Government admits failing to analyse results of DLA consultation

The government has admitted failing to carry out any statistical analysis of the results of its controversial disability living allowance (DLA) consultation.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was accused earlier this month of misleading parliament and the public about the scale of opposition to the government’s DLA reforms.

In Responsible Reform – otherwise known as the Spartacus Report – disabled activists had analysed the 523 responses to the DLA consultation that were submitted by disabled people’s organisations, disability charities and other groups.

Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, reacted to the report by stating that these group responses only made up 10 per cent of replies to the consultation, and ignored nearly 5,000 individual responses.

In a letter to peers, Lord Freud claimed: “All consultation responses, over 5,000 individual submissions, have been thoroughly and appropriately considered in the government’s analysis and have been used to inform the design of the new benefit and supporting processes.”

But when Disability News Service (DNS) asked DWP how these 5,000 respondents replied to the questions discussed and analysed in Responsible Reform, a DWP spokesman said that “not all respondents chose to answer the specific questions asked”.

When asked how those who had answered the questions responded, the spokesman said: “We don’t have those figures, I’m afraid.”

And when asked why those figures were not available, he said: “If you look at the questions asked they were what/how type questions and were analysed thematically and not statistically.”

But several of the consultation questions asked by the government required simple yes or no answers, such as: will having two rates per component make the benefit easier to understand and administer, while ensuring appropriate levels of support?

Another yes/no question was: should the assessment of a disabled person’s ability take into account any aids and adaptations they use?

But DWP claims it failed to carry out any basic statistical analysis of these and other answers.

Sue Marsh, one of the authors of Responsible Reform, said DWP’s admission cast even further doubt on its DLA consultation.

She said: “Lord Freud was very clear that they had analysed all of these responses and if he can’t back up his claims you have to question his response.”

Marsh said she was frustrated that the government had refused to engage with any of the key issues raised by the Spartacus report.

DNS revealed last week that disabled people’s organisations were becoming increasingly angry at the government’s failure to listen to their views on issues such as DLA reform, despite its frequent references to how it is “co-producing” its reforms with disabled people.

And the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg is to examine the government’s failure to respond to the Responsible Reform report in an inquiry being carried out by the work and pensions select committee, which she chairs.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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European association of service providers for persons with disabilities (EASPD) and DisabledGo are looking for volunteers!

Do you have a disability and drive regularly? If you can answer yes to these questions then why not get involved in a very exciting trial for a ‘Sat Nav’ that is set to launch in 2012.

The trial which is set to take place in March will give you the opportunity to trial the device for 2 weeks. This exciting new device delivers more than a standard satellite navigation system. You can get information on blue badge parking bays, accessible toilets and even access information about venues close to your destination.

The trial will involve attending a briefing where the project content, aim and objectives will be outlined, a brief explanation on how to use the device and an introduction to the questionnaire to be answered during and after the trial. You will also need to attend a debriefing at the end of the trial where participants will be asked to feedback their experiences, exchange views with other participants and technical partners and help formulate conclusions and make recommendations.

At DisabledGo we are keen for our users to get involved in the trial, if you are interested and would like more information please contact Anna Borthwick, Head of Business Development and Marketing. E: anna.borthwick@disabledgo.com or call 01438 842710

Canine Partners and Help for Heroes official partnership to help wounded servicemen and women

Since 1990, national charity Canine Partners has been training assistance dogs to help people with physical disabilities to lead a more independent life.  Over those years, many hundreds of people with a diverse range of conditions and disabilities, have had their lives transformed, including ex-servicemen and women.

Canine Partners’ work with training dogs for the men and women who have served their country in armed conflict around the world came to the notice of many of the country’s Forces charities including Help for Heroes.  Both organisations could see the potential benefits to wounded service personnel in working together, and Canine Partners began visiting the medical defence rehabilitation centre Headley Court regularly to give demonstrations to those who were starting their recovery. 

When Help for Heroes opened their Personnel Recovery and Assessment Centre Tedworth House, situated in the garrison town of Tidworth, Wiltshire, they asked Canine Partners to have a permanent presence in their Support Hub as well as offer regular demonstrations to the servicemen and women recovering at the centre.  Puppy classes are also being held at Tedworth, not only allowing the puppies to get used to a different environment, but also to encourage the service personnel staying there to interact with the pups at an early age. 

This awareness at both Headley Court and Tedworth House of the benefits these dogs bring has been so successful that applications started to come through and in less than a year four ex-Forces men have now been successfully paired with their canine partners.  Three more have been matched to a dog and will be attending their training courses in the next few months, while enquiries and applications continue to flood in.

Byron retrieving card from the cash machine

But this official partnership between the two charities is not just about helping to raise awareness.  The cost of a canine partner from selection as a puppy through training and partnership to the end of its working life is £20,000, which covers training and regular aftercare support and visits.  This

cost is covered by Canine Partners through sponsorship by groups and businesses. The four Forces partnerships that have already been created have been fully funded by Help for Heroes, with the promise of future funding for similar partnerships in the pipeline.

Andy Cook, Canine Partners’ CEO, said: “We are delighted to be playing a part in helping our wounded servicemen and women by training dogs to transform their lives.  The support we receive from Help for Heroes both financially and in allowing us regular access to those undergoing rehabilitation is vital to us being able to give something back to our Armed Forces.” 

For further information, please contact Canine Partners on 08456 580480, email info@caninepartners.org.uk or visit www.caninepartners.org.uk.

Read Steve Brookes and canine partner Kizzie’s story here

Read Joe Murdock and canine partner Radley story here

DisabledGo to sponsor the Access for All category at this year’s VisitEngland Awards for Excellence

With entry to the 2012 competition now closed organisers report a bumper number of applications.  Ron Glasgow, from Glasgows who are organising the competition on behalf of VisitEngland explains “We have had 385 applications.  This is three times the number of applications for the former Enjoy England Awards and twice what was anticipated. This is a fantastic result and demonstrates strong support from the industry for the VisitEngland flagship competition and their commitment to improving excellence.  Applications are evenly spread through all 15 award categories.  A preliminary review by the judges also indicates applications are of a very high standard”. 

There have been nineteen quality applications for the Access for All category which DisabledGo is sponsoring.

Welcoming DisabledGo’s sponsorship VisitEngland’s Chief Executive James Berresford said “We are delighted that DisabledGo with it’s outstanding reputation in providing up to date information on access to all types of facilities including tourism businesses have agreed to sponsor the Access for All Award.  It is an honour to have them on board”.

In a video message from the industry Minister for Tourism and Heritage Jon Penrose MP underlined the importance of the Awards to tourism in general and tourism businesses in particular.

“You, in the industry, are already well aware of the high contribution tourism makes to the economy as a wealth and job creator.  I want, therefore, to concentrate on why participation in this awards scheme is important for your business in particular, and the industry in general.

Tourism consumers whether from home or overseas are mainly interested in three things:

Value for money, the quality of facilities, and excellent customers services.  Of course sustainability and access for all are also important considerations.

These awards for excellence are about driving up standards in all these areas for the benefit of consumers and businesses alike”.

Government adviser ‘failed to declare work for insurance giant’

A senior government adviser has failed to declare freelance work carried out for the insurance giant set to make huge financial gains through the coalition’s incapacity benefit (IB) reforms, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

The adviser failed to declare the work carried out for the insurance company Unum in the register of interests, DNS understands.

The advice given to the government is believed to have included extensive discussions around welfare reform, at a time when the hugely controversial welfare reform bill has been passing through parliament.

Unum has admitted widespread criticisms of its past actions in the US – mainly over its refusal to pay out on large numbers of genuine insurance claims by disabled people.

There is no suggestion that the adviser acted improperly on behalf of Unum, but the failure to register the potential conflict of interest over work for such a controversial company will be a huge embarrassment to the government and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

A DWP civil servant confirmed to DNS through a Freedom of Information Act (FoI) request that the adviser was required as a public appointee to declare any conflicts of interest and that “none have been declared”.

Disabled activists have increasingly been raising concerns about the influence of Unum within the DWP and among MPs and peers.

They are worried about the impact this might have had on the controversial reforms of both coalition and Labour governments, including the introduction of the much-criticised “fitness for work” test, the work capability assessment (WCA).

Following the receipt of some limited information following the FoI request, DNS submitted a series of questions to the adviser, including whether they had worked for Unum or Atos Healthcare, the company that carries out the WCAs on behalf of the DWP.

In a statement sent by text message, the adviser said: “I am afraid that I am not able to give you any more information… than you have already received in the response to your FoI request.”

They added: “However, in a personal capacity I can assure you I have never worked for Atos.

“Again, in a personal capacity I am most concerned about both the form and the quality of the WCA assessment and would be most interested in the results of your researches. I am sorry not to be able to be of more assistance.”

They failed to respond to a text message which asked them to clarify whether they had worked for Unum.

A government official – in response to an FoI request by DNS – said that public appointees in similar roles were “required to declare an interest in companies that could cause a conflict of interest with their… role”, and that the adviser had “not declared an interest in Unum”.

DNS understands that the adviser has carried out freelance work for Unum on at least one occasion since their public appointment.

DWP’s press office has failed to answer any questions about the adviser and the Unum links since first being approached more than a week ago by DNS. The FoI was submitted by DNS on 2 December 2011.

John Letizia, Unum’s head of public affairs, said it was for the adviser to answer any questions about their appointment “and not for Unum to comment”.

Letizia refused to confirm whether the adviser had worked on a freelance basis for Unum.

DNS revealed evidence last year that strongly suggested that Unum has attempted to influence incapacity benefit reform, particularly under the Labour government.

Unum has denied doing so and that it stands to gain from the reforms, even though it launched a major media campaign last year just as the coalition began a three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing IB claimants through the new, stricter test, the WCA.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Minister denies social care crisis

A health minister has refused to accept the existence of a huge gap between the care and support disabled people need, and the funding made available to pay for it.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, was giving evidence to the Commons health committee’s inquiry into social care.

Labour MP Barbara Keeley told Burstow there were “growing levels of unmet need” among disabled and older people and that the King’s Fund had estimated that nearly 900,000 people were being left without basic care.

She said that “most commentators do talk about the social care system being in crisis”, and asked what the government was doing to avert this crisis.

Burstow said the government would be spending an extra £7.2 billion on social care by the end of 2014-15, and was looking at how to “improve productivity” in the social care system.

But Keeley told him that Andrew Dilnot – who led the government’s own independent commission on care funding reform – had told the committee that this extra money had “not found its way through to social care”.

She asked how he could improve social care when he was “unable to channel money to the correct part of the system”.

Her fellow Labour MP Rosie Cooper said: “If I was a member of the public watching this morning I would be filled with despair.

“They know they can’t get the services, local authorities are desperately trying to get the funding to ensure they can deliver basic services, [but] you’re saying there’s no gap.”

Burstow said it was important to remember that social care was a local authority service and councils were “responsible and accountable to their populations” for their decisions.

Keeley repeatedly asked Burstow – without success – to put a figure on the “funding gap”, or the level of “unmet need” in social care.

But Burstow claimed there should be “no gap” because of the extra money invested by the government, and the “efficiency gains” expected of local authorities.

He said: “There need not be a gap if local authorities take the sort of efficiency steps that the Local Government Association has said are possible… then there is no gap opening. The issue is whether each local authority is choosing to do that.”

He repeatedly claimed that measuring “unmet need” was a “difficult thing to do”.

Burstow also confirmed during his evidence that cross-party talks on funding reform had begun that morning.

He said: “We are not prepared to offer a running commentary on those discussions but they are looking at the issues of funding reform.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

CPS barrister to be quizzed over hate crime sentencing failure

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is reviewing a barrister’s decision not to call for stricter sentences for three people who took part in a “degrading” hate crime attack on a disabled man.

The man, who has learning difficulties, was taped to a lamppost in Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside, Greater Manchester, by three “friends” and covered with food, paint and nail varnish.

One of the three wrote the word “terrorised” on his leg, while other drawings and words were scrawled on his body, including an obscene image on his back.

By the time he was cut free by one of the trio, he was unconscious, apparently because of the amount of alcohol he had drunk, and fell heavily to the ground. He was taken to hospital by ambulance.

Police believe a mob of at least a dozen people took part in the attack last August, with one taking pictures of him on a mobile phone, although only three people were arrested.

Maggie Bowden, 38, of Whiteacre Road, Ashton; Rebecca Willis, 24, of Sheard Avenue, Ashton; and Anthony Connolly, 25, of Broadoak Road, Ashton, all pleaded guilty to assault, but escaped with suspended prison sentences after appearing at Manchester Crown Court.

CPS had treated the “truly degrading attack” as a disability hate crime, but the prosecuting barrister failed to ask the judge to impose a stricter sentence under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for harsher sentences for hate crimes.

Without a request for a sentencing “uplift”, the judge suspended the prison sentences imposed on the trio, as Bowden and Willis both have young children, while he said Connolly had played a less significant role in the attack. Each of them will also have to pay £300 compensation to the victim.

A CPS spokeswoman said: “We did everything we should have done, apart from the very last thing, which was to ask the judge to consider the sentence uplift. We will be writing to the advocate formally to find out why this was not done.”

Anne Novis, a leading disabled hate crime campaigner and a member of the Ministry of Justice’s hate crime advisory group, said: “Lack of appropriate sentencing gives the message that disabled people’s lives are worth less than others who experience hate crime.

“Yet again we are let down by the very people who should be prosecuting our cases appropriately and using all the measures of law we have. Yet again the message goes out that hostility towards disabled people does not equal tough sentences, just leniency.”

Beverley Smith, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, added: “The sentencing here gives out a strong message that, in some cases, disability hate crime is OK. It is not OK.

“Light sentencing does nothing to increase public confidence in reporting [disability hate crime]; indeed it is very damaging. I strongly believe that a review of this sentence needs to be undertaken urgently.”

But there have also been concerns raised about the role of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which denied claims made in court that it twice refused to respond to calls from the public to help the man.

They said the first call they received complained about noise and drunken behaviour and said a man had been tied to a lamppost, while they have been unable to trace a second – 999 – call.

Assistant chief constable Garry Shewan said the force’s professional standards branch had launched an inquiry into how it responded, while GMP had also referred its handling of the crime to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Shewan said the incident was “thoroughly investigated as a disability hate crime”.

He added: “This man was subjected to a vile and horrendous assault and although the people responsible have been brought to justice, we are very sorry he was subjected to such abuse and are looking into whether we could have acted sooner.”

The case has again placed a spotlight on Greater Manchester Police’s record in dealing with serious disability-related incidents.

In March 2011, the IPCC heavily criticised GMP for its “total failure” to treat the “years of torment” experienced by David Askew at the hands of local youths as disability hate crime.

Askew, who had learning difficulties, collapsed and died from “natural causes” in March 2010 soon after police received reports that youths had again been harassing him outside his home in Hattersley, also in the borough of Tameside, on the edge of Manchester.

Last November, the force was criticised by the IPCC for ignoring two phone calls expressing serious concerns about the health of a disabled man, Philip Dorsett, who was later found dead.

There were also questions raised in 2010 about whether GMP failed to investigate a brutal and sustained attack by three teenagers on a young man with Asperger’s syndrome as a potential disability hate crime. The attack lasted three days.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com