‘Cruel and inept’ police locked up autistic man after he was attacked in hate crime

A young autistic man was arrested and held in a police cell for nine hours without medical treatment after he was the victim of a vicious disability hate crime in a local park.

Daniel Smith was only finally able to clear his name last week after a six-month ordeal which saw him dragged through the criminal justice system.

His family have now launched complaints against both Northamptonshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Smith was enjoying a weekend visit to his family in Rushden, Northamptonshire, from his assisted living placement in Devon when he was set upon by a stranger and punched in the face and body.

The attack last October appears to have been the result of some innocent remarks he made to a couple of teenage girls, one of whom had been taking pictures of him.

One of the teenagers called her father, who arrived at the park because he wanted, he admitted to police later, to “sort him out for being weird” after being told – wrongly – that Smith was taking pictures of children in the park.

Smith, who is 26, was left blooded and bruised and as he was making his way to report the assault to police, he was picked up by officers and arrested just yards from the station.

He twice told Northamptonshire police that he was autistic, once when he was arrested and later after he had been placed in custody, but his family say it was “completely ignored” by officers.

He apparently spent nine hours in a police cell, without medical treatment for his injuries, even though he told officers he had just been defending himself against “the bullies”, while they made no attempt to contact his family to tell them where he was.

They also ignored the photographs he had taken of the two local men who were responsible for the attack, and failed to notice that there were no photographs of children on his phone, say his family.

The case has disturbing echoes of the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, a disabled man from Bristol, who was murdered in 2013, again following claims that he had been taking photographs of local children.

When Ebrahimi asked the police for help to protect him from the man who went on to murder him, he was himself arrested.

There are many notorious cases in which disabled people have been wrongly labelled as paedophiles, before being subjected to vicious beatings and sometimes even killed.

Smith was charged with two counts of assault by beating, but was only cleared by Corby magistrates of the offences last week, after they accepted that he had been acting in self-defence.

His family have lodged a complaint, which is now – following the end of the court case – being examined by the professional standards department of Northamptonshire police.

CPS is also investigating a complaint from the family.

Daniel’s father Owen described the police’s behaviour as “archaic, bullying, cruel, unintelligent and inept”.

He said his son had required help from his family every day since the attack, and had experienced “meltdowns, illnesses, screaming and vomiting”.

He said he now had a son who was “scared to visit me because he is petrified of his attackers; a son who will never trust a policeman again; a son who will never go to a park again; a son who is still suicidal and is receiving psychological counselling”.

He said: “Our main concern is that this was either missed by multiple officers through incompetence or laziness, or it was simply ignored because they didn’t like the look of my disabled son, judging him on face value.”

He added: “I despise our system for punishing my son this way. He’s suffered brutal psychological punishment from the police for doing absolutely nothing wrong.”

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “While we haven’t got the full detailed report of the case, the fact is that once again a police force has shown itself to have fallen well short of acceptable standards in dealing with disabled people.

“The fact that a few police officers appear to have ignored Smith telling them he was autistic is nothing less than scandalous particularly when we have seen far too many cases in which disabled people have been unjustly accused of being the criminal before being subjected to vicious beatings.

“In this case, his being inappropriately held in cells without family contact needs full investigation.

“We are also equally concerned at the fact that the CPS, who are generally doing a lot of good work in setting better standards for dealing with disabled people in the criminal justice system, seem to have completely failed to ask the right questions.”

He said CPS also appeared to have failed to realise that Smith had himself been the victim of a disability hate crime, and added: “We will be taking this element of the case up with our contacts at a high level within the CPS to find out exactly what went wrong.”

A spokeswoman for Northamptonshire police said: “We can confirm that a complaint has been received by the professional standards department.

“This is now a live investigation, and as such it would be inappropriate to discuss further details about the case at this stage.”

A CPS spokeswoman confirmed the complaint had been made, and said: “The CPS carefully reviewed this case and decided there was sufficient evidence to bring the case to court, to allow a court to determine whether an assault took place and whether the defendant was culpable.

“It is not for the CPS to determine the guilt or innocence of a suspect, but to bring cases to court which meet the code for crown prosecutors.

“All cases are kept under constant review as they progress through the criminal justice system.”

Meanwhile, Avon and Somerset police have sacked two police officers after completing the misconduct hearings that followed Bijan Ebrahimi’s murder.

PC Leanne Winter and PC Helen Harris were dismissed without notice.

In February, two other members of police staff, police constable Kevin Duffy and community support officer Andrew Passmore, were jailed – and sacked – after being convicted of misconduct in public office.

Four more officers and police staff have been given final written warnings, although two are appealing, while two police sergeants have been given “performance advice”, two police staff have been handed verbal warnings, and two given “management advice”.

Now the force’s misconduct hearings have ended, IPCC will publish two reports, one covering the events that took place in the weekend leading up to Ebrahimi’s murder in July 2013, and another examining “dozens” of contacts he had with the force over the preceding six years.

IPCC said it intended to publish the reports “in the near future”.

5 May 2016

 

 

‘Appallingly bad’ software may cause lost PIP letters, says whistleblower

Vital letters that tell disabled people they have to transfer to the government’s new disability benefit are being lost in the system, leading to them losing financial support for months on end, according to a whistleblower.

Rebecca*, who has asked to remain anonymous, works for Serco, the company paid by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to run the helpline that deals with all new claims for personal independence payment (PIP).

Rebecca has told Disability News Service (DNS) that she believes the missing letters are probably the result of the “appallingly bad” PIP CS software designed for DWP by another private sector outsourcing giant, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (motto: Tomorrow Belongs to the Fast).

Her evidence backs up the testimony of Patricia Sadowski, a single mother with six-year-old twins, who told DNS last week how DWP stripped her of her disability living allowance (DLA) – which she had been granted through a lifetime award – after missing the deadline to apply for PIP.

DWP has told Sadowski that it sent her a letter last November, telling her she had just 28 days to make a PIP claim, and then another letter six weeks later, three days before Christmas, to remind her that if she did not put in a PIP claim her DLA would be terminated.

She says she did not receive either of the letters. Her DLA was then stopped when she failed to submit a claim for PIP.

Rebecca said her experiences on the PIP helpline back up Sadowski’s claim that she did not receive the letters.

She said: “Applicants often complain after being sent reminders that they didn’t get the original letter telling them to apply for PIP.

“Others don’t even get the reminder, and only learn that they need to take action when their DLA payments suddenly stop.

“A cynic might suggest that this is part of a systematic scheme to reduce the number of claimants, but it’s just as likely to be down to incompetence, for the computer software used by the DWP is a disgrace.”

She added: “Up until around two months ago, complaints about circulars not being received were routine.”

She said the situation “seems to have improved since then”, but she said she feared the problems could soon re-emerge, because several thousand letters were due to be sent out this week, telling existing DLA claimants that they have to apply for the new PIP.

PIP, which is gradually replacing working-age DLA, has been mired in controversy, delays and backlogs ever since its launch in April 2013.

And in February, new DWP figures revealed that only two-thirds (68 per cent) of PIP claimants were satisfied with the service they received from DWP, compared with an average of 82 per cent across all 10 benefits surveyed.

Rebecca said the software designed by Hewlett Packard – part of an IT contract with DWP reportedly worth half a billion pounds a year – is so poor that at least once a month Serco staff are unable to process claims coming through on the helpline and have to tell callers to ring again, because of problems with the computer system.

At one point late last year, the system was down for an entire day, meaning staff on the helpline were unable to process around 4,000 calls to the helpline.

Last month, another serious fault with the system meant that it was down for half a day.

Rebecca said software flaws mean that even after a disabled person – either someone trying to transfer to PIP from old-style DLA, or someone who has not previously claimed either benefit – has contacted the helpline to make a new PIP claim, the system could fail to send them the PIP2 application form they needed to fill out.

This can happen if bank details are not typed in capital letters, if address lines are too long, if there is more than one space in a telephone number, or if there are commas in an address.

Rebecca said: “If the operator doesn’t notice the submission has failed (and it’s very easy to miss) the claim stays on the system indefinitely, or until the claimant rings up enquiring about the missing PIP2 form.

“By this time of course, your claim for PIP may have run out of time, which means it will be disallowed.”

She added: “Looking at PIP CS, one imagines it was written by junior staff, or developers who are not very good, or simply don’t care about the quality of the product.

“So-called enhancements invariably break other parts of the system, leading to a great deal of time-consuming manual work.”

Serco has confirmed to Disability News Service that there have been occasions when its staff have been unable to use the PIP computer system and so cannot process PIP claims and have had to ask callers to ring again at another time.

Despite this confirmation from Serco, a spokesman for Hewlett Packard Enterprise said: “Hewlett Packard Enterprise does not recognise these allegations.

“We have a long history of providing quality IT products and services to our UK government customers: we always work closely with our clients to ensure that the services we provide support their policy requirements and respond quickly to any incidents raised.”

DWP also insisted that there were no problems with the PIP computer system and that it was “working as it should”.

When the Serco statement was forwarded to the DWP press office, a DWP spokesman said there was no need to change its own statement, but added: “Like all systems, at times there may be delays due to maintenance upgrades or other issues, the causes of which are identified and resolved as quickly as possible.

“As Serco points out, the delays in this case have not affected the ability for claimants to call in, and all of those claims were processed as soon as the systems came back online.”

He said that staff training includes “clear instructions” on how to “record information in a specific format”.

He said: “When taking a PIP claim, staff are required to check whether each claim has been successfully submitted.

“They do this using the PIP computer system and the requirement to do this for every claim is covered in training. There is also a clear process for resolving any issues.

“Once a PIP claim has been made, the claimant is advised to contact DWP if they have not heard anything after three weeks.

“DWP also receives daily reports from the system administrator on any failed notifications. These are marked as requiring further action by DWP’s operations team.”

The DWP spokesman added: “Our mailing system clearly shows if a letter has not been issued due to a processing error.

“After checking the system, we can confirm that a letter inviting [Patricia Sadowski] to apply for PIP was issued on 13/11/2015.

“A reminder letter was issued on 28/11/2015 as there was no response to the initial letter.”

*Not her real name

5 May 2016

 

 

Scottish police assessing possible investigation into IDS and Grayling

Scottish police are assessing whether to launch a criminal investigation into the failure of two government ministers to address a coroner’s concerns about the safety of the “fitness for work” test, a failure which may have caused “countless deaths”.

Disabled activist John McArdle, co-founder of the user-led campaign network Black Triangle, lodged a complaint with police in Edinburgh last month about the actions of former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and former employment minister Chris Grayling.

McArdle believes the two Conservative politicians are guilty of the Scottish criminal offence of wilful neglect of duty by a public official, because they failed to take steps to improve the work capability assessment (WCA) in 2010 after being warned by a coroner that its flaws risked causing future deaths.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Police in Edinburgh received a report of misconduct in public office on 23 March 2016.

“The individual who made the complaint has been spoken to and we are awaiting further information to assess this matter and establish what actions are required.”

McArdle’s MP, the SNP’s Tommy Sheppard, has written to the chief constable of Police Scotland, Phil Gormley, asking to be “kept informed of progress”.

Both Duncan Smith and Grayling have refused to comment.

The claims concern their refusal to act on concerns raised by a coroner following the suicide of Stephen Carré in January 2010.

When they were appointed in May 2010, Duncan Smith and Grayling assumed responsibility for responding to a letter written by coroner Tom Osborne, who carried out the inquest into Carré’s death, and had serious concerns about the safety of the WCA.

Osborne had asked the Labour work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper – who never saw the letter, as the general election was called just days after it arrived – to review the policy not to seek medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if someone applying for out-of-work disability benefits had a mental health condition.

But Duncan Smith and Grayling appear to have dismissed the letter, and failed to show it to Professor Malcolm Harrington, the independent expert they appointed to review the WCA, while also deciding to roll out the test to hundreds of thousands of long-term claimants of incapacity benefit, many of whom had mental health conditions.

Many campaigners, including Black Triangle, believe that the decision of Duncan Smith and Grayling to ignore Osborne’s letter led to countless other deaths.

McArdle has handed Police Scotland details of three people who died in the years after Osborne sent his letter to the Department for Work and Pensions, deaths he believes could have been prevented if the two ministers had acted on the coroner’s warning.

In December 2011, a long-term incapacity benefit claimant – Ms D E – killed herself after being told she was not eligible for ESA; her case was linked by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland to the failure to obtain further medical evidence.

Another alleged victim of the failure to act on Osborne’s warning was David Barr, who died in August 2012 after being found fit for work and having his ESA withdrawn.

An Atos assessor had concluded that although Barr had attempted to take his own life six weeks before his WCA, he was still “not at substantial risk”.

The third case concerns the death of Paul Donnachie, who took his own life late last year after his ESA was mistakenly stopped when he failed to attend a WCA.

The call for a criminal investigation into the actions of Duncan Smith and Grayling has been backed by many of the country’s leading disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations, including Inclusion London, Disabled People Against Cuts, Equal Lives, WOWcampaign, Professor Peter Beresford, the Mental Health Resistance Network, Pat’s Petition, and the Cross Border Alliance.

Meanwhile, a disabled constituent of Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams, has heavily criticised her for failing to speak out about Duncan Smith’s failure to act on the coroner’s letter.

Shaun McGrath, from Oldham, wrote to Abrahams after Disability News Service (DNS) reported how she had refused to criticise – or even comment on – the failure of Duncan Smith to respond to the letter, despite being shown clear evidence that he had failed to do so.

DNS first asked Abrahams to comment on Duncan Smith’s failings last November, but apart from expressing sympathy with “Stephen Carré’s family and friends” and calling for improvements to the WCA, she refused to say anything about Duncan Smith’s role in the scandal.

Abrahams told McGrath that she had responded to DNS but that her comments were not used, but omitted to mention that she had refused to answer the question that had been put to her about Iain Duncan Smith.

When McGrath complained about her response, she told him she had “nothing further to add”, other than calling again for the WCA and other assessment to be “completely overhauled”.

McGrath said: “There was no sense of my complaint being taken seriously or that Debbie Abrahams understood and appreciated or even cared about what I was asking her to respond to.

“Her refusal to answer any of the questions I put to her has destroyed what faith I had in Debbie Abrahams as my constituency MP.

“I honestly don’t think I could ever contact her again, such is the negative impression she’s left me with.”

Abrahams has now told DNS that she will be asking DWP to investigate how the coroner’s letter “could have slipped through the department’s net”.

But she refused yet again this week to comment on Duncan Smith’s failure to act or the calls for him to face a criminal investigation.

Abrahams said: “I have concerns about the Stephen Carré case, which is why I raised the issue face to face with Priti Patel in a Westminster Hall debate, on 9 February, asking her to look into the case.

“This resulted in a response from her confirming that a draft letter to the coroner, Tom Osborne, due to be sent in September 2010, had been found but the DWP could not confirm that it had ever been sent.

“In the light of this I will be asking for an investigation into how the correspondence could have slipped through the department’s net.

“As I have done for many years now, both as a member of the work and pensions select committee and as shadow minister for disabled people, I will continue to hold the government to account for the shortcomings of the work capability assessment and PIP processes and keep campaigning for ministers to implement a new, fairer system.”

5 May 2016

 

 

Campaigners call on minister to reject rail access funding delay

Campaigners have called on the transport secretary to ignore recommendations from the head of Network Rail that would delay tens of millions of pounds of investment in making rail stations more accessible.

The seven organisations, headed by the user-led charity Transport for All, are furious that Sir Peter Hendy, the chair of Network Rail, has recommended in a spending review that nearly £50 million allocated to the Access for All scheme should be delayed until 2019 at the earliest.

In a letter to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, they describe such a move as “a real backward step in terms of rail accessibility” and “grossly unfair”.

The government describes Access for All funding as “a key part of the government’s strategy to improve the accessibility of Great Britain’s railway (sic)”, and says it is “specifically targeted at providing infrastructure improvements at stations which will enable more disabled people to access the rail network”.

The letter follows revelations by Disability News Service last month that Sir Peter had recommended that Access for All funding for 2014-19 should be cut from £102 million to £55 million, with the rest carried over to the next spending period, 2019-24.

The Department for Transport is due to respond to Sir Peter’s report – which contains his detailed recommendations for “replanning” Network Rail’s investment programme for 2014-19 across England and Wales – later this year.

The letter has been signed by leaders of Transport for All; Inclusion London; Disabled People Against Cuts; Disability Rights UK; RNIB; Muscular Dystrophy UK; and the Campaign for Better Transport.

They say in the letter that more than 20 years have passed since disabled people secured rights to access goods and services through the Disability Discrimination Act, yet “still many of us cannot use our local train station”.

They point out that a large majority of stations still do not have lifts, tactile paving, audio-visual information, induction loops and other equipment that enables disabled people to use them, and so “great swathes of the UK rail network are no go areas for disabled people, particularly those with mobility impairments”.

They say that the Access for All fund has delivered “much needed ring fenced funding to ameliorate this situation and over the years has unlocked parts of the rail network for disabled and older citizens to use, in many cases for the first time”.

And they say the deferred funding is part of a “double blow” because of the government’s decision to scrap the small schemes access programme, which had funded improvements to 1,100 stations since it was launched in 2006, and was “crucial for smaller stations that would have never qualified for Access for All funding”.

They also warn that deferring the funding could put at risk future additional investment in improving access.

The seven organisations call on McLoughlin in the letter to reject Sir Peter’s recommendation and instead “guarantee that the Access for All fund will be able to retain and spend its full allocated budget”.

Faryal Velmi, director of Transport for All, said: “We need access improvements to happen by 2019 as they were originally planned and expected.

“It is grossly unfair that disabled and older people are being asked to defer our lives for another five years in order to ‘iron out’ previous Network Rail inefficiencies.

“Austerity has already had a disproportionately negative impact on disabled people in UK.

“Changes and deferments to schemes such as Access for All, that directly benefit us, constitute a direct attack on our rights to participate fully in society.”

Network Rail refused to explain why Sir Peter made the recommendations to defer the Access for All funding, and refused to respond to the concerns raised in the letter.

But a Network Rail spokesman said: “Following the conclusion of the Department for Transport’s consultation [on the Hendy review], we will work closely with the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail and Road to review the Access for All programme and publish a revised delivery plan.”

He added: “Sir Peter Hendy’s re-plan means that some rail upgrade projects will be delivered later than originally planned, but we remain committed to delivering the Access for All programme in full.”

5 May 2016

 

 

Agreement on new EU public sector website access is ‘crucial milestone’

An agreement on new European Union (EU) rules on the accessibility of public sector websites is a “crucial milestone” on the journey towards an inclusive digital society, say disabled campaigners.

This week’s agreement between MEPs, the European Commission and the EU Council should mean that the rules will be introduced through domestic legislation across the EU.

The European Disability Forum (EDF) said it was “delighted” that the “main demands and expectations” of the disability movement had been “listened to and taken on board” for what will be the first EU-wide rules on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile phone apps.

It described the agreement as “a crucial milestone to achieve an inclusive digital society”.

The rules will cover local and national government, police forces, public hospitals, universities and libraries, and many other public sector organisations.

The EU Directive on Web Accessibility for Public Sector Websites will mean that new websites and mobile phone apps of all public sector organisations will have to be accessible, while existing sites will have to be updated.

Older content, such as videos, will have to be made available in accessible formats on demand, while government videos will have to feature closed captioning or an accessible alternative.

Online services, such as paying fines or fees, will also have to be accessible.

Dita Charanzová, the Czech MEP who has been the directive’s rapporteur – or liaison officer – for the European parliament, said she hoped it would “lead to a new world where e-government is fully possible and there is no longer a need to queue for hours for a stamp on a piece of paper”.

In an article on the EurActiv website, she said: “If implemented by the member states, even taking into account short-term costs, a fully accessible public sector will save tax payers millions of euros from fewer call centres, fewer letters, and other costly alternatives.

“The long term benefits far outweigh the short term transition.”

Some of the proposed exemptions that disabled campaigners had been pushing the EU Council to drop appear to be still in the draft directive – which has not yet been published – which means that the websites of public broadcasters and live audiovisual streaming will be exempt from the new rules, as will the websites of publicly-funded charities.

But there are hopes that the proposed European Accessibility Act could address some of the areas not covered by the directive.

The text of the directive will now have to be formally approved by the European parliament and the EU Council.

After the directive officially comes into force, EU member states will have 21 months to ensure it becomes law through their own national legislation.

EDF said that three years of lobbying by the forum, its members and other organisations had improved the original proposals put forward by the European Commission, improving the plans from something which only covered websites for 12 public services and had “very soft enforcement measures” to “a truly future proof and meaningful directive”.

Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF’s president, said that accessibility was “a human rights issue”.

He said: “It is a condition for participation in society, for education, for employment, and for access to public services.

“This directive is an important step in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities within the EU.

“The EU, and all EU member states, should make all of their public services accessible, including those delivered through the web, including through apps.

“This directive provides for a harmonised way to do this within the EU, and will assist the EU, and its member states, in meeting their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Carine Marzin, RNIB’s EU policy and campaigns officer, said: “We welcome this political agreement on the EU web accessibility directive.

“We will comment on the final text when it is published but it is great to hear that European parliament negotiators have been successful in agreeing new EU-wide rules on web accessibility in the public sector with our governments.

“We are also delighted to hear that these rules will guarantee the accessibility of mobile applications.”

Conservative MEP Vicky Ford, who chairs the European parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee, said: “The UK is already leading the way in this area and much of our good practice has been fed in to the legislation.

“Being able to obtain information from websites and apps about key public services is a necessity of modern day life and we must spread the benefits of the digital single market to all.”

5 May 2016

 

 

Government’s failure to ring-fence ILF funding ‘is leading to postcode lottery’

The government’s failure to ring-fence the funding it is handing to local authorities following the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) is leading to a “postcode lottery” of support for former ILF-recipients, according to new user-led research.

Information secured by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) through freedom of information requests to Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities has revealed that many councils are refusing to use the government funding to support the former ILF-recipients it was intended for.

ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and by last year it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.

But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, to cover the period from its closure last summer to April 2016.

The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, then announced in February that the government would provide another four years of transition funding to local authorities in England in 2016-17 (£177 million), 2017-18 (£171 million), 2018-19 (£166 million) and 2019-20 (£161 million), but that the money would again not be ring-fenced.

GMCDP’s research has now revealed that some Greater Manchester councils have promised to spend the government’s money solely on former ILF-recipients, but others have refused to do so.

Of the 10 councils, only two have said categorically that they will ring-fence the money for former ILF-recipients, another appears to suggest that it will do so, and two are waiting for further information from the government before making a decision, but five have said they will not ring-fence the money.

Brian Hilton, GMCDP campaigns officer and a former ILF-recipient, said: “The government has abandoned former ILF-recipients, those with the highest support needs.

“They have closed the ILF, given the money to local authorities but provided no clear direction of how that money is to be used to ensure that former ILF-users’ support is maintained.

“So it’s a postcode lottery where some authorities are continuing to support former ILF-users, others say they won’t and some still have no idea what will happen.”

Hilton, who has produced a short video explaining the situation facing former ILF-users in Greater Manchester and across the country, added: “The government is either lying or delusional when they say that the introduction of the Care Act will ensure that former ILF-users will be able to maintain choice and control over their lives.

“The support provided by local authorities via personal budgets is increasingly about providing the bare minimum, so-called ‘clean and feed’.

“Independent living is much more than this. It’s about having the support, not only to get out of bed, but to get out and be part of society, through leisure, through education, through work.”

5 May 2016

 

 

New ‘hub’ means pioneering university will join world leaders in disability law

The University of Leeds is set to become a world leader in disability law, after setting up a ground-breaking new “hub” of some of the UK’s leading legal scholars.

The Disability Law Hub boasts expertise across equality, social care, mental health, mental capacity and international disability rights law, as well as in the relationship between disability and mainstream UK law.

The hub is closely linked to the university’s pioneering Centre for Disability Studies (CDS), which brings together scholars from a range of academic disciplines across the university, and is led by Professor Anna Lawson, the disabled law scholar who also heads CDS.

Its position has been strengthened by the decision of two leading experts on disability law, Professor Luke Clements and Professor Oliver Lewis, to join the university’s School of Law as members of the hub.

Clements is an expert on social care law, who has taken a series of landmark discrimination cases to the European Court of Human Rights, while Lewis, as executive director of the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC), has worked across Europe and Africa on cases that advance the cause of equality, justice and inclusion for people with mental health issues and learning difficulties.

As part of Lewis’s move, MDAC will move its headquarters from Hungary to Leeds.

The appointments of Clements and Lewis position the new hub as the UK’s leading university on disability law.

Current research being carried out within the hub includes areas such as inclusive education; access to justice, including the barriers faced by women with mental health conditions in the criminal justice system; problems with the Mental Capacity Act, the Care Act and the Equality Act; and independent living.

From September, Clements will head a new disability law clinic, in which students will build up evidence in areas where there is a gap between what the law says should be happening and what is happening to disabled people in reality, with its work “informed by the priorities of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs)”.

The hub will then publish guides to the relevant laws, combined with reports on its findings.

Lawson said this could influence policy-makers, strengthen campaigning, and provide evidence for lawyers to bring “strategic litigation”.

In the 2016-17 academic year, law students working in the clinic will be examining problems with the operation of disabled facilities grants, which provide funding to adapt housing for disabled people; and difficulties experienced by children in accessing mental health services.

The hub is already considering taking a “super complaint” to the Local Government Ombudsman on the problems faced by disabled children in accessing school transport.

The law hub also aims to involve DPOs in a new disability law module for undergraduates, which will be launched in September.

Lawson said: “Our aim is to develop the module in a way that is mutually beneficial –building up legal awareness amongst DPOs, and building up awareness of DPO issues and of disability-related law amongst our students (lawyers of the future).”

Because of the hub, she said, there are now many more staff working on disability law in the university’s School of Law, which means it will be able to take on more PhD students working in this area and “help to build up expertise and capacity for the future”.

Lawson added: “We will also of course be hosting a range of events on disability law and are keen that disabled people and DPOs should actively participate in these.”

Although the disability law hub is based within the law school’s new Centre for Law and Social Justice, all of its members are also part of the university-wide CDS.

There will be close links between the two, including through a new masters qualification in disability studies, which will be launched in September 2017 and will include a disability and human rights module from the law school.

Lawson said: “The CDS will continue to provide a platform for staff and PhD students based in different parts of the university to come together to exchange ideas and explore collaborations in research, teaching and ‘impact activities’ in the disability studies field.”

She said that CDS was “one of the longest-standing and pioneering centres in the field”, and its leadership of the European Union’s Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED) allowed it to “foster and develop collaborations with other centres”.

She added: “We also have close connections with disability centres elsewhere in the world and are currently exploring opportunities to build on these in east Asia.”

Lord [Colin] Low, the disabled peer who chairs the advisory board of the university’s School of Law, said: “When I taught law at the University of Leeds in the 1970s and early 1980s, I did not imagine that the School of Law would one day establish a Disability Law Hub.

“I am delighted that its scholars have a range and depth of expertise that will be invaluable in closing the gap between the rhetoric of human rights and the lived experiences of disabled people around the world.”

Professor Sir Alan Langlands, the university’s vice-chancellor, said: “For many decades, the university’s Centre for Disability Studies has challenged socially-created barriers that limit the life chances of disabled people.

“The new Disability Law Hub houses the country’s leading group of legal experts in this cutting-edge field.”

5 May 2016

 

 

Channel 4 defends decision on mental health panel make-up

Channel 4 has been criticised for hosting a panel discussion on how the media treats mental health, without inviting anyone with mental health difficulties onto the panel.

The event on 17 May will mark Mental Health Awareness Week, and includes a discussion on “mental health portrayal on mainstream television and beyond”.

The discussion will be chaired by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former Downing Street communications director, who has spoken frequently of his own mental health problems, but none of the five-strong panel have mental health issues themselves.

The panel is made up of Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind; Mark McLane, head of global diversity and inclusion for Barclays; Professor Lord Layard, director of the wellbeing programme at the London School of Economics; James Morris MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on mental health; and the former Liberal Democrat care services minister Paul Burstow, now chair of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

A Channel 4 spokesman said that people with mental health issues had been “invited to give testimony at this event”, and added: “Their testimony will form the basis of a panel discussion involving some of the most influential people in the field of mental health and, of course, they will be invited to join the panel if they wish to do so.”

But Channel 4 has refused to explain why it failed to ask anyone with mental health issues to join the five-strong panel.

Mark Brown, development director of the social enterprise Social Spider, who has written and spoken extensively about mental health, said: “It’s always easy to divide the world into the do-ers of good works and the beneficiaries of those good works.

“As ever, in mental health this manifests as experts talking and people with mental health difficulties delivering testimony or case study.”

Brown, who has experience of mental health difficulties himself, said: “It’s fascinating to look at a panel discussing mental health representations in media that is in the main representative of large organisations, bodies or movements that provide service to people with mental health difficulties with the promise that people with direct experience will ‘feed in’.”

He added: “In an ideal world it wouldn’t be too hard to find a person from within the industry who also has direct experience of mental health difficulties who would be able to address the structural reasons why representation of mental health difficulty is such as it is in mainstream media.

“It’s notable that in the panel as it stands that there is no-one, perhaps apart from Alastair Campbell, who can speak to the question of what it feels like to be represented in mainstream media; never mind who can address the question of why people with mental health difficulties are often the subject of the media lens without ever being behind the camera to direct that gaze ourselves.”

Another leading campaigner with experience of using mental health services, Professor Peter Beresford, who co-chairs the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said the panel line-up showed that Channel 4 needed to “up their game on issues of distress and mental health”.

He said he doubted if the broadcaster would make such an error if the subject was disability in general, rather than mental health.

He said he had previously been open about his view that Campbell’s “record as a bully”, and his role in the decision to invade and go to war with Iraq meant he was “an appalling spokesperson for us”.

Beresford’s concerns appeared to be confirmed by the line-up of another Channel 4 event, planned for next week, this time focusing on disability.

The five-strong panel for this event features four disabled participants: Paralympian Sophie Christiansen; disability equality consultant and former BBC age and disability correspondent Geoff Adams-Spink; and two disabled people who have featured in disability-related Channel 4 documentaries.

5 May 2016

 

 

Language, love and research feature in 11th Blogging Against Disablism Day

By Raya Al Jadir

Disabled people have taken part in the 11th annual Blogging Against Disablism Day, sharing their “experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination”.

Across 18 different areas, ranging from education to art and science, some bloggers shared their own stories of prejudice, while others analysed society’s disablist attitudes.

Holly Matthes, a Liberal Democrat activist who has both worked in and used mental health services, blogged about a recent article by fellow party member Henry Foulds, who is blind, in which he described how he was told by a senior party activist “that I should crop my cane from campaign photos or somehow hide it”.

Matthes argues in her blog that this incident may seem insignificant compared to the government’s cuts to disabled people’s benefits and services, but that “both big and small injustices are based on the same problems at the core of our thinking, and we call those problems disablism”.

From The Edge Of The Map’s blog on the social model of disability looks at the idea that disability can be erased by removing the “physical and bureaucratic barriers that are woven into the structure of society”, and suggests: “At its core, the Social Model of Disability requires us to confront and dismantle the shame that society imposes on any Disabled Identity.”

Disablism and dating is the subject of the blog posted on The Eternal Pursuit Of Love And Laughter, which describes the negative impact on the author’s dating life after her chronic health conditions “started to become more visible”.

She concludes: “So I’m going to get a dog for company. We will go to the beach for ice-cream, take day-trips and sit in the sun in the park.

“Dogs don’t judge people who limp a bit. Dogs don’t value people less for wearing a wrist support.”

In her blog, A Writer In A Wheelchair discusses the everyday incidents of disablism that she brushes aside because “they’re just my normal”.

Mel Baggs discusses how the “state of autism research is pretty uniformly terrible”, in a blog entitled Don’t Ever Assume Autism Researchers Know What They’re Doing.

She says that having autism makes her “able to see through the holes in autism research so well that I have been sought out by researchers to critique their own research ideas and suggest better avenues for research and techniques to use”.

Robin’s Blog was another to focus on the world of academia, this time focusing on some of the access issues he has faced as a wheelchair-using academic.

In I’m An Academic In A Wheelchair – Why Is It So Difficult?, he describes the “in-built assumption that I can’t be a staff member, I can’t know what I’m doing, and I must be a ‘helpless person’”, and describes a string of examples where he has faced discrimination.

He writes: “The combination of these examples – and many more that I can’t think of right now – is that I often feel like a second-class citizen, in academia, on campus, when travelling and so on.

“This isn’t right – but the silly thing is that it doesn’t take that much effort to change. Many of the examples given above could have been changed without much effort or much expenditure.”

Another blog focusing on academia comes from Dr Sarah Campbell, who says that nearly 20 years after the disablism she experienced as a maths undergraduate, “disablist practises such as grades being given for attendance, or no allowances being given for deadlines, are still common”.

She writes: “It is also clear that universities are still set up for the traditional way of learning and simply cannot cope when a student needs to be different.

“Yet it is ok to be different. I even went on to do a PhD and became a maths researcher! I am proof positive that what is important is ‘what’ you learn, not ‘how’ you learn it.”

D H Kelly, the disabled activist behind Blogging Against Disablism Day, writes on Diary Of A Goldfish about the language of disability, and how “in the struggle against increasingly negative government rhetoric, the term ‘genuinely disabled’ entered the vocabulary of disabled activists themselves”.

Kelly’s blog concludes that disabled people should “actively resist a culture which suggests we can gain acceptance by constantly explaining ourselves and our conditions”.

5 May 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com