Coalition MPs overturn Lords again on welfare reform

The government has again succeeded in overturning an amendment to the welfare reform bill that would have protected some disabled people from cuts to their benefits.

The amendment would have exempted many disabled people from a proposal to cut the housing benefit of working-age residents of social housing with spare bedrooms.

It was passed last week by peers but overturned by MPs in the Commons this week, and is now the only remaining element of the hugely controversial bill that has yet to be agreed by both houses of parliament.

Under the amendment, disabled people claiming disability living allowance and those in the support group of employment and support allowance would have been exempt from the cuts – as long as they had just one spare bedroom and no suitable offer of alternative accommodation.

Chris Grayling, the Conservative employment minister, said the amendment was “unaffordable”, at £100 million a year, although he said the government had already provided £30 million for local authorities to help about 40,000 of the claimants affected by the measure, including foster carers and disabled people in adapted accommodation.

But the Labour MP Tom Clarke asked Grayling to bear in mind the fact that the government’s own calculations indicate that 66 per cent of disabled people will bear the burden of an average loss of £13 a week”.

Stephen Timms, Labour’s shadow employment minister, pointed out that the £30 million was not ring-fenced and so local councils could use it for other purposes.

He said: “Let us call a spade a spade: this is a spiteful cut in people’s income.” 

The disabled Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd said it would be “daft” to force disabled people who had had expensive adaptations carried out on their homes to move house because they have a spare bedroom.

He said: “A number of my disabled constituents, such as wheelchair-users, have had extensive adaptations in their homes – I am thinking of one particular individual… which have made a considerable difference to their lives.

“It took probably two or three years to get the work done in that case, and it would frankly be daft to move that individual out of her home because of the one-bedroom rule. The local authority has already spent £10,000 on those adaptations.”

Because of a time-limit on the debate, Grayling did not have time to respond to Lloyd’s request for “reassurance”, and Lloyd voted with the government, although he insisted later that the government had given a commitment that there would be enough discretionary funds to prevent disabled people in such circumstances from having to move home.

The bill will now return to the Lords, for further debate on the spare bedroom proposal, the final part of the bill still to be approved before it can become law.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Disabled MP defends votes to cut disability benefits

A disabled MP has defended his decision to vote with the coalition government on controversial measures in the welfare reform bill that will see cuts to disabled people’s benefits.

Stephen Lloyd has faced accusations of hypocrisy because of his decision to vote with the government on five amendments around disability, while also playing a leading role on several disability-related all-party parliamentary groups.

He is vice-chair of the groups on deafness and multiple sclerosis and is an active member of the all-party parliamentary disability group.

But the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne today rejected these claims and said he had repeatedly lobbied ministers over the bill, and hoped eventually to secure an important concession on one of the most unpopular disability-related proposals.

Two weeks ago, he voted with the government to reinstate proposals to time-limit the contributory form of employment and support allowance (ESA) – for those in the work-related activity group – to one year.

He also backed plans to reinstate contributory ESA time-limits for some people receiving cancer treatment, and prevent disabled young people with the highest support needs claiming contributory ESA.

And he voted to cut benefits for young disabled people with lower support needs, which will see most families with a disabled child losing £27 per week.

This week, he voted to overturn a fifth Lords amendment to the bill, this time to exempt many disabled people from a proposal to cut the housing benefit of working-age residents of social housing with spare bedrooms.

Although he voted with the government, he did warn ministers it would be “daft” to move disabled people out of their homes because of the spare bedroom rule if thousands of pounds had been spent on physical adaptations.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) afterwards: “The government have given a commitment that there will be enough money given in discretionary funds to local authorities by the government [£30 million] to ensure that where you have a disabled person’s house that has been adapted that they will not be moved out.”

Lloyd said he understood why some disabled people might call him a “hypocrite” for voting with the government, while he was also a leading figure on disability-related all-party groups.

But he said he had lobbied ministers heavily on several disability-related issues in the bill, and continued to do so.

A member of the work and pensions select committee, he did manage to secure improvements to some proposals, while on others he didn’t and “took it on the chin”.

He said: “If I keep dying in a ditch on principle and keep [voting against the government] then my influence goes down the pan.”

He said he was frustrated at some of the criticism being levelled against the coalition over its welfare reforms, and pointed out that the government had been “hammered” over continuing problems with the work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for ESA – even though it was introduced by the Labour government.

But his strongest defence is his own lived experience as a disabled person and passionate interest in disability issues – he has a hearing impairment, and lost his sight for six months in his twenties, while his mother had bipolar disorder.

Before entering parliament in 2010 he worked in business for more than 20 years but also focused on disability and other diversity issues, including work with both RNIB and RNID.

He said: “I fight like hell around the issue of disability. Sometimes [the hypocrisy] is true, but sometimes it’s more nuanced than that.

“Disability is something I am determined to do something about in parliament, so having me on some of these groups is a real asset.”

He comes, he stresses, from a “social model” perspective, which explains his support – in a debate two months ago when he stood almost alone against a swathe of union-backed Labour MPs – for ending subsidies for the remaining segregated Remploy factories and encouraging disabled people to work in mainstream employment.

He stresses that he has lobbied work and pensions ministers hard on the welfare reform bill, particularly on the issue of disabled people having to undergo repeated assessments to claim ESA and the new personal independence payment (PIP), the planned replacement for disability living allowance (DLA).

He believes some disabled people only need to be assessed in person once, with future reassessments on paper, probably through a letter of confirmation from their consultant, a change he says would help disabled people and save the government money.

He believes ministers have been listening to him on the issue, although they have not yet promised to make the changes. Lloyd believes such a change could be politically possible once every working-age person on DLA has been reassessed for their eligibility for PIP.

But he remains unapologetic about backing the government on other measures in the bill, such as the hugely controversial proposal to introduce the ESA one-year time limit, because he wants to “get people back to work”.

He believes in the government’s “broad direction of travel” on ESA and its Work Programme, and says he is “evangelical” about helping people move from welfare dependency into employment, although he says most of this group are not disabled people.

But he does make a promise: that if the government’s welfare reforms prove after all to be a “Thatcherite” plot, he will have no qualms about turning from a “critical friend” into a “vehement foe”.

Lloyd insists that he did not feel uncomfortable voting with the government on the cuts to disability benefits, and that only if he had been “very, very specific” and “very vocal” on a particular issue would he then feel “daft” to vote against it.

He said: “There are some issues where I am winning, there are some issues where I am losing. But I do understand the concept of coalition, that coalition is a compromise and you win some, and you lose some.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DisabledGo looks ahead to Naidex 2012

For the fourth year in a row the DisabledGo team will be heading to Birmingham NEC on the 1st – 3rd May for Naidex 2012.

Naidex National is set to be an excellent show for healthcare professionals, trade, members of the public, and exhibitors alike and the DisabledGo team are excited to be involved. You will be able to find DisabledGo on stand 180 so please take some time, come along and meet the team.

Registration for free tickets and more information on the event can be found at www.naidex.co.uk where you can also find details on all the products and services that will be on show along with details of the various features and activities available at Naidex 2012.

Event Director Liz Logan commented: “2012 is going to be a fantastic year in the history of Naidex and the excitement of the Paralympic Games is certainly giving the show a fresh buzz. We aim to provide visitors with an experience that will inspire and engage them, and with enhanced features and innovative new products on display a visit to Naidex National this year is a must for anyone affected by disability or long term illness. ”

Visitors to the 2012 event can expect to see all of the Naidex favourites that make visiting so worthwhile, such as the Car Zone, KideQuip and Meet the Expert, not forgetting the 1000s of independent living solutions being showcased by the Naidex exhibitors. There will also be a wealth of free help and advice provided by OTs, counsellors, speech & language therapists, physiotherapists and paediatric experts on a wide range of topics and issues, so start preparing your questions for the experts now. Among these features, healthcare professionals will benefit from attending the new Naidex Conference that will offer free CPD knowledge building and career enhancing seminars and workshops.

You can count on the Naidex team to bring you exciting new features and zones each year, ensuring that the show provides something for everyone, and 2012 is no exception. New features of Naidex National 2012 include the Sports and Rehab Zone, an area of the show dedicated to sports products and the latest specialist exercise equipment for home rehabilitation to help improve quality of life and productivity of users, and a Sensory Room displaying the latest in sensory toys and equipment. The Independent Living Show Home will be inviting visitors to see how the latest products work realistically within the home to improve independence, and with new product trails marked through the show floor it will be easier than ever to find what you are looking for.

Mark Butterworth has a profoundly disabled son who needs highly specialist equipment. He says that by visiting Naidex he and his family get all the help and advice they need: “We can get these products on the internet, but you can’t really compare or touch them, so it’s great to see everything together under one roof and get advice there and then. Naidex has everything we need and more; it really opens your eyes to what’s out there and we just wouldn’t know what’s available without coming.”

So if like Mark you are looking for the latest equipment and advice on what products are best suited to your budget and needs, put 1st-3rd May in your diary and make the most of visiting the UK’s largest disability, homecare and rehabilitation exhibition. Make it a fun day out and visit www.naidex.co.uk to register you, your friends and family for free tickets by quoting priority code EP1

DisabledGo launches its latest access guide to Dundee City!

DisabledGo are pleased to announce Dundee 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, launched in partnership with Dundee City Council 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 Tuesday 28th February, 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.

Councillor Ken Guild, Leader of the Administration, Dundee City Council said:

“Dundee City Council’s partnership with DisabledGo, one of Europe’s largest disability organisations provides the opportunity for disabled people, their families and carers to have real choice over how they want to live their lives and adds value to our vision of Dundee being a cohesive and confident community.”

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

‘I would like to thoroughly commend Dundee City 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-Dundee 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-Dundee please contact Tom Felton, Partnership Administrator (E: tom.felton@disabledgo.com T: 01438 842710).

Disabled people’s organisation faces criticism over ministerial invitation

A leading user-led organisation has been criticised for asking the minister for disabled people to help launch new guidance on disability hate crime, while failing to invite the media.

Maria Miller and other work and pensions ministers have faced repeated criticism for stirring up hostility towards disabled benefits claimants over the last 12 months, particularly through their language and their department’s misuse of benefits statistics.

Two weeks ago, ministers were warned by disabled peers that their rhetoric on disability benefits was fuelling an atmosphere of hatred and hostility towards disabled people.

But despite these criticisms, Miller was asked to speak at the launch of new disability hate crime guidance, which has been written by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) with backing from the government’s Office for Disability Issues.

DR UK failed to invite any media to the event, held at Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices in Whitehall, while DWP later refused to make a copy of Miller’s speech available to Disability News Service (DNS).

Anne Novis, a leading disability hate crime campaigner, criticised the decision to invite Miller to speak at the launch.

She said: “There has to be a line drawn between what is acceptable and what is not.

“Maria Miller has crossed the line many times with the distorted facts and figures on disability benefits that she has used, and her comments about the unsustainability of supporting and caring for disabled people.

“She has not supported a decrease in disability hate crime in her language. In the way she works, she has increased that.”

Ruth Bashall, an activist who works to address violence against disabled people, said: “As a grassroots activist I was not invited. Had I been there I would have been asking some very searching questions of the minister for disabled people.

“Politicians need to recognise that they are encouraging hatred towards disabled people and also creating fear among disabled people, some of whom are actually too frightened to claim what are supposed to be their entitlements.

“The way they are labelling disabled people as a drain on resources is actually impacting on our safety and is making us more likely to experience hostility and hate crime and harassment.

“I am sure a lot of disabled people would have liked an opportunity to ask questions directly about the link between disability hate crime and demonising disabled people.”

She welcomed the guidance but said what was really needed was proper funding to tackle hate crime.

DR UK itself told DNS earlier this month that DWP had “deliberately fuelled hostility towards disabled people”, for example by describing “disabled people” and “taxpayers” as different groups in its press releases.

DR UK declined to comment on its decision to invite Miller to the launch.

The new guidance includes: a guide for disabled people on what a disability hate crime is, why it should be reported, and how to report it; a similar guide for non-disabled people; and a third guide to help disabled people’s organisations that want to set up a third-party hate crime reporting site.

The launch came as a new report by the Trailblazers group of young disabled campaigners found that up to four-fifths of young disabled people believe the police do not take disability harassment and hate crime seriously enough.

Nearly two-thirds of those questioned for the Under Investigation report believe they have been or may have been the victim of a disability hate crime, while only four out of ten of those who have been harassed or abused have reported the incident to the authorities.

Marc Pyle, from Swindon, said: “People regularly taunt me for the way I walk, which has changed due to the muscles in my legs weakening.

“The perpetrators are usually big groups of men, who like to shout comments or mimic my walk.”

Even after he was physically assaulted by a gang of young men, he said the police “didn’t really seem to care”, took three hours to get to the scene and then “as no-one was prepared to act as a witness they said there was nothing they could do”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Sister’s four-year wait for answers over brother’s death

The sister of a disabled man who died in what she believes were suspicious circumstances more than four years ago says her family are still waiting for answers about his death from their local council.

Andrew Taylor, who had Down’s syndrome, was found dead in his locked bedroom next to an empty bottle of whisky.

Toxicology tests later found he had massive amounts of the anti-epilepsy drug Carbamazepine in his blood, equivalent to about 20 tablets.

His sister, Elizabeth Brookes, has been seeking answers about her brother’s death since he died at his home in Maidenhead in August 2007.

She believes that neither the police investigation, the subsequent inquest, nor the council’s own investigations were thorough enough. All concluded there were no suspicious circumstances.

But Brookes insists that her brother was not capable of quickly taking 20 tablets from their packet one after another because he had such poor motor skills, and that he would never have bought a bottle of whisky and drunk it without encouragement from another person.

The drugs were supposed to be kept in a locked cupboard by support staff, who visited his home three times a day at mealtimes. Her brother’s keys, which he always kept with him, were not in his locked bedroom when his body was found, she said.

She added: “My brother had short stubby fingers and struggled to do up his buttons, he had poor motor skills in that way and was very slow. His eyesight was also poor and he slowly held things up to his eyes to see what was what.”

Even if he did have access to so many tablets, she added, he “wouldn’t have had the quick physical movements to pop them out and quickly swallow them, whilst swigging whisky”.

And she said he certainly didn’t understand the concept of suicide, and would have been unable to plan ahead to store so many pills.

Staff told the inquest that they had no idea how he had secured access to the drugs. The coroner recorded an open verdict.

Brookes says Windsor and Maidenhead council’s former head of adult services – shortly before his retirement – promised an in-depth investigation into her brother’s death, after she had complained that the council had failed to examine the circumstances thoroughly enough.

But after he retired, she heard nothing further about the investigation, a failure that she said was “absolutely shocking”.

She said: “I just don’t see how they can protect other people in this borough in their care. What I struggle with is that someone vulnerable has died in this way and absolutely no-one seems bothered by it.”

Gina Small, director of Turnstone Support, which was providing Andrew Taylor’s support at the time of his death, said the company had provided information to the inquest.

She said: “I am very happy if there is any fresh evidence or investigation to co-operate but we have not been alerted to any of that.”

Small, who was not working for Turnstone in 2007, said she could not comment on whether there were any suspicious circumstances surrounding Andrew Taylor’s death but that “certainly that is not what the inquest said”.

She said: “I know it was quite a lengthy inquest and there is nothing in the summary information provided to us that suggests anything suspicious, other than an open verdict.”

A council spokeswoman confirmed that there was an “external” investigation into Andrew Taylor’s death in early 2010.

A council spokeswoman said: “We were not aware that Mr Taylor’s sister had not received a copy of the report and we are arranging for that to be sent direct to her and to invite her in to go through the report findings.”

But she said that neither the inquest, the police investigation, nor a “social care” investigation “uncovered any suspicious circumstances”.

A Thames Valley Police spokeswoman said: “The death of Andrew Taylor in 2007 was investigated thoroughly by Thames Valley Police and subsequently by the coroner who carried out the inquest into his death.

“Following a complaint in 2008 from a family member of the deceased, a senior officer investigated their complaint and reviewed the investigation and reported back to the family. If the family still have concerns we would urge them to contact the force directly.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Austerity is undermining independent living across Europe, MEPs are told

Activists have told MEPs that “austerity” measures are undermining disabled people’s right to independent living across Europe.

The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) held a hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels aimed at defending the right to independent living, a session hosted by MEPs from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left parliamentary group.

Leading disabled activists from ENIL and other organisations presented evidence about the impact of austerity measures on disabled people across the European Union (EU).

They pointed out that more than 1.2 million disabled people in the EU are already living in long-stay residential institutions because of the shortage of community-based services.

And they said that the right to personal assistance and other community support services was being further removed from disabled people or “downgraded” in many EU member states because of austerity measures.

They also told MEPs that disabled people – and their ability to live independently – were being disproportionately affected by cuts in public spending, and that removing support services would force more disabled people into institutions, in “direct violation” of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

After the hearing, Jamie Bolling, ENIL’s executive director, said governments across Europe were using the same rhetoric as the UK government to try to justify their cuts.

She said: “Instead of speaking of full participation, it comes down to the most severe disabilities so they are now cutting out a lot of people, imprisoning a lot of people in institutions.

“It is not a question of survival, it is a question of participation in society and not just existing in your home.”

And she said that several EU governments – including those in Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands – were mirroring the hostile rhetoric used by the UK government in a bid to scapegoat disabled benefits claimants.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com