Tory conference: Disabled activists shame Tories on cost of ‘heartless’ austerity 

Disabled activists have protested outside the Conservative conference in Manchester in a bid to shame party members into accepting that a decade of austerity cuts from Tory-led governments have caused poverty, despair and countless deaths.

Protesters spoke of how the cuts and reforms had led to the deaths of tens of thousands of disabled people, backed up by research by mainstream institutions like Oxford, Liverpool and Cambridge Universities.

Others pointed to three high-profile and evidenced UN reports that have shown the devastating impact on disabled people of a decade of austerity.

The Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) protest took place on Monday afternoon, just a few yards from the main entrance to the conference, in central Manchester.

Two activists even dressed up as “Torie Plague” and “Doris Death” to highlight the “debt, despair and death” that “heartless, soulless” Conservative-led governments have caused since 2010.

Some protesters, from Manchester, were also there to tell Tory party members that they were not welcome in their city.

And some said it was vital that those disabled people who were able to protest in person ensured that Tory party members were aware of the damage caused by their government’s policies.

Piers Wilkinson, disabled students officer for the National Union of Students, said: “It is important that those of us who can protest and are in a position of being able to protest and have our voices heard do it, particularly on behalf of people who cannot.”

Jo Taylor said of the government’s cuts and reforms to disabled people’s support: “We have to keep on protesting until they listen and understand. It is a horrendous situation.”

Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said the Tories had to understand that they were not welcome in the city, after 10 years of denying disabled people’s rights, and policies that had led to the loss of countless lives.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) that he was at the protest because the Tories “keep coming back and they have not got the message that Manchester is not a city built on Conservative values. It is not somewhere they are popular.”

He said there had been 10 years of the denial of disabled people’s rights “with the consequent loss of many lives”.

He said the continued return to Manchester by the Conservative party amounted to “hostile trolling” of the city.

He added: “On a human level, they need to know that they are not welcome. They should be ashamed of what they do.”

He pointed to three UN reports that had condemned the impact of government policies on disabled people, in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

He said: “This isn’t just our opinion.

“They are a disaster. There is something wrong with people who think this is OK.”

Another leading disabled campaigner, Doug Paulley, said that he had wanted to be at the protest because of the government’s “mass punishment of disabled people”.

He said: “We are an inconvenient expense at best, a complete side issue, and yet people are suffering and dying. It’s utterly disgusting. It cannot be allowed to go on.

“I am lucky that I am relatively protected from it but so many people are not.”

Eleanor Lisney, one of the founders of Greenwich DPAC, said she was at the protest because she had no idea what was going to happen to the country now, “let alone to disabled people”.

She highlighted the “intersectionality” of the impact of austerity, which had affected not just groups like disabled people and women individually, but had hit disabled women, disabled people from BAME communities and disabled immigrants even harder.

She said: “The protest here is so we keep the focus on the disastrous impact on disabled people through all those years of austerity.”

Dominic Hutchins, from Manchester DPAC, who is also a parish councillor, said he was at the protest because of the treatment of disabled people by the Tory government, including through the introduction of universal credit and its reforms and management of the disability benefit assessment processes.

He said the mainstream media failed to report how many people had died after being unfairly assessed.

Hutchins is a qualified youth worker but is currently unemployed because the youth service is “on its knees” following years of austerity.

He said: “I am on jobseeker’s allowance and disability benefits and I have got a good degree.

“The Tories don’t see the benefit of youth work but when young people are on the streets, they complain.”

Wilkinson said the protest was particularly important when Greater Manchester Police had admitted sharing information about disabled protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He pointed to “hidden cuts” such as the introduction of personal independence payment (PIP), the cuts to disabled students’ allowance, the rollout of universal credit and the social care funding crisis.

And he highlighted the conclusions of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found there had been “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights by the Tory-led DWP, and research which showed austerity had been to blame for more than 130,000 deaths since 2012.

Taylor said she was at the protest because she had been forced to wash at the local swimming pool after her housing association refused to provide the disabled facilities grant she needed to adapt her bathroom, while she had also been forced to buy her own stairlift.

She said she was “disgusted” with the government’s benefit reforms and cuts to support for disabled people, and she added: “There are people dying from sanctioning and having no money.”

Another disabled campaigner and DPAC member at the protest, Nigel Peirce, a former mental health nurse, said he wanted to raise concerns about the transition from disability living allowance to PIP, and the introduction of universal credit, which had caused people to suffer “economically, physically and emotionally”, while some had died.

He said: “I haven’t got a message for the Tories because I don’t think they will listen.

“The point of being here is for other people to see us. We are in Manchester and they come by and see us. Not one Tory going in there is going to listen.”

One disabled activist told fellow protesters: “I have watched the social security system in my country turn into something I am thoroughly ashamed of.”

She said the work capability assessment “has got nothing to do with your ability to work” but was there “to frighten you and humiliate you and we are sick of it”, while she said DWP staff label her “a scrounger and a skiver”.

Another said: “We are here today to demand our basic human rights, the ability to live our lives as independently as possible, with dignity, humanity and a society that cares.

“How dare you come to the north of England. Go back to where you belong!

“You’re not wanted here, you’re not needed here, you’re not welcome here. Go home, go away, be gone.”

Gary Caine, a disabled activist from Manchester, told DNS: “There is that much tragedy going on with disabled people’s lives. People need to take a stand.

“My life has got a damn sight worse under the Conservatives, compared with Labour.

“I cannot believe my life has gone down the chute and got worse for no damn reason.”

Another disabled activist, Mero, said she had come to the protest from Birmingham, because of the “unfairness” of the government’s policies.

She said she had been told she would have to be reassessed for PIP when she had previously been told she would not need to be assessed again.

She said: “I just can’t stand these cuts any more.

“Why have we got to keep fighting for our rights?”

3 October 2019

 

Labour’s pledge to scrap universal credit ‘is victory for years of activism’

Disabled activists have welcomed Labour’s promise to scrap universal credit (UC) if it wins power at the next general election as a victory for years of campaigning.

But they have warned the party that they still want to know how UC will be replaced before they give the plans their whole-hearted approval.

Labour’s announcement comes after years of campaigning by disabled activists, particularly Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and organisations such as Black Triangle, Sisters of Frida and Inclusion London.

Countless individual disabled activists have also called repeatedly for Labour to change its previous policy that demanded the government “pause and fix” the system and commit instead to “stop and scrap” UC.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said this week, in an announcement originally planned for last week’s party conference, that a Labour government would “scrap” the “inhumane and cruel” UC and replace it with a social security system that focused on “alleviating and ending poverty, not driving people into it”.

Labour would also replace the Department for Work and Pensions with a Department for Social Security on “day one” of a new government, said Corbyn.

And it would introduce an “emergency” package of reforms – including scrapping the benefit cap and ending the five-week wait for a first UC payment by introducing an interim payment after two weeks – while it developed a replacement system.

Labour said it hoped to reduce the assessment period for UC to one week so claimants receive their first payment about 10 days after making their claim, but they say this may take time to introduce because of the complexity of the UC system.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “Universal credit is a cruel and inhumane system that has left many disabled people destitute, unable to heat and light their homes and going without food.”

After the Labour announcement, the new work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey told the Conservative party conference in Manchester that UC “provides a safeguard for the most vulnerable in our society” and that it “supports strivers who are not content living a life on welfare”.

She said that one of her priorities was “to continue to improve universal credit to ensure that people get the money they need in a timely manner, are helped into work, and onto an escalator up to better work”.

But those comments came as a fringe meeting heard from the head of a homeless charity – which  provides services just a short walk from the party conference – that UC was causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, with claimants “at the end of their tether” (see separate story).

De Cordova said Coffey’s defence of UC was “obscene” and added: “Her party has caused untold suffering for disabled people and so many others, but they continue to bury their heads in the sand.”

Disabled activists who were protesting outside the Tory party conference this week welcomed Labour’s decision to scrap UC, with some reservations.

Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “It’s good that they are saying they are going to stop and scrap it, but they need to engage with us about the replacement.

“That is what we need now, to be confident that we are going in the right direction. We wait to hear from them.”

He warned that Labour had apparently still not committed to scrap all benefit sanctions, but only the Tories’ “punitive sanctions regime”.

He said: “They can’t just talk to the usual suspects about what they are going to replace it with. They need to talk to disabled people and the grassroots organisations.

“It was a system not designed by or for disabled people.”

He added: “I think a lot of people should be quite happy that their efforts have pushed the Labour party to that position.

“Sometimes it feels like we are fighting against a brick wall but clearly that moved the Labour party.”

Burgess said DPAC had – from the beginning – examined universal credit and realised that it needed to be scrapped, persuading unions that were originally against scrapping UC but just calling for it to be fixed.

He said: “Everyone has come to our way of thinking. We were right, and the experience people had with UC – poverty, homelessness, starvation – has been exactly as we predicted.”

He also said he was concerned that a Labour government would just “rebadge” DWP as the Department for Social Security.

He said: “They also need to change the culture. Key personnel certainly need firing, and probably need prosecuting.”

Dennis Queen, another of the DPAC activists protesting against the Tory government outside the conference on Monday afternoon, welcomed Corbyn’s announcement, which she said was “really good news”.

But she warned: “I don’t think anyone is going to hand our rights to us on a plate. I will be interested to see the details of what they propose to implement instead.

“We are going to have to fight for our rights whoever is in power.”

Piers Wilkinson, the disabled students officer for the National Union of Students, said Labour’s announcement was a “move in the right direction” and “feels long overdue”.

But he said he wished there had been more emphasis from Labour on the fact that UC had “effectively targeted” disabled people and women.

He also said he wanted to see what a replacement system would look like and added: “Any future social security system has to be designed by people who are using it: Nothing About Us Without Us.

“If Labour are really serious about changing the current system to make it not punitive and exploitative and life-destroying then we need to design it and not people who have never used it.”

Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said there had been “tireless work” by many activists that persuaded Labour to change its position, with disabled campaigners often “being a lone voice in the room when everyone else’s view differed from yours”.

But she warned that Labour would still have to be elected, and then activists would “have to hold them to their word and make their policy pledges become reality”.

She added: “We have so much more to do. But never say campaigning never makes a difference. It does.

“We can effect change. We can make a difference.”

3 October 2019

 

Months of PIP distress ‘hastened my brother’s death’

The brother of a disabled man who was denied disability benefits when he was dying has launched a petition calling on the government to scrap the outsourcing of all face-to-face assessments to private contractors.

James Oliver, from Hastings – the constituency of former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd – spent the last few months of his life in despair over the refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to grant him personal independence payment (PIP).

Shortly before he died in hospital, in April this year, he told his brother, Dave Smith: “I can’t believe it. I am dying, I am going to be dead, and I’m still not sick enough to get PIP.”

Oliver, who had chronic liver disease caused by alcohol dependency, as well as other health conditions including scoliosis, hypertension and depression, had twice tried to claim PIP, but both times was found ineligible.

In 2016, he is believed to have applied for PIP for the first time when his health worsened and left him barely able to walk.

He had a face-to-face assessment with a paramedic employed by Atos*, one of the two outsourcing companies paid hundreds of millions of pounds by DWP to carry out the tests on its behalf.

The assessor awarded him zero points for every area of the assessment, which meant DWP rejected his claim, a decision which is believed to have been confirmed at an internal review, through the mandatory reconsideration process.

Although Smith is not certain of the details, he believes his brother had a second Atos PIP assessment last year, and was again awarded zero points, even though his health had worsened.

The subsequent decision by DWP to deny him PIP again was upheld, following another mandatory reconsideration.

Now Smith is working through his brother’s paperwork line by line, highlighting the inaccuracies and what he believes are lies in the assessment reports, including comments about the way he walked and read, and his clothes and memory.

In reference to the 2016 report, he said of his brother: “His liver is failing, his other organs are giving up, he has scoliosis, he has a backside red raw from the incontinence, he has open sores all over his body, his stomach is permanently swollen and he holds it when trying to walk because of the pain, he has pain in his arms and legs, he is regularly coughing up blood and bleeding internally, he has piles and he has pain in both hands, he is wheezing and exhausted after a few steps and constantly needing an inhaler and he needs a stick or support of house furniture to walk.”

Despite this, the assessor awarded him zero points, which led to him being denied PIP and which Smith said amounted to “blatant disability discrimination”.

The tribunal appeal against the refusal to award him PIP was due to take place late last month but has been postponed, following a request by DWP.

His brother is certain that the months of anxiety, depression and distress caused by the refusal to award him PIP last year hastened his death.

He told Disability News Service (DNS): “He felt nobody would help him. Whereas before he had been sticking to his doctor’s orders and restricting his drinking, when he was told he was having to go to tribunal he just gave up.

“All he kept on about was he wasn’t sick enough for PIP. He was a total physical mess.”

Smith said he has yet to hear from DWP, despite sending his details to the department six months ago.

The Hastings advice centre that dealt with Oliver’s claims is believed to have written to Rudd to complain about the way the case has been dealt with.

Like many other campaigners, Smith believes ministers and senior civil servants should be held accountable in the criminal courts for their failure to make the system safe for people in vulnerable situations.

Now he has launched a petition that he hopes will secure enough signatures – 100,000 – to ensure the issues are debated in parliament.

His petition calls for an end to the use of private contractors for DWP disability benefit assessments, both for PIP and for employment and support allowance (and its universal credit equivalent).

He says in the petition that the disability benefit assessment system is linked to many suicides and “accelerated deaths”, like his brother’s.

And he says he believes – in claims backed up by DNS’s own investigations – that there have been “multiple lies” in the written assessment reports completed by nurses, paramedics and occupational therapists working for Atos and Capita (the other PIP assessment contractor).

Smith has been in contact with Joy Dove, whose daughter Jodey Whiting took her own life in February 2017 after her out-of-work disability benefits were wrongly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

He praised Dove’s “continued bravery” for continuing to speak out about her daughter’s death.

He said: “For me she is an inspiration to keep fighting and highlighting the bullying, ineptitude, discrimination and lies coming out of the DWP and its assessment agencies.”

And just as in Whiting’s case, the family’s grief was worsened by receiving a letter about his claim, addressed to Oliver at his home address, even though DWP had been repeatedly notified of his death.

In his case, the letter came from the tribunal service.

Smith said: “If this was a company with this many deaths on its hands, it would be forced to cease trading and have a criminal inquiry.

“All the promises of ‘it will never happen again’ by the DWP are a total waste of time because it is a department which doesn’t know how to behave in a humane way.

“We could sit back, do nothing, and let the government treat us like a worthless waste of space when we get ill.

“Or we can do something about it and let them know in no uncertain terms that under the Human Rights Act we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and that their bullying and victimization will not be tolerated.”

A DWP spokesperson declined to say if the department was happy with its decision-making in the case and whether it showed the system was not fit for purpose, and that DWP should stop outsourcing assessments.

But he said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with Mr Oliver’s family at this difficult time.

“We are very sorry for the distress caused and are looking into this to prevent it happening again.

“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.

“Decisions are based on all the information provided to us by applicants, as well as that from their GP or medical specialist.”

DNS revealed last month that disabled people were almost twice as likely to win their disability benefit appeal than they were 10 years ago, at the start of almost a decade of Conservative control of DWP.

The proportion of tribunal appeals that found in favour of disability living allowance (DLA) claimants was just 38 per cent in 2010-11, the first year of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

But the rate of tribunal success for claimants of PIP, which was introduced in 2013 to gradually replace DLA for working-age claimants, has risen from 26 per cent in 2013-14, to 50 per cent in 2014-15, to 61 per cent the following year, and then to 65 per cent in 2015-16 and 68 per cent in 2017-18.

The latest figures show that 73 per cent of PIP claimants in 2018-19 saw the decision originally made by DWP decision-makers revised in their favour at tribunal.

An Atos spokesperson said: “It is not possible for us to comment on individual cases however our thoughts are with Mr Oliver’s family at this time.

“Our focus is to provide a professional and compassionate assessment service for everyone.”

*Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK

3 October 2019

 

Tory conference: Universal credit damage ‘is throwback to Victorian era’

The boss of a homeless charity that provides services just a short walk from this week’s Tory party conference has told party members that universal credit is causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, with claimants “at the end of their tether”.

Yvonne Hope, chief executive of the Manchester charity Barnabus, which works mostly with rough sleepers, said universal credit (UC) had caused poverty levels that were “a throwback to the Victorian era”.

UC was first introduced in Manchester in 2014 and Hope said the levels of sanctions and “destitution” seen in those early days were now over for most people.

But she added: “We continue to see a development in poverty which I think my whole team thinks is a throwback to the Victorian era where they have almost created ghettoes of people who are never going to be able to move on.”

And she told the fringe event – which was organised by The Trussell Trust and Lloyds Bank Foundation – that the “killer” for her clients was the five-week wait for a first payment after moving on to UC.

She said: “When you’re dealing with people who have nothing, who are already destitute… five weeks is the difference between being able to feed yourself, being able to remain housed, being able to pay the bus ticket.

“It throws you on the resources of churches, charities, and other organisations.”

She said many people in Manchester and around the country were ending up on the street because of UC, while the slide into homelessness was “almost inevitable” if someone was already in housing arrears when moving onto UC.

She described what happened to a client called Darren, who came to Barnabus after he had been sleeping rough for a couple of nights following a relationship breakdown.

He had been experiencing anxiety and depression and self-medicating with alcohol, she said.

After he was moved on to UC, Darren was left with less than £200 a month to live on because of debt repayments, including repaying the loan he had been forced to take out from the Department for Work and Pensions as a result of the five-week wait, and because his rent was higher than his housing benefit.

The experience left him suicidal, she said, although Barnabus managed to intervene and “get his life back on track”.

Hope said: “He is only one person and his story is so common. We hear it every day.”

She said there was a need for more affordable housing; to persuade landlords to take on UC claimants who did not have steady jobs; and for more flexibility in the UC system.

She said UC rules were currently built around a “linear life” when in fact “nobody leads a linear life: relationships break up, you lose your job… life is messy and people have problems, not everybody can work, not everybody can stay in work.

“We are going to see more addiction, more mental illness issues, more unemployment, earlier deaths because of bad health, and sadly I think we are seeing a rise in suicide rates because people have just had enough, they are at the end of their tether.”

One Conservative party member, Martin Boniface, a volunteer with Worcester foodbank, told Tory MP Nigel Mills, one of the fringe meeting’s panel and a member of the work and pensions select committee: “There are times when I am embarrassed to be a member of the Conservative party.

“When I am challenged by fellow volunteers at Worcester foodbank who say how can you possibly be a Conservative bearing in mind what you do here, that makes me worry.”

He asked what could be done to make the Conservatives be seen again as a “caring and compassionate party”.

But Mills said it was “fair” of the government to ask people to go through a process to ensure they are entitled to receive support, and he added: “What we are trying to do through these systems is help people progress, improve their lives and their families’ lives.

“We are not trying to punish them. This was a reform designed to make welfare pay, make it simpler for people… we need to smooth out the edges, clear out the things that just aren’t working.”

Emma Revie, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of about 1,200 foodbanks, said the charity’s concern at the moment with UC and the benefit system was that “instead of holding people up at a time of crisis, at a time of need, it’s actually helping to pull them further down into poverty and into destitution”.

She said that relationships were being “broken by the crushing pressure of not having enough money”.

She said: “Often it is a corrosive effect of poverty and destitution that we lose our relationships and we lose the family and friends that we used to be able to reply on.”

In the last five years, the trust has seen a 73 per cent increase in the number of people using its foodbanks.

She said that half of those who come to a foodbank are from a household containing a disabled person or someone with a long-term health condition, and so already have higher essential costs.

She said: “Our new benefit system is definitely, unquestionably, working for many people, but for a significant minority it is not working.

“The problems they are experiencing with the five week-wait, government debt repayment, which leave them with not enough to cover essentials and low levels of payment, and much more, are causing people to have to come to a food bank to receive donated goods.

“We need to start listening to the people who are telling us [universal credit] is not working.”

She added: “Our data shows us unquestionably that the longer an area has universal credit in rollout, experiencing that five-week wait, the higher the numbers of people who are having to come to foodbanks.”

Mills agreed that for some people the five-week wait “was just not working”.

And he said people moving onto UC from other benefits should be able to “seamlessly migrate so they don’t notice a change”.

He said: “There is no logical sense in putting people into debt at the start of a claim, when they have been in the system for a while before.”

Edward Davies, director of policy at The Centre for Social Justice, which designed UC in 2009 and is chaired by Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary who introduced UC in 2013, said problems with UC had to be tackled at the same time as issues like addiction, education failure and debt.

He said that one of the problems with UC was that the provision of universal support – which was supposed to be a key part of the system for those with complex needs – was “not doing two per cent of what it could do”.

Universal support is supposed to offer help with claiming and managing UC, and was originally offered through local authorities, but is now provided through Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.

But Davies said: “When we met with some very senior cabinet members of the former [Tory] administration, they didn’t even know what it was.”

He said universal support needed to be higher up the agenda.

Revie agreed, and said that more than two-thirds of people using foodbanks who were claiming UC did not know about universal support.

Davies said the impact of family breakdown was also important, and he added: “We need to start talking about family a lot more… politicians hate talking about it.

“Look at the current prime minister [Boris Johnson]. He’s not going to want to talk about this.”

3 October 2019

 

Tory conference: Solution to social care crisis ‘may finally be within reach’

A permanent solution to the social care funding crisis may finally be within reach, with growing calls for proposals that would include free social care, according to a former adviser to the Tory health and social care secretary.

Richard Sloggett, who was advising Matt Hancock on policy until as recently as August, was speaking at a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference in Manchester this week.

His comments, and the apparent mood of the packed meeting, suggest growing momentum behind a solution that offers free social care, funded by national taxation, even if it does not go as far as a legal right to independent living and the National Independent Living and Support Service proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Disabled People Against Cuts.

The optimism of those at the meeting came despite the failure of ministers to say anything substantial about social care during the conference.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said yesterday (Wednesday) that the Conservatives would “solve the problem of social care and end the injustice that means people have to sell their home to pay for their old age”, but he offered no suggestion for how this would be done, and failed to mention the support needs of working-age disabled people.

Hancock, in his main speech to conference, said only that the government had delivered the “biggest increase in social care funding in a decade” this year, while saying nothing about his much-delayed green paper on adult social care.

And chancellor Sajid Javid said only that the latest round of spending decisions by the Treasury last month had included a “large down-payment on social care”.

Social care minister Caroline Dinenage was unable to attend the conference because of ministerial engagements in Westminster.

She told Disability News Service by email that she had intended to attend on Monday and Tuesday but had deliberately not confirmed any speaking engagements because “of the current uncertainly in Parliament”.

She had needed to be in Westminster to respond to debates, including one on social care funding on Tuesday.

She said: “I wouldn’t read anything into the absence of social care from conference speeches.

“The prime minister, in his inaugural speech from the steps of Downing Street, said, ‘The government will set our plans to fix the crisis in social care once and for all.’

“Our commitment to this is undiminished.”

In her speech on Tuesday, which mainly focused on older people, she offered no suggestion that the green paper was imminent, instead repeating the chancellor’s line that the funding announced in the latest spending round was “a down payment on much more fundamental reforms to social care that we need to introduce”.

Sloggett was speaking at a fringe meeting hosted by the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange, which has publicly called for social care to be free at the point of use, just like the NHS, and was attended by about 150 people who appeared strongly in favour of such a solution.

He told the meeting he was “really optimistic” about the issue and said he believed that politicians were moving towards a “state-backed solution of some ilk”.

He pointed to two recent reports he believed were “very pertinent” – a report by the House of Lords economic affairs committee and the Policy Exchange report – which have both advocated (mostly) free social care.

He said the Lords report was “a massive, massive step forward” and that he was “more optimistic than I perhaps was”.

And he told the meeting later: “We have an unbelievable sense of momentum on this agenda to actually do something.”

Warwick Lightfoot, a former adviser to three Tory chancellors in the late 1980s and early 1990s, who led Policy Exchange’s research on social care funding, said providing free social care, paid for from national taxation, was a cost that was “possible to manage” and was the “logical way of resolving” the current “misalignment” between free NHS care and means-tested charging for social care.

3 October 2019

 

Disabled Rebels call for ‘new blood’ as they prepare for Extinction Rebellion

A group of “Disabled Rebels” who will take part in next week’s Extinction Rebellion protests in London are calling for other disabled people to join the action and take part in the worldwide attempts to highlight the impact of climate change.

Together with a group called Deaf Rebels, they hope to play a key part in the UK actions, which will include a “central focus” on Westminster and will last two weeks from Monday (7 October).

Bob Williams-Findlay, a leading figure in the Disabled Rebels group and a veteran of many non-violent direct action protests, has called for “new blood” to join the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Disabled Rebels and Deaf Rebels.

He hopes that as many as 100 or even 150 Deaf and disabled people will take part in non-violent direct action in London.

If that happens, the numbers taking part will be greater than those who took part in direct action in the campaign for accessible transport and in the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network in the 1980s and 1990s.

Williams-Findlay said the Deaf and disabled people involved were of a “very different” composition than those who take part in disability rights protests.

He said the driving force was “primarily around saving the planet”, although the climate change actions in April and the worldwide publicity around Greta Thunberg had “triggered an increasing interest from traditional disability activists”.

He and other Disabled Rebels have been working to ensure there will be accessible toilets across the London protest sites, to provide disability equality training for stewards, and to organise a Disability Hub where disabled activists can secure information, advice and support.

Williams-Findlay said: “The plan is for the Disability Hub to have a multi-purpose area where disabled people can gather, build a sense of community, and help take disability culture right into the heart of Extinction Rebellion.”

They and Deaf Rebels have also been working to ensure Deaf people and Extinction Rebellion’s legal team can use British Sign Language signs to communicate with each other if there is a threat of arrest.

Williams-Findlay said that Extinction Rebellion and Disabled Rebels were both “on a steep learning curve” but he said he saw a “willingness to learn, be reflective and make changes” which was “not common among most social movements or campaign groups”.

He added: “There is a genuine commitment to be as inclusive as possible.

“However, as with any social movement, Extinction Rebellion is a product of a society that has kept disabled people excluded or marginalised, and as a result, there remains deeply ingrained forms of ignorance about disabled lives and how the inequality of power impacts.”

He said it had been a “hard slog” to ensure the essential access issues will be in place, and there were still “gaps”.

And he issued a call for allies who might not be willing to engage in non-violent direct action, but who could carry out “backroom activities” such as staffing the Disability Hub or playing other supporting roles.

He said: “We would welcome new blood within the Extinction Rebellion itself, but we recognise that isn’t possible for everyone, therefore we would welcome ‘eyes and ears’ willing to use various social media platforms to pass on information and counteract disinformation and possible news blackouts.”*

Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, said: “There is no point demanding rights if we don’t have a planet to exercise them on.

“By raising the profile of disabled people within XR, we can send out a clarion call to other disabled people – this is our fight too.”

He said his past experiences of non-violent direct action had shown that it requires “serious commitment” and “accepting you are part of a team”.

He said: “You need to decide how far you are willing to challenge the law.

“There’s always a risk of arrest, but we need to assess the implications of getting arrested and have plans to defuse the situation and move away.

“Another lesson has to be that non-violent direct action can be effective in getting the message across. So, direct action isn’t a game, but it can be fun and feel uplifting.”

He added: “Our future, not just that of disabled people, but humanity as a whole, is at a crossroads with time running out.

“Disabled people want a future. We understand that only a just and transformative society can be inclusive, and addressing sustainable environments has to be a vital part of the process.

“‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’ has to include taking steps to save our planet, helping to prevent disaster and protecting people from human suffering.”

He called on the government to “tell the truth” about climate change, “put its full weight behind ensuring everyone understands what’s at stake” and engage in dialogue.

Williams-Findlay warned that disabled people would be among the groups to pay “the highest price” if the Extinction Rebellion and other climate change campaigns failed.

He said: “In the global south we are already seeing ecological disasters where people are being displaced, crops failing and huge migrations taking place.

“Under these conditions, children and older and disabled people are going to struggle to survive.

“Without adequate infrastructures and facing hostile disabling environments, these conditions are going to be too much to deal with.

“Disabled people are less adaptable than non-disabled people, and if you add to that existing discriminatory attitudes, what will be the consequences?

“Disabled people will be seen as having less worth, so if resources are rationed, it is fairly obvious who will lose out.”

*XR Disabled Rebels can be contacted through their Facebook page, or by email at: xr.inclusion@protonmail.com

3 October 2019

 

Tory conference: Leading disabled Tory ‘wouldn’t give UN the time of day’

A leading disabled Tory has defended his government’s disability policies, dismissing three highly critical reports by the UN and concerns about the impact of Brexit on social care, rights and access to medication.

Barry Ginley, deputy chair of the Conservative Disability Group (CDG), said the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) and its special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights were “not seeing the true Britain” when they criticised the UK government for its policies on disability in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

And he insisted that he was not embarrassed when CRPD was so critical of the UK government two years ago, telling it to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

Ginley, who is disability and access officer at London’s V&A museum, said: “I am not putting my head in the sand over that.

“I know a hell of a lot of countries around the world I have visited that do little or nothing.

“For us to be criticised by the UN for stuff that we have done, being proactive and so on, I just wouldn’t give them the time of day.”

He was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) after a fringe meeting hosted CDG, an independent organisation of Conservative party members “who want to see a more inclusive society for disabled people”.

Ginley, who voted “leave” in the 2016 European Union referendum, said that he believed Brexit was being used as an “excuse” by its opponents.

He said: “It was raining, I got wet this morning coming to conference, some people say it’s down to Brexit, everything is down to Brexit, everything bad is down to Brexit and everything good is because we are in Europe.”

He compared “scare tactics” about the impact of Brexit on disabled people’s rights, access to personal assistants and medication to fears about the Y2K Millennium Bug in the lead-up to 1 January 2000 “when planes were going to fall out of the sky because computers weren’t going to work”.

He said: “I get told that if we come out of Europe, disabled people are going to suffer and they won’t be able to get out and about, da-de-da-de-da.

“I think personally that’s rubbish.”

Asked about concerns raised by disabled campaigners such as the crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell about a possible shortage of personal assistants after Brexit, he said: “She obviously has her experiences… but we do have plenty of British people that are still unemployed so we shouldn’t say that everyone from eastern Europe should be a PA because they are not.

“The government has said they have the right to stay in the UK after Brexit. That’s been mentioned at conference today.

“I think there has been a lot put on Brexit, these scare tactics.”

He said he had not read the government’s progress report on disability, which was hidden away on the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) website last month, and not publicised by the minister for disabled people or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He said: “I didn’t know the report had been published so I will go and seek it out. I would have hoped that they would have communicated it better.”

He said one of his previous roles had been as an ambassador for ODI on its Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations project, which ended in 2015.

But told that organisations like Shaping Our Lives and the National Survivor User Network had raised repeated concerns at the number of user-led organisations that had been forced to close, he suggested that some of them “may have merged and become stronger that way”.

Although he was critical of the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process, which he said was “a failure”, he insisted that this was due to the private sector organisations carrying out the assessments, rather than the ministers who were responsible for the system, or DWP decision-makers.

He said: “It’s not the ministers saying you have to go out to work if you are terminally-ill with cancer.

“It is the individual who has made that assessment, not the minister. It’s the human factor.”

But he said he would not defend the government over links between the fitness for work test and disabled people who had taken their own lives.

He said: “I don’t defend it. I’m not going to defend it. One lost life is one too many.

“Work should be done to ensure those kinds of benefits aren’t just whipped away from people that are vulnerable.”

Ginley said ministers should have acted to improve the work capability assessment, adding: “I am happy to say it is a failing and it is something that still definitely needs to improve.

“And that’s a Conservative member saying that of a Conservative government.”

He was also concerned and critical of the five-week wait for universal credit and the “ridiculous” proportion of subsequent payments that must be paid back by those who take a DWP loan to tide them over while waiting for that first payment.

He said CDG tries to challenge the government “when we feel it is necessary and because disability comes before party”.

He said: “We challenge when we feel we need to. Some ministers are better than others. I am not going to name names, good or bad.”

The fringe meeting had discussed how to make the UK the world’s most accessible tourist destination.

Ginley said that the V&A and other UK museums were seen as leaders on access for disabled people.

He said: “We still have a lot to do in this country, but we are far better off than most countries.

“That’s not just me saying that: it’s feedback I get from disabled people from anywhere from Taiwan to Argentina, where I was last month. British museums are seen as leaders.

“We can be tough on ourselves and say what we are doing is rubbish: actually, it’s not.

“I would challenge people to go to other parts of the world and see if you find that as accessible as what London might be.

“Yes, we still have challenges, but we are much further down the road than many other countries around the world.”

Diane Lightfoot, chief executive of the Business Disability Forum, and a member of VisitEngland’s England’s Inclusive Tourism Action Group, said the ambition of the government and tourism industry’s Tourism Sector Deal was to make the UK “the most accessible tourist destination in Europe by 2025”.

A key measure of this was to increase the number of in-bound visits by disabled people by 33 per cent.

She said VisitEngland research valued the accessible tourism market – the amount spent by disabled people and their traveling companions on day trips and domestic and in-bound overnight trips – at about £12 billion a year, and more than £14 billion in Britain.

Peter Hand, CDG’s chair, defended the decision to choose accessible tourism as the subject of the fringe when there were so many crucial issues affecting disabled people.

He told DNS after the meeting: “There are lots of issues concerning disabled people. We as CDG focus on those throughout the year.

“We are not saying it’s the only issue, far from it, but in the context of Brexit, we thought it was a valuable opportunity to help promote UK PLC, but there are many other important issues and we still think they should be discussed as well.”

3 October 2019

 

Train companies set to be forced to act on rail replacement access after legal advice

Train companies must ensure that nearly all their rail replacement vehicles are accessible to disabled people, or risk criminal prosecution, according to legal advice obtained by the rail regulator.

Train companies have reacted to the provisional legal advice by promising to comply with any new rules produced by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) as a result of the advice.

ORR was forced to seek the legal advice after a legal threat issued by accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley.

Paulley warned last year that he was considering taking legal action against a train company over the failure to ensure that its rail replacement vehicles were accessible, which he said “makes travel substantially more difficult for many disabled people”.

He believes that most of those vehicles should comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR).

But when he read new accessible transport guidance issued to the industry by ORR in July, he realised that it fell far short of such a requirement, stating only that companies should make “reasonable endeavours to secure accessible rail replacement services and taxis”.

Paulley contacted solicitors at Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG), who sent a legal letter to the regulator, which promised to seek its own legal advice.

Now ORR has published that legal advice from a barrister (PDF).

It states that, with a few minor exceptions, all rail replacement vehicles must be accessible, and the train companies, and the bus or coach providers, are at risk of criminal prosecution if they are not.

Paulley, who has been campaigning on the issue for years, says this advice goes well beyond what he and his solicitor from DPG, Louise Whitfield, were asking for.

They originally asked for train operating companies (TOCs) to ensure that all their rail replacement vehicles were fully accessible if used as a result of disruptions that were planned and reasonably foreseeable.

But ORR’s provisional legal advice says that even vehicles used as a result of unplanned disruption to rail services must be accessible, with a few exceptions.

Paulley said he was “delighted” with the advice but doubted whether there would be enough accessible buses or coaches for rail companies to hire, which would still put them at risk of prosecution for running inaccessible vehicles.

He also pointed out that TOCs had been breaking the law for more than 20 years, apparently without ORR and TOCs realising they were doing so.

He said: “A difficult situation they find themselves in, but I have little sympathy.

“If TOCs had made any significant effort to improve the accessibility of vehicles over the last 20 years, they wouldn’t be in this situation.

“Similarly, if they had complied with the law, which has been around for 20 years and had a staggered introduction to ease the transition.”

ORR has written this week to seek the views of the rail industry and other stakeholders on the provisional legal advice, before launching a new consultation on the issue later this month.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the companies that run Britain’s railway, promised that every replacement vehicle would comply with ORR regulations, although these vehicles could be buses, minibuses or taxis.

It said the legal advice “fits within our plan to make the railway more accessible to more people and ensure compliant replacement vehicles are in place during improvement work”.

Dominic Lund-Conlon, RDG’s head of accessibility and inclusion, said: “We always want people to have smooth journeys and train companies work closely with other transport operators during planned improvement work to meet the needs of passengers.

“We will ensure that people with accessibility needs can continue their journey in a vehicle that complies with the latest regulations, which could be a coach, minibus or taxi, depending on availability and the number of other people travelling.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We will consider responding to the consultation once it is published as we don’t want to pre-empt our response.”

3 October 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com