Peer’s portability bill would set right a ‘fundamental wrong’

A new bill that would put right “one of the most fundamental wrongs in the social care system” has been introduced by a disabled peer.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell’s social care portability bill received its first reading in the House of Lords this week.

Her private members’ bill would provide continuity of support for disabled people who choose to relocate to another local authority area in England or Wales.

The bill would place duties on councils to work together to ensure disabled people have equivalent care and support in place when they arrive at their new home, rather than having to renegotiate their package from scratch.

Baroness Campbell said: “We all have a human right to move home around the country, to be close to family and friends or a job, university and so on.

“Or so I thought, until I tried to move 22 years ago. It was then I found out that thousands of disabled and older people who receive social care support do not enjoy this same right.”

She said her bill would put right this “fundamental wrong”.

The government has signalled that it wants to see greater “portability of assessment” – which it again confirmed this week – but this would only ensure that disabled people do not need to be reassessed when they relocate and not that they would secure the same level of support in their new home.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the need for portability was “a fundamental point of principle”.

She said: “It is really time this was corrected. I challenge the government not to support this.”

But she said she was concerned that the bill’s principles could clash with the government’s push for “localism” – more decisions taken at local level – even though they fit in well with David Cameron’s “Big Society” agenda and his party’s call for people to support each other in their communities.

Bott said the new bill would help disabled people take up job opportunities, and make it easier for older people to move closer to their families, reducing the money councils need to spend on support.

RADAR, which has supported Baroness Campbell with her bill, also welcomed its publication.

Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, said: “Making portability rights a reality would enable disabled people to pursue work or education opportunities, or allow them to live nearer family and friends for greater security and support.”

In her review of disability employment support for the government, published earlier this month, Sayce said the lack of portable social care was a key barrier to employment for disabled people.

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National competition will set disabled pupils on road to Olympic Park

Disabled children are set to enjoy new sporting opportunities at school, both in inclusive versions of mainstream events and in high quality competitions against other disabled young people.

Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, announced plans this week to boost the participation of disabled children in sport.

He was speaking at one of nine pilot events taking place ahead of this September’s launch of a new national School Games competition, which will include both non-disabled and disabled pupils from schools across England.

Hunt said that participation rates of disabled children in competitive sport will be measured for the first time; there will be information and guidance for teachers and coaches on how disabled and non-disabled pupils can participate alongside each other in inclusive versions of mainstream sports; and 50 “trailblazing” schools will pioneer new ways to develop sporting opportunities for disabled pupils.

The new School Games will see pupils compete at school level, against other schools, and in county or regional finals, with the first national finals set to be staged in the 2012 Olympic Park next May.

Disabled pupils will compete next May in swimming, athletics, table-tennis and wheelchair basketball, with the possibility of events in sitting volleyball and wheelchair fencing.

Alison Oliver, director of sport for the Youth Sport Trust (YST), the body delivering the School Games for the government, said the competition was “a great opportunity to raise awareness among able-bodied young people of the abilities of their disabled peers”.

There will be no events at the national finals with disabled and non-disabled children competing side-by-side because “most of the inclusive formats are not well-enough established”, although Oliver said this was something they hoped to try in the future. But events for disabled pupils will be integrated into the mainstream programme.

Because most schools will not have enough disabled pupils to make up their own teams in sports such as wheelchair basketball, YST hopes mainstream schools will enable their pupils to join with disabled children from other local schools in teams based at central venues.

Oliver said the efforts to boost participation among disabled children would be “a challenge” but was “not an impossibility”.

She said: “It is not going to happen overnight but we have the best opportunity we could ever have, with the resources and the intent there.”

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals, told Disability News Service: “With the [London] Paralympics just a year away it is a really massive opportunity to get it right in a positive way.”

But she added: “It is really challenging. Sport is probably one of the hardest things to deliver inclusively. It is really complicated.”

She said sport was the only thing that segregated education was good for, because there were always other disabled children to compete against, but it was much harder to include disabled pupils in sport in mainstream schools.

And she warned there would be a need for greater depth to competitions for disabled young people, so non-disabled children could see the standard was “really strong as well so they take disability sport and Paralympic sport really seriously”.

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Cameron’s constituent appeals for help after ‘inhuman’ Atos treatment

One of the prime minister’s disabled constituents has issued a personal plea for his help, after he was forced to appeal for the third time against an unfair and inaccurate assessment of his ability to work.

David Cameron promised to write to his own ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after Chris Caudle told him how he was treated during three work capability assessments (WCAs) carried out by “healthcare professionals” employed by Atos Healthcare.

Atos has been subjected to a sustained and angry protest campaign from disabled activists over the poor quality of its work and the generosity of its contract with the DWP.

Caudle, who has to take morphine three times a day to deal with the pain of ankylosing spondylitis, told the prime minister at his constituency surgery last week that he was now waiting for his third appeal against the outcome of a WCA in as many years.

He has already won two appeals, and is so angry at the treatment he has received from Atos that he is considering legal action.

The first time Caudle was assessed, for a new claim for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for incapacity benefit – he was found fully fit for work.

Caudle won his appeal, and was one of the small number of disabled people placed in the “support group”, for those whose barriers to employment mean they do not have to carry out any work-related activity.

At his next WCA, he was forced to walk a quarter of a mile in agony from a car-park to the assessment centre, because he was told he could not park outside the building.

The journey took him 90 minutes and by the time he arrived at the centre he was “crying with pain”.

Caudle says he was only asked one question during the assessment – to confirm his name – and was subsequently placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), for those expected to prepare to return to work. Again he appealed successfully, and was placed back in the support group.

This year, he was called in for a third WCA and again placed in the WRAG. He has been told he may now have to wait until November to have his latest appeal heard.

Meanwhile, his benefits have been cut by £19.65 a week and will not be reinstated and backdated to the full amount until he wins the appeal. The previous two reductions in his benefits while he was waiting for appeals have destroyed his credit rating.

Caudle, from Eynsham, near Oxford, said the treatment he has received from Atos has been “inhuman”.

He said: “They don’t care how you feel when you get there. They don’t offer any help if you are in pain.

“They are almost like a production line. The doctors there just sit at the keyboard, typing.

“Every time I think, ‘why have they put me through all this pain and agony just to sit there?’ Every time I feel degraded.”

Susie Drohan, manager of Oxfordshire Welfare Rights (OWR), said the WCA was clearly “not fit for purpose” and was producing a “revolving door” of disabled people moving from assessments to appeals and back to assessments.

The organisation has a 96 per cent success rate for appeals against the outcomes of claims for ESA, she said.

Nick Turnill, an OWR case worker, who has supported Caudle, said: “Chris is a severely disabled man who is caught up in a process that is inflexible and, as presently constituted, not fit for purpose.”

Caudle said the prime minister concluded that Atos was “not carrying out the procedures as they should be carried out”.

He added: “You could see by his face that he was concerned. He seemed as though he wanted to do something about it.”

A DWP spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases, but that the review of the WCA by Professor Malcolm Harrington would make it “a fairer and more effective assessment” and reduce the number of appeals.

He said that a successful appeal “does not necessarily mean that the original decision was inaccurate”, because claimants often “produce new evidence” for their appeal.

And he said the DWP was also introducing measures to reduce appeal rates, which have been endorsed by Harrington.

An Atos spokeswoman said: “We definitely would not comment on individual cases.”

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Cram faces anger over Atos 2012 ambassador role

The TV presenter and former Olympic athlete Steve Cram is facing calls from disabled activists to step down as “ambassador” for the company that carries out controversial “fitness for work” tests for the government.

Cram – a former middle distance world record-holder and world championship gold medallist and now a BBC athletics commentator – has been named as UK ambassador for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by Atos Origin.

Atos Healthcare, a division of Atos Origin (AO), has attracted repeated criticism and angry protests – including another this week outside AO’s central London headquarters – over the way it carries out work capability assessments (WCA) of disabled people seeking out-of-work disability benefits.

Activists say Cram has betrayed his support for the Paralympics by representing Atos, and are particularly angry that he has refused to respond to his disabled critics and explain his position.

The campaign is being hosted by The Virtual Gherkin, a Facebook group that supports people to share information about government cuts, and enables them to have their voices heard if they cannot attend demonstrations, marches and actions.

A spokesman for The Virtual Gherkin said hundreds of people had already backed the campaign, and added: “We don’t know his reasons for accepting the ambassadorship, but it is offensive that he has done it.”

Campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts has written to Cram and his agent, expressing “surprise” at his decision to become an Atos ambassador, and briefing him on the ongoing campaigns against its work for the government.

The letter adds: “Bearing in mind the increasingly voluble and angry voices of disabled people and their allies, we wonder if being an ambassador to Atos is worth the disappointment of the public and loss of the reputation you would have built over the years.”

Only last month, three Atos Healthcare executives were asked by a committee of MPs to explain why their organisation was so “feared and loathed” by disabled people.

Adam Wheatley, managing director of Mission Sports Management, the agency that represents Cram, said the WCA was “not something that Steve Cram is involved with”, as his “remit is to work on the Olympic marketing, highlighting the importance of the work that Atos Origin does in providing the results information for the global media services during the Olympics”.

Wheatley declined to comment when asked whether Cram shared campaigners’ concerns about Atos, if he was aware of the campaign, or whether he thought he should resign as an ambassador.

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Competition will seek new ‘apps’ for access

Software developers are being challenged to design new mobile phone applications that would improve the lives of disabled and older people across Europe.

The competition is being organised by the European Disability Forum (EDF), the older people’s network AGE Platform Europe, and the mobile phone company Vodafone.

Entrants can compete for a share of a prize fund of 200,000 euros, with awards for the best smartphone application in the four categories of independent living; mobility; wellbeing; and access to the internet and social media.

Vodafone has said it will work with manufacturers and distributors to ensure the four winning applications are loaded onto mobile phones before they are sold.

Rodolfo Cattani, an EDF executive member, said: “Communication technologies are vital to making the inclusion of people with disabilities possible.

“When mobile apps are not accessible, it can create new obstacles and can lead to new forms of discrimination.”

Labour MEP Richard Howitt, vice-president of the European Parliament’s disability rights group, who helped launch the awards in Brussels, said: “There are so many different apps available on the market, so why not some for improving the lives of disabled people too?”

EDF, AGE Platform Europe and Vodafone will select 12 finalists, who will present their applications in Brussels in December, where the four winners will be chosen.

The closing date for entries to the Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards is 15 October.

Meanwhile, EDF, the European Blind Union (EBU), AGE Platform Europe and the European consumer organisation ANEC have launched a new campaign to improve access to websites, particularly those in the public sector.

In 2008, a European Commission study found that 95 per cent of government websites were inaccessible.

The commission is due to present proposals by the end of 2011 that would ensure that public sector websites and those providing “basic services to citizens” are fully accessible by 2015.

But Lord [Colin] Low, EBU’s president, said these proposals must be “robust”, and added: “It is time to move from words to deeds; we have seen countless declarations, resolutions and communications on this issue over the last 10 years – it is now time to act.”

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BBC faces fresh anger over assisted suicide ‘bias’

The BBC is facing mounting anger over its coverage of the assisted suicide debate, after it emerged that it has broadcast five pro-legalisation documentaries and drama-documentaries in less than three years.

In that time, the broadcaster has failed to produce a single documentary or drama-documentary from the viewpoint of those opposed to a weakening of the law on assisted suicide.

Disabled campaigners spoke out again over alleged bias at the BBC after the screening of the latest programme, a documentary fronted by the author Sir Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer’s disease and is a vocal supporter of legalising assisted suicide.

Pratchett failed to interview any disabled opponents of legalisation, but instead talked to three disabled people who were in favour of changing the law, including two who had decided to end their lives at the notorious Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

The documentary followed one man with motor neurone disease to the clinic, where Pratchett watched him take his own life with the assistance of Dignitas staff.

Pratchett is one of the funders of the Commission on Assisted Dying, which is chaired by Lord Falconer – a fellow supporter of legalisation – and was set up by the pro-assisted suicide charity Dignity in Dying. Up to nine of the 12 commissioners have previously supported changing the law.

So far, the BBC has received 301 comments of “appreciation” about the Pratchett documentary, but 1,219 complaints.

Since December 2008, the BBC has screened a string of programmes with a similar theme: an edition of Panorama fronted by the assisted suicide campaigner and MSP Margo MacDonald; a docu-drama about the Dignitas death of another assisted suicide campaigner, Anne Turner; the Dimbleby Lecture delivered last year by Pratchett; and an edition of the BBC’s Inside Out, in which journalist Ray Gosling made a false confession that he had helped a former lover to die.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, convenor of Not Dead Yet UK, a disabled people’s organisation that campaigns against legalisation, said the BBC’s bias was “too strange to be true”.

She said she believed there must be executives at the BBC who were “signed-up members of Dignity in Dying”.

She added: “Someone is influencing the BBC, otherwise we would have had more balance; at least one programme.

“We know that there are many of us and many organisations that have written to the BBC and so have high-profile senior people, who have said: ‘This is outrageous, what is going on?’”

Baroness Campbell and two fellow peers, the barrister Lord Carlile – an expert on penal reform and security issues – and the pro-life campaigner Lord Alton, this week wrote to the BBC’s director-general, Mark Thompson, and the chair of the BBC Trust, Lord [Chris] Patten, to protest at the lack of balance on the issue.

The Care Not Killing alliance, which also campaigns against legalisation, called on the health and culture secretaries to carry out an “urgent investigation into the way assisted suicide is covered by the BBC and its link to English suicide rates”.

The alliance said the latest documentary breached international guidelines on the portrayal of suicide, and warned of a “real risk” of “copycat suicides”.

A BBC spokeswoman said there was “clear editorial justification” for the inclusion of the Dignitas death, which “does not encourage suicide and does not breach BBC guidelines”.

She said: “The BBC doesn’t have a stance on assisted suicide, but we do think that this is an important matter of debate.”

She later claimed that the documentary “was not a pro-assisted death programme” but “a documentary about people’s personal experiences”.

She said: “We do not commission programmes based on agendas, so it would be completely against all BBC policy to commission a programme just because it was a pro or anti look at a specific agenda.”

And she said it would be “absolutely physically impossible” for one person at the BBC to be able to promote such a pro-assisted suicide agenda.

But she was unable to explain – despite repeated requests – why there had been five BBC pro-assisted suicide documentaries and drama-documentaries since late 2008, and none representing the views of opponents of legalisation.

When asked about the alliance’s call for an investigation, a Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesman said: “It is a matter for the BBC and the BBC Trust.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health (DH) – which is currently working on a new national suicide prevention strategy – said it was a matter for the DCMS or the Ministry of Justice, and added: “I don’t think there is anything DH can do about it.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was for the DCMS to comment.

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Queen’s birthday honours: Award for LGBT activist ‘sends message to community’

A veteran disabled lesbian activist says her recognition in the Queen’s birthday honours has sent an important and positive “communication” to the disabled lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Kath Gillespie-Sells, who founded the disabled LGBT organisation Regard in 1989 and ran it for more than 10 years from her London home, has been awarded an MBE for services to disabled LGBT people.

When she founded Regard, she said, disabled LGBT people were “falling between two camps”, neither accepted by the disability movement nor by the LGBT community.

She believes she has been recognised for her work in bringing those two communities together.

She said: “The most important thing I have done is get them to move out of their own comfort zone and look at the other issues and become more encompassing of other people’s issues.”

At the time she founded Regard, she said, many disabled people sadly “felt they had only just got recognised and the last thing they wanted was to lose favour” by raising LGBT issues.

On one occasion, she said, Regard “hijacked” a British Council of Disabled People conference and forced them to “talk about lesbians all day”.

Regard, she said, has pointed out that all disability issues have a “particular impact that is different” on disabled lesbians and gay people.

But despite the progress that has been made, she said Regard still needs to keep pushing for stronger rights.

She said: “All so-called minority or marginalised groups, when you think you have arrived, don’t ever assume that you have. Just keep your guard up and keep moving forward and reminding people, because it’s easy to slip back.”

Although she said she never goes anywhere “without all barrels blazing”, she is also “welcomed in most places”.

She said: “When I have had to chain myself to railings, I have, but good common-sense problem-solving with tea and biscuits wherever possible is much better.

“When that doesn’t work and you have whole institutions working against you, you do have to take a much harder line.”

Gillespie-Sells, who has three sons and became a grandmother for the first time this year, said she believed that her MBE would “open doors” and provide “a little bit of extra clout”.

Now semi-retired, she still works part-time as an equality consultant and as a psychotherapist, as well as working “in the background” for Regard. She is also the co-author of books such as The Sexual Politics of Disability and She Dances to Different Drums.

And she pushes hard for better access at live music venues when she travels to watch performances by her son, Dan Gillespie-Sells, the lead singer of the pop group The Feeling.

She believes that her MBE represents real progress for the disabled LGBT community, and hopes that it could lead to other members receiving such honours.

She said: “I do think it is a recognition, a communication to our world, to our community.”

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