Anger over Boris snub for user-led question time

London’s mayor has been criticised for failing to turn up for an event that provided an opportunity for disabled people to question candidates for May’s mayoral election.

Three of the four leading candidates for mayor attended the “hustings” organised by two disabled people’s organisations, Inclusion London and Transport for All (TfA), but the mayor Boris Johnson was said to be too busy to turn up.

Johnson’s decision to send another Conservative politician, Richard Tracey, in his place, caused anger among disabled audience members.

There was further anger when it emerged that Johnson would instead be attending a hustings next month organised by three non-user-led national disability charities: Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability and RNIB.

The three charities have not invited Inclusion London or Transport for All to their event.

Faryal Velmi, TfA’s director, said she was unhappy with the mayor’s decision, and that of the three charities to hold their own hustings – and not invite or consult with the capital’s leading user-led organisations.

She said: “It just follows the model they operate. Disabled people are not involved in the leadership of those organisations.”

She suggested that Johnson may have refused to attend because of the hostile reception he received at last October’s Disability Capital conference, where he and disabled people’s minister Maria Miller both received repeated, angry heckling from activists.

Henrietta Doyle, Inclusion London’s policy officer, added: “Boris Johnson’s support for Deaf and disabled people’s organisations is under question as he has turned his back on our hustings.”

A spokesman for Johnson said: “We have been approached by a number of disability organisations regarding mayoral debates but sadly competing commitments don’t allow us to accept all of them.

“Boris Johnson will be debating the other mayoral candidates at a hustings jointly held by Mencap, Leonard Cheshire and RNIB in April, and is looking forward to discussing the key issues there and answering the questions of disabled Londoners.”

But when Disability News Service asked why Johnson had chosen to attend an event organised by three national disability charities rather than user-led, pan-London organisations – and whether he was aware of the importance of such events being run by user-led organisations – the spokesman declined to comment further.

No-one from Leonard Cheshire Disability was available to comment on why they and the other two charities organised a rival hustings event, or have failed to invite London’s leading user-led organisations to attend.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Remploy campaign ‘could lead to factory occupations’

Closing many of the remaining Remploy factories is set to lead to direct action, national protests and even the occupation of the factories by disabled workers, a meeting of campaigners and union activists has heard.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) this week pledged its full support for a campaign against the closures, at a meeting it called to discuss how it could help disabled Remploy workers threatened with losing their jobs.

Les Woodward, Remploy convenor for the GMB union, described the speed of the closures as “absolutely obscene”, with the first of the 36 factories set to close on 4 July, and the rest in the middle of August.

He argued that there was “no economic argument” for closing the factories, as costs had fallen and revenue risen sharply in the last year, with sales revenue set to increase from £104 million in 2010-11 to £116 million in 2011-12, and the cost of running the factory sites due to fall from £68 million to £50 million.

Woodward told the meeting that he believed the remaining 18 Remploy factories would close within a year, even though the government had said it would consult Remploy bosses on whether they could be sold or could survive as social enterprises run by employees.

He said Remploy unions had vowed this week to fight the closures “tooth and nail and with every breath of our body”, and added: “There is going to be a campaign that will involve civil disobedience. We are not going to go out of this quietly.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said DPAC was strongly opposed to segregation of disabled people.

But she called for the Remploy factories not to be closed but to be reformed as user-led enterprises because “now is not the time to be making up to 2,000 people unemployed”, while it was non-disabled managers who had failed the Remploy workers.

She said the government had “no interest in an inclusive society whatsoever” and that the way to build an inclusive society was “to build an inclusive education system”, which would ensure disabled people had access to mainstream employment.

She also claimed that “some of the distaste” for the Remploy factories among parts of the disability movement was due to “snobbery” about factory work, and said: “Now is the time to stand behind the Remploy workers. It is not the time to argue amongst ourselves.”

There has been anger among Remploy workers, their unions and some disabled activists over support in large parts of the disability movement for the closure of what they see as “segregated”, “sheltered” factories.

Woodward told the meeting: “We believe that until we reach Utopia and get to a position where employers are willing to take on disabled employees without prejudice… then I am afraid that for some disabled people Remploy will be the preferred option.”

He called for Remploy to be run by disabled people, and said that members of the public were “queuing up” to support their campaign against the closures.

Clifford said she did not believe that the money saved by closing the factories would be spent instead on the Access to Work scheme, as the government had promised.

She added: “We don’t believe money from this is going to go anywhere near Access to Work.”

The DPAC members and union activists at the meeting agreed to hold a high-profile public meeting to oppose the closures on Thursday 19 April in central London, with the possibility of a national day of action, factory occupations and other direct action to follow.

Remploy has been unable to confirm Woodward’s estimates for increased factory revenue but said the fall in costs was due to the impact of the voluntary redundancy programme announced in January 2011.

A Remploy spokesman said the dates for the factory closures mentioned by Woodward were “not fixed”, although he admitted they were “contained in documents which the company is legally bound to provide to the government and which have been given to the unions and management forums”.

He added: “Much will depend on the outcome of the consultation and what steps may be agreed to reduce the number of proposed redundancies and what other strategies might emerge to mitigate redundancies.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

VisitEngland and DisabledGo Launch Online Disability Awareness Course

VisitEngland, the national tourist board, today launched a new online training course to help tourism businesses deliver excellent service to disabled customers.  Designed in partnership with award-winning disability organisation DisabledGo, the course is specifically tailored to help those working within the tourism industry. One thousand free spaces have been made available to tourism businesses in England, and businesses can register up to 5 places each by visiting: http://www.disabledgo.com/tourismtraining

The course consists of six modules, which can be completed online at the user’s convenience; the whole course takes around one to two hours to complete.  The training starts with an introduction to disability, and then looks at different types of impairment, before offering practical advice on providing an accessible service and acceptable language to use when communicating with disabled customers. The final section talks through the legal obligations of tourism businesses under the Equality Act (2010). Progress can be saved throughout the course, allowing the user to log off and complete it over several hours or days, if necessary. 

Following successful completion of the course a certificate is made available for download, and each user’s account remains active, allowing them to log in at a later date to refer to the course material; sections can also be printed out for every-day reference.  This value-for-money course costs a maximum of £15 per person, with the cost decreasing the more people a business would like trained.

James Berresford, VisitEngland’s Chief Executive, commented:

“It is vital that those working within the tourism industry have the knowledge and confidence to offer excellent customer service to disabled visitors, particularly as we prepare for the many exciting events taking place across England in 2012. Over £2 billion is spent in England by disabled visitors and their companions each year, and this new online Disability Awareness Course will enable staff to be more aware of their specific needs, providing a high quality and memorable visitor experience.”

Dr Gregory Burke, Founder and Chief Executive of DisabledGo, commented:

“At DisabledGo, we provide access information, access audits, equality and disability awareness training programmes for a wide range of business sectors. As the national tourist board, VisitEngland was a natural partner for us in developing a cost-effective, high-quality online course for the tourism industry and we are delighted to be working with them to launch this programme.”

Visit www.disabledgo.com/tourismtraining to register for free places on the online Disability Awareness course (only 1,000 free places available, limited to five per business).

Budget 2012: Shock at new £10 billion threat to benefits

Campaigners have warned that this week’s budget has produced a new and worrying attack on disabled people’s rights and support.

While most of the media’s attention was focused on measures such as reducing the top rate of income tax, freezing tax allowances for pensioners, and increasing the personal allowance, another announcement has alarmed disabled activists.

The chancellor, George Osborne, suggested that he could be planning another £10 billion of cuts to welfare spending, in addition to the £18 billion already announced since the coalition came to power two years ago.

He claimed that the welfare budget was set to rise “to consume one third of all public spending” if nothing was done to “curb welfare bills further”.

And he said that the next spending review would “have to confront this”, with figures showing that to keep spending cuts in other departments at their current levels, the government would “need to make [annual] savings in welfare of £10 billion by 2016”.

Disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations were horrified by the threat, and said they feared that many of these cuts could fall on disabled people and disability benefits.

Sue Marsh, a disabled activist who has played a key part in campaigning against the cuts to disability benefits in the new Welfare Reform Act, said her reaction on learning of the new threatened cuts was “beyond incredulity”.

She said she believed the government would focus any further cuts on groups such as disabled and unemployed people and single parents.

She said: “It was £18 billion before and I didn’t think they could do that. I already felt that £18 billion had brought us to a tipping point. Now it’s only about how far we tip. Any further cuts are just going to cause massive, massive hardship.

“If they tried to put through another £10 billion and 50 per cent of that fell on our shoulders, I think last year’s riots would look like nothing [in comparison].”

Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK, said a £10 billion cut in welfare spending “could be very damaging for disabled people”, even if the cuts were not made directly to disability benefits [many disabled people claim mainstream payments such as pensions and jobseeker’s allowance].

He said he feared the Treasury wanted to transfer older people from disability living allowance (DLA) to the new personal independence payment (PIP), and make similar cuts to the 20 per cent reductions already announced to spending on DLA/PIP for working-age disabled people.

Roger Lewis, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said he believed the government had placed disabled people “very clearly central in their sights” and that disabled people were “being squeezed off benefits and being squeezed out of work”, as so many had jobs in the cash-strapped public sector.

He said: “It feels like we are being marginalised in society and most of the gains we have won over the last 50 or 60 years are being completely pushed back. It is a very, very, very grim picture.”

Henrietta Doyle, Inclusion London’s policy officer, said: “We are very concerned at the possibility of a further £10 billion in cuts in welfare benefits because well over half of disabled people claim welfare benefits and tax credits.”

The Treasury has said that any decisions on the £10 billion – and how any cuts would be split between welfare and spending in other government departments – would only be made at the next spending review, although there have been reports that this review could be brought forward from 2015.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

New access guide to Guernsey is Go!

The States of Guernsey has joined online access guide www.disabledgo.com providing a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to know more about access to the island.

The guide to Guernsey covers over 500 venues across the island including – cinemas, hotels, parks, leisure centres, state offices, high street stores, restaurants, tourist attractions – the list goes on and on.

The guide, which launched on Tuesday 13th March at the Beau Sejour Leisure Centre will enable islanders and visitors to find out whether venues have adapted toilets or parking close by but also specific details such as whether there are tactile or Braille markings in lifts or on doors, the dimensions of toilets, the positioning of fixtures and fittings and whether you can request large print or Braille information.

Speaking at the launch Deputy Jane Stephens, Disability Champion of, the States of Guernsey, said that the scheme, which will run for five years…

“will give disabled islanders, carers and many others the information they need to plan their outings in advance and to find places they can be sure of visiting in comfort and with dignity.”

Deputy Stephens went on to say: “the guide provides an excellent resource for Guernsey, which will be useful to islanders in their day-to-day lives, and will also be of real value to visitors.”

DisabledGo have been working in Guernsey with the support of the Policy Council, the Culture and Leisure Department and the Commerce and Employment Department, as well as with the help of three local surveyors who have been trained and employed by DisabledGo especially for this project.

All of the information provided on DisabledGo-Guernsey 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-Guernsey please contact Rachel Felton, External Relations Manager (E: rachel.felton@disabledgo.com T: 01438 842710).

Protesters to shame Atos over inaccessible offices

Campaigners are to protest outside the company which conducts “fitness for work” assessments of disabled people for the government, but has leased inaccessible buildings to carry them out.

The protest in Norwich tomorrow (March 23) is being supported by two disabled people’s organisations, Norwich Access Group and Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP).

They say the Norwich offices used by Atos Healthcare to carry out the much-criticised work capability assessments (WCAs) – which test eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – are inaccessible to wheelchair-users.

They also say that public transport links are too far away from the offices for them to be used by many disabled people attending their assessments.

Last July, the Commons work and pensions select committee criticised Atos for holding many assessments across the country in inaccessible buildings.

George Saunders, chair of Norwich Access Group, said: “Our government has awarded a multi-million pound contract to a company which can’t even rent a building which their customers can access.

“I think this is a real statement of the coalition government’s attitude towards disabled people.”

Mark Harrison, NCODP’s chief executive, added: “This multinational company makes profits from disabled people and disabled people can’t even get into their premises.

“Everything this coalition government does seem to have a negative effect on disabled people, their families and carers.

“This is yet another example of our elected representatives putting the needs of private business before those of the poorest in society.”

The protest was called following the treatment of a disabled couple at the Norwich offices, and an incident involving a disabled veteran at Atos’s Ipswich offices.

Elly Everett was told she could not enter the Norwich building to accompany her husband Glen for his work capability assessment because she uses a wheelchair, even though she had attended her own test there several days earlier.

Because she was unable to accompany her husband, his assessment had to be cancelled.

Glen Everett said: “We felt humiliated. The receptionist said she has to turn people away every day. How do they think we feel? We feel like second-class citizens.”

The protesters will also be highlighting the case of Dene Carter, who says that an Atos doctor caused him “horrific pain” by forcing his leg into “places it can’t go by itself” to prove that he was “fit for work”.

Carter, whose injuries were caused through active service in the infantry, was subsequently declared “fit for work”, even though a separate assessment by Atos for his war pension found he was “not capable of work”.

He said: “I get the feeling the doctors are under pressure to test people to get them off benefits.”

Harrison said: “How can an ex-serviceman be treated in this way? How can one system declare him fit for work (knowing that medical investigation was still ongoing) and the other declare him unfit for work? Which assessment would you trust?”

No-one from Atos Healthcare was available to comment.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Peers and MPs hear of young man’s six-month hospital nightmare

A disabled peer has dedicated a ground-breaking parliamentary report on independent living to a young man who has been prevented from leaving hospital for more than six months by “bureaucratic failure” and a lack of support.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell said his case illustrated her fear that disabled people’s hard-won rights to independent living “may be built on sand”, and showed why the inquiry report published by the joint committee on human rights was so “timely”.

A parliamentary seminar on the report heard that she had met the young disabled man – who she said was called Rikesh – while receiving treatment herself for a serious chest infection last September.

He had been due to return home, but Baroness Campbell was amazed to find him still in the specialist respiratory unit of St Thomas’ Hospital when she was readmitted two months ago.

Because he had undergone a tracheostomy, it was decided that his support needs – which had previously been met through direct payments and personal assistants funded by his council – had now become health needs.

Responsibility for his support passed from social services to his primary care trust, which insisted on taking control of his personal assistants.

Rikesh has now spent six months living in the hospital, at a rising cost of about £225,000 and without even the support he needs to leave the intensive care ward for a coffee or some fresh air.

He hopes to finally return home next month, but even this is not certain.

His ordeal was described in a speech written by Baroness Campbell – but delivered by her fellow disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson – at the parliamentary seminar held to discuss the committee’s report on the implementation of disabled people’s right to independent living, which was published earlier this month.

Baroness Campbell played a lead role in the report but has again been readmitted to hospital and so was unable to deliver her speech in person.

She said that Rikesh’s case showed that disabled people were still being institutionalised “through bureaucratic failure, red-tape and a lack of support”.

She said: “Such waste and inefficiency is shocking at any time, but especially so in the context of the reforms and spending cuts presently being implemented [by the government].

“The UN Convention [on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] makes clear that countries should progressively realise disabled people’s human rights within the maximum of their available resources.

“We are clearly failing to do so if we allow almost a quarter of a million pounds to be wasted in such a way.

“For those who say independent living is an unaffordable ideal, I say that having control over our own lives is a way to cut through such waste.”

Baroness Campbell said she feared that she could end up in a similar situation to Rikesh if her local authority was to cut her care package or demand that she transferred to NHS care, and was “only a few bureaucratic decisions away from returning to the inequality I endured at age 18”.

Diane Mulligan, a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability committee, who leads on its work on the UN convention, told the seminar that the inquiry’s report was “fantastic, exemplary and extremely timely” and could influence other countries that have signed up to the convention.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com