Maynard hopes bill will bring dignity to public transport

A disabled MP is attempting to introduce new legislation that would extend free travel concessions in England to disabled people who use community transport services.

Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said extending the concessionary scheme was a matter of “human dignity”.

The scheme provides disabled people and over 60s with free off-peak travel on local buses and some other forms of public transport.

But the free travel does not usually apply if the user needs to use community transport – such as a dial-a-ride service – because of their mobility impairment.

Maynard told MPs: “To me, that imbalance seems to be not only unfair, but contrary to the spirit of human dignity.”

He added: “I understand that many councils seek to subsidise travel for those who are disabled in various ways. However, not every council does, and with increasing budgetary pressures… I fear that fewer and fewer will.”

His bill follows a report by the transport select committee in August, which found that most local authorities in England had cut funding for bus services.

The report on the impact of government spending cuts on bus services in England – except for those in London – backed the government’s commitment to protect free bus travel for older and disabled people.

But it pointed out that the concessionary scheme does not apply to most of England’s 1,700 community transport providers, and called for a change in the law.

Maynard’s bill would amend the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 so that people with “complex mobility problems” who cannot access public transport could use their concessionary passes on community transport services.

The bill was introduced under the ten-minute rule, one of the ways in which backbench MPs can introduce legislation. Such bills rarely become law and are mainly an opportunity for MPs to highlight an important issue.

But Maynard said afterwards: “I am happy with the support the motion got from all sides of the house and I very much look forward to its second reading in February next year.

“This is a great step forward in bringing fairness and equality to many people who have thus far been denied what others take for granted due to disability or mobility issues.”

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Protesters block buses over danger of shared spaces

Campaigners have highlighted the dangers of controversial “shared space” street developments by blocking buses outside a railway station, as part of an international day of action.

The protest in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, was led by blind and partially-sighted people, but included other disabled people, older people and families with prams, all protesting at the town’s two new shared space developments.

More than 50 people held up buses outside Southend Victoria station, before marching along the high street to the second of the town’s shared spaces at City Beach, on the seafront.

The protest came just days before the government published new guidance aimed at helping local authorities “design high-quality shared space schemes”. The guidance points out that such designs “can be problematic for some, particularly blind and partially-sighted people”.

Shared space designs usually remove kerbs and crossings so motorists and pedestrians can share the street space, but pedestrians and motorists and cyclists have to make eye contact to establish right of way.

Campaigners say the need for eye contact and the absence of kerbs, which people with guide dogs and long canes use to navigate, puts blind and partially-sighted people at risk, as well as some people with learning difficulties and children.

Visitors to Southend Victoria station now come out of the main entrance straight into an area shared with buses, cars, taxis, bicycles and other pedestrians.

The protest was organised by Jill Allen-King, who chairs the European Blind Union’s commission on mobility and transport and has warned the council that she believes its developments breach the parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on accessibility and consulting properly with disabled people.

She said the two developments had become “no-go areas” for blind and partially-sighted people.

She said: “I have lived here for 71 years and for the first time in my life there are two areas that I cannot go.

“We keep being told that these shared streets work well in Europe but, as chairperson of the European Blind Union’s commission on mobility and transport for the past 14 years, I know that they don’t.”

She also welcomed the inclusive nature of the demonstration. “The majority were not blind and partially-sighted people, they were local residents really concerned about the shared spaces, because they are dangerous for everybody.”

Tony Cox, the council’s executive councillor for public protection, waste and transport, claimed that both schemes were “designed in consultation with a number of disability groups”.

He said they both provide “guidance” for blind and partially-sighted people, including “signalised junctions” at the end of each scheme, and crossing points with dropped kerbs and tactile paving.

He said: “We would challenge the claim that these locations have become ‘no-go areas’ for blind and partially-sighted people and we have received positive comments on both schemes from partially-sighted and blind visitors to the town.

“However, we are aware of Jill Allen-King’s concerns and have made a commitment to review the performance of both schemes, particularly for vulnerable users and people with impaired mobility, who have told us they welcome the step-free environments.”

The protest took place on Saturday 15 October, White Cane Day, an international day that recognises the rights of blind and partially-sighted people to independence and mobility.

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Scheme brings MPs face-to-face with disabled constituents

More than 100 disabled people have raised campaigning issues around disability rights and equality in face-to-face meetings with their local MP, thanks to a scheme that aims to build relationships between politicians and their disabled constituents.

Disabled people who took part in this year’s MP Disability Dialogue raised concerns such as cuts to disability benefits and services, workplace discrimination, the importance of the Access to Work scheme, disability hate crime, and the portability of social care.

One of the disabled people who met with their local MP – with support from the scheme – was Emma Bishop, a member of the Devon Learning Disability Parliament.

She told a parliamentary reception this week how she talked with her MP about the need for more Changing Places toilets – fully accessible toilet and changing facilities – in east Devon.

Neil Parish, the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, supported her campaign, suggested names of organisations she could approach, and wrote letters backing her campaign.

Other MPs wrote letters or asked questions of ministers, pledged to contact government departments and wrote to local authorities on behalf of the disabled people who met them through the scheme.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR – which was organising the scheme for the fifth time – said the aim was for disabled people “to have a voice, to get things changed”, but also to break down MPs’ misconceptions about disabled people, as well as disabled people’s misconceptions about MPs.

The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg told the reception it was useful for her as a wheelchair-user to hear about the challenges facing disabled people with different impairments, and added: “It is very important for us to realise that there are a lot of different views out there in the disabled community.”

Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, told the reception: “One of the dialogue’s real strengths is that both parties get something out of the meeting.”

She added: “It’s vital that disabled people have that strong voice in the policies and decisions that affect them.”

She pointed to the £3 million in government funding announced in July to support the growth of local disabled people’s organisations, and the government’s new strategy to make it easier for disabled people to become MPs and local councillors.

Miller added: “We don’t just want more disabled people to influence policy, we also want them to participate actively in government. We want disabled people to be at the heart of the decision-making process.”

RADAR has now called for more practical support to help disabled people communicate with their MP, and for MPs to review the accessibility of their arrangements for communicating with constituents, with the help of local user-led organisations and disabled people.

RADAR is also working with the training organisation Wideaware, with support from the Office for Disability Issues, to produce a new disability equality e-learning tool for MPs and parliamentary staff.

As part of the project, Wideaware is asking disabled people to take part in a short survey about their experience of engaging with their MP.

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Merger leads to concern over new DPO’s name

The UK’s leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has raised serious concerns over the new name chosen by a trio of national disability charities that are set to merge.

Members of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) decided last week to back the merger, which had already been approved by RADAR and Disability Alliance (DA). The trio propose to call their new organisation Disability Rights UK.

But senior figures within the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) are concerned that the name of the new DPO is too close to UKDPC’s human rights offshoot, Disability Rights Watch UK.

Disability Rights Watch UK, which was set up last year, aims to ensure that disabled people and DPOs are “fully involved” in monitoring how the UK government is implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

UKDPC believes the new DPO’s name will cause confusion among funders and has written this week to the chief executives of RADAR, NCIL and DA, asking them to reconsider.

Disability Rights Watch UK is establishing a growing international reputation, with UKDPC’s chief executive, Jaspal Dhani, returning this week from a trip to South Africa in which he gave a presentation to local DPOs and other organisations about its work. Dhani was invited to give the presentation in Johannesburg by the British Council.

Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, will visit Brussels next week to represent UKDPC and Disability Rights Watch UK at a European Union “work forum” on the UN convention.

Dhani said the project’s growing international reputation was “absolutely” a reason to avoid any confusion caused by a new, similarly-named DPO.

He said: “DPOs in other countries have responded really favourably. What we are doing here in Britain is unique. It is not being replicated anywhere else. We can develop up-to-date reports and analysis and share that with DPO partners in other parts of the world.

“Disability Rights Watch UK as a brand, as a project, is not just something we are promoting domestically, it is recognised internationally.”

Newman added: “We have had some concerns but I have written to all three chief executives.

“We are hoping any difficulties can be overcome amicably and we will be awaiting the response to the letter in the next two weeks.”

UKDPC has said it cannot decide whether it will work alongside the new merged organisation until it starts work.

No-one from DA, RADAR or NCIL was available to comment.

A UKDPC delegation was in South Africa for the eighth world assembly of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI), the network of national DPOs.

Among the issues raised by UKDPC with other DPOs were the struggle for inclusive education, the UK government’s implementation of the UN convention, and the importance of UK Disability History Month, which aims to raise the profile of the fight for equality and human rights in the UK.

A workshop at the assembly that was headed by two young disabled activists from the UK, Lucy Mason and Zara Todd, led to a recommendation for DPI to set up its first group for young disabled people.

Dhani said UKDPC would continue to push DPI’s executive committee to establish such a group.

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Government is ‘talking up’ benefit fraud, says shadow minister

Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people has accused the government of “talking up” the issue of disability benefit fraud as it attempts to push through its sweeping welfare reforms.

Anne McGuire, herself a former minister for disabled people, told Disability News Service that she was “highly critical” of the “context” the government had created around its welfare reforms.

She was particularly critical of the focus on “benefits cheats”, when the government’s own figures show that only a “tiny proportion” of disability benefits claims are fraudulent.

She said: “People who cheat on disability benefits are not disabled people, and [the amount of fraud] is a tiny proportion.”

Government figures estimate that the overpayment of incapacity benefit due to fraud is just £20 million a year, or 0.3 per cent of spending.

She also attacked the government for not doing more to address offensive and inaccurate stories about “cheats” and “scroungers” in the media.

She said: “They certainly do not appear to have done anything to mitigate the wilder accusations in the tabloid media. That is something I will be wanting to raise in the Commons.”

She was speaking days after being appointed as her party’s new shadow minister for disabled people.

McGuire also criticised ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions – including the disabled people’s minister, Maria Miller – for failing to work more closely with disabled people on the welfare reform bill.

She said: “We had two major welfare bills, I was minister on one of them, but we worked with disabled people at all points in developing the policies and in the parliamentary process.

“I do not yet have the confidence that the government – the Department for Work and Pensions ministers – are listening and responding to some of the concerns.”

And McGuire said there was “great concern” about government plans to scrap disability living allowance and replace it with a new “personal independence payment”.

She said her party would “continue to challenge” the government on the bill, which is currently passing through the Lords, but was unable to say which disability-related elements of the welfare reforms her party might target for possible concessions.

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Scope’s DIAL UK closure threatens rift with movement

A disability charity’s decision to close down a national advice organisation, just two years after they merged, has provoked anger among disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

Scope merged in 2008 with DIAL UK, a long-established DPO which supports a network of about 120 local disability information and advice services, most of them user-led.

But Scope has now decided to close DIAL UK next month, and make redundant its four paid staff – all of whom are disabled or have health conditions.

Scope says it wants to improve support to members of the network of local DIAL (Disability Information and Advice Line) services by employing four new regional support workers as part of its own Scope Response information service.

None of the four existing members of DIAL UK staff, all based in Doncaster, were successful in applying for the new posts.

Tony Kay, manager of Calderdale DART, a member of the DIAL network, said the closure of DIAL UK proved the “merger” with Scope was really a “takeover”.

He has received emails from a string of DIAL groups which he said were “even more vocal in their objection” to Scope’s decision to close DIAL UK than he was.

He praised the knowledge, understanding and expertise of DIAL UK’s staff, and added: “Our affiliation has always been with DIAL UK and if this is to be lost due to the enforced restructuring, then I feel we may need to look elsewhere for support as we do not feel it would be appropriate to be affiliated to Scope given their current remit and how they have let down the staff of DIAL UK.”

Other local groups have contacted DIAL UK through phone calls, emails and letters to express their unhappiness with the closure decision, which now threatens Scope’s efforts to build a closer relationship with the disability movement.

Jane Thompson-Brierley, head of DIAL UK, who has been working for the organisation for more than nine years, said it had been a “very difficult time” for the staff and five volunteers.

She said: “We were an organisation run by disabled people for disabled people. That was one of the things we always prided ourselves on.

“I have always thought we have been in tune with the disabled people’s movement, and obviously through our members our role has always been about providing that support to local groups.”

She said DIAL UK had provided groups with information and resources, but also helped them to “develop and thrive”.

She questioned how the new structure could provide the same support offered by DIAL UK, which has been praised by local groups for the high quality of the information it provides.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said she feared Scope would use the restructuring to make it easier to win contracts at the expense of local DPOs.

She said: “DPOs are just going to be cut out. That is the main concern. They thought it was a merger but since then it has become apparent it was a complete takeover. It is going to be an enormous loss.”

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said his organisation was trying to clarify the concerns that have been raised by disabled people about the decision to close DIAL UK.

But he added: “If the issues being raised are true then obviously we will engage in dialogue with Scope to try and understand the situation better and maybe direct a different outcome.”

A Scope spokesman said the intention was “not to compete with local DIAL groups”, and added: “If Scope knows a DIAL group is going for funding, it will not compete with it.”

Ruth Sutherland, executive director of services for Scope, said: “We are working hard to build a stronger relationship with independent DIAL groups.

“There are some back office changes – but these won’t affect the support DIAL groups receive from Scope to help them provide vital information and advice to disabled people.

“Currently the DIAL groups are supported by a small UK team based in Doncaster. The plan is to move that support closer to the local groups by creating regional support roles.

“At the same time we are creating a new knowledge and learning directorate in Scope, which will ensure that expertise in information and advice – both from the local groups and from Scope’s services – can be retained, developed and shared throughout the network.”

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Wales secures long-awaited independent living strategy

The announcement of a long-awaited strategy for promoting independent living in Wales has been welcomed by disabled campaigners.

The Welsh government announced plans to develop a new Framework for Action on Independent Living at a seminar organised by the disabled people’s organisation Disability Wales (DW), which has campaigned for a Welsh independent living strategy.

In a statement to the Welsh Assembly, Jane Hutt, the Welsh government minister whose responsibilities include equalities, said the framework would “underpin” the Welsh government’s actions under the Equality Act to advance disabled people’s equality of opportunity, eliminate discrimination and foster good relations.

The framework will identify areas where action is needed and bring together policies and strategies that support independent living into a “coherent delivery plan”.

DW’s chief executive, Rhian Davies, welcomed the announcement, which she said was “aimed at disabled people having greater control over their lives and the necessary support to live independently in the community”.

She added: “In these financially challenging times it is even more vital that services and facilities are designed and delivered in a way which responds to the needs of individuals and supports independence and inclusion rather than dependency and exclusion.”

In May, Davies told peers and MPs on the joint committee on human rights that Wales “appears to be the only country in the UK that doesn’t have an over-arching strategy on independent living”, which was “a huge loss for disabled people in Wales”.

The DW seminar in Newport was held to discuss the impact of welfare reform and cuts to public services on disabled people in Wales.

This weekend, DW will take part in one of a series of regional anti-cuts protests taking place under the Hardest Hit banner.

The Cardiff protest will take place on Saturday 22 October from 12.30pm and starts outside City Hall, Cathays Park.

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