Disabled woman forced to quit job by ‘Disability Confident’ government

A disabled woman has been forced to quit her job because two “Disability Confident” government organisations refused to allow her to use one of the parking spaces close to the offices where she worked.

Leonora Bateman worked for a company wholly owned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), while the offices where she worked – and the parking spaces – were run by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

An MP has described Bateman’s treatment as “scandalous” and said her case demonstrates how “worthless” DWP’s Disability Confident scheme is.

Bateman had been working for BPDTS, a company set up last year by DWP to provide it with its IT services and based at HMRC-run offices in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

She had asked for permission to park her car in one of the spaces near the BPDTS offices, as her mental health condition means she experiences severe anxiety attacks when walking long distances on her own.

She was originally granted a short-term permit that allowed her to park near the offices, but HMRC told her she would not be allowed a permanent permit because she did not have a mobility impairment.

Even though HMRC accepted in an email that she was a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010, she was told she could only have a permit if she secured a blue parking badge from the local council, despite two occupational health assessments recommending that she be allowed to park close to the offices.

But it can be almost impossible for many disabled people whose mobility is affected solely by mental health conditions to qualify for blue badges, because of “discriminatory” government guidance.

HMRC even suggested that Bateman could claim support through the Access to Work scheme, which would have cost the government thousands of pounds a year in taxi payments, even though she already has a car. She also says that using twice-daily taxis would have caused her significant further anxiety.

Labour’s newly-elected disabled MP for Battersea, Marsha de Cordova, said this week that the way Bateman had been treated was “scandalous” and that the government should be “leading by example” when it comes to employing disabled people.

She said: “When it comes to employing disabled people, the government needs to lead by example.

“They need to be the models of best practice. They are not. That’s a clear example of where things are going wrong.”

The case comes only four months after prime minister Theresa May promised – in her general election manifesto – that a Conservative government would “transform how mental health is regarded in the workplace”.

Both BPDTS and HMRC – as well as DWP itself – have signed up to DWP’s Disability Confident scheme, and are accredited as Disability Confident Employers, the second of the scheme’s three levels.

As Disability Confident Employers, they are supposed to “make a commitment to employ and retain disabled people”.

They are also supposed to promise that they are “proactively offering and making reasonable adjustments as required” to disabled employees.

De Cordova said that Bateman’s case showed that Disability Confident – which has been criticised for being “trivially easy to abuse” and allowing organisations to describe themselves as “disability confident” even if they fail to comply with anti-discrimination laws – was “worthless”.

Bateman started working for BPDTS at the HMRC-run Benton Park View complex in March, having transferred from Hewlett Packard, which had provided IT services to DWP before the department set up BPDTS.

Because of HMRC’s failure to allow her to park near the BPDTS offices, for the first couple of months she had to ask her parents to drive her to work.

The stress of trying to persuade her employer to make a reasonable adjustment by providing her with a parking space left her so emotionally exhausted that she became unwell.

She was given a short-term medical permit that lasted a month, but was told it would not be extended when it ran out.

She had attempted to use a car-park located about three-quarters of a mile from the offices when she attended her two-day induction for the job with BPDTS, but became so distressed by the long walk that she later had to call her mother to pick her up.

She has now handed in her notice, and is currently off sick while she serves her notice period.

She said: “Without this reasonable adjustment being made, I physically cannot get into work. I feel I have been treated very unfairly.

“It’s having a long-lasting effect on my mental health. I don’t think it has been fully appreciated by the team responsible for rejecting my application.”

A DWP spokeswoman refused to comment, although she confirmed that BPDTS was a Disability Confident Employer.

She said DWP could not comment because BPDTS was “a separate legal entity with its own governance structure”.

DNS pointed out that BPDTS was wholly-owned by DWP, that its two executive directors were both employed by DWP and that its five non-executive directors were also senior DWP officers, but she declined to comment further.

An HMRC spokesman said in a statement: “We do not comment on the personal circumstances of individual users of the site.”

DNS offered to ask Bateman to give her permission for HMRC to discuss her allegations, but that offer was refused by the spokesman.

He claimed HMRC was “fully compliant with our requirements under the Equality Act”.

BPDTS has failed to return calls from DNS.

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: Members accuse party of years of ‘blatant discrimination’

Labour is facing concerted pressure to put an end to years of “blatant discrimination” against its own disabled party members, while also facing complaints about “inexcusable” access failings at this week’s annual conference in Brighton.

Members of one disabled members’ campaign – Party Participation and Disabled People (PPDP)handed out leaflets at the conference, calling on Labour to address its continuing failure to comply with its duties under the Equality Act.

Other disabled members had been planning a separate protest about access at the conference but were persuaded by party figures to cancel the action.

And many other disabled activists have spoken out this week about the problems they have faced, both with access at the conference and in the wider party.

The PPDP campaign has more than 160 members across the party who are frustrated at Labour’s failure to act on what they say is widespread discrimination.

Sophie Talbot, Fran Springfield and Rona Topaz said in a joint statement issued to Disability News Service that the party had had 22 years to implement disability equality legislation.

They said: “Not only does the party continue to blatantly discriminate against us (every party structure with at least 25 members must make meetings, events and campaigning activities accessible, whether or not they know of disabled participants), but it has refused to act on the law.

“This year’s conference has shocked people with its inexcusable inaccessibility. Yet this happens at every ward, every CLP [constituency Labour party] all the time.

“And when disabled members challenge their ward or CLP they are given the brush off.

“We call ourselves the party of equality yet we are in the dark ages when it comes to equality for disabled people within this party.”

They added: “This can’t continue. It sickens us to the stomach. That’s why we did our leaflet drop, and we’ll continue to campaign on this until the party starts ensuring all sections of the party are compliant with the Equality Act.”

Their concerns about access at the conference were shared by another disabled party activist, Alex Hovden, who was attending his first party conference.

His concerns included the inaccessibility of conference procedures, disabled delegates being ignored when they wanted to speak during debates, delays in producing accessible versions of conference papers, and the lack of a disabled person on the party’s National Executive Committee and on the committee responsible for conference arrangements.

He said: “What I would like to see is Jeremy Corbyn get in a wheelchair and try to access conference for a day or so, then he could understand the problems you will face as a wheelchair-user.”

He also raised concerns about the shortage of accessible accommodation in Brighton and access problems across the city, including cobble stones and uneven pavements.

Anne Pridmore, another disabled party activist, said access at the conference had been “a complete disaster”.

She faced huge problems with her personal assistant’s accreditation, despite following the party’s advance instructions to the letter, while there was only one toilet accessible to her at the conference centre, and every time she wanted to use it she had to collect a key from a stand run by a local disabled people’s organisation.

Pridmore said she had “never been so embarrassed in all my life” as she was by the access problems she encountered at a fringe meeting, which was supposedly wheelchair-accessible, as clueless organisers tried to find somewhere for her to place her chair.

And she said a step near one of the entrances to the main conference venue had only been removed halfway through the conference.

She said: “Until they include us in their conference arrangements then nothing is going to change, I am afraid.”

Louise Reecejones, general secretary of Disability Labour – which represents the interests of disabled party members – and a Labour member of Wirral council, told a Disability Labour fringe meeting that disabled people with hidden impairments were “invisible” in the party.

She said she had faced huge access problems because of her profound deafness, both in council meetings and Labour group meetings.

She told the fringe meeting that she had not been able to follow what was happening at the annual general meeting of her local party last week, and added: “I felt quite isolated in my own party.”

Reecejones said it had taken her seven years to persuade the party to show British Sign Language interpreters on the big screens in the main hall of the annual conference.

She said: “I just think they do not understand the pressures and struggles you go through on a daily basis and how isolating it can be in our party to have a disability and try to fight our own party to make access arrangements.

“We are not going to change everybody. There will be CLPs who really do not want to change.”

Emily Brothers, a disabled former parliamentary candidate and a member of the Disability Labour executive, said: “There needs to be a shift in the mindset of many members of the Labour party.

“When we talk about inclusion we are not just talking about the world out there… it includes what we do as members of the Labour party in being a kinder, gentler, more inclusive, more supportive party.”

Kirsten Hearn, a disabled member of Haringey council, said: “I have felt quite lonely, arguing the toss for disabled people on the executive committee at my local CLP.

“I have felt isolated and alone and really intimidated.”

She suggested that disabled party members should find the other disabled people in their constituency and help them connect with each other; make connections with local disabled people’s organisations; and create a strategy for members and leaders in the local party “to take on board inclusion for disabled people”.

She said there needed to be a “toolkit” that would help disabled people “start that revolution” in their local constituency.

She said she had faced discrimination and exclusion and “had to fight so hard to get through the door.

“I spent my time moaning about not being let in. It’s time for disabled people to kick down the door.”

Miriam Mirwitch, the disabled members’ officer for Young Labour, and chair of London Young Labour, said disabled people were under-represented at every level of the party.

She said she had been pushing over the last year to make the party more accessible to disabled members, and called for there to be an access point of contact for every event organised by the party.

She said: “It’s really vital that disabled members are able to participate in our democracy.”

One disabled party member said she had been forced to miss five meetings at this week’s conference because she was not able to enter the venues in her scooter.

She said: “We have to take it back to the NEC [Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee] because it’s not acceptable.”

Dave Allan, chair of Disability Labour, said: “Many of us will have realised that this week’s conference is not as accessible as it could have been.”

He said Disability Labour had already “made representations” to the party’s general secretary and “will be making even stronger ones”.

But he said one of the problems was with the inaccessibility of Brighton, with a lack of dropped kerbs and narrow doorways at fringe venues, and he said the party should be told not to return to the city for its annual conference “until Brighton is accessible to disabled people”.

But he said he accepted the problems had been magnified by the huge turnout at this week’s conference.

The Labour party had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: Call for union action over DWP staff who ‘take pleasure in sanctions’

A leading disabled activist has asked the head of one of the country’s largest unions to take action over jobcentre staff who appear to enjoy handing out sanctions to benefit claimants.

The exchange took place at a fringe meeting organised by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union – which represents most jobcentre workers – at this week’s Labour conference in Brighton.

Mark Serwotka, the union’s general secretary, was told by Paula Peters, from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC): “There is a lot of anger with a lot of claimants around some jobcentre workers who are quite enjoying sanctioning a little bit too much.”

She said these claimants wanted to know what action the union was taking to try and reduce the rate at which claimants were being sanctioned – having their benefits stopped for a period of time as a punishment for refusing to meet strict work-related conditions – and whether PCS had considered a “name and shame policy to get this stopped”.

Serwotka said: “I am representing some of the lowest-paid workers in Britain, some of them have been physically attacked, some of them are blamed for what they have to do.

“If you are a worker and you are earning under £20,000 delivering a pretty shitty system, there is a lot of pressure on you, with the worst management I think anywhere in the public sector – they have sacked people in DWP who have cancer – so this is an organisation where it takes an awful lot of guts to stand up.”

But he agreed that some members “perhaps have been or do buy into the ideology of what they are doing”.

He told the fringe meeting – also attended by Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams – that he had visited jobcentres where it was clear from posters on the walls and “conversations people have to have with their management” that managers were trying to persuade staff that imposing sanctions was “the right thing to be doing”, in a bid to win their “hearts and minds”.

Peters told Serwotka that DPAC had been blamed for intimidating PCS members who worked in jobcentres, but she said: “We don’t do that, we don’t believe in that.”

And she asked him how they could bring the two factions together, following displays of anger between jobcentre staff and claimants.

Serwotka appealed for “unity” between disabled activists, claimants and his members who worked in jobcentres.

He said: “At the moment, our members are demoralised by the fact that they are judged by the amount of people they sanction and how many people they push through the system.”

He said he knew that some jobcentre staff, as well as some people in wider society, had “fallen for the divide and rule stuff” on benefit claimants.

But he said: “The best way to tackle that is for us to be as united as we can, which is why I hope we continue that.

“I hope something comes of this meeting and we can take this forward.”

Serwotka had earlier called for a social security system that was based on “dignity and respect” and “not one obsessing about free market economics and the private sector and conditionality”.

He warned that the “political consensus” had “undermined” the welfare state over the last 30 years, and he claimed that the Tony Blair government had done as much as any to “split working people from benefit claimants”.

He said the service offered to benefit claimants at jobcentres now was “a million miles away” from the one provided in 1980, when he was working for the old Department for Health and Social Security (DHSS).

And he said he hoped for a debate that would lead to a social security system that staff could deliver “with some passion and pleasure”, as they had been able to when he worked for DHSS.

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: Benefit assessment nurses must be held to account, says Abrahams

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary has called for nurses and other healthcare professionals who write misleading benefit assessment reports to be “held to account”.

Debbie Abrahams said there had been “too many times” when healthcare professionals had written reports that did not “marry” with the evidence they had been given by disabled benefit claimants and what they had been told by those claimants during face-to-face assessments.

More than 250 disabled people have come forward over the last year to tell Disability News Service how their assessors had written dishonest assessment reports.

These cases were compiled during a DNS investigation into widespread allegations that healthcare professionals working for private outsourcing companies Capita and Atos have been lying in personal independence payment (PIP) assessment reports, which are written on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

But there have also been years of complaints relating to work capability assessments – which assess eligibility for employment and support allowance – which were previously carried out by Atos but are now the responsibility of the discredited US outsourcing giant Maximus.

Abrahams, who was speaking at a fringe event organised by the Fabian Society and the disability charity Scope at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton, said: “Assessments are conducted by clinical professionals.

“We must be holding these clinical professionals to account.”

She said she had heard of “dozens and dozens” of cases, both in her national role and as a constituency MP, of assessment reports “not marrying at all with the detail in the assessment, the medical records that were supplied and so on”.

She told the meeting: “This cannot be allowed.”

There have been repeated concerns raised by disabled people that the bodies that regulate healthcare professionals – such as the Health and Care Professions Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council – have refused to investigate claims of dishonesty in assessments made against healthcare professionals.

But Abrahams told this week’s fringe meeting that she had met with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) about the issue, and she said the RCN was “concerned about what this means to some of their members” and was taking “very seriously” the need to prevent such cases happening.

Abrahams also told the fringe event of Labour’s plans to scrap both the PIP assessment process and the work capability assessment – which assesses eligibility for ESA – and replace them with a more “personalised, holistic support programme”.

RCN had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: Shock and outrage over Field’s minimum wage comments

Disabled party activists have expressed shock and outrage after the Labour chair of the Commons work and pensions committee suggested that employers should be allowed to pay some disabled people less than the minimum wage.

Among the critics were two disabled Labour MPs, Jared O’Mara and Marsha de Cordova, who joined many other disabled people who have criticised the comments of Frank Field, reported by Disability News Service (DNS) last week.

Field made the call in a new collection of essays on employment and disabled people, which was published earlier this month.

In his essay, Field suggests granting a “specific exemption” to the National Living Wage “to those whose disabilities are deemed so severe that they will never be capable of enough output to warrant payment of the minimum wage, but who might nevertheless enjoy significant wellbeing gains from involvement in an appropriate workplace environment”.

Such workers, he said, “might be permitted to earn a small amount of money a week with zero or negligible impact” on their receipt of employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit.

O’Mara told DNS that he was “appalled and disgusted” by Field’s remarks and called on him to apologise immediately, and be subject to party disciplinary action if he refused to do so.

He said: “The suggestion that an hour’s work from a disabled person is worth less than an hour’s work from a non-disabled person is ableist and Dickensian in essence and there is no room for ableism in the UK.

“Offering employers cheap labour as an incentive to hire disabled people is not the way to help those of us on employment and support allowance who want to find employment, and not the way to create a truly equal and fair society.”

De Cordova said Field’s comments smacked of “a return to the workhouse”.

She said disabled people should be paid “a decent wage” for their work, “regardless of what it is”.

Debbie Abrahams, the party’s shadow work and pensions secretary, told a fringe meeting, when asked about his comments: “It is certainly not, I repeat, not, something that is acceptable to me or any member of the shadow cabinet and would not become Labour party policy.

“I want to make that absolutely clear.”

She later told DNS that whether Field resigned as chair of the work and pensions committee should be a “personal decision” for him.

Kate Green, a former shadow minister for disabled people, told DNS that she also did not agree with Field’s comments.

She said: “I have always said that disabled people doing a real job should have real wages and at least the minimum wage.”

She said that whether Field continued in his role was “a matter for everybody in parliament” but she added: “I would not be saying that his ability to chair inquiries is at issue.”

Disability Labour, which represents the interests of disabled Labour party members, condemned his comments “in the strongest possible terms” and said they were “discriminatory”.

In a statement, the organisation said: “For a Labour MP to suggest that disabled people can be less valued in the workplace, leaving them at the mercy of unscrupulous, exploitative employers is outrageous and unacceptable.

“For Frank to also perpetuate the trope that disabled workers are less productive and, by implication, less hardworking, is equally unacceptable.”

Disabled party members attending a fringe meeting organised by Disability Labour also expressed anger at Field’s suggestion.

One said: “I don’t feel Frank Field has any place in the party when he says we as disabled people might be less productive and therefore the minimum wage doesn’t apply to us.”

Another said he was “deeply ashamed” to say that Field was his MP, and he said his CLP [constituency Labour party] was seeking to move motions to condemn his “ignorant” comments “in the strongest possible terms”.

Emily Brothers, a disabled former parliamentary candidate and a member of the Disability Labour executive, told the meeting she did not agree with Field’s comments, although she said she was “happy to have a debate” about it.

Lorna Ely, a member of the representative body of Learning Disability England, who attended the Labour conference this week, said Field “should be ashamed of himself” for his “disgusting attitude”.

She said: “It’s really inappropriate because it brings disabled people down. I thought the Labour party was meant to be thinking forward, but this is a step backwards.”

Ely, who works as a part-time training administrator, said she would “feel very upset and very confused” if she was told that she would be paid less than the minimum wage for her work, and that she would feel she had been discriminated against.

She said she believed Field was “finished” as chair of the committee and should be replaced by someone who was “trustworthy and who acts like an MP”.

O’Mara, who was elected in June for the first time, after defeating former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, said the policy emphasis should be on forcing employers to “make the adjustments that they’re legally obliged to make to ensure that their workplaces are accessible for disabled workers”.

He said: “We should be forcing employers to be positive about disabled people, fighting to change their attitudes and even consider setting up quotas for large employers so that a certain percentage of their employees must have a disability.

“Devaluing the worth of disabled people is not congruent with Labour’s commitment to equality and we should be working together to help people who society places at a disadvantage, not suggesting that they have their rights decimated.”

The Labour party had failed to respond to a request to comment on Field’s comments, and whether it supported his position as chair of the committee, by noon today (Thursday).

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: New disabled MP pledges to fight government’s assault on rights

A newly-elected MP has accused the government of putting its “head in the sand” over the damage caused by years of cuts that have been “targeted” on disabled people.

Marsha de Cordova, one of two newly-elected disabled Labour MPs, says she believes the government would never have targeted other groups in the way it has treated disabled people.

She says it was a “telling sign” that the government had failed to carry out an assessment of the cumulative impact of all its cuts and reforms on disabled people since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, a point made earlier this month by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD).

De Cordova was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) at her party’s annual conference in Brighton, less than a month after CRPD told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

She says: “Even with that report done, the government is still head in the sand [saying], ‘We are doing amazing stuff for disabled people.’

“What the government have done is they have targeted a group that they do not believe have a voice and that they don’t believe will fight back, and that is why disabled people have been hit the hardest.”

But she adds: “We do have a voice and we do fight back.”

She promises to return to parliament after the party conference season and hold the government to account over the UN report.

She says: “They think it’s OK… to say that actually they are helping people more than ever before, and I know and most people know that that categorically cannot be true.”

De Cordova – a law graduate who wrote her final-year dissertation on part of the Disability Discrimination Act, before specialising in welfare rights, and working for the visual impairment charities Action for Blind People and Thomas Pocklington Trust – promises to use her voice to fight for the rights of disabled people in parliament.

Her first duty, she says, is to her constituency, but she says she has always been a disability rights activist and “will continue to champion and fight for the rights of disabled people.

“I am definitely going to be a voice in parliament because I don’t believe there has been a strong enough voice [for disabled people] previously.”

Her own access experiences as a visually-impaired MP since the election have been mixed.

She was phoned by a member of parliamentary staff the day after June’s general election – having unexpectedly overturned a majority of nearly 8,000 to beat Tory former health minister Jane Ellison by more than 2,000 votes in Battersea, south London – to arrange a visit the following day to discuss her access needs.

She was able to choose an office close to the Commons chamber, and while the necessary computer software and large print parliamentary papers have been arranged by the parliamentary authorities, it has proved “a bit more challenging” to obtain large print copies of reports that are not published by parliament, such as the Taylor review of modern working practices, which was published a few weeks after her election by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

She said: “Trying to obtain a large print copy of [reports like that] in any reasonable time frame is a little bit more challenging and that is a challenge that I will need to sort out.

“We need to get some solutions for the [House of Commons] library and others to ensure that these reports are available in alternative formats on the day they are published. And that goes for the publishers as well.”

It’s a problem she also faced with her own party, which has been heavily criticised this week over its treatment of disabled members (see separate story).

Although she says her party was “fairly supportive” during the election campaign, she still did not have a large print copy of the manifesto “from day one”, although she insists that Labour is “the most progressive party when it comes to anything concerning disabled people and disabled people’s rights”.

As a welfare rights expert and a disabled person, she says she was “incredibly pleased” to have been elected onto the Commons work and pensions select committee.

She supports her party’s position on benefit assessments, calling for the tests for both personal independence payment and employment and support allowance (ESA) to be scrapped and replaced “with some sort of universal benefit assessment system” that is based on the social model and the extra costs faced by disabled people.

She is also angry about the government’s decision to cut weekly payments to new ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) by nearly £30 a week, and is dismissive of the excuses given by the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt.

One of those explanations is that the government would spend £330 million of the £1 billion savings over four years on additional employment support for people in the WRAG, including a “personalised support package”.

But de Cordova says: “Have you seen any new programmes, have you heard of any new policies? I haven’t.

“And yet you have pushed more disabled people into hardship by making that £30 cut.”

She says this and other welfare reforms introduced by the coalition government from 2010 were carried out to make “significant cuts to the social security income that goes to disabled people, and that’s a fact.

“PIP was introduced solely to reduce expenditure by 20 per cent; no ifs, no buts, that’s a fact, it’s all there in black and white.”

De Cordova says the proportion of PIP claimants whose decisions are overturned at appeal is “shocking”.

“Get the decision right in the first instance and imagine the impact that will have on that individual,” she says.

She says it is “incredibly important” that the work and pensions committee scrutinises the government’s response to the consultation on its work, health and disability green paper, which is expected this autumn.

A key priority for her is looking at ways to narrow the disability employment gap, which she says is “pretty scandalous”.

She believes that one of the key drivers behind the gap is employer attitudes.

She says: “I think government policy over the last seven years – seven-plus years, because I think the Labour government were guilty of this as well – has been to put all the emphasis on the individual, and not enough has been done to encourage and support employers to eliminate those barriers… to employing disabled people.

“I think more work needs to be done there.”

She says the government’s Disability Confident scheme – which aims to improve employers’ attitudes and policies on employing disabled people – is “laughable”.

“You could be Disability Confident as an employer but not employ any disabled people,” she says. “If you’re going to have a scheme that ensures employers are disability confident, you have got to have some really rigorous checks and balances.

“Employers should be obliged to say how many disabled people they employ and how many they have interviewed.”

Another crucial element of any disability employment strategy, she says, is to involve the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

De Cordova is almost as scathing about the Liberal Democrats as she is about the Conservative government, because of their role in the austerity-driven coalition between 2010 and 2015.

The idea of Liberal Democrats criticising government social security policies, such as the rollout of universal credit, she says, is “a bit of a joke because in their five years in government they introduced many of these welfare reforms”, including PIP, time-limiting the contributory form of ESA to 12 months and the bedroom tax.

“All of those things were introduced by the Liberal Democrats in coalition so they have no credibility when they talk about the impact of any of these issues,” she says.

De Cordova used part of her maiden speech in parliament in July to highlight the importance of her mother’s efforts to keep her out of the special school system.

She told fellow MPs: “When I was at primary school, the headteacher thought that it would be better if I was sent to a special school, but my mother was having none of that and fought tooth and nail to keep me in mainstream education.

“I can safely say that I would not be the woman I am today, or an elected member of parliament, had it not been for her.”

Now she wants to examine the impact of education cuts on funding for special educational needs in her constituency.

She says she will be “fighting for greater inclusive education”.

She adds: “I don’t believe that as a disabled person you automatically cannot be educated in a mainstream school.”

Disabled people’s rights have been “pretty much dismantled” by the government over the last seven years, says de Cordova.

Asker what her message is to disabled activists who have been fighting throughout those seven years against government cuts to their support, and see further cuts ahead, she promises to use her voice in parliament to hold the Conservatives to account.

“I will use all the levers that are available to me in parliament to do that,” she says. “More importantly, what we need is a Labour government.”

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: Vote means party must rethink approach to social security cuts

A shadow cabinet member has supported calls by party members for Labour to come up with a stronger policy on reversing government cuts to social security spending.

Debbie Abrahams spoke out after Labour’s annual conference in Brighton voted overwhelmingly to ask the party’s policy-making machinery to reconsider its approach to reversing the government’s latest cuts to benefits.

In this year’s general election manifesto, Labour pledged to reverse some of the government’s latest cuts to social security, but there was frustration among many activists that it failed to go further.

The manifesto committed £2 billion a year towards “fixing” universal credit and other elements of social security policy, scrapping the bedroom tax and reversing the cuts of £30 a week for new claimants placed in the employment and support allowance work-related activity group.

But the latest government cuts are set to take out billions of pounds more a year from the social security budget.

The Labour manifesto also pledged to repeal new regulations that will make it harder for people with mental health problems to claim the mobility component of personal independence payment, and promised other measures such as scrapping the work capability and PIP assessments.

But there was no manifesto commitment to scrapping the benefit cap – although Labour has since suggested it would remove it, after a court ruled that imposing the cap on lone parents with children under two was unlawful and discriminatory – or the continuing freeze on many working-age benefits, which will take billions more out of the social security budget.

Party activists who pushed this week for Labour to do more to reverse the cuts were concerned that its annual work, pensions and equality report, produced by one of the party’s policy commissions – under the umbrella of its National Policy Forum – failed to call for all of the government’s current social security cuts and reforms to be reversed.

They wanted the party to commit to reversing cuts such as those to universal credit, the two-child limit on tax credits, and the benefits freeze.

Instead, the report says the commission “notes evidence”, will “continue to closely scrutinise” and will “pay close attention to” the impact of these cuts.

But an overwhelming vote at this week’s conference in Brighton called on the party to be more explicit in its opposition to all the cuts currently being implemented, and to promise to reverse them.

The motion was proposed at conference by Taunton Deane delegate Fraser Amos, whose mum is disability rights campaigner Caroline Ellis, a former deputy chief executive at the disability charity RADAR (now part of Disability Rights UK) and a former parliamentary affairs manager at the Disability Rights Commission.

Amos told the conference that it was “not good enough” that the party had failed to promise to reverse all the government’s planned cuts to social security.

He said: “We know that welfare isn’t a handout, it’s a safety net for everyone, it’s all that stands between every one of us and destitution, and if cuts continue not much of it will be left standing.

“Conference, we cannot allow any welfare cuts under a Labour government. Let’s insist that our party is explicit in its total opposition to every single Tory welfare cut.”

The vote to ask the policy commission to reconsider a section of its work, pensions and equality report relating to government cuts to social security was supported afterwards by shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams, a co-convenor of the report.

She told Disability News Service: “I welcome what conference had to say. It is up to the National Policy Forum now.

“It will be reviewed and I am sure and I hope the shadow Treasury team will be listening to what the members had to say.”

And she said she was sympathetic to what party members had called for in the vote.

She had earlier told a fringe meeting that the party would have to go through each of the government’s cuts “line by line”.

She said she would pressure Labour’s Treasury team to reverse government cuts to social security and “will keep fighting to make sure that disabled people are not in the dire circumstances that they [have been] over the last seven years”.

Amos said he had been motivated to push the motion by his own experiences of having ME when he was younger, growing up in a neighbourhood where many of his friends relied on social security, and having a mum who was a committed disability rights campaigner.

He said he would expect the party to come back with a report that took account of the conference’s decision.

If it failed to do so, he said, he hoped “to get up and make the case even more strongly” next year.

Anne Pridmore, a disabled party member, said the conference vote was “positive” but that she did not believe Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was doing enough to highlight what was happening to disabled people.

She said: “People are dying. Every time a brown envelope comes through my letterbox I think, ‘That’s my [support] package gone.’ It’s frightening.”

Fellow disabled activist Alex Hovden agreed, and added: “I think Jeremy Corbyn is doing a bit to help disabled people but he could certainly do a lot more.

“I know the Tories have decimated welfare. A Labour government should put even more into it than the Tories have taken out.”

Kate Green, a Labour MP and former shadow minister for disabled people, said she believed the party should “go further than the manifesto” and scrap the benefits freeze, as well as “campaign hard” for increased universal credit work allowances, which have been cut by the government, and scrap the two-child limit on tax credits.

She said: “From Jeremy, he seems to have an appetite for looking again at the benefit freeze.”

Green said the party should also look at cuts to housing benefit and housing support.

She said: “These are things the party needs to address urgently. They are causing huge hardship to working people, families with children and disabled people.”

Asked if she welcomed the vote, she said: “Only if it is going to lead to a more ambitious and progressive set of ambitions for social security, which I believe it will.”

The vote to send the relevant section of the report back to be reconsidered by the commission and the National Policy Forum was carried overwhelmingly.

The party had failed to respond to a request for a comment on the vote by noon today (Thursday).

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: Abrahams pledges ‘supportive and enabling’ social security system

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary has pledged to transform the social security system from one that “demonises” benefit claimants to one that is “supportive and enabling”.

Debbie Abrahams told Labour’s annual conference in Brighton that the social security system was failing sick and disabled people, and she reminded her party that the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had concluded last month that the government had caused a “human catastrophe” by cutting disabled people’s support.

Abrahams repeated the party’s pledge, included in this year’s general election manifesto, that a Labour government would legislate to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law.

She later said that the party was also in the process of setting up a new social security commission, whose conclusions on how to reform the benefits system would feed into the party’s policy-making process.

Abrahams told a fringe meeting hosted by the PCS union that Labour wanted to “transform social security” and “make it something people can value”.

She said Labour’s vision was “to make sure the social security system is there for every one of us”.

She said Labour wanted to replace the work capability assessment and the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment with a more “personalised, holistic support programme”.

And she said that the government’s new Work and Health Programme was “just a way of making even more regressive cuts”.

Abrahams said the party had started some of the “groundwork” for setting up the new social security commission, and that “central” to it would be “ongoing dialogue” with disabled people’s grassroots groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle.

She told another fringe event at the conference, organised by the Fabian Society and the disability charity Scope: “How will we achieve our target of halving the disability employment gap? It certainly isn’t going to happen through the Work and Health Programme, is it.”

She said Labour would be publishing its ideas before the autumn budget, and that the party needed to ensure that disabled people supported its proposals.

Abrahams said: “Again we will be coming back to you, saying is this going to work, what do you think of this, this has worked in Sweden, will it work in the UK, it’s worked in Australia, but again, will it work in the UK?”

And she suggested that some policies could be piloted in Greater Manchester or London, where there were greater devolved powers for local government.

Abrahams also said that the party was carrying out a review of the Access to Work scheme, which was “absolutely inadequate at the moment”, and she added: “We are reviewing it with the intention of being able to expand it.”

After hearing how one disabled man at the fringe event had faced discrimination in the workplace, she said: “We need to get to the core of why we have such difficulties with employers. It is about cultural changes.

“We do need to ensure that we are shifting attitudes with employers.”

The event also heard from disabled presenter and producer, and YouTube star, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, who said that “every single disabled person” she knew had had problems with the PIP assessment process, and all had found it “degrading”.

She said: “We need to be focusing on giving disabled people independence in more than just name, and that includes financial independence.”

Kellgren-Fozard also said that disabled women were twice as likely as non-disabled women to face domestic abuse, usually at the hands of their carers, but they were “tied” to them through the benefits system.

She said: “They can’t get away. You can’t get a second job and store some money up. You don’t have your own money anymore.”

She added: “Money is a massive part of independence. I am an adult and I want to be treated like that, I don’t want to be thought of as a child, a dependent, a problem, or a burden, ever.

“I think that is what we really need to be working for here, to give people independence in more than just name.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), told the PCS fringe event that welfare reform had been introduced by New Labour under Tony Blair and the process had been “accelerated by the Tories”, and was designed “to reduce spending and cut the welfare bill”.

She said DPAC would like to see a system that was designed “to meet the needs of those who are unable to earn a living through waged labour”, with “an acceptance that there will always be some people who are unable to engage in the labour market and earn a living of their own, not due to their own fault… but because of very real concrete barriers that they face”.

And she said: “We need to end the influence of private insurance companies who are there for their own profit-making reasons, and stop ploughing millions of pounds into helping them find ways to trick disabled people out of benefit entitlements.”

Clifford said that cuts to disabled people’s support – such as social care and Access to Work – were pushing disabled people out of employment.

Catherine Hale, lead researcher on the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project, told the same fringe meeting that the government’s continuing benefits freeze was “one of the key drivers of increasing levels of poverty in the UK”.

She said that public support for the campaign to lift the pay cap on public sector workers meant it would be the ideal time to push for an end to the benefits freeze.

She said: “If we are really going to resist the Tory attempts to divide the workers from everybody else, would it not also be the right time to fight for an end to the benefits freeze, so we are showing equal value to workers as to people on benefits?”

And she urged politicians to consult with disabled people on reforming benefits assessments, rather than “doctors and so-called experts” who “really have no idea about the lived experience of disability and what are the real barriers to work that people with certain types of impairments face”.

She added: “You really need to draw on disabled people’s expertise on capability for work.”

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: No vote on tax-funded social care system, at least until 2018

Labour has promised an extra £3 billion a year to start the job of building a National Care Service, but has not said how it would reform the long-term funding of the social care system.

Barbara Keeley, the party’s shadow minister for mental health and social care, said the extra funding – in the first years of a Labour government – would be enough to cap people’s contributions towards their care, but gave no hint as to where that cap would be set.

She also said the extra money would be enough to raise the asset threshold for paying for care – the level of savings and capital which decides how much a person should contribute to their care – but again gave no hint as to where this new threshold would be set.

She said an “independent” group of experts – the latest in a long line of such panels and commissions – would be appointed to advise the party on devising a “sustainable service for the long term”.

Keeley, a member of the shadow cabinet, told the party’s conference in Brighton that the social care crisis was “made in Downing Street”, and that nearly half a million fewer people were receiving publicly-funded social care since the Conservatives came to office in 2010.

She said the crisis was caused by the government cutting billions of pounds from council budgets, and that all ministers had promised was a consultation and a green paper.

Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, told the conference that the social care system was facing a “grave financial crisis”.

He said the government had only come up with “desperate sticking plaster after desperate sticking plaster” to try to solve the crisis.

And he said the system was “hurtling towards a cliff edge” in 2020, when councils will lose even more of their government funding.

Last October, his council’s director of resources told the Commons communities and local government select committee that, since 2010-11, the number of people receiving council-funded support in Newcastle had fallen from 9,780 to 5,237.

The conference later approved a motion that recognised the “growing public concern over the continuing crisis in social care” and confirmed the party’s commitment to address that crisis.

It also called on a Labour government to introduce “measures that provide adequate funding to enable local authorities to achieve standards of care that are fit for purpose”.

Peter Cooper, the Poole CLP (constituency Labour party) delegate who proposed the motion, had told the conference that he wanted to see a free National Care Service that was funded by taxation, although he accepted that the “composite motion” that would be voted on by the party did not go that far and did not mention a tax-funded system.

He told Disability News Service afterwards that Poole CLP’s original motion had called for a National Care Service that was free at the point of use and funded by general taxation, but that this demand had not appeared in the final version of the motion that was composed of theirs and other social care-themed motions.

But he said he was optimistic that another motion next year would see the call for a tax-funded care service approved by the conference, a policy that he believes has overwhelming backing among party members.

28 September 2017

 

 

Labour conference: Student forced to crowdfund pain-free wheelchair

A disabled student has told Labour’s annual party conference that she has been forced to resort to crowdfunding to obtain a wheelchair that is suitable for her needs, because of “chronic” government under-funding.

Rebecca Boot told the party’s annual conference in Brighton that because she had a cheap powerchair that was not suitable for her impairment, it caused her pain and regular dislocations of her joints.

She said her powerchair cost about £2,500 and was one of the cheapest available, but because it has “no suspension and poor shock absorbancy” she spends much of her time in bed “recovering from the pain” it causes.

The chair she needs costs four times as much, but she does not believe she will be able to secure it through the “under-funded and over-stretched” NHS wheelchair service.

She told the conference: “Not having the right chair costs me sleep, it costs me study time, and it costs me time with my family and my friends, while I lie in bed recovering from the pain that my wheelchair has caused.

“The Tories’ chronic under-funding of NHS wheelchair services is costing me my freedom and it’s costing the local authority in personal care funding.”

She added: “Having the wrong wheelchair means I am living a life of social exclusion and isolation and unfulfilled potential.”

Boot said she had been forced to make the decision to crowdfund the money for a new powerchair, which she believed was “not acceptable”.

And she said this was “just one example” of how the Conservative government had failed disabled people, as reported last month by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

She told Disability News Service afterwards that she was “getting desperate for a wheelchair that doesn’t cause me too much pain”.

She said she was unable to spend more than a few hours at a time in her wheelchair because she starts to develop muscle cramps.

Boot, who is just beginning her second year at Aston University, said: “It doesn’t cause problems in terms of going to lectures because they are a maximum of two hours but it means I have to go back to my room and lie down afterwards.

“It means I am missing out on the social stuff surrounding university life.”

She told the conference: “Wheelchairs are vehicles of freedom. My wheelchair enables me to be here with you today, to go to university and to socialise with my friends.

“My wheelchair means I can choose what I do with my life and when. But I, like many others, have the wrong wheelchair.”

She added: “A safe wheelchair that works properly should be a right, not a privilege.”

28 September 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com