Tory conference: Charity’s silence on universal credit deaths, hours after minister announces £51m funding

A charity has refused to criticise the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over four deaths linked to universal credit, hours after a minister announced it would receive tens of millions of pounds to support claimants on the new benefit system.

Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey told the Conservative party conference on Monday that the advice charity Citizens Advice would receive the funding to deliver support to claimants.

It will be delivered through “universal support”, which provides universal credit claimants with advice and assistance, particularly with budgeting and the online aspects of their claims.

Since last year, local authorities have provided this service, funded by DWP, but Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland will take responsibility for delivering a “strengthened” version across England, Wales and Scotland from next April.

The two charities will receive £12 million in the run-up to April 2019 to “ensure a smooth transition to the new delivery model” and then another £39 million from April 2019 to provide the service.

A DWP spokeswoman confirmed today (Thursday) that the funding of £39 million was for just one year, “with a review at the end”.

But she also appeared to confirm that the contracts signed by the charities includes a clause preventing them from attracting “adverse publicity” to the department or to McVey herself, as in contracts signed by some of the disability charities who have signed up to deliver services as part of DWP’s new Work and Health Programme.

Such a clause is likely to say that Citizens Advice must “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of McVey and must promise not to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in her or DWP.

Asked whether the contracts do include such a clause, a DWP spokeswoman said this afternoon: “Such paragraphs are typical in DWP grants.

“The grant sets out the relationship with DWP and its grant recipients so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.

“The wording is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, nor from raising any concerns directly with the department.”

Disabled activists have already raised serious concerns about whether the DWP funding will put the independence of Citizens Advice at risk, and this admission is likely to fuel those concerns.

Disabled activist Rick Burgess said in a blog this week that people he had spoken to in the advice and welfare rights sector were “aghast” and “appalled” by the charity’s decision to take the funding.

He said: “Make no mistake, this is a historic betrayal that is not business as usual and is not ‘okay’.

“The executives and board of [Citizens Advice] have catastrophically sabotaged their organisation’s independence and reputation in return for medium term financial security.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said on Twitter: “[Citizens Advice] selling out to DWP for £51million. No wonder we don’t trust charities.”

And Dr Jay Watts added: “Can’t believe [Citizens Advice] has sold out to the DWP for £51 million after 79 years of independence.

“It is near impossible to bite the hand that feeds – as we have seen with so many charities – so a clever way to mute criticism of #UniversalCredit.”

Just hours after McVey’s announcement, Citizens Advice’s head of policy on families, welfare and work, Kayley Hignell, spoke at a Conservative conference fringe event on universal credit and its impact on mental health.

Hignell and the other panellists were asked by Disability News Service about secret DWP reviews that have linked the deaths of four universal credit claimants with the department’s activity, and whether they thought DWP had taken those deaths seriously enough.

One of the deaths was linked to the “claimant commitment” that universal credit recipients must sign, with DWP’s panel of reviewers warning in their report that it appeared to be “overtly threatening, especially to individuals who are vulnerable”.

But Hignell, who had been told about the reviews before the fringe event, failed to raise concerns about this report or the four deaths, criticise the government, or call for urgent action.

Instead, she spoke about how much more there was to do to implement universal credit properly and how people with more “niche” support needs were currently “losing out”.

She said: “Those groups of people need much, much more attention within the system.”

She said DWP faced a challenge over the “speed” of the rollout and its “capacity” and that the department needed to do more work to “tailor” universal credit to the needs of individuals.

Earlier in the meeting, hosted by The Trussell Trust – which runs a national network of 400 foodbanks – Hignell’s comments about the universal credit roll-out had also appeared to contrast with much stronger criticisms of DWP from her fellow panellists.

Hignell had told the meeting that universal support was “not consistently available across the country”.

And she said that universal credit was “at a critical point at the moment” and that there was “more to do” for DWP in preparation for the “significant upheaval” of “managed migration” for disabled people.

From next year, and over the following four years, managed migration will see hundreds of thousands of disabled people forced to end their existing employment and support allowance (ESA) claims and apply instead for universal credit.

Hignell said: “We do believe government needs to do everything they can to identify those who may struggle with the system.”

She added: “We want to make sure that UC works for everybody and that it’s ready for its next stage of rollout.”

In contrast, Sophie Corlett, head of external relations for the mental health charity Mind, described managed migration as “a juggernaut that’s rolling towards us” and “something that we are really concerned about”.

She described the flaws in the system that will make managed migration difficult, if not impossible, for many people with mental health conditions.

She warned that the implications of failing with a claim for universal credit as part of managed migration were “really huge”, as the person would then be treated as a new claimant and would not be entitled to transitional payments previously announced by ministers.

She also pointed to the tight deadline for claimants to complete their online application for universal credit once they have been told their old ESA claim is about to end.

Corlett said: “There can’t be a deadline at which point your current benefit stops dead. That is a ridiculous situation.”

Sue Weightman, who manages three Trussell Trust foodbanks in the Taunton Deane area of Somerset, one of the first to cope with the universal credit rollout, in October 2016, said the impact of its introduction had been startling and immediate.

She said: “Almost overnight we went from a foodbank that would see maybe a dozen clients in an afternoon to opening the door at two o’clock and having a queue of 15 to 20 people around the corner.

“Almost overnight I needed more volunteers, more food donations, more funding. I also needed more training for the volunteers who were working at that time.”

She said there had been an improvement since changes to universal credit announced by the government last November, but that many people were still suffering from the after-effects of falling into severe debt when they were moved onto universal credit two years ago.

She said this particularly affected those with mental health conditions or learning difficulties, whose problems have “got a lot more severe in the last two years”, including struggles with the complexity and length of the system.

She said: “We have a much higher rate of sanctioning for clients with any form of mental health illness than with any of the others and some are getting sanctioned two or three times.”

And she said many people with mental health conditions were still “fearful” of taking out advance payments through universal credit because they were worried they would not be able to pay the money back and would fall further and further into debt.

She said: “Most clients with any form of mental health illness we have seen in the last two years have seen a spiralling down of their health.

“We have seen a high percentage of people having to move home and getting into rent arrears.”

Citizens Advice has so far refused to confirm that its contract with DWP includes an “adverse publicity” clause.

But a spokeswoman for the charity said in a statement: “Citizens Advice is independent of government and always will be.

“The people we help are our first priority, and this funding will mean Citizens Advice will be able to help even more people who are struggling to make a universal credit claim.

“The advice we give people will always be totally impartial, and we’ll continue to advocate on behalf of the people who come to us for help.”

4 October 2018



Tory conference: Disability charities face questions over Conservative links

Two disability charities are facing questions over their close links to the Conservative party, after they failed to challenge the minister for disabled people about government policies at a conference fringe event.

Both Bipolar UK and the Epilepsy Society have close links with the party, Disability News Service has established.

Bipolar UK’s chief executive has twice stood for the party in a general election, while the chair of the Conservative Disability Group (CDG) works as a public affairs consultant for the Epilepsy Society.

The chief executives of both charities failed to criticise and challenge the government in their speeches at the fringe event, despite years of anger directed at Conservative-led governments by user-led organisations, charities and disabled people – including many with bipolar and epilepsy – following eight years of austerity cuts and unpopular reforms to disability support.

Last autumn, a UN committee of disabled human rights experts delivered a damning verdict on the UK government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee said then that it was “deeply concerned” that the government still believed it was a “champion of human rights”, while its chair said that cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” in the UK.

But neither of the charities took the opportunity to criticise the government, while sharing a platform with the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton.

The fringe event was hosted by the Conservative Disability Group and was supposed to discuss ways to make society more inclusive for people with invisible impairments.

Peter Hand, the group’s chair, is a former public affairs manager for Leonard Cheshire and is now a public affairs consultant for the Epilepsy Society. He chaired the fringe meeting.

Clare Pelham, chief executive of the Epilepsy Society and former chief executive of Leonard Cheshire, was one of those who spoke at the fringe.

Another speaker was Simon Kitchen, chief executive of Bipolar UK, a former senior executive with both Leonard Cheshire and the Alzheimer’s Society, who contested Newcastle Central for the Conservatives in 2015 and then Newcastle East at last year’s general election.

In his speech, Kitchen stressed the medical and treatment aspects of bipolar, and dismissed any suggestion that inclusion or the social model were relevant to people with the condition.

He said: “For people with bipolar, it is a very serious, serious illness that can do real serious damage to people.

“And I think that is important when we think about inclusion, because often in understanding why we say we talk about the social model of disability and the importance of inclusion, but for people with bipolar it’s actually the condition itself which excludes people from society.

“It’s what keeps them in hospital, it’s what ruins their careers, it’s what destroys their families.

“So for me, in terms of being able to promote inclusion for people with invisible disabilities, it has to be for people with bipolar tackling the medical side of it as well.”

He said that about half of Bipolar UK’s staff and trustees had disclosed a diagnosis of bipolar, as well as hundreds of its volunteers, and that his charity “just about function well as an organisation”.

Pelham told the fringe meeting that before talking about what more could be done on inclusion it was important to “celebrate how far we have come” and the “enormous progress” that has been made.

She said her charity had been founded 100 years ago to provide refuge for people who were previously confined to workhouses or asylums, “safe from the blatant hostility” and “physical threat” from the communities they would otherwise be in.

She also said she could remember a time when Scope was called “the Spastics Society”, and when a child who lived in her road “went off on a bus somewhere” to school and was called “the spastic in the road”, and how mothers would not let their children play with him.

She said: “Life isn’t like that any more. And there is lots of credit to people in this room and to governments that have shown leadership about the journey that we have come.”

Pelham claimed there was a moment during the London 2012 Paralympics when “we all just noticed that we are at ease with this, we were all comfortable with the Paralympics and I think we felt as a country proud of ourselves. I did.

“We had a leadership problem. We took a problem and together, drip drip, changing the language, changing the attitudes, we changed the world.

“There’s still lots, lots more to be done but for many, many people with physical disabilities, life is better than it would have been 40, 50 years ago.”

Asked afterwards why the Epilepsy Society failed to challenge the government on its policies, Hand refused to answer the question.

But he said in a statement: “The event was a great success, we have received excellent feedback from those who attended and we were delighted that the venue was full – it was a great opportunity for the CDG to engage with the wider disability sector.”

Hand said he had been chairing the event in his capacity as CDG chair.

Kitchen refused to say why he had failed to challenge the government, and why he had dismissed the social model for people with bipolar.

But he said in a statement: “Bipolar UK engages with, and makes representations to government, on a range of issues relevant to the concerns and aspirations of people with bipolar in this country, through a range of different forums, including events such as the Conservative Disability Group’s recent fringe event in Birmingham.

“Bipolar UK will continue to engage with government on this basis to help improve the lives of people with bipolar and create a more inclusive society for those who live with the condition.

“We also work hard to combat the stigma and discrimination associated with the condition.”

4 October 2018



Labour activist ‘violated’ by journalist’s safe space tweet welcomes ban

A disabled activist who was left “humiliated and violated” by the actions of a high-profile journalist who mocked a “safe space” used by disabled people at last week’s Labour conference has praised the decision to ban her from next year’s event.

TalkRADIO presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer has been told by the Labour party that she will not be welcome at next year’s party conference, following “multiple complaints” about her behaviour.

Hartley-Brewer posted a video on social media in which she could be seen sitting in the safe space – which was put aside for disabled people and others who needed a quiet area for impairment-related and other reasons – and then saying “boo” as a colleague with a camera enters the room.

A sign on the door makes it clear that there is a serious purpose to the safe space, referring to “urgent medical treatment”, the party’s “safeguarding unit” and “safety or welfare” concerns, while information about the room was included in the accessibility information pages of the main conference guide.

Hartley-Brewer argued that the sign did not make it clear that the room was “meant for people with autism and other disabilities” and has refused to apologise.

This week she was still describing the room as “absurd”, even after being told repeatedly that it had been used by disabled people for impairment-related reasons, including by autistic people and those with anxiety.

Rebecca*, the disabled Labour activist whose complaint led to Labour investigating Hartley-Brewer’s actions, told Disability News Service (DNS) that the decision to ban the journalist was “entirely appropriate”.

She said: “I think it was quite clear she was going there with intent to cause distress and to paint herself as some kind of martyr when she got the inevitable backlash.

“She still hasn’t apologised, so she’s not sorry, so she doesn’t deserve to be at the conference.”

She said she was “still angry” about Hartley-Brewer’s actions.

She added: “What it showed me is just how ignorant people are around these issues, especially when it comes to mental health, and just how much work needs to be done to get it anywhere with a parity of esteem with physical disability.”

Rebecca, who is autistic, said she believed this ignorance could be linked to the social security reforms of successive Conservative-led governments and the “narrative they have spun” about disabled people, and the impact of that on disability hate crime.

She said: “I think she’s one of those people who doesn’t believe in mental health or anxiety. We’re just snowflakes [to her].

“It’s the ‘might is right’ attitude. She’s just a bully. You can guarantee that she was a bully in school. She’s just a deeply unpleasant individual.”

She added: “Someone said on Twitter, ‘If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t go’. Do they want all autistic people to be shut up and locked away in an asylum somewhere?”

Rebecca said that discriminatory attitudes like this were “disgusting” and “sad”.

She said it was “really important” to explain why such spaces were necessary, and she said they probably should be staffed by accessibility stewards to avoid such actions at future events.

She said that having the quiet room at the conference had allowed her to continue to attend the event.

She said: “If I didn’t have that space I would have had a full-blown panic attack.”

Such an attack can lead her to “physically seize up”, experience pins and needles in her hands, and temporarily lose the ability to speak.

She said: “I’ve been picked up by ambulances [because of] the way I collapse.

“If I hadn’t had that space I would probably have collapsed and possibly been taken in an ambulance or I might have taken myself back to the hotel, but I might not have been safe.

“If I hadn’t had that space I think I would have been in real trouble that day.”

A Labour spokeswoman said: “We pride ourselves on high standards of inclusivity and we do not tolerate abuse or discrimination.

“We received multiple complaints about Julia Hartley-Brewer’s behaviour during conference, including from Disability Labour, and she caused considerable distress to vulnerable groups, including to delegates with conditions including Asperger’s, autism and anxiety disorders.

“We reserve the right to decide who we accredit for our events. Julia Hartley-Brewer had no right to use our conference facilities to mock disabled people, so she will not be welcome next year.”

Hartley-Brewer said on Twitter that the decision to ban a journalist for making what she said was a “joke” about Labour’s “absurd #SafeSpace” was “ridiculous and sinister”.

TalkRADIO refused to comment on the incident or on Labour’s ban but instead directed DNS to a tweet sent out by Hartley-Brewer last week.

In that tweet, she refused to apologise, although she said: “I’m told that this ‘safe space’ at Labour conference is meant for people with autism and other disabilities. The sign doesn’t say that.

“For the avoidance of doubt, there was no intention to upset disabled people, but every intention to upset snowflakes. Hope that clarifies.”

*Not her real name

4 October 2018



Tory conference: Newton ‘breaches ministerial code’ while dodging questions

The minister for disabled people appears to have breached the ministerial code of conduct, after refusing to answer questions at her party’s annual conference and suggesting that civil servants could answer them for her instead.

Sarah Newton’s office had failed to respond to emails requesting an interview sent in advance of the conference by Disability News Service (DNS).

And when approached by DNS before a fringe event run by the Conservative Disability Group on Sunday, Newton said she would not answer any questions at conference, either in person or by email.

After DNS failed in a bid to ask Newton a question during the fringe event, she also refused afterwards to answer even one question about her work as minister for disabled people.

Newton suggested instead that DNS should submit questions to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) press office, even though DWP would not be able to answer those questions because civil servants are not allowed to play any part in political events.

This would be a breach of the Civil Service Code, which says civil servants should not “act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes”.

The ministerial code of conduct says that ministers “must uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service, and not ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code”.

Despite dodging questions from the disabled editor of DNS, John Pring, Newton told the fringe event: “In my role, it is really important to me that I spend my time listening to people with disabilities and health conditions and this is something that I do day in, day out.”

Asked whether Newton would face any action for apparently breaching the ministerial code of conduct, the Conservative party had refused to comment by noon today (Thursday).

4 October 2018



Harmonica charity confesses to 16 years of discrimination

A disabled musician is threatening legal action after he was told by a charity organising its annual international harmonica festival that he would have to be carried in his wheelchair up and down a flight of stairs if he wanted to attend.

The National Harmonica League (NHL) is set to hold its International Festival – its largest event of the year – at Bristol Folk House later this month.

It admits on its website that the “one drawback” of the venue is that it “has many levels and tight staircases which make it very difficult or impossible for anyone with physical disabilities”.

But Disability News Service has discovered that the charity has been warning potential visitors to the festival that poor access is the venue’s “one drawback” for more than 16 years.

NHL charges visitors up to £45 for a weekend ticket for the event, which will feature workshops, competitions, stalls run by companies such as Suzuki and Seydel, and performances by professionals.

But artist and musician Gaius FitzGibbon has been told he will only be able to attend if he is willing to being carried up and down a flight of stairs in his electric wheelchair.

The inaccessible venue means not only that he misses out on the festival but that he will not be able to apply for an educational bursary from NHL, which would have assisted with accommodation costs, food and tuition.

FitzGibbon said: “Unfortunately my health has progressed to a point where I am no longer able to play my saxophone.

“The only musical instrument I am able now to play is my blues harmonica.

“I am really, really disappointed and fed up that I can’t even attend the main harmonica event of the year and at least get to talk to other players and be involved in the scene.”

He is now considering legal action against NHL for discrimination under the Equality Act.

Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union (MU), said: “Disabled musicians are still being excluded from various festivals, venues and competitions because organisers fail to realise that some musicians have impairments.

“Excluding disabled musicians deprives audiences and musicians of some amazing talent. Some small changes and engagement with disabled musicians could change that.

“Accessibility should never be an afterthought; all venues should be accessible to all musicians.

“There’s some amazing work happening in this area driven by organisations like the MU and Attitude is Everything but there is still a long way to go.

“Every musician should have the opportunity to take part in the [festival] and the harmonica player of the year competition and it is time for the organisers to work with disabled musicians and the MU to create a festival that all musicians can participate in.

“The MU would welcome a conversation with the event organisers to discuss how they can make the festival and all future events accessible to all musicians.”

Before DNS discovered that NHL had been warning about the access at Bristol Folk House for 16 years, its chair, Ben Hewlett, admitted that it was not acceptable for FitzGibbon to be told he would have to be carried up and down stairs in his wheelchair, but claimed this was “a compromise”.

Hewlett said that a wheelchair-user won one of the festival competitions “several years ago” but had to be carried up and down stairs to access the venue.

He said this was when they began to look for an alternative venue. He later admitted that this incident happened in 2007, 11 years ago.

Hewlett said that the other five, smaller events NHL organised every year were held in accessible venues.

And he said that his organisation had been looking for a “suitable replacement” for Bristol Folk House and was “fully committed” to finding a new venue with “full disabled access”.

But he said his fellow committee members had also told him they would not even allow him to promise a move to a more accessible venue in time for next year’s festival, and that they were “also concerned about the price of a new venue being a lot more than the current venue” as NHL was “not well funded”.

Hewlett added: “I think we need to work harder and get it done and that’s what we’re doing.”

But after DNS told Hewlett that it had discovered NHL had been warning about the access since 2002, he then produced a new statement and said the charity had “researched many venues” in those 16 years but had “not found a suitable alternative yet”.

Asked if NHL would apologise to disabled people for its failings over the last 16 years, he said: “No apologies to ‘people with disabilities’ as the vast majority can and do access the Folk House all the time.

“However the NHL does apologise to people who are permanent wheelchair users, realising it has been slow to resolve better accessibility. It is working hard to remedy the situation as stated many times.”

He added: “There are no plans to come back to the Folk House.

“If the NHL hasn’t found a suitable alternative in 2019 one option is to use the nearby and accessible St George’s Hall for the bulk of the festival – all day Saturday.

“The Folk House could be used just for the children’s competition and some repeated workshops on the Sunday morning.”

4 October 2018



MPs help WOW win fight for second Commons debate

Campaigners have won their fight to persuade MPs to hold a second debate in the House of Commons on the need for the government to assess the overall damage caused to disabled people by years of austerity cuts.

The announcement that a debate will take place is a victory for members of the WOW Campaign, who have been seeking cross-party backing for a follow-up to a high-profile debate that took place in the Commons four years ago.

The second debate, which will call on the government to commission an independent cumulative assessment of the impact of social security changes on sick and disabled people, their families and carers, will be headed by Labour MPs Debbie Abrahams and Kate Green.

Abrahams is a former shadow minister for disabled people and shadow work and pensions secretary, and Green is a former shadow minister for disabled people.

But they have secured strong cross-party backing from about 20 opposition MPs, including the SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford, Green MP Caroline Lucas, and Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Stephen Lloyd, but also four Tory MPs, Michael Tomlinson, Sir Mike Penning (a former minister for disabled people), Nigel Mills and Dr Dan Poulter.

The need for a debate has been agreed by the backbench business committee, which is given a limited number of slots in the Commons timetable – outside government control – to schedule subjects suggested by backbench MPs.

Abrahams and Green hope the debate will take place in the main Commons chamber and will last three hours. A date has not yet been set by the committee.

In her successful request for a debate, Abrahams told the committee that organisations that have called for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) include the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, the government’s own social security advice body, and peers on the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee.

And she pointed to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, published in March, which calculated its own cumulative impact assessment of all the tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms introduced between May 2010 and January 2018.

That report found that some disabled lone parents would eventually lose more than 30 per cent of their income – more than £11,000 a year – due to eight years of cuts.

Abrahams had told the committee: “Given the fact that we have not had a debate in four years and that we have had the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, the roll-out of universal credit, changes around the criteria for personal independence payment and so on, we hope that the backbench business committee is able to support this debate.”

The WOW Campaign said the need for an assessment of the “human impact” of the government’s cuts to disability support had become “even more urgent” because of the roll-out of the government’s new universal credit, and it called on the government to “show a duty of care” to disabled people.

A WOW Campaign spokeswoman said: “They have all seen disabled people and carers at their surgeries impacted by cuts, they have seen the desperation, they have no excuse for not protecting us and assessing how hard we have been hit to fulfil an ideology.”

Four years ago, nearly 105,000 people signed a petition launched by the WOW Campaign that called on the government to carry out a CIA.

That petition – and the earlier Pat’s Petition – led to a debate in February 2014, the first time that disabled people had secured a debate in the main Commons chamber on an agenda they had chosen themselves.

Michelle Maher, from the WOW Campaign, called on disabled people and their allies to push their own MPs to attend the debate, which she hoped would reveal the truth, “that disability support has been cut by billions” including cuts in areas such as social care, respite care, NHS funding and housing benefit.

She said: “The most severely disabled children and adults have been hit the hardest.

“In whose world is it OK for severely disabled children and their carers to pay for the mistakes of bankers?”

4 October 2018



Tory conference: Government side-lines working-age social care… again

The health and social care secretary has side-lined the support needs of working-age disabled people while announcing new funds for the social care system at this week’s Conservative party conference.

Matt Hancock announced an extra £240 million for local authorities to help ease pressure on the NHS this winter, with the party saying the money would “fund packages of care to prevent older people from going into hospital unnecessarily and getting people home quickly when medically fit to leave”.

Labour described this as “a drop in the ocean” and “tinkering at the edges”, while the Local Government Association welcomed the new money but warned that “short-term bailouts are not the answer” and that adult social care faced a £3.5 billion funding gap by 2025, just to maintain existing levels of support.

Hancock told the conference in Birmingham that the money was “to pay for social care packages this winter to support our NHS” and “free up those vital hospital beds”.

And he said he wanted to address the pressures on social care not because he wanted to improve support for disabled and older people but because he wanted “to make the NHS the best health service in the world”.

When he spoke about the need for long-term social care reform, he said this was necessary “so people don’t have to fear the risk of losing everything if for a reason outside their control they end up needing care when they’re old”, again avoiding any mention of working-age disabled people and the importance of independent living.

He added: “Reform of social care is long overdue and we’ll publish a paper later this year setting out the progress we can make to give all people confidence and dignity in old age.”

The prime minister, Theresa May, failed to mention disabled people in her main conference speech, and avoided any mention of social care and its funding crisis.

Last month, Disability News Service revealed that Hancock’s department had quietly dropped the idea of having a separate “parallel programme of work” on working-age social care, which will now be included in the government’s green paper, to be published later this year.

The care minister, Caroline Dinenage, was unable to attend the conference because of illness, and so had to cancel planned appearances at several fringe meetings on social care funding.

But Damian Green, a close political ally of Theresa May and former work and pensions secretary, told one fringe meeting – which again focused on the care needs of older people – that all political parties had played “destructive games” with their attempts to solve the social care funding crisis.

He said: “Our own party talked in 2010 about the ‘death tax’ as a way of stigmatising the Labour government’s attempt to fund social care, and in 2017… the Tory party’s attempt at what was a thoughtful if difficult policy was instantly dubbed the ‘dementia tax’ and proved politically unsaleable.”

He told the event – hosted by the Tory think-tank Bright Blue and Hanover Housing Association – that this had driven governments away from long-term solutions and towards “short-term fixes”.

He said that a solution would only be found on a cross-party basis.

Green suggested a new system, with “different generations paying in different ways”, with those of working-age over 40 paying a national insurance care supplement.

Those over 66 or 67 with significant savings would have the option of making a one-off voluntary payment – probably secured by releasing equity from their home – that would protect them from any future claims on their savings if they needed state-funded care when they were older.

He said this should be funded through “national, rather than local taxation, because otherwise councils are going to be doing nothing except adult social care in 10 years’ time”.

Disability News Service asked about the decision to drop the idea of addressing the support needs of working-age disabled people through a “parallel programme of work”, and why those needs had not been addressed in the fringe event, when about half of adult social care spending was on working-age people.

Green said: “You’re right, it’s actually slightly more than 50 per cent of social care spending is on working-age people.

“You can produce good arguments for trying to do it as a whole or saying actually they are slightly different issues.

“The latest thinking is that this is going to be covered in the green paper as well.

“To the best of my knowledge they have been doing the preparatory work for it.

“I don’t think there is anything sinister in that, I just think they decided to get it all out in one go, to get the full debate about the whole range of social care out at the same time.”

4 October 2018



Tory conference: Senior minister ignores accessible housing crisis

A senior government minister is facing criticism after ignoring the crisis in accessible housing in his speech to this week’s party conference.

James Brokenshire, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, told the conference that the prime minister saw housing as the government’s “biggest domestic priority”.

Although he said that “everyone deserves a decent, affordable and secure place to call home”, he made no mention of disabled people and the crisis in accessible housing.

In August, his department was criticised by disabled campaigners and the equality watchdog after Brokenshire’s new social housing green paper failed to include a single mention of the accessible housing crisis.

Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs, with one-third of those in private rented accommodation and one-fifth of those in social housing living in unsuitable properties.

EHRC called in its report for the government to draw up a national strategy to ensure an adequate supply of new homes built to inclusive design standards.

Brokenshire’s speech came as Laki Kaur, a young disabled woman, was spending yet another day in an east London hospital.

She has now spent more than 100 days in hospital since being told she was well enough to be released after treatment for blood poisoning, because of the lack of suitable wheelchair-accessible housing.

But this summer’s social housing green paper, described by Brokenshire as a “new deal” for social housing residents – those who pay rent at below market levels – failed to mention accessible housing once, although it did refer to the “key role” played by supported housing and an ongoing review of the disabled facilities grant (DFG), which will see spending increase from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.

But there were no new proposals in the green paper for increasing the supply of new accessible homes, or even requests for ideas on how the accessible housing crisis could be addressed.

And in his speech this week, Brokenshire focused on “increasing home ownership”, rather than social housing or accessible housing, while he also delivered four sentences on private rented housing, three on social housing, and four on his strategy to “end rough sleeping for good”.

The prime minister, Theresa May, devoted a significant chunk of her conference speech yesterday (Wednesday) to housing.

She talked about home ownership, rough sleeping, and scrapping the cap on local authority borrowing to build new homes but made no mention of the need to build homes to inclusive design standards.

She also made no mention of disabled people throughout her speech of more than 7,000 words.

Asked why Brokenshire had again ignored the accessible housing crisis, the Conservative party had refused to comment by noon today.

4 October 2018



Tory conference: Newton admits DWP needs to improve

The minister for disabled people has admitted that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needs to “make improvements” in order to increase disabled people’s “confidence” in the social security system.

Sarah Newton told a fringe event at her party’s annual conference in Birmingham that “for lots of reasons” too many people were worried about applying for disability benefits such as personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).

Her admission comes after years of anger directed at her department over Tory-led government cuts and reforms to disability support, including the introduction of PIP and the new universal credit, and research linking DWP policies – including those affecting the work capability assessment – with the deaths of disabled claimants.

Only two weeks ago, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how a secret DWP review into the death of a claimant of universal credit had criticised the “overtly threatening” nature of the conditions that claimants must accept when signing up to the new benefit system.

The conclusion by a panel of civil servants related to just one of 33 deaths, all linked to DWP activity, that have been subject to what are called “internal process reviews” since April 2016.

The number of these secret reviews carried out by DWP appears to have doubled in the last two years.

Meanwhile, DNS continues to receive reports every week of disabled people who have been the subject of dishonest or otherwise poor quality benefit assessments, particularly for PIP.

Opposition politicians including Labour’s Marsha de Cordova and Liberal Democrat Stephen Lloyd have warned that the impact of the “migration” of hundreds of thousands of disabled people onto universal credit from next year, and over the following four years, could prove disastrous.

And last year, the chair of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” which was “totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in”.

Newton told this week’s fringe meeting, hosted by the disability charity Leonard Cheshire and the technology giant Microsoft: “It’s really important that people have confidence in the DWP, that they want to go and visit the jobcentre, and when they go and interact with us that they will meet people who they have confidence will treat them respectfully, with dignity and are basically on their side and want to enable them to live a full and independent life…”

Newton claimed that the benefits system worked well for the “majority of people”, but she said that “one person’s bad experience is one too many”.

She added: “I know that we need to make improvements.”

Newton said she believed that DWP was “making progress” in improving the system for disabled people.

She added: “Everything is not perfect as yet, we have set out a lot of reform, we have had very constructive dialogue, and I am confident we will make those changes.

“Then, once people are in that position, I think it is much easier to have a dialogue about everything else to do with health conditions and disabilities and all the really positive work that we are doing, and investing, especially in enabling people to get into work and stay in work and make progress in work.”

She mentioned programmes such as Access to Work and Disability Confident, both of which have faced repeated criticism this year.

Newton said: “I hope that when we do our customer satisfaction surveys… we will see that they have shifted significantly and I will see that my postbag is much reduced in terms of people bringing me cases of when things don’t work well… and people having a much more confident relationship with DWP.”

4 October 2018



Tory party conference: Potential of assistive technology is ‘truly transformatory’

Developments in assistive technology over the next few years have the potential to be “truly, truly transformatory” for disabled people, a fringe event at the Conservative party conference heard this week.

Neil Heslop, chief executive of the disability charity Leonard Cheshire, who uses assistive technology himself, said that technology was “a massive force for good, if appropriately leveraged”.

But he added: “As the economy becomes increasingly digitised, there are risks and dangers for people with disability missing out on those opportunities.”

He said that everybody working in technology recognised that it was not perfect and “still has a very, very long way to go” in terms of accessibility.

But he said that “the core thesis is that we are as a society at an inflection point and what we do and don’t do now and in a small number of years actually has the potential to be truly, truly transformatory”.

The fringe event was hosted by Leonard Cheshire and the technology giant Microsoft.

Hector Minto, “accessibility evangelist” for Microsoft, said that technology was “reaching further into society than it ever has before”, including the billion disabled people on the planet.

He said: “We cannot design society digitally without purposefully including people with disability.

“Otherwise we miss the one in seven [people who are disabled], and the price will be high.”

Minto said that “every other industrial revolution the world has encountered” had paid a price for having to “add disability later”.

He said there was now an opportunity to “wire in accessibility” into what was being done and he pointed to a free plug-in for the widely-available Microsoft PowerPoint software that he then revealed had been producing live subtitles for the meeting.

Minto said Microsoft was increasing the number of disabled people it employed because it needed to include them “in our workplace, in our product groups, in our design teams”.

And he said the company was also asking its corporate customers around the world to “unlock” the assistive technology that was already built into Microsoft software.

Steve Tyler, director of assistive technology for Leonard Cheshire, told the meeting that support with technology was often available when disabled people were in education or in work.

But he said: “What about before you’re in work? That’s the time when you need to engage with technology.

“Virtually every job that we do today has an element of technology, and that is increasing as time goes on.

“So for me, a key part of what we need to do is invent a new mechanism that allows funding prior to work to engage people in technology and engage them in the learning and training and the use of it.”

Hannah Rose told the meeting how assistive technology – including the use of speech recognition software, which allows her to dictate into her computer – had helped her pass her GCSEs, A-levels and a degree, after becoming disabled as a teenager.

She later secured a job as a vetting officer with Cheshire police, following a work trial, where she has now worked for 10 years.

She said: “It gives me that independence to carry out a fulfilling job, like I am serving a purpose, like everybody else in that office.

“None of this would have been possible without having that assistive technology.

“Without work I would be lost. It’s great to be able to contribute to society like any other person, and without the access to assistive technology this wouldn’t be possible.”

The meeting also discussed the wider issue of disability employment.

Dave Bracher, campaigns manager for Spinal Injuries Association, said: “There has to be a way of getting the message out there that employers who are not employing disabled people are really missing a trick, because of the skills and qualities that those people bring to the party.

“I am not saying that I am any more special than anybody else in the room as an employee but what I am saying is that my experience of spinal cord injury, the year I spent in rehab, the three weeks I spent with locked-in syndrome, communicating by blinking… that gives me skills and qualities that any employer should be looking for.”

Sarah Newton, minister for disabled people, told the meeting: “It isn’t acceptable that half of people with disabilities who want to work and could work are not in work. That is a lost talent pool for the whole nation.

“There’s a lot of talk at this conference and the last conference about post-Brexit Britain and the future of our country after Brexit and one thing for sure is that we need to make sure that we are using all the talents in our nation going forward, and that must mean enabling more of those people to get into work and to thrive in work.”

Heslop said: “If any large-scale organisation does not have a representative number of people with disabilities in its workforce [which he said was about 19 per cent] and frighteningly few organisations achieve that today, anyone who doesn’t should be dissatisfied and should be committing themselves to creating an inclusive workplace.”

He added: “Anyone in a leadership position has to accept [that], and this is true of large charities like ours.

“I’m completely dissatisfied with the proportion of disabled people we employ, and we are taking steps to get much better.”

Tyler said there was “scary but increasing evidence” that employers were looking at people’s social media profiles at the earliest stages of recruitment and if they saw that those people were disabled they “are rejected before they even get in the door”.

He said: “We need to find ways through technology of highlighting/flagging/preventing that kind of stuff from happening.”

4 October 2018


News provided by John Pring at