The minister for disabled people has been unable to explain why she failed to make any public statement to support disabled people’s battle for rights on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).
It is the second year in a row that Sarah Newton has apparently demonstrated a lack of interest in domestic and international efforts to further their rights.
Last year, Newton failed to organise or attend any IDPD events on the day, which is celebrated around the world, or send any messages of support through her Twitter or Facebook accounts.
This year, her Twitter page was again silent, other than retweeting a couple of messages sent by her Office for Disability Issues about an event she had attended, while her Facebook page failed to make any mention of the day.
Her silence on the UN’s international day of disabled people contrasted with her support for Carers Rights Day, which had taken place three days earlier, with Newton telling her followers on 30 November that she wanted to “say a huge thank you to carers across the country for the great work they do each and every day supporting the most vulnerable in society”.
Newton’s parliamentary office declined to comment and referred Disability News Service (DNS) to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
A DWP spokeswoman said: “It’s frankly ludicrous to cast aspersions about someone’s allegiance to a day based on whether they have posted online or on social media.
“The minister’s commitment to empowering and supporting disabled people is unwavering, and she attended events to mark International Day for Disabled Persons and announced the recruitment of six new sector champions.”
She declined to say if Newton would apologise.
The press release about the appointment of the new disability sector champions, which was issued on Monday, did include a quote from Newton, but her comment failed to mention the UN international day.
Newton’s failure to support the UN day contrasted with Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, who released a video “to celebrate the contributions disabled people make everyday” and their struggle for rights, and to call for an end to the “hostile environment” they faced because of government policies.
She also hosted a meeting, organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts (see separate story), which called for the government’s universal credit benefit system to be scrapped, although de Cordova herself did not call for it to be scrapped because Labour’s position is still to “pause and fix” the system.
De Cordova told DNS: “The UN international day of disabled people is crucial to promoting the rights of disabled people in Britain and across the globe.
“This government has shown a shocking disregard for the day itself, and the importance of what it represents.
“Given that Conservative policies were labelled as responsible for ‘grave’ and ‘systematic’ rights violations by the UN, this is sadly unsurprising.”
Newton’s government has been repeatedly and severely criticised by the United Nations for severe breaches of its human rights obligations.
Only last month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said the government had inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies.
And last year, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities delivered a damning verdict on the government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with its chair saying that cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” in the UK.
6 December 2018
Disabled activists have fought back against what they say are attempts by the government and big business to “hijack” the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities through their support for a purple-themed campaign that focuses on disability employment.
The #PurpleLightUp campaign, which was launched last year, aims to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled employees.
It is led by PurpleSpace, a disabled-led organisation which describes itself as a “professional development hub for disabled employee networks” and is headed by Kate Nash, a former chief executive of RADAR, one of the three disability organisations that merged to become Disability Rights UK.
Among those supporting the #PurpleLightUp campaign on Monday’s international day were the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Treasury, controversial government contractor Atos – which produced purple lovehearts and cupcakes to mark the day – and accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.
It was also supported by banking giants Lloyds Bank and HSBC, both closely associated with the global recession that led to government austerity policies that have caused misery for hundreds of thousands of disabled people in the UK since 2010.
But disabled activists are furious at how they believe the campaign has “hijacked” the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which focuses on the rights of disabled people.
The theme of this year’s UN international day was supposed to be empowering disabled people and ensuring “inclusiveness and equality” on development issues.
Now disabled activists have begun a fightback, calling for the UN day to be marked in the future with what they say are the true colours of the disabled people’s movement: turquoise and yellow.
Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled Labour councillor on Liverpool City Council and a former member of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), persuaded her council to light up its civic buildings on Monday in turquoise and yellow.
She said these colours had been used by disabled people’s campaigns for equality since the 1990s, with accounts from the period suggesting that turquoise represented “unity” and yellow stood for “freedom”.
Among the more recent UK disability rights battles that have used turquoise and yellow was the campaign to save the Independent Living Fund.
Thomas said #PurpleLightUp was “not about disabled people’s rights, but about economic activity”, and she pointed to its close connection with DWP and its discredited Disability Confident employment scheme.
She said: “What is really annoying me is that Purple Light Up has taken our international day for their own agenda.
“Disabled people are experiencing the extreme hardships of ideologically-imposed austerity, as shown in several different reports, our own organisations have had funding cut and hardly any remain.
“Meanwhile, large multi-million pound disability charities and commercial organisations are prepared to promote and perpetuate the DWP’s agenda, which is one of the main deliverers of austerity on disabled people.”
She said she was “so disappointed” that disabled people would support the involvement of these organisations in #PurpleLightUp, “knowing what Atos and all the other government departments have done to disabled people.
“How could they side with them and not the disabled people’s civil rights movement?”
Disabled activists have pointed out that DWP has been repeatedly shamed by the UN for its grievous breaches of international rights treaties, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Thomas said: “Disabled people involved with Purple Light Up need to consider their own ethical position of promoting the DWP agenda and their own business, whilst shutting down disabled people who are campaigning for civil rights and against austerity and oppression, on our international day of all days.”
She said she would now push the Labour party and trade unions to adopt yellow and turquoise as the colours of the disabled people’s civil rights movement.
Nash defended her organisation’s #PurpleLightUp campaign.
She said the idea came from disabled employees wanting to move away from discussions of “deficit”, “welfare reform” and “getting people into work” and towards sharing “stories of success” and disabled people’s contribution “to economies and civil society”.
She said: “#PurpleLightUp is therefore designed to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled employees – and the response from disabled people, employers and the public, across the world, where it was featured in 17,000 tweets, suggest that others want to do that too.”
Nash* said 3 December was chosen “as a mark of deep respect to the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities”.
She added: “PurpleSpace applauds the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.
“We hope the #PurpleLightUp will provide further opportunities to notice our rights and dignity, not diminish them. The responses so far seem to confirm that.”
Nash said: “Our members are from many different types of organisations – we support employee networks and resources groups irrespective of the nature of the business of the organisation, and wherever they are on the journey of change.
“It is not for us to measure the integrity of every contributor, nor judge their record on disability rights.”
But the disabled actor and activist Liz Carr was another to express her anger at the hijacking of the international day.
She said on Twitter: “Happy international day of disabled people to all the fantastic crips who make this world a better place just by existing.
“Despite all the purple # bollocks on here, this is not a day for the likes of DWP & ATOS to light up their buildings purple. This is our day.”
Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “It is absolutely a hijack which is why the idea of using the turquoise and yellow is absolutely brilliant because it takes it away from their level of commercialism which is what it’s about. Their bottom line is money.
“This is something that goes back a long way and it is absolutely about rights and freedoms, which are slowly being eroded away.”
She said the #PurpleLightUp campaign was “window-dressing. It has nothing to do with our rights.
“If DWP are going to be lighting themselves up purple they are absolutely no beacon at all of good treatment of disabled people. They terrify us, they terrorise our lives.”
Liverpool City Council also helped celebrate the UN day with the international disability arts festival DaDaFest, which ends on Saturday and has been taking place across the city region since 1 November.
*Kate Nash said that any readers who would like to share their views about the #PurpleLightUp campaign can email her organisation at firstname.lastname@example.org
6 December 2018
A government-commissioned review* set up to modernise the Mental Health Act has been criticised for falling “significantly short” of recommending full human rights for people in mental distress.
The review, published today (Thursday), includes 154 recommendations for improvements to the Mental Health Act 1983 that its chair, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, says would make it easier for mental health service-users to say how they want to be treated and harder for those requests to be ignored.
The prime minister this morning welcomed the report, announced plans for a new mental health bill, and said the government would respond formally in the new year.
But nearly 150 user-led organisations, allies and individual campaigners – led by the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) – have previously warned that the review appeared to be backing away from the need for fundamental reform of the act.
They have argued that there needs to be “full compliance” with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with action taken to comply with recommendations made to the UK government last year by the convention’s committee.
NSUN was today highly critical of Wessely’s report, and said many user-led organisations, individuals with lived experience and allies were “disappointed and feel let down” by support for its recommendations from professionals, many mental health charities and some human rights organisations.
An NSUN spokeswoman said: “The recommendations fall significantly short of giving people with mental health diagnoses full human rights as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).”
She said the review had failed to address the concerns raised by NSUN and its supporters in letters to the review in May and October.
Full implementation of the convention would mean – among other changes – an end to detentions, substitute decision-making [appointing someone to make decisions on behalf of a service-user, rather than providing them with support to make the decision themselves] and compulsory treatment.
When asked by Disability News Service at a press conference yesterday why the review had not recommended full implementation of the UN convention, Wessely said that “those kind of recommendations go too far”.
He said the review’s recommendations had “done a lot” to move towards the “very clear and concrete” changes to human rights that the convention demands.
But he said the UN convention made it clear that the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act were not compatible with the treaty.
He said: “I think the truth is that we don’t think that’s right. We don’t think much of the public will think that’s right, we don’t think service-users will and we don’t think parliament will.
“We think it’s absolutely right in principles, but I think those kind of recommendations go too far.”
He said there had to be a balance between the need to respect autonomy and “looking after the vulnerable” and he said the review’s recommendations would mean “full compliance” with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Among the 300-page report’s recommendations are a proposal to create new advance choice documents, which would enable people to make choices and statements about their future inpatient care and would be “easier to make, and far more difficult to ignore” than current methods of expressing views about future treatment for those detained or at risk of being detained under the act.
There should also be earlier access to second opinions about treatment, and the right to challenge decisions made by tribunals.
Service-users would be able to choose the person who would have power to take decisions for them if they lacked capacity themselves, rather than having to be allocated a “nearest relative”.
The review also calls for “systematic” improvements by services to take account of the local population’s ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and there is a call to address the frequent inappropriate use of the act to detain autistic people and those with learning difficulties.
The review also said that decisions to give compulsory treatment or detain someone in hospital should be “clearly explained and recorded”, while the harm being mitigated by detaining someone must be recorded and would have to be “significant”.
It also calls for a “substantial” reduction in the use of community treatment orders, particularly for black African and Caribbean people.
And it says that police cells should never be used as a “place of safety” for those who meet the criteria for detention under the act.
The review also calls for improvements to the physical environment of wards “through co-design and co-production with people of relevant lived experience, to maximise homeliness and therapeutic benefit and minimise institutionalisation”.
The review’s recommendations have been welcomed by people with lived experience of mental distress who advised or worked on the review.
Steve Gilbert, a vice-chair of the review and chair of its service-user and carer group, a member of the working group that advised the review’s leadership, and a trustee of the mental health charity Mind, said: “No one person in our group agreed on everything.
“However, when we look at the package for reform as a whole, we do feel the recommendations must be adopted, that the act will work better for service-users, families, carers and professionals by delivering better experiences, better outcomes, and it is for this reason that I call upon the government to accept all of our recommendations.”
Asked by DNS about the influence of service-users on the recommendations, Gilbert said they were “fundamental” to the review process and “right there at the centre”, while “in some respects it was service-users leading the development of the recommendations”.
Kate King, who had years of experience of inpatient mental health care – with the care she received ranging “from the excellent to the abusive” – and was a member of the review’s service-user and carer group and the working group, said: “We really need the amendments this review will recommend.”
She said the review’s recommendations would “empower patients to be involved in their care, to make choices when they are well that would be harder to over-rule and to have better access to doctors and tribunals for a review of how and where they are treated”.
But the NSUN spokeswoman said: “People with mental health diagnoses should be able to enjoy the same human rights as other people have; under the review recommendations, this will not be the case.
“There has been a failure to draw directly on the type of supported decision-making set out in UNCRPD documentation in relation to people whom clinicians designate as ‘not capable’.
“The review report continues to employ an essentially clinical model for understanding and approaching mental distress, despite the fact that significant numbers of service-users have found these unhelpful and despite growing scientific challenges to the evidence base for these.
“There is an attempt to address issues for service users from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities, people with learning difficulties/disabilities and/or autism and young people, though the adequacy of the recommendations has been questioned by a considerable number of service-users.”
And she said there was also “a concerning lack of focus on other intersectional issues, such as gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, older age, including dementia, other disability issues and disadvantaged socio-economic status”.
*The review deals with the UK government’s responsibilities under the Mental Health Act in England and Wales, which cover health policy in England and justice policy across England and Wales
6 December 2018
The government could be forced into court to defend its failure to make the much-criticised universal credit benefit system accessible to disabled people.
A parliamentary meeting held to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on Monday – and to call for universal credit to be scrapped – heard that disabled campaigners are now seeking claimants willing to help challenge the government’s apparent breach of equality laws.
Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project (DJP) is considering various possible legal challenges, which could include the failure of jobcentres to make the process accessible for disabled people forced to apply for universal credit, and the failure to assess the impact of the system on disabled people.
Another possible legal challenge could address how the rollout of universal credit has led to disabled people losing accessible housing, or not being able to secure housing that meets their access needs.
DJP is also examining the impact of sanctions and conditions imposed on disabled people through universal credit and whether that could form the basis of a legal action.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, and also representing the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, told the parliamentary meeting that it was a “disgrace” that the government had never carried out an equality impact assessment of the universal credit system, even though it “disproportionately affects disabled people”.
She said universal credit was “fundamentally inaccessible”, with an online system that appeared to have been designed to exclude hundreds of thousands of people from using it, and which disregarded the many disabled people who have never used the internet, and the hundreds of thousands who only have sporadic online access.
She added: “We also happen to think it is legally challengeable under the Equality Act, so we are looking for people who might be interested in making that challenge*.”
Lazard said she could not think of a better event to mark IDPD because universal credit provided a “live, current danger to disabled people now” and despite recent government concessions it “continues to be devastatingly unfit for purpose”.
She said: “Rather than motivating people into work, as this government claims, there is now irrefutable evidence that this hostile and threatening use of sanctions and conditionality is deeply damaging.”
She said there was a “growing number of deaths linked to universal credit” and “widespread experience of a downward spiral of sanctions, debt, food and fuel poverty”, and even destitution, and a regime that was “instilling terror and anxiety in hundreds of thousands of disabled people”.
Lazard said universal credit had been “ideologically designed” to be “punitive and hostile”, and she said disabled people must “refuse to be guinea pigs” in the government’s “ideological experiment”.
The event was organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts, and was hosted by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova.
Dave Allan, chair of the national disabled members’ committee of Unite, reminded the meeting that the annual TUC Congress unanimously approved a motion he had moved in September that called on the Labour party to shift its stance on universal credit and promise to scrap the system.
Labour’s policy is currently to simply “pause and fix” universal credit rather than scrapping it.
The motion had previously been approved by disabled trade unionists at May’s TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference.
Allan said there was a need for a broad alliance to “put massive pressure” on the government to scrap universal credit.
But he said there was also a need to pressure Labour’s frontbench to commit to scrapping universal credit.
Dorothy Gould, a freelance researcher, trainer and consultant for the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), said people with serious psychological trauma were seeing their mental distress “severely” worsened by the “huge problems associated with universal credit”.
She said people were finding themselves “trapped in a cycle of assessment, rejection and appeals”, and she said the assessment system was “particularly unsuitable for people in mental distress”.
NSUN has been collecting individual accounts of the impact of universal credit.
One woman has told NSUN how the fear of disability cuts over the last two years had given her the most severe mental breakdown she had had in 44 years, involving eight months of illness, six weeks in a psychiatric unit and six months of recovery, which was ongoing.
She told NSUN: “Now my biggest fear has been realised. The Department for Work and Pensions has cut all my disability payments and with two weeks’ notice.”
Everything carefully built up over the last 17 years of self-management to provide some form of stability “has been taken away within two weeks”, she said, and added: “I don’t know where to turn, I’m in despair and in great danger of another major relapse. I have felt suicidal.”
Gould said NSUN was urgently calling on the government to address the “trauma and injustice” caused both by universal credit and people’s experience of the Mental Health Act (see separate story).
Dr Liz Okokon, co-disability officer and women’s officer for Dulwich and West Norwood Labour party and a Unite activist, who works in the NHS, said it was important to feel “positive and hopeful” because “so many people are not going to give up and give in”.
She said: “We can do something about this, we can make a difference, we can change.
“There are dreadful stories but [we should remember] the fact that we have our trade union movement behind us, activists from all corners behind us.”
She pointed out how the telling of individual stories of the Windrush scandal had brought it to the mass media.
She said: “Telling these stories really is really important.
“We must remember that we are valued as people, not just as commodities, not just those who will go out and bring in a couple of tax dollars.
“We have value as people and we need society to remember all of us have value, and not just how many cogs we can put on a wheel.”
Miriam Binder, from Disabled People Against Cuts, said it was important to recognise that universal credit was being introduced “at a time of unprecedented cuts in our social infrastructure”.
She said: “The whole universal credit process is essentially draconian and not fit for purpose.
“It is punitive and takes no heed of the personal circumstances of those who are obliged to turn to it.
“Universal credit has led to destitution, homelessness, illness, exacerbated disabilities and death.”
She added: “It needs to be stopped and scrapped. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
The parliamentary event came just two days after a national day of action by Unite against universal credit saw 90 different actions across the country.
Sean McGovern, co-chair of the disabled workers’ committee, said activists now needed to persuade Labour to scrap universal credit.
He said universal credit was an “atrocious social policy” that had already killed “innumerable people” and activists needed to discuss the campaign to scrap universal credit with constituency Labour parties and trade unions.
He said there would not be a formal campaigning alliance but groups needed to work together, including disabled people’s organisations and other grassroots groups, to push for universal credit to be scrapped under a Labour government.
*Disabled people who have ongoing problems or concerns with universal credit or have had problems in the last couple of months, and are interested in a potential legal challenge on these or other grounds, can contact Svetlana Kotova at Inclusion London by emailing: Svetlana.Kotova@inclusionlondon.org.uk although Inclusion London cannot offer advice on individual claims.
6 December 2018
A disabled shadow minister told activists she was on the verge of tears after House of Commons authorities provided them with an inaccessible meeting room for an event being held to celebrate the UN’s international day of disabled people.
Marsha de Cordova is to write to the Commons speaker to raise her concerns about access problems at Monday’s event, which she was hosting and was organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts.
The day after the event, parliament was congratulated by the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, for being “Disability Confident”, under the government’s discredited disability employment scheme, which her press office said was “a sign of its commitment to being inclusive and open to all”.
As well as problems with microphones, and fixed furniture which made it difficult for disabled people to move around the Commons committee room, wheelchair-users who were due to address the meeting on Monday were unable to reach the platform.
Most of the main speakers, including the chair, Sean McGovern, were forced to speak from a small, cramped space in front of the platform or from other parts of the room, while one wheelchair-user ended up having to speak into a microphone with her back to the meeting because of the lack of space.
The meeting had originally been scheduled to take place in an accessible room in the more modern Portcullis House but had to be moved to make way for a select committee meeting.
De Cordova told them she had been assured by the parliamentary authorities “that there would be no access issues” with the replacement room.
She said: “I wanted to make sure that everyone’s experience, including my experience, was smooth and it was a positive experience so accept my apologies that on this UN day of the rights of disabled people, parliament is still getting it wrong.”
She said the failure was “unacceptable” and added: “I feel like I want to cry, I am so flipping angry at what they have done.”
McGovern, co-chair of the disabled workers’ committee, said after the meeting that he was “not at all happy” with the access arrangements, particularly as the meeting had taken place on the UN international day of disabled people, and he added: “Parliament isn’t fit for our needs.”
A House of Commons spokesman said: “We are very sorry to hear about the problems which Ms de Cordova and attendees at her event experienced when visiting parliament.
“As part of parliament’s core democratic function, select committee business takes precedence over other events which occasionally [results] in private bookings being moved at short notice.
“On this occasion, the specific requirements were clearly not taken into consideration and this was unacceptable. Action will be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.”
He said the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Digital Service had both signed up to Disability Confident, while the House of Commons worked with the Business Disability Forum and had appointed a workplace adjustment advisor “to be a designated point of contact for members and their staff throughout their time in parliament”.
In February, a disabled peer told the House of Lords that plans for a major “restoration and renewal” of the Houses of Parliament must ensure a “step change” in the provision of disability access in a building that could be “extremely unwelcoming” to disabled people.
Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, said the newly-restored palace would have “failed” if it was not “truly accessible” to all disabled people.
She said that the building itself – and a “wider, unconscious cultural attitude” – could make the Houses of Parliament “extremely unwelcoming to disabled parliamentarians, staff and visitors”.
6 December 2018
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of misleading disabled people about its links to the disability organisation that organised a controversial accessible shopping event.
Disabled activists called last month for a boycott of Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day, because of its close links with DWP, and concerns that CCTV footage of disabled people shopping could be used to dispute disability benefit claims.
When asked whether it had provided any funding for the Purple Tuesday initiative or to Purple itself, DWP said last month: “We have not provided funding to Purple but we have worked closely with them to facilitate Purple Tuesday and ensure it is a success.”
DWP also said that Purple “does not have any contract or agreement with DWP”.
But Disability News Service (DNS) has now established that both these statements were deeply misleading, while the first was untrue.
DWP has twice provided significant levels of funding to Purple – although not for Purple Tuesday – with the latest agreement for a programme run through the local jobcentre ending on 31 July and separate funding for a government disability employment programme ending in August 2017.
Disability Labour said it was “appalled, but not surprised” at the links between DWP and Purple.
Wayne Blackburn, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “It seems the DWP’s statements about its relationship with the Purple organisation have been less than truthful.
“We will be seeking to get this matter raised in the House of Commons.”
Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, added: “Any organisation led by disabled people that takes money from the DWP betrays disabled people.
“That is why we campaigned and will continue to campaign against Purple Tuesday.
“How can Purple be proud to work with the DWP, who have persecuted disabled people and caused the deaths of so many?”
Purple said last month that it had received “not one penny” from DWP for the Purple Tuesday campaign, which was “not government-led or involved or paid for in any shape or form”.
Mike Adams, Purple’s chief executive, confirmed this week that the organisation had received DWP funding, but not for Purple Tuesday.
He said he was comfortable that what he said last month was accurate but was “frustrated” that DWP’s statements “could have been seen as misleading”.
He said: “Purple Tuesday has not received one penny of government funding. Never has and never will and it is not a government campaign.
“The minister [Sarah Newton] likes it [but] they don’t own it, its not theirs.
“Separately, and very separate to Purple Tuesday, Purple has received funding for other… projects or initiatives from DWP.
“I’m comfortable in what I told you last month is absolutely crystal clear and I am comfortable that what [DWP] told you was correct, but I understand why it could have been seen as misleading.”
He said he was “frustrated” that questions were being unfairly asked of Purple, and he said he was “very proud” of the work Purple did on those two projects for DWP, and its work on Purple Tuesday.
In the wake of last month’s event, DNS had submitted a freedom of information request to DWP, asking how much funding had been given by DWP to Purple in each of the last three years.
It admitted in response: “We do hold information falling within the terms of your request.”
But it said it was delaying its response because it was considering seeking an exemption under section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act*.
DWP refused to answer questions about its funding of Purple this week.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “I’ve checked with colleagues on this and you’ll be getting the full response shortly [from the DWP freedom of information team] so I’m unable to pre-empt this.”
Adams said he was “surprised” that DWP had not spoken to him about the concerns this week.
He said: “I’m frustrated that DWP didn’t speak to me and agree that we could release the information. I don’t think it’s commercially in confidence.”
Purple is a community interest company which replaced the former Essex Coalition of Disabled People, which itself had become known as ecdp.
Many of Purple’s board members are disabled people, and the organisation provides training for employers, and works with disabled people to find jobs, recruit personal assistants and manage their direct payments.
As well as running Purple Tuesday, it also charges up to £10,000 to help other organisations become accredited under DWP’s Disability Confident employment scheme.
*Section 43 (2) relates to information that could prejudice an organisation’s commercial interests, and DWP says it will now consider if maintaining this exemption is outweighed by the public interest in disclosing the information
6 December 2018
The government has finally launched a new temporary fund that will support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office, but only for the next 15 months.
The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said the EnAble “interim” fund would provide £250,000 to help cover the disability-related expenses of standing for elected office.
The EnAble Fund for Elected Office (EFEO) will go live in January and will end in March 2020, covering expenses such as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.
The funding is likely to be used by candidates for May’s local elections and police and crime commissioner elections in May 2020, although a GEO spokeswoman said that its use by prospective candidates for a general election would also be considered if one was called.
But there has been no guarantee that there will be any further funding post-March 2020, with the department’s focus apparently on working with political parties to make their own policies and procedures accessible to disabled candidates.
The fund is being administered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which will be paid £75,000 by the Local Government Association (LGA) for about 18 months’ work.
The interim fund replaces the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years.
The new funding was first announced in May after lawyers for three disabled politicians – Labour’s Emily Brothers, Liberal Democrat David Buxton and the Green party’s Simeon Hart – wrote to the government to warn that the government had breached the Equality Act by failing to reopen the Access to Elected Office Fund.
They said they had effectively been unable to stand as candidates in a general election since the government froze the fund.
Buxton this week welcomed the launch of the new interim fund, even though it was only open for 15 months, and he said he was glad it would be administered by a disabled people’s organisation, which would be “able to understand the barriers we face”.
But he said there was “still a lot of room for improvement”, with “no long term solution” and the delays in launching the new fund meaning there were now just six months until May’s local elections.
He said the experience in Scotland, where the Scottish government has set up its own Access to Elected Office Fund, showed that the longer potential candidates had to secure financial support with disability-related expenses before an election, the more successful such a fund would be.
Brothers welcomed the announcement as a “first step”, but she said the funding was “insufficient and short term” and “fragmented”.
She said: “I have concerns that EnAble is being set up so close to the next local elections, with selections well in hand and only six months to polling day.
“The LGA and DR UK will need to get their act together very quickly, but for many disabled people it may well be too late.”
She added: “I believe a permanently resourced Access to Elected Office Fund needs to be established to support the participation of disabled people in political and public life.
“The representation of disabled people is woeful, our voices are not being heard and consequently laws, policy and practices persist in failing to meet our needs and aspirations. That has to change.”
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “The new fund is a drop in the ocean.
“Funds also need to be made available to political parties and providers of premises where political meetings are held for reasonable adjustments to be made.
“Premises are often inaccessible and this needs to change.
“For example, funding for hearing loops, ramps, sign language interpreters need to be provided through a central fund which facilitates access to the political process as a whole.”
Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said: “Around 10 per cent of local councillors are disabled, but around 20 per cent of adults are disabled.
“This fund will provide practical help and support to try and close that gap. Help with issues like transport, assistive technology or sign language interpreters can make a significant difference on whether to stand for elected office if you’re disabled.
“We hope this is the beginning of something which will see funding increase, and broaden in scope, so that disabled people can get more involved in public life; from being a local councillor to becoming a member of parliament.
“And we hope – and expect – to see political parties do much more to encourage their disabled members to stand for office.
“Political parties across the spectrum have a poor track record when it comes to selecting and supporting disabled candidates.
“They should be doing better, and the establishment of this fund is a reminder of that.”
Announcing the new funding on Monday, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, said: “Everyone has the right to stand and represent their community – and it is vital no-one is held back.
“Empowering people with disabilities leads to better decisions and more effective outcomes for all of us.
“Unless every one of our citizens can reach their full potential our nation never will.”
6 December 2018
Half of disabled cyclists fear having their benefits cut or removed if they are seen to be physically active, according to a survey released on the UN’s international day of disabled people.
The results of the survey of more than 200 disabled cyclists by the disabled people’s organisation Wheels for Wellbeing showed that of the 49 per cent who were concerned about their benefits, one in six (17 per cent) had been discouraged from cycling, cycled less or given up cycling altogether.
Only two months ago, a report by the disability sports organisation Activity Alliance found that four-fifths (83 per cent) of disabled people surveyed would like to be more active, but nearly half (47 per cent) feared losing their benefits if they took more exercise.
Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing, said: “For disabled people, cycling is a wonderful thing because it mitigates the effects of impairment and enables you to move freely over long distances, improving your overall wellbeing in the process.”
But she said that cycling doesn’t “make your impairment magically disappear” and so to “penalise people because they use a cycle to move around, as well as or instead of a wheelchair say, is just lazy and discriminatory”.
She called on the Department for Work and Pensions to clarify its position on how disability benefits are affected by cycling.
The Wheels for Wellbeing survey was just one of a string of events and publications held and released on the international day on Monday (3 December).
The disabled peer Lord [Chris] Holmes published a review which calls for “urgent action” to tackle the under-representation of disabled people in appointments to public bodies such as NHS organisations, national museums and regulatory and advisory bodies.
He said it was shocking that, last year, just three per cent of people who had previously been appointed to public bodies described themselves as disabled, although the figures are slowly improving, with 6.9 per cent of new appointments who shared their status in 2017-18 reporting that they were disabled.
The Tory peer called for an interim target of 11.3 per cent of all public appointees to be disabled people, while he also called for “reliable, consistent, comprehensive” data on how many disabled public appointees there were, for the government to take “innovative” approaches to recruitment, and for a more accessible applications process.
He suggested there should be less reliance on panel interviews and more open processes such as the use of shadowing current appointees, holding mock board meetings, and making better use of technology, with new efforts to attract and nurture disabled talent, for example by using mentors and role models.
The government makes more than 1,000 appointments to the boards of more than 500 public bodies every year, with those organisations spending more than £200 billion of public money.
Meanwhile, the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) used the UN international day to announce that the government was setting up a new network of “regional stakeholders” who will organise forums for organisations and individuals in nine regions across England.
The forums are intended to “provide a channel for disabled people and their organisations to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect them and will complement stakeholder relationships that already exist across government”.
ODI said it would publish more information about how to join the regional stakeholder network “shortly”.
The forums appear to be a replacement for the Fulfilling Potential Forum, the Disability Action Alliance and the Fulfilling Potential Policy Advice Service, all of which were set up by the coalition government but have either been scrapped or fallen into disuse.
The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, also announced that the government was looking for six new “champions” to tackle some of the issues disabled people face as consumers.
The six individuals will be asked to use their influential status as leaders in their own industries to promote the benefits of being inclusive to disabled people across fashion, technology, countryside and heritage, website accessibility, food and drink, and product design.
They will join 14 existing sector champions in areas such as airports, banking, insurance, live music, retail and tourism.
The disabled-led arts organisation Together! 2012, based in east London, announced on Monday that it had been awarded nearly £230,000 lottery funding that will allow it to expand its Clubs creative development programme for disabled people over the three years from 2019.
Together! also held a live-streamed reading of the easy-read version of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, at Beckton Globe Library.
As part of their celebrations of the day, York Independent Living Network and York Human Rights City Network organised a live video link that brought together students from York and Urbino in Italy who had won prizes in this year’s Eleanor Worthington Prize to talk about their work and celebrate the day.
Elsewhere on the UN international day, the Centre for Disability Studies and the Centre for Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds held a screening of Sanctuary, an award-winning film which follows the relationship between two people with learning difficulties.
The screening was followed by a question and answer session with the director, Len Collin, the university’s Professor Gerard Quinn, and representatives of CHANGE, the Leeds-based, disabled-led organisation that focuses on the human rights of people with learning difficulties.
In London, Merton Centre for Independent Living released a series of short films on independent living.
And in Liverpool, as part of the DaDaFest international disability arts festival, which ends on Saturday, Disability Arts Online held a panel discussion, asking: “Are we in an era post Disability Art?”
6 December 2018
A disabled crossbench peer has called on the government to start handing out “heavy fines” to the air travel industry when it fails to ensure that its services are accessible to disabled passengers.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell asked the government on Monday what action it was taking to encourage all UK airports to provide appropriate facilities for disabled people.
Another disabled peer described how she was left in tears after being dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall while airport staff tried to find her wheelchair.
Baroness Campbell pointed to the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) third annual report into the assistance provided at the UK’s biggest airports, which said that one in 10 of those surveyed had described the quality of assistance provided in 2017-18 as “very poor”.
Baroness Campbell said: “Examples include being left in a wheelchair, being left on an aeroplane, expensive wheelchairs being broken and, in my case, being left on an aeroplane for two hours because they refused to bring my chair to the plane door.
“In the light of this, can the minister assure the house that the government’s aviation strategy will contain more stringent ways to address this outrageous discrimination with more than just guidance and regulations that we know do not work?
“Will she also tell me how many disabled people were involved in developing the strategy?”
Baroness Sugg, the junior transport minister, failed to say how many disabled people were involved in the strategy, but she said it was due to be published “in the coming weeks”, and promised that it would address these issues.
She said the CAA survey results were “obviously not good enough”.
She added: “The green paper will propose a passenger charter, which will clarify what can be expected from airlines, airports and airside services, including on wheelchair damage and waiting times, and will improve the standards of service for passengers with reduced mobility.”
Within three hours of asking her questions, Baroness Campbell had been contacted by the Airport Operators Association, seeking a meeting to discuss the issues she had raised.
She said on Twitter: “Is a ‘government charter’ enough? Surely it’s time to enforce the regulations with heavy fines?”
Another disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told the minister how when she arrived on a flight from Heathrow to Madrid last month she was told her wheelchair was missing.
She said: “I was then passed from pillar to post and was dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall by staff who were trying to sort out what was going on.
“I ended up in tears while they tried to find my wheelchair.
“If this were an unusual occurrence, it would be horrific, but it is not.
“What is even more horrific is that this happens every day to air passengers.
“Charters butter no parsnips: when will the regulations be enforced to stop air travel being a ghetto for disabled people?”
Baroness Sugg told her: “She is absolutely right that these occurrences happen far too often, and that is what we need to change.
“Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and it is important that we as a country continue to work with international forums to promote greater accessibility to air travel for those with reduced mobility.”
She said the government was “working closely with the aviation industry, the CAA, wheelchair manufacturers and disability organisations to achieve the long-term goal of enabling wheelchair-users to travel with their own airworthy wheelchair on a plane”.
Following the questions she asked in the Lords, Baroness Campbell was contacted on Twitter by a string of other disabled people sharing their own experiences of airport and airline inaccessibility and discriminatory attitudes.
One fellow disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, told her: “I’ve had the pilot tell the plane that we’re leaving late because of ‘having to board a wheelchair’.
“Thanks. Actually I was there early. It was the assistance team that wasn’t.”
Another to share her experience was Sophie Christiansen, the eight-time Paralympic gold-medallist, who shared an experience from last week.
She described how she arrived at an airport at the end of a flight, and said: “Every time recently I’ve had to ask someone for my chair back as they’ve been sitting in it. This is like a stranger wearing your shoes.”
And Anna Severwright, co-chair of the Coalition for Collaborative Care, told Baroness Campbell: “Let’s hope they are willing to listen and change.
“Both my experiences of flying with my electric wheelchair were negative and very stressful. Puts me off wanting to fly. Thanks for trying to improve things.”
6 December 2018
A key document that helped many disabled activists develop their understanding of how they were being oppressed by society more than 40 years ago has been published for the first time.
The document, Are We Oppressed?, was compiled in 1974 by Vic Finkelstein, one of the pioneers of the disabled people’s movement, and it played a significant part in the development of what was later described as the social model of disability.
It was developed through discussions among members of the newly-formed and radical Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) and came from circulars issued by post to members every few weeks.
Two years before the document was drawn up, Finkelstein helped found UPIAS with Paul Hunt, who had spent much of his life in Leonard Cheshire residential homes and campaigned against institutional discrimination.
The 2018 edition of Are We Oppressed? includes a new introduction written by Judy Hunt – Paul Hunt’s widow – and UPIAS member Maggie Davis, who herself was a significant figure in the development of the movement.
It was published this week on 3 December, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
The document has been prepared, with their support, by Tony Baldwinson, whose wife Lorraine Gradwell, who died last year, was another UPIAS member and later a founding member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).
Baldwinson pulled the new version of the document together from old stapled cuttings and Finkelstein’s typed and handwritten slips of paper.
Preserving the UPIAS papers is part of a wider archiving project by GMCDP.
Are We Oppressed? includes a series of influential comments by Finkelstein, often described as the father of the social model, as well as responses from other UPIAS members, although their comments have been anonymised.
Among Finkelstein’s comments, he told fellow members: “At the outset of starting our new organisation we must be sure and in total agreement about one thing – Disabled people are oppressed in our society.
“There should be no confusion about this, nor should this fact be far from our minds.”
The oppression faced by disabled people forced to live in institutions was also key to his arguments, with Finkelstein telling members: “The future will look back on the anti-institution struggles of today, as we look back on the anti-slavery struggles.”
In another circular, he said that “1970s society has already reached the stage where the technological solutions are at hand for full integration of physically impaired members of society.
“The fact that this is not done is because of the oppressive nature of the society (in the way it is organised).”
He also told UPIAS members: “However, I suggest that the real reason for our oppression (as for all other oppressed groups) is in the way society is organised (the socio-political causes).
“Our struggle, therefore, is with this system of rules. When we struggle against this, we also struggle against all those who defend and administer them.”
And, in a comment that is likely to be seized on by members of today’s disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, he warned: “In economic crises, when competition is increased, we are amongst the first to suffer (together with the other oppressed groups).
“This means the struggle against the competitive rules of our society has to continue until these are changed.”
Although his ideas were taken on and played a significant part in the foundation of the disabled people’s movement in the UK and the social model of disability, some members questioned his radical tone, with some of their comments likely to be viewed today as disablist.
One responded: “I’m worried a little as to our situation – I mean how radical are we going to be?
“Are we to sit in the streets waving placards, chanting thereby attracting publicity as a curiosity value – a freak show?
“Demos in our case ought to be out. We are not going to convince the general public that to be disabled doesn’t mean mental backwardness if we exhibit ourselves in an undignified manner.”
Judy Hunt told Disability News Service this week that she had passed huge amounts of UPIAS material to Baldwinson for his archiving work, which included two copies of Are We Oppressed?
She said she believed the document “still has a value” because so much of what Finkelstein said was still relevant today.
She said: “He argued people through it. It was a process people in the union were going through at the time.
“People had been socialised into trying to present themselves in a dignified manner because they had enough problems with all the ways people treated disabled people, and the attitudes that were around, the very real prejudices that were around and the hostility.”
She said she believed that disabled people were still oppressed.
“I think they are. What’s happening now is a lot of things stripping back, and people being forced into institutions again because they cannot get the support in the community.
“They are having their benefits cut so a lot of people are going to be struggling just to survive at home.
“They are not being allowed to participate as full citizens in many cases.
“There’s a much more mixed picture now. On the one hand there are people able to get to university and going into mainstream schooling and go and get jobs and get careers.
“But on the converse, people are losing their benefits and there is a real danger of institutionalisation again and it’s happening for some people, and in education too… with disabled children having difficulty getting access to mainstream schooling.
“We are not over that yet at all. There is quite a long way to go.”
6 December 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com