Anger as Hancock offers string of seven-year-old policies on institutional care

Measures introduced this week to address the scandalous treatment of autistic people and people with learning difficulties in mental health hospitals are strikingly similar to failed government measures announced seven years ago.

Health and social secretary Matt Hancock announced five measures this week that he said would put right the systemic flaws that leave people with learning difficulties and autistic people in isolated, segregated hospital settings, often for years at a time.

His announcement came just four days after a report by parliament’s joint committee on human rights condemned the “horrific reality” of life for young people with learning difficulties and autistic people detained in mental health hospitals.

But Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal that every one of the measures announced by Hancock bears a strong resemblance to measures announced by the Tory-led coalition government in December 2012 in Transforming Care, its response to the Winterbourne View abuse scandal.

The revelations by DNS drew a furious response from disabled activists, who called for an end to meaningless government apologies and promises that fail to stop abuse in institutions.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) refused to answer any questions about the announcement this week, even refusing to clarify basic figures on the number of people in inpatient settings.

Hancock announced five measures this week.

He said that all people with learning difficulties and all autistic people who are inpatients in mental health hospitals will have their care reviewed over the next 12 months, and will be given either a date of discharge or an explanation for why this is not possible.

But in 2012, the coalition said – in an almost identical measure – that it would review all such cases by June 2013, with “everyone inappropriately being cared for in hospital” moving to community-based support “as quickly as possible”.

This week, Hancock also announced a new independent panel, which would oversee case reviews “to further drive improvements in their care and support them to be discharged back to the community as quickly as possible”.

But in 2012, the coalition set up a new learning disability programme board with a similar aim, with members from government, local government, the NHS, the care regulator and “other delivery partners”.

Hancock’s third announcement this week was that all NHS and social care workers would receive training in autism and learning difficulties through a new training package.

Seven years ago, the government announced a similar measure that it said would see Health Education England “take on the duty for education and training across the health and care workforce” and work with the government and the health and care sector “to improve skills and capability to respond [to] the needs of people with complex needs”.

Hancock’s fourth announcement was to commit to “greater transparency” through an “information dashboard” that would “publish data on inpatients in mental health settings who have a learning disability or are autistic” and would “include data on inpatient rates in different regions”.

Seven years ago, in an almost identical pledge, ministers promised to “establish key performance indicators” which would “enable the Learning Disability Programme Board and local services to monitor progress”.

Hancock’s final promise was to reduce the number of inpatients by “up to” 400 by March next year.

Seven years ago, his predecessor Jeremy Hunt, through the Liberal Democrat care and support minister Norman Lamb, pledged “a dramatic reduction in hospital placements for this group of people”.

There was even similarity in the statements issued by the ministers seven years apart.

Hancock said this week that “for those living with learning disabilities and autistic people, the current system can leave them in isolation for long periods of time, with no prospect of release into the community” and that he was “determined to put this right”.

Seven years ago, Lamb said the same group of people had a right to be “given the support and care they need in the community” and that it was “a national imperative that we act decisively”.

Kat Humble, director of Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, said: “We at Autistic UK are saddened, but unsurprised, to hear the same rhetoric being repeated seven years after the reforms that were meant to improve the safety of autistic people and people with learning difficulties.

“It is especially distressing to note that there is no mention of involving actually autistic people and people with learning difficulties in the planning process, advocacy training, being employed as advocates, or anything else with regard to these measures.

“This lack of involvement has been the core issue since the start of locking us up in institutions.

“Autistic UK was created 10 years ago to try to raise autistic voices so that those in power would listen.

“Despite all our efforts and the efforts of our fellow campaigners, this has yet to happen.

“It is still the clinicians, parents, carers, and other so-called experts who are being consulted, rather than the people who experience the brunt of these policies, the cruelties and suffering, first-hand.

“While we welcome parents, carers, and the rest as valuable allies, we are able to stand up for ourselves. It is far past time to let us do so.”

Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), which is run by and for people with learning difficulties, said the government had made many announcements after scandals involving the institutional abuse of people with learning difficulties and autistic people over the last nine years.

But he said that such announcements “have no meaning” if the abuse continues to happen in “outdated, unsafe and isolated institutions”.

He said: “We want to see action, we want to see meaningful change.”

In May, People First called for the government to introduce a legal right to independent living, by incorporating article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law, following the latest abuse scandal, this time uncovered by the BBC’s Panorama at the private Whorlton Hall hospital in County Durham.

In the same month, Lee and Simone Aspis, director of the consultancy Changing Perspectives, told Hancock in a letter that they were “extremely concerned and angry” that government targets to remove people from institutions had been missed and that people continued to be admitted to such hospitals and “continue to suffer”.

They also raised concerns then that people with learning difficulties and autistic people had been left out of a new working group that would “develop a new model of care”.

Lee added: “Our campaign #CloseATUs isn’t just about removing people from institutions, it’s about making sure there’s provision in the community such as adequate housing and social care support.

“Everyone should have choice, control and independence and have support to live in their chosen community.”

A DHSC spokesperson refused to explain what happened to the learning disability programme board set up in November 2012; why every one of this week’s announcements was almost identical to measures in the Winterbourne View response seven years ago; whether Hancock was embarrassed by this; and why Hancock thought this week’s measures would work when they had not done so over the last seven years.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “The announcement is the announcement, we’re not going to answer any further questions on this.”

7 November 2019


DWP scraps plan to strengthen Disability Confident… after just four days

A government plan to strengthen its discredited Disability Confident employment scheme, and force leading employers to report on how many disabled people they employ, has had to be scrapped just days after it was announced.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, who has only been in her post for two months, announced on Friday that employers who achieved the highest membership level of Disability Confident would have to publish a report showing how many disabled people they employ.

But four days later, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) quietly released a new version of the press release, which removed the words “and report how many are”.

DWP described the words it removed from the original press release as an “inaccuracy”.

Now those employers who have achieved the level of Disability Confident Leaders – the most advanced of its three levels – will only need to “practice what they preach” and ensure they have disabled people on their payroll.

But the requirement for them to report how may disabled people they employ has been dropped.

Coffey claimed her announcement marked the third anniversary of Disability Confident, even though the scheme was actually launched by the then prime minister David Cameron in the summer of 2013, but had to be relaunched three years ago after three years of fierce criticism.

Coffey also announced that it would soon be “explicit” that Disability Confident Leaders must actually employ disabled people, and that DWP was extending membership to three years for new members.

But there was further confusion surrounding the changes today (Thursday) as the latest version of the press release still has the department suggesting that the changes will include “requiring” Disability Confident Leader businesses to “publicly report” on their disability employment, although only by using a “voluntary” reporting framework.

DWP’s press office has refused to explain how publicly reporting these figures could be both a requirement and voluntary.

It has also been unable to explain how Coffey was planning to extend membership to three years when Disability Confident web pages – not updated since March 2018 – state that members are already allowed to use the scheme’s badge and DC material for three years after signing up.

And there are further questions over how the number of members signed up to Disability Confident has leaped from “over 14,000” on 28 October – nearly three years after the scheme was relaunched – to “over 15,000” just five days later.

A DWP spokesperson insisted the amended press release was now accurate but said he could not comment further because of “purdah”, the period after an election is called which means civil servants have to follow specific rules relating to government business.

David Gillon, a prominent disabled critic of Disability Confident since its launch in July 2013, who pointed out the leap in numbers, said: “When I saw Disability Confident was going to insist Disability Confident Leaders employed disabled people, and report it, I was delighted.

“This is something I’ve been campaigning for since the scheme was launched. For them to weasel out of that commitment in under four days is unbelievable cowardice.

“Withdrawing the reporting requirement means we won’t know if Disability Confident Leaders are ‘practising what they preach’ until they start quietly disappearing from the lists as they fail their reassessments.”

He added: “It simply isn’t credible that this is a mistake or ‘inaccuracy’.

“Civil Service press releases of this type go through multiple reviews before they are released.

“The only possible conclusion is that someone objected after it was released, and the only feasible suspects are the Disability Confident Leaders themselves.

“The only reasonable presumption for this action has to be that some powerful Disability Confident Leaders were going to be profoundly embarrassed on revealing their numbers of disabled employees.

“If they won’t talk publicly about that, then by definition they are not Disability Confident.”

Only last month, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that the Disability Confident scheme appeared to be growing increasingly less successful at persuading employers to offer jobs to disabled people.

Figures secured by DNS through a freedom of information request showed that the 13,600 employers that had signed up to the scheme by 13 September had pledged to provide just 8,763 paid jobs for disabled people between them, an average of just 0.64 jobs per employer.

Members of the scheme include many large employers such as local authorities, government departments, manufacturers, national charities, banks and retailers, including the big four supermarkets, more than 100 NHS trusts, and high street banks.

But employers can reach the first two levels of the scheme simply by assessing themselves on their own performance, after which DWP will send them a badge and a certificate that they can use to promote their “disability confidence”.

It is only if they want to become a Disability Confident Leader that their self-assessment must be “validated” by another organisation.

DWP itself was declared a Disability Confident leader on 4 November 2016, just days before the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities found it guilty of “grave” and “systematic” violations of the UN disability convention.

Asked to explain the decision to change the original press release, a DWP spokesperson said it was due to “an error which has since been corrected”.

And asked why ministers had needed to make changes to Disability Confident, he said: “These changes will ensure employers have more time to understand how Disability Confident can support them in attracting, recruiting and retaining disabled people, and hold them accountable for their record.

“With more than 15,000 employers now signed up, it’s right that we review the commitments we ask them to make.”

7 November 2019


Government ‘discriminating’ by refusing to meet disability costs of election candidates

The government has been accused of discriminating against disabled people standing at next month’s general election – and breaching the UN disability convention – by refusing to fund any of their disability-related campaign spending.

The refusal of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) to support disabled candidates at next month’s election means many of them will be forced to pay themselves for expenses such as interpreters, personal assistants, assistive technology and taxi fares.

GEO refused this week to confirm that candidates will not be able to claim support from its EnAble fund, which currently provides funding only to disabled people fighting local government and police and crime commissioner elections.

But Disability News Service (DNS) has seen an email from Disability Rights UK (DR UK), the disabled people’s organisation which administers the fund, which makes it clear that GEO will not extend EnAble.

The email was sent to Kerena Marchant, who is fighting the Basingstoke seat for Labour at next month’s election and is a Deaf user of British Sign Language (BSL).

She is having to meet most of the cost of the interpreters she will need throughout her campaign herself, with some support from her party. She said this will place her at a “substantial disadvantage”.

She said the government’s failure meant it was discriminating against disabled people under the Equality Act and breaching article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights Of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) on participation in political and public life.

She had urged DR UK “to do everything it can to end this substantial disadvantage we face as disabled candidates”.

But Marchant was told by DR UK that GEO had made it clear that it was “neither able to amend the current contract… nor implement a new one”.

This means she will not be able to use the EnAble fund to pay for her BSL interpreters during the general election campaign.

Marchant’s Conservative opponent at the election will be Maria Miller, the former minister for disabled people under the 2010 coalition.

This week, Miller, who is currently chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, failed to comment on the government’s refusal to extend the EnAble fund, and on whether she agreed with Marchant that that refusal was a breach of the Equality Act and UNCRPD.

Another BSL-user who will be standing at the election is Liberal Democrat David Buxton, who will be fighting the East Hampshire seat currently held by Tory Damian Hinds, the former education secretary.

Buxton is being forced to raise £7,500 himself from family and friends to pay for the interpreters he will need through the campaign, as his party will only be able to provide a small proportion of the funds he needs.

He was one of three disabled politicians who forced the government to set up the temporary EnAble fund after their lawyers warned that the failure to reopen a previous fund that had covered parliamentary elections breached the Equality Act.

He said he was “fuming” at the government’s position and felt “humiliated” by having to ask family and friends for their financial support.

Buxton pointed out that employees can claim funding through the government’s Access to Work scheme for many of their disability-related costs, but election candidates are not able to do this.

He said it would not be reasonable to expect political parties to meet all the costs themselves, particularly as they are not employing their candidates.

He plans to make his point by presenting Hinds with an invoice for his interpreter costs at an election hustings event this month.

Like Marchant, he believes the government is breaching UNCRPD and the Equality Act by refusing to extend EnAble to cover the general election.

Buxton said: “This clearly shows how the Conservatives do not truly embrace an inclusive and accessible society.

“They have ignored cries and disputes from disabled people and subsequently cut our support needs.”

Hinds also failed to comment on the government’s refusal to extend the EnAble fund, and on whether he agreed that this refusal was a breach of the Equality Act and UNCRPD.

DR UK administers EnAble on behalf of the Local Government Association, but with central government funding.

EnAble is a temporary, partial replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF), which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years and had provided funding for expenses such as BSL interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.

In contrast to EnAble, AEOF was open to disabled people seeking election to the UK parliament.

GEO refused this week to confirm that disabled people would not be allowed to seek support from the EnAble fund at next month’s election, or comment on whether such a move would discriminate against disabled people and breach UNCRPD’s article 29.

Instead, a GEO spokesperson said that political parties should meet the disability-related costs of their candidates themselves.

But she refused to say whether GEO expected political parties to meet the significant costs of paying for support such as providing BSL interpreters.

She said in a statement: “The government recognises that disabled people are likely to face greater costs when seeking elected office due to their disability.

“This is why political parties need to step up and support their disabled candidates.

“Parties are responsible for their candidate selection and should lead the way in improving diverse representation.

“The EnAble Fund for Elected Office is time limited and was put in place for elections that were scheduled between December 2018 and March 2020.

“As an interim fund it gave political parties the time to put in place measures to support disabled candidates. It was never a substitute for political party support.

“We expect parties to step up their efforts and put plans in place.”

But Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “The EnAble Fund has made a welcome difference to those standing in local elections, which makes it all the more frustrating that it doesn’t cater for those wanting to stand in the forthcoming general election.

“The government has a responsibility to ensure disabled people have the opportunity to take part in public life.

“Failure to extend the fund to general elections runs contrary to the UNCRPD.”

He added: “We believe that the barriers preventing disabled people from standing for all elections must be removed and part of this is through supporting individuals with disability-related expenses.

“Our position has always been that resources should be available for all local and national elections.

“There’s clear evidence that the fund makes a difference to disabled people standing for public office; that’s also backed up by the evidence of a similar scheme in Scotland, which is open to disabled people standing in national elections [to the Scottish parliament, but not Westminster].”

He said DR UK would raise the issue again after the election with the next government.

7 November 2019


Ruling on DWP’s misleading universal credit ads ‘is vindication for direct action’

Disabled activists who took direct action against a national newspaper – after it published untruthful Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) adverts praising its much-criticised universal credit benefit system – say a watchdog’s ruling has vindicated their activism.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) yesterday (Wednesday) ruled that DWP adverts promoting universal credit (UC) – published in the Metro newspaper and on the MailOnline website at a cost to the government of £225,000 – had breached its rules.

ASA said claims made in the adverts – which deliberately did not include DWP logos, in order to disguise their origin and make them look like genuine news articles – were misleading and DWP had failed to prove they were true.

DWP’s plans to publish the adverts were first revealed in May after grassroots disabled activists with Disabled People Against Cuts Sheffield (DPAC Sheffield) obtained a leaked DWP memo.

The memo revealed that DWP had signed an agreement with the Metro free newspaper series to publish a nine-week series of advertising features on UC, which would “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” and “explain what UC is and how it works in reality”.

When the adverts began to appear in the Metro, DPAC Sheffield launched a campaign of direct action that soon spread across the country – with union backing – with activists removing tens of thousands of copies of the Metro and recycling them.

They believe they removed more than 100,000 copies of the free paper from news-stands, while DPAC activists in London returned boxes full of Metros to DWP’s head office in Westminster.

DPAC Sheffield told Disability News Service yesterday that the adverts had been “designed to manipulate public perception” about UC.

David Hayes, from DPAC Sheffield, said the ruling vindicates the decision to take “radical militant action” in seizing copies of the Metro newspaper and taking them to be recycled.

He said: “This ruling confirms that these advertorials were indeed misleading government propaganda, in other words: lies.”

He called on the Metro to apologise and promise that the paper will “never use their position to spread lies like this ever again”.

He added: “We will ensure that the next government, when elected, will hold the people responsible for this mess to account.”

Most of yesterday’s coverage of the ASA ruling – although not a column by Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty, who first revealed the existence of the memo in May – ignored the role played by disabled activists.

ASA said the DWP adverts breached rules including those on misleading advertising, exaggeration, substantiation (proving claims are true), qualification (clarifying claims), and recognition of marketing communications (making it clear that adverts are not editorial).

Of four concerns that ASA examined, following 44 individual complaints, three were upheld and another was partially upheld.

ASA looked at six Metro newspaper adverts and one that was published online. The adverts included claims about how well UC worked, the five-week delay in new claimants receiving their first payment, and whether UC helped people move into work faster.

It told DWP that four of the newspaper adverts and the online advert should not appear in the same form again, and that the department must in future “ensure that they held adequate evidence to substantiate the claims in their advertising”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and have repeatedly warned about its impact on disabled people.

The boss of a homeless charity that provides services just a short walk from the Tory party conference in Manchester told party members last month that UC was causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, with claimants “at the end of their tether”.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, has previously described UC as “a cruel and inhumane system that has left many disabled people destitute, unable to heat and light their homes and going without food”.

She raised the misleading UC adverts in prime minister’s questions in May, on the same day that Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, had condemned UC and accused the government of being in a “state of denial” about the impact of its policies.

The prime minister at the time, Theresa May, dismissed de Cordova’s concerns, instead praising DWP staff for their work.

De Cordova said yesterday: “My constituents have been driven to despair by universal credit, but the Tories would prefer to spend money on PR than any real change.”

She said the Tory government had spent £225,000 on an “inaccurate PR stunt to cover up the failure of universal credit, which has pushed countless into destitution”.

Labour has promised to scrap UC if it wins power at next month’s general election.

Metro – which is run by the company that owns the Daily Mail – had refused by noon today to say if it would apologise to victims of universal credit for its actions, and if it would return the money it made from the adverts to the tax-payer.

DWP has so far refused to apologise or say if the senior civil servants responsible for the advertising campaign would resign.

But a DWP spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with this decision and have responded to the Advertising Standards Authority.

“We consulted at length with the ASA as we created the adverts, which have explained to hundreds of thousands of people how universal credit is helping more than 2.5 million people across the country.”

7 November 2019


DWP’s disability adviser questioned over PIP omission from Boris Johnson letter

The head of a UK leisure industry body – a government disability adviser – has been forced to explain why his organisation wrote to the prime minister but failed to ask for action to address disabled people’s barriers to physical activity.

Ukactive represents the UK fitness industry, and its chief executive, Huw Edwards, is the Department for Work and Pensions’ disability sector champion for the leisure industry, with the task of fighting for the rights of disabled consumers.

But the pre-election letter from ukactive to the prime minister – and the leaders of the four other largest Westminster parties – makes no mention of disabled people or disability, other than pointing out that inactivity is the “fourth greatest cause of disease and disability” in the UK.

Only 13 months ago, a report from the disability sports organisation Activity Alliance – which ukactive supported – found that four-fifths of disabled people surveyed would like to be more active, but nearly half feared losing their benefits if they took more exercise.

More than a third of those surveyed had either had their own benefits sanctioned or removed because of being physically active, or knew someone this had happened to.

But despite this report, there was no mention in the ukactive letter of disabled people or disability benefits, including personal independence payment (PIP), even though the letter aims to push the Conservatives and other political parties to amend their manifesto policies on health and wellbeing.

The nearest it comes to demanding measures to address the barriers facing disabled people is when it calls for action to support older people to access the physical activity sector.

Ukactive was formerly known as the Fitness Industry Association.

The letter was sent on ukactive’s behalf by its chair, the disabled peer and retired Paralympian Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.

She insisted that it was “absolutely not a deliberate omission to forget about disabled people” and that there was no pressure “at all” from within ukactive not to mention disabled people and the PIP issue in the letter.

She told Disability News Service: “I could have put 20 other things in there as well. The work I do at ukactive is about everybody being active and disabled people are part of that.

“I could have written a 40-page letter to the leaders of the main political parties with my personal views over a number of areas I work on such as access to trains, hate crime and universal credit.

“This letter was written in my role as chair of ukactive and is part of an ongoing discussion about how people can be active.”

She added: “It absolutely was not any kind of deliberate omission. It was just a judgement call from me.”

She said the team at ukactive had been talking in recent months to government departments about the issues in the letter, but she did not know whether that had included DWP and the PIP issue.

A ukactive spokesperson said in a statement: “ukactive represents its members on a broad range of agenda items, and disability and inclusivity are completely integral to these.

“The calls we made to government last week are practical policy requests which are inclusive of disabled people.

“We want all major political parties to commit to invest in the physical activity sector to support more people to be active.

“From regenerating the high street through physical activity, to opening schools as community hubs over the summer, improving accessibility to active travel and social prescribing, these policy calls represent all members of society.

“We continue to work with government and our partner agencies, Activity Alliance, Sense and Disability Rights UK, across a range of issues to reduce the barriers and create more opportunities for disabled people to be active.

“ukactive has played a key role in supporting the recommendations from Activity Alliance’s report, The Activity Trap, which found that many disabled people fear that by being active they may be seen as ‘too independent’ for a disabled person and could lose access to the benefits they need such as PIP.

“Through programmes such as Everyone Can, ukactive is also working with cross-sector disability champions to help improve services for disabled people who want to undertake more physical activity.”

Despite the statement, the letter is likely to call into question the role of DWP’s disability sector champions, and whether they are there to fight for the rights of disabled people or instead to secure access to ministers for the industries they represent.

In September, disabled researcher and activist Ellen Clifford secured an admission from DWP that it had no idea how many of its sector champions were disabled people themselves.

She said then that the initiative was “meaningless”, with no evidence of “tangible outcomes” from their appointments.

She added: “The failure to hold any equalities monitoring data on the champions further confirms the idea that these are purely tokenistic appointments created to give the impression of progress while the government continues its deliberate retrogression of disabled people’s rights.”

7 November 2019


Disabled activists back call for action on disability pay gap

Disabled people will effectively work for free for the last 57 days of this year because of the huge gap between their earnings and those of non-disabled employees, new TUC research has shown.

Disabled activists this week backed the TUC call to address what is known as the disability pay gap, which means the average disabled worker receives about £1.65 an hour, or 15 per cent, less than the average non-disabled worker*.

In its new report (PDF), the TUC branded 4 November Disability Pay Gap Day, because the gap means that the average disabled person is effectively working for free for the rest of the year.

Disabled women face an even higher pay gap than disabled men.

And disabled people with some impairments also experience far higher pay gaps.

People with learning difficulties face a pay gap of 62.6 per cent and those with diabetes have a gap of 22.8 per cent.

There are also regional differences, with the largest disability pay gap in the east of England (21.8 per cent), and the lowest in the south-west (8.5 per cent), with the gap in Wales at 17.7 per cent, Scotland at 12.4 per cent, London at 13.5 per cent, and the north-west at 9.1 per cent.

The report says the causes of the disability pay gap include the higher proportion of disabled people working part-time, which tends to be lower paid than full-time work; disabled workers being more likely to be in lower-paid industries such as care work, leisure and customer services; and disabled people being less likely to be in higher-paid roles such as managers or directors.

The gap is also caused by lower levels of educational qualifications, and the report adds: “Unlawful discrimination, negative attitudes and structural barriers are holding back disabled people both in educational achievement and progress in work.”

TUC has now launched a petition that calls on the government to make it compulsory for employers to publish their disability pay gaps.

A TUC/GQR poll also found disabled workers were far more likely to go without basics than non-disabled workers, with 35 per cent of disabled workers saying they had gone without heating on a cold day, compared to 17 per cent of non-disabled workers.

Disabled people are also far less likely to be in employment (51.8 per cent) than non-disabled people (81.6 per cent), says the report.

The government has so far refused to bring in laws requiring employers to publish their disability pay gap information.

Two years ago, in its own research – which found a disability pay gap of about 14 per cent – the Equality and Human Rights Commission called for action to improve the education of disabled pupils, tackle career stereotypes and improve the availability of flexible working, as well as calling on the government to introduce mandatory disability pay gap reporting.

Sean McGovern, co-chair of TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, said: “The TUC should be congratulated for addressing this economic injustice.

“Disabled people face a host of barriers in their day-to-day lives.

“When we do manage to break the employment barriers, we are met by yet more.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, which has backed the TUC campaign, said the disability pay gap “reflects the continuing inequalities in the education system and within the workplace that still exist and have been worsened by Tory cuts and their vile rhetoric towards disabled people”.

She called for a fully inclusive education system, restoration of cuts to disabled students’ allowance and easier access to higher education for disabled students, and for the next government to scrap the “ridiculous and completely useless Disability Confident scheme”.

But she said the most important step would be “getting rid of the Tories, who have pushed disabled people’s rights back 30 to 40 years, in the coming general election”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to answer questions about the report, other than pointing Disability News Service (DNS) in the direction of a comment – given by DWP to a national newspaper – that failed to answer any of those questions.

He said this was because the department was now in an official election period – “parliamentary purdah” – even though the questions had been submitted the previous day, hours before this period began.

The questions DNS asked were whether DWP was concerned about the disability pay gap figures revealed by the TUC; why it had not introduced mandatory disability pay gap reporting; whether it would now do so; whether the disability pay gap needed to be addressed; and how DWP would address that pay gap.

*The average hourly pay for someone who would be seen as disabled under the Equality Act is £10.63, compared with £12.28 for someone who would not. If working a 35-hour week, this would mean a pay gap of £3,003 a year

7 November 2019 


Dismay over psychiatrists’ failure to speak out on ‘abusive’ universal credit project

Five grassroots groups of disabled people have asked psychiatrists to explain why they have not spoken out publicly about a scheme that allows work coaches to refer universal credit (UC) claimants for mental health treatment.

Mental Health Resistance Network, Disabled People Against Cuts, WinVisible, Recovery in the Bin and Black Triangle wrote to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) about the project on 16 October.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) project has been running as a pilot scheme in Cornwall since March 2018, and the department announced a further £100,000 in funding in August, which will extend it in the county until next October.

But the five groups have questioned why RCP has not opposed the project, which allows jobcentre work coaches with no mental health qualifications to bypass GPs and decide themselves whether a UC claimant needs specialist support for his or her mental distress.

The grassroots groups say the project poses serious health risks for claimants, while there is also the risk that those who are well enough to see a job coach will be fast-tracked for treatment, at the expense of those with more complex and serious mental distress.

They say they were “dismayed” that RCP had failed to oppose the project, a scheme which epitomizes a “highly biased political view of mental distress and treatment” that involves “both blaming and punishing individuals who fail to conform to the demands of the free market”, even if those demands could cause harm to the claimant.

They say it is “extraordinary” that RCP is going along with such an ideology, which also leads people to live with the “constant fear of destitution and with actual destitution”, which has led to many deaths from suicide.

The letter to RCP’s president, Professor Wendy Burn, also compares RCP’s support for this ideology to the psychiatric profession’s past “foray into gay conversion therapy”.

As well as the five groups, the letter was signed by other leading representative groups and individuals, including Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility; Social Work Action Network; Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives; Psychologists for Social Change; Dr Jay Watts; and Keep Our NHS Public.

The letter also poses a series of questions to RCP about the risks of the Cornish project.

DWP claimed in August that the results of the pilot “prove without a doubt that this approach works”.

But the five organisations warn RCP in the letter: “When the hostile environment for disabled people comes to an end, and we are determined that it will, how long will we have to wait for an apology from the psychiatric profession for the role it has played in enabling DWP abuse of people in mental distress?”

They call on RCP to “recommend most strongly that where a job coach is concerned about the mental health of a Universal Credit claimant that they seek to persuade the claimant to make an urgent visit to their GP”.

And they say RCP should support the right of claimants to receive their full entitlement to benefits, with no risk of sanctions, because of the risk that any cut in benefit could “endanger the claimant’s mental health and even their lives”.

Burn responded to the letter this morning (Thursday) after RCP was asked by Disability News Service this week why she had failed to reply.

In her response to the letter, which fails to mention universal credit, Burn says RCP does not accept the claim that it has been “promoting a highly biased political view of mental distress and treatment, or that it has played a role in enabling the abuse of people in mental distress who are seeking welfare support”.

She says RCP’s social inclusion lead has “continued to raise concerns and provide expert advice about the impact of welfare reform on people with mental illness and those with learning disabilities”.

And she says it is “clear that anyone undertaking a mental health assessment needs to be sufficiently qualified to do so and, as part of the assessment, should engage with clinicians involved in providing care to the person concerned”.

Burn also says RCP believes that a jobcentre would not be “a suitable therapeutic environment to assess and discuss an individual’s mental health”.

She adds: “Having to do so would likely increase the stress and pressure on people with a mental illness when seeking support, and the possibility of them seeing the receipt of benefits as being conditional on them agreeing to mental health treatment.

“In addition, there is a risk that being referred to the wrong type of treatment may reduce the likelihood of seeking help in the future, make their illness worse and increase the likelihood of experiencing a future crisis.”

But Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, said today in response: “The letter does not address many of our issues.

“We really need to have a longer and deeper dialogue with the RCP because the denial that they are ‘promoting a highly biased political view of mental distress and treatment, or that it has played a role in enabling the abuse of people in mental distress who are seeking welfare support’ suggests one of two things.

“Either that the political ideology that is now embedded in the mental health system is an ideology that they agree with and maybe even welcome within psychiatry, or that they lack the political awareness to understand how they are colluding with a contested ideology that is harming people.”

7 November 2019


News provided by John Pring at