Parents of ‘fit for work’ suicide man back call for Iain Duncan Smith prosecution

The parents of a disabled man who took his own life after being wrongly found “fit for work” have backed attempts to persuade Scottish police to investigate the actions of former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

David and Maureen Barr have both told Disability News Service (DNS) that Duncan Smith and former employment minister Chris Grayling should be prosecuted over their failure to address serious safety concerns about the work capability assessment (WCA).

Their son, also called David, and also from Fife, was just 28 when he took his own life on 23 August 2013.

Despite his history of significant mental distress, David’s parents believe the healthcare professional who assessed him – employed by the government contractor Atos – failed to contact their son’s GP or his psychiatrist for further information about his mental health.

When questioned afterwards by the Procurator Fiscal’s office – which investigates sudden deaths in Scotland – the assessor claimed he couldn’t remember if he had made any phone calls, according to David’s father.

The Atos assessor completed David’s assessment by concluding, in June 2013: “He reports self harm in the past. He reports he attempted an overdose six weeks ago but he would not say what he took.

“He reports he has had no thoughts of suicide since. The evidence overall suggests that he is not at substantial risk.”

Despite David appealing against the decision that he was fit for work, and telling the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in a letter that he had “serious mental health problems that prevent me from doing everyday tasks which means I cannot work at this moment in time”, the Atos advice was rubber-stamped by DWP decision-makers.

The decision that he was not eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) was confirmed in a letter to David on 17 July 2013. A month later, he took his own life.

His death is one of three cases contained in a dossier submitted to Police Scotland by disabled activist John McArdle, from the user-led campaign network Black Triangle, in an attempt to persuade the force to open an investigation into Duncan Smith and Grayling.

McArdle wants Police Scotland to investigate the two former ministers for the Scottish criminal offence of wilful neglect of duty by a public official, because they failed to take steps to improve the WCA in 2010 after being warned by a coroner that its flaws risked causing future deaths of people with mental health conditions.

Police Scotland has been handed details of three people – including David Barr – who died in the years after the coroner sent his letter to DWP, and whose deaths campaigners believe could have been prevented if the two ministers had acted on that warning.

The force is currently awaiting further information about the three cases before deciding what action to take.

This week, David Barr’s parents spoke of their hope for justice for their much-loved son, whose death they believe could have been avoided if Duncan Smith and Grayling had taken action.

David Barr senior said his son’s mental health had deteriorated in the last couple of years of his life, but he had previously been able to work intermittently in agriculture and labouring, while his final job, which ended in 2011, was cleaning buses.

By the time he died he was no longer capable of working, his dad said, and he was taking strong medication including anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, and was experiencing paranoid delusions.

David’s father, a bus driver, said: “His mind was gone, and anybody who assessed him should have seen that.”

He told DNS this week that he was fully behind attempts to secure a prosecution.

He said: “If we let a defective bus in the road [and it killed someone] we would be up for manslaughter; that’s why these people should be taken to court.

“They are talking about taking the former prime minister to court for war crimes, but this is just as bad, if not worse. They knew about it and did nothing about it.

“The whole thing is shocking. The ministers in charge of it should have sorted something out, stopped it, changed it, re-directed it, I don’t know what.”

He added: “If I see Duncan Smith on the TV, I just have to walk out, turn it off. I hate the man with a vengeance.

“He has known what was going on and he did nothing about it. He wants to be dragged over the coals for this, and if I can help in any way I will.”

David’s mother Maureen – David senior’s ex-wife – also backed calls for a criminal prosecution.

She said: “It is time someone did something. [Otherwise] there will just be more like David and nothing is ever done.

“It makes you feel terrible that they should have done something [and didn’t].”

His father is certain that the decision to turn down David’s ESA claim was the trigger that led to his decision to kill himself, against a background of continuing financial pressures.

He remembers finding his son’s WCA report and all of his other official paperwork scattered over the floor of his flat after he died.

He said: “It was just dumped all over the floor; anything to do with anything official, he’d just had enough of it. That’s when I picked it up and read through it, this 33-page assessment.”

David’s mother Maureen said she believed the “fit for work” decision was “definitely” the trigger for his decision to take his own life.

She said: “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Several weeks after he died, two DWP officials visited the family and admitted that David should have been receiving ESA instead of jobseeker’s allowance for nearly two years.

David’s father said: “They were here for about an hour-and-a-half explaining everything. But these two – through Iain Duncan Smith – had killed my son, and I said this to them.

“They knew that what they had done was wrong and I said to them, ‘Had it been your children in my son’s situation, would you have acted the same way?’ They couldn’t answer that.

“I gave it to them with both barrels and they walked out with their tails between their legs, but it didn’t bring my son back.”

DWP paid the family £2,700 in compensation for the extra social security support David had not received while he was alive (the difference between the jobseeker’s allowance he received and the ESA he should have been receiving).

Maureen Barr said: “They turned around and said, ‘I don’t suppose it will help now, but we have reversed the decision.’

“I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘What good is that to him now?’”

28 July 2016

 

 

Government’s hate crime plan’s ‘unforgiveable’ failure on disability

Angry campaigners have attacked the government’s new hate crime action plan for its “totally disrespectful” failure to address problems around disability-related hostility.

The four-year action plan was published this week by the new home secretary, Amber Rudd, and aims to address prevention; responding to hate crime; increasing reporting; improving support for victims; and building understanding of the nature and scale of the problem.

But the 40-page document focuses strongly on race and faith-based hate, and provides few if any fresh ideas for addressing disability hate crime.

This is despite figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which found that disability hate crime makes up one-third of all hate crime, even though under-reporting means it only represented five per cent of hate crimes recorded by police in 2014-15.

On prevention, there is no mention of disability, and in the section on responding to hate crime in local communities, the action plan’s only disability-focused policy appears to be to “look at current best practice examples in tackling disability hate crime and work with partner organisations and the police to promote safety for disabled people”.

On reporting, the government will “continue to work with community groups to raise awareness of hate crime among disabled people”, and will increase the number of third-party reporting centres.

It says police will develop resources to raise awareness of disability hate crime among carers and families of disabled people, and will assess projects being piloted by police forces in which “crimes against disabled people are automatically considered to be hate crime, unless evidence is found to the contrary”.

The plan says the Crown Prosecution Service will publish a policy statement on crimes against disabled people, while the government will consider “recommendations” to bring in new aggravated offences based on disability-related hostility, as already exist with hostility based on race and religion.

The government also plans to work with academics and community groups to “better understand the nature of disability hate crime, including factors such as social isolation, residential status, poverty, education and employment”.

But Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “The Home Office action plan said absolutely nothing in terms of disability hate crime.

“Whilst we know that we live in very unhappy times in relation to extreme race and faith hate crime, nevertheless to reduce disability hate crime to a few lines was nothing less than totally disrespectful to a large sector and community who face day-to-day hostility.”

He said it was vital for the network – and other disabled campaigners – to submit evidence to a hate crime inquiry being carried out by the home affairs select committee.

He said the network would provide evidence to the inquiry on current legislation, law enforcement policies and the “all too frequent criminal justice system failures and barriers that prevent individuals from reporting hate crime, and the often irresponsible role of social media companies and other online sources of hate crime”.

Brookes said it was crucial for disabled people to “unite in strongly challenging attitudes that underpin hate crime, and importantly press the whole criminal justice system and particularly the judiciary in getting their respective acts together and stop the current postcode lottery of good and bad treatment of disability hate crime”.

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns for People First (Self Advocacy), said it was “absolutely unforgivable that disability hate crime has yet again been forgotten in such a big way”.

He said the biggest hurdle for disability hate crime survivors was whether they would be believed, and that there was a need for an “earthquake” to persuade politicians to understand the importance of the “devastating impacts a disability hate crime can have on the rest of your life”.

Another disabled activist, David Gillon, described the disability elements of the action plan as “old, tired and tacked on as an afterthought”.

Anne Novis, another coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said there were no significant announcements on disability hate crime in the action plan, which also suggested a “knee jerk reaction” rather than a realisation that when hostility towards any marginalised group increases “it also impacts on disabled people as part of all communities”.

She said disabled people would remain “at the bottom of the list of the priorities on hate crime” until the government’s actions were coordinated to ensure an equal approach for all groups.

Novis said she believed hate crime towards disabled people had increased in the wake of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, just as race hate crime had risen.

Disabled activist Charlie Foulkes, a supporter of the network, warned that all marginalised groups would be seeing an increase in hate crime in the wake of the Brexit vote.

He said: “I was assaulted myself in the week of the referendum.

“The government and media has been whipping up hatred towards immigrants and ‘scroungers’ for years now and the same people who have lapped it up are the ones who are perpetrating the crimes now they feel vindicated by Brexit.

“I know not all Leave voters are racists, but all racists are Leave voters. Unfortunately the same people hate disabled and gay people too and it is like a bottle has been uncorked.”

28 July 2016

 

 

Downgrading social care minister ‘is serious backward step’

The Department of Health has been heavily criticised for downgrading the seniority of the minister in charge of adult social care.

The last four ministers responsible for social care – Labour’s Phil Hope, Liberal Democrats Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb, and Tory Alistair Burt – were all ministers of state, senior ministers one level below the secretary of state.

But David Mowat, appointed in the ministerial reshuffle that followed the replacement of prime minister David Cameron by Theresa May, will only be a junior minister.

His brief as minister for community health and care includes adult social care, carers, community services, cancer, dementia, learning difficulties and primary care.

Mowat, MP for Warrington South since 2010, is a former global managing partner with the consulting firm Accenture, and describes his parliamentary interests as “energy policy, economic growth and job creation, occupational pensions and banking”.

Other appointments under health secretary Jeremy Hunt include Philip Dunne as minister of state for health, and Nicola Blackwood as junior minister for public health and innovation, while Lord Prior remains as a junior minister covering all aspects of health in the House of Lords.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said that downgrading the role of social care minister “has to be a serious backward step”.

He said: “Symbolically it is important; it communicates lowered priority for social care, when many experts and service-users thought it couldn’t get much worse.

“We need committed, skilled ministers for social care. Truth is this should be a cabinet post, not a further downgraded one.”

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “I share the concerns that others have expressed about what would appear to be the political downgrading of social care, both in the ministerial responsibility being more junior and the restructuring of the Department of Health itself, which means there is no longer a specific senior social care responsibility.

“Those of us involved in social care need to have a serious think about how we get over to the public the terrible experiences many disabled people and people with long-term health conditions are having as a result of funding cuts – being virtually institutionalised at home – given that the message is clearly not getting through to government.”

Lamb said on Twitter that the decision to downgrade the ministerial role seemed “quite extraordinary” because “confronting [the] massive challenge in social care will be critical in sustaining [the] NHS”.

A Department of Heath spokesman said the decision to make Mowat a junior minister “doesn’t mean social care is of any less importance to this government”.

He said: “It doesn’t mean there has been a downgrading of social care just because that minister has been given a different job title.

“The government is committed to social care. The commitments in place before the reshuffle are still there. The commitment to social care remains as strong as ever.”

He added: “When it comes down to it, it is probably because Philip Dunne [who was previously a minister of state in the Ministry of Defence] has had more experience across government during the time he has been elected as an MP.”

28 July 2016

 

 

Paralympians’ exploits ‘will encourage engagement with disabled people’

The disabled chair of the organisation that will manage Britain’s team at September’s Paralympic Games in Brazil has explained how it plans to use their sporting performances in Rio and beyond to “inspire a better world for disabled people”.

Tim Reddish, who himself has five Paralympic swimming medals, was talking to Disability News Service (DNS) after the publication of Inspiring Excellence, the British Paralympic Association’s (BPA) new strategic plan.

The five-year plan will take the organisation – which prepares, selects and manages the ParalympicsGB team – through the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020, and it outlines BPA’s “vision, mission, values, strategic priorities, organisational structure and planning”.

The aim, as was with the previous plan, is to “deliver real and lasting change in society through the inspirational impact of Paralympic athletes on the field of play”.

But Reddish suggested that the strategy was more about showing how similar the athletes are to the viewing public than setting them up as inspirational “Superhumans”.

He said he hoped that the performances of Paralympic athletes would demonstrate that they are “first and foremost human beings”.

He said: “Yes, they may be seen as role models, but take that athletic performance away and they are still human beings with some kind of impairment that stops them doing things the same as someone who is non-disabled.”

The hope, he said, is that non-disabled people will be more likely to “engage” with disabled people after watching the medal-winning exploits of Britain’s Paralympians, something that he says he has experienced himself as a blind person when out in public in recent years.

Reddish said he could not understand the suggestion by many disabled activists that Channel 4’s new We’re The Superhumans advert, promoting the broadcaster’s upcoming coverage of the Rio 2016 Paralympics – with its “Yes I Can” message – could have unintended consequences by suggesting that disabled people do not need support and do not face barriers in society and only need to try harder to succeed in life.

He said: “It’s to get people to watch the Paralympic Games on Channel 4, that’s the primary objective.

“I don’t think it’s doing anything more than that or anything less.”

Reddish said he accepted that disabled people need support, but when asked whether BPA could speak out on rights issues and emphasise that the team’s athletes and other disabled people also rely on government support and services, he said: “We can’t do everything for everybody, and our primary focus and objective is to prepare and take the team to the games.

“We can’t take that away. It’s like saying to Nissan: ‘We want you to start making Vauxhalls.’”

Even so, the strategic plan says BPA’s status as a National Paralympic Committee gives it “a mandate to engage in the development of both sport and disability policy at a domestic level”, but Reddish says it is too early to say what those disability policies might be.

BPA’s previous plan, published in 2012, spoke of engaging more closely with non-sports disability groups, but Reddish said this area was still “new ground for us”, although it had “started developing a relationship” with the disability charity Scope.

The new plan again speaks of seeking to “build relationships across the wider disability community in the UK and understand how their broader agenda can positively be served by the Paralympics without distracting us from our core purpose or losing sight of our primary role within the sporting landscape”.

Reddish said: “I wouldn’t say it’s been slow-moving but it has been about laying the foundation.

“We haven’t engaged with every disability rights group. We don’t have the capacity and that’s not our job, our job is sport.”

But he added: “I don’t think we managed to get to as many areas as some people or [we] would have liked to have done.”

The BPA plan points to results from the latest Sport England Active People survey, which showed that fewer than one in five (17 per cent) disabled people were playing sport at least once a week, but it fails to mention that this has fallen by one percentage point since 2011-12.

Reddish said: “If the figures are accurate then I am disappointed that we have not got more people with an impairment getting physically active.”

He said he did not know why the figures had fallen but he was confident that disability sports governing bodies “do everything they can with the resources that they have”.

Reddish also defended BPA’s decision earlier this year to link up with Cadbury, which released a special edition of its chocolate mini eggs to raise money for the ParalympicsGB team at Rio.

He said: “It’s about a partnership, it’s not just about the money.

“There’s no evidence to say that because BPA and ParalympicsGB are involved that more people are eating more chocolate.”

He said the company wanted to be “part of what we are trying to achieve, inspiring through sport”, and to help BPA inspire more people to be physically active, “not to sell more bars of chocolate”, while he said Cadbury’s staff were also raising money for the team.

Asked why there was no reference in the strategic plan to the need to increase the number of disabled staff working for BPA or the number of disabled people on its board – following a DNS survey which found just one disabled board member out of nine, and just three disabled people among its 33 paid staff – he said: “I would love to see more and more people with an impairment on our board and other boards.

“I want to see them come through and I want them to have the skills, knowledge and experience, but there’s no automatic entry anywhere just because they are a disabled person because that’s not fair to the organisation, and it’s not fair to the athletes.

“It’s about having the best people in the right place at the right time.”

He added: “I was elected as chairman not because of my impairment but because I was the most appropriate person the membership looked at to move the organisation forward over a period of time.

“To get more people on the board with an impairment, we have got to give them the opportunities to learn the trade.

“I would encourage our membership to identify people with an impairment suitable to be nominated and then they get voted on at the election meeting next year.”

Looking ahead to Rio, he said the ParalympicsGB team would be “prepared well” and that he was sure the athletes would “deliver on the field of play”.

He said he was “optimistic” that the team could achieve the target of winning one more medal than at the home games of London 2012, something that had never been done before by a host nation in the next Paralympic Games.

But he said he was curious to see how much impact the much-praised London 2012 Paralympic Games has had on Brazil.

He said: “I think we have to take London 2012 at the moment, until we have experienced Rio, as a bit of an outlier, in a positive way, because not everybody in every nation around the world will be the same as what we did in London.”

And he warned that there could be “some teething problems” for Paralympians because Rio would be putting on the Olympic Games and then transforming its facilities to host the Paralympics.

He contrasted that with London 2012, which had asked “What do we need for the Paralympic Games?” and had then worked backwards from there, avoiding such a difficult transition between the end of the Olympics and the beginning of the Paralympics.

But he said: “I am sure they will be ready. There are always teething problems at every single Paralympic Games and our athletes are used to it and will go with the flow.”

28 July 2016

 

 

Rebooted Disability Confident ‘is shockingly bad’

Disabled campaigners have given mixed reviews to a new version of the government’s Disability Confident employment scheme, with one saying he was “genuinely shocked” by how weak it was.

Disability Confident – which has urged employers to “see the ability, not the disability” – has attracted criticism since its launch three years ago for focusing on “communications”, but ignoring institutional discrimination in the workplace.

It is seen as a “key” element in achieving the government’s pledge to halve the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people, but attracted just 40 mainstream private sector partners in three years after its launch by the prime minister in 2013.

The stated aim of Disability Confident was to “debunk the myths around employing disabled people and encourage employers to take advantage of the wealth of talent available”.

But successive Tory ministers for disabled people – Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Mark Harper and Justin Tomlinson – failed to persuade more than a tiny minority of businesses to take the scheme seriously.

Disabled activists with a focus on employment issues even argued that Disability Confident was actually encouraging employers to ignore the access needs of potential disabled employees.

Now the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has quietly published a new version of Disability Confident, although it has yet to relaunch it publicly because it first wants to ensure that the “systems work as planned”.

Employers will be able to apply for one of three levels: Disability Confident Committed, Disability Confident Employer and Disability Confident Leader.

But employers can reach the first two levels by just assessing themselves on their recruitment of disabled people and how they support existing disabled employees, after which DWP will send them a badge and a certificate.

It is only if they want to become a Disability Confident Leader that this self-assessment has to be “validated” by another organisation.

Large businesses will have to pay for recognised accreditation, while a small or medium-sized business can use more “informal methods”, such as involving an existing Disability Confident leader organisation or asking a disabled people’s organisation to “validate” their self-assessment.

But there are already concerns that the new scheme is too close to DWP’s much-criticised Two Ticks, which allowed employers to describe themselves as “positive about disabled people” while getting away with discriminating against disabled staff and potential employees.

Two Ticks employers had to sign up to five commitments around employing disabled workers, but researchers concluded in 2014 that it was “little more than an ‘empty shell’, where employers display the two ticks for impression management purposes to take advantage of its potential reputational benefits rather than because of a genuine concern for disability issues”.

Disabled activist David Gillon, who has been a vocal critic of Disability Confident since its launch, said he was “genuinely shocked at how bad” the new version was.

He said: “Two Ticks became a laughable example of all that was wrong with business attitudes to disability.

“Businesses would sign up, put its logo on their paperwork to show what good citizens they were, and carry on mistreating disabled employees in the same way they always did.

“Disabled people were promised the replacement would be better than that. Instead we see a multi-tiered system, where tier one lets companies used the Disability Confident logo, while signing up to do far less than Two Ticks, and with no checks whatsoever on their implementation.

“This is worse than Two Ticks, which most disabled people wouldn’t have believed possible.

“Tier two is marginally better, and roughly equivalent to Two Ticks, but still consists primarily of companies agreeing to do what they are already legally required to do under the Equality Act 2010.

“It is unlikely disabled people will see companies agreeing not to break the law as a major step forward in disability rights, especially when it is still solely self-assessed.

“Tier three simply adds external assessment to tier two, but that assessment could come from another tier three company, rather than an external expert.

“This creates a system in which even Disability Confident Leaders may be getting the accreditation through the ‘old school tie’ network, rather than ever being examined by anyone with a real understanding of disability discrimination.”

Gillon also said there was no mention of discrimination, even though “workplace disability discrimination lies at the core of the issues Disability Confident is supposed to be addressing”.

He said: “I wasn’t expecting much from Disability Confident, but I’m genuinely shocked at how bad this is.

“It’s worse than Two Ticks, and Two Ticks was a laughing stock amongst disabled people.”

Mike Adams, chief executive of Purple (formerly ecdp) – and a member of the taskforce set up by the former minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, to look at how to improve Disability Confident – was more positive.

He said he would have liked to have seen the new version of the scheme “much stronger and more ambitious”.

But he said he accepted that “if you set the bar too high” it might put off some businesses from engaging with the scheme.

He said: “I see it as an opportunity, a tool to engage with companies who hitherto have not engaged with disability before. Would I have liked to see it stronger? Yes, of course.”

But he said this “probably” would have acted as a disincentive for businesses to get involved in the scheme, and he added: “Have they struck the right balance? We will see.”

He said he hoped that some larger employers, like Essex County Council, might start pushing members of their own supply chains to become Disability Confident – which is mentioned in levels two and three of the new scheme – which would then see it “starting to be much more powerful than Two Ticks”.

Adams said that offering businesses the “validation” of being a Disability Confident Leader would offer organisations like Purple – by charging to carry out an assessment – a way of “engaging those companies in conversations around disability”.

But he also said the new Disability Confident was “a missed opportunity”, because it had failed to address how businesses could also make themselves more open to disabled people as consumers and not just as employees.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We think that the new version of the Disability Confident scheme is an improvement on the earlier campaign that was based only on communications; and we hope it will stimulate employers to open up many more employment opportunities for disabled people.

“We also think it will need further development. As it stands, it could be possible for an employer to get to level three without actually employing disabled people.

“We understand that a small employer might not happen to have any vacancies in a given period – and agree that they should be recognised for (for instance) improving their internal processes – but we would advocate measuring employers on the proportion of any recruitment or promotions that go to disabled people.

“This would mean larger employers would genuinely be judged on their record in employing disabled people at all levels.

“We will be working with employers, offering disability confidence training and advice – and at the same time urging DWP to further develop the programme.”

Sayce said that as 60 per cent of DR UK’s staff live with an impairment or health condition, and “we learn from our own experience and draw on that learning in our work to support employers to improve their employment practices”, it already “goes beyond the steps in the Disability Confidence scheme”.

She said: “We support many employers to improve their practices and offer challenge and assurance.

“We are seeking discussion with our members and other DPOs on use of the scheme itself by disabled people’s organisations.”

28 July 2016

 

 

Maximus company ‘lied’ about user-involvement in inspection contracts

A company controlled by the disgraced US outsourcing giant Maximus apparently lied when it promised that user-led organisations would help it deliver a vital part of the care watchdog’s inspection programme, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

Late last year, Remploy – the disability employment business formerly owned by the government but now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus – was awarded three of four regional contracts to run the Care Quality Commission’s Experts by Experience programme.

Under the programme – which will cost nearly £6 million in 2016-17 – people with experiences of using services, including many disabled people, accompany CQC inspectors on their visits to services such as residential homes, hospitals and home care agencies across England.

At the time, there was criticism of the decision to award the contracts to an organisation mostly owned by Maximus, which already had a huge chunk of Department for Work and Pensions contracts and had a lengthy record of discrimination, incompetence and alleged fraud in the US.

And Remploy was hit almost immediately by accusations of incompetence when it took on the Experts by Experience contracts, with claims of resignations, confusion and cutbacks.

There was also anger after it emerged that Remploy planned to pay its Experts just £8.25 per hour, compared with more than £17 an hour they had received under the consortium that previously ran the scheme, forcing CQC to promise to subsidise wages for existing participants for the first six months (a subsidy that was extended this month by another six months).

But evidence has now emerged that shows that Remploy/Maximus lied about the involvement of user-led organisations in its new contracts.

When it was awarded the three contracts, Remploy insisted that user-led organisations would deliver “the majority of the contract, supported by Remploy”.

CQC itself has previously refused to say which user-led organisations had signed up to work with Remploy, claiming in a response to a freedom of information request that it did not possess that “data”.

But now, in a magazine sent out to members of its Experts by Experience programme, Remploy has revealed the identity of its six partner organisations, and not one of them – Equal Approach, Kate Mercer Training, Lifeline Project, Enham Trust, Dementia Partners and Addiction Dependency Partners – appears to be a user-led organisation.

When asked by DNS to explain the discrepancy between its promise that user-led organisations would deliver “the majority of the contract” and the list of partners, a Remploy/Maximus spokesman said: “I think this is a no comment.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said the secrecy surrounding the identity of the partner organisations had been “worrying”, and this was compounded by the news that the organisations were not user-led.

He said: “We have come a long way since the General Social Care Council and the CQC’s predecessor the Commission for Social Care Inspection and other social care organisations convened a participation steering group to try and build user involvement in all their activities from the bottom up.

“Even in spite of reduced funding and growing insecurity there are many true user-led organisations and disabled people’s user-led organisations with enormous experience and expertise in providing experiential learning from a diverse range of service users/disabled people.

“I wonder what level of diversity across equality issues the present Remploy arrangements have generated. I would need to be reassured.

“As Shaping Our Lives’ Department of Health-funded project Beyond The Usual Suspects [published in 2013] highlighted, leaving out key voices makes a mockery of involvement and without skill and commitment that is too often the reality.”

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said she was also concerned.

She said: “Whilst CQC can be justly proud of its co-production working and the involvement of people who use services in its activities, its procurement methods do let the organisation down.

“The procurement of the Experts by Experience programme was muddled.

“We, along with other disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), did write to express our concerns but never received a full answer.

“The complexities of the process meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, for DPOs to successfully tender for the programme.

“From the benefit of my long experience of the Expert by Experience programme, I would say that it is essential that experts are supported by people and organisations that they trust and can relate to.

“I think DPOs are in a perfect position to provide that role. I would urge CQC to think about how they can procure services that add social value to local communities.”

Meanwhile, about 30 current and former Experts by Experience have submitted fresh evidence to the Commons public accounts committee, following last year’s inquiry into CQC.

They say in their evidence that people working on the Experts by Experience programme are operating in “a fragmented, confusing, bewildering and energy-sapping environment”, and warn that “more and more experienced Experts in three regions are intending to resign”.

They want the committee to ask CQC why it is failing to terminate the three Remploy contracts, and they contrast Remploy’s performance with that of a consortium headed by the charity Choice Support, which secured the contract covering the central region of England, which they say is “running effectively”.

They also say that the “disparity of the quality of the Experts by Experience service in the Central region compared to the other three regions is causing frustration, stress, dissatisfaction and resentment amongst CQC staff and Experts”.

A CQC spokesman said: “Our decision to award the new contracts focused on expanding the numbers of Experts involved in our inspections, ensuring that the high quality contribution they had provided to date was maintained and delivering value for money.

“Contracts were awarded on the basis of a formal procurement that focused on quality and value for money.

“We would not want to comment on the specifics of their bids or comments made by Remploy about its partners.

“We are aware of the recent submission to the public accounts committee and will consider a response.”

A spokesman for the public accounts committee said he was unable to comment on the latest evidence and what action the committee might take, because parliament was in recess.

28 July 2016

 

 

Law centre’s disabled clients ‘abandoned’ by governing body

A disabled solicitor has accused his governing body of forcing him to abandon disabled clients without legal representation, after it withdrew permission for his new law centre to take on legal aid cases.

The Law Society of Scotland (LSS), the professional body for Scottish solicitors, had granted permission to Legal Spark law centre to take on legal aid cases in November.

Following that decision, Legal Spark took on cases from disabled people who had been unable to secure legal representation for their discrimination cases.

Among them was a disabled student who had to quit their university course because they were not given adequate support, and another disabled client who had previously been unable to secure legal representation because they lived in an isolated part of the Highlands.

But LSS has now decided that it made a mistake and has withdrawn permission for Legal Spark to carry out legal aid work.

The founder of Legal Spark, disabled solicitor Daniel Donaldson – who set up the law centre to help disabled people and other clients excluded from the legal system – said the LSS decision would deprive disabled people of access to justice.

He had been hoping to take legal aid cases for disabled people who have experienced discrimination, cuts to their social care provision and other issues.

He said: “My clients will just be dropped. The Law Society of Scotland have left me no alternative.

“The situation as it has turned out is stopping disabled people availing themselves of their legal rights.”

Legal Spark has contacted 134 lawyers, a list provided by LSS, who take on civil legal aid cases and specialise in discrimination law, and none of them have been able to take on Legal Spark’s clients.

Donaldson – who qualified as a solicitor six years ago – spent a year discussing Legal Spark with LSS, which originally branded his plans “refreshing” and “innovative”.

Now he says the organisation is discriminating against his disabled clients.

He said: “It’s deeply disappointing. Instead of working with Legal Spark to find constructive solutions, they have discriminated against and ignored our clients by refusing to listen to them.

“They have cancelled meetings, refused to go to mediation and each time a politician contacts them on our behalf, the Law Society avoid the issue.”

He said LSS told him it made the decision because Legal Spark didn’t meet its precise interpretation of regulations, “despite us spending over a year in conversation and being actively encouraged by Law Society staff”.

He added: “The Law Society gave us their blessing, then took it away.

“The timing could not be worse, as our clients were achieving success in pursuing their claims of discrimination.

“This is direct disability discrimination – there is nowhere else for our disabled clients to go.”

He is encouraging people to sign an online petition and write letters of complaint to LSS.

A Law Society Scotland spokeswoman said her organisation had made “a mistake” in originally granting Legal Spark permission to carry out civil legal aid work, before realising that it was “not entitled to provide this type of advice under the society’s civil legal assistance quality assurance scheme”.

She said: “The committee made a final decision on 16 June that a waiver could not be granted for public protection reasons and as the compliance certificate for Legal Spark had been issued in error, it could no longer provide advice funded by legal aid.

“The committee agreed that given the circumstances, Legal Spark could continue working with its legal aid clients until 30 June, to allow sufficient time to make alternative arrangements for clients.”

She said law centres have to be “underpinned by a solicitor practice unit [which she said Legal Spark was not] in order to be able to be on the civil legal aid quality assurance scheme register and provide legal aid funded advice”.

She added: “While it is rare for something to go wrong, clients have to be able to seek redress and as it currently stands, Legal Spark is not in a position to meet those requirements.”

By noon today (28 July), the Law Society Scotland had failed to explain why it has refused to enter into mediation, although it claims that it was “still in communication with Legal Spark”.

Donaldson continues to dispute LSS’s position and claims that under the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, Legal Spark should be allowed to take on civil legal aid cases.

He said: “The LSS have a legal requirement to promote access to justice. They have ignored this entirely. Where’s the justice for our disabled clients?”

28 July 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com