‘Single theme’ decision of government’s Action Alliance ‘feels like a cop-out’

A disabled-led network set up by the minister for disabled people in 2012 to offer the government advice on the implementation of its disability policies has cut the areas it focuses on to just one “strategic theme”.

Esther McVey, then the minister for disabled people, promised when it was launched that the Disability Action Alliance (DAA) would “put disabled people at the heart of creating inclusive local communities and changing attitudes to disability”.

The precise role of the alliance was never laid out by McVey but it appeared originally to be aimed at advising the government on implementation of policy at local level, rather than advising on developing policy.

It was tasked with creating partnerships between disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), government departments and other public, private and third society organisations.

But DAA is no longer a government-led initiative, although it is still government-sponsored and has a representative of its Office for Disability Issues (ODI) on the steering group, and it has now announced that it will be focusing on just one strategic theme: disabled people’s leadership in public life, including volunteering and public appointments.

Work in areas including employment, commissioning, digital inclusion and financial advice has either been completed or abandoned, while projects on “raising disability awareness amongst children”, sport and physical activity will “continue under their own steam”, DAA has said.

The announcement comes four months after the alliance announced it was developing a long-term strategy.

The current minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, said in February that it was “an honour” to watch the alliance “grow and evolve”, but in the same month his Office for Disability Issues announced that it would no longer provide four part-time members of staff to run the DAA secretariat.

Instead, it handed a one-year grant of £69,500 to the user-led charity Disability Rights UK (DR UK) to run the network.

The decision to distance itself from DAA raised questions about the government’s commitment to its Fulfilling Potential disability strategy, and even about ODI’s continuing existence.

The alliance has been led from the start by DR UK, and many user-led organisations signed up, although many others refused to join, partly because of a lack of clarity about what its role actually was.

DR UK said in April 2013 that the alliance was a chance for DPOs to “get their views heard and feed in local opinion”, and that it would allow disabled people to work with ODI on “co-producing areas of work”.

But DAA is now focusing on enabling its members to “forge new collaborations and partnerships” in areas that they choose themselves, with just the one project being led centrally by the steering group.

But Mel Close, chief executive of Disability Equality (NW), a DPO and DAA member which this week was celebrating its 20th anniversary, said it “felt like a bad move” and “a definite cop-out” to focus on just one theme in the light of the many serious challenges facing disabled people.

She added: “DAA really needs to be as flexible to the needs of disabled people as DPOs are – we have strategies, but respond to need, usually arising from the political and economic climate around us.

“DAA needs to keep checking that their single focus is still the right one for disabled people.”

Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, a former member of DAA, said organisations always had to question whether it was worth engaging with a government that “doesn’t really want to hear anything that doesn’t support what it wants to do”.

She said: “The challenge clearly is that we have a government that has a very particular agenda around cuts to public services and it’s also the case that disabled people have been disproportionately adversely affected by the whole austerity agenda.

“You always have to be careful in any situation to ensure that you don’t get in too close to government when you really don’t have any power to influence what happens, but you could find yourself implicated in whatever the outcome is.”

She said she would advise DAA members to ask themselves whether that could be the case, and added: “Sometimes getting in close to government is exactly the way to do it, and sometimes it is exactly not the way to do it.”

But she suggested that DAA had chosen a strategic theme where there was “actually a bit of a chance of making some positive progress”.

Stephen Brookes, a member of the DAA steering group, said the announcement on “concentrating solely on just one strategic theme” failed to “truly reflect what we have done so far and where certain projects are now self-driven in the public domain with their own expanding impetus without need to keep going back to the steering group for guidance”.

He said that two projects he had been involved in, around disability equality training of public transport staff, and volunteering and involvement of disabled people in public life, would not have been successful “without the full cooperation, signposting and support of other members of the DAA”.

He added: “The Alliance does, like all consortiums, have some who do far more than others, but the general fact is that having done a lot, we need to look at an area which is almost a catch-all, that of involvement of disabled people, which has always been a favourite aim of mine, as without us being there we can’t influence any need for change.”

Liz Sayce, chief executive of DR UK and DAA’s chair, said that following a review of its strategy and a consultation with its members, the steering group had decided that running a lot of projects centrally was “not the most effective way forward”.

She said DAA’s members wanted the steering group to “enable them to forge collaborations on whichever topics they chose, rather than the steering group determining topics”.

And she said that the steering group had decided that focusing on leadership would “add value to all the other collaborative work going on”, such as in the sports sector, which she said “would be hugely helped by enabling more disabled people to take up leadership roles in sports bodies”.

She said that “projects that were being led from the centre are continuing – through the groups of Alliance members that have been working together”.

She added: “The DAA early on set up a range of collaborative projects that are continuing and growing – for instance our work on inclusive transport, on disabled people’s engagement in physical activity, on volunteering, on public appointments.”

On other topics, she said, the groups involved had either completed their work – for example, a project on financial advice with the Money Advice Service, and a piece of work on inclusive communities – or they had not yet started.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said DAA was “a crucial point of engagement with disabled people in public life”, and added: “The Office for Disability Issues is an active member of the DAA steering group and has been heavily involved in supporting the evolution of the new long-term DAA strategy.

“Following a period of consultation, this strategy has identified the need to focus on a central theme, and the theme chosen from a selection was ‘Disabled People’s Leadership in Public Life’.

“This was seen as not only an important area of work in terms of positively empowering disabled people, but also a theme which builds on the great work of DAA projects such as volunteering, work and public appointments.

“This central theme will not be the entirety of the DAA’s activity, but a uniting piece of work that can be driven forward to demonstrate what the DAA can achieve through collaborative working.”

He said the government’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy was being reviewed this year, while the Fulfilling Potential Forum – whose 40-plus members are DPOs, disability charities and representatives of DPOs – continued to meet “regularly”, with the last meeting on 22 March and the next due to take place “towards the end of this year”.

7 July 2016

 

 

Labour left with no disability shadow after Abrahams’ promotion

The Labour party has been left without a shadow minister for disabled people, after Debbie Abrahams was promoted to shadow work and pensions secretary following the turmoil that caused most of the shadow cabinet to resign.

The party was unable yesterday (Wednesday) to say when or if a new shadow minister for disabled people would be appointed, but there will be concerns that there will now not be enough MPs who are loyal to party leader Jeremy Corbyn to fill all of the remaining shadow posts.

Abrahams was appointed to shadow the work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb after the resignation of Owen Smith, one of about 40 shadow ministers and shadow cabinet ministers who have quit in protest at Corbyn’s leadership.

There have also been concerns that Corbyn has been forced to scrap the post he created only last year of a shadow cabinet minister for mental health, because of the resignation of Luciana Berger and the need to appoint a slimmed-down shadow cabinet.

Only 40 Labour MPs voted for Corbyn in a no-confidence motion last week, compared with 172 who voted against him.

But the Labour leader and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell have earned fierce loyalty from disabled anti-cuts activists for their consistent opposition to Tory-led austerity and commitment to disability rights issues since 2010, and particularly for opposing cuts to disability benefits and services that many of their fellow Labour MPs supported.

Abrahams did not respond yesterday to a request for a comment from Disability News Service, although a spokesman for Corbyn said: “Front bench ministers will be announced soon. Sorry I can’t be more specific at this time.”

There was initial confusion over a possible replacement for Abrahams after Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, congratulated Labour MP Margaret Greenwood “on stepping up to be my shadow today” after she had responded for the party in a parliamentary debate on disability employment.

But a spokesman for Greenwood, who was previously owen Smith’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS), said she had stood in for Abrahams only for the debate and was now set to be Abrahams’ PPS.

Caroline Richardson, a Labour party member and a disabled campaigner with the Spartacus online network, said she believed the promotion of Abrahams would be good for disabled people.

She said: “Whilst I recognise the current situation within the Labour parliamentary party has resulted in some ministerial posts not currently being filled, I am confident that the promotion of Debbie Abrahams to the post of shadow secretary of state for work and pensions is exceptionally beneficial to disabled people.

“Debbie brings with her to the post the knowledge base of her previous post, including the people who worked with her in that specialism.”

She said that the disabled people who had built up contacts with Abrahams would continue to provide the evidence she needed to respond to the government’s planned green paper on employment support for disabled people.

She said: “I think that activists and members of organisations involved in protecting disability rights and scrutinising legislation will be pivotal in both providing evidence to Debbie and her team, and to creating compelling evidence-based reports for addressing the green paper.”

And she said she thought that a short-term vacancy for the post of shadow minister for disabled people would not harm disabled people’s interests.

She said: “Parliament will very shortly enter recess and then conference season, hence there will be significantly less pressure on ministers on a face-to-face basis in the chamber.

“Our challenge as disabled people is to provide continuity of support and evidence to the parties in opposition, to continue to scrutinise legislation and to prepare to respond to the green paper, whilst battling our own private and personal wars.”

7 July 2016

 

 

Call for action after car boot businessman escapes hate blog punishment

A leading campaigner has called for a strategy to tackle “insidious” online posts that allow individuals to make “discriminatory and hostile statements” about disabled people without being punished by the criminal justice system.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, spoke out after police decided to take no action against the owner of a car boot sale business who posted an offensive, disablist post about his disabled customers on his Facebook page.

In the post, which has since been taken down, Geoff Camden-Wiles, of Car Boots Cornwall, made a series of offensive comments, suggesting that his disabled customers were benefit cheats (“Cornwall’s malingers”), “bloody idle” and responsible for causing their own impairments through self-neglect.

His comments caused outrage locally and among hate crime campaigners, and were branded “offensive” and “ignorant” after being shared on social media.

The post led to a string of calls and emails to police, who have recorded it as a disability hate incident.

In his blog, Camden-Wiles wrote about visitors to his sites who were “either disabled or acting disabled”, and suggested that “the reason the majority of you are disabled or acting disabled is because you have at some stage neglected yourselves in some way and/or you are bone bloody idle and don’t get enough sexercise nor exercise”.

He then went on to claim that he did not recognise disabled people’s blue parking badges, because his sales were held on private land.

Camden-Wiles said that his staff would try to allow people with a “genuine disability” who are “wheelchair bound or similar” to park near the event “but don’t arrive late when the sale starts expecting front row parking cos that ain’t going to happen”.

He then suggested that wheelchair-users could get “a cheap thrill” from wheeling over the bumpy ground, before making a “joke” about holding a “Zimmer frame dance and race” with a “fake BLUE DISABLED pass” as the prize, which they could use “like hundreds of other people do”.

Camden-Wiles’s company runs car boot sales in six locations across Cornwall, including Truro, Falmouth and Newquay.

He later tried to justify his comments on his website, emailing the same statement to at least one of the disabled people who had complained, saying that his company had “contributed thousands of pounds for many local and registered charities however I have nothing personally against disabled persons nor their disabilities”.

He added: “My blog was mainly a complaint about the abuse and threats towards myself and members of our teams where over the past weeks drivers have driven their cars at staff who are only doing their jobs by directing drivers to a designated parking area.”

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “Devon and Cornwall Police is aware of the post made on a car boot website in which comments were made about people with disabilities, having received a number of calls and emails via its 101 service.

“The post was removed and an apology has been issued on the website.

“Police have since spoken to the person responsible for the post who has apologised and has been given advice in relation to his future conduct. No further policing action will be taken on this matter.”

But Brookes said the case was “typical of one which continues to both tax and annoy” the coordinators of the Disability Hate Crime Network.

He said: “It seems that someone can (as with far too many things) get away with making contentious, discriminatory and hostile statements online which are then viewed as hate crime, but which can be ‘deleted’ as though they never existed with a ‘simple’ apology, even though the victim(s) never receive any sense of justice and the content is still in people’s minds.”

He called for “strong penalties” and for individuals found responsible by police to have their websites taken down or be forced to post a permanent “full and detailed regret” for their actions, although he accepted that this would involve “a very tricky balancing act” between freedom of speech and censorship.

He said: “We do need to have some kind of real strategy on this insidious type of hate so perhaps we need to start a real campaign on this kind of abuse of disabled people.”

Cornwall County Council said it could not take any action over the Camden-Wiles post because the sales are held on private land and so do not need a street trading licence.

One disabled woman from Cornwall said she was “truly disgusted” by the police decision to take no action against Camden-Wiles, and said she would be talking to the police, other disabled people in the area and her local MP to call for further action.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said: “Surely you cannot go online and just say these awful things about [disabled people] and get away with it, especially a local businessman who takes, literally, millions of pounds from the disabled visitors to his boot sales. I am so angry I could burst.”

The disabled people’s organisation Disability Cornwall declined to comment on the incident to Disability News Service, but told a local newspaper that they were “concerned to read the offensive and disparaging post”.

Camden-Wiles has so far not responded to requests to comment on his post.

7 July 2016

 

 

Council cuts ex-ILF care packages after spurning chance to raise funds

Almost half of former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in a London borough are facing cuts to their care packages, after their council rejected the chance to ask for more social care funds by raising council tax.

Labour-run Merton council in south-west London had the chance to increase council tax by 1.7 per cent to pay for extra social care funding, but turned down the opportunity because of an election promise not to increase taxes for four years.

The end of an extra tax that Londoners have been paying for the last 10 years to fund the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games meant the council could have asked for extra money for social care without seeing overall council tax rates increase for 2016-17.

The council has also refused to ring-fence government money – given to local authorities following the closure of the ILF last year – to support only former ILF-recipients, using it instead more widely across social care.

In January, the council faced protests over its plans to cut £5 million from its adult social care budget, with campaigners comparing these plans to “social cleansing”, and accusing it of “treating people no better than animals in Longleat”.

In contrast, Government figures published this week show that councils in England overall will increase spending on adult social care by £308 million in 2016-17.

Campaigners say that disabled people who use direct payments in the borough are already losing their personal assistants (PAs) and finding it difficult to replace them because hourly rates have been frozen by the council for the last five years.

A Merton council spokeswoman said: “The council has made a decision to ring-fence the grant from the government for adult social care, and to treat all our customers equitably over how personal budgets are set.

“Over half of the former ILF-users’ care hours will stay the same while others will see their care hours slightly reduced.”

She said the council was reviewing the rate it paid service-users who receive direct payments “to ensure that it enables the market to meet our customers’ needs”.

She said: “In our experience, the current Direct Payment hourly rate is not significantly lower than the previous rate for former ILF-users because the ILF did not have a standard rate for their users, and in fact in two cases we found that the council rate is higher than what former ILF-users were paying.

“Regarding the precept for social care, this was debated openly and at considerable length by the council in March when setting its budget, weighing up all factors including its promise to residents not to increase council tax.”

The council has refused to provide further clarity on the proportion of former ILF-users facing cuts, and how much of a cut they are facing.

Merton Centre for Independent Living (Merton CIL) said the council’s statement raised serious concerns.

Lyla Adwan-Kamara, Merton CIL’s chief executive, said: “At Merton CIL we’re very disappointed to hear that nearly half of former ILF-users are seeing cuts to their support by Merton council.

“We would question how these cuts can possibly enable people’s wellbeing in line with the Care Act, and in some cases we fear that people’s wellbeing and independence will be undermined.

“In one case we know of, there is a 16 per cent cut, equivalent to over a day’s support a week.

“We would also point out that for people whose support has been frozen, we’ve been made aware of a number of cases where they have been asked to pay more towards their care, even though they have not had an increase in their income; this is also effectively a cut.

“At the time when the council was setting their budget, it was made clear by the voluntary sector, many council officers, and many councillors themselves, that the social care precept should be applied, and, because of other changes to council tax, this could be done without any impact on residents’ pockets.

“Instead, the decision was made not to implement the precept, and council tax in Merton has gone down.

“We hope that this decision will be reviewed this year, and there has been a public commitment by the council to hold a consultation on the matter.

“In the meantime, we strongly urge anyone affected by cuts to social care to get in touch with us and we will try to offer support for people to speak up and address the issue.”

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

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

The Scottish government has since set up its own ILF for existing recipients in Scotland, while the Welsh government has set up a ring-fenced, local authority-run grant scheme that will run until at least 31 March 2017.

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

7 July 2016

 

 

Disability employment gap: Former diplomat calls for government action

The government must do more to research the benefits of disabled people finding work, according to a former diplomat who was forced to quit after the Foreign Office refused to fund the lip-speakers she needed to do her job.

Jane Cordell was giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee as part of its inquiry into the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap (the difference between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people).

Five years ago, Cordell, who became profoundly deaf as a young woman, lost her employment tribunal appeal in a disability discrimination case against the Foreign Office over the cost of providing her with lip-speakers.

She had been offered the job of deputy ambassador to Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan, but the offer was withdrawn because the government said the cost of providing lip-speakers would be too high (estimates varied from less than £200,000 to more than £300,000 a year).

Cordell, now a director of the coaching and training company Result CIC, told the committee this week that the government should do more to collect evidence of successes, of disabled people “who are in work, people who have done well”, and create a database of “inspiring stories”.

She said that a cross-departmental evidence base should look at not just the costs of supporting disabled people into work but also the benefits, and added: “I don’t feel like a cost, I feel like a capable woman who happened to become deaf.

“I have coached 200 deaf and disabled people who have gone on to get work themselves and to be able to support their families, etc. That kind of evidence is needed.”

She said the committee’s “over-arching” priority should be to “get clear about what is a reasonable adjustment”, and she joked that her own case “did not really help to clarify that”.

And she called for guidance on reasonable adjustments that was “straightforward, accessible, positive and clear for employers”.

Cordell said that becoming disabled was “tough” and so people who acquired an impairment can “rise to the challenge” and often gain new skills, such as persistence, time management, resilience and people skills.

She said: “I am not being Pollyanna-ish; it is true, I have worked with those people.”

Tory MP Heidi Allen, a member of the committee, was critical of her own government’s Disability Confident scheme, which was launched three years ago by the prime minister, David Cameron, and has since come in for repeated criticism from disabled campaigners, managing to sign up just 40 mainstream private sector partners in its first three years.

Allen said she was not convinced that the scheme “does very much”, and asked Cordell whether the Disability Confident events that many MPs have been hosting in their own constituencies could be developed to make them more useful.

Cordell suggested that they could become more of a “networking” type of event, giving disabled people the chance to sell themselves to potential employers.

Allen said this made sense because the current model promoted by the disabled people’s minister Justin Tomlinson of having “reverse job fairs” saw employers meet with organisations such as Jobcentre Plus and Remploy for advice about how to be more “confident” about taking on disabled employees, while not involving disabled job-seekers themselves.

Cordell said that anything that encouraged the two sides – employers and disabled job-seekers – to be “less fearful” of each other was worth trying.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, told the committee that about 300,000 people leave work every year because of a health condition – and many of them do not want to or need to – often because nobody knows what adjustments could be made in the workplace to allow them to continue.

She said this was “a terrible waste to the employer and the economy”, and suggested that the government could consider a legal obligation on employers to keep a job open for at least 12 months if an employee becomes ill or disabled.

And she said that a key improvement would be for the government to be able to provide instant advice to employers when an employee acquires an impairment.

She said: “What employers need is advice at the point that they need it. If government could offer bespoke advice… that would make a massive difference.”

Among other suggestions for a cost-effective government strategy, Sayce called for more emphasis on the benefits of peer support; for Access to Work to be used to fund paid cover for people with fluctuating conditions when they were not well enough to work; for a “much more personalised service” for unemployed disabled people; and for more involvement of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations in planning future employment support.

She also called for less government emphasis on sanctions and compulsion.

Sayce said that many disabled people on benefits were left “scared” by the current element of compulsion in their support, and added: “It has become such a topic of fear that people are not in the mood for taking a risk and trying something new.”

She said that if the future “carrot-stick balance was very weighted towards the stick”, some disability organisations would not want to be involved in the government’s plans, and so it would be good to come up with something that disability organisations “could sign up to that has got high expectations but is evidence-based in what will motivate people”.

Mike Adams, chief executive of the Essex disabled people’s organisation ecdp, said the government needed to target its strategy more towards smaller companies rather than the large “corporates”.

He said: “We in the last six months have done a lot of work with SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] around the perceptions of employing disabled people, and whether we like it or not the perceptions are there and they are deep and they are around a real fear and anxiety that disabled people won’t be able to do the job.”

He also said that there was still a “huge anxiety” around “etiquette and how to approach a disabled person”.

He said: “On the side of disabled people, I do believe there is a perception, particularly if you have a hidden impairment, that disclosure is still an issue and there is a fear that the more you disclose the more likely you won’t get a job.”

And he said the issues for SMEs were often around “how do I retain staff who acquire an impairment while working for me?”

He added: “It’s incredible in this day and age, the amount of information that is accessible at the touch of a button but simply how many people and businesses are not aware of that information.”

Meanwhile, the latest figures – according to a briefing note published by the House of Commons library – show that the disability employment gap has actually risen since the 2015 election, despite the government’s manifesto commitment to halve it.

In the first quarter of 2015, the gap was 32.7 percentage points, which rose to 34.5 percentage points by the third quarter of last year, before falling to 33.1 percentage points in the first quarter of 2016.

This is because the levels and rates of employment for both disabled and non-disabled people have been increasing since 2013.

In the first quarter of 2016, there were 3.33 million disabled people in jobs, an increase of 365,000 compared to the same period in 2014 (a rise of 12 per cent).

7 July 2016

 

 

Disability employment gap: Experts demolish government excuses for WRAG cut

A trio of experts have destroyed government claims that cutting out-of-work benefits for disabled people will help them find work.

They were giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee, as part of its inquiry into the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap (the difference between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people).

Neil Coyle, a Labour MP and a former director of Disability Rights UK, had asked the panel of experts if they agreed with the government that cutting nearly £30-a-week from new claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance (ESA) would help cut the employment gap.

David Finch, a senior economic analyst with the Resolution Foundation think-tank, who previously spent eight years at the Department for Work and Pensions, said: “We don’t think it’s going to make any particular difference to people’s incentive to look for work or not.

“In face, we think there’s evidence to suggest that, with disabled people, the cost of work search or work preparation is actually more expensive… so in fact it could have the opposite effect and people will spend more time worrying about not having enough income and less time doing the types of activity they are trying to promote them to do.”

Ben Baumberg Geiger, a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Kent and co-author of an influential report that called for the “toxic” work capability assessment to be scrapped, said the parliamentary debates on the ESA cut – due to be introduced next April – had suggested that people in the WRAG were “not that severely disabled”, when in fact there were many people who did have significant long-term impairments and would “suffer financially considerably” from the cut.

He said he thought the cut would put an “immense strain” on the work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for ESA – which did not measure how far people were from the labour market but was “just a very crude assessment”.

He said the cut would incentivise claimants to try to get into the support group, which if they were successful would leave them with “very little engagement in getting back to work”, and so would be “definitely harmful” to government efforts to halve the employment gap.

A third expert, George Selvanera, director of strategy and external affairs at the Business Disability Forum, said he had yet to see any evidence that cutting disabled people’s income would “somehow increase their motivation and their skills to find work”.

He said: “What we do know is that it is not the fault of disabled people that the labour market fails disabled people.

“Somehow we are holding disabled people responsible for broader failures in the labour market, which just doesn’t seem fair.”

He added: “We know that [in] 2013-14 that 30 per cent of disabled people lived in absolute poverty in this country, so making them poorer, I’m not sure how that incentivises people to work.”

Meanwhile, the latest figures – according to a briefing note published by the House of Commons library – show that the disability employment gap has actually risen since the 2015 election.

In the first quarter of 2015, the gap was 32.7 percentage points, which rose to 34.5 percentage points by the third quarter of last year, before falling to 33.1 percentage points in the first quarter of 2016.

This is because the level and rate of employment for both disabled and non-disabled people have been increasing since 2013.

In the first quarter of 2016, there were 3.33 million disabled people in jobs, an increase of 365,000 compared to the same period in 2014 (a rise of 12 per cent).

7 July 2016

 

 

Scotland ‘is not an easy option’ for England’s disabled Brexit refugees

Campaigners have warned disabled people considering a move to Scotland in the wake of the European Union (EU) referendum vote that there are considerable barriers standing in their way.

The warnings came after Disability News Service reported last week that hundreds or even thousands of disabled people, particularly from England, were apparently considering a move north of the border because they felt their rights would be better protected there.

With the UK set to leave the EU, the Scottish government looks likely to push for another referendum on independence, and would hope to rejoin the EU as an independent nation, which would mean disabled people would retain the safeguards provided by EU legislation.

But Dr Sarah Campbell, principal co-author of the Spartacus Report, warned of a “huge flaw” in the care system in Scotland that does not apply in England and Wales.

She pointed out that local councils in Scotland can take into account the earned income of working-age disabled people when deciding how much they should pay towards their care package.

This can mean that a disabled person in full-time work, but with a high number of hours in their council care package, can end up not much better off than someone on out-of-work disability benefits.

Campbell said: “Because there is a general view that care is ‘free’ in Scotland, most people are completely unaware of this and I am pretty concerned some disabled people may get caught out.”

Although guidance from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) makes it clear that “income from all sources should be considered and should take account of net earnings and all social security benefits with the exception of the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance/Personal Independence Payment”, councils can ignore this advice.

Bill Scott, director of policy for Inclusion Scotland, said this “results in a postcode lottery that often deters disabled people from moving home from one local authority area to another – even when they have an offer of a job or when informal care arrangements break down”.

Two Scottish councils do not charge working-age disabled people for care at all, while others charge much more than the average, which he said had helped persuade most Scottish disabled people’s organisations to call for care charges to be scrapped completely.

He said: “I have severe doubts as to whether ‘thousands’ of disabled people would be able to make the move from England to Scotland because in doing so many would lose the informal networks of care and support that allow them to participate in society.

“There is also a dearth of fully adapted accessible homes in Scotland, just as there is in other parts of the UK.”

He added: “So whereas I can see the numerous attractions in moving to Scotland – better benefits, no bedroom tax, a nationwide concessionary travel scheme, more respect for disabled people’s human rights and not forgetting the beautiful scenery! – I think that there would be huge practical and emotional barriers, including abandoning family and friends, that would prevent many disabled people from doing it.”

A COSLA spokeswoman said*: “COSLA and all local authorities in Scotland are positive about disability and are committed to supporting disabled people’s rights.

“Generally speaking, and bearing in mind that every individual is different, we would not anticipate any greater problems for people choosing to move to Scotland than they would face moving from one part of England to another.

“They would require both a needs assessment and a financial assessment to be carried out by the council in the area to which they are moving.

“It is worth bearing in mind that, in order to accommodate different council areas’ priorities and circumstances, there may be some differences in the specification of the care package they are able to receive.

“Income is assessed as part of the financial assessment undertaken by councils in Scotland just as, we understand, it is in councils in England.

“In Scotland, councils use charging guidance which is based on the principle that people are required to contribute toward the cost only if they can afford to do so.

“There are a number of benefits that may be disregarded from the financial assessment such as DLA mobility component and some expenditure is also allowed for, for example, disability-related expenditure.

“There are minimum levels of income below which people are not required to pay for the care they receive.

“These thresholds are linked to DWP benefits but apply to any income regardless of the source.

“There is also a ‘buffer’ which means that those with income above the charging threshold will keep at least 25 per cent more than people who are receiving only ‘out-of-work’ benefits’; COSLA’s member councils agreed to increase this from 16.5 per cent to 25 per cent starting this financial year.”

Some disabled people accused Disability News Service of “scaremongering” by running last week’s story.

But others who commented said they too were thinking of moving to Scotland, with one saying: “I am looking at houses for sale north of the border (this was a retirement plan anyway) and plan to live in a country that wants to be part of a community, not one which supports the very ethos of individualism.”

Another said: “I know someone who is in the process of moving right now. If we didn’t have elderly relatives who need us we’d be doing the same.

“Funny how reporting what’s happening is called scaremongering.”

*The COSLA statement has been reproduced in full

7 July 2016

 

 

BBC’s Gardner ‘wants normalisation’ for disabled people

The BBC’s disabled security correspondent has spoken of his wish for a “normalisation of disability” in society.

Frank Gardner, who was giving the third annual Jack Ashley Memorial Lecture, said he would like to see “the sharp edges of difference” between disabled and non-disabled people “sand-papered down so people don’t make a big deal about it anymore”.

He said: “What I would like to see is the normalisation of disability, that people don’t look twice at somebody who’s blind or in a wheelchair… so they are 100 per cent part of mainstream society.”

Gardner told the invited audience in the state rooms used by the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, about many of the daily experiences of discrimination that have frustrated him since he became disabled 12 years ago.

He described his continuing frustration with the barriers he encounters with air travel, including the ground staff who often grab him by the shoulders without asking in order to “manoeuvre” him off a plane, and how he is frequently left alone waiting for assistance at the end of a flight, long after the other passengers have disembarked.

Gardner said that many of the problems he faced were due to the “attitude” of service-providers, and that there were “a lot of areas where life could be made easier without too much difficulty”.

He also spoke of his frustration at non-disabled people who use accessible toilets, and the abuse of accessible parking bays in central London by non-disabled drivers.

He said: “For me there might as well not be a single disabled parking spot in central London because I can never find them.

“They are used by people who are able-bodied… it’s bloody annoying.”

Gardner spoke also of how he became disabled, having been shot six times and left for dead by terrorists in Saudi Arabia in 2004, and how he then spent seven months in hospital and underwent 14 operations.

He said that two things particularly helped him avoid falling into a “vortex of self-pity and despair”: the advice of a Navy psychiatrist, who told him to worry about the things he could still do and not those he would not be able to do anymore, and a letter from his bosses at BBC News which promised that his position as security correspondent would still be his when he was ready to return to work.

The lecture was hosted by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), the all-party parliamentary disability group (APPDG) and the family of the late Lord [Jack] Ashley, the former deaf MP and peer who died four years ago after nearly half a century spent fighting in parliament for disability rights and equality, and who chaired the APPDG for more than 40 years.

One of his daughters, Guardian journalist Jackie Ashley, said that her husband, BBC political journalist and author Andrew Marr, who was also at the lecture, had not wanted to be “that bloke with a stroke” after he became disabled, while her father had not wanted to be “that deaf MP”.

But she said that they and Gardner had still been “inspirational” to disabled people, and she asked him how he felt about the idea of being a spokesperson for disabled people.

Gardner said he did “not want to be associated with one particular thing” and although he did not have “anything against disabled people” he did not want to be a spokesperson for them any more than he wanted to be a spokesperson for people who drive Toyotas, although he said he hoped his work was “an inspiration for other people”.

He pointed out that the disabled consultant Phil Friend, a former chair of Disability Rights UK, had once told him after he had apologised for not having time to help with a certain piece of work: “Keep doing what you’re doing, keep being on air… that’s enough.”

But the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell pushed Gardner further, and asked: “Don’t you think you can do both?”

She said that she speaks on disability in the House of Lords but also on other issues, and accepts that she has a privileged position, adding: “Don’t you think it’s a kind of duty that those of us who have the privilege of having the ear of people do a bit of both?”

Gardner told her: “That’s why I’m here tonight. I think it’s a good thing to do. I don’t think it’s a duty.

“Instead of going to my daughter’s school concert, I’m here. I think what I do is important and it’s a case of finding the right balance.”

Liz Sayce, DR UK’s chief executive, told the audience: “We want everybody to have that chance, if you become disabled, to pursue the life you want, the career you want, as Jack Ashley did and as Frank you have described.

“Unfortunately, for many disabled people it is still not happening; there are too many barriers.”

She pointed to DR UK’s leadership programme, and said: “More and more people are coming through it, showing talent can break through.”

She said the programme was producing a “cadre of disabled people” who are becoming role models and mentors for other disabled people.

She said: “The more disabled people [there are] doing everything from being MPs to security correspondents to company directors, gradually we are going to… change the world.”

7 July 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com