Hopes still high for changes to welfare reform bill

Disability rights campaigners say they remain optimistic that changes can still be made to the government’s hugely unpopular welfare reform bill before it becomes law.

This week, the Commons committee that was examining the bill in detail finished its deliberations, with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat majority ensuring the reforms remained intact.

But four Liberal Democrat MPs have registered their unhappiness with proposed reforms to disability benefits – an important part of the bill – warning that they could “push thousands of disabled people into poverty”.

The four MPs – Andrew George, Mike Hancock, John Leech and Bob Russell – have signed an early day motion condemning reforms such as time-limiting the payment of contributory employment and support allowance and removing the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from people in residential homes.

They are also unhappy about plans to force people with permanently high support needs to undergo new assessments in order to claim personal independent payment, the proposed replacement for DLA.

A Liberal Democrat party spokesman said discussions were “ongoing” over “various concerns” around the measures on disability benefits, although he claimed there would “not be any broad brush changes” to the bill.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said he was not hopeful of any improvements to the bill before it leaves the Commons, but was optimistic that the “more independent-minded House of Lords” would make “significant changes”.

He said: “By the time the Lords have finished a more thorough analysis of the impact and we have further time for disabled people to make clear what the impact could be, when the bill returns to the Commons the government should be forced to make some amendments.

“I don’t think they will go far enough, but I think we are going to see a vastly different bill coming out of the Lords and there will have to be some level of change.”

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said she believed it was crucial to convince the Labour party to oppose the bill, as campaigners were “not making any headway” in persuading the party’s “upper echelons”.

But she added: “At first the Labour party were pretty much behind the welfare reform bill, but I do sense that that position is shifting. If Labour are going to vote for the bill it doesn’t really matter what anyone else does.”

She said she felt that Liberal Democrat MPs would back the bill because they wanted to reserve their opposition for other pieces of unpopular coalition legislation.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said he believed there was still an “opportunity” to secure changes to the bill.

He said this could be aided by recommendations expected later this year from the inquiry by the joint committee on human rights into the implementation of disabled people’s right to independent living.

He added: “I think the fact that more MPs are starting to question the policy direction of the disability reforms and spending cuts would indicate to me it is not too late.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Outdated system and underfunding are key barriers to personalisation

Disabled people are routinely having their human and civil rights undermined because of years of underfunding and an outdated care system, according to one of the authors of a groundbreaking new book on personalised support.

Supporting People: Towards A Person-Centred Approach has been written by service-users and those who work closely with them.

The book builds on evidence from the Standards We Expect project, the largest independent study so far of person-centred support, which was also published this week.

Professor Peter Beresford, one of the authors of the book, said that more and more people who needed social care support were not having their needs met or their rights respected.

He told an event held to launch the book and the study that service-users and others on the frontline of social care had told researchers that person-centred care should ensure the “power is with the person, not the organisation”, but the experiences of many of them had been “very different”.

Beresford, who chairs Shaping Our Lives, the national service-user and disabled people’s network, said the barriers in the way of proper person-centred support included the institutionalisation of long-term service-users, “tokenistic” and “ineffective” service-user involvement, the poor wages and other terms and conditions of care workers, and an over-reliance on unpaid carers.

Although there were “many examples of good practice” at local level, he said, the fundamental barriers preventing real personalisation were “many years of underfunding” and an “outdated” culture of means- and needs-testing of service-users.

He also warned that social care-users were increasingly being stigmatised as “dependant and scrounging”.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, the chief parliamentary and political adviser to Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, welcomed the report.

He said there was a need to “radically move away” from social care’s traditional “paternalistic approach”.

But he warned that the move towards personalisation was “being undermined by a shortage of funds”, while he was “very concerned” about the way that some local authorities had responded to public sector funding cuts.

He said that some disabled people in his home county of Norfolk had been transferred onto personal budgets while at the same time having their funding cut.

Among its findings, the study – which was led by service-users and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – found there had been too much discussion of the methods and techniques of personalisation, and not enough on how to achieve person-centred outcomes.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Big Society debate suggests opportunities and concerns

A disabled social entrepreneur has called on service-users to see the government’s “Big Society” agenda as an opportunity to “make stuff happen”.

Mark Brown, editor of the user-led mental health magazine One in Four, told a conference that the Big Society – which aims to make it easier for civil society to “shape and deliver” public services – was a “great opportunity for people with mental health difficulties”.

And he said it could lead to new ways for them to get involved and engaged in their local communities and “make stuff happen” that “we have wanted to happen for years and years”.

Brown told One in Four’s What Do We Do Now? conference that the Big Society agenda could provide people with mental health difficulties with the opportunity to “access different forms of support and activities” and secure “greater choice” with “new and exciting ways of working together rather than the state or charities providing something”.

Sarah Yiannoullou, manager of the National Survivor User Network, said people would agree with the idea of “more power and control and cohesiveness” under the Big Society, but she added: “There is a real concern: where is the responsibility and accountability and equality and how is that monitored and… regulated?”

Louise Whittle, a mental health service-user and activist, said she believed the Big Society was “a big con”.

She said: “We need alternatives, but frankly I would prefer the state to be doing it, not the private sector or voluntary sector.”

She said the Big Society was “an ideological attack on the state”, and added: “We should be fighting against that and putting forward our own ideas and not having anything to do with it because we will be part of the attack on the state.”

Dr Samantha Callan, who is chairing a review on mental health for the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank set up by the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, denied that the Big Society was “an ideological attack on the state”.

She said: “The state will never be able to do it all on its own. It is about the third sector and the private sector doing what the state can never do, getting into the niches… and working in a very bespoke way often.”

But Whittle warned that the Big Society could “drag us back to a Dickensian society where people have to go cap in hand to charities for help”.

Brown is also development director of the social enterprise Social Spider, which is writing a report for the NHS Confederation on what the Big Society means for people with mental health conditions.

After the debate, he said the Big Society agenda provided an opportunity to secure “a lot of things we have always wanted to happen”, such as putting communities in charge of the services they receive, and “more support for organisations we value greatly and that support us, that inspire us, that give us some of the things we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get”.

But he added: “The voluntary sector is suffering massive cuts. If any of this Big Society stuff is to work, the voluntary sector needs to be there.”

Peer’s bill would fast-track rights to portability

A disabled peer is set to introduce a private members’ bill that would ensure disabled people do not have to wait until 2015 for new legal rights around their care and support.

The government looks likely to give disabled people new rights to ensure some continuity of care when they move to a different local authority area, for example when they find a new job.

But Baroness [Jane] Campbell told fellow peers and MPs this week that disabled people could not wait until 2015 for the government to implement the social care legislation that could give them these new rights of “portability”.

The joint meeting of several all party parliamentary groups – including those on disability and social care – was discussing last week’s Law Commission report on the reform of adult social care law, which makes several recommendations on portability.

These include promoting co-operation between local authorities when a disabled person moves to a different area, and imposing a duty on the new authority to carry out an assessment of the person’s needs.

If the new local authority decides to provide a “significantly different support package” – the commission recommends – it would have to produce “a clear written explanation”.

Care services minister Paul Burstow welcomed the report’s emphasis on the importance of portability, although he made no specific pledge that there would be any such rights in the government’s social care bill.

The government is due to publish an adult social care white paper later this year, followed by a bill next May, but Burstow confirmed that the new laws would not come into force until April 2015.

Baroness Campbell told the meeting that she was “thrilled” to see portability mentioned in the Law Commission report, but she warned that “for many of us time is very pressing”, and that disabled people could not wait until 2015.

She said she had a private members’ bill on portability that was “ready to go”, and had been prepared in “a very collaborative way” and “fits in very well with the Law Commission report”.

She said that – with services and disability benefits being “cut and cut” – the ability to find work would be “very much central to many disabled people’s ability to participate and maybe even survive” in the current economic climate, and so they would need to be able to move quickly to new parts of the country, particularly to find work.

Baroness Campbell suggested that if her private members’ bill was to become law it could eventually be incorporated into the government’s new social care bill.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DisabledGo-Education goes from strength to strength

In 2007 DisabledGo launched its access guide and online recruitment service to

Further and Higher Education. By providing detailed access information to universities and colleges, DisabledGo’s aim was to provide the information needed to increase student choice and build a more inclusive workplace.

Since the launch of the very first education access guide to University of Portsmouth DisabledGo have provided detailed access information to over 135 institutions across the UK and Ireland, with 1 in 3 universities and 1 in 5 further education colleges taking part. Spread all across the UK almost every area of the UK now has a DisabledGo guide to either a local college or university.

The guides cover all services within a college or university, enabling students and visitors to find out what is accessible to their own specific requirements before they visit. They can check how far the car park is from the entrance, where the library is in relation to the main entrance, if there are lifts to access other floors, whether a hearing loop is fitted in the lecture theatres, whether information is available in alternative formats and in-depth information about accessible toilets.

Talking about the guide Michael Moss, Private Secretary to the Vice-Chancellor said,

“The detailed information compiled by DisabledGo – now linked to our website – is, we believe, of great benefit to all visitors to this University, and particularly those with disabilities.”

Four years on from the launch of DisabledGo-Education, the project is still growing in size with a staggering 20 new partners joining since January 2011. With the pressures on budget at the forefront of everyone’s mind it shows that institutions are prioritising disability and understand the importance of anticipatory, as opposed to reactive processes. DisabledGo’s involvement in the NUS ‘Access Challenge’ Campaign, which aims to promote the accessibility of student unions and encourage them to become more accessible, has also led to over 50 Student Unions being featured on www.disabledgo.com

If you would like more information about any College or university that is featured on www.disabledgo.com or if you would like to suggest institutions that you would like to see taking part please contact Rachel Felton, External Relations Manager, DisabledGo.

E: rachel.felton@disabledgo.com T: 01438 842710

New access website will open up London for 2012 and beyond!

If you want to find out about the disabled access at venues or attractions across the capital new website My Access London is for you.

Whether you’re a visitor or a Londoner the site is packed with information to over 17,000 venues, including major tourist attractions like the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, London Zoo and the O2 Arena. All have been visited and assessed in person so you have all the information you need to plan a trip, experience the 2012 Games or just enjoy the place you live.

The site which officially launches at the beginning of June has been entirely funded and developed by DisabledGo, in response to feedback from disabled people and partner London boroughs who wanted to see an access guide totally dedicated to London.

The website offers an unprecedented choice of personally surveyed access guides, standing by DisabledGo’s commitment to never publish self-assessed, non-verified information.   

The number of venues featured on www.myaccesslondon.com will significantly increase during 2011 in the build up to next year’s Olympic Games. In July alone, 2,000 additional venues will be added thanks to new partnerships with London boroughs. So visit www.myaccesslondon.com and take a look around, you don’t need to register and its totally free.

Our My Access campaign to promote and develop the site for 2012 and importantly beyond will launch in June. You can keep up to date with all the latest news by joining our Facebook page or following us on Twitter, or if you would like to get more involved get in touch with us directly!

If you would like more information about www.myaccesslondon.com please contact Rachel Felton, External Relations Manager. E: rachel.felton@disabledgo.com T: 01438 842710

Social care reforms ‘must deliver for disabled people’

The government will need to “deliver real results” for disabled people when it introduces new social care legislation next year, according to a leading disabled figure.

The Law Commission’s long-awaited report on the reform of adult social care law in England and Wales, published last week, recommended a “single, clear, modern statute and code of practice that would pave the way for a coherent social care system”, with “individual well-being” the basis for all social care decisions.

Law commissioner Frances Patterson QC told a joint meeting of several all party parliamentary groups, including those on disability and social care, that she hoped the report would lead to a “much more sustainable system of social care”.

Paul Burstow, the care services minister, welcomed the report’s emphasis on the principle of “well-being”, simplified duties around assessment and the importance of portability.

He said the report had provided a “fantastic platform on which we can build” but that it was too early to provide details on the “important question” of how the government would define disabled people’s basic minimum entitlements to services.

Mike Smith, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability committee and chair of the National Centre for Independent Living, praised principles underpinning the report, particularly “the assumption that the person is the best judge of their own well-being” and that decision-makers “should follow the views of the individuals”.

But he warned that many disabled people were not receiving the services they needed or having their basic human rights met, which would be “challenging for the government” when drawing up its legislation.

He told campaigners to “keep your fingers on the pulse” to “make sure they deliver real results for all the people who we are here to support”.

Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, the national disabled women’s charity, said she feared the government’s new legislation would be “a sleight of hand to take away traditional entitlements we have had since the beginning of the welfare state”.

And she asked what safeguards there would be to ensure the government’s emphasis on personalisation was “not used to deprive people of support”.

Burstow said the government’s reforms were “not about discarding existing entitlements” but about “clarifying and making clearer existing entitlements, making access to the system simple and more straightforward”.

He said local authorities had been gradually tightening eligibility for care services for “a number of years” and – without reform – every council in the country would eventually restrict care only to those with “critical” needs.

The government is due to publish a white paper later this year, which will draw on the recommendations of both the Law Commission report and the Dilnot report on the funding of long-term care. It is set to introduce an adult social care bill next May, which should come into force in April 2015.

Burstow also announced that the government had already accepted one of the Law Commission’s recommendations, to make it a legal requirement for all local authorities to have an adult safeguarding board.

Although all councils already have such boards – which provide multi-agency leadership on adult protection issues – the government said their effectiveness was “variable” and making them mandatory would send “a strong signal about their importance”.

Burstow also published a set of six “key principles” which the government believes must “underpin safeguarding”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government’s UN report ‘wilfully ignores’ spending cuts

A government report on how it is implementing the United Nations disability convention fails to include a single mention of how the coalition’s spending cuts and welfare reforms will undermine disabled people’s rights.

The draft version of the report – the first that will be submitted to the UN on the UK’s performance on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – was published this week by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI).

It describes measures that have been and are being taken across the UK on each of the convention’s articles.

But it skates over the brutal public sector funding cuts being carried out by the coalition government, and their likely impact on disabled people’s human rights, such as the right to live independently, have an adequate standard of living, participate in public life, and enjoy equal access to justice.

In the section on article 28, which describes disabled people’s right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, the report accepts that disabled adults in Britain are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty as non-disabled adults.

But it makes no mention of the impact of ever-tightening eligibility criteria for care services being introduced by local authorities, government plans to impose a one-year time limit on claiming “contributory” employment and support allowance (ESA) and cut spending on disability living allowance (DLA) by 20 per cent, or the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new members.

And there is no explicit mention of plans to remove the mobility component of DLA from disabled people in residential care.

Instead, the report says that the design of the new personal independence payment – which will replace DLA – will “include any subsequent changes to the mobility component of the DLA for people in residential care”.

There is also no mention in the report of the work capability assessment – which tests disabled people’s “fitness for work” and has led to widespread protests and campaigns around its unfairness. The assessment has been central to the welfare reforms introduced by both the Labour and coalition governments.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the government had “significantly undermined” the report by “wilfully ignoring” its own cuts agenda.

He said the cuts would impact on a string of convention rights across independent living, participation, freedom from abuse, access to information and health.

He added: “Most worryingly, the report makes no mention of the closure of the ILF or the numbers of disabled people who may lose DLA or ESA.

“These cuts will substantially undermine disabled people’s ability to live independently and be included in the community.”  

In some parts of the report, the government accepts there is work to do on disability rights.

On article 13, access to justice, the report says disabled people are “less likely than non-disabled people to think that the criminal justice system is fair… a challenge which the UK is determined to overcome”.

On article 19, living independently and being included in the community, the report accepts that nearly one in four disabled people “believe that they do not frequently have choice and control over their lives”.

And on article 27, work and employment, the report admits that “disabled people in the UK currently face a variety of challenges in getting and keeping a job”, with the employment rate for disabled people in the last quarter of 2010 across Britain at 46.8 per cent compared with 70.6 per cent for non-disabled people.

The UK Disabled People’s Council is leading a project – Disability Rights Watch UK – to compile a separate, independent report to the UN based on evidence from disabled people and their organisations, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission will also submit reports to the UN.

Stephen Thrower, head of the ODI’s UN convention and international team, said its report followed UN guidelines and had to “cover a lot of ground in a limited space”, providing a “fairly high-level snapshot” of progress on implementation.

He said: “Feedback will influence the final document, and we may include information that isn’t in the draft.

“Views will also inform a new government disability strategy to drive equality and implementation of the convention.”

The deadline for submitting comments on the draft report is 20 June.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Mobility Roadshow – plan your visit today

The Mobility Roadshow 2011 will soon be welcoming thousands of visitors to the East of England Showground, Peterborough over three days: 30th June, 1st and 2nd July.

It is a much looked forward to event every year; an excellent opportunity to see, try out and compare a wealth of new ideas, products and services – as well as enduring classics – to help those of us who have a disability to be more independent.  

One of the British soldiers who provided inspiration for the birth of the charity Help for Heroes will officially open the event and is looking forward to sharing his experiences with visitors. Four years ago Private Derek Derenalagi lost both his legs in an explosion while on patrol in Helmand province; today he walks on two ‘bionic’ legs and is hopeful of a place in the GB Paralympics squad.

So that we all make the most of our visit the organisers are introducing a new virtual ‘personal shopper’ service, offering the opportunity to e-mail in advance with details of what we shall be looking for and receive in response a personalised list of relevant exhibitors. We really like this idea, as there is always so much to see and do.

There is also a new visitor Mobility Information Service at the event, providing a central hub of information, plus informal ‘Meet the Expert’ sessions on topics that include Blue Badge and parking, assessment and adaptations and wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Each year this Roadshow is a showcase for new product launches. Already lined up for launch is Sirus Automotive’s up-front passenger version of its new Generation 2 Facelift Volkswagen Caddy.

To help you find your way, The Pie Guide is launching a disk format version of its TomTom and Garmin journey planner downloads customised for disabled drivers and their carers.

Cyclone Technologies is launching the world’s first upright functional electrical stimulation (FES) product for spinal injury rehabilitation. Also at Cyclone you will have the chance to see in action the revolutionary new ReWalk™ exoskeleton walking system for paraplegics, previewed on tv earlier this year.

A new exhibitor to the Roadshow is TerrainHopper, unveiling what the company describes as the first ‘truly off-road’ personal all terrain vehicle. Permobil launches a new wheelchair seating system and you can choose a bespoke colour scooter at Monarch Mobility. The new bike concept previewed last year by Mountain Trike Company will be released for sale.

In the expanded Sports Arena you can join Paralympian Colin Price and members of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team or try one of around a dozen different sports, dance and fitness activities.

Plus you can have your say on the design of mobility products, encourage children to join in the ‘Go Kids Go’ wheelchair skills, get in focus with the Disabled Photographers’ Society and find out about the new photography competition.

And above all, this is the best opportunity you will have this year to try out and compare hundreds of mobility products, scooters, trikes and cycles, discuss vehicle adaptations and conversions with experts and test drive a range of adapted vehicles from major motor manufacturers.

If you have a disability, this is your show – make the most of it and register now for free tickets at www.mobilityroadshow.co.uk or call 0845 241 0390.

MEPs back calls for international treaty on accessible books

A decision by MEPs to back calls for an international treaty that would make more books available in accessible formats has increased pressure on EU leaders to reverse their opposition to such an agreement.

Campaigners say that millions of blind EU citizens – and others with impairments such as dyslexia – face a “book famine”, with only about five per cent of books ever converted into formats such as Braille, large print or audio.

The European Blind Union (EBU) has campaigned for years for a binding international treaty – through the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) – that would ease the problem by allowing charities to make and distribute books in accessible formats and share them between countries.

Most WIPO member states support such a treaty, with a draft version that has been drawn up by the World Blind Union due to be discussed by a WIPO committee in Geneva next month.

The European Commission – the European Union’s executive body – and the leaders of its member states – the European Council – have so far opposed such a binding treaty and instead favour recommendations and voluntary licenses.

But members of the European Parliament have now agreed a resolution that calls on the commission to agree a WIPO treaty.

The resolution also reminds the European Commission and EU members of their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats”.

The resolution comes only weeks after the EBU co-hosted an event in the European Parliament to highlight the opposition of the commission and member states to the treaty.

Lord [Colin] Low, president of the EBU, said: “I am delighted that the parliament has so clearly demonstrated its support for a binding law at WIPO.

“I urge the council and commission, which negotiate on this matter, to listen to the parliament, which speaks for the EU’s citizens, and support a binding treaty when they go to Geneva this June.”

No-one from the European Commission was available to comment.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com