My disability abortion bill could halt Britain’s slide towards eugenics, says Tory peer

A disabled peer has warned that Britain could be heading towards becoming a “eugenic” society if parliament does not agree to update abortion laws to make it illegal to discriminate against foetuses with impairments.

Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin believes that equalising the time limit for abortions for both disabled and non-disabled foetuses would send a powerful message that society, and the government, believe in equality for all disabled people, both before and after birth.

The Conservative peer is calling on disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations to unite around the issue.

He has also told Disability News Service (DNS) that he believes that ensuring disability equality in abortion law could lead to disabled people being awarded a higher priority in government spending decisions, for example on social care.

At present, it is legal under the 1967 Abortion Act to abort a foetus right up to the point of birth if [in the act’s words] “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”.

This, says Lord Shinkwin, is despite the fact that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ own guidance has said that an assessment of both risk and severity is subjective, which he says “is borne out by the abortion of 11 babies in 2015 for surgically rectifiable conditions such as cleft palate and hair lip”.

But he adds: “Why should we be surprised that we’re still having to fight for equality and against discriminatory attitudes after birth if we’ve as good as hoisted the white flag and said it’s fine to kill us up to birth for being disabled as long as it happens before our screams can be heard?

“This legal perpetuation of prejudice informs so much cultural hostility to disability; until we confront that fact, we’re not going to make real headway in ending it.”

He says there is “no way” that members of other “protected characteristics” covered by the Equality Act, such as black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities or LGBT people, would accept the “cut-off point on equality” that applies to disabled people before birth.

He says: “If there was a hypothetical gay gene, quite rightly they would not accept that they should enjoy protection after birth on account of what the Equality Act 2010 describes as a ‘protected characteristic’, only for the same characteristic to be used as a reason for their termination before birth. That would be ridiculous.

“Sadly, the laws do not just state in black and white that we are worth less than non-disabled people, they actually say we are entirely worthless.

“So, one law allows non-disabled people to discriminate against us right up to the point of birth for the very same characteristic – disability – which another law states is the reason why we need protection from discrimination after birth.”

He adds: “Why should we be expected to accept what George Orwell would have recognised as disability doublespeak, just because some non-disabled people, including some who mouth equality, are in denial about such a fundamental inequality and are instead more concerned about protecting a hierarchical status quo which is incompatible with true equality?”

The disabled peer is currently engaged in a stand-off with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) (see separate story), after he responded to an advert specifically for the post of disability commissioner but was then told after being appointed – and just 36 hours before his first board meeting – that the watchdog had decided to abolish the role and that he would simply be a commissioner and would not lead on disability issues.

He is boycotting EHRC board meetings until what he believes is a vital post is reinstated and he is allowed to chair the commission’s new disability advisory committee.

He is still waiting for EHRC to say whether it supports his bill.

“I am waiting with baited breath,” he says. “I leave it to them to make clear that they believe in genuine equality.

“They are aware of my bill and I am waiting to hear whether they support genuine equality.”

Following his comments, an EHRC spokeswoman told DNS: “The issue of abortion and the abortion of disabled foetuses is complex and we are aware of Lord Shinkwin’s views.

“We are in the process of weighing up all the relevant equality issues and human rights at stake in relation to Lord Shinkwin’s private member’s bill.”

Meanwhile, the peer says he fears that Britain’s views and practices on disability and abortion could soon become similar to Iceland’s.

It has been widely reported that there have been no babies born with Down’s syndrome in Iceland for more than five years, as 100 per cent of women who have a positive diagnosis after a screening test now terminate their pregnancy, while Denmark’s government has apparently said it plans to be “Down’s syndrome free” in the next 10 years.

Lord Shinkwin said: “In Iceland, they actually think that is a wonderful thing.

“When people ask me why this is such an issue, I say look at the future, the future is in Iceland.”

The testing technology is improving so quickly that “if we don’t say anything now it is going to be too late”, he says.

“We cannot afford to ignore this inequality because it is only going to become even easier to use our so-called protected characteristic against us, to ‘search and destroy’ for disability before birth.”

He also points to lessons from history, particularly the Nazis’ Aktion T4 programme, which resulted in the murder of as many as 275,000 disabled people at the hands of German doctors.

“The conditions for T4 were created in a very short period of time,” he says.

“I am not saying Iceland is a Nazi regime, or Denmark, of course, but I do say we should not forget the lessons of history.

“What could appear unacceptable suddenly becomes acceptable very easily and quickly. The lessons of history contain really, really powerful warnings.”

He says he fears that Britain could be heading towards becoming a eugenic* society if it does not act to end disability discrimination before birth, which is why he believes his bill is urgently needed.

“We are not joining the dots,” he says, “we are not asking ourselves what the implications of this sort of policy being seen as totally acceptable are to how disabled people are treated after birth.

“If we accept as disabled people that it is OK to use our so-called protected characteristic to identify us and single us out for the removal of all protection before birth, then we should not be surprised if we find that non-disabled people [he stresses that he is referring to ‘governments of all colours’, and not just the current Conservative government] are attaching a higher priority to investing in other areas.”

He believes that a change in the law “would help recalibrate the priorities, and that would have a long-term beneficial effect on social care, for example”.

He also believes that his party has a duty to act because it was a Conservative government amendment to the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, he says, which made it “even easier for this disability discrimination to happen by allowing abortion on grounds of disability right up to birth”.

Lord Shinkwin’s new private member’s bill would make it illegal to abort a disabled foetus after 24 weeks of a pregnancy, just as it is with non-disabled foetuses.

His abortion (disability equality) bill – which is awaiting its second reading – is an amended version of a bill he introduced in the last parliament, which gained support from Disability Rights UK.

Support for some of the principles behind his bill can also be found in the shadow report to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, submitted earlier this year by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA).

He hopes that ROFA and other user-led grassroots groups and DPOs “will make it clear that disabled people need to unite around this issue. We need to support each other.”

His first bill would have outlawed the use of disability as a justification or criterion for allowing abortion altogether, but due to the opposition he encountered in the Lords, he has amended the proposed legislation and produced the new version.

The new bill would still allow the impairment of a foetus to be used as a justification for an abortion, but would change the law to allow this only to happen in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy.

His new bill would also ensure that parents are given “balanced, full and accurate” information about a diagnosis, including from groups led and controlled by disabled people.

Although his is 49th in the list of private member’s bills waiting for debating time in the Lords, he is optimistic that it will eventually be debated and receive its second reading, particularly as the current parliamentary session will last two years, instead of the usual one.

Lord Shinkwin insists that his bill is driven entirely by his experiences as a disabled person and not by faith-related issues (he says, “I have found my belief in Jesus Christ a tremendous source of support in coping with the challenges of living with my disability”).

And he says he is careful not to give an opinion on abortion in general.

“I do not take a position on abortion because I am very grateful for the support I am receiving in the House from people on both sides of this debate [both pro-choice and pro-life].”

He adds: “What is driving me on this? It is my belief in our intrinsic equality and our common humanity.

“The current law means that someone like me can be good enough for the House of Lords after birth, but only good enough for the incinerator before birth because of my disability.

“What’s that all about? It’s certainly not about equality.”

*The idea that society can be improved by selecting those who are allowed to survive and breed (definitions of eugenics vary)

3 August 2017

 

 

Disabled women raise concerns over peer’s disability abortion bill

Disabled women have raised concerns about a new bill that would equalise the time limit for abortions for disabled and non-disabled foetuses.

The private member’s bill has been brought forward by the disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) this week that his abortion (disability equality) bill would send a powerful message that society, and the government, believe in equality for all disabled people, both before and after birth.

At present, it is legal under the 1967 Abortion Act to abort a foetus right up to the point of birth, where [in the act’s words] “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”.

But his efforts to change the law have provoked substantial opposition, including from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas).

This week, bpas published a report summarising discussions that took place at a workshop on disability and reproductive rights, which it organised alongside the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

The workshop, on 27 June, heard that the concerns and needs of disabled women were almost always ignored in discussions about reproductive and sexual rights.

The disabled political journalist Dr Frances Ryan said this meant that disability was often only mentioned when discussing reproductive rights in the context of the law on abortion and disabled foetuses.

Ryan told DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that she opposed Lord Shinkwin’s bill and that “any progress made in disability rights should never be off the back of women’s”.

She said: “I’m worried about any measure that restricts women’s personal choices about what’s best for their own bodies and families.

“No woman choosing to abort a foetus after the 24-week stage is making that decision lightly.

“Forcing a woman to bring to term a disabled foetus against her will is not the way to support disabled people.”

Eleanor Lisney, a founder member of the disabled women’s co-operative Sisters of Frida, who also spoke at the workshop, told DNS that Lord Shinkwin’s bill was “really problematic”, although she “would not come down hard on one side or the other”.

She said it was important that any woman faced with the choice of aborting a foetus with an impairment must have “all the facts” and be provided with the necessary information and support, as parents are often pressured into an abortion in such cases.

She said: “Thanks goodness I have never had to make that kind of decision.

“I really think it is not fair that disabled children should be aborted as a matter of course just because they are disabled.

“I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but also that she should get all the information about what she is getting into when she goes for an abortion.”

Ryan also told the workshop that disabled women often faced huge difficulties accessing information about appropriate and accessible methods of contraception, while disabled children often miss out on sex education.

And she said that disabled women were often viewed as a burden on the state, while the decision to have a disabled child was frequently viewed as selfish or a tragedy.

Ryan called for a cultural shift away from seeing disabled women as sexless and towards seeing disabled people as prospective parents, with respect for their reproductive choices and decisions.

The disabled artist Alison Lapper told the workshop of the obstacles she faced when bringing up her child, including twice being wrongly accused of neglect by social workers.

She told the workshop that disabled mothers were often viewed as inherently unfit, while she had experienced doctors, relatives and strangers repeatedly questioning her fitness to bring up a child.

3 August 2017

 

 

Disabled peer continues three-month boycott of EHRC board meetings

The disabled peer chosen to be the equality watchdog’s new disability commissioner has still not attended a single board meeting, more than three months after his appointment, because of a continuing stand-off over the decision to scrap the post.

Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin is boycotting board meetings until the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reinstates the role of disability commissioner, and allows him to chair the new disability advisory committee (DAC).

He responded last year to an advert for the post of disability commissioner but was then told – just 36 hours before his first board meeting – that the role had been made redundant and that he would simply be a commissioner and would not lead on disability issues.

The Conservative peer confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) this week that he is continuing to boycott board meetings until what he believes is a vital post is reinstated, and he is allowed to chair the DAC.

He said: “I would be delighted to attend board meetings when the disability commissioner post is reinstated and when I am allowed to chair the disability advisory committee. That hasn’t happened yet.

“My understanding from what I have been told is that I have to accept the abolition of the disability commissioner post and that I will not be chairing the disability advisory committee. I cannot accept either of those.

“I think it is absolutely essential that disabled people have a very strong voice as disabled people.

“We have equality needs the other protected characteristic groups do not have, and they need to be championed.”

He made it clear that when he applied for the post, he was applying for the role of disability commissioner, which is confirmed by a letter – seen by DNS – that was sent to the peer last November by the Government Equalities Office.

Asked if he had consulted lawyers about his stand-off with EHRC, he said: “I am keeping my own counsel. I am finding it hard to believe, to be honest, that I am in this situation.

“It is not just me who is in this situation, it is disabled people who are in this situation.

“Just by abolishing a disability commissioner, an equality body cannot abolish the need for a disability commissioner, and that need continues and indeed it is growing.”

The peer said that critics would be “really quite surprised” by his willingness to speak out against the government if needed.

He said: “I think it is too easy for someone to say, ‘Oh, he’s a Tory, he’s not one of us.’

“If I chaired the DAC I would be listening hard, I wouldn’t go in and impose my views.”

Although he has generally been loyal to his party since he was appointed to the Lords in 2015, he points out that he has voted against the government.

Last December, he voted against the government when the crossbench peer Baroness Deech – backed by EHRC – tried unsuccessfully to introduce measures that would have forced licensed premises to obey laws on accessibility when renewing their alcohol licences.

He said: “If people were to say to me, ‘Are you prepared to actually take a stand? Yes, I am, on issues that I really believe in.”

Asked if that meant opposing the government, he said: “If necessary.”

Asked for a response to Lord Shinkwin’s latest comments, an EHRC spokeswoman said: “The chair and the rest of the board continue to hope that matters can be resolved so that we can focus our attention on tackling the serious inequalities experienced by disabled people in Britain.

“The appointment of the new disability advisory committee continues. The arrangements for chairing the committee have not yet been finalised.”

EHRC has previously said that, under its new approach, “rather than having just one named champion of disability rights on the board, all board members, including a number of disabled commissioners and others with direct experience, will have a responsibility to champion disability issues”.

While he waits for a resolution, Lord Shinkwin said he would “continue campaigning on disability equality”, including on the need for the government to “make good on the commitments” it made in its original Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, including the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

This also includes campaigning on his abortion (disability equality) bill (see separate story), which would make it illegal to abort a foetus with a significant impairment after 24 weeks of a pregnancy, just as it is with foetuses without impairments.

At present, it is legal under the 1967 Abortion Act to abort a foetus right up to the point of birth, where [in the act’s words] “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”.

3 August 2017

 

 

PIP investigation: 200 cases of dishonesty… and still DWP, Atos and Capita refuse to act

The government and its private sector contractors are refusing to investigate claims of widespread dishonesty in the benefits assessment industry, despite Disability News Service (DNS) collecting more than 200 such cases.

The cases have been compiled during a DNS investigation into allegations that healthcare professionals working for outsourcing giants Capita and Atos have been lying in personal independence payment (PIP) assessment reports they have written for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Eight months after the investigation began, DNS now has a database of more than 200 cases in which disabled people have described – in varying levels of detail – how assessors lied in their written reports.

But this week, DWP, Atos and Capita all refused to launch an investigation into the claims of widespread dishonesty.

In one of the latest cases passed to DNS, a woman disabled as a result of stage three breast cancer has described how she requested a copy of her assessment report after she was told that she had been turned down for PIP and had been awarded zero points (a claimant needs eight points for the PIP standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate).

She said she was “utterly shocked” when she read the report because it was “full of complete lies”, including the assessor stating that her daughter takes her shopping every week, when she lives in Northern Ireland and her daughter has lived in England for the last 16 years.

Another claimant said of her PIP assessor: “She lied 11 times on the report despite my sending in a large amount of letters/documents outlining my conditions and support from specialists.

“She asked my carer questions, too, and wrote the opposite of most of the things we told her.”

A third claimant, who stayed in his wheelchair throughout his PIP assessment, was said by his assessor to have got up from the wheelchair and walked about.

He said the report was “just a pack of lies”, and included “results for tests not done” and “test results falsely reported”. He said he planned to report the nurse assessor to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Another claimant described how her nurse assessor stopped the PIP assessment halfway through, as she said she did not want to cause her any pain or discomfort.

She said: “She never ever asked was I in pain. When I received her report through the DWP, she lied through her teeth from beginning to end. She said that I stopped the assessment. I got 0 points.

“I have osteoarthritis, and have had one hip replaced, I have osteoporosis in my lower back, I have severe bladder problems, and need a pad on 24/7.

“I also told her that I have a growth on my liver, but she failed to mention this at all.”

A fourth claimant has told DNS: “Having produced the most incredible work of fiction since Harry Potter, my complaints to Atos have been all but brushed off like a flea on an elephant.

“While awaiting their ‘second level investigation’ and the outcome of my tribunal, I have now been prescribed anti-depressants and the trauma of it all has broken me.

“As a former healthcare professional of nearly 30 years, the thought that a fellow ‘professional’ could treat a human being in such a degrading way and lie through their teeth about them leaves me aghast.

“Even the NMC didn’t want to know, which I found shocking. The damage to my mental, physical and emotional wellbeing can’t be measured.”

DWP has confirmed again this week that it does not believe there is any dishonesty among its PIP assessors, and that it is not planning to launch an inquiry.

In a statement, a DWP spokeswoman said: “As we’ve previously made clear, assessment providers must adhere to strict quality standards regarding staff recruitment and training.

“They must demonstrate that their health professionals meet all of our requirements before they are approved to carry out assessments.

“All the health professionals are subject to on-going quality audits to ensure they continue to deliver high-quality assessments.

“Should they fall below our required standards, they are stopped from carrying out assessments.”

She said that Atos and Capita have their own complaints systems, which signpost complainants to the Independent Case Examiner if they remain dissatisfied with the final response.

Capita has also refused to order an inquiry into the claims.

A Capita spokeswoman said in a statement: “Our assessors are healthcare professionals who are committed to delivering high-quality and accurate reports throughout the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland in line with Department for Work and Pensions and [Northern Ireland] Department for Communities guidance.

“If someone is unhappy with the assessment service we have provided, they are welcome to contact us by phone, text phone, email or post so that we can look into their concern and understand what we are doing well as well as where we need to do things better.”

Atos has also refused to launch an investigation into the claims of widespread dishonesty by its assessors.

An Atos spokesman said: “We pride ourselves on providing a professional, compassionate and high-quality assessment service using the criteria as laid out by government and we will always investigate when and if complaints are made.

“Should any evidence be found of an assessment which does not meet our high standards then we will of course act promptly.”

3 August 2017

 

 

People living with HIV ‘have been failed by PIP’

People with HIV have been failed by the government’s new disability benefit, according to new research.

The research by the National AIDS Trust (NAT) found that only three-fifths of people living with HIV were found eligible for the new personal independence payment (PIP) after being reassessed.

NAT says its research has confirmed long-standing fears that people with HIV would not receive the support they needed under PIP, which is supposed to help cover people’s extra disability-related costs.

Its report shows that only three-fifths (63 per cent) of the 1,000 people with HIV who were previously receiving disability living allowance (DLA) and had been reassessed for PIP were awarded the new benefit.

This compares with 73 per cent of all DLA claimants who had been reassessed and were awarded PIP, according to the figures, published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last December.

One charity that works with NAT, River House, described yesterday (Wednesday) how a 57-year-old man who was diagnosed last October with HIV and also had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, had been awarded zero points after a PIP assessment in April.

An appeal to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – the so-called mandatory reconsideration stage – was refused in late June.

By this time, his health had deteriorated even further and he was admitted to hospital, where he was diagnosed with untreatable lung cancer.

He was due to receive DWP’s decision on a fresh PIP application this week, but died on Monday morning.

Another River House service-user with HIV has described how he had to start using foodbanks after his PIP was suddenly stopped because he missed a renewal deadline by just two days after he was diagnosed with cancer.

DWP refused to reconsider removing his PIP and he had to wait more than 16 weeks to be assessed again.

He said: “From the moment that my PIP stopped, I lost the uplift in my ESA [employment and support allowance] that I received because I was now not receiving PIP.

“While I waited to be assessed for PIP and again for ESA, I had to borrow small amounts of money from friends [and] organisations that support people living with HIV and I was a regular visitor to local food banks.”

The NAT analysis also shows that people with HIV who had been claiming DLA were more likely (43 per cent) than the average DLA claimant (30 per cent) to see their level of support cut if they were awarded PIP after a reassessment.

According to last December’s figures, only about 1,000 of the 7,920 people living with HIV who were claiming DLA at the start of the PIP rollout in 2013 – which itself was about 10 per cent of all those with HIV in the UK – had been reassessed.

The charity says that not everyone living with HIV in the UK has benefitted equally from modern treatments – for example, long-term survivors and people diagnosed late – and some will have life-long health problems as a result of HIV.

One study found that two-thirds of people living with HIV in the UK have at least one other condition, in addition to HIV, and 38 per cent have more than one additional condition.

Deborah Gold, NAT’s chief executive, said: “The evidence so far is that PIP is not working for people living with HIV who need extra support.

“The assessment is not fit for its stated purpose, to identify the disability-related barriers to participation and independence experienced by people living with HIV.

“The tick-box eligibility criteria describe only the most basic aspects of existence, such as physical capacity to consume food and bathe, without any understanding of the social context of life with a serious long-term condition.”

Among the charity’s many concerns about the assessment process are that it fails to accurately capture: the risk of isolation due to HIV-related anxiety; the need for support with nutrition; and the importance of adhering to HIV medication.

Sarah Radcliffe, NAT’s director of policy and campaigns, said that the research – the first to be carried out into the impact of PIP on people with HIV – shows that the concerns raised when the abolition of working-age DLA was announced in 2010 were not baseless.

She said the way the assessment was devised “means people living with HIV will not have their support needs identified – or where they are picked up, this will not necessarily translate to support”.

And she said the social model “rhetoric” used by DWP when it introduced the new benefit – focussing on how social factors create barriers to participation for disabled people – “has not translated to reality for PIP”.

Instead, she said, the PIP assessment “looks a lot like the work capability assessment’s notorious ‘tick box’ medical approach”.

She added: “The descriptors used are proxies for a basic existence and not for barriers to participation or the extra costs associated with an active, independent life.

“It is not too late to improve PIP for people living with HIV. The vast majority are yet to be reassessed.

“It is time to look again at PIP, from scratch, and make sure it lives up to its stated goals of promoting participation and independence.”

A DWP spokeswoman said in a statement: “We introduced PIP to replace the outdated DLA system – it takes a much wider look at the way someone’s health condition or disability impacts them on a daily basis and is tailored to suit each individual’s needs.

“Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.

“Under PIP, 28 per cent of claimants are now receiving the highest rate of support, compared to 15 per cent under DLA, and anyone who disagrees with a PIP decision has the right to appeal.”

But DWP figures from last December also showed that fewer than half (about 126,000) of the 254,000 people previously receiving the higher rate mobility component of DLA secured the same level of mobility support when reassessed for PIP.

And unpublished DWP figures obtained by DNS in March showed nearly half of disabled people subject to “planned reviews” of their eligibility for PIP were having their existing award either cut or removed completely.

NAT has produced free resources on PIP for people living with HIV and the services who support them

3 August 2017

 

 

Universal credit rules ‘could bar many disabled students from university’

Many disabled students could effectively be barred from higher education because of the introduction of the government’s new universal credit, according to MPs and peers who have written to the minister for employment.

The seven MPs and peers, all members of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, have joined the new chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Kamran Mallick, in writing to Damian Hinds to ask him to change the universal credit regulations.

The seven – who include the new disabled Labour MP Jared O’Mara and disabled peers the Countess of Mar and Lord Addington – say the move to universal credit, which is gradually being rolled out across the country, could make university unaffordable for many young disabled people.

At present, disabled full-time students who receive either PIP or DLA are automatically treated as having “limited capability for work” and so can receive both employment and support allowance (ESA) and housing benefit during their studies.

Although income-related ESA is often paid at low levels during term-time – as it can act as a means-tested top-up to student loans – it can be particularly useful during summer vacations, when disabled students are often unable to secure employment.

And claiming housing benefit is often the only way a disabled student can move away from home for the first time.

But the same rules that applied to ESA do not apply to universal credit, which is slowly replacing several means-tested benefits, including income-related ESA and housing benefit.

DR UK says that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed that only disabled students who receive DLA or PIP and have had their limited capability for work confirmed by a work capability assessment (WCA) are eligible for universal credit.

But DWP rules also bar disabled students in a universal credit area from undergoing a WCA to determine whether they have limited capability for work.

This means that if a student has not yet had a WCA – even if they are currently receiving ESA – and move to an area where universal credit has been introduced, they will not be able to receive support from universal credit at university.

DR UK has been campaigning to raise awareness of the issue for several months, and fears the current regulations will increase the gap between the proportion of non-disabled people (30 per cent) and disabled people (16 per cent) with a degree.

Because universal credit has only been introduced in some parts of the country, DR UK says the government has created “a postcode lottery where some disabled students can still claim ESA and housing benefit but others can only claim and be refused universal credit”.

It wants all full-time disabled students who receive DLA or PIP to be eligible for universal credit.

Ken Butler, DR UK’s welfare rights adviser, said: “We are concerned that the UC system does not allow a disabled student to be assessed as to their limited capability for work.

“It puts them in a Catch 22 situation – they cannot be entitled to universal credit unless they have a WCA but they cannot have a WCA unless they are entitled to universal credit.”

He added: “The DWP’s belated confirmation that many existing disabled students legitimately being paid ESA are barred from universal credit makes an unfair situation even worse.

“Disabled students may have made their decisions on undertaking courses away from home partly on their ability to claim housing benefit.

“If their college or university is then included in a ‘full service’ [available to all types of claimant] universal credit area this may mean them abandoning a course before they even start it.”

DR UK also says the rules which prevent many young disabled people from claiming universal credit were not subject to an equality impact assessment, and were not referred to in extensive notes published alongside the universal credit regulations in 2013.

Most disabled students are also excluded from other ways of claiming universal credit, because they are not carers, are not lone parents with young children, and cannot actively seek work.

A DWP spokesman said: “I can confirm we have received the letter, and will respond to Disability Rights UK directly.”

3 August 2017

 

 

Campaign seeks to Embolden disabled girls with Welsh role models

A new campaign aims to highlight the achievements of Deaf and disabled women in Wales, and provide role models for disabled girls.

Disability Wales (DW) – the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales – has been awarded funding for its Embolden campaign as part of the celebrations that will mark next year’s centenary of women in Britain obtaining the vote in March 1918.

The grant comes from funding charity Spirit of 2012 – set up by the Big Lottery Fund – and the women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society.

DW wants the Welsh public to nominate disabled women from Wales who have achieved in various categories – as community activists, in their career, in the arts, in sport, through their educational achievements, or in any other way.

It is also looking for women from recent or distant history who have made a contribution to disability rights or have been allies of disabled women.

Their stories and pictures will be used to create a campaign aimed at challenging myths and stereotypes about disability and highlighting them as role models.

Dr Natasha Hirst, temporary policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales, told Disability News Service (DNS): “The achievements and successes of disabled women are just not visible at the moment.

“We have young disabled girls looking out for role models but there are very few people for them to look to.

“We do have our Paralympic athletes, but not everybody can aspire to become elite athletes.

“There are other ways in which disabled women make important contributions – through their local communities, to academia, in their careers or setting up successful businesses.

“We want to show the diversity of disabled women in Wales.”

She said that, nearly 100 years on from securing the vote, disabled women still face dual discrimination.

“We face gender discrimination because we are women, but we also face disability discrimination.

“It does put far more barriers in the way for young girls who are disabled and who are looking to see what they can aspire to do.

“There are very few people for them to look to. We want to find those case studies and celebrate them and challenge the perceptions of non-disabled people about disability.

“We want to have conversations about what it means to be disabled and challenge those stereotypes and misconceptions that so many people hold.”

Three disabled Welsh women have already been appointed as ambassadors for the Embolden campaign.

Tina Evans has worked for BBC Wales as a researcher and for Disability Wales, where she learned about the social model of disability and how it “takes the self-blame away, and is very empowering”.

She is also a “self-confessed adrenaline junkie”, including surfing, water-skiing, rock-climbing and skiing.

DW says that “using her wheelchair as a tool for independence rather than a limitation, she constantly challenges expectations and norms about what a wheelchair-user can do with their life”.

Evans is now employed on the work experience programme run by Hywel Dda University Health Board, which covers Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire in south Wales.

She told DNS: “I want to be an ambassador just to show that being a disabled person doesn’t hold you back.

“So much work has been done out there, so many initiatives that enable us to do things.

“It enables me to do things that everybody else does, showing everyone that you do not have to let your impairment hold you back.

“There is a lot of work to be done around access and attitudes but [I don’t want to] paint everyone with the same brush – there are a lot of people out there who haven’t got [a] negative attitude.”

She added: “I like being a role model to other disabled people, just to show them that they are able to get on with things in life in general, and not to let their impairment hold them back.”

Another ambassador is Sian Preddy, a BSL-user who is studying to become a midwife at the University of South Wales and will become the only Deaf midwife in Wales when she qualifies.

DW said Preddy was “injecting her passion for deaf awareness into every academic and clinical setting she enters, supporting others to learn and develop by building a more equal playing field for many women to follow”.

The third ambassador is author, broadcaster and disability consultant Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds, whose autobiography, Four Fingers And Thirteen Toes, intersperses her own story with the history of thalidomide, the drug that caused her impairments.

DW said that Moriarty-Simmonds “strives to promote disability equality and the social model of disability through her consultancy work and speaking engagements”.

Nominations for Embolden should be submitted by 28 August, with a shortlist to be announced next month, and an awards event to be held in March 2018.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said: “Embolden is such an exciting initiative: Deaf and disabled women are too often invisible and this is a wonderful opportunity to share their achievements and really challenge people’s perceptions and expectations.

“We look forward to receiving nominations from across Wales and all communities.”

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “It is vital that disabled women’s stories are told and that their voices are heard.

“That’s why Fawcett is delighted to be supporting Disability Wales’ Embolden project.

“Shattering the stereotypes that society holds about disabled women is vital to building a better society for us all.”

3 August 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com