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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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