Will new ‘serious case panel’ probe benefit-related deaths? DWP stays silent

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appears to have secured funding to set up an independent panel to examine cases where its own failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.

Although DWP refused to provide any details on the plans, the spending round document published by the Treasury yesterday (Wednesday) said the new “independent serious case panel” would aim to improve DWP “safeguarding”.

The Treasury says it will provide funding of £36 million for 2020-21 to fund both the panel and ensure that decision-making on benefit claims is “accurate” and that benefit application processes are “straightforward and accessible”.

The funding for improving benefit applications processes is likely to refer to plans by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd to introduce an “integrated” service for personal independence payment and work capability assessments from 2021, which will reduce the need to submit information multiple times for different benefit claims.

DWP yesterday (Wednesday) refused to explain why it was setting up the new serious case panel, or to provide any clarity on the other spending round announcements.

Instead, a DWP spokesperson said: “We will be announcing further detail on this in due course.”

But if the serious case panel is being set up to examine deaths linked to benefit claims, and other serious cases linked to DWP failings, it would be a significant victory for grassroots disabled activists who have spent years highlighting such tragedies.

It would also be a victory for the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, backed by grassroots disabled activists and Whiting’s mother Joy Dove, which has spent nearly six months highlighting the need for an independent inquiry into deaths caused by DWP’s failings, and has secured nearly 55,000 signatures.

Disability News Service (DNS) has also spent more than five years highlighting DWP’s safeguarding failings.

In June, DNS reported how DWP had acted unlawfully by destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres.

Also in June, the Liverpool Echo reported that Rudd had admitted that an internal review into the death of Stephen Smith, from Liverpool, had found that DWP missed “crucial safeguarding opportunities” and had “identified areas where we need to change our policy” to protect claimants in vulnerable situations.

And in February, DNS 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.

This led to the launch of the Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition, which was set up to press for a criminal investigation into misconduct by ministers and senior civil servants that may have contributed to the deaths of claimants.

The spending round document also announced another £23 million for DWP, to fund a range of measures including “support for vulnerable claimants and people with complex needs migrating to Universal Credit”, although again DWP refused to provide any further details.

Meanwhile, chancellor Sajid Javid’s speech announcing his new spending round failed to mention disabled people, just as his predecessor Philip Hammond failed to do in his spring statement in March.

The spending round, which Javid said signified an end to austerity, provided an extra £1 billion for adult and children’s social care in 2020-21, as well as the possibility of another £500 million for adult social care to be raised by councils through council tax, although this extra £0.5 billion funding will be subject to a consultation.

But in his speech, Javid became the latest government minister to ignore the social care needs of working-age disabled people, telling MPs instead that he was “committed to a clear plan to fix social care, and give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.

About half of local authority spending on social care is on working-age adults.

The government again failed to say when it would publish its long-delayed plans for reform of adult social care funding, other than that it would “bring forward proposals in due course”.

Respond to the extra funding for social care, Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “Accepting that the government is facing a few difficulties just now, even so is this the best they can do?

“Thousands of disabled people’s lives and aspirations are being blighted by inadequate support and to make matters worse, disabled people are having to pay more for social care that is failing to meet their needs.”

The spending round also included an extra £700 million for next year – an increase of 11 per cent on 2018-19 – for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Only two months ago, disabled campaigners spoke outside the high court of the “shocking” and “shameful” impact of the government’s austerity policies on the education of disabled children.

They were supporting three families with disabled children who were asking the high court to declare that the government acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with SEND.

5 September 2019


Concerns grow over police force that shares info on protesters with DWP

Grave concerns have been raised about what appear to be “discriminatory” and “pernicious” actions by a police force that has admitted passing information about disabled protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Campaigners, including the human rights organisation Liberty, are concerned that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) does not appear to have any guidance in place to explain to its officers when they can lawfully hand such information to DWP.

As a result, they fear that GMP – and probably other police forces – may have indiscriminately passed information to DWP about disabled activists, after assuming they must be committing benefit fraud if they can take part in protests.

Liberty fears this could have a “chilling effect on disabled people’s protest rights”.

GMP has now told Disability News Service (DNS) – through a response to a freedom of information (Foi) request – that a review of its records “indicates” that the force passed information about the activities of disabled anti-fracking protesters to DWP.

The force has also said that the amount of information it passed to DWP “is unknown at this stage” because of the number of anti-fracking protests that took place within Greater Manchester.

This is likely to refer to protests that took place in Barton Moss, Salford, in 2013 and 2014.

GMP said in the FoI response that this information was passed to DWP so the department could “assess and then investigate and determine if criminal offences had occurred in relation to benefit claims”.

The force said this morning that information had been shared under successive Data Protection Acts, but it has so far refused to say if it has any guidance that explains to officers under what circumstances such information can lawfully be passed to DWP.

If it has no such guidance, its actions are likely to have been unlawful, say human rights experts from Liberty.

Members of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC) are among those who have taken part in anti-austerity protests in Manchester over the last six years.

Rick Burgess, from MDPAC, said: “We need clarity on the law and procedures so we know where we stand.”

Otherwise, he warned, protesters would have to rely on interpretation of the law by frontline officers which was – when combined with police and wider societal attitudes towards disability and so-called “scroungers and fakers” – “a not good mix”.

He said: “This is a toxic atmosphere, a hostile environment, so there needs to be transparency.”

He said it was also crucial to know what level of disability equality training had been given to officers making these decisions.

Burgess pointed out that there was less protection from the law when a disabled person was dealing with DWP than with the police, and that “the police cannot sentence you to no income and losing your home, but the DWP can, with very little due process”.

He said: “The authorities have to realise that unless they are explicit and transparent, it is not unreasonable to think that very ‘surveilling’ practices are going on.

“Experience has told us that that tends to be their default position.”

Sam Grant, Liberty’s policy and campaigns manager, added: “Anything that limits an individual’s right to protest is a dangerous step that has implications for all our rights.

“If the police and Department for Work and Pensions are freely sharing information between themselves about disabled people who are doing nothing more than lawfully exercising their right to protest, this would be discriminatory, pernicious and breach their fundamental rights.

“Clarity and reassurance is desperately needed to avoid a chilling effect on disabled people’s protest rights.

“Everyone should feel free to uphold their rights without fear of retribution*.”

The FoI information from GMP is just the latest in a series of conflicting statements to come from the force since it first admitted in February that it had passed information about anti-fracking protesters to DWP.

GMP has now finally released a multi-agency “information sharing agreement”, signed by the force and DWP, as well as other organisations in Salford, including the probation service, NHS bodies and Salford council.

DNS had asked for a copy of the agreement the force relied on to share information about protesters with DWP.

But the agreement released to DNS focuses instead on safeguarding children and vulnerable people, and the force said that any information passed to DWP was not “likely” to have been shared under this document but in accordance with the Data Protection Act (DPA).

If there was no associated guidance or policy on such sharing of information under DPA, this is likely to have been unlawful, Liberty has warned.

The FoI release contrasts with a previous statement from the GMP press office, which said that information about protesters was passed to DWP “as part of a sharing agreement”, although it later denied the existence of such an agreement.

Greater Manchester Police has previously admitted sharing information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking, although it is still not clear how much information has been shared and which protests and how many disabled protesters were involved.

It has also previously insisted that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who took part in the anti-austerity protests that took place outside the Conservative party conferences in Manchester in 2015 and 2017.

The Conservative party is returning to Manchester for its annual conference later this month.

GMP had refused by 1pm today (Thursday) to say if it had any written guidance to explain to its officers when information about disabled protesters can and should be shared with DWP, and refused to explain how it justified this lack of guidance if there was no such document.

But the force said in a statement: “The police service shares data with other agencies in accordance with relevant statutory frameworks where there is public interest.

“This was previously done under section 29 of the Data Protection Act 1998, which provided a legal platform for disclosure of data on the basis of law enforcement.

“This act was rescinded on 25 May 2018 and replaced by the [European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation] and the Law Enforcement Directive, both incorporated into the Data Protection Act 2018, from which the police now derive a lawful basis for disclosure which is considered on a case by case basis.

“The sharing of data is not done with the intention of preventing an individual’s right to peaceful protest.

“In fact the police service would give due regard to an individual’s human rights as well as the Equality Act 2010 when considering action it takes.”

*Anyone concerned or affected by these issues can contact Liberty’s advice and information service

5 September 2019


Trio of disabled peers pledge to fight off no-deal Brexit ‘time bomb’

Three disabled peers have pledged to do all they can to avert the significant impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit, with one warning of a “time bomb” that is now likely to “detonate”.

They spoke out this week as MPs and peers returned from their summer recess, facing the threat of the UK being forced to leave the European Union (EU) without an agreement at the end of next month.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) from the House of Lords that a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” for disabled people.

She said: “I will do everything I can to avoid it.”

She said she was “completely against a no-deal Brexit” but was unclear about what action she would take.

She said: “The action I’m likely to take is more likely to be in the chamber rather than outside and I’m just trying to get through each vote and plan around that.

“It’s unprecedented times in so many ways. We are going through procedures and debates that I’ve not really seen in the chamber before.

“I spent a lot of the summer trying to plan through all the possible scenarios and I’m not sure all the time I spent moved me any further on.

“At the moment it seems that things are changing by the minute at times.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson said it felt as though the impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit had “been forgotten and will be ignored”.

But she also expressed concern at the feverish political atmosphere, both within and outside parliament.

She said: “I worry about how angry everyone is on the outside. I don’t know how we heal some of those divisions.

“The atmosphere around Westminster is also quite challenging. This week it’s been more aggressive than before. People are feeling angry (from all sides).”

Another disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, also pledged to do all she could to avert a no-deal Brexit, even though she feared that it was now too late to do so.

She said: “In my view, it’s gone way beyond a surreal episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, to becoming an extremely worrying time-bomb about to detonate.

“I’m very dubious whether we can prevent the explosion now. The next few days will be critical and that’s why you will find me [in the House of Lords] until I drop on Saturday.”

She warned that a no-deal Brexit would be “very bad news” for disabled people.

She said: “Disabled people will suffer from all that Brexit will mean for them, especially if we crash out without a deal.

“Decreased protection from EU rights, shortage of vital medicines, a slowdown on vital medical research due to greater difficulty of UK/European data sharing, NHS and social care workforce shortages, affecting personal assistant recruitment and retention of EU workers, etc.”

She added: “For over two years now as I read and began participating in the detail of the EU withdrawal bill in the Lords, I have tried my hardest to amend and support amendments to secure disabled people’s equality and human rights, with very little success.

“Withdrawing from the EU is bad enough with a deal, but without one it’s very bad news for us indeed.”

The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said a no-deal Brexit could cause “incalculable” damage, and she was another to pledge to do everything she could to stop such an outcome.

She said: “I have on many occasions in the House spoken of the despair I, and many disabled people, feel at the way invaluable European workers in the care sector, the health service and the hospitality industry are being treated, with the environment becoming quite hostile to them.

“I was in hospital for two months 18 months ago and saw clearly how much we rely on European health workers in every sector.

“And now there is the worry, in a no-deal Brexit scenario, if we need certain medicines – and many of us do – they may not be available quite soon.

“Even if they are held up for a few days crossing a border, this could do incalculable damage to those who desperately need them.

“So I will do everything I can to stop no-deal Brexit. This doesn’t mean speaking in the House at the moment, because speeches take time, and time is something we do not have.”

The disabled MP Stephen Lloyd, formerly a Liberal Democrat and now sitting as an independent, was another to “wholly oppose” a no-deal Brexit.

As with other disabled parliamentarians, he was unable to say what action he might be able to take over the next week because of the unpredictable nature of the events in Westminster, but he added: “I’ve always been clear I’ll never back a no-deal.”

Lloyd quit the Liberal Democrat group in the Commons last December so he could keep his promise to his constituents to respect the result of the EU referendum, and he voted three times for the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May that was rejected on each occasion by MPs.

He declined to say if he still believed that the UK should leave the EU, but he said: “I have kept my promise to my constituency by voting for the withdrawal agreement (three times) but I will never back a no-deal and have said so for the last two years.”

He added: “Crashing out of the EU with no deal serves no-one, least of all our country.

“I also believe it would leave the UK so desperate to do a deal with President Donald Trump that our NHS will be up for grabs in any treaty with the US.

“Trump is all about America First and our beloved health service with its £120 billion budget is something they will demand the ability to sell into.

“And whatever this shambles of a government says, they won’t be in a position to push back.

“This will have an impact on the cost of drugs which many disabled people need to lead independent lives.”

The disabled Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who resigned from her position as shadow minister for children and families in March after voting against a second referendum – when the party leadership told its MPs to abstain on the vote – was not available to comment this week.

The disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin failed to respond to a request to comment.

5 September 2019


Rail regulator backs down on access to replacement buses

The rail regulator has been forced by a disabled campaigner to reconsider its refusal to tell train companies to ensure their rail replacement buses are fully accessible.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) issued guidance to train and station operators in July on what they should include in their new accessible travel policies.

But accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley pointed out that the regulator had failed to make it mandatory for train companies to provide accessible replacement buses when rail services are disrupted.

Paulley warned last year that he was considering taking legal action against a train company over the failure to ensure that its rail replacement buses were accessible.

He believes that such buses should comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR).

But when he read ORR’s new guidance he realised that it fell short of a requirement that the buses should comply with PSVAR, stating only that companies should make “reasonable endeavours to secure accessible rail replacement services and taxis”.

Paulley contacted solicitors at Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG), who sent a legal letter to the regulator.

The letter argued that the ORR guidance was unlawful, and it asked the regulator instead to require all train companies to ensure that all their rail replacement buses during planned and reasonably foreseeable disruption were fully accessible.

Last week, in response to the letter, ORR told DPG and Paulley that it would rethink this section of the guidance.

ORR now plans to ask train companies to provide data on the accessibility of the buses and coaches they have used in the last year, said DPG.

It is also seeking its own legal advice on whether PSVAR applies to rail replacement buses.

And it plans to publish another consultation exercise on this issue by the end of next month.

Contacted by Disability News Service (DNS), ORR confirmed the new consultation, but refused to confirm that it was seeking legal advice and data on the accessibility of rail replacement buses.

It also refused to say why it had ordered a new consultation.

The ORR guidance came despite recommendations from both the Department for Transport (DfT) and its accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee – in their responses to a consultation on ORR’s draft guidance – that it should be mandatory for rail replacement buses to be accessible when disruption “is planned or reasonably foreseeable”.

DfT refused to say if it shared Paulley’s concerns about the legality of the ORR guidance.

Paulley told DNS that it was “reprehensible” and “closed-minded” that ORR had still not mandated accessible rail replacement buses when he had been “banging on on this issue for years”.

But he said: “I am delighted that ORR has agreed to take this step.

“Inaccessible rail replacement buses form a significant barrier for disabled people, causing further disruption and distress.

“Alternative accessible transport in the form of accessible taxis appears an attractive alternative but isn’t.

“They aren’t spontaneous, reliable, comfortable or sometimes even safe, and their segregated provision is problematic.

“I very much hope the ORR’s re-examination will lead to better access for disabled people during disruption.”

DPG’s Louise Whitfield, representing Paulley, said: “We are very pleased that the ORR has taken our client’s concerns seriously in the light of our representations.

“This is a very important issue about equality and access to train services, that cannot be underestimated.

“Given the clear legal position on the relevant regulations, we cannot see how the ORR can reasonably conclude that rail replacement buses need not be accessible.”

5 September 2019


DWP admits it has no idea how many of its disability champions are disabled people

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that it has no idea how many of its 19 “disability champions” are disabled people.

The disability sector champions – covering areas such as banking, gaming, arts and culture, media, music and retail – are supposed to drive progress in breaking down barriers and promoting inclusion.

At least three of the 19 are known to be disabled people – rail champion Stephen Brookes, music champion Suzanne Bull and hotels champion Robin Sheppard – but it appears that many others are not.

Now, in response to a freedom of information request from disabled researcher and activist Ellen Clifford, DWP has admitted that it does not know how many of the 19 sector champions identify as disabled people.

Clifford submitted the request as part of research for her book about the government’s war on disabled people, due to be published by Zed Books in June 2020.

She said the failure to hold the information was “bizarre”.

Clifford said: “In line with article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the government should be promoting participation of disabled people in political and public life.”

She pointed out that, with the likely departure of Jared O’Mara (although it emerged this week that he has postponed his plans to resign as an MP), there would be only six MPs who self-describe as disabled people – Marsha de Cordova, Robert Halfon, Paul Maynard, Stephen Lloyd, Marie Rimmer and Emma Lewell-Buck.

Clifford said: “If government departments aren’t even monitoring representation of disabled people in their recruitment to public positions, particularly in roles relating to disability, we can assume this is not an issue they have interest in tackling.”

She said it was another example of how “meaningless” the disability champions initiative was.

She said: “Whether the government’s disability champions are themselves disabled or not is not necessarily an indication of how well they are able to fulfil their roles.”

But she said there had been no evidence of “tangible outcomes” from their appointments.

She added: “The failure to hold any equalities monitoring data on the champions further confirms the idea that these are purely tokenistic appointments created to give the impression of progress while the government continues its deliberate retrogression of disabled people’s rights.”

Clifford also pointed out that the sector champions were appointed to “remove the obstacles faced by disabled consumers”, with former minister for disabled people Sarah Newton saying in March that this would help businesses take advantage of the “staggering” £249 billion a year spending power of disabled consumers and their families.

But Clifford said this figure represented their disposable income, before housing costs and essentials, so disabled people’s actual spending power was far lower.

She said: “The so-called ‘purple pound’ is not, as suggested by proponents of the idea, equivalent to the pink or grey pounds which represent the spending power of the gay community and older people.

“These are valuable to businesses because of the relatively high proportion of discretionary income – the amount left after tax, housing and basic living costs – that they contain.”

Clifford added: “The fact that the very basis for the initiative – the spending power of disabled people – fails to stand up to scrutiny underlines the government’s complete disinterest in what it would actually take to improve the lives of disabled people.”

Separately, Disability News Service has secured a copy of the agreement that DWP’s disability champions are asked to sign before taking on the voluntary, unpaid role.

The agreement says they are expected to be “a self-motivated successful business person with strong networks” and “passionate about driving social change for disabled people”.

They are also expected to be “a public advocate for improving accessibility and quality of services/facilities in your sector” and to “ensure businesses understand the benefits of employing disabled people”.

Although they do not have to pledge not to bring DWP into disrepute – as several charities have had to promise when taking contracts under DWP’s Work and Health Programme – they are not allowed to “represent any political preferences or views while undertaking the role”.

The agreement adds: “If you are asked to comment on government policy or legislation in your corporate role you will be expected to make it clear that you are speaking for your company and not as a Sector Champion.”

Asked why the department did not know how many of its sector champions were disabled people, a DWP spokesperson said: “Our sector champions have a proven track record of helping to tackle the issues faced by disabled consumers.

“While some of the champions do have a disability, it is not a requirement for the role, and as they are not public sector employees we do not ask them to disclose this information.”

5 September 2019


Trio of DPOs warn government of ‘grave concerns’ over no-deal Brexit

Three national disabled people’s organisations have told the government of their “grave concerns” about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.

Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and Disability Action (in Northern Ireland) are among 85 organisations that have signed a joint letter to prime minister Boris Johnson about the risks of Britain leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement.

The letter, coordinated by the Brexit Civil Society Alliance, points to the “growing body of evidence” that shows that a no-deal Brexit would be “detrimental to civil society and the communities that we work with” and would have “drastic and wide-ranging implications”.

And it warns that voluntary organisations have not had “adequate support, resources and engagement” from the government in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Inclusion Scotland said this week that the proposed suspension of parliament and the growing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit “poses direct threats to Scots disabled people”.

Among its concerns are that disabled people would be disproportionately affected by any food shortages or price hikes because they are more likely to be living in poverty.

Any Brexit-related staffing shortage within health and social care would also disproportionately impact disabled Scots, said Inclusion Scotland.

And post no-deal changes to immigration laws are likely to impact on the availability of personal assistants (PAs), which could see disabled people “slide back” into depending on institutions and being unable to live independently at home.

Although current EU nationals employed as PAs “may well achieve settled status” after Brexit, disabled people may not be able to recruit replacements if restrictions are placed on immigration from the EU.

A no-deal Brexit could also have “serious implications” for disabled people’s access to medicines and medical technologies.

Susie Fitton, policy officer for Inclusion Scotland’s Independent Living in Scotland project, summarised the key fears of disabled people in Scotland as “uncertainty, predicted economic shock and issues with shortage of essentials”.

She said that among the “chaos and clamour” of the Brexit process, “very few people are considering the potentially life-threatening consequences to disabled people of leaving the EU without a deal”.

Fitton said: “Which of our UK politicians are reassuring disabled people that their lives will not be threatened by food or medicine shortages, or that they will work to ensure staffing shortages within health and social care, already at crisis levels across the UK, are not exacerbated by a no-deal Brexit?”

She added: “The failure by the UK government to reassure disabled people that their lives will not be blighted by Brexit is truly shocking, but not that surprising given that this is a government that will be remembered for the damage and destitution caused by the roll-out of universal credit and the bedroom tax.

“Disabled people’s fears about a no-deal Brexit have been nowhere near the top of the UK government’s agenda on Brexit.

“Our fear is that the proroguing of parliament [the government’s decision to end this session of parliament next week until 14 October] will only cement that.

“Disabled people need firm commitments from the UK government that their rights and services will be safeguarded as we leave the EU, deal or no-deal, and without parliamentary scrutiny such assurances are looking less and less likely.”

5 September 2019


Research to examine pros and cons of using AI to boost independent living

A new piece of co-produced research will examine the advantages – and risks – of using artificial intelligence (AI) to support disabled people to live independently.

The research, which has secured funding from the British Academy, will see academics work in co-production with disabled people and carers, who will help to design and steer the pilot project.

The project will explore how disabled people are using AI voice-based technologies, such as the Amazon Echo, to deal with the access issues they face in their daily lives and enhance their independence.

But as well as exploring these opportunities, the project will also examine the risks of greater use of AI, such as making it easier for public bodies to make further cuts to health and social care budgets.

Academics at Loughborough University will work on the project with Mark Harrison, formerly chief executive of the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives and more recently founder of the social enterprise Social Action Solutions.

Because the research is being co-produced, disabled people and carers will act as “co-investigators” and will have a say at every stage of the research project.

Its findings will be shared with disabled people’s organisations and parliamentary groups on AI, disability and social care.

Harrison said: “The crisis in social care is one of the big political and social policy issues of our time. Unfortunately, the debate often focusses on cost rather than quality of life.

“Our research approach puts disabled and older people at the heart of the enquiry process.

“Because it is rooted in the real lives of people who use care services, we are confident there will be positive outcomes for participants.

“By co-producing the research with experts, one aim is to enable people to empower themselves through the process.

“Another key aspect will be peer-to-peer learning, connecting people who can share experiences and creating a community of AI users.”

Dr Saul Albert, of the university’s School of Social Sciences and Humanities, who is leading the project, said: “Disabled people are very adept at adapting consumer devices to deal with access issues.

“In the next few years, the big tech companies will put voice technologies in every home, so we want to use this opportunity to make sure access needs are considered.”

He said that many of the “wacky” ideas about robot carers “sensationalise” the use of AI and “ignore the more fundamental obstacles that disabled people face in society”.

He added: “Similarly, health and care services often focus on how technology will ‘fix’ individual people’s impairments, rather than looking for relatively cheap and straightforward systemic adaptations to the environment that could provide greater accessibility for everyone.”

Albert said that most of the disabled people he and his colleagues had talked to for previous research believe that these technologies “will be used to drive efficiency, to reduce provision of personal assistants, and to justify further cuts to social care budgets”.

His team has been awarded funding by the British Academy to run the pilot project for one year.

Its findings will be used to develop a four-year project that they hope will run from 2020-2024.

Any disabled users of technology interested in helping to shape the project can email Albert at s.b.albert@lboro.ac.uk

5 September 2019


Disability arts organisations secure £750k to boost number of disabled leaders

Disabled-led organisations have secured funding of more than £750,000 to develop three separate programmes that will aim to produce more disabled leaders in the arts.

All three of the programmes receiving funding from Arts Council England (ACE) are headed by disabled-led arts organisations.

The funding comes months after ACE revealed in its fourth annual diversity report that there had been only small increases over the last two years (2015-16 to 2017-18) in the small proportion of chief executives, chairs and artistic directors of ACE-funded arts organisations who reported that they were disabled.

The largest of the new grants has been given to Graeae Theatre Company, which will receive £300,000 for a national leadership programme, with one of its focuses being to connect early and mid-career disabled artists with mentors.

ACE is also providing funding of £284,000 to Access All Areas (AAA), Disability Arts Online (DAO) and Manchester Metropolitan University for the LeaD career development programme, which will support seven potential leaders with learning difficulties to become theatre directors, represent AAA on social media and become co-chairs of boards of trustees.

And Shape Arts will receive £185,000 for a two-year leadership programme, which it hopes will provide up to 50 future disabled leaders with the skills they need.

AAA, DAO, Shape and Graeae are all disabled-led arts organisations.

David Hevey, Shape’s chief executive and artistic director, said his organisation would be “developing new approaches to disabled-led creative leadership and pioneering new models of leadership success for those who have historically faced too many barriers and had too few opportunities”.

Trish Wheatley, DAO’s chief executive, said: “Everyone at Disability Arts Online is so excited about this project.

“It will help us to fulfil our long-term ambition of supporting learning disabled people in the arts and cultural sector to have a voice, tell their story and be part of the conversation about arts and culture and the role it has in shaping society.

“We’re really looking forward to working with our partners Access All Areas, Lucy Burke (University of Manchester) and experienced leadership coach Sarah Pickthall.”

Nick Llewellyn, AAA’s artistic director, said LeaD would “give a voice to a community that has not had a seat at the table before”.

And Jodi-Alissa Bickerton, Graeae’s creative learning director, said the funding was “a game-changer to support more Deaf and disabled artists at all stages of their career”.

Joyce Wilson, ACE’s London area director, said the three programmes would “ensure effective representation of disabled leaders in organisations and venues across the country” and would “work to open up the cultural landscape for D/deaf and disabled artists and drive much needed change across the sector”.

The funding is part of ACE’s Transforming Leadership fund, which saw grants of more than £7 million – funded by the National Lottery – handed to 18 projects, with the aim of ensuring arts and cultural leaders “are appropriately skilled and from diverse backgrounds”.

An ACE spokesperson told Disability News Service that supporting programmes that address the lack of diversity in arts and cultural leadership was a priority of the fund.

She said: “Our annual diversity reports were part of the evidence base for the development of this fund, which highlighted the underrepresentation of disabled people in senior roles across the sector, as well as slow improvement in the number of black and ethnic minority leaders and, in some cases, of female leaders.”

5 September 2019


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com