Cross-government suicide prevention plan ignores DWP

Ministers have failed to include the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in a new cross-government plan aimed at reducing suicides, despite years of evidence linking such deaths with the disability benefits system and social security reforms.

The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) first Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Workplan details how it will work with a string of government departments and other organisations to cut the number of suicides.

But there is not a single mention of DWP, the benefits system, employment and support allowance (ESA) or universal credit in the plan, which is led by suicide prevention minister Jackie Doyle-Price.

This also means that ESA and universal credit claimants are not included among the high-risk groups mentioned in the work plan.

This is despite years of research that have shown clear links between the government’s social security reforms and suicides and have demonstrated that ESA claimants are at particularly high risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour.

Three years ago, public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford showed in a study that, across England as a whole, the process of reassessing people on incapacity benefit for the new ESA between 2010 and 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides.

The following year, NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed that more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with about seven per cent of non-ESA claimants.

Only three months ago, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the government’s “chaotic” universal credit benefit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

That followed years of secret internal DWP investigations into the suicides of benefit claimants, and two reports by coroners that linked flaws in the work capability assessment (WCA) system with suicides.

But despite these years of research and evidence, first person accounts of family tragedies, and the NHS data, the government has omitted DWP from the workplan.

Doyle-Price has repeatedly refused to highlight that ESA claimants are a high-risk group in her cross-government suicide prevention strategy, or to alert local agencies to the NHS Digital figures.

The aim of her workplan is to “drive implementation” of the national suicide prevention strategy, and it claims that it “commits every area of Government to taking action on suicide”.

The omission of DWP from this new workplan contrasts with the many organisations DHSC is working with.

These include the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; the Ministry of Defence; the Ministry of Justice; the Department for Transport; the Government Equalities Office; the Department for Education; and the Home Office.

It is also working with organisations including Public Health England (PHE), the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Universities UK, the Office for National Statistics, the prison and probation service, the Care Quality Commission, Health Education England, the Local Government Association, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the British Transport Police, Network Rail, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Transport for London, and Highways England.

Public Health England has itself been implicated in the government’s continuing attempts to cover-up links between DWP policy and suicides.

Two months ago, the government’s public health agency published the latest update of its Suicide Prevention Profile, which is designed to help public bodies draw up their own local suicide prevention plans.

The profile includes 25 risk factors for suicide, but DNS reported how PHE had ignored the proportion of the population in local areas that claims ESA as one of those risk factors, even though it was aware of the NHS Digital figures.

This week, a DHSC spokesperson refused to say why DWP was not included in the workplan and whether Doyle-Price would apologise for omitting DWP and correct that omission.

And he declined to say why DHSC was refusing – including through the workplan – to warn agencies and departments that ESA claimants were at high risk of suicide.

But he said in a statement that there was DWP “representation” on the cross-government suicide prevention strategy delivery group.

He said: “The delivery group will ensure that the suicide prevention workplan published earlier this month is implemented and continues to evolve as new actions to prevent suicide are identified.

“The Department of Health and Social Care liaises with colleagues across government departments, including DWP, on a range of matters.”

He also pointed to a section on “people in receipt of employment benefits” in the fourth annual update on the government’s suicide prevention strategy, published last week.

This section of the progress report includes a brief update on DWP’s work on mental health and employment, including its much-criticised programme to install job advisers within NHS talking therapy services; its guidance for WCA assessors on dealing with ESA claimants at risk of suicide; resources for its own staff on managing declarations of suicide and self-harm intent; and its use of secret internal process reviews when a claimant dies through suicide.

The DHSC spokesperson added: “The government is committed to reducing suicide which is why the prime minister announced the first minister for suicide prevention in the UK.

“The minister for suicide prevention is working across national and local government to implement the cross-government suicide prevention strategy and this includes collaboration with DWP.”

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

31 January 2019

 

 

Minister seeks recruits for new disability network… but refuses to pay them

The minister for disabled people is refusing to pay the chairs and members of nine new regional groups she is setting up to bring the views of disabled people and their organisations closer to government.

The refusal to pay for their work and time has angered disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and follows a string of embarrassing failures to engage with disabled people and their user-led organisations in what critics say is a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

When the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) announced last month that it was setting up a new Regional Stakeholder Network, it said it wanted to “provide a channel for disabled people and their organisations to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect them”.

But when Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, published information about the new roles last week, she made it clear that all of those taking part – including the nine chairs – would have to work for free, apart from travel expenses and funding for disability-related costs.

The information also reveals that non-disabled people and charities and other organisations not run and controlled by disabled people would be invited to join the network, potentially even as some of the regional chairs.

Newton herself – who has been repeatedly criticised for her lack of commitment to disability rights – appeared to demonstrate the lack of importance she gave to the roles by writing a ministerial foreword for the information pack of just 12 words, telling potential applicants: “Thank you very much for your interest in the Regional Stakeholder Network.”

The network will cover nine different regions of England, with each of the groups led by an independent chair and consisting of between 10 and 40 members, who will all be “either disabled people, charities or organisations that represent disabled people”.

The nine groups will only be funded to meet once a year and will have to pay for any further meetings they arrange themselves, but ODI will still expect them to provide input throughout the year via email.

The chairs will also be expected to meet with Newton “to hear about the views and priorities of the members of each group”, with this work also unpaid apart from travel expenses and funding for disability-related costs

And the network members themselves will be expected to “engage with and feed back to other local organisations”, with this work again unpaid.

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said: “The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ comes to mind.

“The government should not expect to draw upon the collective expertise of a DPO for free but that is precisely what it is trying to do.

“GMCDP, like the majority of DPOs, has felt the harsh effects of austerity and as a result now has fewer staff and resources.

“It therefore cannot afford to undertake ongoing work without some financial remuneration.”

He added: “Our movement has repeatedly called on successive governments to consult directly with DPOs.

“However, this network fails to do so, as it is open to organisations regardless of whether they are user led or not.

“The government says the network will ‘represent disabled people’s views’ but if organisations on the network are not themselves controlled by and accountable to disabled people, how can they legitimately represent us?

“The government has a dreadful track record when it comes to engaging with disabled people and this latest move does nothing to improve that reputation and perhaps it is an indication of the importance (or lack of it) they place on listening to what disabled people have to say.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, itself a national network of disabled people and service-users, said no-one would be fooled by the government’s new network, which was “the worst kind of phoney engagement”.

He said the government was setting up its new network even though it was “well aware” that an already existing independent sector of user-led organisations was “currently being dissolved by lack of resources”.

He said: “If anything offered clear confirmation that this government is set to destroy the user involvement that has been emerging as the jewel in the crown of social policy since the 1980s, then it is its proposed regional stakeholder network.

“As much-valued user-led organisations face increasing crisis and closure, so this government takes the cynical step of creating a tokenistic alternative.

“It won’t add a respectable veneer to its widely condemned welfare reform policy. It won’t divert attention from the collapsing state of social care.

“It is a system that should be boycotted, but even if it isn’t it will carry no credibility, while wasting vital funding that could be helping to make health, care and other public services more cost-effective, sensitive and responsive.”

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, was another who was critical of the failure to pay those taking part in the new network.

She said: “We can see there may be a benefit to a regional network of disabled people feeding in to government policy – if the DWP are going to take people’s views seriously.

“But it sends a poor message when people involved in the new network are not going to be paid for their time and expertise.

“It inevitably shrinks the available pool of potential applicants to a small number who have both the time, and financial ability, to take part.

“The government’s ambition to halve the disability employment gap is welcome. It’s hard to take it seriously, though, when it demands that disabled people work for nothing.”

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, was supportive of the idea of a new network, but critical of how Newton had gone about setting it up.

She said: “I welcome any opportunity which encourages and promotes meaningful engagement between the government and disabled people, particularly given the government’s recent catalogue of failures to engage with disabled people.

“However, for that engagement to be meaningful and prompt much-needed change, disabled people and the organisations which they steer and lead must have parity of esteem in the discussion.

“This means paying people and organisations for their work and ensuring that there is fair representation of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.

“Many disabled people don’t always feel that larger and non-user led national charities represent their needs and views, and so there is a risk that it will only be those bigger players contributing to this debate which will result in a ‘glossing over’ of important issues.

“It would be helpful to understand more about what the government seeks to achieve with this network because a further concern is that it’s just paying lip service to important disability issues in our society when they should be at the foreground of any discussion and debate.”

An ODI spokesperson said: “The aim of the Regional Stakeholder Network is to ensure that the voices of disabled people are better factored into policy development and service design across government.

“The network provides an opportunity for disabled people to share their life experience and provide insight into the barriers they face in day-to-day life.

“The role [of the chair] will not be paid because we want to ensure the independence of the chair.

“Expenses for attending meetings and any accessibility needs will be paid for.

“We are running a fair and open recruitment process and would especially welcome applications from disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.

“We expect that the majority of chairs and members will be disabled people.

“However, we do not want to exclude people that don’t have a disability and feel that they can bring valuable knowledge and experience to the network.

“This could be people that have personal experience such as a parent of a disabled child or partner of a disabled person.”

Earlier this month, campaigners were left “shocked and appalled” by the government’s decision to hold a workshop on the barriers facing disabled people without inviting a single DPO to take part.

Last week, a coalition of DPOs wrote to the Cabinet Office to express their “deep dismay and concern about the total lack of engagement” of DPOs in the workshop.

In November, the Department of Health and Social Care wrongly insisted that it had been complying with the UN convention by consulting on its mental capacity (amendment) bill only with non-user-led charities like Mencap and Sense.

And in August, 14 prominent disabled leaders were forced to write to Newton after she refused to meet a coalition of DPOs to discuss the UK’s failure to implement the UN convention.

The UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its general comment number seven, which was adopted in September.

31 January 2019

 

 

Capita closes PIP claim after woman complains about use of 25-year-old report

A disabled woman who raised concerns that her benefits assessment was set to be based on a report that was a quarter of a century old had her claim closed after a government contractor described her as “aggressive” and “non-compliant”.

The woman, Mary*, from Northern Ireland, secretly recorded the face-to-face assessment, which showed her raising concerns about Capita’s intention to complete a report on her personal independence payment (PIP) claim without waiting for up-to-date evidence from her GP.

But although she did raise concerns during the 30-minute meeting, the recording shows her remaining calm and polite – although firm – and apologising to her assessor if she felt offended by her criticisms of Capita and the PIP system.

The assessor, a nurse, stressed that she had not been offended, and could be heard telling a manager on the phone that there appeared to have been “quite a lot of significant changes to [Mary’s] medical conditions” since the 1994 report.

She also told Mary that she was not being unreasonable in raising concerns about such an old report being used as evidence of her PIP eligibility.

Mary has been claiming disability living allowance (DLA) for more than 25 years, but her health has deteriorated in recent years, and she has also survived stage three breast cancer since the 1994 DLA report.

The nurse can be heard on the recording repeatedly telling Mary (and her husband) that she would have to base her assessment report only on Mary’s self-completed PIP form, the assessor’s report on the face-to-face assessment and the 1994 DLA report, and advising her to postpone the assessment until Capita received the GP’s report.

After Mary agreed to the postponement, and despite the nurse’s comments, Capita subsequently told Mary it had decided to close her file, claiming she had been “aggressive and non-compliant” during the assessment.

Mary – who carried out advice and tribunal work for more than 20 years – was appalled when she found out her claim had been closed, because she had been assured that she would have another face-to-face assessment once her GP report arrived.

She has now lodged a complaint with Capita.

Mary said she believed Capita had behaved in a “dishonest manner” and that there was a “hidden agenda to get claimants off PIP”.

She said Capita was “quite clearly in breach of the legislation” by trying to use a 25-year-old report to decide her eligibility.

She said: “I wonder how often this has happened. How on earth are they getting away with this shameful practice?”

Mary said she would like to see GPs paid to decide PIP eligibility.

She said: “The PIP system is flawed. No account is taken of medical conditions. They are not interested.

“Assessments are cruel and degrading, where you have to prove you are unwell even when they have medical reports.”

She said the PIP system in Northern Ireland was “awful”, and because the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly was still not operating, there was “no-one to turn to”.

Mary’s case is the latest example of apparent serious malpractice by the companies employed to carry out PIP assessments across the UK, and it appears to provide further confirmation of such concerns in Northern Ireland.

It also raises fresh concerns about how the assessment companies react when disabled claimants complain about how they are being treated by the system.

In November, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how Atos, the other discredited company contracted to carry out the assessments, threatened to call the police after a claimant asked about the mental health qualifications of the nurse who was assessing his eligibility for PIP.

Following Mary’s concerns and questions raised by DNS, Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities (DfC) sent her case back to Capita to reconsider its decision, and either arrange another face-to-face assessment or carry out an assessment based only on paperwork.

A Capita spokesperson refused to say how it justified its treatment of Mary and misreporting what happened in her assessment, or to say if it would apologise to her.

But she said in a statement: “Our trained disability assessors are committed to delivering an empathetic and efficient service for the people of Northern Ireland and follow a strict code of practice.

“We are currently processing this case to complete the assessment.”

A DfC spokesperson refused to answer questions or comment on the case.

*Not her real name

31 January 2019

 

 

MPs praise campaigners who received threats and abuse over access court cases

MPs have heard how disabled campaigners were abused and threatened, while one was even reported to the police, after taking legal actions against service-providers for disability discrimination.

Esther Leighton and Doug Paulley were praised by MPs for their campaigning work, after giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) as part of an inquiry by the Commons women and equalities committee into enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.

The committee is particularly looking at the enforcement role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which was criticised by both Leighton and Paulley in their evidence.

Leighton told the committee how the defendant in one case was so outraged by a legal letter she had sent him that he reported her to the police, which interviewed her under caution for alleged blackmail, which has a maximum prison term of 14 years.

She was subsequently advised by a police officer “not to write upsetting letters to businesses”.

Paulley told the MPs of the abuse and even death threats he had received after taking legal actions following discrimination, and he criticised the EHRC for failing to provide support after his high-profile Supreme Court victory over First Bus on access to the wheelchair space in buses.

He said he had at times needed support from mental health crisis teams “as a result of the unpleasant treatment and threats” he had received after taking legal cases.

Disability News Service reported last year how City of London Police was forced to launch a major review after refusing to treat online attacks against Paulley as disability hate crimes following the January 2017 First Bus ruling.

Leighton, a wheelchair-user, said she had taken a series of disability discrimination cases against Caffé Nero over access failings in individual branches, but on each occasion the company settled the case without introducing changes across the chain.

She told the committee that she was “outraged” that disabled people were still having to fight to secure access improvements, and told the MPs that she had visited a branch of Caffé Nero that morning that had still not bought a ramp she had asked them to provide two months ago.

She said such examples of repeated discrimination were “upsetting cumulatively” and “horrible in the way that they pick away at your ability to be a full member of society”.

But she said EHRC did not fund such individual cases, and there was no possibility of securing legal support from solicitors through a “no win no fee” arrangement, so they usually had to be taken on by individual disabled people as “litigants in person”.

Leighton said she wanted there to be a way to negotiate binding agreements with service-providers like Caffé Nero so that “they don’t pay me off every time and we never end up in court” and instead “they do something about every Caffé Nero in the country and prove to me that they’ve done it and then I’ll go away.

“I would like that to be public so other coffee chains can see that that was really important.”

She said that was the sort of action the EHRC should be taking.

Paulley said he believed there was a “very substantial difference” between the EHRC and the former Disability Rights Commission (DRC), which merged with other equality bodies to form the EHRC in 2007.

He said: “I felt the DRC were much more proactive, approachable and useful than the EHRC has turned out to be.”

Although EHRC funded and supported his First Bus case, he said they “lost their mojo” after the merger and “do not seem to be anywhere near as proactive” or supportive of disabled people.

Both Paulley and Leighton called for more high street access legal cases to be taken.

Paulley said: “You just have to walk down the high street to see instances of discrimination all the time.

“There are so many places that I can’t get in.

“It’s because there aren’t enough cases being taken that service-providers are either not aware of their obligations [or believe that there is not] any significant chance that they are going to be taken to task for them.

“So what we need is a lot more cases being brought.”

He added: “It doesn’t work as an enforcement system and the evidence of that is that so many providers ignore their obligations with impunity, or [do not even know] what their obligations are.”

At the end of the evidence session, three members of the committee, the Tory chair Maria Miller – a former minister for disabled people – and the Labour members Jess Phillips and Sarah Champion, praised the duo, with Champion describing their campaigning work as “very impressive”, and Miller adding: “On behalf of the whole committee I’d like to thank you for all the work that you do… we are immensely grateful.”

31 January 2019

 

 

Your right to peaceful protest is under attack, disabled activists are warned

Disabled activists have been warned that their right to peaceful protest is under attack, as police forces across the country appear to be attempting to restrict the rights of certain groups of protesters.

The warning comes as concerns mount over the admission by Lancashire police that it passed information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), in an attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that DWP was refusing to say which other police forces have passed such information to the department.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, said this week that this secrecy was “deeply concerning”.

He told DNS: “The right to peaceful protest is under attack in Britain today, and this is just one example of how activists are being scared into silence.

“There is a clear public interest in knowing what information has been passed from police forces to the DWP and I urge both sides to provide quick and full transparency.”

Further concerns have been raised by an academic who has spent years researching the policing of anti-fracking protests.

Dr Will Jackson, a lecturer in criminology at Liverpool John Moores University, warned of increasing attempts by police forces to define certain groups of protesters and types of peaceful protest action as “illegitimate”.

He told DNS that forces were defining political activists as “extremists”, not because of the actions they were taking during those protests but because of the policies they were opposing.

There has also been repeated testimony that groups of protesters – such as younger people, older people, women and disabled people – are being “marked out for particular treatment by the police”.

He pointed to the policing of anti-fracking protests at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, in Lancashire, where officers have appeared to target disabled protesters.

And he said the admission by Lancashire police that it had passed information about disabled protesters to DWP echoed evidence that women who had attended anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford, had been visited at the camp by social services and questioned about their suitability as parents because they were there with their children.

He said this seemed to fit with a wider picture that police forces were defining certain groups and types of protest as “illegitimate” and believed that “some people should be at a protest and some people shouldn’t”, which he said had serious implications for the right to protest.

He said that groups that seek “to be disruptive in a peaceful way” through direct action and to “disrupt and delay fracking operations” were now being viewed by police as “illegitimate”.

Jackson said disabled anti-austerity activists were right to be concerned, with police at local and national level apparently taking up the role of “defining what is and is not acceptable”.

He said: “The way that these official police voices are defining the distinction between a protester and an extremist has implications for all forms of protest.”

He added: “That doesn’t always fit with what people are doing, it seems to be related to what movements are opposed to.

“So anti-austerity protests which are targeted at a very central plank of government policy, I think people in those movements would be right to be looking at what is happening at anti-fracking protests and concerned about the implications.

“There are very real concerns about how groups are being defined as legitimate or illegitimate.”

Last month, Andy Greene, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said he expected the police tactics used against disabled people at anti-fracking protests to be “rolled out across the protest movement” over the next year as the country saw a likely increase in political volatility around issues such as anti-fracking, anti-austerity and Brexit.

Greene said he believed it was “only a matter of time” before the tactics being applied to disabled people at Preston New Road were seen on the streets of London.

Jackson said that the Association of Chief Police Officers (now replaced by the National Police Chiefs Council) had explicitly defined activism as a form of criminality*, and so there was “a danger that anything that goes beyond simply standing stationary and waving a banner is seen as being illegitimate”.

He said: “We seem to be seeing a development of a police approach in response to these protests which has implications for the right to protest across the board, I think.”

He said that anti-fracking protests had also been labelled as “extremism” in police training sessions provided as part of the government’s Prevent counter-extremism programme.

Jackson has been researching the policing of anti-fracking protests since late 2013, and is part of a team, which includes researchers at the University of York and the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, who have been interviewing anti-fracking protesters across the country, including at Preston New Road.

They are hoping to produce the first draft of a national report early this year.

Jackson said that issues raised over the last five years about the policing of anti-fracking protests had implications for the fundamental right to protest in a liberal democracy and the right to protest in the UK under the Human Rights Act.

He said it was right for these concerns to be raised so that people “are aware of what is going on”.

He said: “Our work doesn’t seek to put people off protesting, but we are seeking to document what is happening so people can make informed decisions about their involvement.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that people don’t go but it means that people will go to those protests with an understanding of what’s happening.

“It’s crucial that people know what is happening and also that people can go to these protests knowing their rights.”

*Policing Unacceptable Protest in England and Wales: A case study of the policing of anti-fracking protests, by Will Jackson, Joanna Gilmore and Helen Monk, in Critical Social Policy

31 January 2019

 

 

DPAC warns Labour to rethink support for universal basic income

Campaigners are warning the Labour party to rethink its support for a radical new benefit system because of risks that its introduction would further isolate and impoverish disabled people.

In a new report, UBI: Solution or Illusion? The Implications of Universal Basic Income for Disabled People in Britain, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) says support for universal basic income (UBI) has been growing steadily among those both on the left and the right of politics.

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell has expressed some support for UBI and has suggested that the party’s next general election manifesto is likely to include a commitment to a UBI pilot.

The Scottish government is also providing funding for possible pilot schemes to be run by four local authorities.

UBI is a regular cash payment made to every citizen regardless of their income, paid without any requirement to be in a paid job or looking for work.

Many see it as a solution to the UK’s flawed and much-criticised social security safety net, which has seen years of cuts to support and an increasingly-harsh sanctions and conditionality regime.

DPAC says this interest in UBI has intensified with the introduction of universal credit.

Supporters of UBI also see it as the answer to the “stigmatisation of social security, the scapegoating of benefit claimants and associated hostility towards disabled people”, says DPAC in its report.

But the DPAC report warns that too little attention has been paid to the implications of UBI for disabled people.

The report warns that it is likely that housing benefit and disability benefits would remain outside a UBI system.

This would mean the need for continuing disability assessments, and the risk that the high cost of running a UBI system would mean further cuts to benefits and services relied on by disabled people, such as social care support.

DPAC’s Ellen Clifford, author of the new report, said: “While we would be in favour of tax rises to fund welfare provision – particularly corporation tax and a progressive rise in the higher rate of income tax – the use of this for a UBI rather than more traditional forms of disability and unemployment support would mean much of the benefit flowing back to employers rather than those in most need.”

Two other grassroots organisations of disabled people, Black Triangle and WinVisible, have this week added their voices to the concerns raised by DPAC about UBI.

Clifford’s report concludes that implementing UBI “risks detracting attention and resources from the urgent task required to overhaul the disability benefits system and make it fit for purpose”.

It adds: “Given the history of disabled people’s exclusion and the marginalisation of our issues it is reasonable for disabled people to fear that attention and resources dedicated to the task of implementing a UBI will be at the expense of affecting the level of change needed to ensure disabled people receive adequate support.”

There are also concerns, says the report, that a more flexible employment market ushered in by UBI, with greater job insecurity and the likelihood of poorer working conditions and lower wages for lower-paid workers, would further disadvantage disabled workers.

They also say that right-wing versions of UBI are seen as a way of saving money by avoiding spending on a decent living wage and social protection.

And the report says that pushing for UBI risks deferring demands for full reasonable adjustments at work for disabled workers, and “full and unconditional support” for those unable to work, while “ending up with a system that is more of a helping hand for employers than for disabled people”.

The report says DPAC’s concerns are born out by the results of pilot UBI schemes that have been run across the world, including one in Finland that has just ended, but has not yet been assessed officially, which critics say has forced unemployed workers into bad jobs while undermining unions, wage equality, and the welfare state.

And it says concerns have been raised about the proposed pilot schemes in Scotland, including the cost and potential negative impacts on disabled people, including likely cuts to other social protection schemes.

But the report does say that a pilot scheme in India proved successful, with disabled people benefiting more than others, but mainly because “many of those benefiting had received no previous support at all”, which was “very different to what would happen with the introduction of a UBI in Britain to replace existing social security payments”.

Clifford said it was worrying how marginalised disabled people had been in the debate around the introduction of UBI.

She said DPAC’s message to Labour was to include disabled people in the debate and to consider how they would be affected by the introduction of UBI.

Clifford said it was important to have the debate about UBI as there was growing support for the idea that universal credit would have to be scrapped, and that UBI could be the system to replace it.

She said: “We have seen with universal credit and personalisation how what can sound like progressive ideas can end up badly for disabled people in practice.

“We remember how the personalisation pilots actually went very well.

“It isn’t always possible for pilots to capture the full implications of policy roll outs so we are concerned that Labour’s proposed pilots will not on their own be enough to avoid a future situation where UBI is fully rolled out and ends up widening rather than reducing inequality.”

The report could surprise some of DPAC’s critics, who often assume that the grassroots group will support the left-wing policies of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn and McDonnell.

But DPAC has repeatedly made it clear that it is not aligned to any political party and that its loyalties lie instead with those fighting for disabled people’s “full human rights and equality”, and against government austerity measures “which target the poor while leaving the wealthy unscathed”.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said existing experiments with UBI appeared to “have been driven by a right wing agenda that undermines workers’ rights”.

He said: “On the face of it, UBI seems to be progressive but the devil is in the detail.”

He said Black Triangle echoed DPAC’s call for the immediate focus to be on “removing conditionality and sanctions and the hostile environment for disabled people”, replacing the UK government’s disability assessment regime, and co-producing with disabled people a social security system that “will again be fit for purpose”.

Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, which supports and campaigns for disabled women, said the problem with UBI was that it was not based on need and – like universal credit – did not recognise the importance of unwaged caring work.

She said: “We are very worried that it is going to be a way of cutting benefits based on need: the needs of disabled people, the needs of mothers and children, the needs of bereaved people, which specific benefits exist to cover.”

31 January 2019

 

 

Last-ditch appeal to new Welsh first minister over independent living scheme

A disabled campaigner has sent an 80-page dossier of evidence to the new first minister of Wales in a last-ditch bid to persuade him to abandon plans to close the Welsh government’s independent living grant scheme.

Nathan Lee Davies has written to Mark Drakeford with just two months left until the planned closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which was itself set up as an interim scheme following the UK government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in June 2015.

Davies, who has led the Save WILG Campaign, told Drakeford in an open letter this week that closing WILG would leave disabled people with high support needs “at the mercy of cash-strapped Local Authorities who seem intent on cutting vital support packages across the board with no guarantee that further cuts will not follow”.

He said that local authorities “seem to be treating disabled people as a burden”.

Davies points out in the letter that Drakeford had promised – during his successful campaign to lead the Welsh Labour party last year – that if an independent evaluation of the WILG closure showed the new system “not working as well as the old one” then he would be “prepared to reverse it”.

WILG was set up by the Welsh government – with UK government funding – as a short-term measure to support former ILF recipients when the fund was closed in June 2015.

But the Welsh government is now closing WILG and transferring the funding to local councils, and by April the 22 local authorities will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

Davies said the “deep dive review” of cases in which WILG recipients were having their support cut was “full of errors” and had failed to consult the disabled people who will be affected.

He pointed to his own experience at the hands of his local authority, Wrexham council, which he said had treated him “abysmally”.

Davies, who has a life-limiting condition, said that the process to reassess his support needs, due to end in September 2018, had still not been completed and was having “a negative impact” on both his physical and mental health.

He described how his social worker had laughed when he suggested he needed 24-hour support and told him that no-one in the borough received that level of support.

He said that the lack of overnight support in his current social care package meant he had to stop drinking at 8pm at night and get ready for bed at 10pm, and often had to call his 68-year-old father to assist him in the night, even though he lives a 10-minute drive away and has arthritis in both hands.

The dossier, which has already been shared with the deputy health and social services minister Julie Morgan, includes a description of a day in his life, from last January, showing the poor level of support he already receives – even before the closure of WILG – and the pain and indignity this exposes him to, as well as the lack of choice and control in his life.

Davies says: “It is 2018 and I am still being treated like a second class citizen.

“I have a progressive condition of the nervous system which is accelerating at quite a rate, yet I still have the same amount of inadequate care and support hours that I did in 2010 when I first began independent living.”

He updated this by posting a new blog yesterday, showing that little had changed in the last year.

In the dossier, he warns the Welsh Labour party: “I do not want to spend the last days of my life completely unnecessarily fighting against the party I have defended and campaigned for across many years.

“But I will if I have to. Please don’t make me.”

The dossier also includes a letter from a director of Disability Wales, Trevor Palmer, in which he says the planned WILG closure has “created serious disruptions” to his life, with local authority “incompetence and lack of understanding” that has led to his support package being “substantially” reduced.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We believe that disabled people’s ability to live independently should not be compromised by any changes to the way in which support is arranged for those people who previously received payments from the WILG.

“The first minister has just received Mr Davies’ open letter regarding the WILG and will carefully consider the detailed points it makes.

“He has asked the deputy minister for health and social services to consider what further action may be necessary to ensure disabled people in receipt of the WILG are not adversely affected by this change.

“The deputy minister has provided Mr Davies and the National Assembly’s petitions committee with details of the deep dive review.

“She also met Mr Davies at his home to hear his concerns and discuss the issues raised in his dossier.”

He said the deep dive review had seen the 22 Welsh local authorities audit all cases where they intended to cut the WILG element of people’s support.

This found planned reductions in about 157 cases, and increases in support in a similar number, out of 1,174 people.

He claimed that the cuts had taken place because “some people had developed a need for healthcare rather than social care while some, due to their support being provided in a different way or being of a different type, had a reduced need for care overall”.

He accepted that two questionnaires, commissioned from the All Wales Forum of Parents and Carers of People with Learning Disabilities, had had a low response rate, but he said that responses to it “have been positive about the way assessments have been undertaken and the outcomes people have received”.

Charlotte Walton, Wrexham council’s head of adult social care, said: “We cannot comment on any individual’s care and support needs.

“However we do not accept the allegations being made.

“We have carried out all of the WILG reviews in a person centred and inclusive manner and working with the individual recipients of the fund [has] enabled them to achieve positive outcomes from the reviews.”

Davies said he would now push for a meeting with the first minister.

He said: “I am not going anywhere and will continue to fight this until justice is served.”

31 January 2019

 

 

Landlord discriminated against disabled woman over flat alterations, court rules

A court has ruled that a disabled woman faced unlawful disability discrimination after her landlord refused to allow her to make vital adaptations to her flat.

Lawyers believe that the ruling by Cardiff County Court could provide important legal clarity for other disabled homeowners – and those who rent their homes – who want to make adaptations to their own properties but are prevented from doing so by their landlords.

In a case supported and funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the court heard that Stacey Poyner-Smailes, who has a mobility impairment, had needed to make changes to her flat in Clewer Court, Newport, including moving her kitchen and altering her bedroom.

But Poyner-Smailes and her husband, who owned the leasehold for the flat, were prevented from making the adaptations because the lease they had signed prevented such alterations.

The landlord, Clewer Court Residents Ltd – which represents fellow leaseholders – refused them permission to ignore that part of the lease agreement.

As a result, they were forced to leave the flat.

Now a county court judge has ruled that the company discriminated against Poyner-Smailes because the alterations she wanted to make were reasonable adjustments under the act.

The court also found that she had been harassed by the company at a meeting held to discuss the proposed alterations, another form of disability discrimination under the Equality Act.

A further hearing in April will decide on the “remedy and compensation”, an EHRC spokesperson said.

EHRC said it had funded the case to clarify the law and ensure that Poyner-Smailes, and other disabled people with landlords, were able to make reasonable alterations to allow them to live independently in their own homes.

Although it will not set a binding precedent, because it is a county court judgment, the commission believes that it will still have “persuasive value” for other similar legal actions.

Last year, an EHRC inquiry concluded that disabled people faced a “hidden crisis” and had been left “demoralised and frustrated” by a chronic shortage of accessible housing, leaving them trapped in unsuitable homes.

Poyner-Smailes said: “All that we have sought throughout this matter is for me to be able to live independently and use my home as anyone else would.

“We are relieved that today’s judgment will finally allow me to do this and will protect other disabled people from going through what we have.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC’s chief executive, said: “Your home should be a place of safety and security, not a source of anxiety and restriction.

“We are pleased the court has clarified that landlords must change lease agreements to allow alterations that are reasonable and necessary.

“This issue affects many disabled tenants and we hope that today’s ruling will go a long way to ensure that disabled people can enjoy their right to independent living.”

Sarah Conroy, a partner with legal firm Weightmans, which represented Poyner-Smailes in court, said the judgment provided “crucial clarification on the law, and we hope that it encourages a wider shift for disabled leaseholders allowing them to enjoy independent living in their own home”.

The firm of solicitors representing Clewer Court Residents Ltd was approached for a comment but had not responded by noon today (Thursday).

31 January 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com