Equality watchdog ‘considering action’ on benefits discrimination

The equality watchdog is considering taking action to tackle discrimination in the way decisions are made in the social security system, it revealed this morning.

Although the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has not provided any further details, it released a statement this morning (Thursday) in response to continuing calls for action from Labour MP Debbie Abrahams.

She had told Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday that evidence from disabled people about their appalling experiences of benefit assessments was helping to build a case to persuade EHRC to launch an inquiry into links between the government’s actions and the deaths of claimants.

Abrahams has met with EHRC to discuss her concerns about the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), following a letter she wrote to the watchdog in June.

She asked EHRC in her letter to investigate why ministers hid documents from Dr Paul Litchfield, their own independent reviewer of the work capability assessment (WCA), when they knew the information would link the “fitness for work” test to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

And she told EHRC of her “grave concerns” about how DWP investigates deaths linked to its activity, and the lack of official scrutiny of the treatment of disabled people by DWP and its private sector contractors, Maximus, Capita and Atos, which carry out assessments.

Abrahams is working with disability blogger Dr Chris Whitaker, who has so far collected 570 stories in less than two months from disabled people who have been through the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment system.

DNS spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.

And last month, DNS revealed that PIP claimants are now almost twice as likely to win their tribunal appeal than claimants of disability living allowance – which is being replaced by PIP for working-age claimants – were almost a decade ago.

Abrahams said she had been campaigning for urgent reform to the assessment processes for PIP and employment and support allowance (ESA) for several years.

She said: “The harm, and even the deaths of claimants following these assessments and PIP or ESA support being disallowed, is well documented.

“That these assessments are government policy and government commissioned beggars belief.

Disability News Service’s lengthy investigation into the information shared with the independent experts reviewing the work capability assessment uncovered grave concerns about the department’s investigation into, and recording of, claimant deaths that may be associated with DWP activity.”

She said that the collation of assessment cases via Whitaker’s website, and elsewhere, was now “building the evidence” to try to persuade EHRC to carry out an inquiry.

An EHRC spokesperson said: “We are currently reviewing what potential work we might undertake to tackle discriminatory decision-making in the social security system.

“We will respond to Debbie Abrahams in due course.”

DWP has previously insisted that it “co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team” and told DNS that it “was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to”.

It has repeatedly defended the PIP assessment system, and earlier this month said: “We want the assessment process to work well for everyone and have made significant improvements, including introducing ESA life-long awards and light-touch 10-year PIP reviews for those with the most serious, life-long conditions.

“The number of complaints about PIP assessments represents one per cent of the total number of individuals assessed.”

31 October 2019 


Disabled Grenfell residents were repeatedly failed in years before fire, inquiry finds

The inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has detailed how disabled residents were failed repeatedly by both London Fire Brigade and the organisation that managed the building on behalf of a local authority.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the inquiry’s first report, which was published yesterday, “shows the Grenfell community, including its disabled residents, were failed by the authorities that had a legal duty to protect them”.

The report on phase one of the inquiry focuses on the events that took place on the night of the fire, which began in the early hours of 14 June 2017 in a flat in Grenfell Tower, which was owned by Kensington and Chelsea council and managed by the council’s Tenant Management Organisation (TMO).

It includes the inquiry’s findings on the response of London Fire Brigade and other emergency services to the fire that led to the loss of 72 lives in Grenfell Tower.

The report says the TMO’s emergency plan was 15 years out of date and so “contained materially inaccurate and out of date details of the numbers of vulnerable residents who would need assistance to evacuate in the event of an emergency”.

It says the emergency plan was “significantly out of date in a number of critical respects, not least in relation to the number of flats, the number of residents, the number of those with disabilities and the means of escape”.

The TMO’s chief executive, Robert Black, had confirmed to the inquiry in his evidence that evacuation plans for Grenfell Tower and many other council-owned properties had not been updated since 2002.

The report was also deeply critical of London Fire Brigade.

Among other criticisms, fire brigade control room operators (CROs) had not been trained to ask callers if they were disabled or for another reason would find it difficult to escape the fire.

The report on phase one of the inquiry into the fire says operators left it to most callers to volunteer this information themselves.

Some of the disabled residents did not share this information with the CROs, says the report.

The inquiry found that CROs “routinely failed to ask callers for their flat numbers, the number of people in the flat, and information about people whose mobility or other health or personal problems might impede their escape”.

But the report says this was not a surprise because London Fire Brigade’s policy documents did not require CROs to find out if a caller, or someone with them, was disabled or had a mobility impairment that would impede their ability to escape and meant they would need assistance in an evacuation.

The report also says there were no plans for evacuating the tower and for evacuating those who might need assistance, including disabled people.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is chairing the inquiry, called on the government to develop national guidelines for evacuating high-rise residential buildings, which should include procedures for “evacuating persons who are unable to use the stairs in an emergency, or who may require assistance (such as disabled people, older people and young children)”.

The inquiry also says that it was a “matter of chance” which floors fire crews were sent to to rescue residents because of “incomplete information”, even though a senior fire brigade officer had “attempted to prioritise responses based on vulnerability and age”.

In fact, the officer responded to calls in the order they were received, says the report.

The inquiry will examine the TMO’s failure to keep the evacuation plan up-to-date in its second phase. Hearings for phase two are expected to begin in January 2020.

The inquiry report provides a detailed narrative of what happened at Grenfell Tower, from the time the fire was discovered, just before 1am, until the last survivor was evacuated, shortly after 8am.

Among the report’s tragic accounts of disabled residents who did not survive the fire is that of Hesham Rahman, who lived in flat 204 on the 23rd floor of Grenfell Tower.

The report details a series of telephone conversations he had with fire brigade CROs, who originally told him to stay in his flat.

By 2.36am, smoke was coming into his flat, but when a CRO suggested it might be better to leave his flat, he said he “could not see anything outside the door and had problems walking and so would need help on the stairs”.

Rahman had also phoned a relative at about the same time and told them the fire was approaching and that there was a lot of smoke in the flat.

He told a CRO at 3.10am that there was a lot of smoke coming into his flat and when he was advised to leave, he said he could not do so because he “could not see and he could not walk properly as he was disabled”.

He was told by a CRO: “I promise you they’re coming up to you, but it’s a big fire, OK? They’re gonna get there as quickly as they can.”

He was told to leave again by a different CRO 10 minutes later and he again said he could not escape because he was disabled.

This was the last call he made to the emergency services, but in two calls from someone calling on his behalf, CROs were first told that he was struggling to breathe and then that he was no longer answering his phone.

Rahman is listed as “deceased” in an annex to the report.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has previously found in its own report that disabled people who died in Grenfell Tower had their human rights breached by public bodies that failed to plan how they would evacuate their homes in the event of a fire.

The EHRC report found earlier this year that the safety of wheelchair-users and other disabled and older people was overlooked when they were housed on the top floors of Grenfell Tower.

An EHRC spokesperson said of this week’s report by the Grenfell inquiry: “This report shows the Grenfell community, including its disabled residents, were failed by the authorities that had a legal duty to protect them.

“We are however pleased that the inquiry recommendations include the development of national guidelines for evacuations of persons who are unable to use the stairs in an emergency or who may require assistance.

“As well as exploring the systemic failures that led to this terrible tragedy, it is important the inquiry and future recommendations continue to consider the safety of all residents, including those living with disabilities.”

31 October 2019


Student reform confusion ‘risks turning assessment system into PIP replica’

Major changes to the way disabled students are assessed for their support risk turning the system into a replica of the government’s much-criticised personal independence payment (PIP) assessment regime, student leaders have warned.

The changes will mean the closure in December of DSA-QAG (Disabled Students Allowances Quality Assurance Group), the independent charity that for the last 13 years has ensured that assessments of disabled students are carried out properly at centres across England and Wales.

DSA-QAG said yesterday (Wednesday) that the government’s lack of plans to replace this and its other roles was set to produce “confusion for students, delays for assessments and reports” and an “unregulated” sector.

It is the latest stage of reforms to the disabled students’ allowance (DSA) system, which caused huge controversy when government cuts introduced in 2015-16 meant students had to pay the first £200 of the cost of a computer and assistive technology software awarded through a DSA grant.

Further changes the following year saw responsibility for funding much of the so-called non-medical help (NMH) – such as note-takers or study skills mentors – passed to universities, with DSA continuing to fund more complex support such as British Sign Language interpreters.

DSA payments are non-means-tested grants that help with a disabled student’s extra disability-related costs.

The government admitted last year that the introduction of the £200 charge in the 2015-16 academic year led to a steep fall in the number of students receiving DSA equipment funding.

DSA-QAG also regulates the supply of IT equipment and training by assistive technology service providers, and since 2016 has also regulated the services and supply of qualified support workers by NMH organisations.

DSA-QAG’s duties in monitoring assessment centres will now be passed to the government-owned Student Loans Company (SLC), and the Department for Education (DfE) will be taking them on during an interim period of at least 10 months, starting in January.

But DSA-QAG said the reforms had been so poorly planned that even this timescale was “unrealistic”.

SLC is now tendering organisations to run the assessment centres, under new contracts, and expects these agreements to be in place by the start of the next academic year in 2020.

SLC will also be taking on responsibility for monitoring and registering providers of assistive technology, as well as contracting organisations to provide this equipment, software and training to students with DSAs, a change that was originally due to be made this month.

But DSA-QAG warned yesterday that the tender process for providing these services and equipment had not yet begun, with assistive technology organisations being given no explanation for the “unacceptable” delay.

DSA-QAG said DfE had also been “unable to confirm who, when and if” audits of assistive technology service-providers (ATSPs) would take place during the delays leading up to the new arrangements being introduced.

Karen Docherty, chief executive of DSA-QAG, said this created a risk that some ATSPs could let their services slip, and the quality of their equipment drop, with a negative impact on DSA students as well as “potential delays at an important time of their education”.

DSA-QAG also has concerns that more than 450 organisations that provide NMH will now in effect become “unregulated” when the charity closes, “until DfE decides what to do”.

Many of the key concerns from the National Union of Students (NUS) and DSA-QAG focus on the assessment centres and NMH organisations.

DSA-QAG’s website currently allows disabled students to access key information about each centre, including star ratings and feedback from other disabled students and how long it takes to secure an appointment and an assessment report.

But SLC will apparently only provide information on the three centres nearest the student, and NUS fears students could be allocated to a particular centre, probably the one that is closest to where they are studying, leaving them with no choice.

The NUS has told DNS this week of its grave concerns about the impact of the latest reforms – both in the short and medium-term.

It says they are being introduced by ministers without any formal consultation or any assessment of their likely impact on disabled students.

Capita, one of the outsourcing giants that carries out PIP assessments, owns and runs 37 DSA assessment centres across the UK.

One source in the sector suggested that since Capita had taken over assessment centres from other operators those centres had become “more corporate” and less flexible.

There are fears that the reforms will lead ultimately to the closure of smaller assessment centres and moves towards larger regional centres, perhaps run by larger companies like Capita, which the union says has an appalling reputation among PIP claimants.

NUS says that DfE and SLC have refused to give clear answers about the changes, have turned down the offer of assistance from the current DSA-QAG staff to help with the transition period, and cannot say what resources will be allocated to monitor assessment centres from January.

Piers Wilkinson, the NUS disabled students’ officer and a member of the DSA-QAG board, and himself a recipient of DSA for the last six years, said the changes had the potential to “dramatically affect disabled students’ lives”.

They said: “The worst-case scenario is that disabled students effectively get the equivalent of PIP assessors carrying out their assessments.

“They may not be able to choose their assessment centre and may not have any control over who is giving them support for the next three or four years or who will be giving them equipment over the next three or four years.

“Call me a cynic, but I am concerned the driver for these reforms is to save money rather than to ensure that the right adjustment support is in place so that I can stay in education.”

There are also concerns about whether SLC has the expertise or the resources to take on the DSA-QAG role.

Since 2015, said Wilkinson, the government reforms have prioritised value for money over choice and control for disabled students, with students “given solutions that suit the universities rather than being the best solution for the student”.

They said: “I have disabled students emailing me daily saying they are terrified about this change because of what happened in 2015.”

Wilkinson said the union feared the government was pushing for more rationalisation and cost-cutting within the DSA assessment system.

They said the current system means assessment centres have to be able to provide their services to all disabled students, regardless of impairment, from expertise on supporting visually-impaired students to having an accessible toilet.

But they warned: “We have seen with Capita and the other large companies that carry out benefit assessments that they fail to even get the basics right.

“Are we going to see that with these changes, too? Will standards be maintained or are they going to be able to get away with more?

“The bare minimum for DfE is to show us disabled students how this isn’t going to be another botched job and another regression in our rights.”

Docherty said she agreed with NUS’s concerns about the lack of information from DfE about how and when assessment centres and NMH organisations will be audited.

She said this meant a likely “drop in service for students with delays occurring for students when booking an assessment, delays in reports being produced by centres and the detrimental impact this will have on students at the start of their academic life in higher education”.

She added: “We close in seven weeks and there is so much uncertainty that the writing is on the wall: confusion for students, delays for assessments and reports, along with a sector that will become unregulated due to what appears to have been a lack of vision in planning and consideration of what the DFE changes will bring.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “It is vital that disabled students have the support they need and we are carrying out reforms to improve the administration of the disabled students’ allowance.

“The department and the Student Loans Company are working closely together on a smooth transition for new arrangements following the closure of the DSA-QAG, which will be confirmed in due course.”

An SLC spokesperson said: “The role of SLC is to administer government policy.

“In this instance, the Student Loans Company will work closely with the DfE to ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangement, once this has been confirmed by government.

“DSA-QAG duties have not been passed to SLC.”

31 October 2019


CPS concern over huge drop in police disability hate crime cases

The Crown Prosecution Service has joined a leading disabled campaigner in raising concerns about a huge fall in the number of disability hate crime cases passed by police forces to prosecutors.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) annual hate crime report for 2018-19 revealed this week that the number of “finalised referrals” it had received from police forces in England and Wales fell by more than 30 per cent (from 754 to 516) compared to 2017-18.

This followed a similar fall in last year’s report, which saw the number plunge by nearly 25 per cent (988 to 754).

This means that the number of disability hate crime cases passed to prosecutors by police forces has almost halved (48 per cent) in just two years.

This is likely to have played a huge part in a fall of a nearly 25 per cent in disability hate crime prosecutions, from 752 in 2017-18 to 579 in 2018-19, following a similar fall the previous year from 1,009 to 752.

The plunge in police referrals comes despite another significant rise (from 7,221 in 2017-18 to 8,256 in 2018-19) in the number of disability hate crimes recorded by police, as revealed in a Home Office report earlier this month.

A CPS spokesperson told Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday (Thursday) that there was a “concern over the growing gap between the number of hate crimes reported to the police and the number of cases being sent by forces to the CPS for a charging decision”.

He said prosecutors were “working closely with the police to understand the reasons for this fall”.

Anne Novis, a disabled adviser to the Metropolitan police and to the CPS on hate crime, said the fall was due to both the impact of austerity and cuts to police funding, but also the growing negativity towards disabled people.

Novis, who is also chair of Inclusion London, said she believed cuts had led to more expensive and experienced police officers losing their jobs and being replaced by more inexperienced officers who had failed to take on the disability hate crime work carried out by their predecessors.

But she also believes that a decade of austerity has changed attitudes towards disabled people, both among the public and police officers, with the “drip, drip, drip effect of negativity” and rhetoric about disabled people who are seen as “fraudsters” and “benefit scroungers” by the government and others.

She pointed to reports by DNS on two police forces that have passed details of disabled protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions.

She said disabled people faced not only the “organisational barriers” of police not recognising disability hate crime “when it is in their face”, but also police officers who “themselves might feel the same way” in their attitudes to disabled people.

She said attitudes towards disabled people – and disability hate crime – had regressed by 10 years.

She said: “So many more organisations are doing work on disability hate crime than even three years ago, yet we are seeing the CPS figures falling. There has to be a reason for that.”

She added: “The impact of 10 years of negativity towards disabled people is hitting us worse in the last couple of years in every aspect of our lives, not just hate crime.

“It feels like we are having to fight from the beginning again.”

But she said she did trust CPS to take the issue of disability hate crime seriously, and she said the organisation continued to do “focused work on disability hate crime”.

Novis said: “This is a police issue. The police and society’s attitudes towards disabled people.”

A Home Office spokesperson declined to offer an explanation for the fall in cases passed to CPS by the police, or say whether this was due to a fall in police numbers, or whether the Home Office was concerned by the drop.

But she said in a statement: “We are encouraged that more people are willing to report hate crime and that police continue to improve their response to victims.

“Through the Hate Crime Action Plan we are working to tackle all forms of hate crime, including disability.

“This includes funding local community and engaging with stakeholders to address abuse of disabled people online.

“Our wider commitments within the action plan including a review by the Law Commission of hate crime legislation.”

The Home Office also said that figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales had estimated a 40 per cent fall in hate crime over the last decade, and that it was recruiting 20,000 more police and investing £85 million in CPS over the next two years to build capacity and ensure it can deal with cases brought by the police.

It also said that the police and CPS were continuing to work together to understand any underlying trends in the number of hate crime cases coming from the police to the CPS, including at a local level.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council refused to provide on-the-record responses to why it believed the figures had fallen so sharply; whether this was a concern; what action NPCC was taking; and whether the drop in cases passed to CPS was due to a fall in police numbers.

But assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton, NPCC’s lead on hate crime, said in a statement: “Increases in hate crime are in part due to increased confidence of victims to report to the police and continuing efforts by police to improve recording.

“However, statistics also represent real rises in hate crime, which do concern us. Police will take all reports of threats and abuse seriously and will work to improve justice outcomes for victims.

“I would encourage anyone who suffers hate crime, or receives a serious threat against them to report it to the police, either by calling 101 (999 in an emergency) or online through our True Vision web site at www.report-it.org.uk.”

A CPS spokesperson said: “We urge people to report incidents to the police so we can hold offenders accountable and victims can have justice.

“In relation to disability hate crime cases we charge in over 80 per cent of them referred to us from the police – so there is every reason for victims to come forward.”

31 October 2019


Shock and alarm after 18 police commissioners call for assisted suicide reform

Disabled activists have spoken of their shock and alarm after 18 police and crime commissioners (PCCs) signed a letter calling for a change in the law on assisted suicide.

The 18 politicians, who have all been elected to oversee how crime is tackled in their police force area, have signed an open letter to justice secretary Robert Buckland.

In the letter, they point to recent cases involving older people, which they say have led to concern about the “blanket ban” on assisted suicide, and which they say has caused “distress, confusion and pain for dying people, their loved ones, and even the investigating police officers themselves”.

But Not Dead Yet UK, the leading disabled people’s campaign group opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide, said the letter appeared to suggest that older people should be exempt from the law on assisted suicide, which it said was “wholly wrong”.

It said the current law was an “essential safeguard”.

The PCCs tell Buckland in the open letter that they want an inquiry into how the law on assisted suicide should change, and point out that his predecessor David Gauke had told a campaigner that he supported calls for reform.

The letter was signed by the 18 PCCs after a call for a change in the law in the Guardian newspaper by Ron Hogg, the police, crime and victims’ commissioner for Durham.

Hogg, who is newly diagnosed with motor neurone disease, told the newspaper last month that he had become “very depressed” at his condition, and had been thinking since his diagnosis about being helped to take his own life.

He told the Guardian: “It’s about your quality of life, your ability to enjoy life.

“I look at myself now and certainly become very depressed in many regards with my condition, and I can see that as things deteriorate, the life that you have, is it the life you really want, the life you think you should be leading?”

The letter calls for an inquiry into the “blanket ban” on assisted suicide and has been signed by Hogg, and 17 other PCCs, including those for Dorset; Avon and Somerset; Surrey; Gwent; Merseyside; Thames Valley; West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire.

But the letter has caused alarm among disabled campaigners opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, co-founder of Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), said her organisation was “surprised and shocked that some PCCs do not support the current law prohibiting assisted suicide.

“The current law is an essential safeguard not only for terminally-ill and disabled people but also their families, friends and the professionals who care for them.

“It provides support for all against the inference, whether well-intentioned or malign, that terminally-ill and disabled people should be treated differently in law from the rest of the population.

“The Crown Prosecution Service is clear that it will only prosecute the law when it is in the public interest to do so.

“By the examples used in their letter, the PCCs appear to suggest that elderly people should be exempt from the law. That is not protecting them.

“We know that many elderly people are fearful of the future and the potential for them to be isolated, neglected or even abused.

“To suggest that assisted suicide is one solution to such fears is wholly wrong. The PCCs would do better to what they can to reduce such fears by using their energies to tackle the very real issues that concern elderly people.”

Nikki Kenward, campaign director of The Distant Voices, a user-led campaign group which opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide, said PCCs should not be allowing themselves to be “drawn into the rights and wrongs” of assisted suicide, given the “murky waters” surrounding the issue.

She said they should be representing “all people, not just the ones that they agree with” and certainly not Hogg’s “emotive and subjective wishes”.

She said: “The top-down nature of policing requires our elected officials to remain apolitical and so avoid such incendiary topics, since the message to the thin blue line might be interpreted as ‘not important, leave all stones unturned’.”

She said Hogg had presented a “black and white vision of the world” that was “devoid of empathy”.

She said: “He’s got it all worked out: change the law and to hell with the consequences. A few safeguards and it’ll all be sorted.

“Those of us who have wandered into the shades of grey know, without a shadow of doubt, that life isn’t like that.

“Even a cursory glance at the shenanigans in Switzerland or Oregon can see that this sort of killing just isn’t safe.”

She added: “As for his supporters, shame on them for putting the fear of God in me.

“Somewhere, in a bedroom or old people’s home, there’s some abhorrent creature, relative or even care worker, chuffed to bits at the thought that the police won’t even turn up if poor Mr or Mrs ‘Someone’ doesn’t make it through the night.”

31 October 2019


Cabinet minister admits ‘no consensus’ on social care, despite Johnson’s pledge

A cabinet minister has admitted there is “no consensus” on how to solve the adult social care funding crisis, even though the prime minister announced he had a “clear plan” for doing so when he took office in October.

Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary, told a Commons committee on Monday that it was “one of the biggest issues of our time” but then admitted that there was “no consensus at the moment on the way forwards”.

Jenrick told the committee that he was unable to say when the government would bring forward its proposals, adding: “We will be bringing forward proposals when we can.”

But Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi reminded him that Boris Johnson had announced outside 10 Downing Street on 24 July that his government would “fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared”.

Dhesi said: “The prime minister said you have a clear plan; you have said there is no consensus.

“If he has a clear plan then clearly the clear plan should be laid out in front of all of us.”

He also pointed out that the government had failed to publish its long-awaited adult social care green paper.

Jenrick told him: “I can’t give you a timetable for that other than to say that, from my perspective, it is right that we take time and get this right, and that’s what we intend to do.”

He said his focus was on “ensuring the current system is sustainable”.

Jenrick repeatedly referred to the funding for 2020-21 that the government announced in last month’s spending round, with an extra £1 billion for adult and children’s social care, and the possibility of another £500 million for adult social care to be raised by councils through council tax.

He said that a “multi-year settlement” for social care would be decided next autumn.

But Dhesi told him: “From your responses what I take is that there is no clear plan and there are no proposals in terms of the green paper on social care.”

Earlier this month, Johnson’s pledge in the Queen’s speech to bring forward proposals to solve the adult social care crisis was dismissed as “waffle” and “a smokescreen” by leading disabled campaigners, with one saying it was “designed to confuse and give the appearance of action when the reality is the opposite”.

And yesterday (Wednesday), Labour’s shadow minister for social care, Barbara Keeley, said the number of people receiving publicly-funded social care had fallen by 15,000 in the past year, while 95 people a day were dying while waiting for care, and cuts of £7.7 billion had been made to social care budgets since 2010.

Labour’s Helen Hayes told Jenrick on Monday that there were currently around one million people with recognised social care needs who were not receiving any care at all.

She said: “Arguably there is nothing sustainable about the current system.

“I just want to be clear about your views on the acceptability of the current situation in any way, shape or form.

“We have a system that is creaking at the seams, that is failing to deliver for people with a quantifiable gap, and the government has been systematically, over now at least 18 months, if not longer, failing to get to grips with this crisis.”

Jenrick said: “I know that the current system is very challenging. That is why we want to see significant reform.”

He said the settlement from the Treasury for 2020-21 was “a good one and it is almost certainly the most generous one that we have seen for 10 years”.

He added: “[It] has enabled councils to be on a sustainable footing until such time as we can bring forward wider proposals and a longer-term settlement.”

31 October 2019


Met apologises for failing to consult disabled advisers over XR protests

The Metropolitan police has apologised to its own disabled advisers for failing to consult them about how to treat disabled people taking part in this month’s Extinction Rebellion protests in London.

The force had been asked by its Disability Independent Advisory Group (DIAG) to investigate decision-making surrounding the policing of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in relation to Deaf and disabled protestors, and the actions of individual officers.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that DIAG had lodged a formal complaint about the force’s “discriminatory” treatment of protesters during the protests.

DIAG warned that its actions risked causing “irreparable damage” to relations between disabled people and the Metropolitan police.

But DIAG’s members were also angry that the force had failed to engage with them before or during the protests.

As a result of the letter of complaint sent to the Metropolitan police’s commissioner, Cressida Dick, three DIAG members met on Friday with commander Jane Connors, superintendent Jon Simpson and chief inspector Neil Billany.

The senior officers apologised on behalf of the force for failing to contact DIAG until after the protests had ended, and they told DIAG chair Anne Novis that Dick was treating the complaint very seriously.

Novis told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday) that the senior officers also promised – for future protests – to work with DIAG to produce presentations that could be made to officers at their daily briefings.

These presentations would address the issues facing disabled protesters and their safeguarding and wellbeing needs, including equipment, personal assistants and medication.

This will include giving disabled people more time to move away when told to do so by officers, making sure officers are communicating properly with Deaf and disabled protesters, and – Novis hopes – ensuring they do not confiscate independent living equipment.

But she said she wanted to see these promises in writing, and she added: “We need to make sure these things don’t happen again.

“I want to see action. What they said they were going to do was good, but I want to see it in writing so it’s a proper commitment.”

She is also waiting for a response to the request for an inquiry.

She said: “They have apologised for the lack of engagement with DIAG.

“They have promised definite engagement with DIAG over protests in the future and that they would do briefings every day about disability awareness.”

She said they also committed to work with DIAG to produce training on the needs of Deaf and disabled people during protests, as part of officers’ annual training or personal development days.

Novis hopes this will be done through disabled trainers.

DIAG also hopes to act as a link between the force and the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Disabled Rebels group.

Novis said Disabled Rebels had agreed to the suggestion that they should have contact with police liaison officers during future protests.

She has now passed on these officers’ contact details to Disabled Rebels.

DIAG is hoping to meet with Disabled Rebels to discuss what took place at the XR protests.

Novis said it would be up to the Disabled Rebels to decide if they would communicate with the liaison officers.

She said: “I have encouraged them to do so because I think it would prevent some of the things that [might otherwise] happen.”

She added: “We are part of same community. Just last week I was in a protest, and other advisors take part in protests too.

“So we see these issues as ours, too. We are the same community of Deaf and disabled people who want better policing.

“As independent advisors we can raise all issues at the highest level in MPS*, and give advice on what they should do and check on progress. But it is up to the MPS to take on our advice.”

A group of three or four Disabled Rebels are also due to meet in the next few weeks with senior officers about the way disabled protesters were treated during XR.

Nicki Myers, a member of the Disabled Rebels, who was arrested because she needed assistance from a personal assistant during a solo protest outside New Scotland Yard during the XR protests, said they would discuss “how they must treat Disabled Rebels, their equipment and carers in London in the future”.

Myers, who will be part of the group meeting senior officers, said: “This will hopefully benefit every disabled person who wishes to peacefully protest in London, for whatever reason.

“We hope the police take up the offer of training from DIAG. We believe it is very much needed.”

A Metropolitan police spokesperson said: “On 23 October 2019 the MPS received a letter and formal complaint from the Disability Independent Advisory Group in relation to the policing of the recent Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’ protests.

“The MPS met with the DIAG on Friday 25 October to discuss the contents of the letter.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment further on a private meeting.”

*Metropolitan Police Service

31 October 2019


Mixed and wary response to government’s new transport access campaign

Disabled campaigners have delivered a mixed and wary response to a new government campaign that calls on the public to be “more mindful” of disabled passengers when they use public transport.

The Department for Transport (DfT) campaign, It’s Everyone’s Journey, was launched this week with a basic website and an aim to “make a big difference together”.

As part of the campaign, the government looks set to introduce an accreditation scheme modelled on the much-criticised Disability Confident disability employment programme.

The campaign has been backed by non-user-led charities Scope, Alzheimer’s Society, Parkinson’s UK, the National Autistic Society, Muscular Dystrophy UK, Crohn’s and Colitis UK, and transport operators such as British Airways, LNER and the Rail Delivery Group.

But Transport for All (TfA), the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, has decided not to be an official partner, although it has offered initial support.

Kirsty Hoyle, TfA’s chief executive, said her organisation had been involved with the campaign’s development and was “pleased to support the campaign as part of a wider portfolio of change, although at this soft launch stage we are yet to see the full picture”.

Hoyle said she was not yet comfortable with committing TfA to be a partner of the campaign, at least until it was clear that it was not being seen as a replacement for the pledges within the government’s 2018 Inclusive Transport Strategy.

She said: “I want to make sure that the campaign is used to drive the commitments of the strategy and not to be misunderstood as being the strategy.

“At the stakeholder meeting, I said that the campaign had value but not if it transposed the existing promises and not if it wasn’t open about the changes that the transport sector had to make, not just the public.”

Hoyle added: “Our members tell us that attitudinal barriers are one of the primary motivators for not travelling so we hope this campaign will encourage everyone to be more respectful of our shared public spaces.

“However, this does not overcome the many physical and systemic barriers to access, including staffing and infrastructure issues, so we maintain that the Department for Transport must be held to account for the promised developments as set out in the 2018 Inclusive Transport Strategy.

“We will be watching closely to make sure one is not allowed to replace the other.”

Leading disabled campaigners have been even more cautious in their initial reactions to the campaign.

Doug Paulley, who has played a huge part in drawing attention to discrimination across the transport industry through numerous legal actions and other campaign work, described it as “well-meaning but ineffective”.

He said: “Yes, many disabled people need skilling up and other input to plan and undertake public transport journeys, but effort and money needs to be input to ensure that the significant barriers disabled people experience in public transport are removed.

“These being attitudinal, physical, compliance, and the rest of them – by public transport providers, regulators and some (a minority) of the Great British Public.

“The effort + money would be much better placed in doing that, than in a feel-good, well-intentioned-but-ineffectual campaign such as this.”

And he said if the government was serious about improving public transport, it would implement the ruling of the Supreme Court in a case he won nearly three years ago.

The Supreme Court ruled in January 2017 that First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces.

But the government has still failed to bring forward measures that would implement the ruling.

Another disabled campaigner, David Gillon, said the campaign name was “dreadful” and did not even mention disability, as if DfT was “just too embarrassed to mention it”.

He said: “I’m disturbed by the way the campaign is framing transport inaccessibility as a problem of disabled people’s confidence.

“If wheelchair assistance doesn’t turn up for a third of my train journeys, then I lack confidence when travelling, but my confidence isn’t the issue, the reliability of the passenger assistance service is.

“Similarly, if someone abuses me on a train (it’s happened), then it may affect my confidence in being able to travel without abuse, but the issue is the abuse, not my confidence. Confidence is a symptom, not a cause.”

Gillon said he was also alarmed at plans for an Inclusive Transport Leaders accreditation scheme, which appeared to be modelled on the government’s discredited Disability Confident disability employment scheme.

The campaign website says the scheme will be launched early next year and will provide transport operators with the opportunity to “earn one of three Inclusive Transport accreditations which publicly recognise their work to improve accessibility on their services.

“Operators who achieve Inclusive Transport Leader status will be part of a forum for the exchange of good practice, and act as ambassadors for inclusive travel.”

But Gillon, a leading critic of Disability Confident, said the idea of an accreditation scheme “fills me with dread, given the example of Disability Confident, a scheme too terrified of offending employers to actually mention the workplace disability discrimination it’s supposed to challenge, and which in places is awarded for doing less than the law requires”.

The government’s campaign points out that disabled people are 30 per cent less likely to travel than non-disabled people, which impacts on their access to jobs, healthcare and a social life.

It says that one in four disabled people say negative attitudes from other passengers prevent them from using public transport.

And it adds: “With your support It’s Everyone’s Journey will increase awareness of the issues faced by disabled travellers and improve their confidence to use public transport too.”

Partner organisations will apparently be working with DfT to “communicate the improvements that are happening at a local and national level to make public transport more accessible and inclusive of disabled people”.

This will be followed by an advertising campaign early next year that will “challenge how we all use public transport and encourage everyone to reflect on how common, and often unconscious, behaviours can impact others”.

DfT also announced this week that it would work with the Real Time Information Group (RTIG), a group of councils, transport operators, consultancies and the systems industry, to allocate £2 million of funding to small bus operators to provide audio-visual on-board information.

The funding was first announced in the Inclusive Transport Strategy, which the government published in July 2018.

DfT expects the funding to help up to 30 small bus operators.

Stephen Brookes, the government’s disability champion for the rail sector, declined to say if he supported DfT’s new awareness campaign.

But he said in a statement: “To me there is one major element of importance [which] is the funding stream to allow audio visual facilities on buses which are operated by smaller, possibly more rural, companies.

“These companies are running services which are not as financially sound as the larger urban services, so support to enable equal facilities is more than overdue.”

Nusrat Ghani, the accessibility minister, said: “Transport is at the heart of how we live our lives, and I am determined that we remove any barriers faced by disabled people.

“Every passenger, regardless of where they travel in Great Britain, should be able to do so confident that they have boarded the correct vehicle and are travelling to the right place.”

Meanwhile, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UKCAA) has launched a call for evidence on the barriers faced by users of assistance dogs when travelling by air.

UKCAA said there was currently no definition of an assistance dog within UK regulations, “with a lack of formal clarity potentially causing limitations for passengers with reduced mobility when travelling by air”.

Last year, Disability News Service reported how many disabled people were being prevented from taking their assistance dogs on commercial flights, because their dogs were owner-trained and that training had not been accredited by a member of Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation.

UKCAA is now seeking views on what is meant by an assistance dog, which assistance dogs should be allowed on board aircraft, and whether there is the potential to widen the number of authorised training organisations for recognising assistance dogs for air travel.

The call for evidence ends on 10 January.

31 October 2019


Activists combine to offer PIP assessment recording kits

Disabled activists have responded to the government’s continuing failure to deal with the dishonesty and inaccuracy of the disability benefit assessment process by launching schemes to ensure that claimants can record their own assessments.

Grassroots groups of disabled activists launched two separate campaigns this week that aim to help disabled people preparing for a face-to-face assessment for personal independence payment (PIP).

Disabled People Against Cuts Sheffield (DPAC Sheffield) launched its campaign to Put PIP Assessments #OnTheRecord with the support of Disability Sheffield.

The campaign will allow disabled people from Sheffield to borrow the specialised equipment needed to record their PIP assessment*.

John, the first person to use the new equipment, says in a video released to publicise the new scheme, which was funded by a JustGiving fundraising campaign: “I am much happier knowing that there will be an accurate record of what has been said in the meeting, knowing that it cannot be changed in any way.

“I feel so much safer having the recording kit with me. I encourage anybody going for an assessment in Sheffield to get in touch with DPAC Sheffield to loan a recording kit.”

Disability News Service (DNS) spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.

And last month, DNS revealed that PIP claimants are now almost twice as likely to win their tribunal appeal than claimants of disability living allowance – which is being replaced by PIP for working-age claimants – were almost a decade ago.

Jennifer Jones, of DPAC Sheffield, said she and her colleagues hoped the scheme would save time and money and the stress of having to undergo the Department for Work and Pensions’ mandatory reconsideration process and tribunal appeals after unfair assessments, and that it would protect claimants from assessors “who deny people medical attention during assessments or from those who bully, browbeat, or threaten claimants”.

DPAC Sheffield is now fundraising to buy more recording kits, and hopes eventually to roll out the scheme nationally if ministers refuse to introduce recording of PIP assessments as standard practice.

The grassroots groups Recovery In The Bin and national DPAC have also combined to provide advice to people who want to record their PIP assessment, which briefs them on the equipment they need and how to use it.

They are also offering details of grassroots groups that will loan the equipment without charge, although there are currently only a small number of such kits.

They are building a map of locations where equipment is available, including the kit being loaned out by DPAC Sheffield. As well as Sheffield, there are currently kits in Cardiff, London and Manchester.

A spokesperson for RITB said: “We are doing this because there is overwhelming evidence that when assessments are not recorded and there are no witnesses, the assessment reports are persistently and fraudulently inaccurate, and are then used to deny people the support they need.

“Recording the assessment is a solid step in ensuring more transparency in assessments and they also give you good grounds should you need to appeal a decision, although by recording, you reduce the likelihood of getting a bad decision in the first place.”

*To borrow one of the two recording kits at no charge, email dpacsheffield@gmail.com

31 October 2019


Mystery over sudden leap in number of disabled people working at DWP

The number of disabled people working in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has apparently leapt by nearly 50 per cent in just one year.

The figures were published this month, as part of an annual report on Civil Service diversity, staffing and earnings.

They show the proportion of DWP staff who say they are disabled, as a proportion of those who have declared their disability status*.

Most large government departments showed little change in the proportion of disabled employees over the last year, with the Ministry of Defence increasing from 12 per cent in 2018 to 12.1 per cent in 2019; the Department for Education rising from 13.3 to 13.5 per cent; the Department of Health and Social Care rising from 7.0 to 7.5 per cent; and the Home Office remaining at 8.9 per cent in 2019.

But the number of disabled people working for DWP has apparently leaped from 5,670 in 2018 to 8,430 in 2019, or an increase of 49 per cent.

The proportion of DWP staff who say they are disabled has shot up from 7.5 per cent in 2018 to 11.3 per cent in 2019.

The figures were published by the Cabinet Office, although a Cabinet Office spokesperson refused to comment on the figures.

A DWP spokesperson denied that the department had changed the way it measures its disability employment figures.

DWP said there were many factors which contribute to rising disability employment both nationwide and within the department, including DWP’s status as a Disability Confident employer, its active membership of the Business Disability Forum, and the setting of “ambitious targets” for disabled entrants to the Civil Service.

And DWP said the department was continually improving how it collates data on the number of DWP employees with a self-declared disability.

The DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want everyone to have the opportunity to find fulfilling work and are proud to support an increasingly diverse workforce.

“Disability employment in the UK is at a record high of 4.1 million and our own workforce reflects that, with the number of staff employed by the Department for Work and Pensions declaring a disability rising by almost 50 per cent in the past year to over 8,000.

“We have not changed the way we measure our disability employment figures, and we continue to encourage all of our employees to disclose any disability or health condition so that we can provide the best support possible.”

*The disability status of about 10 per cent of DWP staff remains either undeclared or unreported

31 October 2019


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com