Norfolk’s poorest disabled people ‘face massive fall in living standards’

The 90,000 poorest disabled people in Norfolk could see their standard of living plunge by more than a third due to government and council cuts and reforms, according to research for a disabled people’s organisation.

The research for Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP) says the reduction will come through falls in both income and support services, and blames government cuts and tax and welfare reforms, and cuts to services planned by Norfolk County Council.

Mark Harrison, NCODP’s chief executive, described the cuts and reforms as “completely disproportionate and inevitably discriminatory” and said the report shows disabled people are being “scapegoated for a crisis which we had no part in creating”.

NCODP is now consulting a barrister about possibly seeking a judicial review of the council’s planned spending cuts.

Harrison warned that the cuts faced by disabled people in Norfolk were being mirrored across the country, although other councils had been less open and honest than Norfolk County Council about their plans.

He added: “It exposes the arrogance of the coalition government and our minister for disabled people who is claiming these savings can be achieved without affecting people’s lives, which is complete nonsense.”

The research, by economist Dr Chris Edwards, estimates that the 45,000 people in Norfolk on working age disability benefits will lose an average of £526 a year.

Of £136 million cuts in services planned by the county council over the next three years, about £45 million will “directly and exclusively” affect disabled people, leading to an average loss of £476 per year in services for 31,500 disabled people receiving adult social care services. They will also be affected by other council cuts.

The report also points to the increase in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent, which it says will mean a loss of about two per cent of income for the poorest 50 per cent of disabled people.

Edwards says other research suggests that – adding in other cuts – the 90,000 poorest disabled people in Norfolk will lose about nine per cent of their standard of living a year for the next four years, or more than a third in total.

A Norfolk County Council spokeswoman said they did not agree with how their figures had been interpreted, and that the £45 million cuts would not all “translate into direct frontline service cuts or like-for-like costs that will be absorbed by the people who use our services”.

David Harwood, the cabinet member for adult and community services, said the council had “done our best to protect and maintain services for the most vulnerable people in Norfolk” and tried to limit the impact on “front line services” by “suggesting changes to the way we work and provide services, and by proposing efficiencies”.

He said no final spending decisions had yet been taken.

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DPOs ‘must be given platform to play part in Big Society’

The government must do more to recognise the value of small disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) as it develops its plans for a “Big Society”, according to an alliance of disability organisations.

Disability LIB, which provides support to help DPOs boost their performance, says the government must also ensure that its Big Society initiatives are inclusive and accessible to disabled people and their organisations.

Disability LIB was responding to a consultation from the government’s Office for Civil Society on how it should fund advice and support for charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups in England.

Stephen Lee Hodgkins, director of Disability LIB, said the government must ensure that DPOs can compete with other organisations bidding to run public services – a key part of the coalition government’s Big Society agenda.

He said: “The DPO sector is quite small. The government needs to pay attention to how small local organisations are supported.

“A lot of them are facing closure and having their capacity knocked out of them – a lot of them are working hand-to-mouth.

“The cuts will devastate the sector unless these opportunities are made much easier for groups of disabled people.”

In its consultation response, Disability LIB says the government must recognise DPOs’ need for “core funding”, rather than just finance for particular projects, and it calls for incentives for large disability charities to work with DPOs.

Hodgkins said the Big Society programme – including the new public services (social enterprise and social value) bill – provided opportunities for DPOs to further their independent living and personalisation agenda.

But he said there was also a risk that smaller user-led groups would not be heard and their value would be ignored.

And he called on the government to invest in research that would prove that DPOs “added value” in areas such as equality, reducing isolation and promoting inclusion.

Disability LIB also calls in its response to the consultation for more focus on supporting existing DPOs, rather than replacing them with new user-led organisations set up from scratch.

There have been concerns that the harsh financial climate – and the previous government’s demand for there to be a user-led centre for independent living in every area by 2010 – has led to a string of established DPOs being forced to fold, often to be replaced by new user-led groups and consortiums.

Disability LIB told the government that it was “important in the future to build upon the expertise and knowledge of organizations which already exist and build their capacity and encourage their collaboration with others, rather than creating something from scratch”.

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Blood campaigners ‘angry and let down’ by government’s final offer

Disabled campaigners say they feel “angry and let down” by the government’s decision to offer only a slight improvement to the compensation it will pay survivors of the NHS contaminated blood disaster.

More than 2,000 people with haemophilia have so far died as a result of being infected with hepatitis C and HIV through contaminated NHS blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

Successive governments have resisted calls for more generous compensation and other measures to support survivors.

A review of the support available in England has ended with a government pledge to increase compensation for some of those infected by hepatitis C, at an estimated cost of between £100 million and £130 million over four years.

A report made it clear the decision not to make a more generous settlement was partly due to “affordability in the financial context of the current spending review”.

Mike Dorricott, a spokesman for TaintedBlood, the user-led group that campaigns for justice for those affected, said the package would help probably only one in five of those infected.

The package includes an increase in the one-off payments made to those with the most serious hepatitis C-related diseases, from £25,000 to £50,000, as well as a new annual payment of £12,800, to match the sum paid to those infected with HIV.

And all those infected with hepatitis C who are in “serious financial need” will be able to apply for discretionary payments for the first time.

Posthumous claims will also be allowed for the first time on behalf of those who died before 29 August 2003 after being infected with hepatitis C, but their dependants will only have three months to lodge a claim.

And those not already exempt will be able to ask the government to cover the cost of an annual prescription pre-payment certificate.

Dorricott said the “arbitrary” three-month deadline for dependants of those who died before 29 August 2003 was “disgraceful”.

He added: “There are some positives in the announcement but unfortunately they are very minor ones.”

Lord [Alf] Morris, whose contaminated blood private members’ bill is due to receive its second Commons reading on 11 February, called on the government to “meet the haemophilia community and listen again to its plea for a response that is more in keeping with the scale of the disaster”.

He made it clear to Disability News Service that he would not withdraw his bill, because the government’s announcement failed to meet the recommendations of the independent public inquiry set up by him and chaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell.

But Earl Howe, the junior health minister, told fellow peers: “We believe that this is a fair and reasonable package of support for these poor victims.”

And he added: “We do not intend to revisit it in the future.”

He said the government believed the deadline of the end of March “should be sufficient to enable those with a valid claim to come forward” because “on the whole…the victims’ families know who they are”.

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Government ‘should copy DPTAC, not scrap it’

The government should rethink the decision to scrap its accessible transport advice body and even set up similar committees in other departments, according to a disabled peer.

Lord [Colin] Low said the Department for Transport (DfT) had “lost its focus” on disability issues, and abolishing the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) would be a further backward step.

He told fellow peers that DPTAC was one of the first such bodies representing disabled people in which at least half of its members had to be disabled themselves, and that it had won over senior figures in the transport sector.

During discussion of the public bodies bill – which will give ministers powers to scrap organisations like DPTAC – Lord Low also called on the government to rethink its plans to abolish the Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board.

He said the board would have saved government “red faces” over the much-criticised plans to remove the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from most people in residential care.

He added: “Axing the body risks undermining the government’s ability to understand the benefit and provides ammunition to those who suggest that the government’s plans are unfair.”

The Labour peer Lord McKenzie said the government seemed to want to abolish DPTAC because it “has a degree of independence and takes forward areas of work that reflect its own priorities and not necessarily those of the government”.

And he questioned how the government could now ensure that disabled people’s voices were not “drowned out by those of transport providers”.

Other peers also called on the government to reprieve the two disability bodies.

But Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said he could “see no circumstances in which this would be desirable” because they “no longer reflect the world in which they operate”.

He said the DLA board had not been asked by the government to provide advice since November 2008 and had “outlived its useful life”.

He said that Equality 2025, the government’s advisory network of disabled people, was “well placed to provide personal insight into the effects of policy initiatives”, while the Office for Disability Issues now organises “a much wider range of channels from disabled people’s organisations and groups”.

But he admitted that abolishing the DLA Advisory Board would not save any money.

Lord Freud said access to transport had been “transformed” over the last 25 years, while disability equality was now a “core element” of the DfT’s work.

He said there would be a consultation on how to replace DPTAC “in the coming months”.

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Government’s justification for cutting benefit is ‘a myth’

The government’s justification for cutting a vital benefit from disabled people in residential care is “a myth”, according to a coalition of charities.

The government claims removing the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from an estimated 80,000 people in residential care – announced in October’s spending review – is justified because of an “overlap of public funds”.

It says people in residential care should already have all their needs provided for through the support packages bought by local authorities, and so do not need the extra funds provided by the mobility component.

But a coalition of 27 voluntary organisations – including the National Centre for Independent Living, RADAR, Disability Alliance and the Learning Disability Coalition – says new evidence they have collected destroys this argument.

In a new report, Don’t Limit Mobility – endorsed by social services directors and sent to MPs – the coalition warns that going ahead with the plan would “significantly restrict the ability of those in residential care to play an active role in their local community, be independent and maintain relationships with family and friends”.

According to its research, councils usually provide just “basic care” and do not factor in “the costs of individuals’ personal mobility or transport costs associated with visiting friends and family, going shopping or accessing local community and leisure facilities”.

A survey of 22 social care providers found not one of them received a council contribution towards the costs of such personal transport needs.

And in another survey for the report, all 100 disabled care home residents who took part said they needed their mobility component to “get out and about”.

More than 80 per cent who answered the question said cutting the mobility component would mean they would see much less of their friends and family.

Steven Colley, a care home resident from Essex, who uses his DLA to pay for a car through the Motability scheme, said: “I have freedom because of my mobility car to do what other people can do.”

The report says its new evidence proves councils are not meeting the mobility costs of people in residential care, despite the government’s claims.

Removing the mobility component, it says, would “simply transfer costs to already-stretched local authorities or will leave people without the vital support that they need”.

Without their DLA, the report says, many disabled people would be left with just £22 a week to cover all their personal costs, which would not be enough to meet their mobility needs.

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Campaigner’s call to arms on government’s ILF plans

A leading disabled activist has called for more disabled people to join the campaign to oppose the government’s “shocking and reckless” plans for the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

Kevin Caulfield, who chairs Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition against Community Care Cuts (HAFCAC), says the government’s plans for ILF are an attack on the right to independent living of disabled people with the highest support needs.

And he says the plans have caused “fear and concern” among ILF claimants.

Last month, Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, announced that ILF – the government-funded trust which helps 21,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently – would be closed permanently to new members.

The government also looks 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”.

HAFCAC has written to two local MPs, calling on them to oppose the government’s plans and question the reforms in parliament.

Caulfield wants disabled people across the country to take similar action and raise the profile of the fight to save ILF.

HAFCAC fears that disabled people who rely on ILF support will be forced into institutions and have to move away from their home local authorities.

In the letter, Caulfield says: “We fail to see, as more pressure is placed on non-ring fenced local authority social care budgets, how disabled people who are at high risk of isolation and exclusion from the rest of society will have the shortfall in financial resources met.”

Caulfield said the ILF claimants he had spoken to were “fairly resigned” to the government scrapping the fund after 2015.

He is now hoping to help persuade the Labour party to pledge to re-instate ILF if it regains power.

He said the government had promised to support those disabled people with the highest support needs, but its decision, soon after being elected, to “start attacking a fund that was specifically set up to meet the needs of that particular group of disabled people” was “really shocking and reckless”.

The letter has been sent to Andrew Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, and Greg Hands, the Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham.

Caulfield has asked both MPs to sign Labour MP Katy Clark’s early day motion 1231, which calls on the government to reconsider its ILF decision.

The letter – which can be adapted and used by other disabled campaigners – is due to be added to HAFCAC’s website this week, at

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Parking victory signals hope for fight against spending cuts

Disabled motorists who have won victories over two local authorities that scrapped free parking could inspire other campaigners fighting council spending cuts, says one leading activist.

City of Lincoln Council and Norwich City Council both removed free parking for holders of blue parking badges in some of their council-run carparks in 2009.

But disabled people complained that the councils had ignored the extra time it can take disabled people to park and shop.

Five disabled motorists from Norfolk have now forced Norwich council to rethink its decision, after threatening legal action under disability discrimination laws.

Last month, the council bowed to the pressure and introduced new reduced rates for disabled drivers, with an hour’s free parking for every hour they buy in the seven carparks at which charges apply.

The changes were seen as “reasonable adjustments” under the new Equality Act, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act in October 2010.

The victory followed that of Matt Smith, who took Lincoln council to court over its decision to scrap free parking for blue badge-holders. Lincoln council agreed to introduce a similar “buy one, get one free” concession.

The Norwich action was sparked by Helen Smith, who lives in the city and is director of policy and campaigns for the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise.

She said: “I am hoping that other councils up and down the land will now look at their policies.”

Smith described their success as “a small but notable victory” that she hoped would “set a precedent” in disabled people’s battle against spending cuts.

She said: “They may want to cut spending but a discriminatory policy is not the way to go. Parking or cutting people’s care, it all comes under the same banner as far as I am concerned.

“It is about time people realised that you cannot just stamp all over disabled people.”

She believes many other councils have carried out similar policies, and encouraged disabled people whose local authorities have scrapped free parking to contact Wake Smith and Tofields, the legal firm that acted for her and the other claimants in both Norwich and Lincoln.

The Norwich campaigners are now liaising with the council over possible compensation.

A Norwich council spokeswoman claimed the decision to change its parking fees last month was unconnected with the threat of legal action, and that the council altered them because of the new Equality Act.

She said the council had “consulted widely” with disabled residents and disabled groups before introducing the original changes to charges in 2009.

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Government gives some ground on equality duties

The government has been forced to strengthen some of the rules on how public bodies should promote equality, after its draft plans triggered a wave of protests from disabled activists and other equality campaigners.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) published draft regulations in August, describing how councils, health trusts and other bodies in England should work to eliminate discrimination and harassment and promote equality under the new Equality Act.

But critics said the plans – which described the “specific duties” public bodies would have to meet to comply with the act’s public sector equality duty – were an “enormous setback” in the battle for disability rights.

Now, following further fierce criticism during a consultation, the GEO has retreated in some key areas, although early reaction from disabled people’s organisations suggests disappointment at a failure to make more significant changes.

In its response to the consultation, the government says the regulations will now make it clear that public bodies will not be able to escape with setting just one equality objective every four years, but will have to “focus on their most pressing equality gaps”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had warned that the draft regulations would make it possible “for a public body to ignore the most serious inequalities in selecting its objectives”.

Among other changes, public bodies will now have to show exactly how they consulted with disabled people and other groups, “particularly when they are setting their equality objectives”.

The government had faced fierce criticism for watering down the current legal duty on public bodies to consult with disabled people about their equality plans.

But there will be no specific duty on public bodies to take equality issues into account in procurement, with many respondents describing this as a lost opportunity to use the spending power of government to make equality gains.

A specific procurement duty would have forced public bodies explicitly to consider disability and other equality factors in the £125 billion a year they spend buying goods and services from the private sector.

Marije Davidson, RADAR’s public affairs manager, said: “Whilst the government’s response has recognised some of our concerns, the changes are little more than a clarification and don’t go as far as we wanted.

“We’ll now have to make sure that when the duties start, we make the most of them so that the public sector does its bit to deliver disability equality.”

The government’s response to the consultation was published on the same day that the EHRC published guidance on how public bodies will be able to meet their obligations under the equality duty, which comes into force on 6 April.

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Disabled rail passengers still being left stranded

Disabled rail passengers are still being left stranded on trains and platforms because of continuing failures in the system set up to book assistance, says a new report.

Passenger Focus, the rail consumer watchdog, said there had been some improvements since its last survey of the Assisted Passenger Reservation System (APRS) in 2008, but the service was still “inconsistent”.

The watchdog warned that a failure to improve could lead to the industry failing disabled passengers during the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

The report says 71 per cent of “mystery shoppers” who tested the system were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” – an improvement of just three per cent since the 2008 survey – while 15 per cent were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied”.

In two per cent of journeys (six occasions), the passenger could not get off the train and had to travel to the next station. On five per cent of journeys, no staff were present to help the passenger board the train.

The survey also found staff were only prepared for the passenger’s arrival on 65 per cent of occasions, compared with 67 per cent in 2008.

Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus’s chief executive, said there were “too many instances of staff not being adequately trained, people being left stranded without help and, in some cases, not being treated in a decent or dignified way”.

The report calls on rail companies to ensure staff are adequately trained, passengers receive accurate information, and there is good communication between staff and with passengers.

Members of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners took part in the survey, which followed their own investigations into rail access.

Bobby Ancil, the Trailblazers project manager, said: “Our investigations show that delivery of [APRS] is patchy and that much work still needs to be done to ensure quality of service.

“We are still hearing of disabled travellers being left unable to board their train or leave at the appropriate station.

“The need for advance booking 24 hours ahead is also a major cause of frustration for active young people with disabilities – it denies them the chance to behave as spontaneously as friends and peers.”

The Trailblazers network is working with the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) to improve APRS.

ATOC said it would roll out an “improved passenger booking system” this summer, which will be tested by Trailblazers.

An ATOC spokesman said any APRS failures were “unacceptable” but the survey did not “properly reflect the real improvements” that had been made.

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EU ratification of UN convention is ‘major landmark’

Disabled campaigners say the European Union’s (EU) ratification of the UN disability convention will provide a huge boost to the lives of 80 million disabled people across its 27 member states.

Two days before Christmas, the EU became the first regional, inter-governmental body to sign up to an international human rights treaty when it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Belgium, which currently holds the EU presidency, had made ratifying the convention a priority.

The European Disability Forum (EDF), which had pushed for the EU to ratify the convention by the end of 2010, said it was a “significant landmark” and a “major policy shift toward enforcing human rights for all Europeans and putting disability on top of the human rights agenda”.

EDF said that all EU institutions would now have to “endorse the values” of the convention in their policies, while ratification should also lead to improved accessibility in the EU’s buildings, and its employment and communications policies.

Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF’s president, said: “The European Union has not only achieved a major step in its history, but it is also sending a positive signal to its member states that haven’t ratified the convention yet: it is now time to commit to the rights of persons with disabilities.”

There are still 11 EU member states that have not individually ratified the convention.

EDF said it was calling on the EU to ensure that responsibility for coordinating implementation of the convention was given to the European Commission’s secretary general, to ensure the treaty was “mainstreamed” throughout the work of the commission, the European Parliament and other EU institutions.

It also called for the EU to ensure that Europe’s disabled people’s organisations were involved in monitoring implementation.

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