex case and our sympathies are with Mr Graham’s family.

“We take this very seriously and the key issues raised in this case have been referred to the Serious Case Panel.”

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

27 February 2020


DWP admits destroying secret reports into benefit-related deaths

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted destroying its own secret reports into suicides and other deaths of benefit claimants.

The admission has added to growing calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP policies and procedures and the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of disabled people.

DWP has now admitted that it destroyed vital evidence of those links, with some of the reports that have been trashed apparently less than five years old when they were destroyed.

The admission came in its response to a freedom of information (FoI) request.

The existence of secret DWP reviews into suicides and other deaths was first revealed by Disability News Service (DNS) in October 2014.

They were known at the time as peer reviews, but in 2015 were renamed internal process reviews (IPRs).

For six years DWP has fought to prevent the release of any evidence linking its actions with the deaths of benefit claimants.

But the latest FoI reply, made in response to a request from the Stop UK Lies and Corruption campaign, includes an admission that DWP has been destroying reviews that pre-date April 2015.

DWP had been asked for the dates of all peer reviews dating back to 2010.

But the response says: “Peer Reviews were renamed Internal Process Reviews in 2015.

“Records prior to 2015-16 have been destroyed or are incomplete in line with GDPR/data
retention policies.”

It attempts to justify destroying these reports by arguing that the Data Protection Act 2018 states that “personal data kept for any purpose should not be kept for any longer than necessary”.

The DWP response then lists the dates in which all the reviews were commissioned, but only from June 2015 onwards.

It shows 131 IPRs have been commissioned in the four-and-a-half years since June 2015.

Most, although not all, of these reviews will have involved the deaths of claimants, as well as some serious incidents that did not lead to the death of a claimant.

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, a member of the Commons work and pensions select committee, who has led parliamentary calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP, told DNS this morning (Thursday): “It is deeply concerning that the government’s Department for Work and Pensions have been destroying peer reviews into the deaths of social security claimants.

“Given that the information commissioner has said that there is no need to destroy these records it brings into question why this has happened.

“The law does not specify the time records should be kept for and I believe it’s imperative that this kind of information should be held for longer, particularly given the National Audit Office’s recent report which criticises the government for a failure to ‘identify larger trends or themes’ from their own peer reviews.

“At the very least this is incompetence, at the very worst it’s a cover up to hide the government’s systemic failures to protect the most vulnerable claimants.”

Yesterday, Linda Cooksey, sister of Tim Salter, whose suicide in 2013 was linked by a coroner to the decision to find him “fit for work”, told Radio Four’s Today programme that DWP had previously refused the family permission to see the peer review it carried out in February 2014.

She said that hearing how DWP had been destroying pre-2015 peer reviews – possibly including her brother’s – did not surprise her, and she said she believed the department was engaged in a cover-up.

She said: “We should be allowed to find out what’s happened. And why would they want to destroy them? What are they hiding?”

Labour’s Stephen Timms, the new chair of the work and pensions committee, told Today that families “should be entitled to see these reports”.

He said he was “sympathetic” to suggestions that DWP was engaged in a cover-up, and that what had emerged “raises troubling questions for the department”.

He said: “For a long time, they were very reluctant to accept that what they were doing had contributed to these deaths at all.

“I think they are now being forced to own up to the fact that that is happening but they are doing it very reluctantly and very slowly and trying to keep the thing as hush-hush as possible, and it is not good enough.”

Earlier this month, DNS revealed that DWP had been failing to track recommendations made by its IPRs, three years after claiming it had corrected the same failings.

It appeared to show that the department had misled both the National Audit Office and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

It was just the latest evidence to emerge of DWP refusing to act to close loopholes in its safeguarding system that have caused the deaths of numerous disabled benefit claimants, including flaws linked closely to the work capability assessment process.

DWP refused to explain how it justified destroying secret reports into the deaths of its claimants.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We take these reviews extremely seriously and ensure cases are investigated, concluded and any lessons learned.”

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

27 February 2020


Errol Graham: Family begin legal action against DWP over man who starved to death

The family of a disabled man who starved to death after his out-of-work disability benefits were wrongly removed have begun a legal action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

They hope the legal action will force DWP to make sweeping improvements to the safeguarding system and prevent other such deaths.

Disability News Service revealed last month that Errol Graham weighed just four-and-a-half stone when his body was found by bailiffs.

Now Alison Turner, the partner of Graham’s son, has warned DWP that she could seek a judicial review, arguing that the decisions it took, as well as its systems, procedures and actions, and subsequent investigations and reviews, were unlawful.

Through lawyers Leigh Day, Turner has told work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey that she has two weeks to produce a “satisfactory” response to her concerns or she will begin a claim for judicial review.

In the “letter before action”, sent to Coffey on Tuesday, Leigh Day say it is “obvious” that terminating the benefits of a “vulnerable” claimant may lead to their death.

They point out that many of DWP’s safeguarding procedures were introduced following the death 20 years ago of Timothy Finn, another disabled man who starved to death after he failed to respond to letters from what was then the Benefits Agency.

The letter to Coffey also points to evidence of other deaths linked to DWP’s actions that has emerged though a five-year investigation by Disability News Service and was drawn together and published late last year.

And it points out that there is now “a significant body of evidence” indicating that withdrawing benefits from “vulnerable claimants with mental and physical health problems” may put their lives at risk and has led to deaths.

Despite this “substantial body of evidence”, the letter says, DWP has failed to introduce an effective way to “identify the risks and flaws in its system, correct them, and prevent further deaths occurring”.

The letter says that DWP continues to make “decisions carrying a risk of death” that are based on “scant and insufficient information”.

Leigh Day’s letter also argues that DWP breached the Equality Act’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for Errol Graham; acted unlawfully under public law; and breached the European Convention on Human Rights, including its duty not to subject him to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.

As well as seeking compensation, the letter demands that DWP promises to make reasonable adjustments for future benefit claimants.

It also says DWP must tell its decision-makers that benefits should no longer be stopped unless they are sure the claimant did not have a good reason for failing to attend a benefits assessment or reply to a DWP message or letter.

Their decision-makers must also be told to be sure that claimants will not be put at risk if DWP withdraws their benefits.

The letter is also demanding that DWP’s decision-makers should no longer be able to stop someone’s benefits unless the claimant has had the chance to challenge that decision.

The letter claims that, despite repeated concerns being raised, DWP has failed to put in place effective ways to “identify the risks and flaws in its system, correct them, and prevent further deaths occurring”.

And it calls on DWP to answer a series of questions about its ongoing safeguarding review; the operation of its new serious case panel; its internal process review system; and its investigations into Errol Graham’s death.

A DWP spokesperson said: “This is a tragic, complex case and our sympathies are with Mr Graham’s family.

“We take this very seriously and the key issues raised in this case have been referred to the Serious Case Panel.”

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

27 February 2020


Government ‘must invest in infrastructure’ after launch of transport access campaigns

Accessible transport campaigners have warned the government that it needs to make significant investment in removing physical access barriers, after ministers launched two new campaigns aimed mainly at improving staff and public attitudes to disabled passengers.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps launched an advertising campaign – It’s Everyone’s Journey – which aims to “highlight how we can all play a part in making public transport inclusive”.

He also announced the launch of a new scheme for transport operators – the Inclusive Transport Leaders Scheme (ITLS) – which will “acknowledge and celebrate” their work.

ITLS is based on the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident disability employment scheme, although with stricter membership criteria.

Whereas employers can sign up to Disability Confident without employing any disabled people, transport operators will need to prove they have “laid foundations for a more accessible service provision in the long-term”.

This will include proving they have had proactive engagement with disabled people and delivering disability equality training to staff, before they can achieve even the entry-level ITLS accreditation.

DfT said its research had shown that “behaviours that make public transport a daunting place for disabled people are often unconscious, such as not looking out for a fellow passenger who might need a seat or be in distress”.

It’s Everyone’s Journey is supposed to “raise awareness about the needs of disabled people when using public transport” and “prompt members of the public to think and consider how their behaviour might impact others”.

But the timing of the launch of the two campaigns has highlighted the need for the government to fund significant investment in accessible vehicles and infrastructure across the transport network, and not just work on improving public and industry attitudes to disabled passengers.

This week, campaigner Katie Pennick, a wheelchair-user, spoke to the media about how she had to fight to be allowed to board an inaccessible train.

Last month, disabled campaigners attacked the government and transport providers after operators were given permission to continue using more than 1,000 inaccessible rail carriages – about eight per cent of the national fleet – after missing a deadline set 10 years ago.

And earlier this month, ministers gave the industry permission to use inaccessible vehicles for rail replacement services for another three months, despite having 20 years to prepare for another legal deadline.

Kirsty Hoyle, chief executive of Transport for All, said: “Transport for All are pleased to see a campaign that encourages all commuters to be more mindful of the needs of others.

“It’s Everyone’s Journey should be the start of a culture change in transport; placing the onus on society to understand that under the social model it is incumbent on all of us to support the access needs of others and remove disabling barriers.

“However, we want to ensure the government keep forging ahead with the Inclusive Transport Strategy and the vital infrastructure changes that are required.

“No amount of public goodwill will increase access for those disabled people for whom our network is physically inaccessible.’’

She added: “We have been involved in shaping this portfolio of work with DfT and welcome initiatives that aim to create cultural change.

“We are looking for tangible commitments and direct outcomes, an example of which is the leaders scheme’s requirement for board-level access responsibility.

“The scheme needs to demonstrate, quickly and clearly, how it is making change for customers – not just the impact on the organisations involved.

“What will this scheme mean for the daily experience of disabled people on transport across the UK?”

Doug Paulley, who has played a significant role in highlighting discrimination across the transport industry, also emphasised the importance of infrastructure improvements.

He said: “Other passengers’ attitudes are obviously important, but the fundamental barriers complained about by disabled people are inaccessible infrastructure (for example lack of level boarding), inadequate staffing and attitudinal issues by service providers.”

27 February 2020


Tribunal victory gives hope to ‘failure to attend’ benefit victims

A disabled woman’s tribunal victory has given hope to claimants who cannot take part in face-to-face benefit assessments for impairment, health, or trauma-related reasons, but then have their claims ended by the government for “failure to attend” their appointments.

Jane* spent two years fighting for her benefits to be reinstated, with support from the grassroots group WinVisible** and the charity Child Poverty Action Group, before the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) conceded defeat at the upper tribunal.

WinVisible said disabled people who cannot attend face-to-face assessments for health reasons or after surviving trauma or even abuse or sexual violence had become “easy targets” for DWP.

Among those claimants WinVisible has helped is a cancer patient who missed four assessment dates while struggling to cope with her diagnosis and clashing NHS appointments.

It has also highlighted Jane’s case.

She is an older woman, from the East Midlands, who has been disabled for 40 years and was previously claiming the highest rates of disability living allowance.

She had been receiving DLA since its introduction in 1992 until she had it suddenly removed by DWP in March 2018 for “failure to attend” a face-to-face assessment, after she was reassessed as part of the introduction of the new personal independence payment (PIP).

Her request for a home visit in the afternoon so she could prepare for the assessment was refused by the outsourcing company Capita.

Then her request for the assessment to be carried out on paper – because of the anxiety the process was causing her – was refused.

She had her benefits cut off after a failure to agree a suitable appointment time.

When she appealed but was unable to attend the tribunal for impairment-related reasons, she was branded “un-cooperative” by the tribunal panel, which rubber-stamped the DWP decision.

She was left with no disability benefits and unable to leave the house without someone to push her manual wheelchair. She also passed the age of 65, and so had to apply for attendance allowance, which has no mobility component.

She would have given up the fight if she had not come across WinVisible when searching online for help.

WinVisible secured support from CPAG’s upper tribunal project, which works with smaller organisations taking appeals to the upper tribunal.

Months of legal discussions, overseen by a tribunal judge, eventually saw DWP concede defeat, and agree that a fresh PIP claim could be decided only on paperwork, with the help of further medical evidence gathered by WinVisible.

The judge has now approved a “consent order”, which has seen DWP agree to award Jane the enhanced rate of PIP indefinitely – both for daily living and mobility – as well as more than £10,500 in backdated payments.

Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, said: “‘Failure to attend’ is a big issue for sick, severely disabled and traumatised claimants, such as survivors of abuse and sexual violence being assessed by strangers.

“And those of us who are immigrant and refugee women face racism, where psychiatric reports about trauma are dismissed.”

She added: “A man who had an epileptic seizure on the day of his interview and was hospitalised, recently also won at upper tribunal.

“We are easy targets for the DWP to dismiss our claims in this way. As disabled claimants, we are expected to accept needless and stressful reassessments, and appointments at any time, even 9am on a Sunday morning.”

She pointed out that Jodey Whiting, who took her own life in February 2017 after being wrongly found “fit for work” following a missed work capability assessment, also lost her benefits because of a “failure to attend” decision by DWP officials.

Glasman said changes to the system were promised to Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, but instead the system was “getting worse”.

She said: “Most services tell people to comply with the current system and are judgemental against women.

“Compliance includes routinely attending exams and interviews when asked.”

She said WinVisible was instead providing information and support for disabled women to fight their cases, highlighting the discrimination in the system, and pointing out that exemptions from “stressful” face-to-face interviews are provided for in regulations and DWP guidance.

She said: “We also try to overcome the indifference, bureaucracy and delay which exhausts sick and disabled people into giving up, by asking MPs and senior officials to intervene.”

Glasman added: “Disabled people, and disabled women especially who are dealing with added issues such as domestic violence and caring responsibilities, feel very strongly that the benefits system should not treat us like malingerers and scroungers, and should respect our rights.”

DWP declined to comment on Jane’s case.

*Not her real name

**WinVisible is based in London but is often contacted by disabled women across England, Scotland and Wales, and welcomes volunteers, with its casework and advocacy financially supported by the Oak Foundation and the National Lottery Community Fund

27 February 2020


Government spent £500,000 on funding inaccessible green transport scheme

The Department for Transport (DfT) spent more than half a million pounds funding a fleet of on-demand electric vans, even though none of the vehicles were accessible to wheelchair-users.

The DfT funding helped ViaVan – a joint venture between car giant Mercedes-Benz and transport technology company Via – set up the shared ride scheme in Milton Keynes, with support from Milton Keynes council.

The government this week refused to explain why it apparently breached its legal duties under the Equality Act by funding an inaccessible scheme.

The scheme was welcomed last October by transport minister George Freeman – who was sacked from the post in this month’s ministerial reshuffle – as he helped launch “the UK’s first fully electric fleet of digital on-demand vans”.

ViaVan launched the Milton Keynes scheme with five electric vans – none of which were wheelchair-accessible – and said this would be expanded to 30 on-demand electric shuttles during 2020.

Last October’s launch was then followed by the announcement of a new council-backed scheme last month, which will see concessionary bus passes used as payment for journeys on some routes within Milton Keynes.

Concessionary pass holders will be able to book their journey via a mobile phone app or by telephone.

But many concessionary pass-holders in Milton Keynes are disabled people, and none of the vans are accessible.

When questioned on social media about its decision to supply vans that were not wheelchair-accessible, ViaVan said it would consider introducing wheelchair-accessible vehicles if the pilot scheme was “extended into a full service”.

The trial is supposed to help the council understand whether “shared ride services” could complement the town’s bus network.

Carolyn Marshall, whose daughter is a powerchair-user and who raised the concerns about the ViaVan scheme with Disability News Service, said it was “shocking” that the ViaVan vehicles were not accessible.

She said: “The fact that the DfT has funded such an initiative, and the council have supported such a discriminatory scheme, is outrageous.

“To say that wheelchair-accessible vehicles will be introduced if the pilot is successful is grossly unfair, and a misuse of taxpayers’ money.

“A pilot should be a fair and reasonable test of the actual service, not an exercise in discrimination, with accessibility as an untested afterthought.”

DfT refused to say why it provided funding of more than £500,000 to a scheme that would be inaccessible to wheelchair-users.

It also refused to say if this funding breached its public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

But a DfT spokesperson said in a statement: “It’s vital that all new forms of public transport are user-friendly for disabled passengers – comfortable and easy to use.

“We expect Milton Keynes Council to develop this pilot scheme into an inclusive, zero-emission transport service, which will be available on-demand to people across the city.”

Milton Keynes council refused to explain why it helped ViaVan secure the grant and set up the pilot project when the scheme and the pilot project appear to discriminate against many disabled people.

It also refused to say if it accepted that this support was a breach of the Equality Act and its public sector equality duty.

But a spokesperson said in a statement: “Our supplier has assured us that if the trial is rolled out, accessible vehicles would be included.”

ViaVan refused to explain why it set up the scheme and the trial using inaccessible vehicles.

It also refused to say if it thought the council was discriminating against disabled people and was breaching the Equality Act by helping it secure government funding, backing its new fleet, and supporting the new trial.

But a ViaVan spokesperson said in a statement: “ViaVan is committed to providing efficient, affordable, environmentally sustainable, and accessible on-demand transport in Milton Keynes.

“We have recently partnered with Milton Keynes Council to trial how our on-demand service could complement existing public transport options.

“Should this service be extended following a successful trial, ViaVan will be committed to adding fully accessible electric vehicles to our fleet.

“During the trial, the local bus services in the area are continuing to operate and the council is continuing to operate its own fully accessible community transport service for those who have difficulty using buses or taxis.”

27 February 2020


News round-up: Taxis, spectator sport, DWP engagement… and school transport

Two taxi-drivers have been convicted of refusing to carry a disabled passenger and their guide dog, following a prosecution by Ashford Borough Council.

The two refusals happened one after the other outside Ashford railway station in Kent on the evening of 21 March 2019.

Both drivers had denied the offences under the Equality Act 2010 but were convicted on Monday (24 February) after a trial at Folkestone magistrates court.

Both drivers had previously had their Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Drivers licences revoked by the council, and they were both fined by the court and ordered to pay a victim surcharge and costs.

Siobhan Meade, from The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, said: “Refusing to carry someone who is blind or visually impaired simply because they work with a guide dog strikes at the very independence we exist to provide.

“I know from personal experience that each refusal feels like an assault from which the mental scars remain.

“We welcome Ashford Borough Council’s actions in this matter and we will always support them with test-purchasing, advice and support.”

Level Playing Field has this week launched its 16th annual Weeks of Action campaign, which aims to highlight good access and inclusion at sports venues across England and Wales.

The user-led charity, which represents disabled sports fans, is partnering with football’s Premier League and English Football League (EFL) on this year’s campaign.

It will highlight work by clubs, venues and governing bodies, and offers an opportunity for them to organise events that show their commitment to access and inclusion.

This year’s Weeks of Action will run from Saturday 29 February to Sunday 15 March.

Level Playing Field’s chair, Tony Taylor, said: “Last year was our biggest campaign to date, with over 76 clubs from the Premier League and the EFL taking part.

“Our ambition is to exceed last year’s numbers and to continue to push the positive impact of attending live sport and highlight what good work is being done already.”

The government’s own benefits advice body has launched a consultation into how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) engages with disabled people.

The consultation is part of an inquiry by the social security advisory committee (SSAC) into how DWP involves disabled people – particularly those of working-age – in drawing up policies and procedures that affect them.

The committee said it was not looking for views about social security benefits, but about how disabled people think DWP listens to feedback or involves disabled people, and how this might be improved.

The deadline for responses is 23 March.

A local authority has been told by an ombudsman to review its policy on providing home to school transport for disabled young people.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman criticised East Sussex County Council after it refused to provide a family’s adult son with the full five days of travel to the college named in his education, health and care plan.

The ombudsman said the council’s policy on home to school transport did not accurately reflect its legal duty to provide free transport to those aged 19 or over, where that is necessary.

It has told the council to apologise to the family, pay them £300 compensation, and review all other similar cases involving young adults.

A UK-based disabled-led organisation has become one of four winners from across the world of a new competition – run by car giant Toyota and ISDI digital business school – to find business start-ups with inclusive mobility ideas.

SociAbility, run by wheelchair-user Matt Pierri, has designed an app that provides detailed accessibility information for local venues.

It is one of four businesses that will each receive more than £20,000 in cash, and benefit from business mentors and intensive training, after being named as winners of the first Toyota Startup Awards.

27 February 2020

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com