Disabled activists have called on disability charities to boycott any further co-operation with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), after it wrongly claimed that disabled people’s organisations (DPO) had helped draw up its punitive new work scheme.
DWP claimed that DPOs “co-designed” plans to force new claimants of out-of-work disability benefits to take part in its health and work conversation (HWC).
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed in March that nearly all new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) would have to attend a compulsory HWC with a DWP job coach, and would face having their benefits sanctioned if they failed to take part in the session “without good cause”.
The HWC will take place weeks or even months before a claimant has had their ability to work tested through the much-criticised work capability assessment.
The DWP’s plans have been described by disabled activists as “DWP skulduggery”, “pernicious”, “oppressive”, “punitive”, and “abusive”.
Details about the HWC, which is already being rolled out across the country, were revealed in slides used at a presentation delivered by two senior DWP civil servants, and seen by DNS.
The two civil servants – Ian Anderson, DWP’s project and programme management head of profession, and Matt Russell, its policy advisor for disability employment strategy – claimed in their presentation that the HWC was “co-designed with the Behavioural Insight Team (BIT), health charities, front-line staff, disabled peoples’ organisations and occupational health professionals”.
But DNS has now obtained the names of those disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and charities through a freedom of information request to DWP, and those contacted by DNS have denied any such endorsement of the HWC.
One of the DPOs, Manchester-based Breakthrough UK, made it clear that it had not and would not endorse the HWC.
Peter Jackson, Breakthrough UK’s deputy chief executive, accused DWP of a “misrepresentation” of what had taken place at a meeting with other disability organisations in a north London jobcentre about 18 months ago.
He said DWP had asked for feedback on a voluntary scheme in which job coaches would carry out informal conversations with ESA claimants about work and their attitude to employment.
He said: “There was no conditionality to it. It was entirely voluntary. There was no talk of sanctions for people who didn’t want to have that conversation.
“We would not have endorsed or supported anything that had any conditionality or potential sanctioning attached to it because that is completely and fundamentally in conflict with our approach.”
He said that any mention that ESA claimants would be penalised if they did not take part “would have sent alarm bells ringing”.
He added: “A big focus was on the fact that it was a voluntary thing.
“Quite categorically, there was absolutely no mention of conditionality or sanctioning in that meeting.
“That is definitely something that has been introduced since that meeting.
“I would be very annoyed if [DWP] were claiming that the organisations around that table had endorsed something that was basically not discussed in that meeting.”
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), another of the organisations listed in the freedom of information response, said she was “not happy” that DWP had said that DR UK had helped co-design a mandatory HWC with sanctions.
But she said it was “important also to say we want government to involve disabled people early in policy making. We just need everyone to be clear how decisions are made.”
She said DR UK was “vehemently opposed both to the current sanctions regime and to any extension of it”, and had made that clear in meetings with ministers and civil servants.
She said DR UK was “consulted but did not agree with the proposal for mandatory work and health conversations”.
Jane Hatton, director of the user-led disability employment social enterprise Evenbreak, said she and other DPOs had stressed their opposition to sanctions at a DWP consultation event on the government’s work, health and disability green paper.
She said there was “much discussion about the sanction regime and how disabled jobseekers were terrified of being penalised for no good reason”.
She added: “I had attended the meeting as an opportunity to share my views, as had other participants. I suspect our views were both unwelcome and ignored.
“And yes, I am extremely concerned about the impact [of the HWC] on disabled people whose lives are already made much more difficult than they need to be.”
At another event she ran herself, to inform jobcentre staff about Evenbreak, she “made it very clear that Evenbreak should be a resource that people can choose to use, rather than it being something claimants have to commit to under the threat of sanctions”.
The mental health charity Mind, another of the charities listed by DWP, said it had been clear in its discussions with the department that any employment support “needs to be offered without the threat of sanctions, which we believe to be cruel, inappropriate and ineffective”.
Paul Spencer, Mind’s policy and campaigns manager, said: “We had hoped that the HWC would be an opportunity for people to discuss the support that could be put in place to help them achieve their ambitions, free from the damaging pressure of sanctions.
“Unfortunately, while the HWC has some good principles behind it, we are hugely disappointed that this support will not be voluntary.”
Disabled activist Rick Burgess said: “It’s clear the DWP are again acting dishonestly and misleading organisations they consult with. Which reinforces the need to boycott them.
“Hopefully in future, organisations will see this fraud being perpetuated by DWP and refuse involvement.
“The reputational harm done by being involved with the DWP will only grow, so better to get out now and side with disabled people, and not their oppressors.”
Another disabled activist, Gail Ward, from Black Triangle, who discovered the presentation slides and passed them to DNS, said DWP’s comments proved that it could not be trusted as it attempted to “hound” claimants towards the workplace before they felt ready.
She said that it was guilty of “breathtaking arrogance”, and backed the call for disability charities to boycott any further involvement with DWP.
A DWP spokesman refused to apologise for the claims by Anderson and Russell that the health and work conversation was co-designed by DPOs, when those organisations had made it clear they were firmly opposed to sanctions, conditionality and a mandatory HWC.
Even though DNS had asked in the freedom of information request for the names of organisations referred to by Anderson and Russell as co-designing the HWC, the DWP spokesman said the names provided were just those that “were consulted during the development of the HWC”.
He said: “We used various feedback to help design the HWC – however not all contributions will have been used.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on who gave what feedback as part of the process.”
He said that any actions agreed by a claimant in the mandatory HWC would be voluntary, while there would be DWP “safeguards” to ensure “appropriate exemptions from attending the HWC”.
4 May 2017
The government appears to have secretly scrapped the post of disability commissioner at the equality and human rights watchdog, but is refusing to confirm that it has done so.
The decision only emerged following the government appointment of the disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin to the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
His appointment came after the government advertised last autumn for a disabled person to replace another Tory peer, Lord [Chris] Holmes, as EHRC’s disability commissioner.
The appointment of Lord Shinkwin came more than three months after the post was supposed to have been filled.
It was assumed – and reported last week by Disability News Service (DNS) – that Lord Shinkwin would be the watchdog’s new disability commissioner.
EHRC failed to correct that assumption last week when answering questions about his appointment, but now claims the Tory peer has only been appointed as a “commissioner who has a disability” and not as the “disability commissioner”.
The commission appeared to be taken by surprise when DNS pointed out that Lord Shinkwin and the other disabled people who had applied for the position had been told in a government information pack that the successful candidate would “act as the Commission’s Disability Commissioner”.
After it was shown this information pack, the commission refused to answer a series of questions, including whether the government had told the commission it was scrapping the post of disability commissioner, and at what point it had done so.
It also refused to say if Lord Shinkwin had originally applied to be the disability commissioner, rather than just a commissioner, and when the commission was told by the government that the peer had not been appointed to that particular post.
An EHRC spokesman said that it was “a government appointment so some of the questions you are asking would need to be directed to them”.
He said the commission’s statutory disability committee, which had been chaired by Lord Holmes and his predecessors as part of their roles as disability commissioners, was now being replaced by a non-statutory disability advisory committee (DAC).
He said the commission was “considering what arrangements for chairing and membership of the new DAC will ensure we are best-placed to develop strong arrangements for engaging with disability stakeholders for the future”.
Asked about Lord Shinkwin’s appointment, a spokesman for the minister for women and equalities, Justine Greening, who was responsible for appointing the peer, refused to answer a series of questions, and said the department was “not at liberty to release information about individual applications”.
He said Greening had met the government’s legal requirement to appoint at least one commissioner “who is or has been disabled” to the EHRC board, but refused to say if the government had scrapped the role of disability commissioner.
4 May 2017
Statements submitted to MPs have provided further evidence of widespread dishonesty among healthcare professionals who carry out disability benefit assessments, but their inquiry has had to be abandoned because of the prime minister’s decision to call a general election.
Despite its inquiry into the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process having to be scrapped, the Commons work and pensions select committee has published written evidence it has received from PIP claimants and disability organisations.
The committee held an urgent evidence session about the assessment process in March, a hearing partly triggered by a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation, before seeking further written evidence.
DNS had provided the committee with substantial evidence of widespread dishonesty among PIP assessors in the reports they prepare for government decision-makers.
The DNS investigation revealed that assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.
DNS has now collected nearly 200 examples of cases in which PIP claimants have said that healthcare professionals working for Capita and Atos produced dishonest assessment reports.
DWP has consistently claimed that there is no dishonesty at all among its outsourced healthcare assessors.
Inclusion London, the pan-London disabled people’s organisation, provided the most detailed written evidence of all the individuals and groups that contributed to the committee’s inquiry.
It said in its evidence: “Again and again Disabled people are reporting that assessors have ignored written and verbal evidence and that reports do not reflect what occurred in the assessment.”
Inclusion London quoted widely from evidence compiled by DNS, and concluded: “The extent to which false information is included in assessment reports cannot be attributed to one or two negligent assessors but indicates systemic failings with the current PIP assessment process.”
It called for all assessments to be recorded, and for “a clear and accessible system for Disabled people to file complaints against assessors with an independent body and for complaint statistics to be made public”.
It also called for a new PIP assessment, based on the social model of disability and created in co-production with disabled people, which focuses on “barriers and the impact of impairment on daily life rather than functionality”.
Other written evidence submitted to the committee appears to confirm the conclusions of the DNS investigation.
Among those who responded to a survey by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) was a healthcare professional with a first-class degree in physiotherapy.
They said they had been “shocked by the level of errors, inaccuracies, omissions and, quite possibly, lies” in the assessment report compiled for their PIP claim, according to DR UK’s evidence to the committee.
The respondent concluded that “the musculoskeletal assessment conducted was appalling and could not have provided sufficient information upon which a decision regarding my physical capabilities to carry out work for any period of time could be made.
“Lies were also told about the content of the musculoskeletal assessment – data was recorded for tests which were not conducted.”
Another DR UK survey respondent described how PIP decisions were often overturned on appeal due to “assessors making inaccurate statements, assessors making false statements, assessors incorrectly interpreting things the claimant said or did”.
In its evidence to the committee, the mental health charity Rethink said that respondents to its own survey on PIP “felt that there was a discrepancy between what was discussed at the assessment and the content of the subsequent written report.
“We received several examples of PIP applicants claiming that assessors had deliberately misinterpreted them and in… some cases included complete fabrications in their reports.”
But the evidence compiled by the committee may now end up being discarded because the decision by Theresa May to call a general election on 8 June means that parliament was dissolved this week, leading to some committee inquiries having to be abandoned.
Mark Lucas, a PIP claimant who has spoken out repeatedly about the “shockingly poor and dishonest” assessment system, and has given evidence to an inquiry into PIP assessments set up by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said the decision to call an election was “another set back at the end of many set backs”.
He said: “Clearly the health professionals have been dishonest and the government has gone to great lengths to ensure the PIP scam is kept quiet for as long as possible.
“Everyone knows what has gone on is wrong but only few have voiced their concerns.
“I am sure if we continue to have the same government the rights of persons with disabilities will be further abused.”
A spokeswoman for the committee said the PIP investigation was “one of the inquiries that fell with the announcement of the election”.
When the committee is reformed in the new parliament – probably in September – it could choose to relaunch the inquiry, but will be under no obligation to do so, but if it does it could choose to “keep and use the evidence they have now”, she said.
4 May 2017
Anti-cuts activists have called for disabled people to vote tactically at the general election, in a bid to remove the Conservative party from power.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) launched a campaign this week to “unseat” the Tory government, with a protest outside the party’s election headquarters in Westminster.
Although they failed to achieve their aim of occupying the building, they blocked traffic near Westminster Abbey for about an hour, in one of a series of DPAC protests likely to take place in the lead-up to the general election on 8 June.
Among DPAC’s plans for further protests during the election campaign is to make a “social visit” to the Maidenhead constituency of prime minister Theresa May on 3 June.
The campaign will draw attention to last November’s damning report by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found the UK government’s social security reforms had led to “grave or systematic violations” of the UN disability convention.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, the grassroots network of disabled people that persuaded the UN to carry out its inquiry, said: “The government are supposed to make sure it is highly publicised [but] they have buried it.”
She said the report “vindicated everything we had been saying for the last seven years.
“It is an international body saying it, this time, not just us, and it is proof that it has happened and is happening: the cuts to social care, the loss of a right to independent living, the loss of satisfactory income levels.”
DPAC says the cumulative effect of seven years of Conservative cuts has left disabled people “at the mercy of degrading and flawed testing regimes, while a growing number are trapped in their homes without access to food and water for hours, reliant on foodbanks to eat and expected to rely on incontinence pads as a substitute for support to use the toilet with dignity”.
Burnip said DPAC would be asking disabled people to vote tactically to defeat Tory candidates, which would include backing some Liberal Democrats.
She said: “There are so many people who just could not take another five years [of Tory government].”
She said another five years would lead to “further dismantling and privatisation of the NHS”, including cuts to wheelchair services and mental health services, longer waiting-lists and fewer accident and emergency departments, as well as further cuts to benefits, worsening working conditions, and “more attacks on young people, women and disabled people”.
She said: “What we are really saying to people is you need to vote, you need to use your vote.
“We need to make sure the voting power of disabled people is recognised and political parties take our views into account.”
Graeme Ellis, a disabled campaigner who quit the Conservative party in disgust last year over George Osborne’s spring budget, said he agreed with DPAC’s calls for tactical voting to oust Tory candidates.
Ellis had previously run the Conservative Disability Group’s (CDG) website and had been a Conservative voter for nearly 50 years, but left a message on the CDG home page after the Osborne budget saying: “This website is temporarily closed owing to Disability Cuts.”
Ellis, who founded the Lancaster-based welfare rights advice social enterprise Here2Support, said this week: “No disabled person or family and friends should vote for any party that threatens to make our lives unliveable through draconian health, care and welfare measures.
“The number of disabled citizens using food banks is beyond belief.”
He said voters should abandon any party that flouts international treaties on disability rights, as the Tories have done with the UN disability convention.
Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “The cowardly bully Theresa May wants us to believe that she offers strong and stable leadership but there is nothing strong or stable about persecuting disabled people.
“DPAC are not surprised that May has chosen to avoid debate in this election as she would be called upon to defend the indefensible actions of her nasty government.”
4 May 2017
Disabled people helping to deliver a vital part of the care watchdog’s inspection programme were refused support workers, while one was bullied into resigning, documents obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) have revealed.
The internal reports – finally released following a freedom of information request submitted last June – show the scale of concern at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with the performance of Remploy after it took over most of the Experts by Experience (ExE) programme.
Under the programme – which is likely to have cost nearly £6 million in 2016-17 – people with experiences of using services, including many disabled people, accompany CQC inspectors on their visits to services such as residential homes, hospitals and home care agencies across England.
But Remploy was hit almost immediately by accusations of incompetence when it took on the contracts in February last year, with claims of resignations, confusion and cutbacks.
The disability employment business – formerly owned by the government but now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus – had been awarded three of four regional contracts to run the programme, covering the south and north of England, and London.
But the internal reports show that CQC was forced to write “formally” to Remploy three times over its concerns, while a CQC report in May 2016 found there had been “multiple issues with Remploy’s performance to date”.
By week 13, Remploy was still providing an ExE for less than three-quarters (73 per cent) of the necessary inspections of social care and health facilities.
The CQC report said Remploy was fulfilling its key target of confirming the names of ExEs taking part in inspections 28 days before they were scheduled to take place just 16 per cent of the time.
And it said there had been “multiple” changes to Remploy staff members working with the commission, which had led to “inconsistencies, confusion and communication difficulties”.
It also raised concerns about Remploy’s “lack of a viable recruitment action plan”, and warned that its online recruitment process “lacks a robust selection procedure”, with no face-to-face interviews with prospective ExEs and apparently no “selection criteria” used to recruit new staff for the highly-sensitive programme.
Remploy’s training for new ExEs was carried out solely online, with “no individual interaction”, the CQC report said.
The report said CQC had received “numerous concerns regarding support arrangements for ExE”, including disabled ExEs being refused support workers and “experts with disabilities bullied into leaving”.
A Remploy report, also released to DNS by CQC, shows that, three months into delivering the contracts, it had secured just 21 per cent of the required number of ExEs to deliver the three contracts, while between the end of February and the end of March 2016, the number of Remploy ExEs had plunged from 270 to 189.
Remploy admitted, at a meeting on 23 February this year, that its communications with ExEs and CQC inspectors had been “poor or absent”, and that its performance in all three contract regions had been “inadequate”.
It also admitted that its decision to slash the pay of ExEs had led to only a “small” number of ExEs joining Remploy from the consortium that previously ran the contract.
Remploy decided to cut the pay of its ExEs from a reported £17 per hour to just £10.16 per hour (and £11.58 in London) when it took over the contracts, before CQC agreed to subsidise the wages for existing ExEs (although not new recruits) for the first 14 months of the contracts.
That subsidy has ended and all Remploy ExEs are now paid £10.16 per hour (and £11.58 an hour in London).
The charity Choice Support, which runs the scheme in the central region, pays its ExEs £15 per hour.
Remploy said in the report that its performance had shown “steady improvement” in the second six months of its contracts, to January 2017, and that it was now “performing well” across all three.
It said the satisfaction rate among ExEs had been as low as 11 per cent, although this had now recovered to 76 per cent.
CQC only released the documents after DNS lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
DNS first asked to see the reports last June, but CQC claimed that releasing them earlier would have “jeopardised the performance improvement” achieved by Remploy in the last six months.
A CQC spokesman told DNS that the failure to provide disabled ExEs with support workers was “addressed and resolved with Remploy”, while the bullying allegations were “appropriately investigated and managed with the relevant parties”.
He admitted that Remploy had experienced “significant underperformance” in the early stages of the contracts.
He said this was “in part due to the transfer of existing Experts by Experience from previous contracts taking longer than expected, resulting in insufficient numbers in position in the early months of the contract to cover the contracted inspections, exacerbated by recruitment and training of new Experts being slower than anticipated”.
He said there were also delays to CQC’s introduction of a new system for sharing information about supply and demand with both Remploy and Choice Support.
But the CQC spokesman said there had been a “very significant improvement” in Remploy’s performance.
CQC said that it would be “extremely rare” for an inspection to be cancelled because an ExE was not available, as their main role “is to talk with people using the service and to gather their views and experiences” and these duties can be carried out instead by the inspector.
A CQC spokesman admitted that Remploy only carried out telephone assessments rather than face-to-face interviews with potential new recruits, but he said that training was now delivered “in person as part of group sessions”.
He said: “We are satisfied with the current processes [for recruitment and training] they have in place and keep this under review.”
He also said that CQC had been forced to reiterate and clarify Remploy’s responsibilities in providing support workers for ExEs, but was now “satisfied with the current support arrangements”.
The CQC spokesman said there was only one incident of bullying reported and that Remploy had told CQC that it was “resolved to the individual’s satisfaction”.
Remploy declined to answer several specific questions about its performance, although it released a lengthy statement claiming that it was “proud to be delivering the programme to a high standard” and had been “meeting or exceeding” all of its “key performance indicators” on the contracts for several months.
A Remploy spokesman said: “Both Remploy and the CQC have acknowledged that there were challenges in the implementation of the ExE contract in 2016, and we have worked together and with our Experts by Experience (ExEs) to address these issues in a systematic and coordinated way.
“We continue to work closely with our ExEs to take on board feedback and make changes where necessary.
“Challenges during implementation included elements of the initial recruitment and training package, and after consultation with the CQC, inspectors and ExEs we took immediate action and developed a bespoke training package.
“Our recruitment process has been reengineered to ensure greater rigour, and Experts undertake phone-based and face-to-face training.”
He declined to confirm that Remploy had drastically cut pay rates compared with the consortium that previously managed the contracts, but claimed their rates were “benchmarked against roles in related sectors” and were “significantly above the living wage”.
He refused to say what action Remploy had taken over the issue of refusing support workers and bullying, but claimed that “any complaints relating to bullying are dealt with in line with Remploy’s stringent anti-bullying policy”.
4 May 2017
Disabled people have described how the “terrifying” and “abusive” benefit assessments delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have seriously damaged their health, and how its failings will affect how they vote in next month’s general election.
The discussion on the social media platform Twitter was the first major event organised by the new user-led campaign #CripTheVoteUK, which hopes to enable disabled people to become a major political force in the UK, and help decide the election.
One contributor to the discussion, Hazel Fairs (@Hazel_Fairs), said the benefits assessment process had been “hell”, and added: “It made me suicidal. It’s like having an insulting abusive controlling ex with the power to starve and evict you.”
Another, @hufflewoof, said the process of assessing sick and disabled people for their eligibility for benefits was “an abusive process, built on mistrust”.
She added: “I have several MH issues anyway but my interactions with the DWP have exacerbated them significantly. It’s been awful.”
Payton Quinn (@PaytonQuinn) said the benefits assessment process had been “difficult and exhausting”.
She tweeted: “Our PIP assessor lied on the report and they have ignored our complaints, rejected our appeal.”
Jen Byrd (@jenjenbyrd) tweeted: “Assessor had sweet, caring face on while writing inaccuracies and (purposeful?) misrepresentations.
“Assessor had no understanding of my illness(es), medical terminology or even, having read his report, morals.”
Juliette Gazzard (@juliettegazzard) said her dealings with DWP “drove me to a suicide attempt, panic state I have never recovered from. Live in constant fear of contact with DWP.”
One contributor to the discussion, @victoriaclutton, spoke of how dealing with DWP was “terrifying, frustrating, dehumanising and outright surreal”.
Jonathan Hume (@IamMrJ), who has previously told Disability News Service how an assessor working for government contractor Maximus asked him what was stopping him taking his own life, was another who described how his interactions with DWP had affected his mental health.
He tweeted: “I used to be confident. I didn’t used to panic at a knock on the door or unexpected post.”
Social worker Brooke Winters (@brookewinters33) said she was supporting #cripthevoteuk because she can see that austerity “isn’t working”, harms disabled people, and does not save money.
She added: “As a disabled person I don’t have the support I need or adequate health care under the current government.”
Another contributor, @zagbah, tweeted: “I have a MH issue and I want to #CripTheVoteUK because I don’t want to spend another five years having to prove I ‘deserve’ disability benefits.
“I feel really angry with the DWP. Because of them, all the progress I was making is in ruins. I have to start over, AGAIN.
“My agoraphobia is worse. I can’t take the rubbish downstairs now. I can’t even step into the communal hallway.
“Dealing with the DWP is like being forced to play a neverending, live action version of #snakesandladders.”
Journalist and presenter Mik Scarlet, tweeting at @MikScarlet, said: “I’m stunned at how scared I am every time I have a brown envelope in the post ever since my #PIP reassessment started. Nightmare.”
Activist Alice Kirby was another to discuss the impact on her mental health of continual communication with DWP, tweeting: “I hate contacting them, I hate them contacting me.
“Constantly receiving letters, sometimes every other day, feels like harassment.”
And Recovery In The Bin, the user-led mental health group, tweeted: “We in @RITB_ want to #cripthevoteUK b/c we are suffering individually and collectively by ongoing fear, harassment, sanctions, destitution.”
#CripTheVoteUK plans to share material about political parties’ disability policies through the election campaign, to “generate discussion about the issues affecting disabled people, including children”.
Although the campaign is non-partisan and does not promote any particular party, it will still be critical of policies that have harmed disabled people and those that could do so in the future.
It will also stress that the Conservative UK government has been condemned by both the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for the abuse of disabled people’s rights.
Last November, a damning CRPD report found the UK government’s social security reforms had led to “grave or systematic violations” of the UN disability convention.
And only last month, EHRC concluded that disabled people’s rights had regressed in at least nine areas since the coalition government assumed power in 2010, and that disabled people were still being treated as “second-class citizens”.
Eleanor Lisney, disability activist and co-founder of #CriptheVoteUK, said: “Disabled people should make sure they tell the politicians that, for 13 million in the voting age, we make a substantial number.
“We need to vote in order to get a chance to survive the future onslaught on our human rights.”
Another #CripTheVoteUK campaigner, Dennis Queen, said: “At this point in time, disabled people are quite literally voting for our lives.
“We need all voters to know this is an emergency for thousands of disabled people and help us fight back.”
A second #CripTheVoteUK Twitter discussion, on Brexit, disability and intersectionality, will be held on Sunday (7 May), from 7-8pm, and will be hosted by Professor Anna Lawson, head of the Centre for Disability Studies and the new Disability Law Hub at the University of Leeds.
4 May 2017
Labour has refused to say what impact the snap election will have on its lengthy efforts to ensure that disabled people’s views are at the heart of its new social security policies.
Although it says the results of its Disability Equality Roadshow will still feed into the party’s development of its manifesto, it has refused to confirm that it has had to abandon plans for disabled people and their organisations to play a further crucial role in that process.
It is thought unlikely that the prime minister’s sudden announcement of a general election on 8 June has left time for the final stages of what the party previously pledged would be the development of co-produced policies on social security.
Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled minister, Marie Rimmer, has refused to comment on the impact of the snap election.
Her predecessor, Debbie Abrahams, first launched the Disability Equality Roadshow in December 2015 and then relaunched it about 12 months later.
The plan had been to visit 32 different areas of England, Scotland and Wales, listening to disabled people’s views and experiences, and asking for their help in designing a 21st-century social security system.
Abrahams said in December 2015: “The views and experiences of disabled people have to be right at the heart of, not just the overhaul of the work capability assessment, but other aspects of social security policy too.”
When she relaunched the roadshow in November 2016, after being promoted to shadow work and pensions secretary, Abrahams said it would “ensure the views and experiences of disabled people are at [the] centre of Labour’s policy making, as we look to transform social security to a holistic, person-centred system”.
A spokesman for Rimmer told Disability News Service in March that after the roadshows were completed, the information would be collected and analysed by “independent social policy academics”, who would identify “key policy themes”.
Those emerging themes would then be discussed with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, and would feed into the party’s policy-making process.
But the final roadshow, in Sheffield, was scheduled to take place on 20 April, two days after the prime minister announced a general election for 8 June.
Despite repeated attempts by DNS to secure answers from Rimmer on how the party would be able to complete this further process of co-production in time for the general election, she would say only that “key policy suggestions outlined by disabled people” in the roadshows would be “fed into the party’s national manifesto process”.
She said in a statement: “Since last year’s launch, we have held Disability Equality Roadshows around the country, across the regions and nation states.
“We have met with disabled people, their carers and stakeholders to discuss their experiences and policy priorities.
“The key policy suggestions outlined by disabled people at the roadshow are being collated and fed into the party’s national manifesto process, ahead of the snap election on 8 June, where Labour’s policies for disabled people will be presented to the electorate.”
4 May 2017
Disabled activists have protested at rail stations across the capital over the government’s decision to postpone £50 million of funding that had been set aside for major access improvements across England and Wales.
Supporters of the user-led Transport for All (TfA) campaign protested about the decision by the Department for Transport (DfT) at the eight stations in London where access improvements have been delayed.
The decision to cut Access for All funding for the 2014-19 period from £102 million to £55 million, with the rest carried over to 2019-24, was first revealed by Disability News Service 12 months ago.
The delays were hidden on page 138 of a 172-page report by Sir Peter Hendy, the chair of Network Rail, which contained his detailed recommendations to the government for “replanning” Network Rail’s investment programme for 2014-19 across England and Wales.
Even before his recommendations, the previous Tory-led coalition government had already cut the budget for the Access for All programme from £370 million over its first 10 years to just £103 million over the next four.
A DfT spokeswoman confirmed this week that ministers had accepted Sir Peter’s recommendations in full.
In December, rail minister Lord Ahmad had confirmed in a parliamentary answer that access works at 26 rail stations across England and Wales – including the eight London stations – would be delayed, although he did not link that decision with Sir Peter’s recommendations.
A Network Rail spokesman this week refused to confirm how many stations faced delays to access improvements as a result of the cuts to the Access for All programme.
As part of its Rail Access Now campaign, TfA is calling on all political parties to promise to reverse the Access for All cuts in their general election manifestos.
Among opposition politicians who attended the protests in London were Labour’s Chuka Umunna and Heidi Alexander and the Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney.
Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “The current state of rail access in the UK simply isn’t acceptable.
“All the parties must commit to restoring Access for All funding, and ensuring that our railways are open to everyone.
“Disabled and older people can’t be expected to defer their lives for another five years while accessibility funding is raided to plug holes elsewhere in the Network Rail budget.”
4 May 2017
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com