Protest demonstrates anger over council’s McDonald court win

Activists were set to stage a protest this evening over the treatment of a disabled woman denied the night-time care she needs by her local authority.

The Supreme Court caused outrage earlier this month when it ruled that Kensington and Chelsea council did not break the law by deciding to withdraw night-time support for Elaine McDonald, even though it had assessed her as needing that support.

The council’s decision meant McDonald would be forced to use incontinence pads at night, even though she was not incontinent.

The protest was set to take place outside Kensington and Chelsea’s town hall, while councillors were inside in a cabinet meeting.

Campaigners planned to deliver an open letter to the council, outlining their concerns about McDonald’s case and how she has been treated.

They are also angry that four male Supreme Court judges ruled against McDonald’s appeal, while only the female judge, Baroness Hale, ruled in her favour.

They say that male judges were “undermining a woman’s right to choose how she is helped with personal care” and that night-time personal assistance was “vital to many disabled people’s independence and safety”.

Jenny Hurst, personal budgets coordinator for Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea, one of the disabled people’s organisations taking part in the protest, said they had received support from across the country.

She said there was “real concern” about the council’s decision, and the precedent now set by the courts.

Hurst said that now the council had removed McDonald’s care during the night, there was nothing to stop other local authorities removing such support from disabled people during the day, or even forcing them to be tube-fed twice a day if they needed assistance with eating.

She said: “It is a real human rights issue. It is absolutely terrible for disabled people. Where does choice and control come into it? There is supposed to be a personalisation agenda.”

Claire Glasman, a spokeswoman for WinVisible, the disabled women’s organisation, which was also supporting the protest, said: “Many women feel we have contributed in all kinds of ways and should not be charged or rationed when it comes to needing some care services.

“There has been a fantastic response from all kinds of groups, not only disability groups but also people who feel they will need care in the future and that we need to be supporting each other.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government omits hate crime murder measures from sentencing bill

The government has failed to fulfil its pledge to end the glaring disparity between sentences for disability and other hate crime murders.

Someone found guilty of a race hate murder, or one based on hostility to religion or sexuality, faces a “starting tariff” – which could be increased or lowered due to other factors – of at least 30 years in prison.

But under schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, someone found guilty of a disability hate crime murder faces a starting tariff of just 15 years.

Last December, the Ministry of Justice published a green paper, Breaking the Cycle, which included a pledge to tighten the law on hate crime, including an examination of schedule 21.

Discussing the sentencing framework for murder, the green paper pledged to “replace the current list of groups which attract the statutory aggravating factor in sentencing for hate crime with a general aggravating factor where the offender demonstrates hatred or hostility to a particular group”.

But the government’s response to a consultation on the green paper, published last month, makes no mention of schedule 21 or its hate crime pledge.

And there are no measures on increasing sentences for disability hate crime murders in the coalition’s new legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which had its first reading in the Commons on the same day.

The Ministry of Justice said the government had decided to abandon reform of Schedule 21 as a whole but that it still intended to find a way to tighten sentencing laws for disability hate crime murders.

The discrepancy in sentencing provision was highlighted the month before the green paper was published by the case of Martin Mather, who was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to beating a disabled man to death at his flat in Rhyl, north Wales.

Because it was a murder case, the law did not allow the judge to increase Mather’s sentence on the grounds that it was a disability hate crime, even though both the Crown Prosecution Service and North Wales police had treated it as a hate crime. Mather was told he would serve a minimum of just 17 years in prison.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disabled women ask court to force council to think again over cuts

Two older disabled women have this week taken their fight against council cuts to care and support to the high court.

Lawyers for the two women have argued that Lancashire County Council breached the Disability Discrimination Act by failing to take into account the impact of proposed cuts to its social services budget on disabled people.

Both women rely on council funding to pay for the support they need to live in their own homes.

The judicial review hearing at the high court in Manchester ended today, but the judge will not deliver a judgment for at least a month.

Lawyers for the two women want the council to be forced to look again at its plans to cut its social care budget, tighten eligibility for support, and increase care charges.

They argued that the council had a choice as to whether to cut adult social care services and – if it was forced to make cuts – how much those reductions would be, and could have found savings elsewhere in its budget.

They also want the judge to make it clear that the council’s decision to adopt a policy of only providing support to meet personal care needs – which the local authority has now accepted was illegal – was indeed unlawful.

The county council wants to raise the eligibility threshold for support from “moderate” to “substantial”, saving £2.5 million a year for the next two years; cut spending on personal budgets and home care by £12 million over three years; and increase revenue from charging by more than £5.5 million over four years.

The two women are being backed in their legal action by the disabled people’s organisation Disability Equality NW (DENW).

In her witness statement, Melanie Close, DENW’s chief executive, said the council decided to reduce disabled people’s support packages before a consultation on proposed cuts had even started.

And she said the council had agreed its new budget on 17 February, despite its consultation not being due to finish until 11 days later.

After the case, Close said: “It is really difficult to know which way the judgment will go. The judge was knowledgeable and both sides made really good arguments.”

But she welcomed the council’s decision to accept that only providing support for personal care was unlawful.

Mike Calvert, the council’s cabinet member for adult and community services, said in a statement: “We recognise that this is a complicated issue. However, our view remains that we have complied with disability discrimination legislation and the decisions taken in February were entirely within the law.”

The court case was the latest in a series of legal challenges over decisions by public bodies to slash services and spending following huge cuts to government funding.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DisabledGo train BT Volunteers as part of a nationwide initiative

The entire Board of BT South East came out in force on Friday 10th June in Aylesbury as part of a nationwide initiative to train volunteers from within BT’s staff to undertake simple format access guides to their town centres.

The volunteers have been trained to collect information about access to shops and services by DisabledGo who invested time developing a training programme specifically for the BT volunteers that can be rolled out as part of a nationwide BT scheme. BT sees this work as an essential part of creating a legacy from their sponsorship of the Paralympics.

Rich Duggan photographer - Bucks Herald

The information that is being collected follows the same template as the information found on www.disabledgo.com. It has been developed by DisabledGo to ensure the information is accurate, useful and reliable and will be fed to Tourism for All’s OpenBritain initiative www.openbritain.net, to create national coverage of accessible facilities.

The team of volunteers in Aylesbury were able to collect information to 64 premises which will help visitors and citizens alike find out more information about access to venues and services in their towns depending on their own specific requirements.

If you would like more information about the BT Volunteering Initiative, OpenBritain or DisabledGo please contact Rachel Felton, External Relations Manager, DisabledGo.                

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

DisabledGo’s new access guide to Bexley goes live!

London Borough of Bexley has joined over 85 other local authorities across the UK and Ireland including over 20 London Borough’s to join www.disabledgo.com providing a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to know more about access in the area.

The guide to Bexley covers over 1,000 venues including – cinemas, hotels, parks, leisure centres, council offices, high street stores, restaurants, tourist attractions – the list goes on and on.

DisabledGo-Bexley launch at Inspire Community Trust

The guide, which launched on Monday 4th July at the Inspire Community Trust will enable people to find out whether venues have, adapted toilets or parking close by but also specific details such as whether there are tactile or Braille markings in lifts or on doors, the dimensions of toilets, the positioning of fixtures and fittings and whether you can request large print or Braille information.

Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services, Cllr Colin Campbell said; “I am pleased that we have been able to work with our partners at Inspire Community Trust (Inspire) to bring the ‘DisabledGo’ guide to the Borough. 

“The guide provides access information on the Boroughs facilities, from libraries to leisure centres, parks to shopping centres. We are committed to providing the highest quality environment for our residents and this guide will be a well-used resource that will assist disabled residents and visitors to enjoy to the full, all that we have to offer”

DisabledGo launch the guide to London Borough of Bexley

Ranjit Bhamra, Co-Chair of Inspire said, “ I am delighted that Inspire, as a “user-led” organisation has been able to facilitate consultation with disabled people and their involvement in surveying a number of venues included in this website. This site will open up a whole new world of accessible venues for disabled people in the borough”.

The online guide will provide benefits for business too, helping them reach more customers by publicising the access they offer. Current figures estimate that there are 11 million disabled people in Britain who spend £80 billion each year, numbers that every business should take notice of.

If you would like more information about DisabledGo or DisabledGo-Bexley please contact Rachel Felton, External Relations Manager, DisabledGo T: 01438 842710

E: rachel.felton@disabledgo.com

The DisabledGo supported Ready, Willing & Mobile Competition finds its 2011 winner

Zainab is top of the ‘tree’ with her woodland pack

The national Mobility Roadshow which took place at the East of England Showground, Peterborough, on the 30 June 2011 – have announced the winners of the national schools’ Ready Willing & Mobile competition with disabled Desperados and Eastenders actor David Proud there to present the awards.

The competition, organised by charity Mobility Choice, aims to encourage young people from the age of seven to think about those less able than themselves. In this its seventh year, a new outdoor theme was introduced, seeking ideas to help people with disabilities to gain easy access to and maximum enjoyment from our woodlands and forests.

Ready, Willing & Mobile 2011

With her bright idea for a young person’s woodland backpack designed to be fun, exciting and educational, 11 year old Zainab Khan, a pupil at Perry Hall Primary School in Bromley was announced outright winner from a field of over 300 entries in two aged groups: 7-11 and 12-16 years.

Extremely close as runner-up was 12 year old Becky Costello, a student at Sacred Heart of Mary Girls’ School in Upminster. Becky impressed the judges with her concept for a brightly coloured, informative pack of bird watching cards that incorporated both touch-button audio and Braille descriptions for blind people.

Winner, Zainab, also had partially-sighted children in mind when devising her backpack, which included bright, bold alphabet badges featuring woodland creatures; butterfly and pond nets and a collection pot, together with a magnifying glass to aid identification. The judges were impressed with her entry, which they felt was ‘very practical and something that many young people would be very pleased to have and use; not only those partially-sighted’.

Presenting the prizes David Proud said: “It is wonderful that through the Ready Willing & Mobile competition, hundreds of young people in schools and clubs throughout the UK have wanted to help people with disabilities. Having joined the judging panel for the first time, I was particularly excited to announce this year’s winners, keen to learn if the entry that gained my top mark had won outright.”

Jacqui Jones, Executive Director, Mobility Choice said the charity was delighted that over the years many schools has used the competition to reinforce issues such as social integration, disability awareness and inclusive communities. “The creativity of young people seems boundless. Each year we are amazed at the variety of ideas put forward and the desire to help others.”

As outright winner Zainab bags for her school the top prize of £1,000 cash for equipment, £300-worth of STAEDTLER art and crafts materials, £100-worth of Penguin books and a year’s school membership of the Woodland Trust Nature Detectives’ Club. For herself she wins an overnight stay for four at a Holiday Inn in London with a trip on the London Eye.

Ready, Willing & Mobile 2011

Both girls have already won a digital camera, Penguin books and the Woodland Trust Nature Detective’s Club membership as reward for winning their relevant age categories in the competition.

The Ready Willing & Mobile 2011 competition is supported by DisabledGo, Aspire, Holiday Inn, Penguin, Phab Kids, the Royal College of Art, STAEDTLER, Vauxhall and the Woodland Trust.

DPO funding is welcomed, but is still a ‘drop in the ocean’

The government has launched a scheme designed to support the growth of local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, was at West of England Centre for Inclusive Living in Bristol to launch the programme, which was first announced in May and will invest £3 million over four years in helping DPOs improve how they are run.

Miller announced that Rich Watts, director of policy and development for Essex Coalition of Disabled People, had been seconded part-time to the government’s Office for Disability Issues to lead the Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme.

Campaigners have increasingly been raising concerns that the local authority spending squeeze – largely caused by the government’s deficit reduction plan – has been putting the future of many local DPOs at risk.

DPOs can now bid for “modest” amounts of money – expected to be a maximum of £10,000 and up to £30,000 in total over the four years of the scheme – to fund specific projects.

Stephen Lee Hodgkins, director of Disability LIB, which was itself set up to build the capacity of DPOs, welcomed the appointment of Watts, who he said was “the right person for the job”.

He said the funding was welcome but “a drop in the ocean” when measured against the huge financial strain facing DPOs as a result of government cuts.

He also said that funding was likely to be awarded for projects that fitted the government’s agenda, rather than the agenda of DPOs.

But he welcomed the decision that any money that was needed to meet access requirements – such as BSL interpreters – would not be counted as part of the maximum funding DPOs could receive through the scheme.

As part of the same programme, the government has appointed 12 “ambassadors” to “promote the cause” of DPOs and “encourage mutual sharing and support”, although the Department for Work and Pensions was unable to say how many of them were disabled.

Hodgkins said he was disappointed that it had not been made more explicit which of the ambassadors were disabled people as that would have helped them in their role.

The government is now seeking volunteer “experts” who are willing to share their skills with DPOs, in areas such as human resources, financial management, IT and business planning.

In a statement, Watts said: “Leading this programme is a great opportunity to raise the profile of disabled people’s user-led organisations and to sustain and share the successes they achieve, including providing the support that disabled people really need.

“Working with a team of ambassadors, we will share our skills and experience with other organisations, as well as learn from them and pass it on, to ensure that disabled people have their voices heard at every level.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Concern over replacement of ODI director

The government has replaced the disabled director of its Office for Disability Issues (ODI) with a non-disabled civil servant, without advertising the post externally.

Tim Cooper is moving to a new job as chief executive of Advance, a supported housing and employment charity, after two years as ODI’s director.

ODI was set up in 2005 by the Labour government to help deliver equality for disabled people by 2025 and act as a champion for disabled people across government.

Cooper, who is deaf, has refused to discuss the reasons for his departure, amid speculation that he could be leaving due to unhappiness with the coalition’s policies on disability and equality.

In January, he was forced publicly to defend the government’s record after disabled activists criticised its programme of spending cuts and attitude to human rights.

When asked this week why Cooper was leaving, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said he was “returning to direct service provision, where he has spent the majority of his career to date”.

In a two-line statement, Cooper said: “I shall be sad to leave ODI but I am very excited about the potential of my new role.

“Advance has been at the forefront of many tremendous developments in services for disabled people and people with mental health issues and I look forward to continuing this work.”

In January, Cooper said ODI’s role was to “ensure that as best we can that disabled people are not disproportionately affected by these public spending cuts. We will do that job to the best of our ability.”

This week, he declined requests for an interview.

He will be replaced in September by civil servant Jeremy Moore, who is not disabled and will also take on the role of director of independent living. He was appointed before many ODI staff were told Cooper was leaving.

Moore will now be responsible for all disability issues across the DWP, including employment, benefits and the ODI. He is currently director of the DWP’s “departmental transformation programme”.

The DWP spokesman said Moore was appointed because he “has a lot of experience working on disability issues and was the best candidate for the job”, while the appointment was “part of the wider selection process of senior civil servants currently underway at the DWP”.

Stephen Lee Hodgkins, director of Disability LIB, said he had some concerns about the decision to move away from a stand-alone director of the ODI and how this would affect the ODI’s role and independence from other parts of the DWP.

Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said: “Bringing all disability issues together under one director reflects our commitment to a more joined up approach in ensuring disability issues are given the attention they deserve.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DPOs boycott charities’ ‘independent’ review of mobility needs

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are to boycott a review set up by two of the big disability charities into one of the most controversial parts of the government’s welfare reform bill.

Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) and Mencap announced this week that they were launching a new “independent review” into how the mobility needs of people living in residential care are met and funded.

The review will provide recommendations to the coalition by the end of October, running in parallel with an “internal review” being carried out by the government. The charities’ review will also be used to brief peers as they debate the bill this autumn.

The bill currently gives the government powers to stop paying the mobility element of the new personal independence payment – which is set to replace disability living allowance – to people in state-funded residential homes.

But DPOs have raised concerns about the independence of the charities’ new review and have questioned why no user-led organisations were told about it or asked to take part.

The review will be led by the disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low, former chair of RNIB and now its vice-president and also president of Disability Alliance.

The members of the review’s “steering group” are a disabled resident of a Leonard Cheshire residential home, the governor of a special school, a local government expert, the director of a think-tank, and an expert in care provision.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), said he was only told about the review this week and was “surprised that there is no DPO involvement on the steering group and DPOs have not been approached to be involved or to comment”.

He said DPOs would need to consider “very carefully” whether to take part and that it was “unlikely” that UKDPC would do so, although a final decision would be made by its trustees.

Dhani said he was concerned that the review could be used to promote the need for residential services rather than disabled people’s right to live in the community.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, said he was “angry” with the decision to set up the review, which he said was “typical behaviour from two disability charities that are for disabled people, not of disabled people”.

He said the two charities had yet again “violated” the disability movement’s principle of “nothing about us without us”.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL), said NCIL would also not be taking part, while she was “struggling to see what this independent review will achieve other than to try and raise the profile of the two organisations involved”.

She said the important question was whether the minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, was “really listening” to the evidence already provided by the disabled people and DPOs she had talked to.

Guy Parckar, LCD’s acting director of policy, campaigns and communications, said: “If the DPOs are not happy with the process, there is absolutely something we should learn from that.

“We did set this up rather hurriedly to make sure we had long enough to get people involved. We did rather rush it.”

But he said he “cannot remember” when the decision was made to launch the review or how long Mencap and LCD had been discussing the idea.

He added: “We wanted to encourage people to get involved and contribute whatever evidence they had on this because they didn’t have the opportunity through the government’s internal review. There was no attempt to try and exclude anyone.”

He said the intention was for the review to be “independent”, which was why members of the steering group were “people who were directly involved in this particular issue, which obviously relates to residential care”.

Disability Alliance said the review would be “genuinely independent” and had been launched because of charities’ “dismay and frustration with the secrecy shrouding” the government’s internal review.

Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, said that disabled people and DPOs should “all be engaged and make sure the Low review is more robust, more evidence-based and delivers strong recommendations to the Department for Work and Pensions that cannot be ignored”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Care watchdog defends failure to uncover abuse evidence

The care regulator has defended the failure of its own inspectors to uncover evidence of serious abuse at a private “hospital” for people with learning difficulties.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) faced serious questions this week after it published its report into alleged abuse at Winterbourne View, near Bristol.

The report includes evidence of concerns about care standards at the hospital that pre-dates CQC’s previous inspection of Winterbourne View in December 2009, which failed to uncover the alleged abuse.

Instead, action was only taken by the authorities after detailed evidence was aired in a BBC Panorama investigation in May this year.

Until this week, CQC has been criticised for failing to follow-up concerns expressed by a whistleblower but not for its failure to uncover the alleged abuse through its inspection process.

The new report details the findings of CQC’s in-depth review of care at Winterbourne View, undertaken after it was told about Panorama’s investigation.

The CQC report says Winterbourne View failed to “protect people or to investigate allegations of abuse”, while the company that ran the hospital, Castlebeck, failed in its legal duty to notify CQC of serious incidents including injuries to patients or occasions when they had gone missing.

The CQC concluded that Winterbourne View had breached 10 legal care standards, and said the report was a “damning indictment of the regime” and its “systemic failings” to protect the people in its care.

But the report crucially reveals that documentary evidence of concerns about standards at Winterbourne View appears to date back to at least 2006 and seems to have been overlooked by the previous CQC inspection in December 2009.

The new report also reveals that a Mental Health Act commissioner who visited Winterbourne View for the CQC in September 2010 asked the hospital for a copy of an independent review of an incident in which a patient had received a broken wrist after being restrained by a staff member.

But CQC failed to follow-up on its request and did not receive any paperwork about the incident from Winterbourne View – documents which were to show a string of inconsistencies – until it made a new request after the Panorama revelations.

Although there are substantial parts of the new CQC report where dates are unclear, among the evidence that pre-dates December 2009 are:

  • Records that show a staff member was employed for more than three months in 2008 before their Criminal Records Bureau check was completed. There was only one employment reference for this member of staff.
  • The employment of a member of staff in 2006 relied on two telephone references from friends of the applicant.
  • A support worker wrote in their appraisal in April 2009 that they were “struggling to follow senior support worker directions due to shortage of staff”.

A CQC spokesman said that the December 2009 inspection was carried out under previous legislation, in which inspections concentrated on “issues of concern” raised by the service’s own self-assessment.

He said: “There is no evidence that abuse was taking place at that time, although our latest report has uncovered concerns that date from then.”

He added: “A range of professionals from a range of organisations had contact with Winterbourne View. None of them uncovered this serious abuse.

“The whistleblower who did contact us had not seen this level of abuse. It took secret filming to find out what was going on at Winterbourne View.

“No system of inspection, however regular, is guaranteed to expose criminal abuse if the perpetrators are determined to keep it secret.”

When asked whether he believed CQC could have uncovered the alleged abuse in December 2009 if it had inspected Winterbourne View more thoroughly, he said: “I can’t add to my earlier replies except to say that it is a matter for the serious case review [commissioned by South Gloucestershire council] chaired by Margaret Flynn to look at the actions of the regulator, and others.

“She’ll draw conclusions – and it’s not appropriate for us to pre-empt them.”

He was also unable to clarify why CQC failed to follow-up the missing independent review of the incident in which a patient received a broken wrist.

CQC admitted this week that it wants to increase the frequency of inspections of care and health services, in a reversal of its previous “proportionate, risk-based, light-touch” policy.

CQC reports on Castlebeck’s other 23 facilities for people with learning difficulties in England are to be published by the end of this month.

Winterbourne View has already closed, and nine men and three women have been arrested and released on police bail in connection with allegations of abuse.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com