Disabled Tories launch investigation into impact of ILF closure

Disabled members of the Conservative party have launched their own investigation into the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), following widespread concerns about its impact across the country.
The Conservative Disability Group (CDG) has issued an appeal to former ILF-users and those who had friends or relatives who were recipients of ILF funding to help with the research.
Disabled campaigners have accused the government of trying to “wash its hands of all responsibility” for meeting the social care support needs of former ILF-recipients, with the transition process hit by reports of cuts to their care packages.
ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and when it closed on 30 June 2015 it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.
But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred through DCLG to councils in England, and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.
CDG – which provides a forum for party members with an interest in disability to raise concerns and make suggestions that can be passed on to Tory MPs and councillors – plans to write a report to share with the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson.
Wayne Henderson, a member of the CDG executive, has told members the project will examine how well the transition has been managed.
He has asked for evidence of how the process has worked in different parts of the country, whether there have been any problems, and whether people’s care packages have been protected by their local councils.
He told Disability News Service that it was CDG’s “first call for evidence in recent years” and that they were “using our limited resources to investigate one of the most current areas where there are reported problems in order to find out the facts”.
But he said it was too early to say if he or other CDG members were concerned about how the transition from ILF closure had been managed.
He said: “We are doing this because we have heard that the transition varies considerably from area to area and we want to get more facts to inform our consideration and thence to pass on information and suggestions to the parliamentary group.”
A spokeswoman for Inclusion London welcomed CDG’s decision to carry out the investigation, but said it was a surprise.
She said: “People haven’t felt listened to by the Conservative party. It shows that it is such an important issue that they are choosing to research in this area. It shows an awareness that the transition has not gone smoothly.”
A Conservative party spokesman said: “The CDG are an independent organisation, so it is up to them what research they choose to undertake.”
In October, figures obtained by Inclusion London through a freedom of information request showed that in one local authority, Waltham Forest, more than a quarter of disabled people who previously received ILF support had had their social care packages cut by at least half since it closed.
Meanwhile, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has finally confirmed – following weeks of requests for information from Disability News Service (DNS) – that it will provide some funding to councils to compensate them for the extra costs of providing support to former ILF-users in 2016-17.
DCLG had insisted that any grants to support councils with the costs of former ILF-users in 2016-17 would depend on the outcome of the government’s spending review, and later said it would provide details once last month’s local government finance settlement had been announced.
A DCLG spokeswoman has now finally told DNS: “Local councils are now responsible for meeting all of the eligible needs of former Independent Living Fund recipients.
“The government is committed to ensuring councils meet their duties under the Care Act 2014 to former fund recipients.
“We will be providing a grant to councils to fund former ILF recipients. Full details will be published in due course.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “I would be surprised – although delighted – if there really was continuation of the separate ILF grant determination.
“The delay in releasing this information means that local authorities will continue to plan ahead on the basis there won’t be, leading to re-assessments going ahead meanwhile on the basis of a need to cut costs.”
This week, DPAC issued an appeal for donations to set up a fighting fund to help former ILF-recipients challenge cuts to their care packages.
Clifford said that cuts to the extent of those seen in Waltham Forest “mean robbing disabled people of independence, dignity and equality”.
Changes to legal aid mean some former ILF-users are no longer eligible for help with their legal bills, but cannot afford to fund court action to challenge cuts to their care packages.
Clifford said: “Legal challenges are an important way of testing out the rights of former ILF recipients under the Care Act 2014 and making examples out of local authorities that are not meeting their legal duties.
“This is why we need a fighting fund available to support legal challenges by former ILF recipients not eligible for legal aid.”
Meanwhile, the Welsh government has confirmed, in an email to a former ILF-user, that it has allocated £27 million for 2016-17 to a fund it set up as a result of ILF’s closure.
The Welsh independent living grant (WILG) funding will ensure that former ILF-users continue to receive their existing level of financial support for social care until at least March 2017.
In the email sent to campaigner and former ILF-user Nathan Lee Davies, the first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, said the Welsh Labour government’s draft budget for 2016-17 “contains £27 million to enable the WILG to continue to March 2017 as planned”.
He added: “I understand that the minister for health and social services will shortly be engaging with representatives of stakeholders to identify the best way of providing support in future.
“This will be in the light of the public consultation held earlier this year. This is to ensure that future arrangements are in place for when the current grant concludes in 2017.”
Davies said on his blog that this response was “the best Christmas gift I could have asked for as now I have it in writing that WILG will continue to March 2017 as planned”.
He added: “I must keep my eye on the ball and continue to fight to secure long-term assurances for disabled people, but I can now forge forward with hope in my heart.”
A Welsh government spokesman said: “The UK government’s decision to close the ILF caused anxiety among those who receive support, and their carers.
“The Welsh grant scheme to replace the ILF came into operation on 1 July 2015. It allows local authorities to pay existing recipients their current level of funding.
“The actions the Welsh government has taken to ensure this important source of funding continues to be delivered by our local authorities means people who currently receive ILF payments will still be able to get direct payments to sustain their levels of care and support under a new made-in-Wales process.”
The Scottish government has set up its own Independent Living Fund, for both existing and new users in Scotland.
7 January 2016

Councils could have to ‘pick up the pieces’ after scrapping of severe disability premium

Councils could be left to “pick up the pieces” resulting from the government’s decision to ditch a means-tested premium for disabled people with high support needs, a shadow minister has warned.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has always made it clear that it plans to abolish severe disability premium (SDP) as part of its move to universal credit, which is gradually replacing six benefits with one single, monthly, means-tested payment.
But a parliamentary answer this week by the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, appears to confirm that although SDP is being ditched as claimants are moved to the new universal credit over the next four years, there are no plans to provide funding to help cash-strapped councils meet the resulting extra pressure on social care needs.
SDP is currently set at nearly £62 a week, and is aimed at helping those receiving means-tested benefits with the extra costs of disability.
But Labour shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger was alerted by benefits experts to concerns that ministers appeared to have no plans to help councils fund the support previously provided through SDP.
Last month, she submitted a written question to work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, asking “what support his department plans to provide under universal credit that is currently provided by the severe disability premium”.
Tomlinson replied this week that the government had “determined that the severe disability premium was a payment for care costs rather than daily living costs” and so should not be part of universal credit (UC), and that “costs for care are picked up through the social care system”.
Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow minister for older people, social care and carers, told Disability News Service today: “These comments from the minister raise serious concerns that the social care system will be expected to pick up the pieces from the DWP’s decision to abolish the severe disability premium.
“This will put the social care system under further pressure at a time when it is already struggling to cope with demand.
“Ministers must clarify urgently what additional funding has been allocated to local authorities in order to enable them to provide this support.”
A DWP spokesman said: “Care costs are covered by local authorities, the NHS or other benefits such as personal independence payment or attendance allowance.
“When UC was developed it was decided that the severe disability premium is a payment for care costs rather than daily living so would not be included.
“More severely disabled UC claimants will receive the same level of support that is provided under employment [and] support allowance.
“People moving from the current system to universal credit in the future will receive transitional protection and have their benefit level maintained.”
He added: “These issues were discussed by parliament when the Welfare Reform Act was debated in 2011 and 2012.
“The reforms removed complexity and duplication of provision in the welfare system for care costs.”
But he has failed so far to say if DWP will be providing funding to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to cover the extra social care support needs previously covered by the SDP.
He has also failed to say if DWP has had conversations with DCLG about how and when the change will be communicated to local authorities, and whether local authorities have been told that the support covered by SDP will now have to be met through the social care system.
8 January 2016

Union disability equality manifesto ‘will help fight government propaganda’

The TUC is hoping that a new manifesto will be used to fight the poverty, prejudice and discrimination faced by millions of disabled people, and help unions challenge popular misconceptions and government “propaganda”.
The TUC wants individuals, politicians and organisations to support the proposals in its new Manifesto for Disability Equality, which include calls for an inclusive education system, a British Sign Language act, and proper enforcement of disability measures in the Equality Act.
The TUC says in the manifesto that “progress in reducing the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people has been slowed by continuing discrimination by employers”.
It also warns that millions of disabled people are living in poverty, while support for the right to live independently has been cut, prejudice against disabled people has risen because of “government and media propaganda about benefits”, and disabled people face barriers to public transport and reduced access to education.
The manifesto calls for properly-funded support for independent living, a new single assessment process for access to benefits, an end to caps on Access to Work payments, and social model-based training for government, employers and service-providers.
It also demands action to ensure disabled people can play a full part in public life, and to improve the portrayal and participation of disabled people in the media, culture, the arts and sport.
The TUC hopes the manifesto can be used to push an alternative agenda to the government’s disability policies, but also that local activists will use it to challenge prejudice in their own workplaces and secure support from both disabled people’s organisations and organisations not run and controlled by disabled people.
It has been drawn up from motions passed in recent years at the annual TUC disabled members’ conference.
Peter Purton, the TUC’s disability policy officer, said: “We want to use it to promote an alternative agenda to the government’s agenda, for as long as it takes, but it is not going to be turned round in a week or a month.
“We know a lot of our members are not clued up on disability because they read government propaganda [in the media].”
He highlighted the TUC’s frustration that many members still “share the popular view that welfare claimants are scroungers and frauds”.
He said: “We haven’t successfully challenged it any more than Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) or anyone else.
“This is part of making our activists more able to take up that argument and supporting them to do so.”
The TUC website also includes background facts and figures that will help activists to “argue the point with colleagues at work”.
The hope is that union activists will use the manifesto – which has been approved by the TUC’s general council – to help bring about a “change in popular opinion” by bringing it to the attention of local councillors and community leaders.
One of the key aims is to create alliances with local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and use the manifesto to help trade unions support the campaigning activities of DPOs.
The manifesto has already secured support from two leading national DPOs, DPAC and The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE).
Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “DPAC welcomes the launch of the TUC disability equality manifesto.
“With the UK having now become the first state in the world to be investigated for grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights, it is definitely time to get disability equality firmly back on the political agenda.”
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said: “An inclusive education is a prerequisite of a fair and equal society so it is good to see it at the heart of the TUC’s manifesto for disability equality.”
Purton said the TUC was also hoping to secure support from Labour, and is seeking a meeting with the party’s shadow minister for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams.
Before last year’s election, the party supported only about half of the measures in the manifesto, but Purton hopes that will improve following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and the appointment of John McDonnell as his shadow chancellor, as both are seen as strong supporters of disability rights and the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement.
7 January 2016

Paralympians launch fundraising campaign… three years after £70 million lotto bonanza

The organisation that will take Britain’s team to this summer’s Paralympics in Rio has been criticised for launching a high-profile fundraising campaign, just three years after Paralympic sport received a multi-million pound increase in funding.
In December 2012, UK Sport announced a 43 per cent increase in funding for Paralympic sports – an increase from £49 million in the run-up to London 2012 to £70.2 million in the years leading up to the Rio games in 2016 – compared with a rise of five per cent for Olympic sports.
The increased financial support was provided through both lottery and government funding.
But despite that level of funding, the British Paralympic Association (BPA) today (Thursday) launched a fundraising campaign to “Supercharge ParalympicsGB”, aiming to “generate support and raise funds” for the ParalympicsGB team.
The campaign is supported by four celebrity ambassadors: the multi-gold-winning Paralympian Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, sports presenter Clare Balding, actor and comedian Eddie Izzard and disabled television presenter Alex Brooker.
Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will be the toughest, most competitive games yet and ParalympicsGB will need to be the best it’s ever been to win the medals the nation craves.
“The team needs as much support and preparation as possible in the final crucial months of preparation to win those medals and ensure Great Britain continues to be a leading force in Paralympic sport over the next decade.”
The campaign was published at exactly the same time as the TUC’s new disability equality manifesto, which points out that millions of disabled people live in poverty, while support for the right to live independently and access to legal aid have both been cut.
Craig Crowley, honorary president of UK Deaf Sport, said he found the BPA’s fundraising appeal “rather puzzling” at a time when “disabled and Deaf organisations are still facing financial difficulties”.
He pointed out that while the £70 million funding for Paralympic sport had “some merits”, the GB Deaflympic Organising Committee (GBDOC) – which is preparing for next year’s Summer Deaflympics in Turkey – receives no funding at all from UK Sport and “urgently needs funds”.
He suggested that ParalympicsGB could share its Supercharge campaign and some of the funding with GBDOC.
Disabled activist Lynne Hutchinson added: “Why are Paralympians so different to everyone else?
“Are they seen as deserving rather than those of us who aren’t able to do superhuman stuff and are stuck at home and therefore a burden to society?”
A BPA spokeswoman said: “We recognise that not everybody will want to donate, but we hope some people who are fans of ParalympicsGB will decide that it is a worthwhile cause to help the team prepare and compete in Rio.”
She stressed that the UK Sport funding was handed to national governing bodies of individual Paralympic sports, and not the BPA.
She said: “BPA is ultimately responsible for taking the team to the games. The money we are hoping to raise will not go to the athletes, it will go to the team.”
She added: “Part of the reason we like #supercharge is that it is not that the team will not go to the games if people don’t donate, it is that the donations will allow us to provide more of the little extras that will help athletes in the final days, weeks and months before the games.”
This might include improving the pre-games preparation camp in Belo Horizonte (which begins in August) and the quality and quantity of support in the athletes’ village, such as ensuring athletes have the right cereal bars and snacks, or are provided with mattress toppers that will ensure a better night’s sleep.
She said: “We are talking about the small things that can make a big difference. It is very much the small things that can add up to a gold or silver medal rather than a bronze medal or fourth place.”
7 January 2016

Taxpayers ‘left to foot bill for DWP’s assessment failures’ as costs set to double

Disabled people have been failed by the government’s inability to manage the assessments for disability benefits that are carried out by outsourcing giants Atos, Maximus and Capita, according to the chair of an influential committee of MPs.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, spoke out after a damning report by the public spending watchdog, which found spending on assessments was set to double in just two years while the three companies were failing to meet the required standards.
The assessments help determine eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP), and also aim to support people on sick leave back into work as part of the new Fit for Work service.
But the National Audit Office (NAO) said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had failed to achieve value for money from the health and disability assessments it had contracted out to Atos, Maximus and Capita.
In 2014-15, DWP spent about £275 million on assessment contracts, but this is expected to more than double to £579 million by 2016-17.
Between April 2015 and March 2018, DWP expects the three companies to carry out about seven million assessments, at an estimated cost of £1.6 billion.
It also expects the contractors will increase the number of healthcare professionals they employ by more than 80 per cent, from 2,200 in May 2015 to 4,050 in November 2016.
NAO said the cost of the assessments was rising and Atos, Capita and Maximus were “still struggling to meet expected performance standards”.
It points in the report to DWP’s contract with Maximus, which took over the provision of ESA assessments from Atos in March 2015.
Under the contract, the government expects to pay Maximus £595 million over three years for 3.4 million assessments, at a cost of about £190 per assessment, compared with £115 per assessment under the previous contract with Atos – an increase of 65 per cent.
DWP has told NAO that the increase in cost is partly due to Maximus carrying out a higher proportion of face-to-face assessments than Atos, and paying higher salaries for healthcare professionals.
The estimated cost of hiring and training a London-based nurse to carry out ESA assessments has increased from an average £26,000 in spring 2014 under the Atos contract to £44,000 for a London-based nurse in 2015-16 under Maximus.
The report also says that despite Atos and Capita now taking an average of four weeks to process a PIP assessment, compared to 29 weeks in mid-2014, and Maximus taking 23 weeks for an ESA assessment (compared to 29 weeks previously), by last August there was still a backlog of at least 280,000 ESA assessments.
NAO also warned that Maximus was “not on track to complete the expected number of assessments” for 2015-16 – DWP set a target of nearly one million ESA assessments – and “has missed assessment report quality targets since the start of the contract”.
It said that both Atos and Capita have failed to meet PIP assessment report quality targets since October 2013.
NAO said DWP had expanded its performance management team and managed the transition between ESA providers “smoothly”, after Atos requested an early exit from its contract.
Amyas Morse, NAOs, said DWP had “addressed some of its immediate operational issues” in managing the assessments but “now needs to take action to break a perpetuating cycle of optimistic targets, contractual underperformance and costly recovery”.
He added: “The department is paying more for assessments, but providers are still not meeting expected performance levels.
“The department needs providers to complete the planned number of assessments so that it can achieve the significant benefit savings it expects to make over the next few years.”
NAO called on DWP to “develop an overall commercial strategy for assessments, set challenging realistic targets for providers and engage with providers to learn from previous experience”.
Hillier said: “The department’s approach has been unclear, its targets untested and consistently missed and future delivery is under threat.
“With the annual cost of assessments now expected to rise to a staggering £579 million in 2016-17, taxpayers have been left to foot the bill.”
She added: “Contracting out the delivery of public services does not absolve the department from its responsibilities to ensure that taxpayers’ money is well-spent.
“The department needs to do more to ensure private providers deliver a better deal for sick and disabled people, as assessments have a huge impact on their ability to access vital cash to live with dignity.”
8 January 2016

OBE will be a springboard, says disabled civil servant

Additional reporting by Raya Al Jadir
A civil servant, a Falklands veteran, an inclusive design expert, a festival director and two Paralympians are among disabled people recognised in the latest New Year’s Honours.
Among those receiving MBEs is Margaret Hickish, Network Rail’s access and inclusion manager, who is responsible for 19 of Britain’s largest rail stations as well as the organisation’s depots, offices and training centres, and is recognised for services to disabled people.
Hickish, who has a background in engineering, played a huge part in ensuring the accessibility of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and has worked in access and inclusion for more than 20 years.
She began working as an access consultant with the consortiums that produced the London 2012 “masterplan” in early 2007, before later joining the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) as its accessibility manager.
She said she was “absolutely delighted” with the MBE, which she believes recognises the way she has helped Network Rail change the way it looks at inclusive design, including a new inclusive design strategy and standards and a new emphasis on “putting people at the heart of the design process”.
Hickish has introduced a built environment accessibility panel at Network Rail, of which three-quarters of its members are disabled people, a development she also championed at ODA.
She said she hoped her MBE would help people treat the issue of inclusive design with a “bit more gravitas”.
Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: “Over and above her role, Margaret has provided inspiration, encouragement and advice to colleagues who themselves have disabilities.
“Every day, she challenges all of us at Network Rail to improve railway journeys for those with disabilities so that everyone can travel equally, confidently and independently.”
Hickish is a member of the government’s Paralympic Legacy Advisory Group and a board member of the government’s Built Environment Professional Education project, and two years ago received an honorary fellowship from the Royal College of Art for her contribution to inclusive design.
Bradley Hemmings, one of the two disabled artistic directors for the critically-praised opening ceremony for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, receives an MBE for services to culture and disability arts.
Hemmings also directed the inaugural Paralympic heritage flame ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in 2014, which celebrated the Sochi Winter Paralympics.
He is artistic director of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF) in London, which he founded in 1996 and is now recognised as one of the leading outdoor arts festivals in Europe, and has produced the Mayor of London’s Liberty disability arts festival since its launch in 2003.
He is proud, he said, of how GDIF – which is free – has been able to survive for 20 years and “carry its audience, who really support it”, while his work with Deaf and disabled artists over the last 15 years “has always been really important for me”.
He said: “It is obviously a lovely moment to reflect and you think ‘that’s wonderful that’s been recognised’, but when you work in this world you’re always looking ahead to the challenges and the things you want to achieve next.
“It gives you a bit of a boost and you think, ‘yes, somebody’s noticed, and we’re going to do even better and I’m going to make other great things happen in the future.’
“That’s always the case, wherever you are in the arts. You have a show or you have a moment or you have a festival, you might have a performance and there’s an afterglow and a fantastic moment where you celebrate that, but you have to go on.”
Hemmings said that the recognition coming more than three years after London 2012 was “in a way really rather wonderful”, suggesting that he had been able to make a continuing contribution to “something that is going to carry on in the public realm with Deaf and disabled artists”.
Jeanette Rosenberg, who chairs the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ (BIS) disability advisory group (DAG), and also chairs the Civil Service Disability Network (CSDN), receives an OBE.
She said she was “very proud”, and added: “The honour recognises the help and support I’ve offered to countless people over many years, and the progress that has been made in the way that disabled staff in the Civil Service can work together to improve the working conditions for everyone, and particularly for disabled people.”
DAG develops responses to important issues for disabled BIS staff, and helps the department become more “disability confident”, while she herself helps individuals through general education and one-to-one mentoring.
She has also set up 10 impairment-specific sub-groups to share good practice at BIS.
CSDN provides advice and support on disability issues, suggesting ways in which the barriers faced by disabled civil servants can be addressed, and trying to increase the proportion of disabled people employed in the Civil Service.
As chair of CSDN she is also “highly involved in influencing the development of Civil Service policy as it relates to disabled staff and carers”.
She said: “I work closely with the Cabinet Office, the Civil Service disability champion and with other policy leads, offering them insight from the experience of the CSDN and of disabled staff on crucial and day-to-day disability issues.
“I spend a lot of time talking to CSDN members and the CSDN executive, to get their views and insights.”
She added: “All of this is very important, as there is still a long way to go in the workplace to reach the point where everyone understands and accepts the need to take account of disability issues without being prompted.
“I think that my honour is recognition of the way that CSDN and DAG have both developed under my leadership.
“They have moved from principally being concerned with the problems experienced by individuals, to looking at and dealing with wider disability policy and its implementation in the workplace and beyond.”
She now hopes to use the award as a “springboard” to continue her work, and added: “I’m not about to stop doing things because I’ve been honoured with the OBE. I’m just not the sort of person to sit back and reflect on the past.
“I want to continue working to make the Civil Service the best employer possible for disabled staff and staff who have long-term health conditions.”
Kate Nash, founder of PurpleSpace, which shares best practice by bringing together networks of disabled employees such as CSDN, praised Rosenberg’s work, and said: “PurpleSpace is indebted to Jeanette’s help and support to create the national network of employee networks.
“We offer our huge congratulations to Jeanette and her leadership of the CSDN.”
Simon Weston, a Falklands veteran who survived the attack on the Sir Galahad landing ship in 1982, but with burns to nearly half his body, receives a CBE for his charity work.
Since the attack, and years of reconstructive surgery, he has been involved with many charities, has developed a career as a public speaker and television presenter, and as a fiction and non-fiction author, and has been a prominent supporter of the government’s Disability Confident employment campaign.
He said on Twitter that he was “very humbled and flattered to receive this fantastic honour”.
Rowena Macaulay, disability equality champion at the University of Essex and student support services officer in its sociology department, is another disabled person receiving an MBE.
The wheelchair-user was a founder member of the university’s Essex Access Forum and is still its chair, and was responsible for launching projects that produced maps highlighting accessible routes around its Colchester campus.
She is co-founder of Walk Colchester, which helps protect the town’s network of pathways and green open spaces, and promotes “enjoyable, accessible, informed pedestrianism for walkers of all ages and abilities”, and is also part of a project to create a 13.5 mile walking route around the town.
In 2011, she launched a successful campaign to fund an all-terrain wheelchair at Colchester’s High Woods Country Park.
Macaulay said: “What really interests me is the good design of public space – in urban areas and in the countryside – for all people.
“I try to get away from thinking about disability as a specific category to provide for.
“It’s true that gaps still remain at times between what equality law advocates and what happens in practice, and these gaps necessarily focus attention on rights.
“But universal design should be a fundamental principle in the creation and management of all public space, and this isn’t about building add-ons to accommodate supposed minorities; it is about recognising and celebrating diversity as the norm.
“I’m motivated by spaces that are beautiful and that work well for everybody, across user groups and across individual lifespans.
“Where inclusive access is embraced fully and creatively as a design driver, it can be a catalyst for some of the most exciting ways of thinking about how we design the space around us.”
Campaigner, public speaker and blogger Lucy Watts also receives an MBE – at the age of just 22 – for services to young disabled people.
Watts has worked with a string of charities, including Together for Short Lives (a charity for children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions), the International Children’s Palliative Care Network, the Pseudo Obstruction Research Trust, Dreams Come True and Scope.
She has a life-limiting condition and has to spend much of her life in bed, and is “hooked up to intravenous drips nearly 24 hours a day”.
She said she was “absolutely amazed, and truly humbled that people think me worthy of such a prestigious accolade”, and added: “It proves to me that my work is successful, that I am making a difference, and that other people recognise what I do and the impact my work has made.”
But she also said the MBE “makes me even more determined to make a bigger difference in the future, to help as many people as possible and continue to grow my work”.
She said the award partly recognised her work to “open the eyes of advisers to the government, of Department of Health officials, of commissioners, MPs and policy-makers to the needs of young people and to help them to make sure their decisions and policies will benefit young people and what we as young people want from the services that support us”.
She said she hoped it would “open many doors” and help her broaden her work to “show the general public not to underestimate the abilities and potential of a child, young person or adult with an illness or disability”, while also bringing “fantastic attention to the charities I work with and for the causes I champion”.
And she said she also hoped the MBE would “show others with illnesses and disabilities that they can still achieve and have a life, that they can contribute to this world with the right support, with hard work and determination”, and would show them that “disability does not mean you’ll never achieve anything”.
Two Paralympians have been recognised with MBEs.
Paralympic thrower Stephen Miller, who has competed in five Paralympic Games, was swamped with messages of support on Twitter after his MBE was announced, among them congratulations from Match of the Day pundit and former England striker Alan Shearer and sports presenter Clare Balding.
Miller, who is set to compete in his sixth Paralympics in Rio this summer, said on Twitter that he was “so proud” of the award and “overwhelmed” by the messages.
The triple Paralympic champion added: “This means as much for my family and friends and all the people who have supported me over the years.
“Sport has given me so much, I hope I can justify being given this huge honour by continuing to be the best role model I can be and by helping others to find the joy of sport.”
Diane McMillan (formerly Barr), from Northern Ireland, won six medals, including two golds, at the Seoul and Barcelona Paralympic Games, in 1988 and 1992, and is recognised with an MBE for services to swimming and disability awareness.
Among other disabled recipients of MBEs is Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, who founded the charity – which she sees as a “one-stop shop for people living with the disease” – in 2001 following her own struggle to secure treatment, information and support.
She said: “I am delighted, it came totally out of the blue. It is really a reflection on my team. I couldn’t do without their passion and support.
“Rheumatoid arthritis is a hidden disease and many people do not really understand it.”
Another to receive an MBE is John Howe, for services to the charity Diabetes UK and his local community in Trafford, Manchester.
Howe is chair of Trafford Diabetes Support Group, and is a member of several health-related panels in the Manchester area.
Access expert Mike Elkerton, chief executive of the consultancy Access and Evacu8 and chair of the north-west branch of the Access Association, is also awarded an MBE (see separate story).
7 January 2016

Evacuation app ‘could save lives’

Thousands of disabled people have signed up for a new mobile phone app that is designed to make it easier – and safer – for them to evacuate public buildings.
The DirectMii app was the idea of disabled access experts at the consultancy Access and Evacu8, and has sparked international interest.
The app, due to be trialled at the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London, allows disabled customers to use their mobile phones to view pictorial directions to a location within public venues such as cinemas or hospitals.
But it can also alert staff that a disabled person is in the building, and provide a series of pictures that direct a disabled customer to the most appropriate emergency exit for someone with their access needs if there is an evacuation.
It also allows the customer to contact the venue if their access needs are not being met.
Although organisations pay a small fee of about £10 a year to join the scheme, individual disabled users can access the basic service free of charge, and in its first six weeks more than 5,000 people have downloaded the app.
Organisations including Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Liverpool airport, as well as several universities, hospitals and local authorities have all signed up.
Anthony Rice, a director of Access and Evacu8, whose idea it was to create the app, said it was not just useful to disabled people.
He said: “If you can get disabled people in and out of a building, then you can get anyone out. For us, it is about making life more inclusive and diverse for everybody.”
The company is now working with the University of Glasgow to produce a new version of the app which would automatically inform a venue that a disabled person is inside the building the moment they arrive.
Mike Elkerton, chief executive of Access and Evacu8, said disabled people’s lives were still being put at risk because of a failure to plan for their evacuation, and he pointed to a recent example where a wheelchair-user was abandoned in a building’s refuge area after an alarm sounded.
Elkerton was awarded an MBE in last week’s New Year’s Honours.
He said he was “completely shocked” and “very honoured” when he learned he would receive an MBE, after nearly a quarter of a century in the industry.
He joined Wirral Association for Disability after becoming disabled following an accident in 1993, and was later asked to join Chester Zoo as its disability officer, where he worked for 10 years.
After retiring from the zoo, he trained to become accredited by the National Register of Access Consultants, and has since audited some of the country’s most iconic venues, including Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and the new Wembley Stadium, which he assessed in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as a number of Premier League football stadiums, such as those belonging to Arsenal and Manchester City.
Ikea, Manchester’s Trafford Centre and Blackpool Pleasure Beach are among other well-known clients, while Access and Evacu8 helped organise a conference on the London 2012 legacy for disabled people, and last year hosted a conference at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on emergency and evacuation procedures.
He said that access had been something that was “very close to my heart” since he had been abandoned in a residential home when he first became disabled after an accident.
He said: “I didn’t know how to get out and about, and how to get into buildings. I just felt very left out of things.”
He said he was now grateful to “have the opportunity to make places more accessible for people with all types of disabilities”.
Elkerton, who chairs the north-west branch of the Access Association, said it was “frustrating” that large parts of the country were still not accessible to disabled people, more than 20 years after the Disability Discrimination Act became law.
He said: “There are certain things that need to be addressed. There is still a long way to go.
“Even now, if you go to the local barber you have a step to go over. It is so simple to be able to do this, but still people are fighting for their rights.
“How many restaurants would be able to give you a menu in Braille or large print?
“Access should be the norm everyone should be entitled to.”
He also pointed out that disabled people often have “a substantial amount of money to spend” when they go shopping, because they find it so difficult to plan such trips.
7 January 2016

Shopmobility closures start to ring alarm bells

Increasing numbers of Shopmobility services are struggling to stay open, according to the organisation that brings together many of the schemes across the UK.
The National Federation of Shopmobility UK (NFSUK) spoke out after the only Shopmobility scheme in Birmingham said it was set to close after its austerity-hit local authority withdrew financial support.
Donna Eade, co-ordinator of NFSUK, which is run by the British Healthcare Trades Association, has seen seven of about 150 members close their doors in the last 18 months, while its latest survey saw about half of those that responded facing some form of funding cut.
The situation is less clear for Shopmobility schemes that are not members of NFSUK, but Eade fears a similar picture.
She said many schemes were facing problems because their local councils had withdrawn funding, as has happened in Birmingham, with grants “disappearing at a rate of knots”.
She said: “The majority of Shopmobility schemes get some sort of funding from the council, and that is in jeopardy every time they apply [for a grant].
“Our priority this year is trying to make them self-sufficient and get an understanding out to the public about what is happening.
“For some people, it is the difference between being able to live independently and not, if they can’t get out to do their weekly shop.
“It’s such an important facility to have in a town, but people take Shopmobility for granted.
“There should be one in every town and the council should be supporting that.”
One NFSUK idea is for individual Shopmobility schemes to enter into partnerships with local mobility stores, or to start selling independent living aids themselves.
For the last three years, Birmingham City Council has used funding from the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street train station to support Birmingham Shopmobility.
But that funding of about £90,000 a year is now exhausted, and the Labour-run council has told the charity that it will no longer be able to provide it with any grant funding from April.
The user-led Access Committee for Birmingham (ACB), which has run Birmingham Shopmobility since 1999, announced this week that it had “reluctantly” decided that its financial problems meant it would no longer be able to continue to run the service after 31 March.
For the last 12 years, Birmingham Shopmobility has operated from the Bullring shopping centre, lending mobility scooters and wheelchairs to people with mobility impairments who need assistance getting around the city centre.
But it said that it had become increasingly difficult to secure the grants and donations needed to fund its work.
Tony Willis, ACB’s chair, said: “Any further efforts to make Shopmobility more self-sustainable would involve an even higher burden of charges being made on disabled people who use the mobility equipment.
“We already benefit from the support of Bullring who provides our accommodation free of charge and a generous user parking concession.
“In recent years we have increasingly relied upon Birmingham City Council, a major supporter, for money, but mounting pressure on local authority budgets has reduced the council’s capacity to help.”
He added: “Our hope is that some other organisation will come forward with a fresh and sustainable solution to quickly re-instate this vital lifeline service, which makes over 5,000 hires annually to disabled people in Birmingham.”
A Bullring spokeswoman said: “We are sorry to hear about the closure of Shopmobility in Birmingham.
“It is a fantastic service, which we have supported in a number of ways, including free of charge accommodation and parking concessions at Bullring shopping centre.
“We have a long-standing relationship with the Access Committee for Birmingham and will continue to work with them and other city stakeholders to determine a resolution.”
A Birmingham council spokesman said: “We have been one of many financial supporters of Shopmobility for several years, but the council’s well-documented financial challenge means we had to warn trustees almost 12 months ago that support could not be guaranteed beyond the end of this financial year.
“However, we are making every effort to help the organisation to find alternative sources of funding and remain hopeful that a solution will be found in the near future.”
The spokesman said that meetings were “in the diary” with organisations that might be able to fund the charity.
Because of central government funding cuts, Birmingham council will have had to cut £800 million a year from its annual budget by 2018-19, compared with 2010-11.
The news came as another Shopmobility scheme, just nine miles east of Birmingham, in Solihull, also faces potential closure.
Reports last month revealed that Solihull Shopmobility, based at the Touchwood shopping centre, could also close if it cannot secure further funding.
It lost council funding last year – Solihull council had provided £61,000 in 2014-15 – and was forced to close its second branch.
At the time, the charity charged membership fees of £12 a year and £2 per hire, but no longer has access to this revenue or any council funding for its remaining branch.
A letter sent out by the charity’s chair said funds were now “perilously low” and that without significant further funds, it was likely that “the service as it currently operates will last for only one more year”.
Touchwood runs and staffs the scheme, but does not charge shoppers to use its services, while Solihull Shopmobility is responsible for buying and maintaining the scooters and wheelchairs.
Andy Cole, Touchwood’s centre manager, said the situation in Solihull was “nowhere near crisis point yet and we may not get to crisis point”, and that he was “absolutely confident there will be a Shopmobility service here in 10 years’ time”.
He said Touchwood had taken on the Shopmobility scheme because it realised that its disabled customers were “very important”, but he said the centre also wanted to provide a free service.
He said: “I want people with disabilities here, because they are good customers.”
He said the company was investing about £40,000 a year in the Shopmobility scheme, and regularly asked the council for funding but was told “they have no money”.
Cllr Karen Grinsell, Solihull council’s cabinet member for stronger communities and partnerships, said: “At this point it is not setting off huge alarm bells but we will obviously monitor the situation going forward and work with Touchwood to see what needs to be done.”
7 January 2016

Disabled peer uses Today opportunity to shine light on disability

A disabled peer secured investigations into a series of key disability-related issues when she took over as editor of BBC Radio’s flagship news programme on New Year’s Day.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell was one of six guests who took editorial control of Radio Four’s Today programme for a day each between Christmas and 2 January.
Among the issues covered in her stint on 1 January were an examination of the impact of the Disability Discrimination Act, 20 years after it became law; a discussion of the potential impact of new technology on disabled people; and a conversation between disabled comedians Jack Carroll and Simon Minty about whether it is ever acceptable to make jokes about disabled people.
The most controversial segment of the programme was Baroness Campbell’s interview with journalist and former Tory MP Matthew Parris, who has argued publicly in favour of assisted suicide.
He suggested in the interview that those people who were no longer useful “should tend to ask ourselves how much longer we want to carry on”, and added: “I don’t think that those people that don’t have the ability because of their physical limitations to end their lives themselves should have that right removed from them by their disabilities.”
He compared those cases with Baroness Campbell, who he said was “immensely useful”, but he also said that her wheelchair and other equipment were “very expensive” and that there would come a time when there had to be “a limit” put on the “slice of the cake” apportioned to disabled and older people.
Baroness Campbell told him that his limits were “too low” and that “the future will not be as gloomy as maybe you predict”.
She later told Today presenter Justin Webb that Parris had “a very dystopian, gloomy view of the world, and the world of people who are incapacitated” and that “he knew nothing about us”.
She also criticised his stereotypical views about the expense and dependency of disabled people.
She said: “My electric wheelchair costs less than a replacement hip. My wheelchair gives me independence and allows me to contribute in my job.
“When Matthew Parris needs a hip replacement which costs more [than my wheelchair] will he be asking himself the question: am I too expensive?”
She added: “I truly believe that if you invest in disability, the gains will pay for themselves, and that’s shown to be the case and that’s why I’m in the House of Lords.”
The programme also included a discussion on the effectiveness of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) since it took over from the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and other equality bodies in 2007.
One former disabled EHRC commissioner, Diane Kingston, now vice-chair of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, said the current state of the commission was “quite shocking”.
She said she had had a “fantastic team” working around her on disability rights when she was at EHRC, and they had been able to “commission a lot of research, produce some fantastic reports and do a lot of outreach work”.
But she said the commission’s funding was now “quite pitiful”, and equivalent to the budget of the DRC alone at the time it closed.
One of EHRC’s current commissioners, Sarah Veale, told Today that the commission did “a very, very good job” despite its funding being cut to an annual budget of just £19 million, and had become “very good at prioritising”.
The EHRC’s budget reached £62 million in 2010-11, although it was cut to £55 million by the new coalition government during 2010.
But Veale dismissed suggestions that the government might want to scrap EHRC entirely, and said: “I think we are respected and accepted and no government is going to want to get rid of an organisation that is a success now and is delivering for a wide range of people in a very diverse community that we live in.”
7 January 2016

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com