Outrage after chancellor blames disabled people for UK’s economic woes

The chancellor of the exchequer is facing calls to apologise after he made “disgraceful” comments that blamed disabled people for the country’s poor economic performance.

Philip Hammond’s comments to the Treasury select committee yesterday (Wednesday) came just days after his government launched its new 10-year Improving Lives strategy, which aims to find jobs for one million more disabled people by 2027.

Those attacking his comments included the Disabled Police Association, which described them as “unfair (and inaccurate)”, while Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, said they were “disgraceful”.

Hammond had been asked by the committee to explain the reasons for the country’s low levels of productivity growth.

He told the MPs: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups, very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – we may have had an impact on the overall productivity measurements.”

The Treasury had not said by 1pm today (Thursday) whether Hammond would be apologising for his comments.

A leading disabled consultant, Tracey Proudlock, described the comments on Twitter as “disgraceful”.

The Disabled Police Association said, also on Twitter: “It’s more difficult for disabled people to find employment than non-disabled – unfair (and inaccurate) for those who are working & paying taxes to be blamed for holding back the economy.”

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said they were “the most insulting, disgraceful, anti-disabled comments made by a senior politician for years”.

Brookes said Hammond’s words were “not even supportable by reality and facts”, and he added: “The amount of disabled people who work hard and often for lower than equal wages to counterparts is a massive contribution to all local and national services.

“The damage to disabled people’s dynamism is immense.

“No wonder faith in, and respect for, statutory bodies and politicians and their duty of care to minority groups and their value to society is crumbling.”

De Cordova asked the Commons deputy speaker yesterday if Hammond would be making a statement and issuing an apology to MPs for his comments “scapegoating disabled people as a reason for low productivity”.

In a statement, she said: “As a disabled person I am shocked and appalled that Philip Hammond is trying to blame me and other disabled people for the Tories’ economic failure.

“He should apologise immediately for this disgraceful comment.”

One disabled campaigner, Nicky Clark, said on Twitter: “God this is exhausting. Is there NOTHING disabled people aren’t blamed for?”

David Gillon, one of the most prominent critics of the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident employment scheme, said on Twitter: “When @PhilipHammondUK claimed disabled people lower #UK productivity, he was making same claim used to force me out of my aerospace engineering career. With same absence of evidence.

“Yet #disabilityconfident insists workplace #disability #discrimination doesn’t happen.”

Anita Bellows, a researcher with Disabled People Against Cuts, added: “I am wondering how many businesses are going to sign up to the #DisabilityConfident campaign today.”

Philippa Barraclough was another to criticise the comments on  Twitter, saying: “This is one of the most disgusting things I have ever heard!

“As someone who is living with #learningdifficulties & who is #partiallysighted I find this disgusting. I am in employment… [would] quitting my #job be better for the #economy?”

7 December 2017

 

 

Disability minister fails to mark international disabled people’s day

The new minister for disabled people has refused to explain why she apparently failed to attend or organise any events – or even post a message of support on social media – on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).

While disabled campaigners and organisations and even government departments were demonstrating their support for the day, which promotes the “rights and wellbeing” of disabled people and their contribution to society, Newton failed to make a public statement on Sunday (3 December).

Newton also apparently failed to organise or attend any events on Sunday to mark the international day, which was recognised around the world.

Her opposite number in parliament, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, posted both a picture of herself and fellow MP Kate Osamor holding a banner supporting the day, and a video message on Twitter.

In the message, de Cordova said the government policies that led to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities finding the UK guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN disability convention were “a political choice”.

She said: “It’s a political choice to build a social security system that makes life impossible for people with disabilities or a transport network that’s too often inaccessible.”

She also called on the government to provide guarantees on the rights currently enforced by the European Union, and added: “We can’t allow the rights of disabled people to be sacrificed as ‘unnecessary red tape’ as we move towards Brexit.”

Newton’s Twitter profile was silent on 3 December, as was her Facebook page, and she also failed to mention IDPD on 4 December.

Her chief of staff declined to answer questions about her activities on 3 December, and referred those questions to DWP.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman refused to explain why Newton failed to attend any IDPD events on 3 December, or to mention the occasion on social media.

She said Newton had attended an event hosted by the BOND group of UK international development organisations three days earlier, on 30 November, which had been held to mark IDPD.

During the event, the former minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, now the international development secretary, announced that the government would be hosting a global disability summit next year, although the press release issued by Mordaunt’s department on 30 November made no mention of IDPD.

When asked by Disability News Service if Newton had just forgotten about IDPD taking place on 3 December, the DWP spokeswoman declined to comment further.

In contrast, many organisations marked IDPD by joining the #PurpleLightUp campaign organised by the disabled people’s networking and professional development social business Purple Space.

Public bodies including Stockton Council, the National Assembly for Wales, the National Theatre, the University of South Wales, and the Health and Safety Executive (for which Newton is responsible) turned their buildings purple on Sunday to mark the day.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) also turned its sites in Cheltenham, Bude and Scarborough purple.

GCHQ’s disability champion and director general of technology said: “GCHQ is at the heart of the nation’s security and our mission is to keep the UK safe – we couldn’t do that without the fantastic contribution of our disabled colleagues.

“We are celebrating their impact but equally recognise we still have more to do.

“As the threat we face diversifies, so too must the workforce that tackles it. Very often it is our disabled community that leads the cutting-edge work we do.”

Companies including Fujitsu, Barclays, KPMG and E.ON also marked IDPD and the Purple Light Up campaign, by hosting events, encouraging staff to wear purple, or – like ITV – turning their social media logo purple for the day.

Newton took on the ministerial post last month, after Mordaunt’s promotion.

The former junior Home Office minister has already faced criticism over her voting record on disability issues from disAbility Cornwall & Isles of Scilly (DCIS), a disabled people’s organisation that provides support for disabled people in her constituency.

There has also been nothing posted about IDPD on the website of Newton’s Office for Disability Issues this week.

But when DWP sent a message via Twitter highlighting IDPD, it was met with a barrage of criticism.

One referenced the ongoing inquiry into disability benefit assessments, being carried out by the Commons work and pensions committee, pointing out that the investigation had “received about 3,000 submissions of evidence into the DWP’s poor treatment of disabled [people] whereas the normal number of submissions of evidence for a committee is around 100”.

Another said: “How dare you have the audacity to tweet this. My fight for PIP because of a chronic neurological condition has caused me nothing but huge distress.

“90 per cent of the time I can’t walk down the street let alone venture [onto] public transport but DWP can’t seem to grasp that. You’re the worst.”

A third said: “A car crash of a tweet when you have impoverished thousands of disabled ppl. Where is your basic common decency?”

Others were even more critical, accusing DWP of being responsible for the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

One added: “How DARE you celebrate #InternationalDisabilityDay when you make disabled ppls lives an absolute misery. Hang your heads in shame!”

7 December 2017

 

 

Deaf leader launches legal case over ‘discriminatory’ Access to Work cap

A Deaf chief executive has launched a legal case against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over its “discriminatory” cap on the amount of support available to help disabled people with disability-related expenses at work.

David Buxton, chief executive of Action on Disability in London, is one of many British Sign Language-users who have been hit by the imposition of the cap on payments made by the Access to Work (AtW) scheme.

Campaigners have been warning for the last two years that the cap, which limits annual AtW awards to one-and-a-half times the average salary, would hit Deaf users of BSL and disabled people with high support needs the hardest.

But they have also warned that the cap discriminates against those in senior positions, like Buxton.

AtW provides disabled people with funding to pay for some of the extra disability-related expenses they face at work – including travel, personal assistants or the use of BSL interpreters – reducing the costs organisations have to meet when taking on disabled employees.

The cap was introduced for new AtW claimants in 2015 and is due to affect existing claimants from April 2018

Buxton’s legal papers were served on DWP on Tuesday, just days after the government launched its 10-year work, health and disability strategy, which aims to increase the number of disabled people in work by one million by 2027.

There was no suggestion in the strategy that the government would remove the cap.

Buxton, whose case is being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “This case is being brought because the government has made the decision to limit my career by denying me the funds to pay for the linguistic access I need to be able to fulfil my job.

“Access to Work is a fantastic grant which allows Deaf and disabled people to remain in employment and doesn’t make the disabled employee a ‘no-no’ on the grounds of cost.

“For me as a Deaf person, and a CEO, this means using professional sign language interpreters at high-level meetings with various authorities, policy-makers, staff and members.

“Putting a cap on the AtW grant makes no economic sense.

“For every £1 I am awarded for AtW, I give back in taxes by virtue of being employed.

“It doesn’t stop there. In being employed, I give work to a number of interpreters, and, at other times, to palantypists, who are all contributing in fulfilling ways and paying taxes too.

“The impact of AtW is far-reaching and extremely positive.  Awarding AtW makes sense, a cap on AtW awards doesn’t.”

Buxton argues that he has been discriminated against under the Equality Act and that DWP breached its public sector equality duty when drawing up the cap policy.

Disability News Service reported seven months ago how Buxton had been told that AtW would only provide him with enough support to pay for interpreters three days every week.

He began his full-time job in London in May, and was immediately hit by the cap.

His solicitor, Anne-Marie Jolly, from Deighton Pierce Glynn, said: “As a result of this case, the government’s decision to cap Access to Work funding will finally be exposed to the scrutiny of the high court.

“Government decision-making around Access to Work has historically been lacking in clarity and transparency.

“In keeping with that history, the decision to cap the scheme was made with no formal consultation or adequate evidence base, despite its profound impact on those affected.

“Mr Buxton’s claim makes the case that the Access to Work cap breaches Deaf and disabled people’s human rights and right to be treated equally.

“The cap perversely impacts on those with the most demanding jobs and highest support needs, the overwhelming majority of whom are Deaf BSL-users, preventing them and their employers or businesses from reaching their fullest potential.”

Research commissioned by Inclusion London, and published in October, found the future of the AtW scheme was in jeopardy because of “bureaucratic incompetence” and a cost-cutting drive to reduce people’s support packages.

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, which is supporting the case through its Disability Justice Project, said: “The cap is already having a serious negative impact on Deaf and disabled people’s employment.

“On the one hand, the government say they want to reduce the disability employment gap and get another million disabled people into work, yet here is a disability employment scheme with a track record of success and it is being cut and changed to a point where it is no longer a viable form of support.

“Deaf and disabled people are frustrated and anxious at the risk of unemployment and benefit dependency, which will come at a much higher cost to the state than the support package they need to remain in work.”

Geraldine O’Halloran, co-founder of the StopChanges2AtW campaign, added: “The idea put forward by the government that employers will pay for the support that Deaf and disabled people need in order to do their jobs on an equal basis with non-disabled people is nonsense.

“However much an employer values you, the majority of employers don’t have the spare money to effectively pay to take on Deaf or disabled staff.

“Yet in the bigger picture it benefits the government to invest in disability employment support, with research showing that the Treasury makes a surplus on investment for every pound invested in Access to Work, and that’s before the wider benefits of savings to the NHS and social care are taken into consideration.”

A DWP spokeswoman said the department could not comment on an ongoing legal case.

7 December 2017

 

 

PIP assessment companies admit ‘unacceptable’ failings on quality of reports

The two outsourcing companies paid hundreds of millions of pounds to carry out disability benefit assessments have never met contractual quality standards on the reports their staff write for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), they have told MPs.

Capita and Atos began delivering assessments for the new personal independence payment (PIP) – which is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance – in April 2013, but neither of them have ever met the standards laid down in their contracts for the reports produced by their assessors.

Executives from the two companies were giving evidence to MPs on the work and pensions select committee yesterday (Wednesday) as part of its inquiry into disability benefit assessments.

Atos and Capita are set to be paid more than £700 million between them over the first five years of their contracts to assess PIP claimants in England, Scotland and Wales.

But the committee heard that, at one stage, 60 per cent of assessment reports being completed by Capita healthcare professionals and sent to DWP were judged to be of an “unacceptable” standard.

And at one point, about 30 per cent of Atos assessment reports completed in Scotland and the north of England were being judged unacceptably poor.

Currently – despite a DWP target that no more than three per cent of reports should be found “unacceptable” – nearly seven per cent of Capita reports are still being graded as unacceptable by DWP.

Simon Freeman, managing director of Capita’s PIP contract, said the 60 per cent figure had been “absolutely unacceptable”, and the company had subsequently improved recruitment and training and the support it provided to assessors.

But he accepted that the rate had risen again in the last few months, which again was “not acceptable”.

Atos admitted that previously 30 per cent of reports had been found “unacceptable”, while its current rate was “about five or six per cent”.

David Haley, chief executive of Atos’s PIP contract, said its performance at the start of the contract had been “completely unacceptable”.

Both Capita and Atos said they had never met the three per cent target since they started carrying out assessments more than four years ago.

Despite these repeated failings, Haley and Freeman said they had never been called in to discuss the problem with successive work and pensions secretaries.

Tory MP Alex Burghart said the committee had been given “multiple examples of reports that contain basic factual inaccuracies”, and asked Capita and Atos if they were familiar with that kind of “mistake”.

Freeman said he was aware of cases “where people have questioned the content”.

Labour MP Neil Coyle asked whether fining assessors who made mistakes or omitted important information from their reports could help improve the accuracy of those assessments.

Dr Barrie McKillop, clinical director for the Atos PIP contract, said in reply that all his assessors were registered with their professional regulatory bodies, and complaints about their actions were referred to those organisations if information had been “wrongly represented” in the reports.

Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, asked him how many assessors lose their status as healthcare professionals with these regulatory bodies “because their work is just so hopeless”.

But neither McKillop nor his Capita colleagues were able to tell the committee how often regulatory bodies had sanctioned their healthcare professionals, but promised to provide that information in writing.

Disability News Service (DNS) has heard repeatedly from disabled claimants angry at the failure of those regulatory bodies – particularly the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Health and Care Professions Council – to act when presented with evidence of dishonest assessment reports by Capita and Atos staff.

Field said at the end of their evidence that he had found the session “distressing”.

DNS has been carrying out a year-long investigation into claims of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system, and revealed in October that complaints about the process rose by nearly 900 per cent last year.

In the 12 months since its investigation began, DNS has heard from more than 250 PIP claimants who say their assessment reports were dishonest.

The committee’s inquiry has produced more online evidence from the public than any other investigation ever held by a House of Commons select committee, with more than 3,200 pieces of written evidence in total.

The committee was also told that both Atos and Capita employed only two doctors each within their PIP operations, with their assessments instead carried out by nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

The committee later heard from executives from Maximus, which carries out the work capability assessment (WCA) on behalf of DWP.

They also admitted that they had never met their target for producing assessment reports of an acceptable standard, in the two-and-a-half years since taking over the WCA contract from Atos.

The latest figures show that more than seven per cent of all Maximus assessment reports are judged to be of an unacceptable standard, the committee heard, against a target of five per cent.

Leslie Wolfe, general manager for Maximus in the UK, said it was “not acceptable” that the company had never met the government’s target.

Dr Paul Williams, the WCA programme director for Maximus, said the company was due to carry out about one million WCAs this year, but would only perform about 8,000 to 9,000 home assessments.

Labour MP Ruth George told him and Wolfe that one of her constituents had been denied a home assessment, despite sending a letter from his GP telling Maximus that he had a fractured vertebra, and so should not be forced to attend an assessment centre.

Williams told George that he would be “really quite cross” if he heard that his staff had refused to carry out a home assessment in such circumstances.

George said she had been forced to intervene on Monday to prevent her constituent having to attend the assessment centre.

Williams claimed that only six ESA claimants in every 1,000 lodge complaints with Maximus, and only about three of those relate to the assessments themselves.

7 December 2017

 

 

Improving Lives: Fears over strategy’s ‘unacceptable’ work and health links

The government’s “cruel” and “unacceptable” emphasis on linking health and job outcomes in its new work, health and disability strategy will have a significant negative impact on people in mental distress, say campaigners and experts.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health released their joint 10-year Improving Lives strategy last week, and it repeatedly stresses the need to “join up work and health”.

The strategy includes proposals across social security, the workplace and healthcare, in response to a consultation that produced about 6,000 comments, including more than 3,000 emails.

David Gauke, the work and pensions secretary, described the strategy as “ambitious” and said the aim was to secure jobs for one million more disabled people by 2027, increasing the number of disabled people in work from 3.5 million to 4.5 million by 2027.

Among the plans on healthcare are to more than double the number of employment advisers sent in to work within Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services, which provide treatment for people with anxiety and depression.

The strategy – which contains the government’s response to last year’s Improving Lives work, health and disability green paper – also says the government is already running trials to test different ways of delivering “joined up health and work support” in settings such as GP surgeries.

It claims that “many healthcare professionals recognise that good work generally improves health and act positively on this knowledge”, but adds that there is “more we need to do to ensure this practice is better embedded across all healthcare professions”.

And it says it will work with NHS England “to explore opportunities to increase, where appropriate, the focus on work as a route to improved health and wellbeing, and to embed employment outcomes into evaluation measures”.

But ‘Rita Bins’, a spokesperson for the user-led group Recovery in the Bin, said the strategy was “more of the same disastrous and cruel work as cure ideology” and represented a continuing emphasis on forcing people off disability benefits.

Bins added: “It is also dishonest [because] there are twice as many unemployed people as vacancies, so a million jobs for disabled people would need government to create those jobs, government refuses to do so and its own growth forecast shows it can’t.

“So in reality what this means is not a million more disabled people in work, but really a million more disabled people being cut off benefits.”

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said: “Concerns about the dangers of conflating work and health have been ignored, with proposals to put more employment advisers in IAPT and invest in research to support policy linking health and work.”

Dr Jay Watts, a consultant clinical psychologist and a member of the campaigning Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, said the government had been “obsessed with the idea that work is the true goal of life for a number of years”.

She said that although the strategy’s intention was supposed to be to “improve lives”, there was no commitment to halting benefit sanctions, despite the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities calling in August for a review of their “detrimental impact” on disabled people.

Disabled activists have repeatedly highlighted the deaths of disabled benefit claimants they believe were linked to the government’s sanctions regime, including those of David Clapson and Alan McArdle.

And DWP admitted in 2015 that 10 of 49 benefit claimants whose deaths were subject to secret reviews by the department had had their payments sanctioned at some stage.

Only last week, DNS reported “shocking” NHS statistics that showed almost half of the people in England claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA), had attempted suicide at some point in their life.

Campaigners believe that those figures – uncovered by Watts – highlight the need for DWP to abandon its hard-line approach to forcing disabled people off benefits and into work through damaging rhetoric and unforgiving sanctions, but there was no sign of such a shift in the new strategy.

Watts called last week for DWP to start treating ESA claimants with “dignity and respect” and shift from a regime of punishment “to a culture that encourages things like voluntary work which are good for mental health, but too frightening a possibility for many claimants who fear any sign of activity will be used to stop their benefits”.

She said this week: “The pressure to pursue work makes many people feel like failures when they are not well enough to work, when there are no jobs available or when they are forced to accept jobs that are demonstrably bad for mental health.

“Everyone I speak too feels guilt and shame at not working, with disastrous effects on mental health.

“This is a direct cause of the current mental health crisis, and a direct result of government policy that situates the workless as worthless.

“Both Improving Lives and evidence from the influential New Savoy Partnership suggests therapists will be under increasing pressure to ‘encourage’ patients into jobs. This is simply unacceptable.

“Therapists must not follow the money, but clear the therapeutic space away from any demands other than listening to patients, and focusing on the goals they, rather than the government, set.”

One mental health professional has already resigned in protest at links between the organisation she is a member of and the government’s work and health agenda.

Patricia Murphy, an independent therapist who practises cognitive behavioural therapy, said on Twitter that she had resigned as a member of the branch liaison committee of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP), after almost 20 years serving on various BABCP committees.

She said she felt she was being “co-opted to get people back into employment” and was “disappointed and dismayed” that BABCP was “engaging so actively” with DWP.

Both BABCP and Murphy had failed to comment on her resignation by noon today (Thursday).

7 December 2017

 

 

Improving Lives: Ministers back down on ‘mandatory’ activity for ESA support group

Ministers have backed down – at least temporarily – from plans to force all sick and disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits to take part in compulsory work-related activity.

There was an outcry among disabled campaigners last year when the government’s work, health and disability green paper suggested that claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) with the highest support needs could be told to stay in regular touch with their local jobcentre, or risk having their benefits sanctioned.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health (DH) finally published their joint response to the Improving Lives green paper last week, and it stressed that respondents to the green paper had been “clear that accessing any support [for claimants in these groups] should be voluntary”.

A DWP spokesman said the government had listened to responses to the green paper and was now “researching and trialling activities people in the support group would be able to undertake on a voluntary basis”, although he refused to rule out the possibility of compulsory work-related activity being introduced in the future.

The 10-year work, health and disability strategy includes proposals across social security, the workplace and healthcare, in response to a consultation on last October’s green paper which produced about 6,000 comments, including more than 3,000 emails.

Despite ministers previously suggesting that they were set for major reform of the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) – which other political parties have promised to scrap – there were no solid proposals laid out in the strategy.

Penny Mordaunt – at the time the minister for disabled people – promised during an election hustings event earlier this year that a Tory government would “dismantle” the WCA.

And Damian Green, at the time the work and pensions secretary, said when publishing the green paper that “when things need improving, like the work capability assessment… we mustn’t shy away from big decisions”.

But the new strategy says that responses to the green paper “gave multiple and differing views on what the WCA should look like”, so DWP would “focus on building our evidence base so that we get it right” and “build evidence for future reform and legislative change”.

The strategy also includes no reference to the cuts of nearly £30-a-week for new claimants placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), a cut that disabled people’s organisations have warned will move claimants further from the labour market.

A DWP spokesman declined to say why the strategy document failed to mention the WRAG cut.

Serious concerns were also raised over a reference in the strategy to trials being carried out on whether DWP work coaches can combine job search skills training with “interventions to enhance motivation” for out-of-work claimants.

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said: “While it is something of a victory and testament to all the efforts gone to by so many disabled campaigners in responding to the Improving Lives consultation that suggestions of compulsory work-related activity for disabled people in the support group seem to have gone quiet, the publication of the government’s employment strategy is not something that should be welcomed.

“The announcement that work coaches are trialling interventions to ‘enhance motivation’ alongside job search skills training is deeply concerning in that psychological interventions should ever only be undertaken by professionals with appropriate qualifications, particularly when working with people with complex psychological support needs.”

Clifford also raised concerns about the dangers of “conflating work and health” and the “continuing failure to tackle any of the substantive barriers to work” faced by Deaf and disabled people (see separate stories).

Dr Jay Watts, a consultant clinical psychologist and a member of the campaigning Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, said: “Increasing focus is given to the role of ‘work coaches’ who are expected to conduct ‘health and work conversations’ with claimants.

“These conversations are based on principles from positive psychology to change mindsets, yet there is no consideration to the ethics of holding dual roles as coach and punisher (for it is work coaches who decide on sanctions).

“How is informed consent possible in such a scenario? How is this anything but psycho-compulsion?”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said its initial reaction to the strategy was that it was more of “the same old empty, worthless promises and still no idea about the actual barriers disabled people face getting and keeping work”.

The document also says that responses to the green paper made it clear that employment support for disabled people should be “flexible” and “voluntary”.

It says the government is currently testing peer support models which involve people “who have themselves experienced unemployment or health problems”, to see if this “helps build people’s belief in their ability to work, and achieve better health and work outcomes”.

But there was fierce criticism from the industry body, the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), which said that, under the government’s plans, the “vast majority” of disabled jobseekers would not receive the specialist support they needed.

ERSA described the new Work and Health Programme, which the government began to roll out at the end of last month, as “very small” and said – according to research it published last year – that it would help only one in eight of those disabled people who wanted to work, with spending on specialist employment support falling by 80 per cent.

So far, although DWP has announced the names of the organisations that have been awarded contracts to provide employment support services across England and Wales under the Work and Health Programme – Remploy (mostly owned by the discredited US company Maximus), Shaw Trust, Reed in Partnership, Ingeus and Pluss – it has refused to say which organisations will be involved as sub-contractors.

The programme will support disabled people, but also those who are long-term unemployed, and other groups such as ex-carers, ex-offenders, homeless people and those with drug or alcohol dependencies.

David Gauke, Green’s replacement as work and pensions secretary, described the strategy as “ambitious” and said the aim was to secure jobs for one million more disabled people by 2027, an increase from 3.5 million to 4.5 million.

A DWP spokeswoman declined to say whether the department accepted the ERSA figures on spending.

But she claimed that the government would be increasing real terms investment in employment support for disabled people over the period 2016-17 to 2020-21, including £500 million on the Work and Health Programme over five years, another £100 million for local versions of the programme in Greater Manchester and London, and £115 million on developing new models of support.

On delays to WCA reform, the spokeswoman said: “We are committed to continuing to improve the WCA.

“We’ve done a lot since 2008 and will not stop now – the recent reform to stop reassessments for people with the most severe lifelong conditions in ESA and universal credit is one example.

“We heard broad support for WCA reform in the green paper consultation but there was no consensus on what the right model of WCA reform would look like.

“We know that we need to get reform right and will therefore focus on testing new approaches to build our evidence base for future reform.

“We will work with external stakeholders to inform future changes, including to engage with concerns about the specific model* consulted on in the green paper.”

*This model would “separate decisions on the financial support an individual receives from the discussions they have about the employment and health support available to them”

7 December 2017

 

 

Improving Lives: Government considers financial incentives for employers

The government is considering offering financial incentives to employers to persuade them to recruit more disabled employees, as part of a 10-year strategy to secure jobs for one million more disabled people by 2027.

The long-awaited Improving Lives strategy includes proposals across social security, the workplace and healthcare, in response to a consultation that produced about 6,000 comments, including more than 3,000 emails.

In the workplace section of the joint Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department of Health strategy, the government says it is considering offering employers a temporary “holiday” on national insurance contributions, alongside other “employer obligations and incentives” to take on disabled employees.

It says that any measures must “avoid creating excessive burdens on employers that could discourage recruitment” and must be “appropriately targeted”.

The strategy aims to increase the number of disabled people in work from 3.5 million to 4.5 million by 2027.

There was disappointment that, as with last week’s industrial strategy, there were no proposals on how the government might use public sector procurement to insist that contractors provide training and job opportunities for disabled people.

The strategy admitted that some responses to the green paper had called for public procurement to be used “to drive culture change and increased recruitment of disabled people in supply chains”.

But DWP promised instead only to “work with its suppliers to encourage them to become Disability Confident to recruit, retain and develop disabled people” and to “encourage other government departments to do the same”.

The government will also bring together public sector leaders for a Work, Health and Disability Summit by spring 2018, to “drive work [on disability employment] in the wider public sector”.

The government said it had accepted all 40 recommendations of the review of mental health and employers by Lord (Dennis) Stevenson and Paul Farmer, although many of the responses to the Stevenson/Farmer recommendations saw the government “encouraging”, “supporting”, “exploring” or agreeing recommendations “in principle”, rather than pledging to enforce them.

One of the recommendations it has agreed from the review is to bring together information and advice on mental health, wellbeing and disability for employers, although it is researching how best to do this.

The strategy also includes proposals on how to improve the Access to Work (AtW) scheme, including trials of “managed personal budgets” to provide “even greater personalisation” – which has caused alarm among some campaigners – and the introduction of a “personalised service” for those with the highest support needs.

There will also be “a new expectation” that equipment provided through AtW “will be portable and move with the individual when they change jobs”, while disabled people will be able to apply for support earlier so that it is in place by the time their job starts.

But there was no suggestion of an end to the highly-controversial cap – set to rise to £43,100 in April – on annual AtW support packages, with DWP now facing legal action over its imposition (see separate story).

There appears to be an admission that DWP’s much-criticised Disability Confident scheme for employers needs improvement, with the strategy promising to increase its “reach and effectiveness”, although not saying how this would be done.

The strategy also says the government will “improve advice and support” for employers on how to “recruit, retain and support disabled people”, which employers feel is currently “fragmented and difficult to access”.

There is no clear proposal for how this will be achieved, with the strategy saying instead that the government will “start by researching and identifying potential solutions”.

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said the strategy showed a “continuing failure to tackle any of the substantive barriers to work that Deaf and disabled people face, with reduced spending on the types of employment support that Deaf and disabled people actually need”.

Nicky Evans, from the StopChanges2AtW campaign, said: “The proposals for how the government plans to ‘enhance’ Access to Work go nowhere near the radical overhaul of a failing service that is needed, while we have serious concerns about the consequences of measures such as the introduction of the cap.”

She said she was also concerned about the report’s pledge that AtW recipients with the highest needs “will be offered new managed personal budgets as well as workplace assessments involving their employers, to help them meet their needs within their award levels”.

Evans said this sounded “very much like the ‘job redesign’ that was previously attempted by AtW and heavily criticised.

“Deaf people are having their jobs changed to accommodate the budget available for support – this goes against the original aims of the scheme to enable Deaf and disabled people to enter employment on a level playing-field with non-disabled employees.

“Unfortunately, many of these so-called improvements will not solve the issues created by recent government changes to the scheme which, prior to 2010, was considered the government’s ‘best kept secret’.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “There are many principles to be welcomed in the government’s announcement on getting more disabled people into work – we particularly welcome the idea of personalised employment support, for example, and the recommendations of the Stevenson/Farmer review being accepted and acted upon.

“But this is against a backdrop of cuts in support to disabled people in and out of work, and missed opportunities.

“[Last] week’s industrial strategy was a chance for the government to insist public sector contracts would only be awarded when bids included a mechanism which led to employment or training opportunities for disabled people. It ignored that possibility.

“We’ve heard many positive platitudes from governments about the employment of disabled people over the last 20 years but little change in reality.

“To meet its ambitious target of more than one million additional disabled people in work by 2027, this government needs to make sure its ambition is matched with the resources and culture change required to make it happen.”

Frank Field, Labour MP, chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee and a former work and pensions minister, was also critical of the strategy.

He said: “Progress on reducing the disability employment gap in the last decade has been glacial, and the measures announced today offer little prospect of picking up the pace.”

He said the government needed “a radical new system to incentivise employers to take on and retain disabled workers”, while the strategy was just “a first step in the marathon distance” the government would need to travel if it wanted one million more disabled people in work.

A DWP spokeswoman said that almost 600,000 disabled people had entered work in the last four years.

She said: “The manifesto commitment to get one million more disabled people in work over the next ten years now gives us a clear, ambitious, and time-bound goal.

“We have outlined specific actions across three settings: welfare, employers and health, to ensure that we have a comprehensive approach to achieving this commitment.

“We are taking action across a range of areas.  And we are clear that we need to build our evidence of what works before we take further decisions.”

She said the government had also taken action over the last year, including rolling out the new personal support package, ending repeat work capability assessments for people with the highest support needs, “boosting the capacity and capability of our work coaches”, and completing an internal review of the fit note.

7 December 2017

 

 

Charities ‘must do more’ to support direct action anti-austerity activists, says DPO chair

Disability charities must do more to support the disabled activists who are fighting austerity through direct action protests, according to a leading figure in the disabled people’s movement.

Jackie Driver, who has chaired the Manchester-based disabled people’s organisation Breakthrough UK for the last 13 years, said that grassroots organisations like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) had received “negligible” support from the wider movement.

In a public lecture in Liverpool on Sunday, held on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), she said there was a risk that the “resistance” to “crushing” government cuts would remain “fractured and ineffective” unless there was solidarity with groups like DPAC.

She said: “Until that changes, and people stand in solidarity with organisations like DPAC, using direct action and civil disobedience, putting their bodies in front of their convictions, then the UK movement risks remaining fragmented, ineffective and easily dismissed or ignored.”

Driver was delivering the third annual Edward Rushton Social Justice Lecture at the Museum of Liverpool, an event organised by the user-led disability arts organisation DaDaFest.

She said that charities – with their “shiny new social model approaches” – were often seen as a “blight” on the “landscape around disability”, and she warned of the “ever present” threat that they would become “the accepted vehicle for disabled people’s empowerment”.

She told Disability News Service later that “established disability charities, along with countless others, need to be allies to the disability rights movement, and in doing so need to recognise the role of the disability activists who risk all to raise significant issues and not dismiss them as radical fringe elements”.

She said that those “allies” of the disabled people’s movement who have more “economic, political or social capital” have a greater responsibility and capacity to support the idea of “nothing about us without us”, and to recognise the leadership of disabled people’s user-led organisations.

She spoke in her lecture about disability rights and activism, direct action, and the fight for equality for disabled people.

And she pointed to the historic advances that had come about because of campaigns by grassroots campaigners such as the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and the Campaign for Accessible Transport, which used “direct action to fight injustice”.

There was a need, she said, “to be very clear about grassroots activism and the leading role it plays in securing advances”.

Her comments came only days after another leading figure in the disabled people’s movement, Professor Mike Oliver, delivered a stinging rebuke to disability charities that he said had “proved predictably useless at defending the living standards and lifestyles of disabled people” from the government’s “vicious attacks, while continuing to do very well for themselves”.

Driver warned, as Oliver had, of the reduction of disabled people to stereotypes, such as “tragic or heroes, shirkers or strivers, deserving or undeserving”, particularly through the focus on the Paralympics and disabled war veterans.

She also paid tribute to the “innovation and leadership role” of Sir Bert Massie and Lorraine Gradwell, two “prominent and significant freedom fighters” who have both died in the last few months, and who both lived in the northwest of England.

The event commemorated the duo’s “vast contributions to the disabled people’s movement”.

Driver also paid tribute to the historical contribution to the movement of other disabled people and organisations from the north-west, including the Manchester branch of the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, DaDaFest, and her own organisation, Breakthrough UK.

Together, she said, they were the “northern powerhouse of the disability rights movement”.

Although Driver is programmes principal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, she was speaking as chair of Breakthrough UK, which tomorrow afternoon (Friday 8 December) will mark the beginning of its 20th anniversary year with an event at Manchester Central Library.

The event will celebrate the contributions of all the disabled people and organisations who have worked with and for Breakthrough, as well as the achievements of Gradwell and Breakthrough’s other founder, Kevin Hyett, who died in 2004.

Gradwell was asked by Manchester City Council – which is still a core funder – to set up the organisation in 1997, after the local authority promised to work with local disabled people to provide them with real jobs.

Since then, Breakthrough has provided employment and independent living support to more than 5,000 disabled people in Manchester, as well as consultancy, training and policy advice to local businesses and public organisations on how to remove disabling barriers.

Elsewhere on IDPD, the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) warned of the continued impact of austerity and cuts on disabled people’s opportunity to access  independent living, including in the UK, “where increasingly, young disabled people with high support needs are being told their only option is residential care”.

ENIL said there was a “worrying trend” across Europe of funding the “building and renovation of institutions”, or replacing “large residential institutions with other types of segregated settings”.

ENIL added: “From the Estonian care villages to small group homes in Bulgaria, countries that started deinstitutionalization reforms using EU funds have failed to understand the true meaning of independent and community living.”

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission and its Equality Commission marked the international day by warning the UK government that its welfare reforms had imposed “real hardship” on many disabled people across Northern Ireland.

They said that further mitigation measures were needed to prevent the roll out of social security reforms causing them further harm.

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said: “It’s more than disappointing to be re-stating our call for government action on the many inequalities confronting disabled people in Northern Ireland.”

In Wales, Disability Wales marked IDPD by announcing the names of seven talented role models selected as part of its new Embolden campaign.

The campaign aims to change negative perceptions of disabled people by sharing stories about the achievements of disabled women in Wales, and provoking conversations that challenge attitudes to disability.

Nominations came from the Welsh public, and awards will be presented at an event next March to Anita Davies (community activist); Sian Preddy (career success); Stephanie Back (arts); Anastasia Blease and Tina Evans (sporting excellence); Barbara Stensland (education); and Janice Partridge (in the category of “amazing in any other way”).

A posthumous award will go to the widower of Julie Marsh, a central figure in the Welsh disability movement who died in 2002.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said: “Embolden is about shining a spotlight on the achievements of D/deaf and disabled women around Wales, and empowering other women and girls to fulfil their potential.”

The Embolden campaign is part of the celebrations that will mark next year’s centenary of women in Britain obtaining the vote in March 1918.

7 December 2017

 

 

London’s mayor broke election promise to meet disabled people’s organisations

The mayor of London has refused to explain why he failed to keep his promise to meet representatives of the capital’s disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in his first 100 days in office.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan made the pledge to three London disabled people’s organisations – Inclusion London, Transport for All and The Alliance for Inclusive Education – during the campaign that led to his victory in May 2016.

But he has failed to keep that promise, and has yet to meet them since his election victory.

Inclusion London said yesterday (Wednesday) that it was growing “increasingly frustrated” by the mayor’s lack of progress in setting up ways to engage with Deaf and disabled people and their organisations.

Although the mayor’s director of policy met with Inclusion London and other DPOs in 2016, within the first 100 days of his mayoralty, the mayor himself was not present.

Another meeting took place in March 2017, this time between Matthew Ryder, the deputy mayor for social integration, social mobility and community engagement, and 10 disability organisations, to discuss “current issues and challenges facing Deaf and disabled Londoners”. But again, the mayor was not present at the meeting.

Sadiq Khan has yet to meet with representatives of London’s DPOs, more than 18 months –more than 550 days – after his election victory over Tory Zac Goldsmith.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “Inclusion London is not alone in becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress within City Hall to set up engagement mechanisms with Deaf and disabled people and our organisations.

“We have taken part in a number of strategy consultations and we have had two meetings with deputy mayors since Sadiq took office over 18 months ago, but these are all one-off meetings when what Deaf and disabled Londoners need is effective and strategic on-going engagement between City Hall and Deaf and disabled people’s organisations (DDPOs).

“Sadiq also needs to follow through on his pledge, made to Inclusion London, Allfie and Transport for All, in a meeting prior to his election in May 2016, that he will personally meet with DDPOs and work with us.

“Harnessing the views, experiences and expertise of DDPOs is essential if Sadiq is going to honour his manifesto pledges in relation to the 1.2 million Deaf and disabled people living in this city.

“Waiting 18 months for this to happen is 18 months too long. This strategic engagement work with Deaf and disabled Londoners and our organisations needs to begin now.”

Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, added: “We’re very disappointed that Sadiq hasn’t honoured his commitment to meeting with disabled people and our organisations in his first 100 days as mayor of London.

“At least twice in the lead-up to the election, Sadiq mentioned ALLFIE when he talked about his commitment to inclusive education and apprenticeships. Since the election those commitments have also not been honoured.

“The odd meeting with officials isn’t a substitute for meeting the mayor. ALLFIE and our membership are left with a sense of disconnection from a mayor who seems unable or unwilling to deliver on his promises to disabled Londoners.”

A spokesman for the mayor’s office has so far been unable to explain why the mayor failed to keep his promise, or to meet with DPOs at all since his election.

He said in a statement: “The mayor is absolutely committed to deliver a more inclusive city for all Londoners, including those who are Deaf or disabled.

“In the first 100 days of Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty his team met with a group of Deaf and disabled people’s organisations, including Inclusion London, the Alliance for Inclusive Education and Transport for All to discuss issues and challenges that they face.

“The mayor also spoke at the Liberty Festival in 2016 – a festival celebrating disability arts and sports – and met with participants of the event, which took place at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.”

When DNS suggested that a member of the mayor’s team meeting DPOs was not the same as the mayor himself meeting them, he said: “I completely understand that, I completely understand that, but that’s the line I have for you, unfortunately.

“The line I’ve got to give is his team has met with organisations.”

He said the statement had come from the mayor’s office, rather than the mayor himself, who was in India.

7 December 2017

 

 

Party activist says lack of disabled people on Labour’s ruling body is ‘ludicrous’

An activist is seeking election onto Labour’s ruling national body as part of a campaign to improve the representation of disabled people throughout the party.

Sarah Taylor is one of two disabled members of the new Project 125 campaign who are seeking election to Labour’s national executive committee (NEC), which oversees the party’s policy-making process.

She said it was “ludicrous” that there were no disabled members of the NEC and its equality committee.

Project 125 is seeking to improve the participation and representation of disabled people at all levels of the party, and aims to persuade Labour to select 125 disabled parliamentary candidates to fight the next general election.

They say that because 20 per cent of the population are disabled people, the party should select 125 disabled candidates, roughly 20 per cent of Westminster seats. At present, the campaign says, just 0.8 per cent of Labour MPs identify as disabled people.

Project 125 is linked to the separate Disability Equality Act Labour (DEAL) campaign, which is pushing the party to implement the Equality Act 2010 in how it treats disabled party members.

Taylor and fellow Project 125 campaigner Nicola Morrison secured enough support from local Labour constituency parties (CLPs) – Taylor was nominated by 11 local parties and Morrison by seven – to stand as candidates in the NEC election among party members.

The election is being held because members agreed at the party’s annual conference in Brighton in September to add three more constituency representatives to the NEC, which currently has 40 members.

But the conference also saw calls from DEAL members and others for the party to end years of “blatant discrimination” against its own disabled members, while there were also complaints about “inexcusable” access failings at the conference.

Taylor, a former nurse, from Norwich, told Disability News Service (DNS) that Labour was “the party of equality” and its aim was to help disabled people “have a more equal life” and address discrimination.

But she said: “I don’t know how we can do that if we haven’t got disabled party members throughout the party.”

She said her message to party members deciding who to vote onto the NEC was: “It’s our party, let us in.

“Let us be part of it, let us represent ourselves and let us work with all of the Labour party members to actually pursue greater equality for all Labour party members.

“We are the party of equality, we are better than all the other parties on that already, but we could be better still.”

And she warned that if there were no disabled people on the NEC, the party could not say – as shadow chancellor John McDonnell has promised – that disabled people and their organisations will “go into government just as much as we do”, and that they will “determine” and “implement” the next Labour government’s disability policies.

Taylor said: “The fact that 18 CLPs have nominated us between us really does show that the message is getting out there.”

But Project 125 is not just about ensuring disabled people are represented in positions within the party, and selected as candidates, she said, but also about ensuring they can participate at the grassroots level.

She said it was “the most empowering thing in the world” when her local party makes the reasonable adjustments necessary for her to meet voters on the doorstep.

Because of her health condition, she has to carry an emergency injection with her at all times, cannot be left on her own, and needs to take regular breaks.

She said: “It’s great, and I feel really good and I feel valued [when those adjustments are made], but when it’s not done well and you’re left stranded on your own, which is quite dangerous, it’s very demoralising.”

On occasions, she has been told the local party cannot accommodate her and that she should make phone calls instead, which she said makes her feel “quite worthless”.

Taylor said she does not believe discrimination in the party is “widespread”, although “there are cases where people in the party do feel they have been discriminated against because of their disability and that is something we have to take seriously as well”.

Many of the problems can be solved by better policies, education and training within the party, she believes.

In her pitch to party members, she says: “Despite often having great skills, Labour Party members with disabilities are not equally represented when it comes to positions within the party both locally and nationally and are often excluded and undervalued.”

Taylor told DNS that she does not believe she will find it hard to secure votes on a platform that is criticising the party about its attitude to disability.

She said Labour was going through a period of “positive change” and the leadership was “encouraging people to become more involved and represent themselves and be part of that positive change.”

Voting for the election closes at noon on 12 January 2018.

7 December 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com