Atos and Capita win PIP contract extension ‘because DWP is chained to a corpse’

The government’s decision to extend the contracts of two discredited companies that carry out disability benefit assessments has been branded “appalling”, “shocking” and “a complete con”.

The move has also been criticised by the Scottish government.

Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, told MPs in a written statement this week that she planned to extend the assessment contracts for the two companies that carry out the personal independence payment (PIP) assessments – Atos and Capita – by a further two years.

The contracts had been due to end in the middle of 2019.

Newton also announced that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was developing its own IT system that would allow it to “enable more providers to deliver PIP”.

Some commentators – including Frank Field, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee – took this to mean that Newton was threatening that DWP would carry out PIP assessments itself if Atos and Capita did not improve their performance over the next two years.

But one disabled people’s organisation, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), said on its Facebook page that the reason for the two-year contract extension was that Atos “owns the IT system that DWP rely on for PIP claims, and they can’t sack them until DWP has developed its own IT system”.

BuDS said: “What a shocking way to run a public service – DWP is effectively chained to a corpse.”

Atos has refused to comment on whether it owns the current PIP IT system.

Asked whether Newton’s announcement meant the government was considering bringing PIP assessments in-house, a DWP spokeswoman said: “Our focus is the outcomes achieved rather than who delivers them.

“The department will continue to keep the most appropriate method of delivery under review.

“The department will always consider the quality of assessments and the claimant experience as well as the value for money offered when considering whether to contract out a service.”

She declined to say whether DWP’s new IT system would also be used for the work capability assessment (WCA), which tests eligibility for the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA).

Those assessments are currently run by the US firm Maximus, which itself has a lengthy history of incompetence, discrimination and alleged fraud.

If the new IT system was also used for the WCA, it would put a question-mark over whether that contract could also be brought in-house and delivered by DWP.

In February, a report by Field’s committee found that the PIP and ESA assessment systems were being undermined by a “pervasive culture of mistrust”, fuelled by widespread claims that assessors from Atos, Capita and Maximus were deliberately trying to prevent disabled people receiving the support they were entitled to.

Evidence submitted to the committee by thousands of claimants had substantiated a major investigation by Disability News Service (DNS) into the dishonesty of PIP assessors employed by Atos and Capita.

Last October, DNS revealed that complaints about the PIP assessment process had risen by nearly 900 per cent in just one year, also apparently corroborating the results of the investigation.

Further DNS reports in February this year – based on freedom of information data released by DWP to campaigner John Slater – revealed “shocking” failings by Atos and Capita in how they were fulfilling their PIP assessment contracts.

Newton also announced this week that DWP would pilot the video-recording of PIP assessments – a measure which could help prevent dishonest assessment reports – with a plan to roll this out across the country as “a standard part of the process” (see separate story).

But grassroots groups and their allies, disabled people’s organisations, disabled campaigners and politicians have been scathing in their responses to the announcement of the two-year contract extension.

Anita Bellows, a Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) researcher, said the IT measure was “a complete con and it seems Frank Field fell for it, though it is not surprising”.

She said: “IT is the least of the problems with ESA and PIP assessments.

“This move does not address substandard disability assessments and reports, poor performance by disability assessment contractors, high staff turnover, and a raft of other issues.

“That Atos and Capita had their contracts extended in spite of their appalling performance documented by the work and pensions committee, and in the management information released by DWP under duress through the Freedom of Information Act, is nothing short of a scandal and Frank Field should know better.

“This is rewarding failure.”

Ken Butler, welfare benefits adviser at Disability Rights UK, said: “Given their track record of inaccurate assessments, any continuation of PIP contracts to Atos and Capita is unwarranted.

“Over 80 per cent of benefit appeals concern PIP and ESA, arising almost entirely from poor private contractor medical reports.

“Retaining Atos and Capita will only replicate that for another two years

“Rather than developing a DWP IT system as a means of bringing PIP assessments in-house, the aim seems to be to give money-making opportunities to private companies.”

John Slater also criticised the announcement.

He said: “I would be concerned if the DWP sees the solution to the problems with PIP and ESA being new IT development.

“If that is the case then it seems it has learned nothing from universal credit.

“It needs to fix the problems with the PIP and ESA processes and then look at where new IT can help.”

And he said that “bringing assessments in-house and developing new IT” would not “get around the problem of needing high-quality healthcare professionals to carry out the assessments”.

Disabled campaigner Kaliya Franklin, who tweets at @BendyGirl, and was a member of the grassroots Spartacus Network that researches issues on disability and social security, said on Twitter: “Is having the capacity to bring assessments back in house the same thing as bringing assessments back in house, or just another empty (albeit new) promise?”

Stephen Lloyd, the disabled Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions spokesman, said it was “appalling” that the government “sees fit to reward these companies by extending their contracts despite their shocking performance figures and outcomes”.

And Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, another leading disabled politician, said on Twitter: “Nearly a third of #PIP assessments are not up to scratch. Nearly 70 per cent of PIP appeals are successful. PIP claimants are forced to wait for 11 weeks for decisions.

“And yet the Tories think it’s appropriate to extend Atos and Capita’s contracts. Shocking.”

But Field welcomed the announcement that DWP was developing its own PIP IT capacity.

He said it was “further credit to the thousands of disabled people who sent evidence to us” and that having the capacity to bring assessments back in-house would put DWP “in a far stronger position to turn the screws on its hitherto failing contractors, in the interests of claimants and all taxpayers”.

An Atos spokesman said: “We welcome the statement from the minister and look forward to ongoing discussions with the department to achieve our shared objectives on continuous improvement.”

Capita declined to comment.

The two-year extension for Atos and Capita is unlikely to apply in Scotland because the Scottish government is due to take over responsibility for PIP assessments in 2020 and has promised to end the practice of using private sector organisations to carry them out.

The Scottish government’s social security minister, Jeane Freeman, told DNS: “We have repeatedly called on the UK government to halt the roll-out of PIP in Scotland.

“Given the level of criticism aimed at the current assessment providers, I am concerned that DWP are exploring options to extend these arrangements.

“Legislation to establish a new Scottish social security system – built on dignity and respect – was recently passed by the Scottish parliament.

“Once the social security delivery infrastructure is in place, the Scottish government will start the delivery of these disability benefits during the lifetime of this parliament.”

She added: “We have always been clear that assessments for disability benefits will be ‎designed around the needs of our clients.

“We will use existing information where we can, minimising the need for face-to-face assessments.

“We have categorically ruled out the use of the private sector in assessments, and this has been established in the Social Security (Scotland) Act.”

A DWP spokeswoman said her department was “working closely with the Scottish government”.

7 June 2018

 

 

Confidentiality concerns over DWP’s pledge to videotape PIP assessments

Campaigners have raised serious concerns about government plans to video-record all face-to-face assessments for personal independence payment (PIP).

The move, which will begin with a pilot project, before being rolled out across the country, was announced this week by the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton.

Newton also announced that the government was planning to extend the contracts of the two discredited companies that carry out the assessments – Capita and Atos – by another two years (see separate story).

Newton said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would pilot the video-recording of PIP assessments, with a plan to roll this out across the country as “a standard part of the process”.

Claimants can already request an audio recording of their PIP assessment, but they need to provide the expensive equipment themselves, and requests are still sometimes rejected.

Newton had already told the Commons work and pensions committee that DWP intended to make “recording the PIP assessment a standard part of the process” but had suggested that video recording was just one potential option.

A DWP spokeswoman said yesterday (Wednesday) that the actions it had taken this week “show our absolute commitment to improving the service we offer to claimants across the whole PIP journey, alongside promoting transparency and trust”.

But Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS) said on its Facebook page that “for DWP to admit that video recording of the assessment is needed is a shocking admission that you can’t believe what the assessors write”.

In February, a report by the work and pensions committee found the PIP and employment and support allowance assessment systems were being undermined by a “pervasive culture of mistrust”, fuelled by widespread claims that assessors were deliberately trying to prevent disabled people receiving the support they were entitled to.

Evidence submitted to the committee by thousands of claimants had substantiated a major investigation by Disability News Service (DNS) into the dishonesty of PIP assessors employed by Atos and Capita.

Further DNS reports this February – based on freedom of information data released by DWP to campaigner John Slater – revealed “shocking” failings by the two companies in how they were fulfilling their contracts.

Slater said this week that the announcement on video-recording “appears to be good news and hopefully will solve the problem of inaccurate medical reports and bad decisions”.

But he said he had concerns about confidentiality, particularly around how the videos would be stored, who would be allowed to access them and what DWP would be able to use them for.

He said that current guidance states that assessors cannot use information in their report that has been told to them in confidence during a PIP assessment.

But the current consent form for audio recordings says that “DWP may request a copy of the recording at any time”, without the form saying who at DWP and for what purpose.

If that was not “tightened up considerably” there could be serious breaches of confidentiality with video-recording of assessments, he said.

Claimants often reveal deeply sensitive information in their assessments, for example that they have been abused.

Slater said that “consent needs to be clear about what people are agreeing to” and “asking people to allow the DWP to do whatever it wants with recordings isn’t good enough in my view”.

He has previously questioned DWP about what happens to copies of audio recordings and who can request to see them but was told the department “didn’t keep records of why copies were requested and what happened to them afterwards”.

Ken Butler, welfare benefits adviser at Disability Rights UK, said the video recording announcement was “unexpected”.

He also had questions about how it would work.

He said: “It raises more questions than answers – will all parts of an examination be videoed? Will videoing be compulsory, or can a disabled person ask to opt-out? Will home visits be recorded? Will copies of videoed assessments be automatically given to claimants?

“Some disabled people may not be happy to be video recorded.”

He added: “It’s not clear why the option to audio record PIP assessments has not been introduced instead.

“This might be acceptable to more disabled people and be easier to introduce more quickly.

“For example, we were told by Capita when it took over the PIP contract that it had the immediate ability to audio record all its assessments, including home visits.”

7 June 2018

 

 

Protest planned over rail company’s ‘terrible step backwards’ on access

Disabled activists are preparing a protest action over a train operator’s plans to run mainline rail services that wheelchair-users will not be able to access.

Disability News Service revealed last week that TransPennine Express (TPE) is to introduce two extra trains, each with four carriages – all of which will be inaccessible to wheelchair-users – onto the line between Liverpool and Scarborough.

Leaked documents showed that 12 services every weekday will run without any provision for wheelchair-users.

TPE said that introducing the extra carriages was part of its franchise agreement with the Department for Transport and Rail North (which represents local transport authorities across the north of England) and will provide additional capacity on the network ahead of the introduction of new trains.

But the news caused outrage among disabled people, and two groups – Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC) – are now planning a protest before TPE starts using the inaccessible carriages next month.

GMCDP has also launched a petition, calling on TPE to “abandon this discriminatory and likely unlawful plan, and make the necessary arrangements to ensure that every train service it runs is accessible to disabled people”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has also expressed concern at TPE’s plans.

And one legal advice centre has issued a call for wheelchair-users interested in taking a legal challenge against the move.

TPE’s plans had emerged only days after another rail operator was exposed for threatening disabled people’s right to use public transport.

Govia Thameslink Railway had issued “grossly insulting” guidance to station staff that said they should not attempt to place “persons of reduced mobility” on a train “if there is a possibility of delaying the service”.

Rick Burgess, a member of both MDPAC and GMCDP, said the protest action against TPE was needed “to prevent this terrible step backwards in disabled people’s right to travel and social inclusion”.

He said: “MDPAC will not accept this retrograde policy of TPE’s that erases our history.”

He said the TPE decision and the guidance issued by Govia Thameslink were together “a worrying thin end of a wedge returning us to the bad old days”.

He said: “TPE will be opposed until they ensure all their services are accessible.

“Discrimination and exclusion will not be tolerated. We also welcome any legal action and union action being considered.”

An EHRC spokesman said: “We are concerned, as we would be if any service is potentially being made harder to access for disabled people.

“We will be monitoring the situation closely.”

He added: “For disabled people, being able to use a public service, like the railway, is vital to independent living.

“We understand this to be a temporary measure, but TPE must make all reasonable adjustments so disabled people can get to work and go about their daily lives.”

He said that EHRC would consider further action if “people or groups come to us with evidence of failures to make those adjustments, or the effectiveness of them”.

Nick Whittingham, chief executive of Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre (KCALC), has already issued a call for disabled passengers willing to take a legal case against TPE.

He said he believed that TPE was “playing around on the edge” of what was legal and ethical.

He said: “It’s one thing to have an existing set-up, a building, a structure, a type of vehicle, that is not accessible and you might have plans in future to make it accessible.

“It is another thing to say, ‘all our trains are currently accessible but we are now going to introduce some old ones that aren’t, which means that each service will no longer be accessible.’”

He added: “I am not sure, given the duty to make reasonable adjustments [under the Equality Act], that saying, ‘Oh, you can wait for the next train,’ is a reasonable adjustment.

“The courts have to decide what a reasonable adjustment is, but that doesn’t sound very reasonable.”

A TPE spokeswoman said last week that the trains were “being used in passenger service on a limited and temporary basis to provide extra seats for customers and to support driver training ahead of the introduction of the first of our brand new Nova trains later this year”.

She admitted that running inaccessible services was “not ideal” but the carriages would only operate on “a small number of services for a limited period of time”.

She said yesterday (Wednesday) that there was “no update” on TPE’s plans.

7 June 2018

 

 

DWP silence over new PIP backdating call

Work and pensions secretary Ester McVey has refused to say how many disabled claimants are likely to receive backdated benefit payments, following the latest in a series of serious legal errors by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

McVey has withdrawn appeals against two tribunal findings that her department wrongly deprived people with long-term health conditions of the personal independence payment (PIP) they were entitled to.

It is believed she will now have to review many past PIP claims to identify other claimants who may have been underpaid up to March 2017, at which point DWP had tightened the PIP regulations.

Lawyers acting for two claimants, AN and JM, who both need support to take medication and monitor their health condition, argued that they should have been scored in the PIP eligibility assessment in the same way as people needing support to manage treatment therapies such as dialysis.

DWP had been arguing that PIP daily living activity three – the part of the assessment that covers “managing therapy or monitoring a health condition” – excluded treatment which consisted of monitoring health and administering medication.

But the first-tier tribunal had decided that DWP had been wrongly applying regulations dating back to 2013, when PIP was introduced.

One of the two claimants has diabetes and unusual sleep patterns, and needs someone to watch over him at night, sometimes administering insulin or glucose while he sleeps to avoid diabetic coma and death.

Shortly before the upper tribunal was set to hear a test case examining AN and JM’s claims, McVey withdrew her appeals.

It was also claimed that she had withdrawn an appeal in a separate case that was to be heard by the court of appeal, but both a DWP spokeswoman and McVey herself suggested that that case was still ongoing.

Both AN and JM will now receive backdated payments to cover the level of PIP the first-tier tribunal had decided they were entitled to up to March 2017.

But it is possible that that they will not be eligible for this level of PIP from March 2017 onwards, because of last year’s decision to tighten the regulations.

Government ministers in both the Commons and the Lords this week refused to answer questions from opposition members on what steps DWP would take to identify other PIP claimants who had been affected in the same way as AN and JM.

In response to an urgent question from Labour’s former shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams, McVey said she had “decided no longer to continue with the appeals in order to provide certainty to the claimants”.

But when Abrahams asked how many people she believed had been wrongly assessed on the daily living activity three descriptor, and if she would be reviewing past claims, McVey refused to answer.

She said instead that Abrahams’ urgent question was only about the cases of AN and JM and so “the question of whether we move on and do other things is not for discussion today”.

She added: “There is a further case under way, and I am sure the speaker would agree that it would be incorrect for me to discuss an ongoing legal case, so I cannot do so.”

McVey claimed that this other case was “sub judice”, but the speaker, John Bercow, told her that was not correct and that she could answer the question if she wished to do so.

But McVey said her legal advice had been that she “should not be talking about an ongoing legal case, but obviously when we get that decision through, I will either be back here with a statement or making a written statement to explain what is going on”.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “Given that this is the second error in the department’s interpretation of its own [PIP] guidance to come to light in six months, what reason do disabled people have to believe that her department is fit for purpose?”

SNP’s Alison Thewliss said DWP’s credibility now “lies in tatters” and that it was “incompetent” and failing disabled people.

AN and JM have been represented by barrister Tom Royston, from Garden Court North Chambers, in Manchester, who was instructed by Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre (KCALC).

Nick Whittingham, KCALC’s chief executive, said he believed it would now be useful to seek a judicial review of the government’s decision in March 2017 to tighten the regulations.

He said: “It would be appropriate that there is some legal challenge. We would be keen to find a client to take a case forward and test that.”

Royston said this decision to tighten the regulations could have been unlawful, because DWP failed to carry out a public consultation before doing so and the changes were clearly “a significant change in the law”.

The high court has already quashed DWP’s other attempt to tighten the PIP regulations in March 2017, relating to mobility and mental distress, partly because of the failure to consult.

McVey announced in January that she would not appeal a court ruling that found those changes were unlawful, “blatantly discriminatory” and had breached the UN disability convention.

Those changes had meant that people who were unable to plan or undertake a journey due to overwhelming psychological distress would receive fewer qualifying points when assessed for PIP.

DWP is already reviewing 1.6 million PIP claims to see which claimants might be entitled to backdated, increased payments as a result of the “psychological distress” ruling.

And it is also engaged in a huge trawl through historic employment and support allowance (ESA) claims because of the botched migration of former claimants of incapacity benefit and other benefits to the new ESA from 2011 onwards.

But DWP refused this week to answer questions about the daily living activity three PIP appeals or how many other claimants might potentially be eligible for backdated payments.

A DWP spokeswoman added: “We are unable to comment on ongoing litigation so are not able to comment on the Court of Appeal case.”

7 June 2018

 

 

Memorial and procession will highlight need for reform after brutal murder

Campaigners will take part in a procession later this month to mark the murder of a disabled asylum-seeker and highlight the need for sweeping changes to the system that failed him.

Disabled asylum-seekers and activists, grassroots groups, academics and policy-makers will come together for the event in Bristol, nearly two years after Kamil Ahmad’s murder.

Public bodies in Bristol faced allegations of institutional disablism and racism after his death, the second time in three years that a disabled refugee had been brutally murdered in the city.

Campaigners hope the event on 29 June will build momentum for justice for other disabled asylum-seekers, and reform of the policies and practices that are failing them.

Honouring Kamil: Disability and Migration is part of the Bristol Refugee Festival 2018 and will begin with the installation of a memorial to Kamil and other disabled asylum-seekers and refugees who have been failed by the system.

The memorial – a reproduction of a mural made by Kamil and other disabled asylum-seekers as part of a UK Disabled People’s Council project – will be hung in the foyer of Bristol’s City Hall.

The installation will be hosted by the city’s mayor, Marvin Rees, and will be attended by members of Kamil’s family and relatives of Bijan Ebrahimi, another disabled refugee who was murdered in Bristol in 2013 after being failed by the authorities.

It will be followed by a procession, and then speeches, workshops and discussions about the challenges faced by disabled asylum-seekers in Bristol and across the UK.

Among disabled people’s organisations supporting the event are Bristol Disability Equality Forum, The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Inclusion London and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance.

Event co-organiser Rebecca Yeo, a friend of Kamil, has been researching the causes and possible solutions to the injustices experienced by disabled asylum-seekers.

She said: “It appears that policies are often tested on asylum-seekers before being brought to the wider population.

“When rights were taken away from disabled asylum-seekers in 1999, there was little response from the disability movement.

“More than a decade later, similar policies were extended to disabled citizens.”

With the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, she said, asylum-seekers lost their right to access the welfare state, which meant disabled asylum-seekers lost the right to disability living allowance “and to any acknowledgement of the financial costs associated with disability”.

But asylum-seekers also became subject to “forced dispersal”, a “more coercive version of the bedroom tax”, in which they are forced to move away from support networks to areas of low-cost accommodation.

Yeo said: “A wheelchair-user who will be speaking at our event was forced to move away from family and friends, was then housed in an inaccessible flat and was reliant on passers-by for help getting in and out.”

Yeo, who is based at University of Bath, said: “If we had responded more strongly in 1999, perhaps we would be in a very different position today.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Kamil never gave up his loving nature and sense of justice, despite the horrific experiences he had been through.

“It seems fitting that one of the ways of honouring his memory, together with others who have been failed by the system, is by creating a stronger movement for change.”

Among other organisations supporting the event are Bristol Hospitality Network, Bristol Refugee Rights, University of Bath, and regional union bodies from TUC, the Fire Brigades Union and the National Education Union.

7 June 2018

 

 

Tens of thousands in debt to local councils over social care charges

More than 160,000 people are in debt to their local authority because of the charges they are having to pay for their own social care, new figures have revealed.

The figures, which came from freedom of information requests by the GMB union, also show that nearly 1,200 people in just two years were taken to court for non-payment of these debts.

The number taken to court rose from 530 in 2015-16 to 648 in 2016-17 across England, Scotland and Wales, an increase of more than a fifth (22 per cent).

More than 78,000 people have had debt management procedures started against them by their local authority over social care debts.

The true figures are likely to be even higher because some local authorities did not respond to the freedom of information requests.

Ken Butler, welfare rights adviser for Disability Rights UK, said: “This high level of debt among social care users shows the urgent need for [reform] of the whole social care system.

“Many disabled people are told that their care needs are not high enough to receive social care.

“Disabled people have been the worst hit by welfare benefit cuts. The introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) has led to 25 per cent of people losing their disability living allowance and many with a reduced award.

“Around half of new PIP claimants receive no award at all. One consequence of this is that disabled people have even less money to fund what is often an inadequate care package.

“The situation uncovered by the GMB shows the need for urgent reform of both the welfare benefit and social care systems.

“Good social care should be a right to all that need it and should not mean falling into a spiral of debt in order to pay for it.”

Sharon Wilde, GMB national officer, said: “These stark figures show the UK’s social care ticking timebomb has now blown a gaping hole in families’ finances.”

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) refused to say if it was concerned about GMB’s figures.

But a DHSC spokeswoman said in a statement: “This government is committed to ensuring everyone receives affordable and dignified care, which is why we backed the sector with an extra £2 billion of dedicated funding, and will shortly outline the government’s plans to reform social care to ensure it is sustainable for the future.

“The current social care means testing ensures people are charged for their care based on what they can afford.

“We changed the law so legally the local authority must ensure that people have a genuine choice of accommodation by making at least one option available and affordable within the person’s budget.”

Meanwhile, a survey of people with care needs and carers by the Care and Support Alliance has found that one in five had gone without meals, and more than a third had not been able to leave the house, because of a lack of care and support.

One of those surveyed said: “I can’t prepare meals so don’t eat properly and haven’t taken my medication properly in years. I’m very depressed and have no social life.”

Another said: “Although I am in a care home, I receive no attention other than being washed and dressed.

“I am left to walk myself to the toilet even though I’ve had falls in this care home before. I have food put in front of me that I can’t see, can’t cut, and can’t balance on cutlery.”

Another care recipient said: “I haven’t been washed for over two months. My bedroom floor has only been vacuumed once in three years.

“My sheets have not been changed in about six months, and my pyjamas haven’t been changed this year. My care workers don’t have time for cleaning, washing or changing me.”

More than a third of those who took part in the survey said they had felt lonely and isolated because of a lack of support, and a third said their health had deteriorated because they had not received the care they needed.

The survey of nearly 4,000 people was released in a bid to pressure the government to secure a long-term funding settlement “that addresses the shocking levels of unmet need and takes unnecessary pressure off the NHS” as ministers prepare to publish a green paper on social care for older people by the end of July.

7 June 2018

 

 

Disability Pride events ‘allow disabled people to celebrate who they are’

Organisers of some of the growing number of Disability Pride events being held across the country have explained why they are so important to disabled people.

On Saturday 14 July, the second Disability Pride Brighton will take place, followed two months later, on 16 September, by a Disability Pride celebration in Norwich.

They follow Disability Pride events that took place last December in York and Bromley, south London, both organised around the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).

The first Disability Pride Brighton took place last year, and was founded by disabled campaigner Jenny Skelton, who decided to hold an awareness-raising event in the city after one of her three adopted disabled children was thrown out of a pub because of her impairment.

Skelton said: “I think it is essential that disabled people can have pride in who they are and that disability discrimination awareness continues to be raised.”

She said she would like to see an annual Disability Pride festival in every city*.

She said: “I believe that Disability Pride is such an obviously great thing and people are realising that it is essential to be able to celebrate being who they are.

“People have heard about Disability Pride events and want to hold their own, which can only be a wonderful step towards eradicating disability discrimination.”

This year’s Disability Pride Brighton, which will again be run by disabled people, aims to raise awareness of disability, reduce isolation for disabled people, and “engage with and inform the non-disabled community, whilst hosting a great day out”.

A parade along Brighton’s promenade will be led by carnival band Unified Rhythm. More than four-fifths of the band’s members are disabled.

The event will be opened by disabled artist Alison Lapper, Skelton and Brighton’s mayor, Dee Simson, with attractions including live music, performances and speeches by disabled people, and work by disabled artists.

Funding has come from organisations including Sussex Community Foundation, Brighton & Hove Buses, and People’s Health Trust.

Norfolk’s Disability Pride event will also feature a parade and celebrate disabled people and the diversity of the community, and will showcase local disabled artists, performers and speakers.

It is being run at The Forum, in Norwich, by the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives, in partnership with The Forum, Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council and University of East Anglia.

Other events will take place before and after the day itself, including a performance on 12 September of A Very Queer Nazi Faust, an experimental participatory performance created by Norfolk-based poet, artist and disability rights campaigner Vince Laws, which highlights issues around cuts to disability benefits and also celebrates gay rights.

Penny Parker, membership development officer at Equal Lives, said: “We want to get the message out there that we are disabled people and proud of it and no one should be afraid to be who they are.”

She pointed to the “increasingly negative attitudes” towards disabled people that have arisen during the years of austerity, and she said that events like Disability Pride were “emerging to show a positive image of disability”.

She said: “Far from the workshy layabouts portrayed, disabled people are out there getting on with their lives, working, performing, dancing, taking part in sports, being parents, owning homes, going on holiday and all the other things that go with living an independent and fulfilling life.”

She added: “Disability Pride events are a way of raising awareness and encouraging disabled people to get out there and give things a go.

“They are also there to provide disabled people the support and adjustments to be able to do so.

“Our Disability Pride event is particularly keen to also promote the work of local groups and organisations who offer services, support and a huge range of activities and opportunities.

“Businesses are also a focus of our event as there is some excellent work going on to make products and services more accessible but too often the focus is on the businesses that are not doing anything.

“We hope that the positive demonstration of what can be achieved when businesses and disabled people work together will encourage other businesses to follow suit.”

Last December, York Disability Pride ran over three days on 1, 2 and 3 December 2017 and was organised by York Independent Living Network, York: Human Rights City and Explore York.

It was about “being loud, proud and out there when it comes to disability, impairment and health conditions” and recognised “both the barriers, discrimination and exclusions disabled people face” and the contributions they make to their communities and societies.

Bromley Disability Pride also took place on 3 December and was organised by the user-led group Bromley Experts by Experience (Bromley XbyX).

It will be building on last year’s experience with another Disability Pride event in December.

Barry McDonald, peer development worker for Bromley XbyX, said: “If people can be proud to be LGBT+, we can be proud to be disabled.

“We deserve the same recognition and we have to start somewhere. The events are small but show that disabled people have talents and a voice – I think there is a growing demand for this and rightly so.

“Celebrating disability pride gives people a platform to be proud of themselves and not shy of showing that they have got talents.

“These events give disabled people an important and rare chance to grow as people in a supportive environment.

“This can help grow people’s self-esteem and confidence and bring out skills and ways to express themselves and their personalities in ways that can be difficult in day-to-day life due to the barriers we face.”

*Jenny Skelton is happy to offer advice to disabled people in other parts of the country who are considering setting up a Disability Pride festival. They can email her at: chair@disabilitypridebrighton.com

7 June 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com