A disability benefits assessor with extreme right-wing sympathies has been suspended by the government contractor Capita after she posted disablist, racist comments about social security claimants on her Facebook page.
The posts were spotted by Sarah Goldstein, whose claim for personal independence payment (PIP) had been turned down following an assessment carried out by the qualified nurse.
Goldstein has significant support needs as a result of fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s syndrome, chronic migraines, anxiety and depression, and she was so angry and upset by the “lies” she read in the nurse’s assessment report that she searched online for her social media accounts. She says she was appalled by what she found.
On one occasion, in July 2014, while apparently watching an episode of the Channel 5 reality show Benefits Britain: Life On The Dole, the nurse posted a series of comments about a Roma gypsy who used a skateboard as a mobility aid because he lost his legs as a child in Romania.
In the documentary, he talked positively about the lack of racism in Britain and how he hoped to make a life for himself by working here, and how he had worked as a film extra.
But in one Facebook post, the nurse said: “So it’s not very nice life on a skate board!!!!! He could get a job fitting carpets then maybe just maybe our pensioners could have the retirement they deserve!!!!!!!”
She then added: “I’d like to remove his wheels and catapult the scrounger back to whatever shit hole he came from!!!!”
After seeing these and other posts, Goldstein asked Capita to launch an investigation.
Her husband, Jay, her full-time carer, said the posts made his wife feel “sick” and “upset” at the thought that the nurse had been in their home.
He said: “Sarah hasn’t eaten or slept properly in the last week because of all this. It’s really upsetting for me to watch.”
Disability News Service has found a string of other disturbing posts on the nurse’s Facebook page, showing her far-right sympathies.
In one disturbing Facebook message, posted in April 2014, believed to be just after she started working as a PIP assessor for Capita, she said: “Not sure if a new job [is] supposed to feel like community pay back lol!!”
She has also shared a string of Facebook posts attacking immigrants and asylum-seekers from far-right organisations like Britain First, British Immigration Watch, and Infidels of Britain, including one headlined “Enoch Powell was right!”
Her far-right sympathies also raise questions as to whether the assessment report she wrote was influenced by Sarah’s and Jay’s surname.
Although Sarah is not Jewish, her husband is, and they have a menorah, a nine-branched Jewish candelabrum, on the mantelpiece in the room where the assessment took place.
The assessor visited the Goldsteins at their home in Derbyshire for the assessment earlier this year.
The couple had not been concerned during the assessment itself, but when they received a copy of the assessment report they were horrified.
Jay Goldstein said: “She was very quiet. She would ask questions and would then type a lot. But when we got the report back she had literally lied about everything.”
The report claims that Sarah maintained perfect eye contact throughout the assessment, when in fact, Jay said, she had been “visibly agitated, picking at the skin on her hands”.
He said: “Sarah was facing away from her because she has anxiety issues and didn’t feel comfortable looking at her.”
The nurse also claimed that Sarah had perfect understanding of the questions, whereas Jay said his wife repeatedly “um-ed and ah-ed” and kept looking at her husband for help.
Among other errors, she said Sarah had given birth to their 13-month-old daughter AJ naturally, when the assessor did not even ask how she had given birth, which was through a caesarean.
She also wrote that Sarah could go to the shops and bring back shopping, when in fact she has to shop online, with help from her husband, who puts away the shopping when it is delivered.
As a result of the assessment, Sarah was given zero points and found ineligible for PIP, even though she is in the support group of employment and support allowance, which means she has been assessed as having significant barriers to the workplace.
The decision on Sarah’s claim for PIP – which is supposed to cover some of the extra disability-related costs disabled people face – was rubber-stamped by a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision-maker and then approved again through DWP’s own mandatory reconsideration process.
The decision to turn down her claim means Sarah will not be able to apply for a Motability vehicle, which would have made it easier for them to take AJ out of the house, and means she cannot secure other support linked to PIP, such as a disabled persons railcard.
Although Jay can take AJ out on his own, he cannot leave his wife alone at home for long, and without a car they are rarely able to go out as a family.
Her husband said the family would survive without PIP, but he said: “It would be nice if we were given the help that we really need.”
He added: “This isn’t about the money, it’s about the way Sarah has been treated. The system needs to be made a lot safer.”
Gail Ward, a member of the disabled people’s campaigning organisations Black Triangle and the North East branch of Disabled People Against Cuts, who alerted Disability News Service to the case, said the disablist comments on the Facebook page were “appallingly reflective of what many disabled people have to endure daily, which have been made worse by the government’s rhetoric”, while the racist comments “were just as shocking”.
She said the nurse should be “sacked forthwith” and prosecuted for inciting racial hatred.
Ward said the calibre of some healthcare professionals hired by government contractors such as Capita was “alarming”, while the quality of assessments for both PIP and ESA was sub-standard.
She said she was “concerned at the amount of genuine claimants who were losing their cars and jobs due to being wrongly denied PIP, only to be given it back at appeal”.
And she said that disabled people were living in fear of losing the “vital safety net” of support through PIP and ESA, with billions of pounds wasted on repeated, flawed assessments.
She said: “Disabled people do not object to being assessed periodically, as this has always been the case, but they do feel they are being deliberately targeted and live in fear of what campaigners call ‘brown envelope syndrome’.”
A Capita spokesman said: “The individual was suspended as soon as we were made aware of the allegations, and further investigations are taking place.
“All prospective assessors are subject to strict security and vetting checks. We also have strict policies in place which govern the use of social media.”
Capita has told the Goldsteins this week that the report completed by the nurse would not have been approved if it had been randomly selected for a quality audit, and that they would now send another healthcare assessor to carry out a fresh assessment.
4 August 2016
A physiotherapist took just 35 minutes to carry out a face-to-face assessment that led to a man with complex mental health problems being found “fit for work”, a decision that appears to have triggered his suicide.
Last week, the parents of David Barr, from Glenrothes, Fife, called for former work and pensions ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling to be prosecuted over their failure to address serious safety concerns about the work capability assessment (WCA), which they believe led to their son’s death in August 2013.
This week, Disability News Service (DNS) has examined documents relating to their son’s claim for employment and support allowance (ESA), and they show that he was assessed by a physiotherapist employed by the government contractor Atos, who took just 35 minutes to carry out an assessment and then just another 18 minutes to complete the report.
Barr, who lived in Glenrothes, Fife, told the assessor in May 2013 that he had anxiety, depression and psychosis – including hearing voices – had attempted to take his own life just six weeks previously, and went on to say that he had “[tried to take his own life] before but he cannot remember when”.
He also told the assessor that he “gets paranoid that people are watching him and people are listening to him”, while the assessor noted that Barr “stood with his back to the wall and had difficulty coping with the interview”, and was “irritable” and “impatient”.
Despite this, the assessor – employed by the government contractor Atos – concluded that he was “not at substantial risk” if he was found fit for work, and recommended that he should be found ineligible for ESA.
Neither the assessor, nor the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision-maker who rubber-stamped that decision, made any attempt to secure further medical evidence from Barr’s GP, his psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist, according to the paperwork.
If they had done so, they would have been told of further attempts to take his own life and episodes of self-harming.
The decision-maker repeatedly stated in her report that she had “weighed the evidence” and had decided that the assessor’s evidence from the face-to-face assessment “carries more weight” than Barr’s claim that he was not fit for work.
Five days before he died, his bank statement showed he had just 36p left in his bank account.
The previous month, he had been found by police at a notorious suicide spot – the same location where he would eventually end his life – just 10 days after he had lodged an appeal against the decision to find him fit for work.
The paperwork also shows that Barr was awaiting a court hearing over a charge relating to a fire he started in his back garden, which burned down a shed after he left it unattended and fell asleep on his sofa.
Less than two weeks after he died, DWP admitted to his parents that it had made a mistake in finding him fit for work, and that he should have been entitled to ESA under regulation 29, which states that a claimant should not be found fit for work if such a decision would pose “a substantial risk” to their mental or physical health.
As a result, they agreed to pay the family more than £2,700 in benefits that he should have been receiving over the previous two years.
In December 2014, the Procurator Fiscal – which investigates sudden deaths in Scotland – decided not to order a Fatal Accident Inquiry into David Barr’s death after being reassured by DWP that the WCA “remains the subject of continuous review and refinement” and that an inquiry would therefore “not assist in monitoring and reviewing this process which is already underway”.
The Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit concluded that it would be difficult to prove the “necessary link between the decision of the DWP and David’s decision to take his life”.
David Barr’s death is one of three contained in a dossier submitted to Police Scotland by disabled activist John McArdle, from the user-led campaign network Black Triangle, in an attempt to persuade the force to open an investigation into Duncan Smith and Grayling.
McArdle wants Police Scotland to investigate the two former ministers for the Scottish criminal offence of wilful neglect of duty by a public official, because they failed to take steps to improve the WCA in 2010 after being warned by coroner Tom Osborne that the test’s flaws risked causing future deaths of people with mental health conditions.
Osborne had carried out an inquest into the death of Stephen Carré in January 2010, a case with marked similarities to that of David Barr.
Osborne had ruled that the trigger for Carré’s suicide had been DWP’s rejection of his appeal against being found “fit for work”, and he called in what was known as a Rule 43 letter for a review of the policy not to seek medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if an ESA claimant has a mental health condition.
Neither the Atos assessor who assessed Carré, nor the DWP decision-maker who subsequently decided that he was fit for work and therefore ineligible for ESA, had sought information from his GP, his community psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist, just as the Ats assessor and DWP decision-maker had failed to do in David Barr’s case.
The second case in the dossier is that of Ms DE, a long-term incapacity benefit claimant who took her own life in December 2011 after being told she was not eligible for ESA, a death later linked by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland to similar WCA failings to those that led to Stephen Carré’s death, and that would later lead to David Barr’s suicide.
Colin McKay, chief executive of the commission, declined to comment on the David Barr case this week, but he said: “The Mental Welfare Commission investigated the suicide of Ms DE in December 2011, following a determination that she was not entitled to ESA.
“The investigation raised serious concerns about the work capability assessment system, including the process of obtaining medical evidence and the process for deciding if a claimant is vulnerable.
“The commission has called for substantial improvements to be made.”
The third case presented by McArdle to Police Scotland concerns the death of Paul Donnachie, who took his own life late last year after his ESA was mistakenly stopped when he failed to attend a WCA.
Police Scotland is currently awaiting further information about the three cases before deciding what action to take.
Asked if DWP accepted – in the light of the information contained in the documents seen by DNS – that ministers should have acted on the coroner’s report in 2010, and that this would have prevented many future deaths of people with mental health conditions, including David Barr’s, a DWP spokeswoman said: “Suicide is a complex issue and we take these matters very seriously.
“Since 2010 the work capability assessment process has been independently reviewed five times and we have considerably improved the process.
“Decisions are taken following an independent assessment and after consideration of all the available evidence.
“Guidelines on seeking additional information rightly form an essential part of this process.”
4 August 2016
Activists are today (4 August) set to hold a vigil outside the Japanese embassy in central London to express their “horror and huge sadness” at last week’s mass killings of 19 disabled residents of a care institution in Japan.
The idea for the vigil came from disabled activist Eleanor Lisney, who is east Asian herself, with support from fellow activist Dennis Queen, a leading member of the disabled people’s anti-euthanasia network Not Dead Yet UK.
The hope is to hand the embassy 19 lilies, one for each of the 19 deaths, and the results of an online book of condolence organised by Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London and People First (Self Advocacy).
Another vigil, unconnected with the London event, was also due to take place today in Lancaster.
Lisney said: “I am just hoping to show solidarity, to show that if you do things in one part of the world, it would not go unnoticed [in another part].
“I was really upset by what was happening and really sad that this happened in a care facility.
“I think we have to show solidarity because what happens to one of us happens to all of us. They were our brothers and sisters.”
A former care worker in the Tsukui Yamayuri En institution in Sagamihara allegedly broke into the building last week and murdered 19 disabled people with high support needs, and injured 25 others.
It has been reported that he then drove to a police station and told officers: “I did it. It is better that disabled people disappear.”
It has been said that he had previously written a letter to a senior parliamentary figure, in which he argued that the Japanese government should legalise euthanasia of disabled people, and that he would be willing to carry out hundreds of killings himself by targeting two care institutions.
The day before he quit his job, in February this year, he reportedly told co-workers that he thought all disabled people should be killed.
The next day, he was committed to a mental health hospital, where he apparently told an official: “There are 800 million people with disabilities worldwide. Money is spent on them. It should be used for other purposes.” He was discharged from the hospital two weeks later.
In a statement released after the killings, the Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI-JAPAN) said that if his words were as reported, his actions were “purely caused by the eugenics that questions the existence of persons with disabilities”.
He added: “We, DPI-JAPAN, reaffirm our commitment to fight against eugenics with great anger and grief.
“During recent years, there are increased incidents of hate crime and hate speech against persons with disabilities and other minority groups.
“This particular incident should not be overlooked. Now, more than ever, [there is a] need to create an inclusive society which does not allow hate crime or hate speech.”
Lisney said she was partly motivated to organise today’s vigil by comments on social media that suggested part of the explanation for the killings lay within Asian culture.
She said: “I got really annoyed about that, because eugenics is not in Asian culture.”
Lisney said she believed that the targeted violence experienced by disabled people in the UK is more subtle than the horrors experienced by the residents of Tsukui Yamayuri En, and comes instead from the government, with its policies aimed at cutting support for disabled people.
As she wrote yesterday in her blog: “It is not as gory as a bloodied kitchen knife in the middle of the night but the result is both ending in pain filled deaths as a result of their disabled status.
“And the reasoning behind both is that disabled people’s lives are not worth keeping.”
Lisney said she also saw a similarity with the attitudes behind the new assisted dying bill introduced by the Tory peer and former MP Lord Hayward, treasurer of Dignity in Dying, who has launched another push to legalise assisted suicide in the House of Lords.
She said: “In this country they might call it mercy killing but to me it’s just packaging: ‘You’re bloody useless, you’re just a drain on resources, why don’t we make you go away?’
“It’s no different to this guy [in Japan].”
Queen said the vigil was important because it was “important to show solidarity to the survivors of this massacre and to show our sadness at the people whose lives have been lost and just share our thoughts and love with their families and everyone involved”.
Like Lisney, she said the beliefs that appeared to have prompted the actions of the alleged killer were “something we are very familiar with and face every day”.
She said: “This is the eugenics thinking that believes we are not worthy of money, of oxygen, of the space, of the care and the love that we share with our families.
“We can’t escape it and that is partly where the solidarity is coming from. We recognise exactly the same hatred here and we experience it here.
“It’s bringing a wave of solidarity across the globe.”
She said it would not be a shock if something similar to the Japanese killings happened in Britain, and she agreed with Lisney that the same type of eugenics-type thinking – that disabled people are not worth spending money on – was already contributing to people’s austerity-related deaths, for example through sub-standard healthcare or losing their social care.
She said: “Much of the thinking behind [the assisted dying bill] is tainted with the same eugenic thinking.
“It is still rooted in the same idea that at some point some lives are not worth living.
“We at Not Dead Yet UK disagree with this idea; we believe every day of every person’s life is just as valid and valuable as everyone else’s, and that each of us deserve the same right to live.
“I think a lot of people would like to think they can ‘keep it polite’ and that thoughts don’t lead to anything, but to keep perpetrating the idea that some lives are not worth living is what leads to outcomes like this.”
4 August 2016
A mental health charity has been heavily criticised for its decision to announce a partnership with a controversial US insurance giant that has made significant financial gains from government incapacity benefit reforms that it influenced through its lobbying.
The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) said the new partnership with Unum would see the two organisations work together to tackle the stigma of mental health in the workplace and encourage employers to safeguard the mental health of their employees.
But disabled activists who learned of the partnership this week are horrified that a mental health charity would join forces with an organisation that has made money from the controversial programme to reform incapacity benefits, and has bragged about steering government policy on those reforms.
They point out that many thousands of people with mental distress have either died or had their health further damaged by the reforms.
Mo Stewart, the disabled activist who has led efforts in the UK to raise concerns about Unum’s influence, has written to a trustee of the charity to alert him to the company’s background.
She told Disability News Service (DNS) she had “spent the past six years researching the links between this American insurance corporate giant with the British government*, their funding of a research centre to produce policy-based research that was used to justify the introduction of the fatally flawed WCA, and the fact that they were identified as the second worst healthcare insurance company in America”.
She said: “It remains cause for serious concern that this American corporate giant continues to infiltrate the agencies concerned with the welfare of our most vulnerable people.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the user-led, grassroots network Shaping Our Lives, also raised concerns about the partnership.
He said: “Organisations like MHF (and Mind and Rethink etc) hog the resources, the credibility and still largely sign up to a traditional psychiatric/medical model which isn’t really working and isn’t really helpful.
“For this sort of thing to be lurking as well means – well – what friends and allies have we really got, if such liaisons are underpinning organisations claiming to speak for us?”
Unum was once described by a senior US law official as an “outlaw company” and it has been repeatedly exposed in the US courts for its refusal to pay out on large numbers of genuine insurance claims by disabled people.
In 2011, Unum launched a major marketing campaign to promote the need for its income protection insurance (IPI) policies, just as the coalition began its three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing claimants of old-style incapacity benefit through the work capability assessment (WCA).
Disabled activists insist that the hated WCA is simply a public sector version of the tests used by companies like Unum to justify turning down valid IPI claims, and that by making the process of applying for the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA) harsh and stressful, it has made IPI look more attractive.
Three years ago, DNS revealed the existence of a Unum document from 2005 which bragged that government policy on disability assessment and management was “moving in the same direction” as Unum’s own views, and was “to a large extent being driven by our thinking and that of our close associates”.
In 2002 – six years before the Labour government launched the WCA and the new ESA – Unum submitted a detailed memo to the Commons work and pensions committee.
In the memo, Unum called for fundamental reform of the welfare system, and said the government “must ensure both that work always pays more than benefits, and more importantly that it is clearly seen to do so”, while laying out proposals with a strong resemblance to the ESA/WCA reforms that would be introduced several years later.
The Unum memo suggested retaining a form of IB for those “genuinely incapable of undertaking any work whatsoever”, as Labour did with the ESA support group.
It stressed in the memo that the company – then known as UnumProvident – was “confident that its policies and approach to [IPI] claim management and rehabilitation can be replicated more widely for those on IB” and that it would “particularly welcome the opportunity to put them into practice”.
Despite this memo, and other evidence, John Letizia, head of public affairs for Unum UK, said in a statement: “Unum does not and never has lobbied on the topic of welfare reform or related matters.”
He said: “As with many other businesses, Unum partners with various organisations on issues of mutual interest.
“Our research in this case aims to tackle the stigma of mental health in the workplace in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, a fantastic charity with who we wish to help reach and educate businesses on this important issue.”
The Mental Health Foundation refused to respond to the particular criticisms of Unum, but a spokesman said: “As a UK mental health charity that seeks to reach the broadest possible audience, we are always looking for ways to amplify our message and to develop new evidence to ensure everyone is able to enjoy good mental health.
“That includes entering into partnerships with companies to help increase our reach and our capacity to undertake new research.
“These are sometimes difficult judgements to make and we are guided by an assessment of whether the output of a partnership will break new ground and positively benefit people’s lives.
“To that end, we took a decision, which we stand by, to work with Unum on an important project which we are confident will uncover fresh insights on how employers can build a more supportive environment for people experiencing mental distress into their everyday business activity.”
He added: “On the issue of welfare reform, like many charities we have raised concerns about the disproportionate effect on mental health that some welfare reform measures have had.
“We remain concerned, and as an organisation that speaks truth to power, we continue to raise questions and promote debate through our policy, research and campaigning activities.
“We will not hesitate to raise any concerns directly with Unum, if needed, and have found them open to constructive dialogue.”
*Her book, Cash Not Care – The Planned Demolition Of The UK Welfare State, will be published later this year by New Generation Publishing
4 August 2016
Home Office guidance that will allow immigration detention centre staff to ignore medical advice and place disabled asylum-seekers in solitary confinement is part of an “increasingly coercive approach towards people with mental health challenges”, say campaigners.
The draft guidance says that such action can be taken by staff even if it would be “life threatening” for the disabled person.
The guidance for staff in immigration removal centres (IRCs) covers cases where solitary confinement “appears necessary” for security or safety reasons (rule 40), but also applies in cases where a detainee has been violent or simply “stubborn, unmanageable or disobedient” (rule 42).
People are placed in detention in IRCs – often for many months – while they await a Home Office decision on whether they are eligible for a UK visa or are entitled to asylum, with many having fled persecution or torture in their home countries to seek refuge in the UK.
The draft guidance, first revealed by The Independent, says staff should “urgently consider” medical advice that placing someone in solitary confinement would be “seriously detrimental to a detainee’s health or is life threatening”, but it says that they can continue with its use as long as they record that action correctly and “clearly” state the “rationale” for their decision.
Only three months ago, an annual independent report into Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs recommended that rule 40 should not be used to “house difficult individuals with Mental Health conditions” because “confinement is not a humane way to address the problems they experience”.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We deplore the draft Home Office guidance because it permits solitary confinement of people living with mental health – or indeed other health – issues even if this will damage their health or be life-threatening.
“We worry that this is part of an increasingly coercive approach towards people with mental health challenges.”
She said the best mental health services were now phasing out “seclusion”, while a US Department of Health and Human Services agency has published a Roadmap to Seclusion and Restraint Free Mental Health Services.
Sayce said: “There is no similar commitment in England, although there are certainly mental health services where use of seclusion has gone right down, showing that services can manage without solitary confinement if they engage people using them in planning how those services should operate and use a range of approaches to support people rather than segregate them.”
In England, she said, the Mental Health Act was used 58,399 times to detain people in 2014-15, a 10 per cent increase on 2013-14 (53,156 times).
She said this was the highest year-on-year rise ever, and part of a long-term upward trend that has seen a 30 per cent increase between 2003-04 and 2013-14.
Sayce said: “Many asylum-seekers have been traumatised and should not be caught up in coercive responses to mental distress.
“We want to see a commitment from government to phasing out use of solitary confinement in a mental health context.
“Asylum-seekers experiencing mental or physical health issues need their human rights protected.”
The human rights charity Liberty has also condemned the draft guidance, and says it must be changed to ensure that “where medical advice suggests that segregation would harm an individual’s health in any way, it must not simply be considered but heeded”.
It points out that there is “ample evidence” that the “cruel practice” of segregation is being misused, including through its use to segregate detainees who have mental health conditions.
Liberty said the guidance allowed staff to use segregation “as a way to manage those at risk of suicide and self-harm”.
It pointed to two “shocking” cases of repeat or extended use of segregation, including two cases at Harmondsworth IRC – both involving people who appeared to be experiencing mental distress – in which one was held in solitary confinement almost continuously for 22 months and another for nearly four months.
In its response to the guidance, Liberty warns that solitary confinement is “the high water mark of inhumanity” in the immigration detention system, with research showing it leads to “increased rates of anxiety, social withdrawal, perceptual disorders, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts after relatively short periods”.
And it warns that the draft guidance “leaves individuals at risk of being segregated for speaking out against the conditions of their detention, or simply disagreeing with their treatment by detention centre staff”.
Liberty said that the UK was one of the few European countries to place no maximum time limit on immigration detention, including for survivors of torture and rape.
Sara Ogilvie, policy officer at Liberty, said: “Limitless immigration detention is a dark stain on our country’s human rights record.
“Adding the cruel practice of solitary confinement to the mix is a grave injustice which risks causing serious harm to innocent and vulnerable individuals.
“But instead of abolishing this inhumane system, the Home Office’s latest order would compound the problem by authorising the segregation of those who are deemed stubborn or suffer mental health problems, even where confinement may be life-threatening.
“The UK government should be ashamed at its failure to afford even the most basic dignity and security to those within its care.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “It is important that maintaining safety and security of the detention facility is balanced against showing due regard for the dignity and welfare of the detainees.
“Detainees are only separated from others in exceptional circumstances. This is done for reasons of safety, either their own or for others, for security reasons or when an individual is being violent.
“Temporary confinement is never used as a punishment.”
He said that Liberty’s comments would be considered alongside other responses to the draft guidance, but by noon today the Home Office had failed to say where the document could be found online.
4 August 2016
A user-led campaign has called on Scotland’s political parties to do more to increase the number of disabled people elected as MSPs at the next election in 2021.
The cross-party campaign One in Five published a discussion paper this week which includes a series of idea for producing a more representative Scottish parliament.
The paper’s launch was supported by Conservative Jeremy Balfour, who is so far the only MSP of the 129 elected in May to self-identify as a disabled person, although One in Five said that one other MSP has spoken of having a significant impairment.
Balfour pledged this week to help other disabled people secure election to the Scottish parliament.
The discussion paper, Scotland 2021: Our Plan To Turn One In Five Into A Reality, points out that if the Scottish parliament was representative of its population, there would be 23 disabled MSPs.
Balfour yesterday (3 August) lodged a parliamentary motion that highlights the discussion paper and calls on all of his fellow MSPs to undertake disability equality training.
The discussion paper welcomes the £200,000 Democratic Participation Fund for Disabled People, which was launched by the Scottish government in February and will pay for some of the extra costs faced by disabled people who want to stand in next year’s local government elections.
But it calls on Scotland’s political parties to do more to make their work more accessible.
Among the ideas included in the paper, it says parties should hold meetings in accessible venues, and embrace new technology by live-streaming events and important meetings.
It calls for accessible manifestos to be published earlier in an election campaign period, and for more key political and government documents to be published in accessible formats.
It also calls on political parties to set up their own disabled members’ groups, and to create positions on their national executive committees for a disability officer, while also appointing a disability spokesperson in parliament.
The paper says it is “imperative” that every MSP undergoes disability equality training, and that political parties should track the number of self-identifying disabled elected representatives, including councillors, MSPs, MPs and MEPs.
The paper adds: “Let’s work our socks off so that when we wake up the morning after the 2021 election we switch on our TVs to a sea of disabled talent. We can be the Nation that does it. We can lead the way.”
Balfour said: “Disability comes in many different forms and any training that can help MSPs better engage with their constituents is to be welcomed.
“That’s why I have raised a parliamentary motion recognising the One in Five campaign’s discussion paper and welcome the [participation fund].
“I also hope to encourage my parliamentary colleagues to undertake disability equality training when we return from recess.”
Ryan McMullan, a One in Five ambassador and a member of the Scottish Labour party, said: “Our discussion paper demonstrates disabled people face more than just financial barriers to politics and we hope our paper illustrates what can be done to remove the non-financial barriers.”
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, welcomed the discussion paper, but said she would also have liked it to call for legislation to allow job-sharing for MSPs, MPs and councillors.
She said that UK political parties at Westminster were also failing to capture basic data about the number of their MPs who were disabled.
The Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation, which reported in January 2010, called, among its 71 recommendations, for all parties to detail how many of their MPs were disabled people, women and from an ethnic minority.
It also called for political parties to publish regular online reports on the candidates they selected to fight seats, including whether they self-identified as disabled people.
4 August 2016
A disabled man was left to survive on the streets of London overnight after he was kicked out of hospital, and then forced by a council to beg for money to fund the 20-mile journey to his temporary housing.
Fred Allen, who uses a walking frame or crutches to mobilise, has praised the support he has received from disabled campaigners who have supported him after learning of his ordeal through social media, but he is angry at how he was abandoned by the NHS and local government.
His nightmare ordeal began two years ago when he developed a large and painful hernia in addition to his existing physical impairment, and became too ill to return from a trip to the Philippines to visit his best friend, who was dying of cancer.
Allen’s ill-health meant he missed his pre-booked flight home, which meant that from October 2014 he could no longer claim long-term incapacity benefit because he had been away from the UK too long.
After his friend died, he had to rely on the generosity of his friend’s widow, who allowed him to sleep on a mattress in a tiny room in her house for nearly two years.
When the British embassy eventually heard of his plight, it arranged for him to fly home in June this year – funded by a Foreign Office loan – and when he arrived he was driven straight from Heathrow Airport to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London.
But after two weeks, he was told last week that his hernia was not serious enough to be operated on immediately and that he would be placed on a waiting-list and would have to leave the hospital.
He was sent back to St Mary’s in an ambulance hours later after he collapsed on the floor of Westminster council’s housing department because of his hernia, but was told again that he could not stay as an in-patient.
By the time he had returned to the council’s housing department, it had closed for the day, and although a security guard allowed him to wait inside for several hours until his shift ended, Allen was eventually given a blanket and a cup of tea and had to sleep on the pavement outside.
In the early hours of the morning, a member of the public expressed concern for his welfare and an ambulance took him for the third time to St Mary’s.
Yet again, he was told he could not stay in the hospital, and he had to wait on the street outside the housing department until it opened its doors in the morning.
The council found him a room in bed and breakfast accommodation in Slough, more than 20 miles away, but he was told he would have to find his own way there.
With no money left, he was only able to take a taxi to Slough thanks to the generosity of Anita Bellows, a researcher with Disabled People Against Cuts, who paid his £45 fare.
Other campaigners, such as DPAC’s Merry Cross – who delivered a parcel from a food bank – and disabled journalist Frances Ryan have also supported Allen over the last few days.
Even when he arrived in Slough, his ordeal was not over, as the room was too small to allow him to enter with his walking frame.
And he has now been told that he faces the prospect of being moved to notorious bed and breakfast accommodation in east London.
Allen said: “When I was in hospital, every time the consultant came round they treated me like I was a criminal.
“They looked at me and saw my [tan] and thought I had had a good time, but no, I have had a nightmare.
“All they want is to kick you out as soon as possible, that’s all they want to do.
“Every day I was in there I asked to see a psychiatrist and a social worker and every day they said they were on their way, but no-one ever came.
“The council have treated me really badly as well. I’m disabled and have mental illness. I was gobsmacked [at how they treated me].
“I shouldn’t have had to go through all of this. I have been treated badly but I have been told by a lot of disabled people that that is how you are treated now. All I want is a roof over my head.”
Despite his continuing ordeal, he said he had been touched by the support he has been given by the “lovely people” who have helped him.
A spokesman for the trust that runs St Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare Trust, declined to discuss Allen’s case, but said in a statement: “The trust takes the care of its vulnerable patients very seriously.
“We discharge patients appropriately based upon their condition and will avoid late evening or night time discharges unless it is by prior agreement.”
A Westminster council spokesman also declined to discuss the case, and released the following statement: “We always act in the best interests of the people we are seeking to house, providing immediate housing to those who approach us most in need.
“We meet with people face to face to find out their history, requirements and other factors affecting their housing situation which have led them to being homeless.
“Following this assessment and feedback received, we work with them to find suitable and affordable longer-term accommodation if it is required.”
4 August 2016
A disabled campaigner has launched a new photo-based website that has put decades of his work online, in a bid to share information about the accessibility of venues across Britain and Ireland.
Marg McNiel estimates that he has travelled more than a million miles in his quest to document the accessibility of public venues throughout the British Isles, and says he has taken more than 500,000 photographs over his lifetime.
McNiel has been taking pictures since he was a child in the 1950s, but he has been focussing on producing a photographic access record of Britain and Ireland since he developed ME in the early 1990s.
See Around Britain provides photographs of locations such as churches, museums, cinemas, railway stations, hospitals, hotels, National Trust venues and other cultural attractions, with the website and mobile app offering multiple pictures of the access at some of the larger sites.
The See Around Britain interactive map also features the locations of services such as accessible toilets, Shopmobility centres, defibrillators and accident and emergency departments.
He hopes the site – and the free Android and iPhone apps – will offer something different to existing websites that provide photographs and written access information, by being “fully mainstream and fully inclusive” and so not just appealing to disabled people.
He wants the site to help disabled people but also anyone else who wants to check out if a location is suitable before they visit, such as families with young children, and foreign visitors, and also people with impairments who don’t see themselves as disabled.
McNiel said: “Our approach and philosophy is totally different. We are mainstream and fully inclusive of disabled people, so we reach as many disabled people with impairments as possible.
“The photos save a thousand words and don’t lie. They are not pretty-pretty, they are everyday life reality.”
He estimates that the website currently covers more than 1,300 venues across Britain and Ireland, with many more of his photographs yet to be added.
See Around Britain also has information and photographs for some sites in Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.
Over the last 18 months, nearly 20 volunteers have helped McNiel by cataloguing the pictures and writing descriptions of access at venues based on those photographs.
McNiel and his fellow trustees Vin West and Trevor Palmer are now looking for sponsorship and more volunteers.
The charity, which has so far provided the bulk of the funding for See Around Britain, dates back to 1971, and originally provided drop-in centres and community education and training schemes.
The money to launch See Around Britain came from the £1.6 million sale of the charity’s previous base in Islington, north London, which for many years was the home of his photographic archive, the National Heritage Library.
The charity has now moved its headquarters temporarily to a rented farmhouse in Wales.
4 August 2016
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com