Green Party calls on government to launch benefit deaths inquiry

The Green Party has written to work and pensions secretary Damian Green to demand an independent inquiry into benefit claimants whose deaths have been linked to the failings of his department.

The letter has been signed by the Green Party’s co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, its disability spokeswoman, Mags Lewis, and Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts.

It has also been signed by Jill Gant, the mother of Mark Wood, a disabled man who starved to death in 2013 after he was found “fit for work” through the work capability assessment (WCA) system, and lost his out-of-work disability benefits.

The party has compiled a dossier of this and 49 other deaths of benefit claimants where, it says in the letter, there is “good reason to believe their treatment at the hands of your department has been a factor in their deaths”.

Those cases include many deaths that have been covered by Disability News Service (DNS), including those of David Clapson, Stephen Carré, David Barr, Ms DE, Stephanie Bottrill, Luke Alexander Loy, Alan McArdle, Sheila Holt, Moira Drury, and Karen Sherlock.

The Green Party letter says the inquiry should examine “the methods used to assess claimants and their entitlements” and “determine whether these procedures are fair and proper or if they are, in fact, contributing to the deaths of some of the claimants”.

The letter points out to Damian Green that, in many of the cases included in the dossier, coroners have “expressed grave concern about the methods employed by your department”.

It adds: “The more time passes without an inquiry, the longer concerns will remain and questions will hang over the procedures used by your department to handle benefits.”

Bartley told DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that he supports attempts to bring a criminal prosecution against former work and pensions ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling over their failure to address the safety of the WCA.

They were warned by a coroner in 2010 to review the policy not to seek further medical evidence from the GPs and psychiatrists of claimants with mental health conditions, but they failed to respond to the report, and apparently failed to pass it on to the expert they commissioned to review the WCA.

As a result of their failure to act, claimants with experience of mental distress continued to die, including Mark Wood.

Bartley said: “I think there are very good grounds for it. If there was criminal negligence in the workplace that resulted in deaths, you wouldn’t think twice about it being right to prosecute.

“I think it’s something we should be supporting. I would be very keen to talk to a lawyer who would be interested in taking this forward.”

He said there was still much that was not known about what ministers knew, and when, about the WCA scandal, but he added: “I think the more evidence emerges, the more we realise quite how aware they were of it and the stronger the case becomes against them.”

Bartley said: “We are supposed to be a civilised country and we are supposed to judge our country by the way it looks after those who are marginalised and disabled.

“It’s absolutely damning that this should be happening in a country that is so rich.”

He said the dossier was “putting down a marker that these rights that have been fought for are being eroded, and not just eroded, but being pushed back, and ground is being lost that has been won over many, many years.

“We have to learn the lessons of history: that things can move backwards as well as forwards.”

Bartley said that “too much ground” had been conceded by mainstream politicians to right-wing ideologies that play on the “mantra of deserving and undeserving [benefit claimants], and demonisation of disabled people and scapegoating of disabled people and that idea of [claimants] being guilty until proven innocent”.

The inquiry call has been backed by DPAC, whose work on benefit-related deaths and other harm caused by the government’s social security reforms triggered an inquiry by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, said: “As the UK government has been found guilty by the UN of committing grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights, we feel a public inquiry into deaths which have been linked to the discredited work capability assessment regime must urgently be initiated by the government and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The department will respond to the letter once it has been received.

“We constantly review our processes and procedures and have made significant improvements to the WCA since it was first introduced in 2008, particularly for people with mental health problems, following a number of… reviews, including five independent ones.

“There will also shortly be a second independent review of personal independence payment since it was introduced in 2013.

“And, as you know, we carry out peer reviews to help staff to continually improve how they deal with some of the most complex and challenging cases.”

9 February 2017

 

 

Mother of ‘fit for work’ victim calls for ministers to face criminal charges

The mother of a disabled man who starved to death after he was found “fit for work” and lost his out-of-work disability benefits has called for ministers to face criminal charges.

Jill Gant says work and pensions ministers should be tried for misconduct in public office for failing to take action that could have saved the life of her son, Mark Wood.

She spoke out after signing a letter, drawn up by the Green Party and backed by Disabled People Against Cuts, that calls on work and pensions secretary Damian Green to order an independent inquiry into the links between his department’s procedures and the deaths of benefit claimants.

The party has produced a dossier of 50 cases in which the deaths of benefit claimants have been linked to decisions taken by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Mark Wood starved to death in 2013 after being found ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA), even though he had never been able to cope with the demands of a job and his GP had said he was completely incapable of working.

The decision to find him fit for work caused him extreme anxiety and distress and exaggerated his eating disorder.

He died in the summer of 2013, apparently from natural causes and as a result of becoming dangerously underweight, four months after his incapacity benefit was stopped.

Because of his complex mental health condition and other impairments, including the eating disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and multple chemical sensitivity, he had not provided the evidence needed in his ESA application, or at a face-to-face work capability assessment (WCA).

But he had stated in the ESA form that he had problems with anxiety and depression, while the assessment was carried out at the cottage where he lived alone, rather than at an Atos assessment centre in Oxford, because of the severity of his panic attacks.

Because of his complex mental health issues, he was unable to cope with either support workers or help from his family, and his mother says he was unaware of the purpose of the WCA.

She said that neither the Atos assessor nor the DWP decision-maker made any attempt to secure further medical evidence about his mental health from his GP, who would have told them that he was unable to work.

His GP told his inquest in February 2014 that he had handed Mark a note, explaining that he was extremely unwell and completely unfit to work, but the note does not appear to have reached his local jobcentre.

The GP also told the inquest: “Something pushed him or affected him in the time before he died and the only thing I can put my finger on is the pressure he felt he was under when his benefits were removed.”

His death came three years after ministers had been warned by a coroner – following the death of Stephen Carré in January 2010 – that they needed to review their policy not to seek further medical evidence from the GPs and psychiatrists of ESA claimants with mental health conditions.

And a year after Mark Wood died, another letter was sent to DWP by a coroner, raising the same concerns and making almost identical recommendations, this time following the death of a disabled man from north London.

But nearly seven years after the Stephen Carré inquest, these safety concerns have still not been addressed, despite many other deaths, and a DWP promise to a tribunal that it would test ways to collect further medical evidence through a pilot project, although a DWP spokesman said today (Thursday) that the pilot project had now been completed.

Former DWP ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling have been heavily criticised for failing to act on the coroner’s advice in 2010, for covering-up that report, and failing to pass it to Professor Malcolm Harrington – the expert they had commissioned to review the WCA – as well as failing to show Harrington secret DWP reports linking the WCA with the deaths of benefit claimants.

Attempts by the user-led grassroots group Black Triangle (BT) to secure a prosecution of Duncan Smith and Grayling in Scotland – over the deaths of three Scottish benefit claimants – have so far failed because of resistance from the Scottish criminal justice system, although BT is seeking legal representation to help push for a case to be taken in the Scottish courts.

Mark Wood’s mother, Jill Gant, said she would like to see ministers held accountable by the criminal justice system for their failure to act on the Stephen Carré coroner’s report, which she believes led to her son’s death.

The retired education social worker, now 78, and from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, said: “Quite honestly, I think they have failed in their duty. They doggedly refused to consider and act on this very clear, simple suggestion.”

She said it would be “stunning” if a case could be brought against ministers, and added: “They certainly need to be called to account.”

She secured a meeting with the minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, in March 2015, but said that he had “a heart of stone” and had made no effort to be “friendly or understanding”, and when she asked him about the need to secure further medical evidence “he refused to answer the question directly”.

She said it was “shocking” that Harper now chaired the all-party parliamentary group on learning disability.

Her search for answers following her son’s death had quickly focused on the single issue of why further medical evidence had not been sought.

Confronted by the refusal of Conservative ministers, including Harper and employment minister Priti Patel*, to answer her questions, she has now told her Tory MP, Nicola Blackwood, that the refusal to act was “not fair and in my view it is not moral or legal”.

The final letter from Patel was sent to her last July and said that DWP was still working with Maximus – the discredited US outsourcing giant now carrying out WCAs – to “expand the current guidance” on securing further medical evidence and “ensure that evidence is gathered in more circumstances than at present, especially for those claimants with a mental health condition”.

She said: “They must have no conscience at all. Each of these stories, each of them, is a massive tragedy and a painful time for these poor people.

“In the end I [told my MP] that I looked forward to having a government where there was compassion and understanding and which would seek to protect the most vulnerable.”

A DWP spokesman said this morning (Thursday): “The department will respond to the [Green Party] letter once it has been received.

“The pilot has been completed, and the outcomes of that will help to inform training and staff guidance.”

It is not yet clear what action DWP will take following the pilot project.

*Both of them have now left the department

9 February 2017

 

 

PIP investigation: Regulator refuses to act over Capita assessment report ‘lies’

A healthcare regulator has decided that a notorious benefits assessor will not face any disciplinary action over allegations of dishonesty, even though his former employer admitted that he lied in an assessment report.

Paramedic Alan Barham still faces being struck off for comments he made to an undercover reporter while working for the government contractor Capita, which were aired in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary last April.

But the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which is investigating Barham’s actions, has decided that separate allegations that he lied in a report he wrote after assessing a disabled woman’s eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) will not be dealt with by a disciplinary hearing.

The conclusions reached by the council will add to concerns that regulators are failing to act when they receive complaints from disabled people that healthcare professionals have written dishonest reports after carrying out face-to-face PIP assessments.

Following a two-month investigation, Disability News Service (DNS) has collected scores of cases of disabled people who claim that PIP assessors like Barham lied repeatedly in reports produced for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Undercover footage from the Dispatches programme showed Barham admitting that he sometimes completed his PIP assessment reports before even meeting the claimants.

He also told an undercover reporter that he could usually “completely dismiss” what he was told by PIP claimants, and made offensive comments about an overweight claimant who was unable to carry out her own personal care.

After watching the programme, two disabled people who had been assessed by Barham lodged complaints about his behaviour, based both on the documentary and on reports that he had written following face-to-face assessments of their entitlement to PIP.

An HCPC investigating committee has now concluded that the comments Barham made in the documentary are serious enough for him to be found guilty of “misconduct and/or lack of competence” if a disciplinary panel finds them proven.

But the committee has also decided that allegations about the two PIP assessments carried out by Barham – which were not part of the documentary – are not serious enough to merit findings of misconduct and/or lack of competence, even though Capita has already concluded that Barham lied in one of the assessment reports.

The committee concluded that the allegations concerning lying and other failings in assessments “could be considered to fall short of the expected standards of a Paramedic” but “do not, in the Panel’s view, constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence”.

David Nicholls, from Northampton, the husband of one of the PIP claimants, has told DNS of his anger and frustration at the way HCPC has dealt with the case.

DNS has seen Capita’s response to his complaint about the assessment report Barham wrote following an assessment of his wife, Jacqueline, in March last year, a month before the Dispatches documentary was screened.

As a result of the assessment, she was found ineligible for PIP.

It was only after the documentary was aired and DWP agreed to allow her to be reassessed that she was granted the enhanced rate for both the daily living and mobility components of PIP.

In the response to the Nicholls complaint about Barham, a Capita senior complaint handler wrote: “You stated that you disagree with the content of your assessment report and that you believe [Barham] had made inaccurate assumptions and had lied in his report…

“Based on the outcome of my investigation, I uphold this element of your complaint.”

In his report, Barham repeatedly stated that what he was told by Jacqueline Nicholls was not backed up by the tests he carried out during the assessment.

But David Nicholls said Barham had ignored the impact of his wife’s brain injury on both her physical and mental functioning, including her seizures, her confusion when asked too many questions, the lack of feeling in parts of her body, her memory problems, and her tendency to get lost when on her own.

Barham reported instead that she could plan and follow routes, understand complex written information without any help, and make her own budgeting decisions.

Nicholls said: “He has misled people with the findings in his report in the worst possible way.

“His assessment gave no consideration to brain injury at all. Jacquie could not take it in.”

He said that the effect of dishonest assessors like Barham on disabled people was “devastating”.

He said he was “very upset” by the HCPC decision, which he said showed that it was “letting down any person who feels they have been badly treated or assessed.

“It sends out the message that no matter what your assessor does or says, they will get away with it. They will be protected and never seen to be at fault.”

An HCPC spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that complaints against Alan Barham are currently being investigated through our fitness to practice process and an allegation pertaining to these matters has been referred to the conduct and competence committee.

“However, due to the ongoing nature of the investigation and our duty of confidentiality to all parties involved it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further at this stage.

“Once the matter is listed for final hearing the full details of the public allegation will be published on our website four weeks prior to the hearing date.”

She later added: “I can confirm to you that [the Dispatches claims] are the only allegations going forward to the final hearing, they are now the only two allegations in the public domain.

“Essentially, this means [the allegations concerning the two PIP assessments] will not be further considered.

“However as this is a private document stemming from an independent panel decision we cannot provide any further comment on the reasoning behind this.”

DNS has approached Barham for a comment, but he had not replied by noon today (Thursday).

9 February 2017

 

 

National DPOs forced to withdraw report sent to UN over benefit deaths evidence

Three national disabled people’s organisations have withdrawn a report they submitted to the United Nations, after admitting that it failed to speak out strongly enough on links between the government’s welfare reforms and the deaths of benefit claimants.

The report will now be toughened up and resubmitted to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD).

The three organisations – Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland – were forced to act after flaws in their report were highlighted by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Disability News Service (DNS).

The “shadow report” was sent to CRPD as part of the process which will lead to the UK government being questioned in public later this year on its progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Although it is only one of several shadow reports being submitted to CRPD, it is likely to have a significant impact on the committee because it was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Last week, DR UK defended the report and said that it had chosen not to say more about evidence linking welfare reform and the deaths of disabled people “in order to have space to raise other critical issues”.

At one point in the report, it promised to “address this issue in more detail” later in the document, but then failed to do so, which it later said was “a mistake that we overlooked during final editing”.

The three organisations now say that this editing mistake was the reason the report did not include some of the evidence that disabled activists say was missing*, and that they “very much regret” this error.

Some of the missing evidence will now be added to the report, which will be resubmitted to CRPD.

The extra evidence to be added will include two letters sent by coroners to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that link flaws in the work capability assessment (WCA) process with the deaths of benefit claimants with mental health conditions.

Both letters called on DWP to take action to make the test safer, but those pleas appear to have been ignored by ministers.

The three organisations will also point out in the new version of their shadow report that there are DNS articles that discuss links between the actions of DWP ministers and benefit-related deaths.

They say they were always intending to include extra information, even though consultant Neil Crowther, who played a significant role in writing the report, repeatedly defended its contents over the weekend on social media, and accused DNS of being “divisive and polarising” for highlighting the missing evidence.

In a message sent to DNS via Twitter, he said: “I’ve read all the stuff you sent [five pieces of missing evidence*, including the two coroners’ reports], looked at case law, re-read our report and still don’t think we got it wrong.”

But in a series of statements this week, the three organisations now say that it had been their “full intention to include more evidence” on benefit-related deaths.

They say they will add a “suggested question” for CRPD to ask the UK government, which will be similar to: “What is the State Party’s approach to suicide prevention in the context of disability benefits assessments?”

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) said the DR UK report had provided a “very flawed and distorted picture of what is going on in the UK”, and welcomed the decision to withdraw, strengthen and resubmit the the document.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of ROFA member Equal Lives, but speaking on behalf of ROFA, said he and his colleagues were concentrating on producing their own shadow report, on behalf of their alliance of disabled people’s organisations across England.

He said it was DPAC, a ROFA member, which had triggered a CRPD inquiry that led to a damning report last November which found the UK government guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights as a result of its social security reforms.

Harrison said the shadow report had said little about the link between the UK government’s welfare reforms and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, which was one of the key issues raised in last year’s UN report, which had been fuelled by years of DPAC research and campaigning.

Harrison said: “ROFA supported DPAC in doing that and gave evidence alongside DPAC to the UN inquiry team, and we are going to build on that in our report to make sure it is an accurate reflection of the situation disabled people face in the UK.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “We welcome DR UK’s commitment to withdraw this report, pending the inclusion of the relevant evidence.

“The facts established by the two coroners’ reports provide incontrovertible proof as to the reality of how the WCA regime leads directly to the entirely avoidable deaths of disabled people subjected to it.

“This is because there is no proper risk assessment or safety protocol built into the system.”

He said questions had been asked in the House of Commons about 49 secret DWP “peer reviews” into benefit-related deaths, whose existence was revealed by DNS following freedom of information requests.

He said: “It was an extraordinary ‘oversight’ on the part of the report’s authors to have omitted this evidence.

“It is utterly central to our common struggle in the UK for the fundamental human rights of sick and/or disabled people to be respected. There is no more precious a human right than that to life itself.

“Until the coroners’ recommendations are fully respected and put into place, people will continue to pay the ultimate price.

“Any and all attempts to obscure this truth is, in our view, to be complicit in these acts of barbarism.”

In a statement, DR UK, Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland said: “It is important to note that there is a great deal more, often important, evidence that we would have wanted to provide with regard to just about every issue covered in the report.

“The limit on word count was a huge frustration throughout.

“However, the main aim at this stage of the process is to get across the key issues that disabled people identified, in order to influence the list of issues that the committee explores in their examination.

“There will be opportunities later in the process to present more evidence and for more in-depth exploration.”

*Among the missing evidence were the two coroners’ reports; a DWP freedom of information response which showed how ministers deliberately loosened regulations that had been drawn up to protect people with mental health conditions whose lives could be at risk if forced into work-related activity; documents that suggested that ministers failed to show one of the coroner’s reports and their own secret reviews into deaths linked to the WCA to the independent expert they hired to review the assessment; and government-funded research by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford, which concluded in late 2015 that the programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the WCA was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.

9 February 2017

 

 

Peer pressure sees minister finally announce date for taxi access laws

The government has finally announced the date when it will bring into force regulations that will ban taxi drivers from discriminating against wheelchair-users, more than 20 years after they were first included in legislation.

From 6 April, taxi and private hire vehicle drivers will face a fine of up to £1,000 if they refuse to accept wheelchair-users, try to charge them extra, or fail to provide them with appropriate assistance.

The announcement has been seen as a success for a committee of peers that called for the move last year.

Successive Labour, coalition and Conservative governments have refused to bring the measures into force, since they were included in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and then incorporated into the Equality Act 2010.

But the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which included several disabled peers among its members, and reported last March on the impact of equality laws on disabled people, called in its report for the measures to be implemented.

The government had spoken in evidence to the committee about the “burden” on taxi drivers of bringing the regulations into force.

But the committee concluded that the government’s excuses for failing to bring sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act into force were “entirely unconvincing” and that ministers “should be considering the burden on disabled people trying to take taxis, not the burden on taxi owners or drivers”.

Seven weeks later, in May last year, transport minister Andrew Jones announced that the two sections would finally come into force.

He announced this week that that would happen on 6 April.

Baroness [Celia] Thomas, the disabled Liberal Democrat peer whose idea it was to set up the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, said: “At long last the law will change from 6 April, and life will become a little bit easier for many disabled people who have to use taxis.

“It is nearly a year since the government promised this in response to the House of Lords’ Equality Act 2010 and disability committee report, and shows how a committee’s recommendation can finally spur the government into long overdue action.”

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, the disabled crossbench peer, who also sat on the committee, said: “I have been regularly reminding the government to switch on the taxi regulations to make it illegal to ignore disabled passengers, leaving them sitting at the roadside, since we launched our report last April.

“I guess it shows persistence pays. So, for fear of sounding ungrateful – at last!”

The government will be consulting on a draft accessibility action plan later this year, which will seek to address the barriers faced by disabled people in accessing all types of public transport.

Jones said in a statement: “We want to build a country that works for everyone, and part of that is ensuring disabled people have the same access to services and opportunities as anyone else – including when it comes to travel.

“People who use wheelchairs are often heavily reliant on taxis and private hire vehicles and this change to the law will mean fair and equal treatment for all.”

The new rules will apply in England, Wales and Scotland and will affect vehicles that are designated as wheelchair-accessible, and will apply to both taxis and private hire vehicles.

As well as fines of up to £1,000, drivers could also face having their taxi or private hire vehicle licences suspended or revoked.

9 February 2017

 

 

‘Hard Brexit’ could see disabled people lose right to independent living, say peers

The process of exiting the European Union (EU) could worsen the social care crisis if the UK government does not protect access to personal assistants (PAs) from EU countries, disabled peers have warned.

They told a work and pensions minister that uncertainty over the “Brexit” negotiations with fellow EU members was leading to “terrible uncertainty” among the thousands of disabled people whose PAs are citizens of other EU countries.

But peers heard that there was not a single mention of disabled people or disability in the government’s white paper on Brexit.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell told the Lords debate on the impact of Brexit on disabled people – secured by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Scott – that she had employed PAs from at least 10 EU countries in the last 25 years.

Baroness Campbell told fellow peers that other disabled people who employed PAs had told her that the pool of potential employees was “drying up”, while demand continued to rise, which meant the EU workforce was an “essential supplement”.

She said that John Evans, one of the founders of the UK independent living movement, and of the European Network on Independent Living, had told her that he had employed PAs from 15 EU countries in the past 34 years.

He told her: “If the government does not make some kind of arrangement to protect our access to the EU PA workforce, I will lose my freedom again.”

Evans said he feared that this would mean having to return to residential care, 34 years after he was liberated from a Cheshire Home.

Baroness Campbell told the debate: “We constantly hear about the threat to the NHS if restrictions to work in the UK are tightened.

“The PAs and carers ​employed by thousands of disabled people must be accorded the same attention; otherwise, the current social care crisis will worsen and disabled people will lose the right to independent living, as set out in Article 19 of the UN convention [on the rights of disabled people].”

Baroness [Celia] Thomas, the disabled Liberal Democrat peer, who speaks for her party on disability issues, said: “There is now a terrible uncertainty about what will happen in the future.

“Will we have reciprocity for all the working people from the EU who are settled in this country to stay after Brexit?

“This is perhaps the greatest worry for many disabled people, as they are now used to the high standards and attitudes of many EU care workers.”

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness Masham said: “I am very concerned when I hear members of the government say that we want to let in only the brightest people when Brexit takes place. This will be a disaster for disabled people who need help.

“We have many disabled people, some of whom can work, but they need carers who can help with personal care and mobility.

“We do not have enough British people who want to do such jobs.”

The debate also heard of fears that disabled people could lose several important legal rights if the UK left the European single market as well as the EU.

The disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low said that EU measures that ensure accessibility has to be considered when awarding many public contracts “offer a substantial lever for improving accessibility and bringing about change”, while another EU directive ensures the accessibility of public sector websites.

He also pointed to a proposed EU directive that is set to “harmonise accessibility requirements across the EU for a wide range of goods and services”, including smartphones, computers, ticket machines, cash machines, retailers’ websites, banking and e-books.

He said: “From the point of view of disabled people, there can be no doubt that it would make sense for the UK to remain a member of the single market.

“If we do not, and if we are to safeguard the interests of disabled people, we need, on Brexit, to bring across as many of the benefits of the single market as possible.”

Baroness Scott said she feared that Brexit would lead to a “rush to deregulation”, which would “reduce the statutory protections available to disabled people, especially with regard to employment and access rights”.

She warned: “Anti-discrimination laws, while enacted by this parliament, have their roots in EU law and could be removed by this or a future government should they choose.”

Her party colleague Baroness Thomas added: “The difficulty will come when the government decide which laws will be scrapped altogether.”

She said she was particularly concerned “about hard-won rights in the fields of, for example, product design, air and rail travel, employment, building accessibility, public sector website accessibility and many others”.

The Conservative work and pensions minister, Lord Henley, provided few clues as to which rights the government wanted to protect, but insisted that it had a “firm commitment” to “maintaining the United Kingdom’s strong and long-standing record of protecting the rights and traditional liberties, and to supporting disabled people to fulfil their potential”.

He said that he could “assure the House [of Lords] of the protections covered in the Equality Act 2010″, but then failed to say whether the government would maintain all of those protections after the UK left the EU.

He said: “The precise way in which the government will determine how to control the movement of EU nationals to the UK after Brexit has obviously yet to be determined.”

He said it was “important that we understand the impact of any changes that we make on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market, including on health and social provision” and that “this is a matter that will be foremost in our minds in negotiations”.

Lord Henley said that Department for Work and Pensions civil servants were in discussions with officials in other departments “to ensure that disability issues are given due consideration”.

9 February 2017

 

 

DfE finally admits: ‘We didn’t assess equality impact of grammar school expansion’

The government has finally admitted that it failed to assess the impact on disabled children and young people of its “discriminatory” plans to expand grammar schools in England.

The Department for Education (DfE) has previously refused to say if it carried out an equality impact assessment (EIA) on its consultation paper, Schools That Work For Everyone, which includes plans to remove the ban on opening new grammar schools in England.

The consultation paper fails to include a single mention of disabled children and young people.

Inclusive education campaigners say that expanding grammar schools – secondary schools which select pupils via an entrance test – will discriminate against disabled children and lead to more segregated education in special schools.

Laws currently ban any new selective schools and prevent existing non-selective schools from becoming selective, but the government wants to expand existing grammar schools, create new selective schools and allow non-selective schools to become selective.

A DfE response to a freedom of information request submitted by Disability News Service (DNS) last November insisted that the department was continuing to have “due regard” to the equalities impact of its plans, but refused to say whether it had carried out an EIA.

After that response was challenged by DNS, the government has now finally admitted that it failed to carry out an EIA of its grammar school plans.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) was highly critical of the failure to carry out an EIA, and said the government’s plans would impact on “any disabled young person who struggles with how learning is currently tested”.

Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said the plans would have a “fundamental impact” and were not “just a small tweaking of the edges of the educational system”.

She said: “This is about elitism and increased inequality and they didn’t think that an impact assessment would be a very useful element of their strategy.

“This is really about saying that disabled children and young people with special educational needs just don’t figure in their plans, except for greater numbers going into special provision.”

She said the consultation paper reflected the government’s current position of “absolute denial” of the impact of its reforms, and its continuing commitment to the pledge made by Tory MP Michael Gove in 2009 that a Conservative government would rebuild the special school sector.

The government’s existing education policies over the last six years have led to a steady increase in the number of disabled children being educated in special schools, says ALLFIE.

Flood said: “They are only really concerned about what they consider to be the group of pupils who are able to learn in a robust and standards-driven system.”

ALLFIE believes the government’s plans are a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with new UN guidance – through a “general comment”, adopted last August – making it clear that all segregated education should end and be replaced by “inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”.

Flood said: “Everything is in denial of the UN convention, the general comment and any kind of understanding about how equality can be achieved.”

She called on campaigners concerned about the government’s plans to contact ALLFIE and “help us build a real resistance to the government’s plans to find more ways to remove disabled children and young people from the [mainstream] system”.

She said there was a “groundswell of support building” for opposition to the government’s plans, and that ALLFIE’s campaigning was helping to persuade mainstream campaigners who oppose expanding grammar schools that this would also have a substantial impact on disabled children and young people.

There are currently 163 grammar schools in England, educating about five per cent of state secondary pupils, while 10 local authorities have wholly selective education systems and another 26 have one or more grammar schools in their area.

Disabled children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) or statements of special educational needs represent only 0.1 per cent of grammar school pupils, despite making up 1.8 per cent of the secondary school population, while disabled children without statements or EHCPs still make up only 4.2 per cent of grammar school pupils, but 12.4 per cent of all secondary school pupils.

9 February 2017

 

 

Self-employment can provide choice and control for disabled people, MPs hear

Three disabled entrepreneurs have told MPs that the government should make it easier for people with impairments to move into self-employment.

Jane Cordell, Sara McKee and Robert Winstanley were giving evidence to an inquiry by the Commons work and pensions select committee into whether the social security system adequately supports the growing number of people who are self-employed and work in the “gig economy”.

McKee, who founded the older people’s lifestyle organisation Evermore, said she believed that making self-employment easier for disabled people could help the government with its aim to halve the disability employment gap.

She said: “People want choice and control over how they live their lives. You can’t always do your best work in some organisations and institutions.

“I earn currently probably a tenth of what I could earn, but my quality of life is better.”

Cordell, a director of the social enterprise Result CIC, which provides coaching and training to marginalised and excluded people, said she had chosen self-employment after being discriminated against by two previous employers, including the Foreign Office.

She said she had been forced to make many “sideways moves” in her career because of being deaf, and eventually decided that self-employment would provide “greater autonomy and self-respect”.

But she added: “It’s a high-risk strategy because of the massive decline in income. I think it was an 80 per cent decline in the first year.”

McKee, who has a mental health condition, said it was easier for her to run her own business than to sit in a job interview and admit that she might be forced to take days off sick because of being unable to get out of bed.

She said she believed there needed to be a “safety net” so that disabled people like herself with fluctuating conditions could “come in and out of the workplace”.

She said: “At the moment there is no safety net. If I can’t go and do what I’m good at, there is no safety net. That loses an awful lot of talent from the marketplace.”

Cordell and Winstanley both pointed to flaws in the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme.

Winstanley, who runs his own business alongside having a part-time job, said it had taken 18 months to put his AtW package in place, but after just 12 months he was told by AtW that his business should now be sustainable so he should be able to fund his own support.

Cordell said she believed the government should secure the data that would demonstrate the value of AtW spending.

She said she will eventually face a cut in the support she receives because of the government’s decision to cap high-value AtW packages.

She said: “I want to know why and how my ability to contribute may be capped, and my ability to be one of the few senior deaf role models, inspiring others.”

She said that self-employment was “a fantastic route if you have the right determination, confidence and experience, but particularly if you have a sensory impairment or quite significant impairment you need to feel you have a fighting chance of getting the right support”.

Winstanley told the committee about flaws in the employment and support allowance (ESA) system, for those on out-of-work disability benefits.

Because of his condition, brittle bones, he never knows when he might be seriously injured and need to spend eight or nine months in bed recovering.

But if a disabled person leaves ESA to return to work, they have just 12 weeks to see if they can manage in employment, he said.

He told the committee: “After that 12 weeks, you have to go back through the process.”

This limit caused him problems because when he became injured and had to leave work, he had to restart the ESA application process from the beginning.

He said the ESA system was too “black and white”, and added: “You either are [eligible for ESA] or you’re not. There is no form of middle ground.”

9 February 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com