Benefit claimants die as DWP staff keep failing to follow suicide guidelines

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to consider an inquiry into its repeated failure to prevent the deaths of benefit claimants, despite the release of damning new information from nine secret reviews.

Key information from reviews into the deaths of nine benefit claimants had been requested by Disability News Service (DNS) in April – following the release of 49 earlier reviews – but DWP has only released it now after pressure from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Although most of the information from the reviews – previously known as peer reviews but now called internal process reviews – was redacted, DWP did release the authors’ recommendations for how procedures should be improved locally and nationally.

Those recommendations show that DWP staff repeatedly failed to follow strict guidelines on how to support benefit claimants who have expressed thoughts of self-harm or threatened to take their own lives, which were introduced in 2009.

That guidance – known as the six-point plan – “sets out the framework for managing suicide and self harm declarations from customers”.

The plan tells staff to “take the statement seriously”, “summon a colleague”, “gather information”, “provide referral advice – if the situation is non-urgent”, “summon emergency help”, and “review” the incident afterwards with their line manager.

DWP managers are supposed to use this framework to create their own local six point plans.

But the information released to DNS shows that with two of the nine deaths, which were all reviewed between August 2014 and January 2016, the author called for DWP to “remind staff about the Six Point Plan” and pointed out the need to “embed” the plan in DWP procedures because the failure to follow the guidance was “a recurring theme”.

Of the nine reviews, seven of them involved people who had taken their own lives, and five included recommendations for local or national improvements.

Other concerns raised by the reviews include the apparent use of out-of-date information to decide an employment and support allowance (ESA) claim, and benefits staff apparently failing to visit a claimant marked in their files as “vulnerable” who had failed to attend an assessment before their claim was rejected.

As in all nine cases, the claimant lost their life, although no other information is known about the circumstances of their deaths.

Disabled activists who have seen the information from the nine latest reviews say that it underlines the need for an independent inquiry into DWP’s failure to keep benefit claimants – particularly those with mental health conditions – safe from harm.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, backed calls for an inquiry.

He said: “We remain deeply sceptical of any DWP pretence that it is ensuring that the system will be safe. The facts of these deaths show that our suspicion is justified.

“Each one of those peer reviews are possible outrages, such as the cases of David Barr, Paul Donnachie, Stephen Carré and Michael O’Sullivan. One wonders how many more there are.”

The release of the information came as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) blocked Westminster Bridge yesterday (Wednesday), directly outside the Houses of Parliament and during prime minister’s questions, in protest at disabled people who have lost their lives as a result of benefit cuts.

The protest was part of DPAC’s Rights Not Games week of action, which has been planned to coincide with the start of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Linda Burnip, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, also backed calls for an inquiry, and said: “It is incredible that after seven years DWP have still not managed to implement the six point plan which they should be using to ensure the safety of disabled people at risk of harming themselves.

“We can only assume this means they do not really care at all about the wellbeing of those people.”

Both Black Triangle and DPAC have also called for former DWP ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling to face a criminal investigation for the Scottish offence of wilful neglect of duty by a public official over their failure to address safety concerns with the work capability assessment (WCA) process, following a coroner’s written warning in 2010 that its flaws risked causing further deaths.

McArdle said: “Only a criminal investigation will have the teeth to change culture and practice in DWP.”

He suggested that a criminal investigation could now have to be extended beyond Duncan Smith and Grayling to include DWP staff who have been “wilfully negligent in implementing the six point plan”.

He said: “These are not minor bureaucratic breaches of duty and code of conduct.

“These breaches have led to the tragic deaths of disabled people and continue to do so.”

He stressed that the peer reviews were just “the tip of an enormous iceberg” of “countless disabled people” who have lost their lives because of the government’s social security policies and benefit cuts.

He added: “The ultimate responsibility for this must rest on ministers but the criminal standard of proof under the crime we are pursuing them for must apply equally to all who neglect their public duty, in the words of Scots law ‘whether or not any member of the public has been harmed’.”

Police Scotland is currently considering a dossier of information submitted by Black Triangle, before deciding whether to launch a criminal investigation.

Although the information released by DWP to DNS does not show how many of the nine deaths involved the WCA process, McArdle said that several of them were likely to have done so.

He said: “The WCA is killing people. It needs to be scrapped at the earliest possible time.”

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say why the department was still having to remind staff about the existence of the six-point plan six years after it was introduced; whether it would apologise for failing to take the necessary action to make the benefits system safe for “vulnerable” claimants; and if it would order an independent inquiry.

She also refused to say how long the gap was between the two deaths which led to the review authors telling the department to remind staff about the six-point plan.

But she said in a statement: “Peer reviews help staff to continually improve how they deal with some of the most complex and challenging cases, and represent a very small percentage of the benefit claims DWP handles.

“We provide guidance to staff on how best to support vulnerable claimants and it is right that this is highlighted to staff.”

In its response to the freedom of information request, DWP’s freedom of information operations team had said: “DWP provides substantial and specific instructions to staff on how to support vulnerable people throughout their benefit journey.

“When dealing with vulnerable people, both providers and DWP have procedures in place to take appropriate supportive action, which are regularly reviewed.

“We have also established a nationally available ‘vulnerability hub’. This provides help and advice for staff in dealing with these individuals and signposts to a range of resources that provide advice about specific conditions or circumstances.”

8 September 2016

 

 

ILF closure cuts report produces instant results from Labour and Greens

Senior figures in the Labour and Green parties have pledged to introduce a national, free, needs-led system of support, after a report showed that the Independent Living Fund’s (ILF) closure resulted in “substantial” cuts to disabled people’s care packages.

Inclusion London’s report – One Year On: Evaluating The Impact Of The Closure Of The Independent Living Fund – was launched in parliament this week as part of the Rights Not Games week of action planned by Disabled People Against Cuts to coincide with the start of the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

The report includes analysis of freedom of information responses received by Inclusion London from each of the capital’s 33 local authorities, which show vast differences in the proportion of former ILF recipients whose packages have been cut after the fund’s closure.

In Waltham Forest, 68 per cent of former ILF-users had their support cut, while 58 per cent saw their package reduced in Hounslow, 56 per cent in Newham, 51 per cent in Havering, 42 per cent in Merton and 36 per cent in Lewisham, while in 10 boroughs no former recipients had their packages reduced.

In all, about 185 former ILF recipients in London have seen their support cut so far, about one in seven.

Brian Hilton, the former ILF recipient who chaired the launch meeting, said closing the fund in June 2015 had “sent a clear message to disabled people and an equally clear message to society that we are a burden and we are an unacceptable expense”.

He said the report shows that some disabled people are having their support “slashed in half”, and having night-time care removed.

He said: “Unless there is a change in policy or direction, it is going to result in more and more disabled people becoming prisoners in our own home, or forced into residential care.”

Among its recommendations, the report calls for a new national, needs-led system, independent of local authorities, to administer independent living support, which is free at the point of delivery and funded by taxation.

The report also includes the experiences of some former ILF recipients from outside London.

One of them told the report’s researchers: “Apparently all I need is to be clean and fed.

“My County Council will only pay for ‘hands on personal care’ which can all be condensed into a couple of hours a day.

“I don’t have the right to expect any quality of life or a clean home. I will be kept all clean and shiny but if my home is a cesspit that doesn’t matter.”

Jonathan Bartley, the newly-elected co-leader of the Green party, who took on the job-share role because of his own caring responsibilities for his disabled son, told the launch meeting that his party would support “every recommendation in this report”.

In an emotional speech, that more than once left him close to tears, he praised the “outstanding” report, which detailed “real lives, real stories, real families”, and said that it was “just not acceptable for a government to do what it is doing”.

Bartley, who was making his first official appearance as co-leader, told the meeting: “I see my 14-year-old son and his fight and it scares me.

“You’re going to be a prisoner in your own home [and] I fear that’s what’s going to happen to my son.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who has consistently spoken out against the ILF closure and other cuts to disabled people’s support, told the meeting that the report was “unchallengeable”.

He said that the decision to shut the fund had forced disabled people into residential homes, and that central government was forcing local authorities to cut social care.

McDonnell said he supported the report’s recommendations, which would provide the “basis” for a future Labour government’s policy on independent living support.

After he was asked to do so by Bartley, McDonnell said he would write to Labour-run councils to ask them to ring-fence the grant that central government was giving councils to replace ILF funding, so that it was spent only on former ILF recipients.

He said: “We will do that. We will talk to individual councils about how they can protect the funding here.

“We know the pressure they are under. Just as importantly, we want to work with them to expose what central government is doing.”

After the meeting, activists took part in a protest that moved down Whitehall, before disabled artists performed songs and poems in front of the gates of Downing Street.

One of the performers, John Kelly, a former ILF recipient, said: “We are not asking for anything special. What we want is basic human rights.

“The right to live an independent life is something everyone else can have and we want a bit of it back and we are not going away.

“We are not going anywhere and independent living will live on.”

Kelly called on the government to publish a report that has been compiled by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities into alleged “systematic and grave violations” of the UN disability convention, which he said the government was “sitting on”.

The Inclusion London report says there has been a “dramatic postcode lottery” in the support provided to former ILF recipients in London since the fund closed in June 2015, resulting in a “clear step backwards in independent living support” for disabled people.

It says the fund’s closure had caused “distress and anxiety” and led to the removal of essential daily support.

It adds: “Despite assurances to the contrary in the run up to June 2015, the closure of the ILF has directly resulted in the removal of support from Disabled people with high support needs.”

And it says that where packages have been maintained at their previous level, this has only happened because local and national lobbying by disabled people had persuaded the government to promise four years’ of non-ring-fenced grants to local authorities.

Only six boroughs told Inclusion London they were ring-fencing the government grant for former ILF recipients, while 18 said they were ring-fencing it to adult social care, and five said they were not ring-fencing it at all.

The report concludes: “The postcode lottery of support provision this research reveals is simply not acceptable.

“Disabled People’s independence, choice and control should not be dependent on the choices, compromises and dealings of local politicians.”

As well as a new, national system of support, the report also calls for an independent living taskforce, to be led by disabled people; the “urgent” introduction of a system to monitor how local authorities are implementing the Care Act; and for the government’s ILF grant to continue to be paid to local authorities (and to be ring-fenced for former ILF recipients) until a national, independent social care system is operational.

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

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

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

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

8 September 2016

 

 

Council wants to watch abuse survivor shower and toilet to check post-ILF needs

A disabled woman has told how her local council is threatening to spend several days watching her every move as she eats, showers and uses the toilet, in order to check if planned cuts to her care package will meet her needs.

The woman, Jane*, a survivor of serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and a former Independent Living Fund (ILF) recipient, spoke about the council’s “violation” at a parliamentary campaign meeting this week.

The meeting was held to launch Inclusion London’s report on the impact of last year’s ILF closure, as part of the Rights Not Games week of action organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)**.

The report, One Year On: Evaluating The Impact Of The Closure Of The Independent Living Fund, includes information from all 33 London local authorities, and concludes that there has been a “dramatic postcode lottery” in the support provided to former ILF recipients since the fund closed.

In four local authority areas, more than half of former ILF recipients have had their care packages cut since it closed.

In all, at least 185 former ILF recipients have so far seen their support cut, out of a total of about 1,300 across London.

The report calls for a national, needs-led system of support, independent of local authorities, free at the point of delivery and paid for through taxation.

Jane told the meeting, which was hosted by Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell, that as an ILF recipient she had received 84 hours of support a week (including 35 paid for by the council), but the local authority wanted to cut this by 46 hours a week.

The 84 hours support – together with unpaid care provided by her personal assistants that means she is supported almost 24 hours a day – has enabled her to participate in her local community, chair three disability organisations, and even attend the Glastonbury festival to deliver a talk about disability rights.

After the ILF closure, her council initially wanted to cut her care from 12 to three hours a day, but is now suggesting a package of 38 hours a week.

It has already suggested that she could survive on microwave meals – which she says would both damage her health and be unaffordable – and use incontinence pads for up to 12 hours a day.

But at the last meeting with council officials earlier this summer, she was told that once the cuts to her package were in place, they wanted to send a team of people to observe the impact on how she uses the toilet, showers, gets in and out of bed and her wheelchair, and feeds herself.

She was in tears as she told this week’s parliamentary meeting: “That really breaks me. I can’t bear the thought of having a team of people invade my privacy, come to my toilet, my bedroom.

“It was bad enough when they suggested I use nappies, incontinence pads; to feel so violated in the name of saving money… I want every single person to stand up and stop this.”

She had earlier described in a post on DPAC’s website that such action would be an “incredible, humiliating, dehumanising invasion of my privacy and home” and a “stripping away of every last vestige of my dignity”.

Jane said this made her feel like “a goldfish in a bowl, lacking privacy, freedom, spontaneity, rights, dignity; dreading when the plug is going to be pulled by people who think it’s okay to leave one without the funds and care and mobility support which keep me afloat”.

She told Disability News Service after the meeting: “When they cut, these cuts will be hurting people who are already struggling. It is so inhuman.

“They don’t consider the mental and psychological effects of what they are doing, let alone the physical.

“It is torture that they are putting people through and it can be so far-reaching. They have no idea of what people are living with.”

*Not her real name

**DPAC has set up a legal fund to help former ILF recipients like Jane challenge cuts to their support packages

8 September 2016

 

 

Disability hate crime has fallen since 2007-2010, surprise new figures suggest

Levels of disability hate crime in England and Wales have fallen in the years between 2007 and 2014, figures contained in a new report by the equality watchdog suggest.

The publication is the latest in a series of follow-up reports carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in the wake of its major inquiry into disability-related harassment, which produced its findings in 2011.

That inquiry concluded that public bodies were guilty of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise disability hate crime.

The commission’s figures are likely to prove controversial, as many disabled campaigners have suggested that government and media rhetoric about “benefit scroungers” has fuelled an increase in disability hate crime.

But the figures could show instead that the impact of so-called “scrounger rhetoric” may have been outweighed by more positive factors that have led to lower levels of hate crime, while disablist political and media rhetoric dates back at least as far as 2007, when Labour work and pensions secretary Peter Hain vowed to “rip up sicknote Britain”.

The new figures suggest that although efforts by campaigners to raise awareness of disability hate crime have led to a sharp increase in the number of crimes reported to police, the overall level of disability hate crime may have fallen between 2007 and 2014.

Home Office figures show that the number of disability hate crimes recorded by police has risen every year since 2011-12, and increased from 2,006 in 2013-14 to 2,508 in 2014-15.

But figures in the new report – taken from the Crime Survey for England and Wales – describe the number of disability hate crimes actually experienced by disabled people.

One table in the report shows that the number of incidents of disability hate crime affecting adults in England and Wales fell from an average of 77,000 per year during the period 2007-08 to 2009-10 to an average of 56,000 per year during the period 2011-12 to 2013-14.

The commission did not mention this fall in disability hate crime in a press release issued alongside the report, which is likely to be due to concerns over the “statistical significance” of the figures.

But DNS has confirmed with EHRC statisticians that this fall is still reasonably statistically significant*, and therefore is likely to mean that there has been a genuine drop in disability hate crime.

Other figures in the report are even more statistically significant (more likely to be due to a real change in levels of crime rather than just chance).

A second table in the EHRC analysis shows that from 2007-08 to 2009-10, about 0.11 per cent of all adults in England and Wales were victims of a disability hate crime. This fell to 0.08 per cent in the period 2011-12 to 2013-14**.

The report also shows that the apparent drop in disability hate crimes relating to property – such as burglary and car crime – is more significant than for personal crimes, such as assault, where the evidence of any fall is much less clear.

Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of the ground-breaking book Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People, which investigates disability hate crime, welcomed the report.

She said: “I welcome the continued focus of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on disability hate crime, and this report in particular.

“I think the statistics from the Crime Survey showing a (self-reported) small fall in disability hate crime are interesting. They are in line with a general small fall in hate crime across England and Wales.

“If the figures are correct, they may well bear testament to a number of policies finally bearing fruit: disabled people’s organisations campaigning for awareness of such crimes and for a ‘zero tolerance’ of hate crime, which is gaining traction in the wider population; the criminal justice system accepting that hate crime exists and that it is unacceptable; and, finally, British society turning its back to some extent on old attitudes of hatred and discrimination.

“This is not to say that the reports we are still receiving of disability hate crime (and of other hate crimes) are in any way to be disbelieved.

“We all know that the disability benefit rhetoric agenda has been toxic. But if the figures are true, then many British people are rising above it. This has to be a good thing.

“But while there are still disability hate crimes in Britain, and in the world, we still have work to do.”

An EHRC spokesman told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday): “We cannot say for certain but at the time that this report looked at, the total number of disability hate crimes may have dropped.

“If this is the case, it will be welcome news. All hate crime is abhorrent and even one case is one too many.”

*The commission points out in the report that this fall is not statistically significant at the level of 95 per cent confidence, but it has confirmed to DNS that it is statistically significant at the level of 89 per cent confidence. This means that EHRC can be 89 per cent certain that there was a real fall in disability hate crime rather than a drop showing up in the figures by chance

**This fall was statistically significant at the level of 95 per cent, so the commission was 95 per cent certain there was a genuine reduction in disability hate crime

8 September 2016

 

 

UN’s ‘fantastic’ inclusive education guidance is ‘embarrassment’ for UK government

Strict new guidance published by the United Nations has increased pressure on the UK government to abandon its opposition to an inclusive education system, say campaigners.

The guidance, published by the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), makes it clear that all segregated education should end, and be replaced by “inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”.

The guidance is published through what is known as a “general comment”, and says that the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against “includes the right not to be segregated”.

And it points out that countries that have signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) have “a specific and continuing obligation” to move as quickly as possible towards “the full realization” of article 24 of the convention, which describes the right of disabled people to an inclusive education system.

The general comment makes it clear that moving towards “full realization” is “not compatible with sustaining two systems of education: mainstream and special/segregated education systems”.

This contrasts with the position of the Conservative party, which in its 2010 general election manifesto pledged to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”, and five years later boasted in its 2015 manifesto of how it had “created 2,200 more special schools places through our free schools programme”.

The last Labour government placed an “interpretive declaration” against article 24 when it ratified the convention in 2009, explaining that the UK believed the convention allowed it to continue to operate both mainstream and special schools.

It also placed a “reservation” against article 24, reserving the right for disabled children to be educated outside their local community.

Tara Flood, chief executive of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said the general comment “could not be clearer” that segregated education had to end.

She said the general comment was “embarrassing” for the UK government, which was holding onto a vision of the past “where it was perfectly acceptable to just shut disabled young people away”.

She said: “At a time when things are bleak, the general comment has been such a fantastic boost.

“It is a global document that states very clearly that inclusive education is not only the right thing, but that it is possible. We are very excited about it.”

She said the UK government was in breach of its own interpretive declaration, which commits to developing “an inclusive system where parents of disabled children have increasing access to mainstream schools and staff”.

She said: “Since 2010, it has acted against not only the whole spirit and tone of article 24, but its own interpretive declaration.

“It has done nothing to increase the capacity of mainstream schools; the reverse is true.

“It has done everything to build the capacity of special schools and to discourage mainstream schools from developing inclusive practice.”

She added: “The UK government is now completely out of step with the rest of the world. It is now breaching its obligations much more severely than before.”

But she stressed that there were some schools and colleges that were “doing their best to tread a different path, one more in tune with the convention and the global commitment to inclusive education in what is an increasingly difficult climate”.

Flood said that “ALLFIE, disabled people and parents and everyone else who understand the benefits of inclusive education now need to come together and really ramp up the pressure” on the UK government.

Jonathan Bartley, the newly-elected co-leader of the Green party, and a leading inclusive education campaigner, also welcomed the “emphatic” and “absolutely wonderful” UN guidance.

He said the UK government’s policies to create more special school places were being carried out “under the guise of choice, but more and more parents are not experiencing that choice but are being pushed into segregated education”.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are committed to developing an inclusive education system in which mainstream schools have the capacity to meet the needs of disabled children.

“However, we are clear that disabled children should have the right to go to the school which is best suited to their needs – whether this is mainstream or specialist.

“Our schooling system includes both mainstream and special schools, which is allowed under the convention.”

She said the government had no plans to change the UK’s reservation and interpretive declaration.

And she said that the Children and Families Act 2014 “secures the general presumption in law of mainstream education in relation to decisions about where children and young people with special educational needs should be educated and the Equality Act 2010 provides protection from discrimination for disabled people”.

But she added: “For some children with complex disabilities the most appropriate provision is provided by specialist residential educational establishments, non-maintained special schools or independent schools.”

Asked for the committee’s views on the UK government’s position, Jorge Araya, secretary of the committee, said: “The committee will review the implementation of the convention [in the UK] in a date which will be officially informed to [the UK] when the committee so decides, and to the public at large through the committee’s webpage.”

Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the committee’s chair, had earlier said in a statement on the general comment: “Inclusive education is important not only for persons with disabilities but the societies they live in, as it helps to combat discrimination, and to promote diversity and participation.”

Cisternas Reyes added: “Enabling inclusive education requires an in-depth transformation of education systems in legislation, policy and the way education is financed, administered, designed, taught and monitored.”

8 September 2016

 

 

Green’s new co-leader credits Independent Living Fund campaign

The new co-leader of the Green party has told Disability News Service (DNS) that he will make support for inclusive education a key focus of his new role.

Jonathan Bartley was elected alongside Caroline Lucas last week to lead the party in a job-share arrangement.

And he revealed that he first spoke to Lucas at a parliamentary lobby in January last year against the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), when he talked to her about his passion for disability issues.

Bartley is a long-standing campaigner for inclusive education, and a former chair of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education.

He first secured significant public attention shortly before the 2010 general election when he challenged Conservative leader David Cameron in front of television cameras on the Tory manifesto pledge to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”.

He joined the Green party soon after that meeting.

Bartley was only able to stand for leader on a job share basis because of his caring responsibilities for his 14-year-old disabled son, Samuel, who was pictured next to his father in the 2010 footage.

He told DNS that the Greens’ commitment to inclusive education was the reason he had joined the party, and he pointed to the huge number of disabled pupils now being excluded from schools, both those that showed up in official statistics and those in which young disabled people were excluded from mainstream schools “by the back door”.

And he said he welcomed the “emphatic” and “absolutely wonderful” guidance published late last month by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which stresses that all segregated education should end, and should be replaced by “inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”.

He said the government’s policies to create more special school places were being carried out “under the guise of choice, but more and more parents are not experiencing that choice but are being pushed into segregated education”.

Bartley said he hoped that his party’s election of co-leaders would increase the momentum towards allowing job-share MPs, something many disabled people are campaigning for.

He said: “This is why we have done it. [We want to see] a more inclusive form of politics.

“Civil service actively practices [job-sharing]. It is happening in the charity sector. Political parties in Germany have done it for decades.

“I have responsibilities at home that I want to fulfil and I am passionate about the issues. The only way I can bring that experience to politics is through a job share.”

But he said it would be “a battle” to secure the change in the law necessary to allow job-share MPs because “people are waiting to see what happens” with the Greens’ experiment.

Bartley also defended his party’s position on assisted suicide, which although it is supported by some disabled people, is fiercely opposed by the disabled people’s movement.

He acknowledged that his party’s support for legalisation of assisted suicide had been raised as a concern by disabled campaigners.

He said: “I think we need to listen to it. I have heard people say they don’t support the Green Party because of it.”

He said he supported the party’s position “provided all the appropriate safeguards are in place”, but he suggested that legalisation was difficult to justify in a climate of austerity in which disabled people’s support was being cut.

He said: “In the context of cuts and misery when we seem to be going backwards in disability rights I can entirely understand why people have concerns.

“It’s about showing that it can’t work and that there will be pressure [on people to ask to take their own lives].”

Speaking before the launch of Inclusion London’s report on the impact of the ILF closure, he said that the decision to abolish the fund was inevitably going to lead to cuts in support, which was what the report showed.

Although his son – who has been ill in hospital for four weeks – was never an ILF recipient, the family do receive direct payments to fund his support, and he said: “I know what it’s like to battle against a social worker who should be your ally and your champion… they are under huge pressure to cut budgets.”

One of the themes of the speech he and Lucas delivered after they were elected as co-leaders was the need to “take back control”, which he said was a key concern for disabled people, who are often too scared to speak out against their local authority about their social care.

He said: “They are fearful and they are scared, they feel they have no control.”

He said the Greens were the only party to oppose the closure of the ILF at the last election and pledge to reopen it, and he backed all of the report’s recommendations, including a new national, needs-led system, independent of local authorities, to administer independent living support, which would be free at the point of delivery and funded by taxation.

He also backed the call for the government’s ILF grant – it has pledged to provide non-ring-fenced funding to local authorities in England until 2019-20 – to be ring-fenced for former ILF recipients and for that to continue until a national, independent social care system could be set up.

Speaking at the Inclusion London meeting, which was held as part of the Rights Not Games week of action organised by Disabled People Against Cuts, he said he was scared by watching his son’s fight for the support he needs, and added: “You’re going to be a prisoner in your own home [and] I fear that’s what’s going to happen to my son.”

He also secured a pledge from Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, to write to Labour-run local authorities to ask them to ring-fence the government grants for former ILF recipients.

8 September 2016

 

 

Southern’s rail plans will breach Equality Act, says disabled access expert

Plans by an under-fire rail company to change the way it staffs its trains will lead to “unacceptable” and repeated breaches of the Equality Act by denying disabled passengers the support they need to travel, it has been claimed.

Southern – which operates train services across parts of south London and southern England – is planning to replace conductors with “on board supervisors” (OBSs), whose job will not include stepping onto the platform at stations.

Campaigners fear that introducing these supervisors will mean that disabled passengers who need assistance on platforms at unstaffed stations could be left stranded and unable to board their train.

Southern is also planning to allow OBS trains to operate with only a driver in “exceptional circumstances” – which is likely to make travel even harder for disabled people – and has also admitted that two-fifths of its trains are already driver only operated (DOO).

Southern is embroiled in a long-running industrial action over its plans to replace guards with OBSs.

Ann Bates, a transport access consultant and former rail chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, said that “huge numbers” of disabled people rely on a guard for information, assistance and access across the Southern network because most of it consists of “poorly or unstaffed stations”.

But she said that the company had so far failed to suggest a solution that would provide a “reasonable adjustment” for disabled passengers when it introduces OBSs.

To provide evidence, Bates – herself a wheelchair-user – spent a day travelling on Southern services with an older passenger and a blind person.

She has passed the report they compiled on their experiences to Disability News Service (DNS).

The trio – who deliberately did not book any of their off-peak journeys – faced repeated access problems, such as platforms without portable ramps, a train with a locked help point, unstaffed stations, unhelpful call-centre staff, a broken lift, help-point staff who disconnected calls without providing any help, and unsafe ramps, although they also praised some of the support they received from staff.

They say in the report that the company had “made a commitment for trains to have an on-board supervisor on all trains except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

“The concept of ‘exceptional circumstances’ is not one that would enable any disabled or older person to travel with confidence.

“It was very clear from our journeys that, at almost every stage, without the presence of staff we would have been unable to continue to complete a journey or would have been carried beyond our destinations.”

Bates said that it was unlawful to deny travel to disabled passengers who “turn up and go”, and that even pre-booking a journey does not guarantee a successful journey.

She and her two fellow passengers believe that running a driver-only train to an unstaffed station – if there was a passenger on board who could not exit without assistance – would be a clear breach of the Equality Act.

Their report concludes: “After 30 years of commitment, effort and public expenditure to ensure that disabled people can travel by train, as by other modes, with confidence, we risk taking a significant retrograde step that will effectively deny people those hard won rights. That is simply unacceptable.”

Bates is an independent consultant for Southern but contacted DNS because the problems were “too important” to ignore.

She said that every train needed to have a second member of staff who was able to step onto the platform in case there was a disabled passenger who needed assistance.

A Southern spokesman said the report had provided “useful and actionable insight” but “does really only reflect the current service offering without an understanding of what will be changing and improving… after the OBS role is introduced”.

He said: “As part of our franchise, in recognition of an ever-increasing demand for our services, it is vital that we modernise the way we work to improve the experience for our passengers.

“Meeting the needs of those with accessibility needs are fundamental to our plans, and we are absolutely determined to ensure that these plans continue to enable all passengers to access our network and travel with greater confidence on our services.”

He said Southern was planning to modernise some stations, ensure staffing throughout the working day at more stations, and ensure facilities open for longer, as well as making station access improvements and “introducing new trains which are more suited to the needs of disabled passengers”.

He said: “The report also references the view that the current assisted travel support is not always consistent.

“The OBS role provides us with the opportunity to improve the quality and consistency of support provided to disabled passengers; all staff will have dedicated accessibility training supported by new ways of working across teams involved in supporting our passenger to complete their journey.

“The report notes some current good practices and these will continue.

“Without the need to close the door, [the OBS] will have more time to assist all passengers, including disabled passengers and will also be able to deploy ramps as per Conductor operated services.”

He added: “Southern does not agree that running a driver-only train would be any breach, less still a clear breach, of the Equality Act.

“We believe that the actions which we will put in place will cause Southern to be compliant with Equality Act obligations.”

But he was not able to explain what those actions might be or how they would avoid leaving disabled passengers stranded on board or on the platforms of unstaffed stations.

He said: “In line with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, adjustments will be in place to ensure that should this scenario arise then any passenger requiring accessibility assistance to reach an unmanned/partially manned station will be supported in doing so without unreasonable delay or inconvenience.”

He claimed that passengers currently “widely travel without any difficulties using a variety of staffed, un-staffed and partially staffed stations” on the 40 per cent of Southern services that are DOO.

8 September 2016

 

 

Government must rip up response to Equality Act report, say disabled peers

Disabled peers have demanded that the government rips up its “frustrating”, “clichéd” and “tepid” response to a major House of Lords report on the Equality Act’s impact on disabled people.

The Equality Act 2010 and disability committee reported in March on how equality legislation affects disabled people, following a nine-month inquiry.

The committee concluded that the government was failing to protect disabled people from discrimination, and that laws designed to address disability discrimination were “not working in practice”, while spending cuts were having “a hugely adverse effect on disabled people”.

An analysis by Disability News Service of the government’s response to the report, which was published in July, suggested that it accepted in full only about eight of the committee’s 55 recommendations.

In a Lords debate on the report this week, disabled peers lined up to criticise the government’s response.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who sat on the committee, said that its report recommends “workable, low-cost, legislative and practical changes that would greatly enhance equality for disabled people in this country”.

But she described “disabled people’s frustration at the failure of the government to embrace the recommendations more fully”, and called on it to “go back to the drawing board”.

She criticised the government’s use of “the exhausted cliché that regulation will not change hearts and minds” when “all the evidence shows that without legislation we cannot win ‘hearts and minds’”.

And she said that Sir Bert Massie, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, had told her that the government’s “tepid” response to the report “clearly demonstrates a deep lack of understanding and concern about Britain’s disabled people”.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, who also sat on the committee, said the government had showed in responding to the report’s recommendations that it “will not even regulate, let alone legislate”.

She said: “I join colleagues on the ​select committee in hoping that the previous government’s report back to us will be discarded.

“I have high hopes, because the evidence in the select committee report is so strong and will not go away.

“I call for the new government [under Theresa May, rather than David Cameron] to prove that they truly believe in inclusion by going back and rewriting their response.”

Her fellow disabled Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness [Celia] Thomas, whose idea it was to hold the inquiry, called on the government to “implement our recommendations without delay. There is no excuse for not doing so”.

The disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low, who did not sit on the committee, praised the “excellent” report.

He said that the government’s “drive to reduce regulation and red tape has resulted in rules and provisions that were helpful to disabled people being weakened or abolished”.

He said: “The report makes an important point when it says that these things should properly be seen as protections for disabled people rather than burdens on business, and that their removal under the [government’s] Red Tape Challenge should be reversed.”

Another disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat Lord Addington, said there was a need for “aggressive action” to enforce equality.

He said: “We here have to start pointing out to the rest of society that it will benefit by taking this appropriate action.

“If we make people with disabilities more economically active and more socially included, we will save ourselves hassle and trouble.”

The Conservative Home Office minister, Baroness Williams, said the report was “timely and comprehensive and highlights the continuing challenges and obstacles which disabled people face on a daily basis”.

She said it “rightly focused on a number of important issues, such as how adequately we imbed disabled people’s needs into the first steps to plan services and also when we construct premises”.

She added: “The report also fairly examined whether both public and private sectors have been sufficiently proactive in meeting the needs of citizens with a disability and whether there is still a tendency simply to react to problems once they have arisen or to be forced into action when pressed.

“We further acknowledge the importance of two-way communication between government and disabled people and their representatives, something that the report says we can improve on, in turn improving access to justice and how services are delivered.”

8 September 2016

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com