Website will be doorway for evidence on rights

A new website will collect evidence on how disabled people’s human rights are being breached, as part of efforts to monitor the UK’s implementation of the new UN disability convention.

Disability Rights Watch UK aims to bring disabled people and their organisations together to build up a picture of disabled people’s lives.

The information will be used to compile a report to the UN’s disability committee, outlining where the UK is failing in its implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but also showing any good practice.

The report will be submitted to the UN next year, alongside others to be written by the government’s Office for Disability Issues and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Experiences submitted to the website could include harassment; barriers to justice, independent living or employment; and abuse, degrading treatment or even loss of life.

The UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) project is funded by Disability LIB, which focuses on building the capacity of disabled people’s organisations.

Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, said that monitoring its implementation was “the cornerstone of the convention”.

He said: “What we are looking to do is to see how close we are in the UK to realising the everyday rights of disabled people.

“We want to highlight areas where there are blatant failures or unexpected failures.

“It is also important for us to hear about good practice so that we can share that, but we know that the reality of everyday life is that disabled people experience far more breaches of rights than positive experiences.”

He said the findings would also be useful in showing the government the impact its policies – including those announced in the spending review – were having on disabled people.

He pointed to policies such as closing the Independent Living Fund to new members and capping housing benefit, and the impact they would have on convention rights such as Article 19, which deals with living independently and being included in the community.

He said he also expected to hear a lot of evidence around disability hate crime.

Dhani also called on the government to provide long-term funding that would allow UKPDC to monitor the convention effectively once Disability LIB’s short-term funding had expired.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, which is supporting the project, said: “We know that human rights are best promoted and protected through being used.

“This new project provides a direct way for disabled people to tell government what life is really like in the UK and ensure it lives up to its obligations in the convention.”

To take part in the project, visit:

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Boyle’s disablist jokes put Channel 4 in firing line again

Channel 4 has again come under fire from disabled activists, after allowing a high-profile comedian to tell offensive, disablist “jokes” about the son of model Katie Price in his comedy show.

Campaigners say Channel 4’s refusal to remove the jokes from Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights casts fresh doubt on the decision to grant it the UK licence to broadcast the 2012 Paralympics.

The broadcasting watchdog OFCOM launched an investigation after Price – whose son Harvey is disabled – submitted a complaint through her lawyer. She has also complained to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The latest incident will be among those discussed at a consultation event being held by the EHRC early next year – to which Channel 4 will be invited – as part of its inquiry into disability-related harassment.

Boyle, who is known for his offensive material, “joked” with his live audience that Price and her former partner were “fighting each other over custody of Harvey, although eventually one of them will lose and have to keep him”.

Boyle then went on to make another joke about Price and her son, which is too offensive to repeat.

The row comes less than four months after leading disabled activists wrote to Channel 4, accusing it of breaching the UN disability convention by referring to disabled people as “freaks of nature” in a trailer for a Paralympics documentary.

And in May, OFCOM condemned the use of offensive, disablist language by Davina McCall and Vinnie Jones on Channel 4’s show Celebrity Big Brother’s Big Mouth.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council and one of those who wrote to Channel 4 about the Paralympics trailer, said Boyle’s “jokes” would encourage disability hate crimes such as bullying and harassment.

He said: “The Frankie Boyle incident is disgraceful. Channel 4 should be ashamed.

“The latest example supports our view that Channel 4 does not understand what the issues are.”

Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of the LGBT disabled people’s organisation Regard and another of those who wrote to Channel 4, said: “This vile so-called humour is what fuels hate crime around the country. The real question is why Channel 4 allowed it to be broadcast.

“It is not enough to say that a comedian ‘has a go at everyone’; most comedians would condemn this as well.

“It is about time that the government asks why Channel 4 continues to be trusted with the Paralympic coverage when they also believe that describing disabled people as ‘freaks of nature’ in relation to sport is not only acceptable but ‘empowering’.”

Alison Walsh, Channel 4’s disability executive, said Boyle was “a master of saying the unsayable” and “confronting taboos”, and she claimed the jokes were satirical and aimed not at Harvey Price but at “media hypocrisy and celebrity culture”.

She said: “I don’t think there is any area that he leaves untouched. It’s satire. He takes it right to the line and then steps over it.”

She said the jokes had “gone through an editorial process”, and added: “I feel that everything in those shows I am prepared to defend. I am very well aware it will not be to everybody’s taste.”

She said the reason Channel 4 won the right to broadcast the Paralympics was because of its “brilliant and bold treatment of disability” over the years and because it was a company that would “take some risks”.

She added: “It was our record on disability that helped win the bid.”

But Dhani said: “It’s not pushing the boundaries, it’s going beyond the boundaries.

“You wouldn’t hear that kind of argument being applied to a comedian who used derogatory terms around race. It would not be tolerated. Why is it seen as pushing the boundaries when we are talking about disability?”

And he said the jokes were clearly aimed at Price’s son rather than her.

In a statement on her website, Price accused Boyle of bullying her son, and said Channel 4’s decision to broadcast the material showed “a complete and utter lack of judgment”.

A spokesman for her lawyers, Archerfield Partners, said: “The view we have is that Channel 4 are being discriminatory. They clearly feel that it is acceptable to do this with respect to disability when they would not do [it] about race or sexuality.”

OFCOM said it had launched an investigation after receiving a complaint from Price’s lawyers and “a number of other” people.

If found guilty of a breach of OFCOM’s broadcasting code, Channel 4 could face a heavy fine or be forced to broadcast an apology.

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Treatment of disabled protester raises fears for other activists

Campaigners say the treatment of an activist who was dragged across a road by a Metropolitan police officer raises serious concerns about the safety of other disabled people taking part in mass protests.

They have demanded that the police answer urgent questions about the treatment of Jody McIntyre, who was allegedly hit with a baton and twice pulled from his wheelchair during the student tuition fees protests in London.

Anne Novis, who until this summer was co-chair of the Met’s disability independent advisory group, said: “I have tried to make repeated contact with the [Met] on this issue and had no appropriate response to the seriousness of disabled people’s concerns.

“Police policies are quite clear that wheelchair-users are not to be treated like this. If they have to be moved then it should be done in their wheelchair.”

She said there was an urgent need for answers from the Met and the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) – the body that monitors and scrutinises the force – with many disabled people likely to take part in future demonstrations around government spending cuts.

Disabled activists who took part in a protest this week over housing benefit cuts said images of McIntyre seemingly being dragged from his wheelchair and across a road by a police officer had made them consider their own safety.

Maz, a wheelchair-user who took part in the housing benefit protest, said: “It was the first thing that was in my mind when I got up this morning. I’m scared, but I’m willing to get thrown to the floor and hurt.

“We have as much right to voice our concerns about these cuts as anyone else.”

McIntyre was widely interviewed across the media after the two separate incidents. YouTube footage strongly backed his claims that he had been tipped out of his wheelchair and dragged across a road by a police officer.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said no complaint had yet been made about McIntyre’s treatment.

But an EHRC spokeswoman said police forces facing such complaints would “have to demonstrate that their tactics were fair and proportionate”.

She added: “On a case-by-case basis, you would have to ask very serious questions about whether it was appropriate or proportionate to pull a disabled man from his wheelchair.”

A Met police spokesman said: “As a result of the media coverage, the [force’s] directorate of professional standards is investigating the circumstances surrounding this matter.”

Following that decision, McIntyre lodged a complaint with the Met over both incidents, and also alleged that his treatment amounted to disability discrimination.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is supervising the Met investigation.

Deborah Glass, the IPCC commissioner for London, said: “There is no doubt that this footage is disturbing and it is right that it should be thoroughly investigated, both for Mr McIntyre and in the wider public interest.”

An MPA spokeswoman said: “The MPA is aware of the incident and has been advised by the [Met] that they are conducting an internal investigation.”

But she declined to comment when asked what measures the MPA would be taking to ensure the safety of other disabled protesters.

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Death sentence hangs over ILF as doors are closed to new members

Campaigners have attacked the government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) permanently to all new applicants.

Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, announced this week that ILF – the government-funded trust which helps 21,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently – would no longer accept new members.

It also seems set to scrap ILF completely after the next election, after Miller said that running it as an “independent discretionary trust delivering social care” was “financially unsustainable”.

The announcement came as a Commons health select committee report said “unprecedented” efficiency gains would have to be made if levels of both social care and health services were not to be cut over the next four years.

ILF’s trustees announced earlier this year that it would be closed to all new applicants for the rest of 2010-2011.

But Miller told parliament this week that the government had decided that ILF – with a budget for 2010-11 of £359m – would “remain closed permanently to new applications”. She promised to “fully protect” its budget for current recipients until 2015.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the only “tiny crumb” of good news was that there had been fears that the government would close ILF completely and transfer its funds to local authorities.

She said: “This would have been a disaster because the existing recipients would have had no guarantee whatsoever of getting anything.”

But she added: “The chances of ILF still being around after 2015 are pretty remote and that has got to be a great concern.

“There is such a lack of understanding about the support that we need if we are going to live our lives as equal citizens on a daily basis.”

Debbie Jolly, a co-founder of the new campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The government, while undermining every right that disabled people have achieved, say they support disabled people – it is impossible to see how.”

Fellow campaigner Ian Burnip said ILF had allowed him to “develop and maintain key friendships with people from all walks of life, and live what society would deem a perfectly normal life”.

Lisa Egan, a disabled campaigner and co-founder of the Where’s the Benefit? blog, whose father receives ILF support, said: “My dad’s ILF is not only crucial to him living independently, it’s crucial to me. This decision is going to hurt a lot of people.”

The government will consult next summer – following the publication of the report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support – on “how best to continue to support existing users of the ILF…based on the principles of personalised budgets”, while “recognising the importance of the support that ILF users have built their lives around”.

But a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman declined to comment on whether the government saw a long-term future for ILF after 2015.

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Right to Control launch overshadowed by funding fears

Five areas have begun piloting a new scheme that should give disabled people more control over the support they receive from central and local government.

The Right to Control (RtC) aims to put money from funding sources such as disabled facilities grants, the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the Access to Work (AtW) programme, and council-funded support packages into single pots of money for disabled people to use as they wish.

But concerns have already been raised that the government’s programme of spending cuts could undermine the scheme before it has begun.

Under the RtC scheme, local authorities, Jobcentre Plus and disabled people’s organisations will work with disabled people to develop their individual support plans.

They will then be able to spend their allocated funding on whatever they think meets their needs, whether through direct payments or services commissioned on their behalf.

Five of the eight “trailblazing” areas – in Essex, Leicester, the London boroughs of Barnet and Newham, and parts of Surrey – started piloting the scheme this week. The other three will launch next year.

Ellen Clifford, interim director of the user-led Newham Coalition, a partner in the Newham trailblazer, welcomed the increased choice and control it would give disabled people in the borough.

Clifford added: “Through RtC we have been able to introduce the concept of co-production beyond social care to Jobcentre Plus and a broader range of council departments, which feels like a positive step forwards.”

But she warned that RtC’s potential benefits were being “overshadowed and seriously undermined” by government spending cuts.

When Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, visited the coalition’s offices for the RtC launch, she was warned that the job opportunities given to young disabled people as a result of the trailblazer were only possible through “proper investment in on-going support”.

Clifford said the government was “setting up Right to Control and the whole personalisation agenda to fail” by neglecting the “critical role” of state-funded support in protecting the rights of disabled people.

And she said the impact of RtC on people’s day-to-day lives could be “meaningless” if there was “nothing left to control”.

Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ECDP), which has been working on RtC in Essex, said the scheme should allow disabled people to access support without having to “keep telling other organisations the same details” by sharing their assessments, support plans and reviews.

Rich Watts, ECDP’s director of policy and development, said RtC would be of “great benefit to the individual and a benefit to the way in which services are provided”.

But he added: “The wider environment around cuts and the way in which the government is approaching disabled people risks undermining what is actually a very good idea.”

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Councils’ grants decision puts DPO at risk

A disabled people’s organisation (DPO) which provides advice and information on accessible transport in London is set to lose its main source of funding just three months before the capital hosts the 2012 Paralympics.

Transport for All (TfA) is just one of the disability organisations set to lose funding after a decision to scrap large parts of a London-wide grants programme.

Faryal Velmi, director of TfA, said she was “very, very angry” about the decision by London Councils (LC), which was agreed by leaders of London’s 33 local authorities this week.

LC will fund far fewer services under the grants programme, set up more than 20 years ago to address “social issues of London-wide significance”.

Only schemes that can “reasonably” be delivered on a London-wide basis will now be funded. Other services will be left to local councils to support, with nearly all of these projects losing their LC funding by the end of June 2011.

Some London-wide services – including TfA – will also lose their chance of future grants when their funding runs out, because of a new slimmed-down list of funding priorities, which does not include transport.

The grants programme will be cut from £26.4 million to £18.48 million in 2011-12, and is set to plunge to just £8 million in 2012-13.

Disability Law Service (DLS) is another disability organisation set to lose out under the LC plans.

In June 2011, it will lose funding for a project that provides disabled people with legal representation to take discrimination cases, although a DLS health and social care project has survived the cull.

Linda Clarke, director of DLS, said the loss of the funding was “very disappointing news” and the charity would now have to “assess our options”.

Velmi warned that the money being clawed back from LC by local authorities was unlikely to be used to replace the lost grants because it was not ring-fenced.

TfA receives £100,000 a year from LC – the bulk of its funding – and provides advice, information and training to 5,000 disabled and older Londoners a year, has set up the first pan-London mobility forum, and feeds back the views of disabled Londoners to transport providers.

But unless it can source alternative funding, it could be forced to close in the summer of 2012, just three months before the accessible transport infrastructure will come under huge pressure when London hosts the Paralympics.

A London Councils spokeswoman said that, when deciding which areas to continue funding, members had focused on those areas “most likely to have a positive impact on equalities”, while individual boroughs would also take equality issues into account when deciding which services to continue funding.

Protesters warn of bleak outlook on housing

Campaigners who protested this week over the government’s housing reforms have warned that the coalition’s “savage attacks” on housing benefits will cause increasing numbers of disabled people to become homeless.

A large group of disabled activists defied wintry conditions to stage the protest – organised by the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – in Trafalgar Square, London.

They say that cuts to housing benefit, a shortage of accessible social housing and other coalition reforms will force many disabled people to leave their homes and move to cheaper areas, abandoning their support networks, with no guarantee that their needs will be met if they have to move to a different local authority area.

Linda Burnip, one of the protest organisers, said she believed many disabled people would be left homeless by the cuts, and forced into bed and breakfast accommodation.

She said: “Together with the changes to disability living allowance, to the Independent Living Fund, and having to pay more towards care, I just don’t see how disabled people are going to be able to make up the shortfall in rent.”

Stephen Hodgkins, director of Disability LIB, which has supported DPAC, said the housing reforms and cuts were “of major concern to disabled people and their organisations”.

He said they would lead to many disabled people no longer being able to live independently and more of them becoming homeless.

And he said there was a danger that many people would not understand the “technical detail” of the reforms, even though they were likely to cause some “horrific situations”.

Sue Bott, another leading activist, who was at the protest as an individual, said she believed the reforms would “have an enormous impact on disabled people”, particularly those in private sector housing.

She said: “The government think disabled people are all occupying social housing very happily. They really don’t understand the issues at all.”

Another disabled protester, Belinda Washington, said she would probably be protected from the worst of the cuts as she had a council flat, but many other disabled people who had been forced into private sector housing “now have real problems”.

Fellow protester Adam Lotun said he feared disabled people would be forced into “ghettoes”, and added: “Having a roof over your head is a right. People are throwing their arms up in terror. Some people are saying, ‘I don’t know whether I am going to be living here next week.’”

Police who had heard about the protesters’ plans to use a donkey as part of a nativity scene had warned organisers that they would not be allowed to protest in Trafalgar Square for “health and safety reasons”.

The animal turned out to be a plastic donkey head on a short stick and police officers that were called to the protest allowed it to continue.

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