Europe’s disability strategy is ‘great step forward’

Europe’s leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has welcomed the European Union’s (EU) new 10-year disability strategy as a “great step” for disabled people.

The European Disability Strategy was published this week by the European Commission and sets out to provide a “framework for action” at European and national level until 2020, including more than 160 “key actions” over the next five years.

The European Disability Forum (EDF), which represents an estimated 80 million disabled people across the EU, said it welcomed the action across eight areas, including accessibility, participation in society, equality, employment, education and training, and health.

Among measures EDF welcomed were plans for a European Accessibility Act, aimed at improving access to goods and services; a proposal to ensure all public sector websites are accessible by 2015; measures to give disabled people the right to free movement and residence across the EU; and a promise to use EU funds to improve accessibility.

The strategy also pledges to use EU funds to support disabled people to move from institutional to community-based care.

And it promises to promote inclusive education and lifelong learning for disabled pupils and students.

But among its criticisms of the strategy, EDF said there should have been a greater emphasis on the need – as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – for EU member states to consult and involve DPOs when making decisions that will affect disabled people.

And EDF said all relevant European laws – and not just employment legislation, as the strategy says – should be checked to ensure they comply with the UN convention when being reviewed.

Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF’s president, said: “The disability strategy is a great step for persons with disabilities: it is more ambitious than the last action plan [the EU Disability Action Plan for 2003-2010] and it includes a lot of our proposals.

“If implemented, the strategy could be of benefit to 80 million Europeans with disabilities.”

European parliament president Jerzy Buzek has promised EDF a meeting every two years between the presidents of the commission and the parliament and disabled people’s organizations to assess progress on the strategy.

An EDF spokeswoman said its focus would now be on ensuring the strategy and its actions were implemented, particularly over the next five years.

Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, said her goal was “a truly barrier-free Europe” for disabled people by 2020.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Taxicard cuts are ‘severe blow’ to disabled Londoners

New cuts and fare increases across London’s Taxicard system will be a “severe blow” to the freedom and independence of thousands of disabled and older people and push them further into poverty, say campaigners.

London Councils (LC) – the organisation representing the capital’s local authorities – has told the 32 individual borough councils that take part in Taxicard to limit the benefits of the scheme, which is used by 88,000 Londoners who find it hard to use public transport.

Four campaigning organisations – Inclusion London, Transport for All, London Visual Impairment Forum and Age Concern London – had asked London Councils to protect the scheme, which is funded by London boroughs and Transport for London.

The letter said the cuts and fare increases would mean “greater poverty” for thousands of disabled and older people on low incomes who were already facing drastic cuts in public spending.

They are particularly angry about the decision to end “double swiping”, which allows Taxicard users to use two credits on a single trip, doubling their range to six-to-eight miles from home.

Their letter said: “Ending double swiping is, for those with no other means of transport, effectively imprisoning them within a radius of a few miles around their house.”

Taxicard users will also have to pay at least £2.50 per trip as a contribution – an increase of £1 – while the maximum subsidy per trip will be cut by £1.

And they will be allowed a maximum of one return trip a week, an increase in some boroughs but a sharp fall in others.

Faryal Velmi, director of Transport for All, said the changes were “rushed through with no opportunity for Taxicard users to have their say” and that more time was needed for a full consultation.

A London Councils spokeswoman said: “London Councils’ transport and environment committee has recommended a series of changes and it is down to individual boroughs to consult and decide in their area.”

While this is true, councils that fail to implement the changes and then spend more than their allocated budget will be suspended from the scheme for the rest of the year.

London Councils said the changes were needed because Taxicard journeys had risen by 18 per cent, from 741,142 between April and August 2009 to 872,824 between April and August 2010.

Without the new measures, spending would exceed the scheme’s £19.2 million budget for 2010-11.

And she said the £1.50 minimum cost of a trip had not increased in more than 10 years.

But she was unable to confirm claims that the maximum subsidies payable per trip had also not risen for at least five years, cutting the distance disabled people can travel in a single Taxicard trip.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Court recognises murder as hate crime, but legal flaws exposed

Hate crime campaigners have welcomed the recognition in court that the brutal murder of a disabled man in his own flat was a disability hate crime.

Martin Mather, 23, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to beating Philip Holmes to death at his flat in Rhyl, north Wales, in April this year.

The judge, Mr Justice Griffith Williams, told Mather he will serve at least 17 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.

Holmes, who had a mobility impairment, was found dead in his flat by his support worker on 16 April.

Because it was a murder case, the law did not allow the judge to increase Mather’s sentence on the grounds that it was a disability hate crime, even though both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and North Wales police had treated it as a hate crime.

The CPS drew the court’s attention to the “hostility” Mather had shown towards Holmes as a disabled person when interviewed by police but the judge was only able to increase the sentence on the grounds of Holmes’s “vulnerability”.

Detective chief inspector John Hanson said Mather had carried out a “brutal and sustained attack” on Holmes.

He said: “Having attacked his disabled victim, a man who couldn’t walk without a frame, he left him on the floor in his flat, closing the door behind him and making no attempt to help or call assistance.

“He showed a callous disregard for Philip and whilst in police custody showed no remorse whatsoever for his actions.”

The court heard that Holmes suffered massive internal injuries consistent with a sustained violent assault.

Gareth Preston, CPS North Wales crown advocate, said: “It is hard to know for certain the exact motivation behind this attack – only Martin Mather truly knows what drove him to commit such an horrific crime.

“What is clear is that Mr Mather was aware of, and exploited, Philip Holmes’ vulnerable situation.

“In interviews with police after his arrest, Mr Mather also made disparaging remarks about Philip Holmes that displayed hostility toward his disability.”

Anne Novis, a leading disabled activist and anti-hate crime campaigner, welcomed the statement in court by the CPS that the murder was a disability hate crime and said this recognition would be “good for community confidence”.

But she said the case highlighted why there was a need for tougher disability hate crime laws, to ensure equality with how other types of hate crime were treated by the courts.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Younger people will be drawn into web of DLA cuts

Thousands of younger disabled people will be sucked into plans to slash spending on disability living allowance (DLA), campaigners say.

The chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his emergency budget in June that the government would cut the number of working-age people claiming DLA – and spending on working-age DLA claimants – by 20 per cent by 2016.

Campaigners believed this would apply to disabled people aged 18 to 65, affecting an estimated 365,000 people.

But the government has now confirmed that the cuts will also apply to disabled teenagers aged between 16 and 18.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for the disability poverty charity Disability Alliance (DA), said: “It is potentially another significant cut to the support available to disabled people and at a crucial time in their lives.

“The future of young disabled people is potentially being significantly undermined, despite the government’s insistence that disabled people are being protected through all of their reforms.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said the 20 per cent cuts had always referred to “working age” spending, which meant 16 to 65-year-olds, a position which “was not new and has not changed”.

The government has also admitted that disabled children in residential homes will be affected by the decision – announced in last month’s spending review – to remove the mobility component of DLA from disabled people in council-funded residential care.

Meanwhile, there is concern over the make-up of the advisory group the government has appointed to help develop its new “objective” DLA assessment, which will be introduced from 2013.

Of the group’s 10 members, only two are disabled people from disability organisations, but they are joined by two occupational therapists, a physiotherapist, a psychiatrist, a community psychiatric nurse, a social worker, a health visitor and a GP.

Coyle said DA had offered to advise on the new assessment – but had not been asked to take part.

He said it was “a little bit strange” for the government to suggest that disability organisations were fully part of “co-producing the way forward” when there were so few of them on the advisory group.

He added: “Given DA’s expertise and offer, it seems very strange that we are not part of that.”

The DWP spokesman said the group was “technical in nature” but its members had a “wide range of experience in working with and supporting disabled people, including two representatives of disabled people and disability organisations”.

He added: “We do want to hear wider views though and so will be consulting on our proposals and working with disability organisations throughout the development of the assessment.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government research offers new evidence of struggle for jobs

Government research has provided stark new evidence that disabled people found fit for work through a controversial new assessment are struggling to find jobs.

The research by the Institute for Employment Studies for the Department for Work and Pensions interviewed 3,650 people who had applied for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit (IB).

Of those found “fit for work”, only 13 per cent were in work by the time they were questioned at least six months later, with half insisting that they were off work because they were sick or disabled and another 28 per cent saying they were unemployed.

The survey – carried out between December 2009 and Feb 2010 – also provides further evidence that the work capability assessment (WCA) is failing to reflect people’s impairments accurately.

Only 29 per cent of those found “fit for work” felt that the healthcare professional who carried out the assessment understood their condition, although the levels of satisfaction were far higher (71 per cent) among those found not fit for work.

And 87 per cent of those found fit for work felt the WCA report did not reflect their condition well, rising to 93 per cent of those with a mental health condition.

The disability poverty charity Disability Alliance said it was not surprised that many disabled people found fit for work were failing to find jobs.

Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, said: “Sadly, there are not enough appropriate jobs available and this will get worse through public and private sector job cuts and changes to programmes of support for disabled people.”

Coyle said DA was also not surprised that the WCA had “once again been found wanting”, because it “consistently under-assesses disabled people’s needs and routinely finds people with significant health problems (or) impairments fully fit for work”.

He called on the government to address the problems with the WCA before it starts its main programme of reassessing those on “old-style” IB next spring.

A DWP spokesman said: “We know there have been concerns around the WCA which is why employment minister Chris Grayling asked Professor Malcolm Harrington to conduct a thorough independent review, involving a number of charities representing disabled people, to iron out any issues and recommend any changes.

“The new Work Programme, which will come on stream next year will ensure that everyone who can work will get the help and support they need to get the skills and training which will make them job ready.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Benefits are ‘failing to cover costs of disability’

Four-fifths of households that include a person with a neuromuscular condition say the benefits system is failing to cover the extra costs of living with the impairment, according to a new report.

The report by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign (MDC) says two-fifths of households are struggling to pay the bills for basic utilities such as gas, electricity and water.

Some disabled people are facing fuel bills as high as £1,000 per quarter because of rising fuel costs and the need to keep warm to ease the symptoms of their condition or because of their lack of mobility.

Many also have to meet the electricity costs of running ventilation equipment that is needed to keep them breathing.

The charity surveyed more than 600 households which include someone with a neuromuscular condition for its report, The Cost of Living with Muscle Disease, which makes a series of recommendations for improvements to the welfare and care and support systems and around accessible housing.

Among the recommendations, the report calls for reform of the much-criticised work capability assessment, the controversial new test that decides eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

And it says the government should rethink its equally controversial plans to stop paying the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) to disabled people in council-funded residential care.

The charity also added its voice to calls for the government to extend winter fuel payments to disabled people receiving higher rates of DLA.

One respondent to the survey said: “I am not even keeping my head above water. It is a choice of heating or eating.”

Another said he had lost his home and had been bankrupted twice trying to afford the cost of living with his condition.

A third respondent said he believed he had spent an extra £100,000 over the past five years funding adaptations, vehicles and equipment.

Robert Meadowcroft, MDC’s chief executive, said he was shocked to hear of parents who could not afford birthday presents for their children with life-limiting conditions, and families forced into bankruptcy because of the extra costs of essential equipment.

He said: “It is unacceptable that winter fuel assistance is not given to those with severe muscle disease and other disabilities during the coldest months of the year.

“We are living in a period of economic challenge, not Dickensian Britain. The government must act now to offer a financial life-line to families severely affected by disability and ill-health and extend winter fuel support.”

www.muscular-dystrophy.org/assets/0002/0463/Cost_of_Living_with_Muscle_Disease.pdf

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Have a Canine Partners Christmas

Canine Partners, who provide specially trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities, is pleased to introduce its range of festive Christmas cards and gifts.  This year the Charity has twelve Christmas card designs to choose from and gifts including tea towels, cuddly dogs and puppy notecards.

Canine Partners

The Christmas card range features designs including puppy in the snow, robin on garden gate, choir round the tree and sparkling festive forest.  Prices start from just £2.99 for a pack of 10 cards.  The gifts are priced from £0.99 for a pen up to £5.00 for a cuddly soft toy dog wearing a Canine Partners jacket.
 
Isabel Campbell Director of Fundraising and Marketing comments, “Christmas cards are a very personal thing and we hope we have catered for all needs with our designs this year,” comments Isabel Campbell Director of Fundraising and Marketing.  “Charity Christmas cards are a great way of keeping in touch with friends, family and colleagues at the same time as making a contribution to a worthwhile cause.”

Canine Partners Christmas Cards

Canine Partners also has the solution for those difficult to buy presents.  Why not Adopt a Puppy (sponsored by Purina PetCare) for just £1 a week so your loved ones can follow the progress of trainee canine partners as they strive to become assistance dogs and transform the lives of people with disabilities?  Recipients will receive a Puppy Pack containing a puppy photo, signed certificate and a cuddly toy dog, as well as getting regular updates of puppy adventures plus photos.

For further information on the Christmas range from Canine Partners, please visit http://www.caninepartners.org.uk/shop

Euthanasia report is ‘victory for disability movement in Scotland’

Disabled activists have welcomed a Scottish parliamentary committee’s recommendation that MSPs reject plans to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland.

The committee, set up to consider the end of life assistance (Scotland) bill, outlined a series of flaws in the legislation proposed by independent MSP Margo MacDonald, and concluded that it could not recommend its “general principles” to the Scottish parliament.

The bill, which is set to be debated by MSPs on Thursday (25 November), would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify for assistance to end their lives.

Surveys suggest a large majority of MSPs will now vote against the bill.

The committee concluded in its report on the bill that society’s “wider” interests should prevail over an individual’s right to exercise control over the time of their death, and highlighted evidence that the bill could have “a negative effect for disabled people”.

It also criticised the “extraordinarily wide” number of disabled people who would be covered by the law and warned that “using the inability to live independently as an eligibility requirement for end-of-life assistance” could have “unintended consequences”.

And it pointed to the “particularly compelling” evidence given by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), who argued that disabled people’s lives could be “intolerable” simply because society was failing to provide “sufficient and appropriate support”.

It concluded that Scottish law on assisted suicide and euthanasia was clear and unambiguous and dismissed “spurious” calls for clarity.

Pam Duncan, a board member of Inclusion Scotland, who gave evidence opposing the bill, said she was “really pleased” with the report, which had been “a lot stronger than we expected”.

She said that DPOs had played a crucial part in convincing the committee that the bill should not become law.

She said: “It says something about the strength of the disabled people’s movement in Scotland that we were able to get that voice out and get people heard.”

Duncan said the report had sent a message to MSPs and wider society about “the value of the lives of disabled people”.

Catherine Garrod, a member of Inclusion Scotland, also welcomed the report, and added: “We thought the committee would come back with a neutral report which would just highlight the pros and cons. We didn’t think they would make a recommendation.”

But both Duncan and Garrod said the bill had been a major distraction from the need to campaign against the spending cuts that are set to have a major impact on disabled people’s right to independent living.

Garrod said: “The disability movement wants to be focused on fighting those cuts and fighting for those rights rather than this distraction.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Legal aid cuts could have ‘profound’ impact

Planned cuts in government spending on legal aid will have a serious impact on disabled people’s access to justice, say campaigners.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) this week launched a consultation on its plans for reforming legal aid in England and Wales, which it said would target support on “those who need it most”.

If all the proposals were implemented, they would save an estimated £350 million a year from the £2 billion legal aid budget by 2014-15.

Justice secretary Ken Clarke said the proposals would “ensure access to public funding in those cases that really require it, the protection of the most vulnerable in society and the efficient performance of the justice system”.

Legal aid would be retained in areas such as community care, asylum and people with mental health conditions who have been sectioned appealing against the terms of their detention.

But among those areas where eligibility for legal aid is set to be removed are legal advice on special educational needs appeals, employment claims, and appeals against refusal of benefits such as disability living allowance and employment and support allowance (ESA).

The consultation document claims advice on benefits appeals is available from other sources, including charities such as Disability Alliance (DA), the Child Poverty Action Group and Age UK.

But DA has already written to the MoJ, saying the claims are “factually incorrect and extremely misleading”.

Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, says in the letter: “The implication that charities like Disability Alliance are available to help people in the advent of legal aid cuts misrepresents the reality [which is] that we do not provide such support.”

He adds: “We are particularly concerned that ministers are made immediately aware that potential changes to legal aid and reductions in support simply cannot be met by small charities such as Disability Alliance – despite the statement included in the consultation.”

Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the planned cuts were “appalling”, and pointed to the huge numbers of successful appeals being made by disabled people whose ESA claims have been rejected.

She said the cuts would have a severe impact on disabled people, including disabled children fighting for their right to support at school.

She added: “Legal aid is already pared to the bone – it is already extremely difficult to get legal aid. This will have a profound effect in denying people access to justice.”

The National Aids Trust also said it was “extremely disappointed” at the proposals to cut legal aid for employment cases, just weeks after the new Equality Act came into force and gave disabled people new protection from workplace discrimination.

The charity also expressed concerns about the cuts to legal aid for benefits advice.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government’s social care ‘vision’ is ‘good in parts’

Disabled people’s organisations have given a mixed reaction to the government’s new “vision” for adult social care.

As part of his new “vision”, care services minister Paul Burstow announced plans to speed up the personalisation of care and support, and pledged to examine how to provide greater “portability” of disabled people’s care assessments.

Burstow said he wanted everyone eligible for ongoing social care to be receiving a personal budget – preferably by receiving direct cash payments – by 2013, even though surveys suggest only about 20 per cent of those eligible are currently receiving them.

The previous target was for at least 30 per cent of eligible social care-users to have a personal budget by April 2011.

Burstow said personal budgets – which allow the recipient to choose how to spend their allocated budget to meet their own care needs – can make “an incredible difference to people’s lives” and give them “choice, control and independence”.

The new document – A Vision for Adult Social Care: Capable Communities and Active Citizens – says the government will also consider how to make assessments more “portable”, which would allow disabled people to move to a new area without having to be reassessed on their needs by their new local authority.

And it places a strong emphasis on “rehabilitation” and preventing “dependency”, and pledges to “break down barriers between health and social care funding”.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the document was “good in parts” with “a lot of good stuff about personalisation, a lot of good stuff about supporting people to use direct payments”.

But she said she was concerned that its emphasis on rehabilitation and prevention was more about “trying to prevent anyone costing us any money”.

She said: “The language tends to suggest that those with higher support needs are really a bit of a pain in the neck and are failures as far as the social care system is concerned.”

And she said it did not make sense to just have portability of assessment –rather than of people’s entire care packages – and that the government clearly failed to understand “why we need complete portability”.

Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager, said the document was “helpful”, as was its “commitment to give disabled people greater choice and control over their care and support”.

But she said the government needed to do more to recognise user-led organisations as “equal partners in bringing about change” and to provide “sustained and adequate funding for independent information, advice, advocacy and support”.

She also welcomed the reference to the need for portability – an issue RADAR has “fought long and hard for”.

Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, welcomed the emphasis on personalisation but said helping disabled people to have more choice and control “cannot be done on the cheap” and was being endangered by the government’s programme of spending cuts and its plans to break up public services.

The government’s “vision” will be followed next year by reports from the Law Commission on reforming social care law and the commission on social care funding, with a social care white paper to follow next autumn, and new laws in 2012.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com