Treasury criticised by watchdog over equality failings

The Treasury may have failed in its legal duty to consider how some of the cuts announced in its 2010 spending review would impact on disabled people, the equality watchdog has concluded.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) spent 18 months – twice as long as originally intended – assessing in detail how the Treasury reached some of the most controversial spending decisions in the October 2010 spending review.

The assessment report looks at whether Treasury ministers and civil servants met their legal obligations – under public sector equality duties – to consider fully the impact of decisions to cut benefits, government subsidies and services on disabled people, ethnic minorities and women.

Six of those decisions were found to comply with the law, including proposals to limit the contributory form of employment and support allowance to one year, cut spending on legal aid, and withdraw the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from people in residential homes (a plan later scrapped following pressure from disabled campaigners).

But the report found that three decisions could have breached equality duties – although the EHRC was not able to say for sure, because of a lack of evidence – including the move to cut subsidies for bus companies and scrap the education maintenance allowance.

Although the report praises ministers and officials for “serious” efforts to meet their legal obligations, it also contains a string of explicit and implicit criticisms of the Treasury.

It is critical of the failure to consult in advance with disabled people about the mobility component cut – particularly the failure to discover exactly how care home residents use their DLA.

It also reveals that Treasury ministers were briefed that cuts to bus subsidies would not disproportionately affect disabled people, even though the Department for Transport had made it clear that they would.

The assessment report also stresses that information about the “potential disproportionate impact” of the legal aid cuts on disabled people, women and ethnic minorities was in front of the “Quad” – the prime minister, deputy prime minister, Treasury chief secretary and chancellor – when they approved the decision.

The EHRC secured “unprecedented” access to Treasury documents for the review, under conditions of strict secrecy.

Mike Smith, an EHRC commissioner and chair of the commission’s disability committee, said the review was “one of the most exhaustive” the EHRC had ever carried out.

He said the report would change the way the government and other public bodies make spending decisions in the future, and could prove hugely influential in helping disabled people and their organisations hold them to account.

Smith said: “The report shows that actively involving disabled people in decision-making processes means you are more likely to make the right decision in the first place.”

The report does make it clear that as long as politicians and officials consider the equality impact of their decisions and the steps they could take to “mitigate” that impact, they can then go ahead and make those decisions.

But Smith said: “This report was not about whether these measures were discriminatory. It was about whether they complied with the law.

“The really positive thing is that the Treasury, the most influential government department, has committed to doing things better in the future.”

A Treasury spokeswoman said: “The Treasury will consider the good practice recommendations carefully and respond in due course.”

She added: “The government takes equalities incredibly seriously and at the spending review exceeded its legal duties.

“We are pleased that the EHRC says that the government ‘consciously and actively sought to fulfil the duties’ on equalities in the spending review.”

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Campaign raises fears over ‘unsafe’ vehicle conversions

Some wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) are potentially unsafe for passengers or drivers travelling in their wheelchairs, and should never have been allowed on the roads, claim campaigners.

The campaigning user-led charity Disabled Motoring UK (DM UK) spoke out as it joined Constables Mobility – a leading conversion company – to launch a campaign calling for stricter testing of WAVs.

The No Compromises! campaign calls on the government to make it illegal for any WAV model to be allowed on the road without first undergoing strict “sled” testing.

It is also urging disabled customers to ask for a certificate of sled testing before they buy a WAV, and is calling on the Motability car scheme to stop leasing WAVs that are not “sled tested”.

Helen Dolphin, DM UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “I want Motability to take note and realise that this is something that should be done.

“They should stop accepting cars onto their scheme unless they have had all the proper checks.”

A sled test involves strapping a crash-test dummy into a wheelchair within the car, which is put through head-on collisions to check that the belts and their fixtures are strong enough to withstand an accident and keep the wheelchair-user secure.

DM UK and Constables say the extra test is vital because of the significant and complex changes made to cars when they are converted to become wheelchair-accessible.

Figures on accidents involving WAVs are not collected so it is impossible to say how many wheelchair-users may have been injured or even killed because of problems with the conversions of their vehicles.

But Dolphin said: “It is amazing that vehicles are being sold that may not be safe for the drivers and their disabled passengers, and we feel strongly that this must stop.

“Until a car has had that kind of test, there is no guarantee that it will hold or restrain a wheelchair-user if they have had an accident.”

She added: “I don’t want to drive anybody out of business but at the end of the day the most important thing here is disabled people’s safety.”

A Motability spokeswoman said that standards for all their conversions were governed by European Union law and backed by industry bodies such as the Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Converters Association (WAVCA).

She said: “All WAVs supplied to Motability customers are compliant with EU and UK regulations, in place at the time of the vehicle registration, as well as adopting any additional standards agreed and required by WAVCA.”

But when asked how many Motability vehicles had not been sled tested, and whether Motability would take any action to ensure all vehicles were sled tested, she refused to comment.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat local transport minister, said he welcomed DM UK’s “commitment to ensuring wheelchair-users travel in safety” and shared that objective.

He added: “All vehicles need to meet a range of safety rules to enable them to operate on the road. This ensures that good levels of protection are offered to the driver and passengers.”

But he said: “We have seen no convincing evidence to show that the approval system for converted vehicles needs changing, or that road safety is being compromised as a result of vehicles being modified post-registration. However, we will continue to monitor this closely with industry.”

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Disability movement divided over Remploy closures

Significant parts of the disability movement have backed disabled Remploy workers who are set to lose their jobs because of government plans to shut their sheltered factories.

Despite their continued opposition to the kind of segregated and sheltered employment provided by the Remploy factories, a string of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are demanding that the government abandons the closures.

They say that simply shutting the factories and making their disabled workers redundant is the wrong decision at a time of recession.

A letter opposing the closures, written by Inclusion London, has been signed by leading DPOs such as Inclusion Scotland, Disability Action in Islington, Cooltan Arts, Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, Greenwich Association of Disabled People, Norfolk Association of Disabled LGBT People and Shaping Our Lives.

Leading parts of the disabled people’s grassroots anti-cuts movement, including the groups Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and the Broken of Britain, have also signed the letter, as have scores of unions, leading disabled activists, MPs and voluntary organisations.

They say in the letter, published this week in the Guardian: “Our goal and demand for inclusive employment must not be used to justify job cuts that will push these workers into poverty, exclusion, and isolation.”

The letter also calls for investment and support to turn the factories into user-led social enterprises, and more government investment in Access to Work (AtW) and other employment support, a commitment to tackling workplace discrimination and the right to inclusive education and training.

Although the UK Disabled People’s Council has not signed the letter, it also raised concerns about the closures this week.

Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, told Disability News Service (DNS): “UKDPC welcomes the government’s intention to close sheltered workshops like Remploy but that cannot just be done overnight, putting a number of disabled people out of work in a climate where there is a lack of job opportunities.

“Change has to be managed and we do not want disabled people to become victims of that change.”

But other leading DPOs are backing the government and insisting that the decision to close the factories is the right one, despite the recession.

Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ecdp), Southampton Centre for Independent Living (SCIL), Breakthrough UK, and Disability Rights UK (DR UK) wrote this week to the Sunday Express – which is campaigning against the closures – to back the decision to shut the factories and invest the money saved in AtW.

It was last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of DR UK, which suggested an end to government ownership and funding for Remploy, and the closure of factories which were “not viable”, alongside an expanded AtW scheme.

Ian Loynes, SCIL’s chief executive, told DNS that there was “never going to be a good time” for the Remploy workers to lose their jobs.

He said: “We believe it is a good move. We support the minister in her decision. To do anything else will result, we believe, in losing all arguments on segregated provision in the future. We will lose all the good work we have done over the last 30 years.”

He said that Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, had made it clear that all those disabled Remploy workers losing their jobs would be given individual support packages to help them find new, mainstream jobs.

Loynes accused some campaigners – particularly unions – of using arguments “of the past” to push their case, such as arguing that Remploy workers would face discrimination if they tried to find jobs in mainstream workplaces.

He said: “If you buy into that, you buy into a future that increases the likelihood of segregation and the likelihood of people being segregated and marginalised.”

Loynes said he believed that the range of opinions expressed about the Remploy closures within the disability movement was not a concern and instead was “something we should celebrate”.

Mike Adams, ecdp’s chief executive, said the closure plan was “absolutely the right thing to do” and accused parts of the disability movement of shifting its position over Remploy.

He said all of the disabled people and organisations that he witnessed take part in the Sayce review – apart from Remploy workers – had made it clear that the factories “should have closed 20 years ago”.

He said: “I don’t think the disability movement should be very proud of itself having moved its position.

“Disabled people in Essex were very, very clear that the Remploy factories should close. It is important that we show some leadership.”

He added: “At some point we just have to go ahead and do it, but make sure that there is a strong transitional process that supports the individual into other employment or other activities.

“Those safeguards have been put in place so I see no reason why they should not just do it now.”

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Disabled workers still face ‘bleak’ struggle for support

Disabled people are still facing a “bleak picture” in their struggle to secure the support they need in the workplace, according to a new report from the equality watchdog.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report, A Perfect Partnership, says awareness of disability rights is still low, and disclosing an impairment to an employer is seen as “a high risk strategy” by many disabled workers.

Disabled people have told the EHRC of “bullying and harassment and not fitting the image”, while others said that “reasonable adjustments are sometimes resented by managers and colleagues”.

The EHRC says in the report that evidence suggests “a bleak picture of individuals often isolated and struggling to assert their rights and to access support, many of whom suffer for a number of years”.

The report says that closing the “employment gap” between disabled and non-disabled workers – the difference between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in work – can improve performance across an organisation.

Only half of disabled adults are in work, compared with four-fifths of non-disabled adults, and the report warns that the gap could widen as a result of public sector job cuts.

Among the solutions suggested by disabled people were more supportive managers, flexible working, and support and understanding from colleagues, but “virtually no-one had been offered these things”.

Employers told the EHRC that disabled people often only disclosed their impairments “when something goes wrong in the workplace and then it was often too late for a quick solution to be found”.

And most employers recognised that line managers played a crucial role in resolving problems but were often left “isolated and left to sort out adjustments”.

Among the report’s recommendations, it calls for employers to be more proactive in anticipating support, for example by seeking information from all new job starters, even from those who are not disabled, and for improved training and guidance for managers.

The report also recommends that flexible working is offered to all disabled workers and job applicants, and that the Access to Work scheme is extended – as recommended by last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce.

And it says that employers must make clear that there is “zero tolerance of hostility and harassment” in the workplace.

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SEN reforms: Government pushes ahead with anti-inclusion plans

The government is to push ahead with plans to make it harder for disabled children to attend mainstream schools, detailed plans published this week have revealed.

Announcing the government’s proposals for reform of special educational needs (SEN), Liberal Democrat children’s minister Sarah Teather focused on plans to give parents more choice and control over their children’s support.

But the detailed document makes it clear that there has been no change of heart in the coalition over its pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in the education system.

The reforms were set out in the government’s formal response to a public consultation on last year’s SEN green paper, which resulted in 2,400 responses from individuals and organisations.

Although parents would theoretically have the right to seek a place at any state-funded school for their disabled child, they could be denied a place at a mainstream school if it was thought “unsuitable to the child’s age, aptitude, ability or SEN”, could prejudice the education of other children, or was not an “efficient” use of resources.

Currently, they can only be turned down if the placement could harm other children’s education. Versions of the other two “caveats” were repealed by the government in 2001 following years of campaigning by disabled activists and their allies.

The veteran inclusive education campaign Richard Rieser, co-founder of the Reverse the Bias campaign, said the caveat relating to suitability was “much stricter” than the equivalent scrapped in 2001.

He said the government’s plans were “a huge step backwards” and “a threat to all families of disabled children in this country”.

Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said the proposals showed the government was “pushing through an agenda to remove disabled children from mainstream schools” and was intent on “turning the clock back”.

She said local authorities would use the argument of an inefficient use of resources to deny disabled children places in mainstream education, particularly in the current economic climate.

And she pointed out that there were almost no references in the government document to inclusive education.

The Department for Education (DfE) refused to comment when asked if the document represented an attack on inclusive education.

The DfE also made it clear in its document that it wanted to use “tighter guidance” to reduce the number of children seen as having SEN.

But Teather’s focus was on proposals to replace SEN statements with a single assessment process that will lead – from 2014 – to a new education, health and care plan for disabled children from birth to the age of 25.

All families given such a plan will be able to choose to have it delivered through a personal budget, allowing them to decide how to spend the money.

But there are concerns that this new system could lead to rationing of support for disabled children, in the same way that ever-stricter eligibility criteria have been used to make it harder for disabled adults to secure social care from their local authorities.

Flood said the new system would lead to the number of disabled children receiving support being “massively reduced”.

Teather said the current system was “not fit for purpose” and it was “unacceptable” that thousands of families were “forced to go from pillar to post, facing agonising delays and bureaucracy to get support, therapy and equipment”.

She said: “These reforms will put parents in charge. We trust parents to do the right thing for their own child because they know what is best.”

Among other measures, local authorities will have to publish a “local offer” showing the support available to disabled children and young people and those with SEN.

Families will also have to go through mediation over SEN disputes, while the DfE will trial the idea of giving disabled children themselves the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support.

And a new £3m supported internships trial will be launched in 15 further education colleges this autumn for 16-to-25 year olds with higher support needs.

The measures announced by Teather will be included early next year in a children and families bill.

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SEN reforms: Campaigners plot legal action over anti-inclusion policy

Disabled campaigners are likely to launch legal action against the government over its anti-inclusion education policy.

Campaigners for inclusive education accused the government of “pushing through an agenda to remove disabled children from mainstream schools”, after the publication of its much-delayed plans for SEN reform this week.

Among those plans, the Department for Education (DfE) will introduce legislation to make it harder for parents to choose a mainstream school for their disabled child, by re-introducing – and toughening up – anti-inclusion laws that were repealed in 2001.

Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said there would have to be some kind of legal challenge to the government’s stance, although it was too early to say what form this would take.

She said: “I think the gloves have now got to come off. We have probably been far too polite so far.

“It is clear that the government isn’t interested in listening to voices that challenge their thinking. The document is evidence of that. All the concerns we have raised have been absolutely ignored.”

Flood said the government had clearly breached its obligations under article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to “ensure an inclusive education system at all levels”.

The legal action could ultimately mean disabled people petitioning the UN convention committee over a breach of their rights, if they fail with a case in the UK and European courts.

Flood said campaigners were also likely to compare the UK government’s stance and policies with other countries that have signed the UN convention and have taken more inclusive approaches to education.

Richard Rieser, co-founder of the Reverse the Bias campaign, launched last year in response to the government’s pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion”, said he feared the government’s plans would be “ramrodded through parliament”.

He said Reverse the Bias would be seeking a “wide breadth of allies, whether they are unions, disability organisations or parents’ organisations”.

He said: “We are going to have to educate people as we did [last year] with the [SEN] green paper.”

Rieser warned that it would take several years for any legal case to pass through the court system, and added: “Legal judgments on their own are not going to be enough. We are going to have to build a mass movement. We are going to have to educate the opposition. Parent power will be the key and disabled people need to be involved with that.”

The Department for Education (DfE) refused to comment when asked if its plans represented an attack on inclusive education.

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Record Numbers entering their lovely loos

Loo of the Year Awards is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year and are receiving record entries for the 2012 competition. The awards are promoted by The British Toilet Association and this year in association with Headline Sponsor Lepicol, a probiotic formulation specifically developed to help maintain healthy bowels – naturally.

“This year we are welcoming millions of visitors into the UK for events such as the diamond jubilee and the Olympics and the Loo of the year awards recognises those high quality toilets and the providers who still have pride in their loos. Despite record numbers of public toilets closing we are delighted to be receiving record numbers of entries into the awards, which this year will be bigger and better to celebrate our 25th anniversary” says Mike Bone – British Toilet Association.

There are National and UK awards for the best Accessible and Changing Places toilets and trophies for the very best entries will be presented at a special 25th Anniversary awards presentation event to be held on Friday 7th December at the elegant four star St Johns Hotel in Solihull. Anyone can nominate or enter any ‘away from home’ toilet. For 2012 there is also the Lepicol ‘Home Throne Award’ which will be awarded to the best home toilet entered.

Further information and details on how to nominate or enter is available on the awards website:

Mike Bone
Managing Director
Loo of the Year Awards
May 2012

Cuts and reforms to EHRC put disability committee’s future in doubt

Cuts to the funding and responsibilities of the equality watchdog could mean that its specialist disability committee is under threat, its disabled commissioner has warned.

Theresa May, the Conservative home secretary and minister for women and equality, this week confirmed plans to scrap some of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC’s) key duties, and slash its budget by more than half from £55m in 2010-11 to just £26m by 2014-15.

May also announced that the replacement for the EHRC’s outgoing chair, Trevor Phillips, would only be employed on a part-time basis.

And she said the government would conduct a “comprehensive review” of the EHRC’s budget, and reduce the number of its commissioners.

In a response this week to last year’s consultation on the EHRC’s future, the government says that it remains “concerned about the quality and timeliness of some of the EHRC’s work”.

And it warns that – if the EHRC has not improved sufficiently by the autumn of 2013 – it will “seek to implement more substantial reform”, which could see “some functions being done elsewhere” or the EHRC even being scrapped entirely, “splitting its responsibilities across new or existing bodies”.

Mike Smith, the EHRC’s only disabled commissioner, warned that the cuts threaten the future of the commission’s vital disability committee, which was set up under equality legislation in 2007 because of the unique aspects of disability discrimination.

A planned review of whether the committee should continue – five years after the EHRC’s launch – will take place in September.

Smith, who chairs the committee, said: “I am worried about that, because with a smaller commission with less resources, it is easy to understand why that review might say, ‘yes, it is a good thing but we cannot afford it.’”

The chair of the committee has to be a disabled person, and a commissioner, so if the committee is scrapped it makes it more likely that there will not be a single disabled EHRC commissioner.

Smith said: “I would always hope there was a disabled person on the board. I know from a personal level that I have changed a lot of decisions… because of the different perspective I have been able to bring as a disabled person and activist.”

He said that the government’s plans posed a “genuine risk” that the EHRC would not be able to continue with the “really positive things” it had achieved.

He pointed to the second phase of the EHRC’s widely-praised disability-related harassment inquiry, which is trying to secure major “structural” change within public bodies. “It would be very sad if that positive strategic work… was no longer possible.

“We have a budget considerably smaller than we did three years ago. With less money, less people, you can do less stuff.”

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK and another member of the disability committee, said the EHRC played “a unique and valuable role in the protection and promotion of our rights”, and added: “We would be very concerned if their independence, authority and capacity were curtailed so that the battle for disability equality is weakened.”

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Court’s ruling will have ‘huge impact’ on discrimination in benefits system

A landmark court ruling is set to help disabled campaigners fight discrimination within the benefits system.

The Court of Appeal ruled this week that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) breached article 14 of the Human Rights Act – on discrimination – by not allowing the housing benefit claims of four young disabled people to be treated differently to claims of non-disabled people.

DWP regulations stated that their local authorities could not provide housing benefit for the extra bedrooms they needed in their private rented accommodation.

But the court ruled that the four were entitled to housing benefit at a rate that met their housing needs, even though this meant extra public spending.

The ruling also confirms that government spending decisions should be subject to human rights laws.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intervened in one of the cases, said the ruling would help stop disabled people being evicted as a result of the government’s new housing benefit cap.

Polly Sweeney, a solicitor with the legal firm Irwin Mitchell, who represented Ian Burnip, one of the four young disabled people, said the judgment would have a “huge impact” on discrimination in the benefits system.

She said: “Whenever the government introduces new policies, or reviews existing policies, they now face a duty to ensure that appropriate provision is made for disabled people to ensure that discrimination does not occur.“

In the first case, Burnip was told by Birmingham City Council that he could not claim local housing allowance (LHA) to cover the extra bedroom he needed for an overnight care worker.

The second case was taken by Rebecca Trengove, whose daughter Lucy – who died earlier this year – was unable to secure the LHA she needed for an extra room for an overnight care worker from Walsall Council.

The third case was taken by Richard Gorry, the father of two disabled children, one who has spina bifida and the other who has Down’s syndrome. Gorry was fighting Wiltshire County Council’s refusal to provide enough LHA for his daughters to have separate bedrooms.

The LHA rules on extra bedrooms have been changed by the government since the original benefits decisions were made, and mean that since April 2011 extra LHA is now given to disabled people who need a bedroom for an overnight care worker.

But the new rules still did not help the Gorry family – and others in similar situations – whose children need separate bedrooms.

The court ruling will ensure they are now awarded a rate of housing benefit which allows the girls to sleep in separate rooms.

Ian Burnip’s mother Linda, a leading disabled activist, who set up the Local Housing Allowance Reform Group to campaign for changes in the system, said: “It shows that even when legislation is in place, it can be overturned.”

She said she hoped the result would give hope to disabled people concerned about the government’s disability living allowance reforms, and its wider programme of cuts.

She said: “The benefit system has to not discriminate against disabled people, even if that means they should have better treatment rather than equal treatment.”

But she warned that the coalition’s cuts to legal aid would make it difficult for disabled people to go to court to secure those rights, even if they believe they have been discriminated against.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said the government would “carefully consider its response” to the judgment.

But he said that, “given the need to keep the housing benefit budget under control”, the government was “disappointed” that the Court of Appeal had not followed the approach of the tribunal that had heard the case previously.

He said the tribunal concluded that the levels of LHA paid to the families were not discriminatory when viewed as part of the wider benefits available to disabled people.

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Byrne suggests a Labour change of heart over benefit cuts

A senior Labour shadow minister has launched a stinging attack on the government’s record on disability rights, and announced plans to work with disabled people to develop new policies that will “turn rights into reality”.

The speech by Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, has been seen by many disabled activists as a long-overdue response by Labour to the coalition’s prolonged attack on disability benefits and services.

Byrne said the coalition had “quite simply crossed the threshold of decency” by saying to disabled people that “we won’t help you work, we won’t help you get out of the house”.

He said that he, Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, and Liz Kendall, its shadow care services minister, would be “travelling the country” to ask disabled people, carers and public service and business leaders how to “repair the damage” done by the coalition.

He said there was a need to “end the business of wrapping disabled people and their families in red tape” through multiple and repeated assessments, so they would be asking how local councils, the Department for Work and Pensions and the NHS could offer a single, joint assessment for health, social care, benefits and back to work support.

Byrne – who had previously been heavily criticised for not doing more to attack the coalition’s cuts to disability benefits and services – said Labour believed benefits were a “key weapon in the war against poverty”, with disabled people far more likely to be living in poverty than non-disabled people.

And he accused the coalition of “trying to destroy” the last Labour government’s efforts to improve disabled people’s life chances, and said it had “abandoned” any pretence at co-producing policies with disabled people.

Byrne also accused Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, of “demonising” disabled people, and criticised his claim to a reporter that many workers in Remploy factories just sat around “making cups of coffee”, while he pointed to concerns that “selective briefings” by work and pensions ministers were “inflaming hate crime”.

Duncan Smith’s comments about Remploy workers – and his claim in a subsequent newspaper interview that disabled people given lifetime DLA awards had been allowed to “fester” – caused huge anger among disabled activists this week, and re-ignited claims that he and his fellow ministers had helped stir up hostility towards disabled people.

Byrne highlighted in his speech how disabled people had been hit by social care cuts, threats to equality laws, legal aid reforms, and cuts to employment and support allowance and disability living allowance (DLA).

He said DLA provided “help with costs and barriers to the quiet miracle of ordinary life which two thirds of disabled people say they know are there”, and was used by many to stay in work.

He added: “If this vital support is knocked away, then disabled people will be simply forced to quit. And that’s what many of you are saying will happen if the criteria proposed [for the government’s planned personal independence payment] are implemented.”

But a source close to Iain Duncan Smith hit back after the speech and accused Byrne of “scaremongering” and “heckling”.

She told Disability News Service: “It is clear that this government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and we continue to spend more than £40 billion a year on disabled people and their services.

“By contrast, Liam Byrne has not even bothered to turn up to key debates on disability in the House of Commons, such as the debate on the government’s response to Liz Sayce’s report on Remploy factory closures.”

She added: “The current benefit system that we inherited from the Labour government is not always reaching those who need it most, which is why we will be introducing the new personal independence payment to ensure people get the right levels of support.

“And our reforms are more than just changes to benefits. We are implementing the recommendations from the Sayce Review to use the £320 million protected budget for disability employment services more effectively, to get thousands more disabled people into mainstream employment.”

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