The equality watchdog is to commission a major piece of research into whether the government’s welfare reforms have harmed the human rights of disabled people and other minority groups.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says it wants to examine the impact of changes to the welfare system on independent living and poverty.
Its decision appears to mirror the decision of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities to carry out an unprecedented inquiry into “systematic and grave violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the UK government, which is examining the impact of a series of welfare reforms and social care cuts carried out since 2010.
The EHRC announcement was included in the watchdog’s new business plan for 2016-17, which was published on Monday (4 April) without any publicity.
The business plan says: “Everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living, including a minimum entitlement to food, clothing and housing.”
It adds: “It is not clear whether the government’s reforms to tax, welfare and public spending have taken into account the cumulative impact of these changes on the standard of living of disabled people and other groups who may have been disproportionately affected.”
EHRC says it will focus its work in this area in 2016-17 on commissioning an assessment to “determine how changes to the welfare system have affected equality of opportunity and the human rights of people who share certain protected characteristics”.
It adds: “This will enable us to identify whether the system effectively supports all groups into work and where improvements are needed to address unintended consequences.”
Five months ago, Iain Duncan Smith, who resigned last month as work and pensions secretary, dismissed an EHRC offer to help MPs and peers understand the true impact on disabled people and other groups of his welfare reform and work bill, which has since been passed by parliament.
Letters between EHRC and Duncan Smith were published on the commission’s website, following a freedom of information request, and showed that he snubbed an offer from the watchdog to “work more closely” on the equality impact assessments the Department for Work and Pensions published alongside the bill.
In a briefing on its website published last year, EHRC said it was concerned that parts of the bill “could exacerbate, rather than reduce, existing inequalities”.
And it suggested then that measures such as reducing the benefit cap, freezing many benefit rates, and the cut of nearly £30-a-week from April 2017 for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance could breach the government’s international human rights obligations, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Other areas EHRC plans to focus on this year for the first time include the launch of a new inquiry examining the provision and choice of housing for disabled people and its impact on independent living.
It also plans to review progress made by public bodies on implementing the recommendations of its 2011 disability hate crime inquiry, Hidden In Plain Sight, which concluded that they were guilty of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise disability-related harassment.
Other work will include a major new project that aims to address the discrimination faced by some groups – including disabled people – in accessing health and social care, and it will develop a strategy for tackling gender, disability and race pay gaps.
EHRC will also begin another major new piece of work, aimed at addressing the discrimination faced in schools by disadvantaged groups – including disabled pupils – who face lower educational attainment, identity-based bullying and harassment, and higher rates of exclusion.
Lord [Chris] Holmes, EHRC’s disability commissioner, said: “Our new business plan for 2016-17 puts a strengthened focus on improving disabled people’s lives so that they can participate fully in society.
“In the coming year, we will be starting a number of projects that will focus on removing barriers disabled people face in their day to day life.
“These include delivering improvements in relation to equality of access to health services; availability of appropriate services and dignity in care; and improving access to education and lower attainment among children with special educational needs and additional support needs.
“We will also be commissioning research to assess the impact of changes to the welfare system such as the changes to funding for independent living which have implications for disabled people’s standard of living.
“Our business plan and forthcoming strategic plan address many of the issues highlighted in the recently published House of Lords report on [the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on disabled people].
“In addition to this, we will be publishing an analysis of the main challenges facing disabled people across the country at the end of this year and our disability committee has set a number of key priorities to make a difference to disabled people’s lives.”
The watchdog’s core budget for 2016-17 has been frozen at £17.1 million, a real terms cut, although there is additional “discretionary” funding of £5.1 million available for other projects, if approved by the minister for women and equalities, Nicky Morgan.
7 April 2016
Trustees silent after watchdog reveals ‘shocking’ abuse that led to college closure
Young disabled people were exposed to “shocking” institutionalised abuse at a charity-run residential college in Kent, the care watchdog has revealed.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) explained this week that it had forced the closure of the college after uncovering evidence that disabled residents had been exposed to “serious harm”.
As a result of the watchdog’s actions, the trust that ran Westgate College for Deaf People was placed into administration in December, and the Royal School for Deaf Children, which was also run by the John Townsend Trust on the same site in Margate, was forced to close.
CQC said there had been “significant concerns about the culture” of the college, which provided further education and residential services for 38 Deaf young people with high support needs and had been established as a post-16 department of the school in 1978.
CQC first became aware of concerns after receiving “safeguarding alerts” in June 2014, and although the college initially showed “some improvement”, the commission said it “became increasingly clear that its leadership was incapable of sustaining this improvement and providing safe, effective and compassionate care”.
Four members of staff were eventually dismissed after admitting abuse, although the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against any of them, following a police investigation.
The BBC has reported that these allegations concerned a video that showed a care worker dancing naked around a resident during a party.
A subsequent CQC investigation, in November 2014, uncovered further evidence of abuse, including residents being “ridiculed” for their impairments, which again led to staff being dismissed.
Last summer, there were yet more safeguarding concerns and allegations of “a very serious nature”, which the trust had failed to pass on to CQC.
These included a resident allegedly having a hot cup of tea placed on their arm and being “goaded” by a member of staff, and a resident being “grabbed” around the neck and having their head pushed down.
On a further visit, last November, CQC uncovered yet more concerns, including residents being left unsupervised in a swimming pool, “serious” medication errors, and hazardous chemicals being left in an unlocked cupboard.
Andrea Sutcliffe, CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care, said her inspectors had seen “shocking examples of institutionalised failings and abuse”, and that the culture had been one of “staff being in control and people being contained”.
She said: “Residents were physically harmed by the very people who should have been caring for them, and the leadership within the John Townsend Trust did not take sufficient steps to prevent this, or to tackle a culture where people in vulnerable circumstances were not protected.”
CQC has only been able to reveal the action it took now because it had to wait for the trust’s appeal against its regulatory action to be dismissed by a tribunal, which happened in February.
None of the charity’s trustees – including its chair, John Colyer QC, a retired judge – had responded to requests from Disability News Service (DNS) to comment by noon today (7 April).
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was president of the John Townsend Trust, but is in Zambia for the next fortnight, attending the Anglican Consultative Council, and so has been unable to comment directly.
But a spokesman for the archbishop stressed that his presidency of the trust had been an honorary position, and that he had “not been involved at all in its day-to-day work and activities”.
He said: “He is currently overseas and therefore unavailable to comment, but he would obviously take the Care Quality Commission’s findings extremely seriously and hope that those affected find alternative residential placements and educational services.”
The trust’s administrators have told DNS that the “majority” of former pupils of the Royal School for Deaf Children (RSDC), which has not faced any abuse allegations, have now found new school placements.
The British Deaf Association (BDA), which had joined parents last year in calling for the school’s closure to be reversed, had not responded to a request for a comment by noon today (7 April).
RSDC had been the oldest Deaf school still operating in the UK, having been founded more than 220 years ago.
In relation to the investigation into the four staff members of the college, detective inspector John Cooper, of Kent police, said: “When this matter was referred to Kent police along with the video evidence, a thorough criminal investigation was launched by officers from the public protection unit.
“Officers investigated evidence of neglect, fraud and theft in relation to an adult victim.
“Whilst the acts seen in the video are wholly inappropriate and irresponsible, they do not fit the criteria for a specific criminal offence and therefore there were insufficient grounds to pursue a prosecution.
“No further course of action was available to officers on this occasion. This decision was subsequently reviewed and verified by a detective inspector.
“Kent police will, and does, investigate all matters relating to adult protection concerns thoroughly and impartially in order to obtain sufficient evidence to secure, where appropriate, a successful prosecution.”
Kent police are still investigating the allegation concerning the cup of tea.
7 April 2016
Hate crime initiative sees police reports leap by 500 per cent
A new London-wide scheme has seen the number of disability hate crimes recorded by police increase by 500 per cent within weeks of its launch.
The Metropolitan Police’s Disability Hate Crime Matters (DHC Matters) initiative only began rolling out in January, with briefings to officers from teams responsible for community safety, road and transport, local policing, emergency response and crime screening.
But already – even before it has fully rolled out – the scheme has seen 89 offences recorded as disability hate crimes across London in February, compared with 15 in the same month in 2015, an increase of about 500 per cent.
DHC Matters is led jointly by the Metropolitan Police and the pan-London Deaf and disabled people’s organisation (DDPO) Inclusion London, and was the idea of disabled activist Anne Novis, the force’s independent chair of its disability hate crime working group and an Inclusion London trustee.
The initiative aims to improve the way police identify, investigate and respond to disability hate crime.
Senior officers are being given a three-hour briefing on DHC Matters and will pass on that information to all of their frontline officers.
The briefing includes information on questioning victims about whether they believe they were targeted as a disabled person; collecting evidence to prove a crime involved disability-related hostility; and ensuring all perceived disability hate incidents are recorded on the force’s Crime Report Information System.
Scores of disabled campaigners, senior police officers and representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service and other organisations were at New Scotland Yard last week to hear about the initiative and offer their ideas on how to increase its impact.
Novis told the event that the increase in recording in its first two months was “encouraging” but still “does not reflect the true scope of hostility against us”.
And she warned that hate crime initiatives would only work if “Deaf and disabled people, victims and our own organisations get involved in this work”.
She said: “It’s not about just safeguarding. We expect legal justice.
“We do not accept ever ‘mercy killing’ as an excuse for murder, we do not perceive abuse, bullying, harassment of Deaf and disabled people as anything other than hate crime, whatever setting it’s in, from the school playground to day centres, residential care, in our homes, in community settings, our work or on the streets.
“Until we get all agencies realising they have a responsibility to record and report such cases to the police we will always experience injustice.”
She added: “I ask all here to ensure you record it, report to the police, investigate it properly, stop it, and help us access the equality of justice we deserve.”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, told the event that disability hate crime was “a daily reality for thousands of Deaf and disabled people in this country and it is on the increase, yet historically and still pretty much today it has remained pretty much invisible within the public policy and policing resources arenas”.
She said the increased reports resulting from DHC Matters mean “we are getting to the point where the genie is going to be out of the bottle”.
She added: “If reported disability hate crime begins to reflect the reality of our lives, it will become an issue that cannot be ignored and must be tackled.”
Lazard said that DDPOs “must play a key, essential role in tackling disability hate crime”, and added: “We need to build the skills and capacity of DDPOs so we can carry out long-term, sustainable, disability hate crime awareness-raising to local Deaf and disabled people, as well as the wider community.”
She said it was also vital to have high quality advocacy services, run by DDPOs, and an increase in the “effectiveness and capacity” of third-party reporting services, to allow disabled people to report hate crimes without contacting the police directly.
Lazard stressed the need for sustainable funding for hate crime work by DDPOs, a point echoed during the event by other disabled people.
Chief superintendent Dave Stringer, of the force’s community engagement team and the Met’s operational lead on hate crime, said it was “crucial” that the initiative was a partnership with Deaf and disabled people and DDPOs, because “if it isn’t, it won’t work”.
Novis told the event: “The barriers we face are more to do with systems and procedures that cause our experiences to be lost as though they do not matter.
“The full impact on individuals and our community is also not captured and we lose confidence in those who should be helping us most, due to processes and delays that lead to inaction and lack of justice.”
The ultimate objective of DHC Matters, according to detective constable Maria Gray, a member of the force’s disability hate crime working group, is to ensure disability hate crime cases reach court and result in stricter sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
Under section 146, the courts must increase the sentence for any offence where a defendant has demonstrated hostility towards a disabled person, or where the offence has been shown to be motivated by hostility.
After the event, Stringer told Disability News Service (DNS) that he would expect the number of recorded hate incidents to rise even further.
He said: “I would expect that number to rise still as people within Deaf and disabled communities talk to each other about their experience within policing and to further rise when we do awareness-raising within communities that the police are going to take this seriously.”
He said he had always been “shocked and surprised” – when he has discussed the issue with DDPOs – by the high proportion of disabled people who have been subject to harassment, intimidation and victimisation, and by the low number of people who have reported these incidents to the police.
He said: “I have never had to be persuaded that there is a significant issue. It is understanding the reasons why the lived experience of DDPOs doesn’t translate into numbers of crimes recorded.
“My role is to… make sure that we translate the experiences that people have into confidence to reporting to police, into effective investigations, into prosecutions.”
He said he was “confident” that restrictions on police funding would not affect the initiative, pointing out that the force had in the last 18 months increased the number of officers in community safety units, which investigate hate crime and domestic abuse, from 500 to 900.
Novis told DNS that she believed the initiative was “a game-changer” within the Metropolitan Police, and that senior officers had already recognised that.
The challenge now, she said, would be to ensure that it was “embedded” within the force.
Ruth Bashall, another leading disabled activist and member of the disability hate crime working group, said the initiative would need leadership from local police commanders if it was to succeed.
She said: “It’s brilliant to at least see some development. That the numbers have gone up is a real credit to the work that has been done.”
But she said the real challenge would be to sustain this progress and ensure it was “embedded into what the Met do”.
7 April 2016
Funding for the government’s main programme to improve access at rail stations is set to be nearly halved over the next four years, with up to 20 access improvement schemes likely to be postponed.
The delays were hidden on page 138 of a 172-page report by Sir Peter Hendy, the new chair of Network Rail, which contains his detailed recommendations to the government for “replanning” Network Rail’s investment programme for 2014-19 across England and Wales.
The report, published in January and amended last month, states that funding for the Access for All station improvement programme should be cut from £102 million to £55 million (in addition to another £32 million carried over from uncompleted work in 2009-14).
A consultation on the Hendy report – commissioned because some of Network Rail’s huge improvement programme had fallen behind schedule and over budget – has now finished, and the government is due to respond later this year.
The government had already cut the budget for the Access for All programme from £370 million over its first 10 years to just £103 million over the next four.
The rest of the funding originally allocated for 2014-19 – and the uncompleted projects – will now be carried over to 2019-24, but with no guarantee that it will not be used to disguise lower spending on access improvements in future years.
It is not yet clear which station improvement schemes will be affected by the delays.
The government has also admitted that it has now quietly scrapped a scheme that has seen small-scale access improvements to 1,100 stations since it was launched in 2006, worth about £7.5 million a year.
Funding for the small schemes programme ceased this month, although every train operating company still has to spend a proportion of its annual “minor works budget” on station access improvements.
Disability News Service reported two years ago that the government looked set to scrap the small schemes fund, but the Department for Transport (DfT) declined to confirm at the time if it would extend it past 2015-16.
By 2014, only about 450 of more than 2,500 UK railway stations had step-free access via lifts or ramps to all of their platforms, even though DfT’s own figures showed a benefit of at least £2.90 for every £1 invested in Access for All.
So far, DfT has refused to say whether it was ministers or Hendy who decided to postpone much of the Access for All programme until after 2019.
But a DfT spokesman said: “We are determined to make journeys better for all rail passengers, and ensuring that stations are accessible is a vital part of that.
“That’s why the government has committed more than £500 million since 2006 for accessibility improvements at stations across the UK through our Access for All programme.
“Sir Peter Hendy’s re-plan means that some rail upgrade projects will be delivered later than originally planned, but we remain committed to delivering the Access for All programme in full.”
7 April 2016
Primary school’s exclusion of disabled pupils ‘an utter disgrace’
The government is refusing to act over claims that a primary school excluded up to 30 pupils – many of them disabled – to smooth its path to becoming a self-governing “academy”.
Nonsuch primary in Birmingham moved from local authority control to become an academy in January, but now faces allegations that it excluded pupils in order to improve its performance and so make the move to academy status easier.
At the time of its last Ofsted report, in 2012, the school had just 193 children between the ages of four and 11, so it may have excluded more than 15 per cent of its students in a bid to become an academy.
The council has admitted that 90 per cent of fixed-term – temporary – exclusions from the school in the 2014-15 academic year were children with special educational needs (SEN).
The trust that now runs the school, the Barchelai Academy Trust, has launched an independent investigation into the way Nonsuch treats pupils with SEN.
Cllr John Lines, a Conservative city councillor whose ward includes the school and who has played a key role in exposing the exclusions, said he believed Nonsuch primary had been engaged in a “dash for cash and academy status”, and branded its actions “an utter disgrace”.
He has collected the names and addresses of about 30 pupils who have been excluded either temporarily or permanently from the school over the last 18 months, and said he had seen many of their parents in tears over what had happened.
He said: “I have been on the council for 33 years and I have never experienced anything quite like it.
“Some of the disabled children are still not receiving an education. It is discrimination of the worst kind.”
He has written to the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and Ofsted, about his concerns.
And he said he did not care if raising these concerns made him unpopular within his own party.
Morgan said in a white paper published last month that the government wanted every school to be an academy – and therefore outside direct local authority control – by 2022.
Cllr Lines said: “All I care about is that my constituents’ children get a good education. If that makes me unpopular with my own party, I don’t give a damn.”
But he also criticised Labour-run Birmingham City Council for failing to act on the exclusions when the school was still under local authority control.
He said: “The education department in Birmingham abandoned these children, many of them disabled, to their fate.
“Now they say they can’t do anything about it because it’s an academy. But it wasn’t an academy when this was going on.”
Peter French, Barchelai’s chair, admitted that there had “clearly been issues at that school” around the way it dealt with disabled pupils – before the trust took over in January – and suggested that “some of the paperwork and processes were not done as well as they could have been done”.
But he said it was “not true at all” that the school had carried out the exclusions to smooth its path to becoming an academy, although he conceded that the investigation would look at those claims.
French said that no children had been excluded since the trust took over in January.
And he said the trust had installed a new SEN co-ordinator to “try to make sure all the proper procedures are being done and the appropriate support is put in there”.
He said: “My view as chair of the trust is we want to have an inclusive school there.
“We want to do our best to ensure we cater for all children as best we can.”
A Birmingham City Council spokeswoman said there had been less than five permanent exclusions from Nonsuch in each of the last two academic years, 2013-14 and 2014-15.
But she revealed that the number of temporary exclusions at the school had risen from fewer than five in 2013-14 to 10 in 2014-15, while nine of those 10 had “some type of SEN”.
There are no figures for the school’s final term before it became an academy.
The council spokeswoman said: “We take these claims very seriously and are working closely with Nonsuch Primary School, its academy trust and the Regional Schools Commissioner, to review the inclusion processes and procedures for all pupils.”
The Regional Schools Commissioner for the West Midlands, Pank Patel, had failed to comment by noon today (7 April).
Inclusive education campaigners have been warning since at least 2010 that the rapid spread of “academy” schools was undermining the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream education.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are clear that no school should discriminate against pupils – and they have a legal duty not to.
“All schools are held to account by Ofsted for their use of exclusion powers.
“Barchelai Trust has reviewed the running of the academy and is now taking swift action so the needs of all pupils are met and underachievement is overcome.
“We will continue to monitor the situation.”
When asked if ministers were taking any action to ensure that such discrimination did not happen to other disabled children as a result of government plans to turn every school into an academy, she declined to comment further.
An Ofsted spokesman said his organisation did not discuss individual complaints about schools, but said in a statement: “Inspectors ask for information about pupil exclusions when they go into schools.
“Inspectors assess their use of exclusion, including the rates, patterns and reasons, as well as any differences between groups of pupils.
“If there is evidence of a school using exclusion powers inappropriately then an inspection may be brought forward.”
7 April 2016
Disabled campaigners set for battle with Chelsea’s celebrities over rail access
A London disabled people’s organisation has backed plans to build a new accessible train station in the heart of fashionable Chelsea, despite opposition from a string of celebrity residents.
Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea (ADKC) today (7 April) announced its support for a station to be built on King’s Road as part of the Crossrail 2 rail project that is set to connect rail networks in Surrey and Hertfordshire, with new track, tunnels and stations to be built through the heart of the capital.
ADKC says a new Crossrail 2 station would “significantly improve” access for disabled people to King’s Road and nearby services – including some of the capital’s most important tourist destinations – as the nearest step-free tube station is more than two miles away.
They say a new station would support the borough’s 1,900 wheelchair-users, and an estimated 7,100 people with walking difficulties, as well as disabled visitors who visit local attractions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Albert Hall.
It would also improve access and journey times for the 1.3 million patients treated annually at three major London hospitals: Chelsea and Westminster, the Royal Brompton and the Royal Marsden.
Jamie Renton, ADKC’s chief executive, said: “It is imperative that the Crossrail 2 station is built on the King’s Road to significantly improve access for thousands of people, including disabled people with a range of impairments or simply parents with pushchairs, who will benefit hugely from the provision of step-free access at the proposed station.”
He told Disability News Service: “As a local organisation of disabled people, we will support anything that provides greater access.
“It will certainly make it more accessible for everyone and it will create greater mobility for local disabled people.
“There are buses, but for a small borough it is quite difficult to navigate around, and transport is an issue.”
Renton, who is visually-impaired, said an accessible King’s Road station would mean that “suddenly that part of the borough is going to be accessible for me in a way that it is not now.”
Today (7 April), ADKC has added its name to those of 50 local businesses, employers and cultural, educational and medical institutions in Kensington and Chelsea who have written to London’s mayor and Transport for London to express their support for a Crossrail 2 station on King’s Road.
Those who have signed the letter include Imperial College London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, the Design Museum and the Natural History Museum, and top hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental, the Hyde Park, and the Sloane Square.
Crossrail 2 is not likely to open until the early 2030s but an increasing number of celebrity Chelsea residents are opposing the plans for a King’s Road station, including actors Felicity Kendal, Trevor Eve and Cherie Lunghi, film director Sir Alan Parker, musician Mark Knopfler, socialite Nicky Haslam, lawyer Nancy Dell’Olio, author William Boyd and television presenter Loyd Grossman.
The campaign group they are backing says the station will be too expensive, put listed buildings at risk, cause local disruption during its construction, and “damage the streetscape of Chelsea, ruining the unique charm of the King’s Road and its independent businesses”.
The campaign argues that Chelsea already has “excellent public transport links”.
7 April 2016
Trio of user-led organisations challenge London’s next mayor on equality
A trio of user-led organisations have challenged the capital’s next mayor to address the inequality faced by disabled Londoners.
Inclusion London, The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) and Transport for All launched a manifesto this week, which brings together the key commitments they want all of London’s mayoral candidates to sign up to.
The Disabled People’s Challenge To The Next Mayor of London includes polices on independent living, inclusive education, transport and housing.
More than 30 disabled people were outside City Hall to launch the event.
The three disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) point out that the mayor and the London Assembly – which is also facing elections on 5 May – have “significant powers that can address disadvantage and enable disabled Londoners to participate as active citizens in the life of the capital city”.
The main candidates seeking election as mayor are Tory Zac Goldsmith, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Sian Berry for the Greens, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon and UKIP’s Peter Whittle.
Among the policies in the manifesto, the three DPOs want to see the mayoral candidates commit to carry out more co-production of policy with Deaf and disabled Londoners, including appointing a disability equality policy adviser who will “truly embed a social model approach to disability” across the work of the Greater London Authority (GLA).
They want to see a commitment to “adequate access to information, advice and advocacy”, to promoting the employment of Deaf and disabled people, and to carrying out a “comprehensive assessment of accessible and adapted housing”.
They also want all service-providers that work for the mayor and GLA to ensure they meet their legal duties under the Equality Act and show a “continuing commitment” to providing accessible and inclusive services and employing Deaf and disabled people.
Disability hate crime is also mentioned, with the manifesto calling on the next mayor to fund and promote DPOs to run third-party reporting centres and provide advocacy for victims.
On transport, they want to see stricter penalties for bus companies that fail to enforce the priority for wheelchair-users in accessible bays, and do not give passengers enough time to sit down before the vehicle moves off.
And they want faster progress on making London’s tube and rail stations accessible, and a promise to make at least 25 per cent of London’s minicabs wheelchair-accessible.
On education, they call on the mayor to bring together local authorities, schools and DPOs to work together to “identify barriers and solutions” to promoting access to mainstream education provision across the capital, and to champion inclusive apprenticeship opportunities for young disabled Londoners.
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s chief executive, said: “We welcome the opportunity of the London elections 2016 to put issues affecting disabled Londoners firmly on the agenda and look forward to working with the next mayor and newly elected London Assembly members to build a city that is equal and inclusive for all.”
7 April 2016
‘Serious failings’ in disability assessments, despite payments of £500 million a year
There are still “serious failings” with the disability assessments contracted out by the government, even though it is paying outsourcing giants half a billion pounds a year to carry them out, according to a new report by MPs.
The Commons public accounts committee says disabled benefit claimants still do not receive an acceptable service from contractors, more than 10 years after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) first began paying Atos to carry out assessments for the old incapacity benefit.
The report on contracted out health and disability assessments says the committee has particular concerns about the way claimants with fluctuating and mental health conditions are assessed.
The committee examined contracts with Maximus, Capita and Atos, who between them are responsible for assessing eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).
The report says that between seven and 20 per cent of assessment reports do not meet the standard required by the contracts signed with DWP, with most mistakes relating to decisions made by assessors “not corresponding to the evidence”.
It also says there are “unacceptable” local and regional variations in performance, and criticised DWP for failing to collect any data on how assessment services perform in different parts of the country.
Although delays with PIP assessments have been reduced, it still takes Maximus an average 23 weeks to return an ESA assessment to DWP, while the cost per ESA assessment has increased from £115 to £190 under the Maximus ESA contract.
Maximus has confirmed that it will fail to hit its target of completing 911,000 ESA assessments in 2015–16, the first year of its contract.
Outstanding PIP assessments fell from 242,000 in mid-2014 to 57,000 in August 2015, and outstanding ESA assessments from 724,000 in early 2014 to 410,000 in August 2015.
But the Disability Benefits Consortium told the committee that this improvement in backlogs had been achieved at the expense of quality.
Between July and September 2015, only 40 per cent of PIP decisions and 41 per cent of ESA decisions made by DWP were upheld at appeal.
Meg Hillier MP, the committee’s chair, said: “The troubled history of this programme hammers home the importance of getting contracts right – and the importance of then holding contractors properly to account.
“In this case, poor performance has had a tangible human impact. We have seen some improvements but there is a long way to go before people being assessed can be confident of getting the service they deserve.”
She said the committee had found “serious failings” which “must be dealt with rigorously”.
Hillier added: “We will expect to see evidence of a more enlightened approach to the needs of claimants, greater transparency over contractor performance and a renewed focus on improving the quality of assessments.”
Meanwhile, the Commons work and pensions committee has launched a new inquiry into the government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap, the difference between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in work.
At the end of 2015, the employment rate among disabled people was 46.7 per cent, compared with 80.3 per cent for non-disabled people.
Halving the gap would mean finding jobs for another 1.2 million disabled people.
The committee, which is appealing for written submissions for its inquiry, will look at “the scale of the challenge and the likely effectiveness of the government’s employment support and benefit policies in achieving this goal”.
7 April 2016
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com