Watchdogs snubbed by minister after raising concerns over UN ‘violations’ report

Four human rights and equality watchdogs have been snubbed by the minister for disabled people after raising serious concerns about how her government dismissed a report that found it guilty of “grave or systematic” violations of the UN disability convention.

The UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) said last month that the UK government had discriminated against disabled people across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

But the government responded to the report by dismissing its conclusions and all 11 of its recommendations.

Now the UK’s official independent mechanism (UKIM) for monitoring implementation of the convention – the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Scottish Human Rights Commission – has called on the UK government to “urgently reconsider” its response to the UN report.

It has written to Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, to express its concerns about both the findings of the report, and the government’s response.

But a DWP spokeswoman refused even to acknowledge the letter, after being asked for a comment by Disability News Service.

Instead, the spokeswoman said that “everything the government has to say about the UN inquiry is contained in its comprehensive official response [to the CRPD report]”.

In its analysis of the government’s response to the inquiry, UKIM says it has failed to show that it is giving “due regard to the need to promote the equality of disabled people or their broader human rights, when developing new law and policy”.

It says in the letter: “We welcome the publication of the inquiry report, and we are concerned by its conclusion that the UK Government’s programme of social security reform since 2010 has resulted in grave or systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights.

“Of even greater concern is the UK Government’s response, which suggests that it will not be taking action on any of the recommendations.”

The letter calls on the government to reconsider its position in the light of the “continuing impact on disabled people’s lives”.

The four commissions defend the way that CRPD researched the report, which they say was “robust and comprehensive” and “based on a rigorous review of the available evidence”.

UKIM itself contributed “detailed evidence” to the committee for its report.

This contrasts with comments made by work and pensions secretary Damian Green, who last month described the report as “patronising and offensive”.

UKIM points out that “similar concerns” to those outlined by CRPD have been raised in previous reports by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in a letter from the UN special rapporteurs on housing, disabilities, poverty and food.

It calls on the government to “enhance the status” of the convention in UK law, and introduce a way to scrutinise policy and legislation to ensure it complies with UNCRPD.

And it calls on the government – like many other organisations before, including grassroots organisations of disabled people such as the WOWcampaign and Pat’s Petition, and EHRC itself – to “urgently” carry out a “human rights-based” assessment of the cumulative impact on disabled people of all of the social security reforms brought in since the coalition took power in 2010.

The four commissions also call on the UK government to take “urgent steps” to provide “sufficient independent living funding to each [local authority] to meet the needs of disabled people in their area”, following the closure of the Independent Living Fund.

And they say the government should provide councils with guidance on how to fulfil their duties to meet the convention’s independent living duties, and ensure that every local authority can report on independent living funding in its own areas.

The commissions also urge the UK government to commission independent research on the impact of its legal aid reforms on disabled people, and “take concrete steps to mitigate any adverse impacts identified”.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, the grassroots network of disabled people that persuaded the UN to carry out its inquiry, welcomed the UKIM intervention.

But she said: “DPAC tried working with EHRC in 2011 in an attempt to get them to challenge the government’s actions, which were eroding the rights of disabled people so badly.

“Therefore we’re very pleased to see some action at last, even if it is five years too late.”

Meanwhile, a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has found that – once account is taken of the higher costs faced by disabled people – half of people living in poverty are either disabled or are living with a disabled person in their household.

The report says that there are 4.2 million disabled people in poverty, and 7.1 million people in poverty who are either disabled themselves or live in a household with a disabled person.

Disability Rights UK said the JRF report was “a damning indictment of government policy towards disabled people”.

8 December 2016

 

 

Big disability charities ‘are selling out disabled people’ by seeking DWP contracts

The country’s largest disability charities have been accused of “selling out” disabled people, as they look set to play a significant role in providing back-to-work services under the government’s new Work and Health Programme.

Disability News Service (DNS) has contacted seven of the largest disability charities – most of which are not user-led – and none of them has ruled out seeking contracts from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Disabled activists say this means the charities will be unable to campaign effectively on welfare reform, because of the size of contracts on offer.

All seven – the group that in past years were known as the “big seven” disability charities – insist that any contracts they win from the government will have no impact on their campaigning work, including whether they speak up about social security reform, including cuts to disability benefits and back-to-work policies for disabled people.

But their generally supportive responses to the government’s work, health and disability green paper – which was published on 31 October – could suggest otherwise.

One of the seven – Mind – has already been caught lying about its interest in seeking DWP contracts under the Work and Health Programme.

Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, told protesters on 31 October that the charity had “no contracts with DWP” and that he was “not interested in future contracts at this stage”.

His lies were exposed when a disgruntled employee leaked internal documents showing that Mind was applying to join a DWP framework that would allow it to bid for contracts.

Last month, the charity’s policy and campaigns manager, Tom Pollard, joined DWP on secondment as a senior policy adviser.

Asked whether winning DWP contracts would impact on its campaigning work, Mind told DNS last week that it “always speaks out about the issues that we believe impact on people with mental health problems, and we don’t enter into financial relationships which would prevent us from doing this”.

The DNS investigation comes as the Charity Commission confirmed that it has written to Mind’s trustees following a complaint about the charity’s close links with the government – and about Farmer’s lies – by Dr Minh Alexander, an NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist.

She told the commission that she was “concerned that Mind’s independence has been compromised through collaboration with the government which goes beyond constructive joint working”.

A Charity Commission spokesman told DNS: “The Charity Commission can confirm that a concern was raised with us regarding the charity Mind.

“The commission is in correspondence with the trustees to highlight the concern and to request more information.

“We have provided the trustees with the appropriate guidance and we are awaiting a response which we will consider in due course.”

But there are also concerns about the future independence of the other six charities.

Leonard Cheshire Disability said that it already provides services under the government’s Work Choice programme, but refused to say if it was seeking contracts under the Work and Health Programme, or if any such contract would impact on its campaigning work.

RNIB said that it was “exploring” possible involvement in the Work and Health Programme as a “specialist sub-contractor”, although only if any programme was “entirely voluntary” because “we don’t support the sanctioning of individuals’ benefits if they do not attend a programme”.

An RNIB spokeswoman said: “We will continue to represent and campaign on behalf of people with sight loss as part of our constructive dialogue with the DWP.”

Action on Hearing Loss said that it “may consider DWP contracts in the future”, but denied that this would impact on its campaigning work.

Scope said that it had “yet to make a decision regarding upcoming opportunities to deliver employment support but hope to make an announcement in the new year”.

A Scope spokeswoman said: “We have been and will continue to speak out on the issues that matter to disabled people.

“We believe that the work capability assessment is fundamentally flawed and doesn’t accurately identify the barriers disabled people face in entering or staying in work and will continue to speak out against this.”

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said it was too early to say if it would bid for contracts, but if it did “it would likely be in partnership with other disabled people’s organisations”, and that it would “never compromise on being able to speak out about issues of welfare reform”.

Mencap’s head of employment, Mark Capper, said the charity was “disappointed” to see that the framework for the main contracts “appears to favour large businesses rather than third sector providers who can offer specialised support”, and that it would not want to be involved “unless significant changes were made to involve third sector providers”.

But a Mencap spokesman said the charity “may” consider smaller contracts “if we believe they will allow third sector providers to support people with a learning disability into employment”.

Capper said that Mencap wanted to “ensure disabled people receive the support they need to realise their ambitions, and that the government meets its commitment to halve the employment gap experienced by disabled people”.

He added: “Whether this is achieved by working with the government or speaking out against them when we believe they are failing, we will continue to do both.”

But Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) dismissed the suggestion that the charities would speak out strongly against DWP if they won multi-million pound contracts under the new programme.

Linda Burnip, DPAC co-founder, said: “It is clear to everyone that organisations taking money from the government to provide services of any kind will not be in a position to campaign in any effective way against the policies on welfare reform.

“These contracts are rumoured to be worth between £2 million and £30 million and once part of propping up the system, any independence to criticise it will be lost.

“It is shameful that organisations supposedly existing to benefit disabled people are willing to sell them out in such an abhorrent way.”

Freedom of information responses secured by DNS show that six of the “big seven” were invited to DWP’s national launch of its green paper, while the seventh – Scope – hosted the event. Five of the six, plus Scope, attended the event.

The freedom of information response also shows that the government’s guest list of 79 organisations included just six disabled people’s user-led organisations, five of which, including DR UK, attended the launch event.

The green paper includes the possibility that DWP could in future force all sick and disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits to take part in “mandatory” activity, including those in the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group.

But despite this measure – and the horrified response from many disabled people – the reactions of the “big seven” to the green paper last month were generally positive.

Scope even welcomed the green paper’s publication in DWP’s own press release, allowing work and pensions secretary Damian Green to claim in the House of Commons that criticism of the government’s plans was “completely out of touch with those who represent disabled people”.

Leonard Cheshire Disability also welcomed the green paper, and said the government had taken “an important first step towards reducing the disability employment gap”.

RNIB said it welcomed the government’s “aim to tackle the barriers that disabled people face in employment”, although it said that “the proof of the pudding will be in the eating”.

Action on Hearing Loss – formerly RNID – also welcomed the green paper, praising the “collaborative focus of the Department of Work and Pensions and the Department of Health on integrated support for work and health”.

The other three charities were more critical, although none of them could be said to have attacked the green paper.

Disability Rights UK criticised elements of the green paper, pointing to its failure to announce any new incentives or requirements on employers, calling for more enforcement of the Equality Act, and warning that the government appeared to be cutting funding for employment support.

Mencap welcomed much of the green paper but was critical of the planned £30-a-week cuts to ESA, and said that the possible changes to the support group “could cause deep concern to sick and disabled people”.

Mind also welcomed parts of the green paper but, like Mencap, was critical of the support group measure, while it also criticised the government’s failure to consider “a fundamental rethink of the way conditionality and sanctions are used”.

8 December 2016

 

 

Murder of disabled man tortured to death by ‘friend’ was not hate crime, says judge

A judge has failed to treat the murder of a disabled man who was imprisoned and tortured to death by his killer as a disability hate crime, raising fresh concerns about flawed legislation that is supposed to ensure higher sentences for such offences.

Newcastle Crown Court heard during an eight-week trial how James Wheatley, 29, of Studdon Walk, Kenton Bar, Newcastle, repeatedly kicked, punched and stamped on Lee Irving in attacks that took place over nine days, leaving him with multiple broken bones and other injuries.

Irving, 24, who had learning difficulties, thought Wheatley was his friend and was living in his house at the time of the attacks.

But Wheatley and his co-defendants targeted Irving for his money and possessions, with Wheatley signing him up to online banking so he could empty his account.

After the final attack that led to his death, Irving’s body was taken on a pushchair through a housing estate and dumped on a patch of grass near the A1.

Gerry Wareham, chief crown prosecutor for the north-east, said after the trial that Wheatley had “exploited the friendship of Lee Irving in the worst way imaginable”.

He said: “Lee only wanted friendship but, instead, became the target of Wheatley’s aggression.

“After the attacks on Lee Irving, the defendants made every effort to hide what they had done: sedating and imprisoning him in their home, moving his body after death and removing key evidence.

“Even those defendants not directly involved in the attacks would have recognised that the extent of his injuries required immediate medical attention. Not one of them tried to assist Lee or to prevent further injury to him.”

Wheatley was found guilty on Friday (2 December) of murder, and sentenced to life in prison, where he will have to serve a minimum of 23 years.

But the offences Wheatley committed were not treated as hate crimes by the judge, Mr Justice Soole, under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.

If they had been, he would have had to serve at least 30 years in prison.

Three other defendants – Wheatley’s mother Julie Mills, 52, girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and lodger Barry Imray, 35 – were convicted of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, as was Wheatley, and of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult, and all three were jailed.

Both Northumbria police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had treated Irving’s death as a hate crime, but Mr Justice Soole, in sentencing Wheatley, decided there was not enough evidence to prove the killing was motivated by disability-related hostility.

Lee Irving’s death now becomes the latest in a lengthy line of brutal crimes in which disabled people have been targeted because of their impairment, but which have not been acknowledged as disability hate crimes because of the flawed criminal justice system.

One of them was the murder of Brent Martin, another man with learning difficulties, who was killed in nearby Sunderland by three young men who took turns to see which of them could knock him out for a £5 bet.

But his killing in 2007 was never treated as a disability hate crime by Northumbria police, the same force that investigated Lee Irving’s death, or by the courts.

In July this year, CPS was criticised for failing to treat as a disability hate crime a case in which a man with learning difficulties was forced to live in a shed for 35 years, and work for a pittance, and was beaten if he failed to work hard enough.

And last year, the criminal justice system was again criticised after a court failed to treat the brutal murder of Peter Hedley as a disability hate crime, when again the judge merely took account of Hedley’s “vulnerability” in sentencing.

The failure to sentence Lee Irving’s murderer under disability hate crime legislation will provide further fuel for disabled campaigners who have been pushing the government for years to ensure that it takes the issue seriously.

Northumbria police had failed to comment by noon today (8 December).

But a CPS spokesman confirmed that its lawyers had treated Lee Irving’s murder as a disability hate crime.

He said in a statement: “We always apply to increase sentences where disability is an aggravating factor but ultimately it is the court’s decision.

“The proportion of sentence uplifts applied in 2015-16 was the highest it has ever been and we are working with the judiciary and the courts in support of their consistent application.”

CPS said that where there was not enough evidence of disability hostility for a section 146 uplift, but disability was a factor in another way – such as the victim’s perceived “vulnerability” – it can present evidence to the court of these other “aggravating” factors that can increase the seriousness of the offence and the sentence.

A public consultation on CPS’s policy on prosecuting crimes against disabled people is due to end on 9 January 2017.

8 December 2016

 

 

‘Grave and systematic violations’ minister branded ‘offensive’ after UN rights pledge

A minister partly responsible for the UK being found guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of the UN disability convention has been branded “highly offensive” after announcing that her government would try to become a “world leader” on disability.

Priti Patel was employment minister for more than a year while the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) was investigating her government for breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), as a result of its social security reforms.

When the UN committee published its report last month, concluding that the UK government had breached disabled people’s human rights across three key parts of the convention, her government dismissed its work, with work and pensions secretary Damian Green describing it as “patronising and offensive”.

But Patel has now pledged commitment to the convention in a bid to be seen as a global leader on disability.

On Saturday, Patel – now the international development secretary – used the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) to publish plans to “lead a step-change in the world’s efforts to end extreme poverty by pushing disability up the global development agenda”.

A new paper published by her department says the UK government will “drive action to improve the lives of people with disabilities”.

It says: “By upholding our commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we will ensure people with disabilities are systematically and consistently included in, and benefit from, international aid and humanitarian assistance.”

The new paper adds: “We will continue to invest in social protection systems in order to increase their coverage, quality and sustainability.

“For too long, decision makers have overlooked people with disabilities – we will work to change this.

“We will strengthen our work on disability and establish [the Department for International Development] as the global leader in this neglected and under-prioritised area.”

Only last month, CRPD was concluding that the UK government’s social security reforms had “disproportionately affected persons with disabilities and hindered various aspects of their right to live independently and be included in the community”.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the grassroots network of disabled people that persuaded the UN to carry out its inquiry, said: “The thought of the Department for International Development led by Priti Patel fighting to improve the rights of disabled people around the world is laughable, given her previous track record as minister for employment.

“The thought that someone who was part of a government condemned by the UN for the grave or systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights in the UK having the remotest interest in improving the life chances of any disabled person is highly offensive.”

Patel visited the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) as part of her efforts to use IDPD to promote her department’s new paper.

Disability News Service asked LCD whether it had any concerns about the UK government being found guilty by CRPD of “grave or systematic violations” of the UNCRPD, and then claiming it wants to be a global leader on disability, but the charity had not commented by noon today (8 December).

Meanwhile, Remploy, the formerly government-owned disability employment business, now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus, marked IDPD by holding a social media question and answer session… and then blocking disabled activists who tried to take part.

Remploy – which the Department for Work and Pensions has given Disability Confident Leader status as part of its newly-relaunched disability employment scheme – advertised the session with four of its disabled “ambassadors” on Twitter with the hashtag #AskUsAnything.

But when disabled campaigners took the four ambassadors at their word and started asking questions about Maximus’s links to the government’s welfare reforms – including carrying out work capability assessments (WCAs) – and the deaths of benefit claimants, they were blocked by Remploy.

One campaigner, @dinogoldie, was blocked after asking a series of questions including: “Is not a #disability employment service owned by a #disability denial factory a conflict of interest? #wca.”

@dinogoldie later added: “I asked @RemployPP some legitimate questions so they blocked me. Not very #DisabilityConfident.”

DPAC itself was blocked after asking: “How does it feel to work for a company owned by Maximus who make money from persecuting disabled people? #WCA #AskUsAnything.”

Another disabled campaigner, @otivar55, was blocked after asking: “Why did those poor people die during sanctions?”

Other than those put by anti-cuts activists, there appear to have been few questions asked of Remploy’s “ambassadors”.

A Remploy spokeswoman said that a “small number of people” were blocked on Twitter.

She said: “The Twitter Q&A on Friday was led by a group of Remploy disability ambassadors who were keen to share their lived experience on [IDPD], and support employers to create equality in employment opportunities.

“The Remploy disability ambassadors had a really productive, well-engaged discussion and we look forward to continuing to support disabled people to find sustainable employment.

“A small number of Twitter users were blocked from our account only because the questions they asked took the focus away from sharing experiences and helping employers create a more inclusive environment.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Meanwhile, Shaping Our Lives, the national network of service-users, marked IDPD by launching a new “charter for change” it has developed alongside the British Association of Social Workers.

The charter – produced following 18 months of discussions – aims to ensure all disabled adults and social workers work together to tackle barriers to independent living and to improve wellbeing.

Among its pledges, the charter says that both disabled people and social workers will “act like people, and not just follow mechanistic processes”, and that they will “have conversations rather than being bound by forms and procedures”.

And it says: “We will continue to work to overcome power imbalances between disabled adults and social workers leading to equal relationships and co-producing solutions.”

There is also reference to the crisis in social care funding, with the charter pledging that both disabled people and social workers will “be aware of the impact of policies across central and local government, and health and other services on disabled adults’ lives”.

Ann Nutt, a service-user and co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said the charter “brings clarity and focuses on the development of a partnership strategy between disabled people and social workers”.

Joanna Matthews, chair of the user-led charity Unlimited Oxfordshire, said: “Some of our members have already faced cuts in their budgets or struggled to get a timely assessment.

“It really matters to have a good relationship with your social worker, so that in these times of cuts and hardship we can all work together to make a little go a long way.”

Another user-led organisation to mark IDPD was the Norfolk-based disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives, which linked with DPAC to hold a protest outside an inaccessible building in Norwich that is used by the government contractor Atos as an assessment centre for disabled people claiming personal independence payments.

8 December 2016

 

 

Scottish government lays out 93 actions to help country meet UN obligations

The Scottish government has described the 93 actions it believes will help Scotland meet its obligations under the UN disability convention, and address some of the harm caused to disabled people by the UK government’s “austerity economics” policies.

It published its five-year plan, A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People, on the eve of the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and less than a month after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities found the UK government was guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of the convention.

The 93 actions are grouped under five headings: independent living; “decent incomes and fairer working lives”; accessibility; legal rights; and “active participation” in society.

The delivery plan was described by Dr Jim Elder-Woodward, the disabled chair of the Scottish Independent Living Coalition, as a “sterling start” towards ensuring that the UN convention had a positive impact on the lives of disabled people in Scotland.

Among the 93 actions, the Scottish government said it would extend the Independent Living Fund scheme it set up in the wake of the closure of the UK-wide version of the fund, offering it to new members for the first time with the help of £5 million-a-year of new funding, in addition to £47.2 million-a-year for its 2,700 existing Scottish users.

It pledged a shift towards care that focuses on achieving independent living, and said it would also improve the “portability” of care – the ease with which a disabled person can take their support package with them when they move between local authority areas.

The plan also includes a pledge to halve the disability employment gap, a similar promise to that made by the UK government, although with no date to match the 2020 target set – and then dropped – by ministers in Westminster.

It promises a one-year transition to a “voluntary and person-led” employment scheme that will support disabled people from April 2018.

And it promises to set up – thanks to new powers devolved to Scotland to control part of the social security budget – a welfare system that “treats people with dignity and respect while applying for, being assessed for, and receiving disability benefits”.

New social security experience panels will involve at least 2,000 people with recent experience of receiving benefits to “help to design and test the new system to ensure it works for them”.

On accessibility, it promises to ensure that each local authority sets a “realistic target” for building wheelchair-accessible housing, and reports annually on its progress.

On legal rights, it will abolish fees for employment tribunals, and ensure that the seven main criminal justice organisations carry out audits of their buildings to “identify any physical access barriers that need to be removed”.

The Scottish government also promises to extend its Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) to the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2021.

The pledge contrasts with the UK government’s version of the fund, which has been lying dormant since the 2015 general election while its effectiveness is supposedly being reviewed.

The Scottish version was set to expire in 2017, but the new plan promises to use an evaluation of the fund to “make any necessary improvements to ensure it works for disabled people”, and then extend it until 2021.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said the fund would be available for disabled people who want to stand in all Scottish national and local elections between 2017 and 2021, including by-elections, although not candidates standing at UK parliamentary elections, which she said were “the responsibility of the UK government”.

Dr Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, welcomed the new document.

She said: “This plan sets out a positive direction of travel towards a fairer Scotland for disabled people, based on a firm foundation of human rights.

“Specific commitments on funding for internships, to promote volunteering and to help address the under-representation of disabled people in politics and public life are particularly welcome.

“But the challenge now is to transform ambitions into actions that will, in turn, transform disabled people’s lives and the country we live in.

“There is much to be done and no time to lose.”

Among other disabled people welcoming the plan was campaigner Chris Baird, who said: “Disability hate crime has sky-rocketed in the last few years, as we’ve been stigmatised and demonised by UK politicians and much of the media.

“This disability plan, together with the new social security system, is a chance to put right some of the wrongs and treat people better.”

Jamie Szymkowiak, founder of the user-led, cross-party campaign One in Five – which wants to see the number of disabled politicians in Scotland reflect the proportion of disabled people in society – said the extension of funding for the access to elected office scheme was “fantastic news”.

He said: “An early announcement confirming financial support for aspiring disabled politicians is exactly what we at One in Five were calling for.

“Safe in the knowledge that the financial barrier to elected office has been removed, this early commitment provides disabled people with plenty of time to develop into political representatives of the future.”

Social security minister Jeane Freeman, who launched the plan on Friday (2 December) in Glasgow, said: “Over a million disabled people contribute to Scotland’s communities and add talent, diversity and richness to our society.

“Our goal is for every one of that million to have choice, control, dignity and freedom to live the life they choose with the support they need to do so.”

She added: “At a time when the UK government is undermining the human rights of disabled people with its programme of austerity and welfare cuts and a blatant disregard for the impact it has on disabled people’s lives, we are committing to furthering rights.

“Given that the UN declared last month that there was evidence of ‘grave or systematic violations’ of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it’s no wonder disabled people feel this is an assault on their wellbeing, and makes the need for change more pressing.”

Discussions with disabled people and their organisations early next year will lead to the Scottish government setting priorities for action and timescales, followed by a Fairer Scotland progress report in 2019.

Disabled people’s panels will be set up to cover each of the plan’s five areas, providing advice on implementation of key actions and how to measure progress.

A survey of disabled people in mid-2018 will gather evidence on the impact of the actions, while annual disability summits will look at progress, with a “major” disability summit in 2020.

A progress report will be laid before the Scottish parliament in early 2021 to determine where the government needs to focus its efforts during the 2021-26 parliamentary session.

8 December 2016

 

 

Disabled people face institutional disablism from employers, says damning report

Disabled people are facing “institutional disablism” at the hands of both public and private sector employers, according to a new parliamentary report that examines how the government can meet its pledge to halve the disability employment gap.

The report by the all-party parliamentary group on disability (APPGD) – which has cross-party support – concludes that it will take almost 50 years for the government to achieve its pledge at its current rate of progress.

It suggests that the government will only be able to halve the gap by taking a far tougher stance on dealing with employers that discriminate against disabled staff and would-be employees.

The report, Ahead Of The Arc – which is supported by MPs and peers from seven political parties – calls on the government to drop its opposition to regulatory action that would force employers to take action.

It says: “It is time to consider abandoning a voluntary-only approach towards requiring employers to measure and to increase disability employment.”

Evidence suggests that the failure of public and private employers to provide appropriate support to disabled people in the workplace and to offer fair access to start-up funds, business advice and business networks amounts to “institutional disablism”, the report says.

Professor Victoria Wass, of Cardiff Business School, one of the report’s authors, said there were “parallels” between the institutional disablism facing disabled people and the conclusions of the Macpherson report in 1999, which concluded that the Metropolitan police and other police forces were institutionally racist.

The APPGD report suggests that employers found to have discriminated against disabled people should face lesser penalties if they have “substantive” equality policies in place.

And it says the government needs “a tighter legal framework” to ensure that disabled employees are no longer “managed out of the workplace” by their employers, something that is happening to an estimated 35,000 to 48,000 disabled people every year.

At current rates of progress, the report warns, the disability employment gap will not be halved until 2065.

It says the “size and endurance of the employment gap reflects multiple and repeated failures of public and private sector organisations to address discrimination and disadvantage against disabled people”.

The government needs to pay less attention to cutting the social security bill and more to ensuring disabled people have access to the labour market, the report says.

And it warns that economic growth alone will not deliver the government’s commitment to halving the gap – the difference between the rates of non-disabled people (currently 80 per cent) and disabled people (currently 48 per cent) in jobs – which is currently 32 percentage points.

It calls instead for the government to take a “new, innovative and multi-dimensional approach combining incentives, persuasion, funding and legislation”.

It calls for action in six broad areas: self-employment; the availability of government business loans and grants to disabled people; securing support from mainstream and specialist business networks; taking advantage of the large sums of government money spent on public procurement; spreading best practice; and offering employers incentives such as tax breaks, but also imposing new regulations.

The report says the government must ensure that public sector contracts are only awarded to organisations with a good track record on employing disabled people.

It says the £242 billion the government spends on buying goods and services every year is “largely a missed opportunity to use that influence and help redress disability-related employment disadvantage”.

This could mean that “inclusive recruitment and retention policies are standard clauses in public sector contracts”, with targets monitored by the organisations commissioning those contracts.

The report adds: “Organisations must learn to collect, record and analyse the disability status of their users, employees or applicants as a routine procedure.”

It also calls on the government to provide a new right to return to work for newly-disabled workers within a year of acquiring a “major disability or long-term health condition”.

But just hours after the report was published, there were signs that the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, had already dismissed the months of work invested in the report by disabled people, user-led organisations, academics, charities, MPs and peers.

When asked for a response to Ahead Of The Arc, a Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman refused to comment on its contents, instead emailing a statement from the minister that made no reference to the report.

Dr Lisa Cameron, the SNP MP who chairs the APPGD, told Disability News Service that the minister’s response was “extremely disappointing”.

And she said Mordaunt had already ignored an earlier request she made in parliament for a meeting to discuss the report.

Cameron told a parliamentary meeting held to launch Ahead Of The Arc that current government policy “quite simply will not halve the gap”.

There were also doubts raised about the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident scheme, which is supposed to encourage employers to do more to retain and recruit disabled people.

Johnny Mercer, the Tory vice-chair of the APPGD, said many employers were “very quick to put Disability Confident on their company logos” but “unless it means something it becomes sort of worthless”.

He said there was a need for “drastic measures” to halve the disability employment gap, but insisted that the issue was one of prime minister Theresa May’s “key areas” and was “part of her agenda”.

Philip Connolly, policy manager of Disability Rights UK – which provides the secretariat for the APPGD – and another of the report’s authors, said it provided an “aspirational agenda” which “takes the government at its word that it wants to cut the disability employment gap by half”.

But he said the government’s work, health and disability green paper was flawed because of its failure to suggest any measures aimed at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and because it contained “almost nothing about future industrial strategy”.

He said their investigations had “found deficiencies in all forms of government support” as well as institutional disablism.

Connolly said: “We cannot be cutting people’s benefits if we are not offering them the opportunity to get employment.”

The disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low said the report was “a valuable contribution to halving the disability employment gap”.

He said: “Economic growth alone will not deliver the government’s manifesto commitment to having the disability employment gap.”

He said that using public sector procurement was “an extraordinarily powerful lever” to get disabled people into work.

But he warned that the government’s plans to cut payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) placed in the work-related activity group by £30-a-week from April would be “counter-productive” to the government’s target of halving the gap.

He said: “It’s really disabling people’s ability to apply for jobs and get into the workforce.”

Labour MP Neil Coyle, secretary of the APPGD, cast doubt on Mordaunt’s suggestion last week that she would be able to cut disabled people’s costs by £120 per month to compensate for the ESA cut.

He said: “I don’t believe that is possible. People in this room will… make their own judgement on that.”

Tory MP Heidi Allen, a key backbench critic of the ESA cut, said: “I do happen to believe that she means it. Whether she can deliver it practically is another debate.

“It’s an incredibly ambitious target. Let’s give her the chance, but if it’s not there, remind her.”

8 December 2016

 

 

Mayor invests £200 million in making more tube stations accessible

London’s new mayor has announced a significant increase in investment in making stations on the capital’s largely-inaccessible tube network step-free.

At present, only 70 of 270 stations on the London Underground network are step-free to all platforms.

But Sadiq Khan, who was elected as Labour mayor of London in May’s election – following eight years of Tory rule under Boris Johnson – promised this week to spend £200 million by 2021-22 on making at least 30 more stations step-free.

He said this would be the “biggest boost to step-free access on the Underground in the network’s 153-year history”.

His office said that TfL would use “the latest technology and knowledge from the wider transport industry to speed up the delivery of making the world’s oldest network more accessible”.

In his election manifesto, he had promised “a more ambitious approach to step-free access in London Underground and TfL-run stations”.

Faryal Velmi, director of the user-led charity Transport for All, which campaigns for accessible transport in the capital, welcomed the new funding.

She said: “Transport for All is delighted that the mayor has announced plans to direct funding into making our Underground network more accessible for disabled and older Londoners.

“We look forward to 30 more stations being made step-free over the next five years as this will unlock parts of the Underground that have been unusable for us since the tube was created.

“A more accessible tube will mean more travel options and greater opportunity for us to enjoy our great capital city.”

The mayor said: “As part of making London’s transport system one of the very best in the world, we must ensure it is accessible for all Londoners.

“It’s simply not right that for people with disabilities, parents with young children and many older people, many of our stations are still very difficult to use.

“I promised in my manifesto that we needed to be more ambitious with our approach to step-free access, and today I’m confirming that £200 million will be invested on the Underground over the next five years.

“We’re also announcing plans to bring forward the delivery of step-free access at outer London stations at Harrow on the Hill and Newbury Park.

“Work is now set to get underway at these busy stations next year.

“As part of building a modern and affordable transport system, I’m determined to make sure all Londoners can get around London safely and easily.”

Ruth Owen, chief executive of the disability charity Whizz-Kidz, and herself a wheelchair-user, said: “Public transport is a lifeline for disabled people, but we know that accessibility can be a major barrier for wheelchair-users who, like anyone else, just want to get from A to B.

“We therefore warmly welcome the mayor of London’s plans to invest in making the Underground more accessible, and his clear commitment to making the city more inclusive for the many disabled people who live and work there.”

8 December 2016

 

 

Agency lied over bus operators flouting access laws, FoI response reveals

A government transport agency lied when it claimed it had no evidence of transport operators using a loophole to avoid legal obligations to ensure their buses were accessible to disabled people, new evidence has proved.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) – which is responsible for ensuring that bus and coach operators comply with regulations on transport accessibility – had previously told Disability News Service (DNS) that it had “no evidence” that such practices were taking place.

But now DVSA’s response to a freedom of information request submitted by disabled campaigner Doug Paulley has proved that the agency did know of such cases.

Access laws state that all buses and coaches have to meet the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) – which date back to 2000 – but coaches have until January 2020 to comply, while all single-deck buses have had to comply since January this year.

The regulations require vehicles to have a wheelchair space and boarding facilities, priority seating, colour-contrasting step edges, and other features “to enable disabled passengers to travel in comfort and safety”.

But one of the ways that companies are dodging the regulations is by simply removing the hanging straps in buses, placing “no standing” signs in their vehicles, and then applying for new carrying capacity certificates to authorise them to operate as coaches rather than buses.

DVSA has now been forced to pass Paulley an internal email in which a senior manager says a colleague has told him that DVSA “has no evidence to suggest that operators are trying to circumvent the rules in this way.

“Recent formal communications with the trade have also maintained this line.”

But he then adds: “We are aware of a few vehicles being modified and having VTP5s [forms notifying DVSA of an alteration to a public service vehicle] submitted to have standing capacity removed (by removal of hanging straps and stanchions) to avoid PSVAR, but not in significant numbers.

“We don’t keep specific statistics unfortunately.”

DVSA had previously told DNS that the agency had “no evidence to suggest that operators are flouting PSVAR” in this way.

This week, a DVSA spokesman said: “DVSA has no evidence to suggest that operators are trying to avoid complying with Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations.

“We will investigate all reports and take action against any operator who does not adhere to the rules.”

When DNS asked how she justified saying this when DVSA’s own freedom of information response made it clear that there was some evidence of such activity by bus operators, Sarah Maddock, DVSA’s head of corporate communications, said the information in the email was just the “personal view” of a member of staff.

Paulley said: “It is sad to see a government agency being so transparently disingenuous. One has to wonder what they are attempting to gain by this approach.”

8 December 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com