The government has secretly made major changes to guidance given to “fitness for work” benefits assessors that has put the lives of thousands of disabled claimants at risk… and then “lied” about what it had done.
The changes appear to show ministers made a calculation last year that it was worth risking the loss of some lives in order to cut benefits spending and force more disabled people into their discredited back-to-work programmes.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could now face legal action over its decision to bring in the changes without seeking approval from parliament.
The changes were exposed after DWP released figures last month showing the proportion of claimants placed in the support group of employment and support allowance (ESA) – and therefore not forced to take part in work-related activity – plummeted by 42 per cent between November 2015 and February 2016.
DWP has claimed the drop was due to a falling backlog in dealing with new ESA claims through the work capability assessment (WCA) system.
But an archived copy of the version of DWP’s Work Capability Assessment Handbook that was published in February 2015 – which DWP now appears to have removed from its website – proves that key guidance has been significantly altered at some point in the last 18 months.
These changes mean that assessors are far less likely to place a claimant with a mental health condition in the ESA support group because of the risk to their health if forced into work-related activity.
In February 2015, the handbook included six indicators of “substantial risk”, which were marked “D” for “definitive” – including someone who was currently sectioned, who had active thoughts of suicide, or had had a documented episode of self-harm requiring medical attention in the last 12 months – to show that that person should be placed in the support group.
But the latest edition of the guidance says only that such indicators “might” give rise to a substantial risk in “exceptional circumstances”.
Although the latest version of the handbook was only produced in draft form in February this year, and its final version published in July, a former assessor has confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) that assessors receive regular updates to guidance from DWP, so the new guidance on “substantial risk” could have been sent out at any time from early 2015 onwards.
The latest edition of the handbook also tells assessors that they should consider factors that might “mitigate” the chance that someone could harm themselves or others, including “the benefits of employment weighed against any potential risk”.
Because the changes were carried out through updated guidance – rather than changes to legislation or regulations – DWP did not seek the approval of parliament for the alterations.
The guidance in the WCA handbook explains to assessors how they should translate ESA regulations 29 and 35, which concern whether decisions to find someone fit for work or able to carry out work-related activity would cause a substantial risk of harm.
In April, DNS obtained a DWP document through a freedom of information request which suggested amending or removing regulations 29 and 35, and said that such a move would provide substantial savings.
But the memo – drawn up before the 2015 election, and to be used if the Conservatives triumphed at the polls – warned that previous attempts to remove the regulations had been defeated in the courts, and that any changes in this area “carry a significant handling and delivery risk” because they would be “perceived as restricting application of the safeguards and may be considered discriminatory”.
DWP’s press office said in April that these “speculative policy formulations” were drafted by staff before the last election and “have not been raised, do not represent government policy and have never been sent to ministers”.
But comparing the latest handbook with the version issued before the 2015 election shows the regulations have been amended, although by changing the guidance rather than the rules themselves.
John McArdle, co-founder of the grassroots campaign network Black Triangle, which has played a significant role in raising awareness of regulations 29 and 35 in order to protect thousands of disabled people whose lives would otherwise be at risk, said: “We are currently consulting with lawyers to look at the legality of the guidance.
“It would appear to us that the guidance they have issued is in breach of the legislation.”
He said DWP’s actions showed its “blatant dishonesty” and that it “lied” when it said it had not amended regulations 29 and 35.
Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said the changes made to the guidance would “mean more suicides being completed by disabled people placed under unendurable stress by the assessment regime”.
He said: “The message to us from the DWP is, ‘We want you dead. If you say you are suicidal we will only believe you once you have killed yourself.’
“This is democide (the deliberate causing of harm or death to citizens by their government).
“Iain Duncan Smith was an extreme persecutor of disabled people. If Damian Green [the current work and pensions secretary] continues these measures, he will inherit that title.”
He added: “[Disabled actor and activist] Liz Carr was right to invoke Nazi comparisons recently.
“This is now the most concerted attack on disabled people in western Europe since Germany’s Chancellor Hitler signed the executive order Aktion T4 in 1939 to murder disabled people the state judged ‘unworthy of life’.”
A DWP spokeswoman said the new guidance had been developed in conjunction with Maximus, the discredited US outsourcing giant that took over provision of WCAs in March 2015.
She refused to confirm that the guidance had now made it harder for claimants to be placed in the ESA support group, but said: “The guidance has consistently made clear that if there is a substantial risk to a claimant’s mental health by being placed in the work-related activity group, they should be placed in the support group.”
Asked if the changes to guidance were made to put into effect the policy proposal laid out in the document released through the freedom of information request, she said: “The freedom of information response showed speculative policy formulations [that] were drafted by staff before the last election in case they were requested by a new government.
“They have not been raised, do not represent government policy and have never been sent to ministers.”
Asked if DWP believed that the changes to the guidance would mean more claimants would suffer harm, including death, and if DWP believed this was a price worth paying for finding more people fit for work and fewer people eligible to be placed in the ESA support group, she said: “No.”
Asked how DWP justified the changes, she said: “The department keeps its guidance to both healthcare professionals and departmental decision-makers under regular review.
“We introduced new guidance for healthcare professionals on the use of regulation 35 which explains the support the department gives to claimants placed in the work-related activity group.”
And asked how DWP justified asking assessors to decide if there were factors that would “mitigate the risk” of someone taking their own life if they were found fit for work, including “the benefits of employment weighed against any potential risks”, she said: “Healthcare professionals who carry out the WCA are trained in all aspects of their role including the application of risk.
“They are also issued with written guidance on all aspects of the WCA including the application of risk.”
29 September 2016
Labour conference: Abrahams says party will scrap WCA… but not sanctions
A Labour government would replace the “discredited” fitness for work test with a new assessment but it would not scrap benefit sanctions, the party’s shadow work and pensions secretary has admitted.
Debbie Abrahams told a delighted party conference in Liverpool this week that Labour would scrap the work capability assessment (WCA) – which Labour introduced in 2008 – and get rid of the government’s “punitive sanctions system”.
It was a pledge repeated by the newly re-elected party leader Jeremy Corbyn in his main speech to the conference, saying a Labour government would be “scrapping the punitive sanctions regime and the degrading work capability assessment”.
But Abrahams had already admitted to Disability News Service (DNS) that this did not mean that a Labour government would scrap all benefit sanctions.
She said the party’s pledge was only to scrap “the punitive regime introduced in 2012” through the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
She said: “There has always been conditionality. The sanctions regime we have got is not the one we want.”
Abrahams also declined to say if the party would scrap the benefit cap, which was introduced by the coalition government and tightened by the Conservative government elected last year.
Instead, she said: “I don’t think it is right that we have a system that is plunging children into poverty, principally as a result of the benefit cap.”
She suggested that DNS should focus on the party’s “direction of travel”, rather than details of social security policy.
She was also unable to promise to reverse the government’s controversial tightening of the eligibility criteria for the upper rate of mobility support – in the move from working-age disability living allowance to the coalition’s personal independence payment – from 50 metres to 20 metres.
Instead, she said: “What I have given is the direction of travel. Watch and listen to what we come forward with.”
Abrahams’ responses mean that the party currently has a less radical social security policy than the Liberal Democrats, who voted last week to scrap the WCA, all benefit sanctions, the PIP 20-metre rule, and the benefit cap.
Abrahams told the party conference that the government had “fostered an insidious culture of fear and blame to justify their programme of cuts, deliberately attempting to vilify social security claimants as the new undeserving poor”.
She showed the conference a trailer from director Ken Loach’s critically-praised new film I, Daniel Blake – winner of this year’s Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival – because she said it “epitomises what is wrong with our social security system”.
As well as offering a fierce attack on the WCA system, a key plot development in the film centres around a single mother who is sanctioned for turning up a few minutes late for an appointment at a jobcentre.
Loach told DNS this week* that it would be a “hell of a result” if a Labour government scrapped the WCA.
When told that Abrahams was not promising to scrap sanctions completely, he said: “It seems at this stage she’s saying the right things.
“They asked permission to use the trailer and we were pleased to give it because I have got confidence in Jeremy Corbyn and the people he would choose.
“But if it would turn out that they had used it and then didn’t make substantial changes, we would have something to say about it.”
But he added: “They are not in power and won’t be in power for some years. I trust Jeremy’s good faith.”
Abrahams told the conference: “For those unable to work through illness or disability, we need to transform our social security to one that is efficient, responsive, and provides basic support.
“Time and time again, I hear how worthless the system makes people feel, even dehumanised.
“For the vast majority of people who have paid into it all their working lives, this is like a slap in the face. People often feel desperate, have been left destitute and have even died.
“I want to change the culture of our social security system and how the public see it.
“I believe that, like the NHS, it is based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us all of our dignity and the basics of life were we to fall on hard times or become incapacitated; giving us a hand up, not a hand out.”
She added: “Work should always pay more than being on social security, but being in work shouldn’t mean living in poverty and neither should being on social security.”
She said a Labour government would replace the WCA with a system based on “personalised, holistic support, one that provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing their barriers, whether skills, health, care, transport, or housing-related”.
Abrahams also said that the disability equality roadshow that she first launched last December, with events planned around the country, would now restart.
The roadshow appears to have been delayed both by funding problems (according to Disability Labour, the network of disabled Labour party members), and the party’s leadership contest (according to Disability Labour and Abrahams).
It aimed to ask disabled people for their help in designing a 21st-century social security system, and Abrahams told a fringe meeting this week that it demonstrated the party’s commitment to co-producing disability policy with disabled people.
*A full interview with Loach will be published by DNS next week. I, Daniel Blake will be released next month
29 September 2016
Labour needs to do far more to address issues of disability rights and the inclusion of disabled people in society, two leading disabled academics have told a fringe meeting at the party’s annual conference.
Disability rights issues were marginalised at this week’s conference, with only fleeting references to the social care crisis – including a pledge to integrate the health and social care systems – and any attention focusing only on mental health, social security and jobs.
But Miro Griffiths, a researcher and teacher at John Moores University, which hosted Monday’s fringe meeting, said the party needed to examine its position on disability rights and inclusion, and ask “what does it actually mean to be included in society, to be included in our communities”.
He said: “It needs to be led at the top by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, using the language and embracing the principles disabled people and their organisations have spoken of for many years.”
Griffiths and Dr Paul Darke, cultural critic and director of the organisation Outside Centre, decided to hold the event because of the failure to address the issues on the conference platform and through meetings on the conference fringe.
Griffiths suggested that disabled people needed organisations like Momentum, the left-wing campaign set up to build on and support Corbyn’s leadership of the party, to start “opening up and being accessible to disabled people”.
And he said the party needed to listen to disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Darke told Labour MP Margaret Greenwood – who attended the fringe event along with shadow disabled people’s minister Debbie Abrahams – that he believed the party should appoint between 10 and 15 disabled peers who were politically and socially aware and “whose voices cannot be ignored”.
Griffiths, a former project officer for the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), said that Corbyn had the potential for “taking Labour in a new direction” and winning the support of an “untapped demographic” who have previously been non-voters “and have not been given the skills to question the marginalisation they experience”.
That potential was laid out in a disability rights manifesto produced by Corbyn’s team as part of his re-election campaign, although it has not been widely circulated and is not yet Labour policy, while most of its content was ignored by the conference.
Among its pledges, Corbyn’s manifesto commits to the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ensuring that the 12 pillars of independent living inform Labour policy-making, and developing an inclusive education system.
Dave Allan, chair of Disability Labour – the network of disabled Labour party members – pointed out this week that issues of disability rights should be addressed more fully at next year’s conference, when Corbyn should have been able to fill all of his shadow ministerial posts, many of which had to be merged after he faced the string of resignations that led to him facing a leadership election.
Because of those forced changes, there is currently no shadow minister for disabled people and no shadow minister for mental health, a new position Corbyn himself created.
After the fringe event – which they called Disability, Social Justice and Control – Darke said that he and Griffiths had organised the meeting themselves because the issues were not being addressed at conference.
He said: “If you work in a big company, you get disability equality training, but I bet the MPs don’t.
“[They don’t understand] the political articulation of what disability is. They are almost incapable of escaping the notion of linking it to charity, and that is a real tragedy, a real problem with our progression.
“It should be compulsory for MPs to a do a certain number of disability things at every conference, within the main conference and on the fringe.
“It’s not necessarily the MPs’ fault, it’s why they need to be trained and educated. It is the party’s responsibility to ensure that it happens.”
Griffiths said Labour “has not built on the important legacy that was being built by grassroots movements like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)”.
He said: “Jeremy has to acknowledge the failure of the Labour party in previous years to push forward with these agendas.”
And he said Corbyn needed to be clear that engaging with disabled people did not mean talking to “the usual suspects” from the big disability charities, but listening to groups like DPAC and the anti-euthanasia network Not Dead Yet UK.
Griffiths also called for the party to move away from the focus on vulnerability and the “tragedy” of disabled people’s lives, and instead create a foundation of human rights and social justice, allowing Corbyn to say that “this is what socialism means”.
29 September 2016
The speaker of the House of Commons must “take a stance” on calls for new laws that would allow candidates to stand jointly for election as job-share MPs, according to the disabled president of the Liberal Democrats.
Baroness [Sal] Brinton spoke out in frustration at the lack of progress in pushing for a measure that should lead to more disabled people and more women in parliament.
She said: “There is still a structural problem in the way the Westminster bubble thinks about the role of an MP, and until the speaker takes a stance on it – because it’s got to be non-political – we are unlikely to make progress. But we will continue to fight for it.”
Both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have endorsed the idea of job-share MPs, and the Lib Dems included it in their last general election manifesto.
Baroness Brinton said: “We are in favour of job-sharing for MPs. We are in favour of it for more than just women.
“We are very clear that job-sharing for MPs is very important for people who have disabilities.”
She points out that the Speaker’s Conference, which reported in 2010 and was chaired by John Bercow, the speaker, did not mention job-share MPs in its 71 conclusions and recommendations, despite making a string of other recommendations for increasing parliamentary representation from under-represented groups including disabled people.
And she said there had been “considerable debate” on the issue in parliament since 2010.
The high-profile nature of that debate was further heightened by the election of Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley as job-sharing co-leaders of the Green party this summer.
Bercow will look again at issues around the diversity of parliament this autumn when he chairs a Commons reference group on representation and inclusion.
That group will consider The Good Parliament, a report written by Professor Sarah Childs, from the University of Bristol, and published in July.
Childs’ research saw her “embedded” full-time in the House of Commons for eight months, with an advisory board chaired by Bercow.
But her report makes no mention of job-sharing MPs – despite a high-profile court case in July 2015 in which two Green party activists argued that they should have been allowed to fight a seat jointly at the general election – apart from a footnote to a brief point made in one of its appendices.
That footnote says that she will be publishing a pamphlet on job-sharing MPs, which she says will be published later this autumn.
A spokeswoman for Bercow said in a statement that it was “well known that the speaker is keen to increase diversity within the House”, but she added: “It is not for a speaker – who in order to chair proceedings in the Commons impartially must remain neutral – to either advocate for or argue against legislation on this or any other matter.”
She said that the issue of job-sharing MPs “may be a proposal that the group chooses to examine in further detail”.
But she declined to ask Bercow whether he would ensure the issue was discussed by the reference group.
Childs declined to say why there was no discussion of job-sharing in her report, whether Bercow had any influence over its content as chair of the advisory board, or whether she would ensure that her pamphlet was passed to the reference group when it was published.
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, which campaigns for MPs to be allowed to job-share, said: “Disability Politics UK is looking forward to reading Professor Childs’ pamphlet on job-sharing for MPs.
“With a new prime minister who is a self-proclaimed feminist, we hope that there will be progress on this issue.
“With the boundary changes leading to a reduction in constituencies, job-sharing could help MPs by enabling them to share seats.
“It could lead to a more diverse Commons, and help us get more disabled and women MPs.”
29 September 2016
Disabled party members have given overwhelming backing to the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party.
Corbyn was elected with 62 per cent of the vote, in a result announced on the first day of Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool, easily beating former shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith.
Nearly every disabled party member approached by Disability News Service at the conference welcomed that decision.
Ken Audin, a member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “He’s got very good ideas. His heart is in the right place.
“He thinks a lot about the needs of disabled people. I’m hopeful that he pulls the Labour party together and they get themselves in a position where they will win an election.”
Janet Blackwell also welcomed his re-election.
She said: “I hope it will lead the Labour party away from austerity, so there will be fewer cuts in benefits.”
But she warned: “I have heard a lot of words but we will wait to see if we get into government to see what the action is.”
Another supporter, Sarah Finlayson, said: “He’s very passionate about people with disabilities, people on benefits, [and opposing] austerity measures.”
And she said his focus on trade union rights would give more rights to disabled people in the workplace.
Dave Allan, chair of Disability Labour – the network of disabled Labour party members – which nominated Corbyn to be leader because of his record on disability, said: “It will be a fundamental step forward for disabled people’s rights in the UK if Jeremy is elected prime minister.
“He has supported disabled people for decades. He has been with us on virtually every demo. He has supported all our campaigns.
“I think it’s going to make a tremendous difference.”
He pointed to the disability rights manifesto that Corbyn put together in the last weeks of his re-election campaign, which both Disability Labour and Disabled People Against Cuts had fed into.
The manifesto includes a commitment to implement fully the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ensure that the 12 pillars of independent living inform Labour policy-making, and to develop an inclusive education system.
The manifesto also says that investing £500 billion in infrastructure and other public spending, backed by a publicly-owned national investment bank, would lead to progress on equality and ensure “accessible public transport and housing”.
One disabled delegate, who asked not to be named, said she was disappointed with Corbyn’s victory.
She said: “Jeremy is a lovely man but he’s not a leader.
“People need a leader who can provide the leadership and a shadow cabinet that shows depth, quality and experience.”
She said the current shadow cabinet did not demonstrate those qualities.
Austin Harney, who was due to speak at a fringe event being held to launch the development of a Labour manifesto on neurodiversity, welcomed Corbyn’s victory and said he hoped it would lead to “breakthroughs” in rights for neurodiverse people.
But he particularly praised Corbyn’s shadow chancellor and close political ally, John McDonnell.
He said McDonnell had worked closely with families with autistic children in his London constituency, and had even been instrumental in his own decision to be open about his autism.
He said: “I would never have come out in the open if it was not for John McDonnell.”
He also praised McDonnell’s call in May this year for Labour to appoint a shadow minister for neurodiversity.
Anne Pridmore, a party member and former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, said she was “very glad” that Corbyn had been re-elected.
She said: “If we have got any hope, we have got hope in Jeremy.
“He has given a statement that he is going to make independent living a right, so let’s hope that he sticks to his manifesto promise.”
Another disabled party member, Jan Turner, also welcomed his re-election.
She said: “I am really glad he’s got in. We just have to hope that the other MPs will support him in parliament. I hope they will get united.
“I think he’s a man of principles and honesty. I believe I can trust him. I can’t say that about many politicians.”
29 September 2016
A disabled benefit claimant is set to lodge a complaint with the information commissioner after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sent him highly confidential medical details belonging to another benefit claimant.
The man was sent the report, written by an assessor working for the US outsourcing giant Maximus, even though he had made it clear that he refuses on principle to share his own medical information with any private company.
David* lost his father as a result of gross medical negligence by a private healthcare company in South Africa, and now will not allow any private organisation to see his medical records.
Maximus has a huge chunk of DWP contracts, despite its “chilling” record of incompetence, discrimination and alleged fraud in the US.
The stand David has taken has seen him refusing to attend a work capability assessment (WCA) with a Maximus assessor, which meant that he lost his eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits, which he had been claiming for about 10 years.
David, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, said he was astonished to be posted an ESA 85 report written by a Maximus healthcare assessor – and marked “restricted material” – following a WCA carried out into the eligibility of a woman believed to be from the Berkshire area.
Although David knows her name, he does not know her address, and he has not shared any of the details of her report with Disability News Service.
He is now considering lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over DWP’s apparent breach of data protection laws.
But he said he would prefer to take legal action to ensure that the woman was aware that her information had been sent to another claimant.
He is also going to raise the issue with his MP, prime minister Theresa May.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Not only are DWP often totally incompetent, but they are also inconsistent in how they behave towards claimants.
“To send out very personal information about someone to the wrong person in breach of all data protection legislation is totally unacceptable and I hope this will be followed up by the ICO.”
David said he had made it clear to Maximus that he would not share any of his own medical information with them.
He said: “I won’t deal with them. It’s insulting to my dad’s memory. I would rather be on the streets in poverty rather than deal with them.
“I don’t think it is right that anyone should be forced to see a private medical firm. That should be a choice.”
He added: “I have made it plain to Maximus that I will only be assessed by NHS doctors. How they assess me is their problem.”
He said his local council had promised to continue paying his housing benefit, even though he had lost his entitlement to ESA.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “Every year we send out millions of letters and fortunately incidents like this are rare.
“We are investigating this particular incident and would like to apologise for any upset it may have caused.”
She said that ESA claimants must participate in a WCA to ensure they are receiving the right benefit.
*Not his real name
29 September 2016
A young campaigner has called on other disabled people to share their experiences of successful employment in order to help narrow the disability employment gap.
Lauren Pitt told a fringe meeting at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool that she wanted to see disabled people use social media to share their good experiences in the workplace.
Pitt has contributed an essay to An Inclusive Future, a new publication by the Fabian Society, Scope and the union Community.
In her essay, she writes about her experiences of graduating with a 2:1 degree, and then applying unsuccessfully for more than 250 jobs in which she disclosed in nearly every application the fact that she was blind.
She says in her essay: “Many of the people told me I was inspirational, but that was not what I wanted to hear.
“I wanted to be looked at like any other person who had applied for that job.”
She eventually secured a job with a social enterprise that had never previously employed a disabled person.
But she told the fringe meeting that it had taken four weeks for the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme to provide the assistive technology equipment she needed to do her job, and that AtW had originally warned her that it would take eight weeks.
She said: “Every time I phoned up AtW I was treated like a burden.”
Pitt told the meeting: “We need to have disabled people using their experiences and showing what they are doing.
“We are never going to change attitudes unless we share our experiences. If we are not confident, we are never going to convince other people that we are worth taking on.”
She said her “dream” was to see more disabled people in work, and added: “I want what people currently see as extraordinary to be seen as ordinary.
“Use the people who are in work and who are having a good experience. We need to be using those experiences that are positive to educate employers and potential employers.
“Currently all we hear is bad stories, and that destroys people’s confidence.”
Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions secretary, told the event that the government was “failing miserably” in its efforts to halve the disability employment gap.
She said there was a need to change the culture of the out-of-work disability benefits system, including the work capability assessment – which Labour introduced, but she said it would now scrap if it won the next general election – and the use of sanctions, “so it is about support, so it is not a punitive system that so often makes people feel so worthless”.
She agreed with Pitt that there was a need for role models who will “trail blaze” and show “what can be done”.
Wayne Blackburn, a disabled councillor with Pendle Borough Council, said he believed the party should “lead by example and have more disabled MPs, more disabled representatives across the whole spectrum”.
Labour MP Neil Coyle, a member of the Commons work and pensions committee, said the current and previous governments had presided over “dramatic reductions in support” for disabled people seeking employment over the last six years.
He said there had been a fall in the proportion of working-age disabled people in work, while the number of people receiving Access to Work was still below the number in Labour’s last year in government, there had been cuts to the budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and to legal aid, and to the number of specialist disability employment advisers in jobcentres.
Coyle, a former director of Disability Rights UK, who also worked at a senior level for the Disability Rights Commission, said there “absolutely must” be an awareness-raising campaign to show what disabled people can do in work.
In his own essay in the publication, Coyle says the shift from manual, industrial labour to service and financial sector jobs “increases opportunities for many more disabled people to play a more active part in mainstream workplaces”, while the growth in home working and advances in IT and accessibility software have also increased opportunities for disabled people.
He told the fringe event that the government had wasted money through its short-term approach – including a failure to invest more in Access to Work – and he heavily criticised the move away from having a disabled people’s minister with a cross-government role.
He said: “We have lost that cross-government approach because we have had a minister sitting in the Department for Work and Pensions as a minister for disabled people as an apologist for Iain Duncan Smith.”
29 September 2016
Disabled party activists have welcomed the Labour leader’s decision to back their campaign for him to reinstate the post of shadow cabinet minister for mental health.
Jeremy Corbyn was forced to scrap the post he created only last year in July, because of the departure of MP Luciana Berger and the need to appoint a slimmed-down shadow cabinet, following a spate of other resignations.
But members of the Labour Party Campaign for Mental Health called at this week’s annual party conference in Liverpool for him to appoint a replacement to the role, following his re-election as party leader.
And they were delighted when Corbyn visited their campaign stand and posed with a placard calling for the position to be renewed.
Victoria Desmond, the campaign’s strategic director, said she hoped such an appointment would “feed down everywhere and hopefully to the workplace and hopefully to parliament”.
Desmond later told a fringe event organised by Disability Labour – the network of disabled Labour party members – that people with mental health conditions like herself experienced widespread discrimination.
She said: “People don’t have protection at work and it’s very hard to fight for protection when you’re being stigmatised.
“You shouldn’t feel ashamed to have a mental health condition and that is how it is at the moment.”
She said she had not felt able to disclose her impairment to her first boss – a Labour MP – but had felt comfortable doing so with her current employer, another Labour MP.
She encouraged disabled people to disclose their impairments once they had secured employment because it provides them with more legal protection, but she said there was still a need for legal reforms to improve protection in the workplace.
Issues around mental health were widely debated and discussed at the conference, but mostly focusing on cuts to health services.
The party’s National Policy Forum has produced what it calls a “priority issue document” on mental health, which says the party is “firmly committed to making mental health a priority and ensuring that parity of esteem between mental and physical health becomes a reality”.
One delegate told the health and care debate at the conference about the disproportionate number of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people with mental health issues.
He said: “We can’t sit back, comrades, and do nothing in the face of a mental health crisis, when the majority of transgendered young people either attempt or commit suicide.”
Another delegate stressed the impact of austerity and inequality on mental health and reducing life expectancy.
A third delegate thanked Corbyn for his “parity of esteem” pledge, and said she had received her first inpatient treatment earlier this year.
She won a standing ovation – including from Corbyn – after she disclosed her own experience of the NHS.
She said: “I can’t tell you how invaluable their work was. Without them, I don’t think I would be standing here today before you.
“I would like to ask [Tory health secretary] Jeremy Hunt: do you value nurses so little… do you value the lives of people like me so little that you’re willing to put their lives at risk?”
Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott told the conference: “Labour in government will put the money behind this.
“The delays in accessing timely mental health treatment around the country are unacceptable.
“We want an end to shame and an end to the tacit acceptance that the mentally-ill are somehow second-class citizens in our healthcare system.”
29 September 2016
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com