DWP snubs Hardest Hit’s Christmas greeting

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has turned away disabled activists who wanted to deliver a campaigning Christmas card on behalf of 23,000 people who signed a petition calling for urgent changes to the welfare reform bill.

Representatives from The Hardest Hit campaign had told the DWP they would be delivering the card – designed by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe – but when they arrived, civil servants told security staff not to accept it.

The card features David Cameron as Scrooge – from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – kicking away Tiny Tim’s crutch, with the caption: “Kicking away the support.”

Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, which jointly runs the Hardest Hit campaign with the Disability Benefits Consortium, said they had asked staff at the front desk of the DWP’s offices in Whitehall if the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, or someone in his office, was available to accept the card.

Instead, civil servants in Duncan Smith’s office told DWP security staff not to accept delivery of the card and to turn the campaigners away.

Newman said: “I was completely taken aback. What the government’s representatives have done is they have snubbed 23,000 people who wished to express their concern to the government about their day-to-day lives.”

Campaigners later successfully delivered the petition to Downing Street.

A DWP spokesman said: “It is correct that the security staff phoned the secretary of state’s office about the petition. It was purely down to a misunderstanding, confusion between the two people who spoke.

“It shouldn’t have happened, but I am not going to get into exact details of who said what.

“Once it became apparent what had happened we got back in touch with the Disability Benefits Consortium and said sorry.

“It was a misunderstanding. We are going to invite them back in [to deliver the card]. We are putting it right.”

The delivery of the card and petition were designed to coincide with the report stage of the welfare reform bill in the House of Lords, which began the previous day (12 December).

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disabled student barred from using accessible parking space

A university has prevented one of its disabled students from using an accessible parking space that was allowing him to carry out vital work experience, and has now painted over the bay’s markings.

Teesside University in Middlesborough tried to force music technology student David Birdsall to use a car-park more than 200 metres away instead, simply because it had an automatic barrier.

Birdsall, who is in the first year of his course, started volunteering in October with Click, a student-run station which is managed by the university, which he knew would provide valuable work experience.

But university staff complained when he tried to use the single accessible parking space outside the Click studios – one of about 12 spaces in all – even though he has a blue parking badge.

They refused to provide him with a key to open the entrance barrier to the parking area, even after he successfully applied for a student’s parking permit they said he needed.

Walking just a few metres causes Birdsall “excruciating” pain, because of his impairment, and he rarely manages even 50 metres.

After being refused permission to park in the accessible space, he watched in disbelief as the university painted over the wheelchair logo and other markings, and replaced the space with an “ordinary” parking bay.

Because he was not able to park outside the studio, he has been forced to resign from Click.

Birdsall, who lives in Stockton, said: “This has shocked me, it really has. It is blatant discrimination. I have never in my life encountered such stupidity.”

The university claims he shouldn’t have used the space directly outside the studios because of the manual barrier – which he was happy to operate himself – and that he should instead have used a student carpark more than 200 metres away, which has an automatic barrier.

A university spokeswoman said: “What has happened in this staff carpark outside Click was there was an old disabled space that had been left. It would not be right to issue a pass into that carpark because it has a manual barrier.”

She added later: “Teesside University takes equality very seriously. Mr Birdsall has raised an issue with us and we are working to resolve this.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Discrimination advice cut will be ‘catastrophe’ for disabled people

Government proposals to remove funding from organisations that provide expert legal support for discrimination cases will have a “catastrophic” impact on disabled people, experts have warned.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) has quietly published its response to a consultation on plans for a new equality advisory and support service.

In its response, GEO confirmed its plans to replace the helpline currently run by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) with a new national service providing information, advice and support to victims of discrimination, although it admitted that only “a minority” of those responding to the consultation had agreed with its plan.

But it also announced that it would not replace millions of pounds in grants currently provided by the EHRC to legal organisations across the country, with “future central government funding for legal advice on discrimination cases” now to be provided “solely through legal aid”. Again, only a minority of respondents agreed with the decision.

Disability Law Service (DLS), which is led by disabled people, said the proposals would mean a “drastic” cut in its funding.

It receives £50,000 a year from the EHRC, which allows it to take on about 50 complex discrimination cases every year.

That funding – about 10 per cent of its annual revenue – will end in March 2012, and will not now be replaced, which could mean DLS having to make a member of staff redundant.

Although it will still be able to secure legal aid funding for discrimination cases, this only pays a fixed sum of £200 for most employment and consumer cases, many of which are complex and can take months of expert legal work to prepare.

Wonta Ansah-Twum, DLS’s head of disability discrimination and employment, said: “We needed the funding from the EHRC grant to support the work we do.

“It is going to have a devastating impact on our service-users. Disabled people are going to be marginalised. They will not have anywhere to turn if services like ours do not continue. It is appalling.”

She also said that the government’s new helpline would simply be a “generalised” service that would lack the specialist knowledge to help disabled people with advice on discrimination.

She said: “That is just unacceptable. They have failed to take into account the fact that discrimination cases are complex and need specialist caseworkers to deal with them. The government has completely ignored the concerns we raised.”

DLS is already facing the threat of losing grant funding from London Councils, which represents London’s 33 local authorities.

London Councils was forced by the high court earlier this year to reconsider plans to slash its grants programme, and is due to announce the results of this rethink next month. 

Ansah-Twum said: “If we do not get a replacement for the EHRC and London Councils funding, I don’t know how we will survive in a year’s time. It is putting the organisation at risk.”

A GEO spokesman said: “The government has not been convinced by the consultation responses that discrimination cases uniquely merit central government funding in addition to that which is available through civil legal aid.”

He added: “The government has come forward with a new service which will be cheaper to run than the EHRC helpline.”

He said the government was “confident” that the new helpline would ensure that information, advice and support on discrimination would be “available to everybody in a fair and accessible way”.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “The GEO has made the decision to end our funding so any questions about future funding need to be put to the GEO.”

She also declined to comment on the government’s proposal for a new helpline.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government caught out on DLA statistics… again

Serious doubts have emerged about crucial statistics used by the minister for disabled people to justify the government’s sweeping disability living allowance (DLA) reforms.

Maria Miller was appearing this week before MPs on the work and pensions committee as part of its inquiry into coalition plans to cut spending on working-age DLA by 20 per cent and replace the benefit with a new personal independence payment (PIP).

In her evidence, Miller twice stated that DLA spending had grown by 38 per cent over the eight years to 2010-11, as a justification for the government’s cuts and reforms.

But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has now admitted that this figure refers to total DLA spending, including payments to children and older people, even though only working-age DLA is being cut and reformed.

The DWP told Disability News Service that the real growth in working-age DLA spending was only 28 per cent.

But even this figure of 28 per cent is almost certainly too high, as it fails to exclude demographic factors – such as the general growth in the population – which the DWP has previously admitted is an important consideration in determining the true rise in DLA claimants.

Miller suggested to the committee that demographic factors would remove a third from the figure of 38 per cent that she quoted.

This could mean the growth in working-age DLA spending is as low as 18 or 19 per cent over eight years, rather than the 38 per cent quoted by Miller – but the DWP has been unable to produce the relevant figure.

A DWP spokeswoman said the percentage increase for working age spending – taking into account demographic factors – “does not exist at the moment”.

It is the second time the government has been caught using misleading DLA figures to justify its reforms.

In August, the government claimed official statistics showed the number of DLA claimants had risen by 30 per cent over eight years, when the growth in the number of working-age DLA claimants – excluding demographic factors – was just 13 per cent.

Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who chairs the work and pensions committee, said Miller had been “evasive” throughout the entire evidence session.

She said there were “concerns about the government’s use of statistics” and that Miller had failed to provide a “proper explanation of where this 38 per cent figure came from”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Pioneering new access guide to Milton Keynes goes live!

DisabledGo are pleased to announce Milton Keynes has joined online access guide www.disabledgo.com to provide a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to know more about disabled access in the area.

The guide, which launched in partnership with Milton Keynes Council and Milton Keynes Centre for Integrated Living covers over 1,000 venues including cinemas, hotels, parks, leisure centres, council offices, high street stores, restaurants, tourist attractions – the list is endless.

The guide, which launched on Wednesday 7th December, will enable people to find out not only 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 they can request information in large print or Braille.

Council Leader Andrew Geary said: “The DisabledGo Guide provides detailed information so that local people and visitors can make the best use of what Milton Keynes has to offer.

This is a real step forward and another feather in the cap for Milton Keynes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it meant more disabled people purposely coming to our borough because of the easy access to information about the facilities available.”

Commenting on the launch of the DisabledGo-Milton Keynes guide, Dr Gregory Burke, Chief Executive of DisabledGo said;

‘I would like to thoroughly commend Milton Keynes Council’s vision and commitment to this project. It will make a real difference to both residents and visitors to the area who have access concerns, empowering them to find services and venues that suit their own specific requirements.’

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. All businesses that take part also receive Disability Awareness Manuals, designed as a 20 minute introduction to disability and access. 

All of the information provided on DisabledGo-Milton Keynes will also be available on the ‘Looking Local’ service on the red button on your TV, so if you don’t have access to a computer at home you can still get the information you need. 

If you would like more information about DisabledGo or DisabledGo-Milton Keynes please contact Tom Felton, Partnership Administrator (E: tom.felton@disabledgo.com T: 01438 842710).

The Equality Act – Types of discrimination explained

The Equality Act protects anyone who has or has had a disability from discrimination. However, the Act describes different types of discrimination, and often it is difficult to work out what your rights are. This article aims to explain how these parts of the Act could apply to you.

The Equality Act 2010 talks about direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation, let’s look at what each one means in practice for disabled people.

Direct discrimination

There are 3 types of direct discrimination, here are some examples –

  • Caroline is a wheelchair user, she goes to a nightclub with a group of friends. The bouncer let’s all her friends in but refuses entry to Caroline saying she will take up too much space.

This is an example of direct discrimination as Caroline is being treated less favourably than her non-disabled friends.

  • Andrew supports a group of young people with learning disabilities. After attending a group meeting Andrew goes into a nearby newsagents to buy a paper. The owner of the shop assumes he has a learning disability as he has seen Andrew out and about with members of the group. The owner of the shop tells Andrew to leave and not to come in again unless he is accompanied.

Even though Andrew is not a disabled people he is still facing direct discrimination because the shop owner presumes he has a learning disability. This is direct discrimination by perception.

  • Alice is refused a place at her village nursery because the manager knows that her younger sister Matilda has a learning disability. The nursery operates a policy of automatically offering places to siblings and they are concerned that looking after her sister would take too much time.

Even though Alice does not have an impairment she is facing discrimination because her sister Matilda has a disability. This is direct discrimination by association.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination happens when there is a rule, policy or even a practice that applies to everyone but particularly disadvantages people who share a protected characteristic, in this case disability.

  • A housing association has a policy of reminding people about appointments to discuss their housing needs by telephone. This puts deaf people who cannot use the telephone at a disadvantage, as they do not receive a reminder of their appointment. Unless the association can justify its policy of making contact only by telephone as being a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, this is likely to amount to indirect discrimination.

In some cases indirect discrimination can be justified, but only if the organisation can show that it is a reasonable way of achieving a legitimate aim.

Harassment

  • Rachel works in a retail store. She is new to the team and when chatting to colleagues mentions her husband Mark has a visual impairment. Colleagues begin to bully Rachel by making comments about Mark’s visual impairment. She feels intimidated and dreads going to work.

This is an example of disability related harassment. Rachel is distressed by the unwanted behaviour she is receiving from colleagues because of her husband’s impairment. 

Victimisation

Victimisation applies whether or not the person being victimised has a protected characteristic. It occurs when an organisation treats someone badly because –

  • The person has made a complaint under the Equality Act.
  • The person has helped someone else to make a complaint.
  • The organisation thinks the person has made a complaint or assisted someone in doing so.
  • The organisation thinks the person will make a complaint or assist someone in making one in the future.
  • Phil has supported Tim in his complaint against their manager David. Tim believes that David has discriminated against him because of his hearing impairment. Since David was made aware of the complaint he has treated Phil badly, using disrespectful language.

In addition to these types of discrimination there is an additional type of discrimination that only applies to disability. This is discrimination arising from disability.

Discrimination arising from disability occurs when a disabled person is treated unfavourably because of something connected with their disability. Discrimination arising from disability is different from direct discrimination.

Direct discrimination occurs when a service provider treats someone less favourably because of the disability itself. Discrimination arising from disability can occur only if the service provider knows or can reasonably be expected to know that the person has a disability.

  • Laura has autism and often speaks out of turn in seminars. This can create a disruptive atmosphere for the tutor and other students. Because of her behaviour, Laura is asked not to attend seminars by her tutor. This is likely to be discrimination arising from disability if it can be reasonably expected that the tutor is aware that Laura has autism.

If you would like further information about your rights and the Equality Act 2010 a lot of useful information is provided by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. You can find out more about types of discrimination on their website www.equalityhumanrights.com

If you would like to give your feedback on this article or have a question or topic you would like to see featured in this column in future please contact anna.borthwick@disabledgo.com.

Welfare reform bill ‘could breach human rights’

A committee of MPs and peers has suggested that parts of the government’s controversial welfare reform bill could breach disabled people’s human rights.

The joint committee on human rights (JCHR) – whose members include the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell – said some of the most controversial measures in the bill could contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

These include cuts of 20 per cent to spending on disability living allowance (DLA), a housing benefit cap, a proposal to time-limit employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement of DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP), and the introduction of tough new sanctions for those on out-of-work benefits.

The committee said there had been a “significant lack of clarity” from the government on how it would cut spending on working-age DLA by 20 per cent, while it had failed to provide “reasonable justification for the negative impact” of introducing PIP on disabled people’s right to independent living.

The committee also called for the proposed new PIP assessment to use a more social model approach, taking greater account of the barriers faced by disabled people.

And it said the government should trial the new assessment before it was widely introduced, mirroring a suggestion made by Baroness Campbell during a debate on the bill in the Lords last month.

Although disabled people who receive DLA or PIP will be exempt from the housing benefit cap, the committee said it feared that many disabled people who do not receive DLA – particularly as eligibility for PIP will be tighter than it is for DLA – may be forced to move house, leaving behind their adaptations and support networks.

The committee also warned that some disabled people found “fit for work” could face financial “sanctions” if they were not able to carry out compulsory work-related activity.

Although the bill says people will have five working days to alert the authorities of their reason for not carrying out this activity, such a deadline “may be unrealistic for people who are unwell”, the report says, and this could lead to “destitution”.

A DWP spokesman defended the changes to DLA, the proposal to time-limit ESA, the introduction of a housing benefit cap, and the plan to toughen sanctions.

He said: “The changes to the welfare system will protect those who need the most help, with more support, whilst encouraging others to take responsibility for their own lives and the lives of their families. Something the JCHR supports [in its report].”

He said the new PIP face-to-face assessment would “make sure people are getting the right levels of support”, and time-limiting ESA would bring it into line with other benefits, while those with lower savings would still receive income-based ESA.

He said the housing benefit cap would “bring fairness back to the system so that hard-working families no longer have to subsidise people living in properties they themselves could not afford”, while the new sanctions regime would “make the consequences of failing to meet requirements clear and robust”.

But when asked whether DWP believed these measures could breach disabled people’s human rights, he declined to comment further.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Tanni’s Lords bid to derail cuts to disability benefit falls just short

A disabled peer has failed by just two votes to overturn plans that will see a steep cut in financial support for many families with disabled children.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told peers the measure in the welfare reform bill would halve the financial support currently provided through child tax credits to most families with disabled children.

Those whose children do not currently qualify for the higher rate care component of disability living allowance – or who are not registered blind – will see these extra tax credits drop from about £54 to £27 a week.

Most families with a disabled child will lose about £1,400 a year, affecting about 100,000 disabled children.

The government claims it wants to align the financial support provided to disabled children with that offered to disabled adults when it introduces the new universal credit, its plan for simplifying the benefits system.

Proposing an amendment to the bill that would have prevented the cut, Baroness Grey-Thompson said the government’s measure would “damage thousands of families who rely on this support for their disabled child”.

She received widespread backing, including from fellow disabled peers Baroness [Jane] Campbell, the Liberal Democrat Baroness [Celia] Thomas, and Labour’s Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, who said: “Are we really becoming such a mean-spirited nation that we are willing to take away funding from less disabled children as the only means by which more severely disabled children can benefit?”

Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said that, under universal credit, severely disabled adults would receive an extra £45 a week.

He said: “We are trying to get money to the most severely disabled in our community.

“There is a real decision here: maintaining the existing rates for children without doing that – without finding this money – would cost an extra £200 million a year. I simply do not have that money.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson’s amendment was defeated by just two votes.

Later in the week, the government was heavily defeated on another amendment to the bill, which overturned its plans to tighten the rules on unoccupied bedrooms for working-age tenants of social housing.

The so-called “bedroom tax” would mean households losing an average of £14 a week in housing benefit if they had at least one unoccupied bedroom in their home.

Research by the Housing Futures Network suggests that more than 70 per cent of the households affected would include someone with an impairment or significant health condition.

The amendment – proposed by the crossbench peer Lord Best – limits penalties to households with at least two extra bedrooms and those with one extra bedroom who have been offered suitable alternative accommodation.

The amendment was passed by 258 votes to 190, despite Lord Freud announcing an extra £30 million a year to help disabled people in “significantly adapted” housing, and foster carers, who would otherwise have been caught out by the new rules.

But Lord Best’s amendment is likely to be overturned when the bill returns to the Commons in the New Year.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Care scrutiny measures fail to mask new concerns over funding reform

New government proposals to “shake up” the scrutiny of adult social care have failed to mask growing concerns that the coalition is planning to postpone the long-awaited reform of care and support funding.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, this week announced “radical new ideas” for “shaking up the system” of identifying quality care and exposing poor services.

But his announcement came in the same week that fresh reports warned of delays to funding reform, with the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, Jeremy Hughes, suggesting that it could be 2025 before all of the necessary reforms were fully introduced.

Burstow said he wanted to introduce a new online ratings system for services such as residential homes and home care providers.

Each entry on the website would include information from official Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections but would also feature feedback from service-users and relatives, and any records of mistreatment or abuse by staff.

Burstow also sketched out plans for members of the public to take part in informal inspections of care services carried out by local branches of HealthWatch, which will launch next October as the new independent “consumer champion” on social care and health.

Burstow said the two ideas had come from service-users, and added: “Measures like publishing social care comparison sites and opening care services up to greater scrutiny will revolutionise the way people and their loved ones choose their social care.

“It can’t be right that you can find out exactly what a hotel or restaurant is like, in just a short time searching the web, but people have so much trouble working out the standards of different care homes and home care providers – when that choice is so much more important.”

Further details will be included in the government’s adult social care white paper this spring.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, pointed out that the plans were not completely fresh, with current and former service-users already taking part in CQC inspections through the Experts by Experience programme.

She said: “If these proposals are going to build on the good things that are happening already, like Experts by Experience, then of course we would be delighted, but we would have to see the detail of what is being proposed.”

And she said CQC had previously published its own ratings system – with services awarded between zero and three stars – which “people did value”, before it was scrapped last year.

Again, she welcomed the idea floated by Burstow but said it would be important to see the details of any proposals.

She also joined other leading figures in raising new fears that care funding reform was set to be further delayed.

Disability News Service has been raising concerns since the summer that next spring’s social care white paper will not include long-awaited reforms to care and support funding.

Andrew Dilnot, who led the coalition’s commission on the funding of care and support, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week that delaying the completion of funding reforms until 2025 would be “completely unacceptable”, while any delay beyond next Easter in the government publishing its plans would be “a betrayal of people’s trust”.

Bott said: “The white paper is one thing, but legislation is what we really need. It is action we need now because people’s lives are being severely affected by what is happening, with some people experiencing cuts [to their support] of the order of 20 per cent.”

She said disabled people, social care professionals and local authority staff had now been “consulted to death”, and added: “We are looking for a timetable for change and that is not what we are getting.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government’s Crimestoppers campaign ‘could fuel disability hate crime’

Outraged campaigners say a new government-backed benefit fraud campaign could expose disabled people to hostility and violence in their own communities.

The national campaign has been launched by the “crime-fighting” charity Crimestoppers and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and centres on a poster featuring eight members of the public looking angry, shocked and hostile, and even threatening violence at the idea of benefit fraud.

The poster is headlined: “WelUNfare: Don’t Let Benefit Fraud Make You Mad,” and encourages people to phone a hotline anonymously if they suspect someone of fraud.

Posters are being displayed on bus shelters, with online advertising on Facebook, as well as through other posters and leaflets, and adverts concentrated in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.

But activists say disabled people are already facing accusations from the government and in the media of being “scroungers” and “benefit frauds” and the campaign will put them at even greater risk of disability hate crime.

Only last month, activists linked the conviction of a man who called his disabled neighbour a “benefit scrounger” during a hate campaign, to hostile stories and comments about alleged disability benefit fraud that have come from the media and the government.

Crimestoppers has refused to withdraw the posters, or to say whether its campaign originated from the DWP.

Anne Novis, a leading disabled campaigner on disability hate crime, said the poster suggests that hostility towards disabled people is acceptable.

She said: “I am appalled that yet again disabled people are being targeted by this government, as so many people already are scared to do anything outside their homes, due to the hostility we face.”

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he was “saddened and appalled” by the “badly misguided” campaign and its potential for increasing hostility towards disabled people, and warned that it would lead to “false and mischievous” allegations being made.

Katharine Quarmby, another coordinator of the network and author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime, said: “We have already seen emerging evidence that some disabled people are being both verbally abused and even physically assaulted because of the campaign by some newspapers and the government against ‘scroungers’.

“A charity that seeks to reduce the fear of crime should not become involved or appear to be involved in whipping up hatred, fear and prejudice against disabled people – or indeed, against poor lone parents or any other scapegoat for this recession.”

A DWP spokesman admitted the government had approved the campaign and poster, but said: “It is in no way designed to incite hate crime.”

When Disability News Service suggested that the poster and campaign could expose disabled people to more hostility, he said: “I think that is just untrue. I do not think it will contribute to disability hate crime.”

And when asked whether DWP was completely comfortable with the poster, he said: “We support the campaign to encourage people to report benefit fraudsters.”

A Crimestoppers spokesman said the charity had received “almost 500 pieces of information” that it passed to DWP in the first week of its campaign, and that all information received was “evaluated closely before being sent to DWP, so any that appear to be malicious or without substance will simply be ignored”.

He said: “The idea of the posters is to connect with society and feelings of anger against those who commit benefit fraud, not towards those who claim benefits lawfully.

“Strong visuals are integral to our campaigns and the more eye-catching they are, the more impact they will have, which will hopefully result in more people contacting Crimestoppers to give information about crime.”

He added: “While we sympathise with those that have not received this campaign as we would have liked them to, we cannot apologise for attempting to stop a crime that hits the pockets of the general public.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com