The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.
The report into safeguarding failures in south London jobcentres was written by three disabled people recruited under its Community Partners initiative, which was set up to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community.
The trio had written the short report just a couple of weeks after taking up their posts, after becoming increasingly alarmed by the failure of the 18 jobcentres they were working with to take basic actions to protect people claiming benefits such as universal credit, employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.
They recommended that urgent steps were taken to ensure jobcentre staff were properly trained in safeguarding.
The latest revelation will only add to mounting evidence that DWP as a department is not fit for purpose and that it needs to make urgent changes to ensure the safety of all benefit claimants is a priority, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition.
The report was written in September 2017, and Disability News Service (DNS) learned about its existence the following spring, about eight months later.
To avoid identifying its source, DNS submitted a freedom of information request asking DWP to release all reports written by Community Partners while working for DWP in London in 2017 and 2018.
But DWP continually delayed answering the request, breaching freedom of information laws in the process.
Last August, a civil servant in DWP’s freedom of information team told DNS that she had repeatedly attempted to secure a response from the jobcentre operations team and had warned them they had breached their legal duties under the act, adding: “I have tried. I don’t know why they are digging their heels. I am sorry.”
DWP eventually answered the request by claiming that it held no such reports, but after DNS complained to the information commissioner, DWP released several documents in January this year.
But these documents did not include the safeguarding report.
Now, in a letter to the information commissioner, DWP has admitted that the safeguarding report did exist but that it was destroyed after 12 months because its “Information Management policy only requires us to keep a corporate document of an internal briefing for a period of 12 months”.
That 12 months period ended at least four months after DNS first asked for this and other Community Partner reports to be released.
This suggests that DWP destroyed the safeguarding report to prevent it being released to DNS.
DWP refused to comment on its actions yesterday (Wednesday), and on the contents of the report.
But Rachel*, one of the report’s three authors, said she believed DWP had destroyed the document because it did not want to see it published.
She has previously described to DNS how DWP failed to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed during the six months she worked as a Community Partner.
She has now described some of the appalling safeguarding failings she witnessed, which led to her and her two colleagues deciding to write their report just two weeks after starting work.
On one occasion, Rachel heard a member of staff explain that a claimant with cancer of the spine, who needed his dressing changed every day, should be found fit for work “so he’s looking forward to the future”.
She also remembers sitting in on an interview with a universal credit claimant, who was 55 and not disabled and had just been made redundant.
He had been hit by the bedroom tax and said repeatedly that he was hungry because he was so short of money, but the DWP civil servant failed to tell him that he could request foodbank vouchers.
When Rachel asked the civil servant after the interview why she had not told him he could ask for vouchers, she was told: “Because he didn’t ask.”
Rachel said: “He said four times that he was hungry and couldn’t afford to go shopping and didn’t have enough money for food.
“That is just dangerous. That person is going to end up with malnutrition and depression.
“It was just a regular guy who was doing his best and did not know how the system worked, let alone that the magic word was ‘foodbank’.”
On another occasion, a man in extreme mental distress who had previously self-harmed in the Brixton jobcentre after being found fit for work, returned to the jobcentre and again began self-harming by banging his head against a window.
Staff were standing around watching, said Rachel, who had to take control, find a manager and tell them to contact the council’s social services department.
Despite her intervention, no report on the incident was written, despite her repeatedly asking for an incident report form.
She believes her insistence that the incident needed to be written up was one of the reasons she was eventually sacked, although DWP claimed it was because she had retweeted a social media post criticising Iain Duncan Smith, even though she believes the tweet was sent before she started working for DWP.
She said: “They all know they are putting people at risk but all they are concerned about is ticking boxes.”
DWP this week refused to comment on the safeguarding report, its contents and how the freedom of information request was handled.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are not able to comment on the handling of individual FOIs.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office is continuing to investigate DWP’s failure to produce the report.
For years, DNS has been reporting on the alleged failure of DWP jobcentres to safeguard disabled people left in vulnerable situations because of flaws in the benefits system.
Many of these failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants and will have subsequently been reported on in secret DWP peer reviews (now renamed internal process reviews).
Most recently, DNS has reported on the Independent Case Examiner report into the death of Jodey Whiting in February 2017, which concluded that DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide.
That report led campaigners to set up the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which has now been backed by eight families of benefit claimants who lost their lives because of DWP failings, and is supported by Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network, WOWcampaign, and DNS.
The petition has so far been signed by more than 25,000 people in less than three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it should be debated in parliament.
Rachel said she backed the petition.
She said: “The safety of claimants is paramount. They really don’t have a clue as to how vulnerable people are.
“They are messing with people’s lives. It’s terrible. It’s really shocking.”
*Not her real name
To sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
4 April 2019
The twin brother of a man who killed himself after being told he was ineligible for two disability benefits has backed calls for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and deaths of benefit claimants.
DWP had been told the man, Michael*, from the West Midlands, was depressed and suicidal, in addition to his recent sight loss, but still found him fit for work.
He was also found ineligible for personal independence payment (PIP), with the letters rejecting his two benefit applications arriving within days of each other.
Michael’s brother, Adam*, had filled in the employment and support allowance (ESA) claim form on his behalf, and had made it clear his twin was severely depressed and suicidal, following sight loss that had led to him losing his job as a highly-skilled mechanic working on HGVs months earlier.
But Adam says DWP ignored that information and made no attempt to ensure his safety when it sent the two letters, one after the other, telling him he was losing his entitlement to ESA – which he had been granted while he was being assessed – and that he would not be entitled to PIP.
About 10 days after receiving the two letters, Michael took his own life.
Within about a week of his funeral, DWP wrote to Michael’s widow to admit that he had been entitled to both benefits after all – including the enhanced levels of both daily living and mobility on PIP – and telling her she would receive £7,000 in backpayments.
Adam sent letters raising concerns about his brother’s case to DWP – telling the department that the decisions it made had “played a significant part in my brother’s taking his own life” – and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, but received no reply to either of them.
It is the first time the family have spoken to the media since Michael’s death in February 2015.
The Jodey Whiting petition calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.
It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.
By this morning, the petition had secured more than 25,000 signatures in less than three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 it should be debated by MPs in the House of Commons.
Adam said he supported the petition and believed DWP was not fit for purpose “without a shadow of a doubt”.
He said an inquiry was “not going to bring Michael back but it can make it better for other people”.
He said he came forward because he wanted to speak out about his brother, who he says was “another person let down by the broken benefit system”.
Adam, who is also disabled himself and previously set up a disability support organisation in their home town, said: “They took his benefits away. He got nothing, he was destitute. They didn’t tell him where he could go, where there were any support agencies.
“I filled in his ESA form and I told them that he was depressed and suicidal. They knew that.”
He and Michael served in the army together.
Adam said: “It’s now four years gone by but it’s as if it was yesterday. I miss him every day. He was my soulmate.”
Michael’s family have now become the eighth to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which is also backed by the grassroots groups Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.
A DWP spokesperson refused to apologise for the department’s failings in the case, or to explain why DWP changed its mind about Michael’s eligibility for ESA and PIP so soon after his death.
She also refused to say why DWP and Duncan Smith failed to respond to Adam’s two letters after his brother died, and whether DWP accepted Adam’s view that its failings played a significant part in his brother’s death.
But she said in a statement: “The department has received a petition relating to benefit claimants who have sadly died, and will respond to this shortly so we can’t pre-empt that.
“Obviously any suicide is a very complex and tragic issue, and we can’t attribute any specific one cause to [Michael’s] case.
“Our sympathies are with [his] family.
“We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and we keep our safeguarding guidance under constant review to ensure we provide the highest standard of protection.
“Where any failings on specific cases have been identified, we have addressed these to ensure they are not repeated.”
*Names have been changed at his widow’s request
To sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
4 April 2019
The number of disabled people living in poverty has risen by 200,00 in just one year, government figures have revealed.
The new figures [summary results, tables 7a and 7b], published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), show levels of absolute poverty rose between 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the figures meant another 200,000 disabled people living “terrible, degrading, miserable, half-lives”.
The figures are likely to be influenced by continuing government attempts to cut spending on disability benefits, including policies such as the benefits freeze and cuts to payments to new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).
The WRAG cuts of nearly £30 a week were introduced in April 2017, with ministers trying to justify them by claiming they would “incentivise” sick and disabled people to find work.
The new poverty figures are part of the annual Households Below Average Income report, which was published last Thursday (28 April).
They also show that as many as 600,000 more disabled people are now in absolute poverty, compared with 2010, when the Tory-led coalition government came to power.
Media attention focused on a rise in child poverty, but the report also shows increased levels of absolute poverty – the government’s preferred measure – affecting disabled people.
Households are said to be in absolute poverty if their income is less than 60 per cent of average (median) income in 2010-11, adjusted for inflation.
Before housing costs are taken into account, the proportion of individuals living in households including a disabled person who were in absolute poverty rose from 16 per cent to 18 per cent, between 2016-17 and 2017-18.
And the number of disabled people living in absolute poverty – before housing costs – rose from 3.6 to 3.8 million.
Once housing costs have been accounted for, the proportion of individuals living in households including a disabled person who were in absolute poverty also rose, from 22 to 23 per cent.
And the number of disabled people living in absolute poverty – after housing costs – rose from 4.9 million to 5 million, an increase of 100,000.
Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Wealthy people running the government think poverty means not having much money.
“They don’t understand poverty, it doesn’t just mean little money; it means bleakness, fear, misery, hopelessness, day in day out, no rest and no remission, stretching into a degrading future.
“It means hunger, it means cold in winter, it means worsening mental health, it means bad living condition and fear of being on the streets.
“And for some people it means death by suicide, starvation or other easily preventable causes. 200,000 more disabled people in poverty isn’t just a number.
“Five million disabled people in absolute poverty is five million individual human beings living terrible, degrading, miserable, half-lives. A living nightmare.”
Michelle Maher, from the WOWcampaign, said the figure of 200,000 more disabled people in absolute poverty was “no surprise to campaigners who recognise the multiple cuts disabled people face”, including the bedroom tax, and cuts to housing benefit and council tax support, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, cuts to employment and support allowance, and the impact of the benefits freeze and the benefit cap.
She said WOWcampaign had been fighting for seven years “to get the government to assess the impact of all disability cuts” and to demonstrate a duty of care to disabled children and adults across the UK and to “make sure disabled people are not driven into poverty”.
She said: “They refuse, as they know the figure would emerge that disabled families could use to fight for support, and shock the public.
“I absolutely cannot comprehend the inhumanity and cruelty shown to our fellow citizens.”
She predicted that the roll-out of universal credit would make the number of disabled people in absolute poverty “far, far worse”.
A DWP spokesperson refused to say if work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd accepted that the increase in disabled people in poverty was caused by continuing government attempts to cut spending on disability benefits, or explain what other factors may have caused the rise.
But she said in a statement: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government, and we take these numbers extremely seriously.
“Absolute poverty rates for people in a family reporting a disability are lower than in 2010, and we are spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before.
“We are looking at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances.”
Although DWP is correct that the proportions of households in absolutely poverty are slightly lower (by one percentage point) than in 2009-10, the numbers of disabled people in absolute poverty have increased by 300,000 (before housing costs) and 600,000 (after housing costs) between 2009-10 and 2017-18.
4 April 2019
One of the country’s best-known and most-respected disabled campaigners has pledged to devote the last months of his life to trying to save the independent living movement.
John Evans was speaking at an event held to celebrate his contribution to the movement over the last 40 years, following his diagnosis with terminal cancer.
It took place as disabled campaigners reacted furiously to revelations that disabled people are to be forced into residential homes against their will by Tory-run Barnet council’s new cost-cutting adult social care policy.
The council wants to save more than £400,000 in 2019-20 by creating more “cost effective support plans”, such as using residential care rather than funding support packages that allow disabled people to live in their own homes.
Evans spoke at the event in central London of the attack on independent living over the last decade, under successive Tory-led governments, including its closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015, and told guests: “Ever since, through all the austerity years… it has made it far more difficult for people to live independently.
“At this point in my life, looking back, we don’t want to lose all those gains we made.”
He added: “The most important thing is not to let it die, not to let it go.”
He said the work that he and others began in the late 1970s “has to continue”.
“I will do all I can do in the next year or so, however long I will still be around, to try and ensure that that will be the case.
“It is not going to be easy but we have to do it, to enable disabled people to continue to have choice and control.”
He said that he and fellow disabled campaigners first thought of “choice and control” as one of the basic principles of independent living in 1979.
He said: “What we were talking about was personal and social liberation of disabled people in this country and their quality of lives.
“After I got my diagnosis, the main thing I thought about was to maintain my quality of life regardless and to continue the spirit of independent living on this new day-to-day journey that I have.
“That’s why I remember to try to stay positive and try to stay upbeat and move in the right direction and everything I have worked for in terms of independent living in the past I have continued to do, almost with my own life now.
“It is something that does have that depth of meaning and strength and can keep people going.
“The solidarity we have achieved together is really, really strong.”
He said that one of the “saviours” of independent living in the age of austerity was the rise of co-production, which he said was “a way that we can enable it to survive, by working together with local authorities and CCGs [NHS clinical commissioning groups], and CCGs in particular need to do a lot more work to keep it going”.
The event was taking place 40 years after he and fellow residents of a Leonard Cheshire care home in Hampshire launched Project 81, which was aimed at securing their escape into their own homes by 1981, the UN international year of disabled people.
He spoke about their struggle to secure that escape into their own homes with council-funded personal assistance, which in the end they achieved in 1982 and 1983, and which helped pave the way for the introduction of direct payments.
He also spoke about his own life before he became disabled at the age of 25, when he had travelled widely and helped set up an ultimately unsuccessful “peace café” in the Middle East.
And he spoke of his work promoting the independent living movement across Europe through the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), of which he was president for 10 years, “making speeches and running workshops and trying to inspire independent living projects in those countries”.
Evans told the event of the importance of the Disability Discrimination Act and the Direct Payments Act, both brought in under earlier Conservative governments, and Labour’s subsequent Life Chances report, “probably one of the most significant documents that has come out of government”.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a friend since the early 1980s, when they met at an early British Council of Disabled People event – she remembered how he had invited her to attend a workshop on independent living he was giving – told the event: “John for me and independent living for me is about our ultimate freedom to obtain our rights.
“If you don’t have independent living, you can have all the accessible buses and shops… and airports in the world, but if you can’t get out of bed and can’t choose the person who is going to look at you naked in the bath in the morning then you have no rights.”
She said Evans had helped her become an “independent living freedom fighter”.
She said: “That’s how I see myself, just carrying out the work that John told me about when I was 22; and next month I am going to be 60.”
Another leading disabled activist to pay tribute to Evans was Miro Griffiths, who sent a recorded video message.
He said Evans had shown “such clarity and understanding of the complex issues surrounding disabled people’s marginalisation and provided a real image and vision of what it is we are trying to achieve through our activism, through our negotiating with key figures, through our campaigns and through the academic work that surrounds… disabled people’s oppression in society”.
He said: “You’re one of the people I think about a lot when I am considering different ideas associated with disability rights or different ideas associated with independent living or the ideas around personal assistance… I think, ‘What would John think about this issue?’”
He said it was “fantastic” that such an event was taking place to celebrate his contribution, and the independent living movement, “and what it has been able to achieve because of your work”.
Evans said afterwards that the role of younger disabled people like Griffiths would be vital in taking on the fight for independent living.
He said: “The future is really in their hands long-term.”
He said he had been inspired by a video message from an ENIL meeting, which showed how many young disabled people were now campaigning for independent living, following ENIL’s efforts over many years to establish a Europe-wide youth network.
The event took place as the latest group of senior health and social care managers completed the Leadership for Empowered and Healthy Communities programme.
The programme aims to support these managers to have the skills and confidence to support and work in co-production with communities to improve the health and wellbeing of their local population.
Evans helped set up the programme and has been a facilitator since it started.
4 April 2019
Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has dispelled any doubts about Labour’s support for the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, making it clear that she backs every one of its demands.
Marsha de Cordova said this week that she backs everything the petition calls for, including an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants to be passed to the police.
The petition has now been signed by more than 25,000 people in less than three weeks. If the petition secures 100,000 signatures it should be debated in the House of Commons.
The need for evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police is a key demand of the petition, following years of evidence that the actions of senior DWP figures, including ministers, have been clearly linked to the deaths of disabled people.
The call for a police investigation has been strongly backed by the eight families who have supported the petition.
De Cordova, who has been prominent this week in highlighting the government’s continuing failure to appoint a new minister for disabled people following the resignation of Sarah Newton, said: “I support each of the demands of this petition.
“There is an urgent need for an independent inquiry into these deaths and I will write to the minister asking for one. It is not enough for the department to be its own judge and jury.
“The DWP is not fit for purpose and has failed disabled people with tragic consequences. Their families and friends deserve answers.
“It is shameful that the DWP continues to ignore the impact that its policies are having.
“The government must immediately scrap the cruel and callous assessment framework for ESA and PIP and punitive sanctions regime, which has created a hostile environment for disabled people.”
The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.
DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found in February.
Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress, had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill. She took her own life just 15 days later.
There has also been strong support for the petition this week from Disability Labour, which represents disabled members of the party.
Fran Springfield, its co-chair, said Disability Labour supported all four of the petition’s demands.
She said: “The way the DWP treats disabled claimants is to disbelieve us, lie and use bad language about us on forms and fail to take notice when we report feeling suicidal.
“Yes, the DWP is institutionally disablist and it has not been fit for purpose since Iain Duncan Smith’s time as DWP secretary.
“We totally support the need for urgent action on safety. There should be an inquiry and if that shows misconduct or misfeasance in public office, the law must take its course.”
Wayne Blackburn, her fellow co-chair, pointed to DWP’s “appalling record” on how it treats its own staff.
He highlighted a DNS report last year which revealed that the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period, which he said was “utterly disgraceful”.
Springfield added: “Disability Labour believes that the most important result of [an inquiry] should be that legislation and systems are put in place to ensure that deaths such as Jodey’s never happen again.
“The DWP in its current state is clearly no longer fit for purpose. It must be radically reformed.”
To sign the petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
4 April 2019
The government has revealed the 73 rail stations that will benefit from major improvements under its Access for All accessibility programme over the next five years.
The Department for Transport (DfT) also confirmed the announcement made in last July’s Inclusive Transport Strategy that it would spend £300 million on improvements such as lifts and footbridges between 2019-20 and the end of March 2024.
Each of the 73 stations – subject to a “feasible design being possible” – will see “an accessible route into the station, as well as to and between every platform”.
The stations were selected following nominations from the rail industry, and based on criteria including the number of disabled people in the area, value for money, and proximity to a hospital.
They were also chosen to represent a “fair geographical spread” across England, Scotland and Wales, with the preferences of train operating companies taken into account.
Access for All work is already ongoing at another 24 stations.
In addition to the major work at the 73 stations, £20 million of the funding will be used to re-launch the Mid-Tier Access for All programme, which will focus on stations where access improvements can be delivered for between £250,000 and £1 million.
DfT will seek nominations for which stations should receive this funding.
The announcement of which stations will benefit from Access for All funding in the next five years was welcomed by Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London.
Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “We know that access to public transport is vital for improving eveybody’s life chances.
“This is particularly true for disabled and older people.
“This significant investment is warmly welcomed and will undoubtedly make a positive contribution to improving access to our railways.
“Government figures show that for every pound invested in rail improvements there is a return of £6, so it’s not just the right thing to do but it makes economic sense too.
“However, it remains that four in five of our stations on the largely Victorian infrastructure still do not have step free access, including some major landmarks such as Luton.
“This has to change and as rapidly as possible.
“We also know that previous awards under the Access for All programme have been deferred or delayed when the purse strings have been tightened.
“We will be watching very closely to see that this pattern of behaviour is not repeated.”
The funding was also welcomed by transport access campaigner Doug Paulley.
He said: “I welcome improvements of accessibility of railway infrastructure: the accessibility problems caused by the legacy non-standard station design as a result of having the oldest railway in the world limit disabled people’s independent transport to a massive and unacceptable extent.
“I hope that this set of Access for All funding doesn’t suffer the same uncertainty, cuts and delays as the last lot; also, that where possible there will be step free access from the station entrance to the train, not just to the platform.”
But he also said that any improvements to physical access would only benefit disabled people if the “human services surrounding them are sufficient”.
He said the Office of Rail and Road had pointed to significant inaccuracies in public information about the accessibility of stations, for example with access improvement at Hexham and Hebden Bridge stations, which had not initially been noted by National Rail Enquiries.
Paulley added: “It is also sad that current industry drives to remove the guaranteed presence of guards on trains may well make otherwise accessible stations inaccessible to a lot of disabled people, which undermines physical improvements such as these.”
Official documents revealed last summer that the government had repeatedly ignored concerns raised by its own accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), about the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running trains without a member of customer service staff on board.
Last July’s announcement that the government would spend £300 million over five years followed years of funding cuts to Access for All, originally introduced by a Labour government in 2006.
Disability News Service secured figures last July through a freedom of information request that showed that spending on Access for All fell from as much as £81.1 million in 2013-14 to just £14.6 million in 2017-18.
Spending in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, was £53.9 million, with £41.2 million in 2010-11, £50.7 million in 2011-12, £39.7 million in 2012-13, and £81.1 million in 2013-14.
But spending then plunged over the next four years – in the first five-year planning period to begin under the coalition – with just £22.9 million in 2014-15, £24.6 million in 2015-16, £32.1 million in 2016-17 and only £14.6 million in 2017-18.
Although it is not yet clear how much was spent in 2018-19, the government is now planning to spend £300 million over the next five years on Access for All, including £50 million that had been deferred from the last five years.
Keith Richards, chair of DPTAC, welcomed the funding announcement.
He said: “The Access for All programme has already delivered significant improvements in access to rail travel for disabled people over the last 13 years. It’s crucial to continually build on that.
“The announcement is very welcome and must go hand-in-hand with clear and practical information to ensure that disabled people are aware of what improvements have been made, and that more travel options are now possible as a result.
“We are working with the government to deliver a commitment to accelerate improvements, to target the funding effectively, and to monitor and assess outcomes.”
Nusrat Ghani, the transport accessibility minister, said: “We want the 13.9 million disabled people in Britain to be empowered to travel independently, which is why I am delighted to announce this roll out of upgrades across the rail network.
“Over the next five years these newly accessible stations will open up routes across the country, helping us move closer to a transport sector that is truly accessible.”
4 April 2019
Protesters have warned the National Autistic Society (NAS) that it needs to listen to the voices of autistic people or face being “sidelined”, in the wake of the Mendip House abuse scandal.
Representatives of three autistic rights organisations were protesting outside the charity’s London headquarters about its failure to act on the regime of abuse that took place at the Somerset care home.
They said the scandal was a “wake up call” for NAS.
Protesters warned the charity that the autistic rights movement was growing ever stronger and that NAS must do more to listen to their voices.
Two families of autistic people who were abused at Mendip House in Brent Knoll, Somerset, were also at Friday’s protest, and provided Disability News Service (DNS) with further evidence of how the charity had failed their relatives.
The families were highly critical of NAS, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the police for their failure to stop the abusive regime earlier, and to provide justice for their autistic relatives.
Among those protesting was Joseph Radford, a member of the organising group of Neurodivergent Labour, which launched in February.
He said his message to NAS was that “autistic people are not going to take this anymore”.
He added: “We are organised. There are more of us. We are not going to be fobbed off.
“We are a growing movement. We are speaking with a clearer voice.
“You can’t keep sweeping stuff under the carpet anymore because if you do there will be push back.
“Either listen to our voices or end up sidelined yourselves.”
He said the failure to punish the perpetrators of the abuse “just shows how autistic people are not listened to in society” and are judged only on their ability to communicate.
He said: “If we can’t communicate, we are ignored, not listened to, and abuse is overlooked.”
Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of Autistic Inclusive Meets, who organised the protest, said: “The NAS by and large is recognised by the autistic community as being for parents and children.
“In order to move forward from this, I believe autistic people need to become more involved.
“They also need to start supporting the hordes of adults out of work who need an advocate.”
Dalmayne called for a “proper inquiry” into what happened at Mendip House.
And she said NAS should offer compensation to the former residents of Mendip House who were abused, and that it was “appalling” that none had been offered so far.
She said: “Money cannot erase the memories or degradation. It can however go towards future care and necessities for the residents and their families.”
Julian Morgan, an AIM director and a committee member of Autistic UK, said: “NAS are saying they want to move forward from this but part of moving forward is changing your culture.
“We have seen no sign that there is any intention to change their culture.
“They don’t work with autistic advocates, they don’t work with autistic groups, they don’t support them.”
He said the charity had not admitted that anything happened at Mendip House until it was forced to do so.
Morgan said their concerns were not about many of the people who worked for NAS, who were “hard-working and conscientious and care about what they do”, but senior executives in “what has become a rather bloated organisation”.
He said NAS had been concerned only with its image after it found out about the abuse at Mendip House, which he said was “objectionable and abhorrent”.
And he called for senior executives responsible for failing to stop the abuse to be “stripped out” of the charity.
Rebecca*, the mother of one of the former residents of Mendip House, said NAS had downplayed the seriousness of the abuse at the homes when she and her husband were first told about it in the summer of 2016.
She told DNS: “We were told it wasn’t serious, it wasn’t sexual, it wasn’t physical and it had been dealt with and people had been suspended.”
It wasn’t until they saw the safeguarding adults review in January 2018 that they realised the seriousness of what had happened, she said.
The report detailed how staff had thrown cake at service-users and taunted them with food, while one resident was sent to his room because he refused to eat an onion, another was made to crawl on the floor on all fours, medication went missing, and one resident was said to be “known to flinch in the presence of particular employees”.
Newspaper reports also suggest that one resident was “slapped, forced to eat chillies and repeatedly thrown into a swimming pool”.
CQC decided earlier this month not to prosecute the charity, and instead fined it just £4,000 for financial abuse by staff, despite the regime of “taunting, mistreatment and humiliation of residents”.
Rebecca said she was angry that the perpetrators of the abuse had avoided prosecution and had been able to “move on with their lives”.
And she said the way the charity had dealt with the abuse had been “shocking”.
She said: “I am still so angry. They absolutely failed our kids. We have had, ‘We are really sorry,’ but sorry comes cheap.”
Her daughter was a resident at Mendip House for 22 years, until she left after the abuse was uncovered.
Rebecca said there were concerns about safety standards in the home “right from the beginning” because her daughter has been injured several times by a “challenging” fellow resident, on one occasion having to be admitted to hospital.
She said: “We weren’t told about it until he had hurt her three times.”
One of the things she and her husband want to see for disabled people in care who do not have capacity to make their own decisions is the installation of CCTV cameras in communal areas of such homes.
Rebecca’s husband said he believed NAS had taken in residents with challenging behaviour alongside others like his daughter who were vulnerable in such situations because it allowed them to charge more money.
He said: “A person like [my daughter] should be entitled to be not afraid of the people they are living with.”
Rebecca said: “It was a whole system failure. Everybody has failed us: the CQC, the police, the commissioners who paid for it, and mostly the NAS.”
Sarah*, whose brother was a resident of Mendip House for more than 40 years, said she too had been told by the charity in the summer of 2016 that the concerns were just over “laddish” behaviour and “horseplay and high jinks” by young male members of staff.
But she later found out that her brother had “gone through this terrible ordeal”.
She was told the abuse only took place over a year-and-a-half, but she believes he was being abused for far longer than that.
She said: “I am looking back through those years when he said, ‘I don’t want to go back to Somerset Court [Mendip House was one of seven NAS facilities on the Somerset Court site].’
“He would get so depressed that he had to go back to Somerset Court. It got worse and worse, particularly in the last six years.”
She said her brother was much happier now in his new home.
Sarah has spoken to one whistle-blower who says she was sacked and threatened after she raised concerns about the abusive regime at Mendip House.
She said: “What is not right is it just being swept under the carpet. For me, the whistle-blowers and the abusers are being treated the same – they all lost their jobs.”
She also wants to see CCTV cameras installed in such homes in the future, as well as “transparency” from service-providers like NAS.
NAS repeated its apologies for the abuse at Mendip House, and said it was “shocked to hear that families believe there was abuse before 2014, as this is not something that has come up in previous investigations.
“We hope that they will raise it with us in our subsequent correspondence so we can investigate.
“They should, of course, also still report this to the CQC so that it can be investigated.”
A spokesperson said NAS was “profoundly sorry for the abuse and poor practice” at Mendip House.
He said: “We listen to the voices of autistic people and always make sure that our work is informed by the experiences of autistic people and their families.
“And we’re always open to ideas about how we can do this more or better.”
He said autistic people work at the charity, shape its campaigns and training material and co-present at its training and conferences, while the autistic people it supports are “absolutely central in planning their own care and support”.
He said NAS would work with any further inquiries that were launched, and would respond to any concerns from families, including on possible compensation.
The spokesperson said that NAS had taken “immediate action” once it became aware at a national level of what had happened at Mendip House in 2016, disciplining and dismissing staff and then introducing “a range of other changes to try and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again”.
He said: “We believe we had and have the right people in place to implement these changes and that any resignations would not have helped the situation.
“If it ever becomes apparent that we don’t have the right staff in place – at any level – then we will of course replace them with people who can continue to improve our services.”
He said that the decision of Mark Lever, NAS’s chief executive, to leave the charity “does not have anything to do with the abuse at Mendip House”.
And he said NAS was “very sorry to hear that two of the families feel that we misled them” about the scale of the abuse in June 2016, and added: “At the time of this meeting we did not know all the details and were also limited in what we could say because there was an ongoing police investigation.”
He also said it was “not true” that NAS had taken in residents with challenging behaviour alongside those who would be vulnerable living alongside them so it could charge more money “as each and every placement in our services has to be based on someone’s needs and also compatibility with the other people in the service”.
On the issue of CCTV cameras in communal areas, he said: “It’s obviously a complicated issue, given that we’re talking about people’s homes.
“However, we recognise that this is something that all care providers need to think about and we are exploring how this could work while protecting people’s right to privacy.”
He said any such decision “must be made in consultation with the people who use… services, their families, carers and staff”.
He also denied that any member of staff at Mendip House was sacked for being a whistleblower, which he said was “not something that we would do”.
*Not their real names
4 April 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com