Parties unite to tackle ‘last legal form of discrimination’

Both the government and opposition have backed a bill that would scrap laws that discriminate against people with mental health conditions in business and public life.

The mental health (discrimination) bill would overturn discriminatory mental health legislation affecting MPs, school governors, company directors and would-be jury members.

The bill received its second Commons reading on Friday (14 September), after being introduced as a private member’s bill by the Conservative MP Gavin Barwell.

Barwell said he had decided to introduce the bill partly because two of his closest friends had mental health conditions, while numerous constituents had come to him for help with mental health issues, including some who were “distressed and struggling with Atos work capability assessments”.

He said his bill – first introduced in the Lords by the crossbench peer Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, who spoke publicly this summer about his own depression – would “tackle the last legal form of discrimination in our society”.

He said: “A member of parliament or company director can be removed from their job because of mental ill-health, even if they go on to make a full recovery, and many people who are perfectly capable of performing jury service are ineligible to do so.

“As it stands, the law sends out a clear message that if someone has a mental health condition, their contribution to public life is not welcome, and that is an affront to a decent, civilised society.”

Dame Anne Begg, the Labour MP, who uses a wheelchair, said there had been those previously who had said a deaf person could not become an MP, until Labour’s Jack Ashley proved them wrong, and that a blind person could not cope with parliament, until her party colleague David Blunkett.

Then there were those who believed that someone who used a wheelchair “would not have the stamina and the strength” to be an MP, until she herself was elected, and those who thought that someone with cerebral palsy and a speech impediment would not be understood, until the election of the Conservative MP Paul Maynard in 2010.

She said the Commons authorities had made the necessary adjustments in each case, “and so it should be for people who might have problems with their mental health”.

Charles Walker, the Conservative MP who spoke about his own mental health condition in the Commons in June, said the debate meant it was “a day of celebration” and “possibly the greatest day of my life”.

Kevan Jones, the Labour MP who also spoke out in June about his mental health condition, said: “This is about trying to lift the stigma that, unfortunately, even in 2012, still attaches to mental health, and about helping people to come forward to get the support that they need.”

Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow health minister, said: “In having this debate, we signify that attitudes have changed, but we are also helping to move those attitudes on.”

She added: “This is an important bill and I am glad to support it on behalf of my party and our entire health team.”

Chloe Smith, the Conservative parliamentary secretary to the Cabinet Office, said the bill had the “full backing” of the government, and that “tackling stigma and discrimination is at the heart of the government’s mental health strategy”.

The bill would mean MPs would no longer automatically lose their seat if they were detained under the Mental Health Act for longer than six months, while people with mental health conditions would no longer be disqualified from serving as school governors if they had been detained under the act.

And anyone with a mental health condition would no longer be automatically ineligible for jury service – which applies only to England and Wales – or to act as a company director.

The government has already dealt with the school governor ban by changing regulations.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

SNP ducks question over Atos sponsorship of Glasgow 2014

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has refused to say if “fitness for work” contractor Atos should be allowed to sponsor the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, even though more than half of its MSPs have publicly criticised the company.

Glasgow 2014 looks set to face even fiercer protests than London 2012 over the decision to accept sponsorship money from Atos, which carries out the much-criticised work capability assessments (WCAs) that decide eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

The London 2012 organising committee LOCOG was heavily criticised for signing up Atos as a sponsor, but continued to defy critics by publicly praising the company and the crucial role it played in providing IT systems during this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.

LOCOG faced repeated calls to justify the involvement of Atos – particularly its close links with the Paralympics – with campaigners holding a week-long series of protests they called the “Atos Games” to coincide with the first week of the Paralympic Games.

Now the organisers of Glasgow 2014 look set to take a similar route to LOCOG, and are facing the same battle to justify sponsorship by Atos, which will provide similar IT services in Glasgow to those it delivered this summer in London.

Sasha Callaghan, programme director for Disability History Scotland, said: “Whether they like it or not, there are going to be more protests and probably much more bad-tempered than we ever saw in London.

“Disabled people are not just going to sit back and take this. Push people over the edge and you see what happens. I don’t think this will stop at just peaceful direct action.”

She warned of a “perfect storm” in the run-up to Glasgow 2014, as tens of thousands of disabled people in Scotland will be facing new assessments – carried out by Atos – for personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance (DLA), as well as the continued fallout from the WCA process.

Callaghan said Glasgow 2014 had to accept that it had taken a “political decision” to accept sponsorship from Atos and would “have to live with the consequences of that”.

She said: “DLA/PIP will ratchet up the protests. The time-line for the Commonwealth Games runs like a thread alongside it.

“The Commonwealth Games will be going with the Atos logo at the same time that people will be failing the WCA and their assessment for PIP as well.”

Protesters – and many MPs and MSPs – have criticised the way Atos has carried out WCAs, and its failure to find accessible offices in which to carry out the tests and to train its assessors properly.

Campaigning disabled people’s organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Black Triangle believe the assessments, as carried out by Atos, are putting thousands of sick and disabled people under serious and unnecessary strain, forcing them further into poverty, and are even responsible for many deaths, including some people driven to suicide.

John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, which is based in Scotland and has been at the centre of the Atos protests, said: “There will definitely be protests. We are not going to wait until 2014 to do it. There will be direct action happening.”

Even though 36 of its 67 MSPs have signed parliamentary motions critical of Atos over the last five weeks, the SNP has so far refused to say if it believes Atos is a suitable sponsor for Glasgow 2014.

Jamie Hepburn, one of the MSPs who signed a motion criticising Atos, and deputy convener of the Scottish parliament’s welfare reform committee, said: “There is no doubt that Atos could and should be doing better but it is the UK government’s cuts campaign that is truly devastating people’s lives.”

But an SNP spokeswoman refused to say whether the party thought Atos was a suitable sponsor for Glasgow 2014.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish (SNP) government also refused to answer that question, but said that “securing the right sponsors is vital to the success of the event and to reduce the need for additional public funds to stage the games”.

A Glasgow 2014 spokeswoman said Atos had “demonstrated unwavering commitment to driving forward the Paralympic movement by providing dedicated practical support to athletes for the last ten years”, and that organisers were “very proud to have global IT experts Atos as part of our family”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Paralympic Medal-winner says DLA ‘lets us be the best we can be’

A second medal-winning athlete has spoken of how disability living allowance (DLA) has allowed him and other British Paralympians to “be the best we can be”.

David Smith was speaking after losing the BC1 boccia final to an “awesome” performance by the gold medal-winner Pattaya Tadtong, from Thailand. Tadtong won the final 7-0 in front of a packed crowd at the ExCeL centre yesterday (Saturday).

Smith, who won a boccia team gold in Beijing four years ago, said: “He’s got a lot more power than me and a lot of control and I think that was quite evident on the [score] board. I gave it my best shot but he was too classy for me on the day. No regrets, I’m happy.”

Asked by Disability News Service (DNS) about the importance of the support provided by DLA to medal-winning Paralympians such as himself, he said: “I think it is very important that we have an opportunity to be the best we can be, to enable us to participate in society.

“By giving us the opportunity to be the best we can, we can then contribute. We don’t want everything to be made easy. We just want to be able to have equal footing, so we can get on with our lives and help society.”

Smith is studying aerospace engineering at Swansea University and hopes to work as an engineer, but because he now has a car he can drive himself, obtained through the Motability car scheme, and paid for with his DLA mobility component, his “options are open”.

He said: “[My] options are open now because I have a new car that I can drive myself and it is awesome, with hand controls and all that.”

When Motability rolled out its three millionth car last October, Smith, a powerchair-user, was in Westminster Hall to receive the keys from the Queen.

His new car had been adapted so he could drive himself for the first time, rather than having to be a passenger in the back, as he had been with his previous car.

Research for the WeareSparticus campaign in June, published in Reversing from Recovery: The Hidden Costs of Welfare Reform, found a likely 17 per cent reduction in the number of disabled people eligible for a Motability vehicle as a result of coalition cuts.

But despite stressing the importance of DLA, Smith declined to express concern for the estimated 20 per cent of DLA claimants set to lose the right to support over the next few years as a result of the cuts.

Asked if he was concerned about the 20 per cent cuts to DLA spending, he said: “It depends. There obviously can be improvements in terms of efficiencies, in terms of people that do not necessarily need the money.

“If they do it well and they analyse it properly and they are fair to everybody, then everybody has got to tighten their belts a little bit.

“Personally, I am philosophical. If it happens, it happens, but as long as it is fair to everybody then it should be OK.”

When asked how he would feel if some of Britain’s Paralympians were to lose their DLA over the next few years, he said: “It’s tough. It’s a tough way to go. It’s difficult. People are going to have their own opinions on what they need and what they don’t.”

But he added: “As long as it’s fair to everybody, as long as people aren’t cut out unfairly, and as long as it’s not just done in some office somewhere and [in an] ‘off the table’ kind of thing, then I think people will have to accept it.”

When DNS said that 500,000 disabled people could lose their right to DLA over the next few years [by 2015-16], he said: “It is a lot. Then there is a lot of other people that are losing benefits, not just disabled people but the whole system, so I think if we can make it fair and it is equal for everybody, then…”

He had earlier spoken of his hopes that the Paralympics were leading to people becoming “more positive about disability in terms of what we can achieve in life, how we can [have] a positive impact on society, not just [believe we are] a burden on someone else’s ankles”.

He added: “I think that is important and long may that attitude continue. Everybody can contribute.

“Some people need a little bit of a helping hand but if you give them that opportunity, be it a blade or a wheelchair to move around then they can be citizens of society and we can all move Britain forward.”

When Smith began playing boccia, there was little financial support for the sport in Britain, and he even had to fund taking part in his first major championships, which cost him £2,500, including the expense of paying for personal assistants.

But after the boccia team’s success in Beijing four years ago, the sport received “a lot of funding” from UK Sport. They now have two physiotherapists who are “soft-tissue experts”, and a sports psychologist, as well as a statistician, who can provide crucial tactical advice about how to take on different opponents.

He said the London 2012 games themselves had been “amazing”. “The whole Paralympics has been perfect, so much better than Beijing. The [athletes’] village has been wonderful.”

And he said he hoped the London 2012 Paralympics would encourage many more disabled people to take up boccia. “It is a great game for a lot of disabled people who do not get the chance to compete in sport. Boccia is one of those games that gives you the opportunity.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

West Cheshire College first to commission innovative Equality and Diversity training

West Cheshire College are leading the way across the region with a new approach to the delivery of equality and diversity training.

Working in partnership with disability and equality organisation DisabledGo the College will be rolling out a comprehensive equality and diversity course to its entire team.  Uniquely, the training will also be offered to the College’s students giving them the opportunity to increase their skills and confidence, whether they are continuing their studies or entering the workplace.

Speaking about the training Nicky Lees, Human Resources and Development Manager at West Cheshire College said, “We are delighted to be working with Disabled Go once again and this particular training will continue to develop colleagues understanding and insight into disability and equality in order to ensure we maintain our position as an inclusive college. The offer to relevant students will ensure that they will enter the workplace with a sound knowledge and understanding of the issues and are fully prepared ”

The training covers all 9 protected characteristics introduced by the Equality Act in 2010 and gives practical advice around appropriate behaviour and language. The training, which was developed in partnership with a pilot group of public sector organisations launched in March 2011. To date the training has been completed by over 14,000 people gaining praise from organisations and learners alike.

Speaking about the partnership Anna Borthwick, Head of Business Development at DisabledGo said, “We are thrilled to be working with West Cheshire College on this initiative, it is a fantastic college with an excellent reputation. The college is committed to equality and it was clear from the start that they were keen to lead the way in the North West.”

For more information about DisabledGo and the online training it provides please contact Rachel Felton, External Relations Manager, DisabledGo, E: rachel.felton@disabledgo.com or T: 01438 842710

Anger as editor tells Motability-users to ‘hang heads in shame’ after London 2012

The editor of a local newspaper has angered disability hate crime campaigners by telling users of Motability vehicles that they should “hang their heads in shame” in comparison with medal-winning Paralympians.

Two editorials written in consecutive weeks by Toby Hines, owner and editor of the weekly Helston News and Advertiser in Cornwall, are the first examples seen by Disability News Service (DNS) of public figures using the exploits of Paralympians to attack disabled benefit claimants.

In an editorial on 4 September, Hines attacked “fake disabled” people, who he says have “a Motability car, blue badge, extra £100 per week of benefits, got a limp or mahoosive (sic) fat gut”.

He said such “fake” disabled people “do not work or contribute to society one iota and just sponge and bitch all day while sitting at home eating cream cakes watching Loose Women”, and compared them with Paralympians, who were “genuine people with some bad disabilities but not giving into them and actually trying to overcome them”.

Hines, who has a disabled son, added: “You can tell someone has a real disability as they deny it.”

In the second editorial, this week, he praised former racing driver Alex Zanardi, who won a Paralympic hand-cycling gold medal last week, and added: “Fascinating comparison to the people I see climbing out of motability (sic) cars in town and at Tesco who should hang their heads in shame.”

Steve Paget, chair of Disability Cornwall, said his organisation had complained several years ago to Hines about his “vitriolic and misinformed” editorials.

He said: “Having an understanding of one disability, whether yours or your child’s, does not give you a deeper insight into other conditions, so it would be interesting to know how Mr Hines feels he can spot what he terms a ‘faker’?

“In all the years that Disability Cornwall have been working with local disabled people, we can only ever recall one solitary case where it was felt the person we were advising may have had a somewhat dubious claim for a disability benefit.”

He added: “The next edition of our lifestyle magazine, Discover, features the alarming fact that hate crimes against disabled people are soaring across the country.

“Ill-judged comments such as that peddled by Mr Hines is just the sort of misinformed hysterical rhetoric we never need to see in print. A retraction is the very least Mr Hines should now be considering.”

Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime, said it was “extremely worrying” to read the two editorials.

She said: “Journalists should understand that they have a responsibility to report stories without sensation and with context – for example, pointing out that the levels for disability benefit fraud are extremely low.

“I am worried that such reporting could incite violence against disabled people and I would encourage this journalist to refrain from making claims about fraudulent claimants he cannot substantiate…”

Hines told DNS he was “quite notorious” for having a low tolerance of “false claimants”, but said he should have made it clear these were the people he was attacking in his second article.

He confirmed that he was not medically qualified, and accepted that many people with Motability vehicles had jobs.

When asked whether he was aware that many Paralympians also have Motability vehicles, he said: “I have no problem with anyone with a disability who takes what they are entitled to.

“I would be angry with people who swing the lead, exaggerate the situation, take benefits where they are probably not quite entitled or not entitled to, but then cast doubt or make it difficult for people with genuine situations.”

He said he would be “very careful not to repeat” his comment about people with Motability cars having to “hang their heads in shame”, which he said was “a mistake” that he would correct in the next edition of his newspaper.

He added: “Obviously, any Paralympian isn’t [in] a fake situation. They are a genuine illness person.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012: Golden Paralympian says ‘I couldn’t have done it without DLA’

A British Paralympian has spoken of the crucial contribution disability living allowance (DLA) has made to her independence, and to her gold-medal-winning performance at London 2012.

Danielle Brown is believed to be the first member of the ParalympicsGB squad to speak out since the games began on the importance of the benefits and other financial support received by our elite disabled athletes.

Her comments will deliver a boost to disabled campaigners who fear the government will use the success of Britain’s Paralympians as an excuse for cutting vital support to disabled people.

Brown, who won an archery gold medal in the individual compound event on Tuesday to add to the gold she won in Beijing four years ago, is believed to be the first disabled athlete to represent England in a non-disabled Commonwealth Games team, after qualifying for Delhi in 2010 and winning a team gold.

She receives the higher rate mobility component of DLA, and also the DLA care component, but prefers not to say at which level.

Like many ParalympicsGB athletes, her life is focused almost entirely on her sport, but when told by Disability News Service (DNS) of the government’s plans to replace DLA with a new personal independence payment and cut spending by 20 per cent, she said simply: “Oh, wow.”

She said: “From a personal perspective, without the support, I personally couldn’t manage. If it was to be cut I know I would struggle. I can see how that would make other people be affected in a similar way.”

She added: “I have got a Motability car [which is paid for with her DLA mobility payment] which I couldn’t manage without. I would struggle if I didn’t have a car.”

When asked whether she agreed that the Paralympics showed the need to support disabled people in all areas of life, she said: “Yes. I couldn’t do what I do without all the financial support.”

She has to drive an automatic car and also needs expensive hand controls that are paid for through the Motability scheme, and uses her car when away competing, although she often leaves her wheelchair in the car because she can walk short distances on crutches.

Without her DLA, and without her car, she would be forced to take public transport. “If I catch a train it is very difficult. What do I do when I get to the other end, especially if I have very heavy equipment with me?”

Like many other Paralympians, she also spoke of her belief that London 2012 was “changing people’s perceptions about disability”.

“Hopefully it will change [non-disabled] people’s perceptions that you are not able to do anything just because you are disabled,” she said. “People’s perceptions change, but it is not going to happen overnight.

“I do think the Paralympics have changed people’s perception of disability and hopefully that will remove some of the barriers disabled people face.”

She added: “It will be just a total shame if the Paralympics finished and that was it. It has got to be worked at.”

Partly, she said, this should mean more media coverage of disability and Paralympic sport, and “more opportunities” for disabled athletes.

She also paid tribute to Channel 4 for its extensive coverage of the Paralympics, both in the months leading up to, and during, the games.

Brown is the first of a string of Paralympians approached by DNS since the games started who has been prepared to speak out on the issue of DLA cuts.

Asked why other athletes had failed to speak out so far, she said: “I genuinely think that your focus is on the competition. You focus so hard on training, competing… it is not like real life.”

She said she and other Paralympic athletes were just not aware of what was happening with welfare reform and cuts, and other political disability issues.

“It is a bit like The Truman Show [the film in which Jim Carrey plays a man trapped inside a TV reality show]. If you don’t go actively looking for it, you don’t get any external influences at all.

“And when you’re here you are so focused on competing. That’s what it’s about. It’s to do with competing. We are sports people, not politicians.”

Brown said she loves competing. “I genuinely like being put under pressure. I really do like it. I just like the whole atmosphere.”

She first tried archery at the age of 15, at a time when she didn’t know anything about disability sport. “I figured it was down to archery or swimming and archery seemed so much more fun than bobbing up and down in a pool.”

But she has had to make sacrifices for her success. In 2010, after finishing her law studies at university – she was awarded a first-class degree – she moved away from her family and friends to Shropshire so she could train full-time at Archery GB’s base at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre.

She trains for between three and seven hours a day, six days a week, while many weekends are taken up by travel and tournaments.

“By Monday, I am shattered. I have to have a day off. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to function.”

As well as DLA, she receives lottery-funded support through UK Sport, which helps pay her living and training costs, although this funding is ruthlessly based on performance at just one top-level competition a year. Having won gold this week, she said she “should be ok for a year”.

The DLA and UK Sport funding, she said, mean she “can live independently”.

But she has also received generous backing from the charity Get Kids Going!, after meeting its chief executive Jane Emmerson early last year.

The charity helps fund equipment for disabled children and young people and is now raising funds to set up a sports centre to help more budding Paralympians.

It has helped aspiring young disabled athletes such as David Weir – since he was just eight years old – Shelly Woods, powerlifter Ali Jawad, and wheelchair tennis player Louise Hunt.

“Jane Emmerson was great because at the time my wheelchair frame was bent,” said Brown. “Every time I went out I was wheeling around in circles. They bought a new wheelchair for me, which was absolutely fantastic, and also help contribute towards equipment and training costs.

“Archery is a ridiculously expensive sport. The fact that somebody believed in me and paid for stuff I needed was incredible.”

Brown added: “Get Kids Going! is a really great charity because it helps fund equipment for aspiring athletes to achieve their dreams.”

As well as the buzz of competing at London 2012, she has also enjoyed the “absolutely incredible” atmosphere in the athletes’ village. “You meet people from other sports or countries,” she said, “and everyone will stop and say hello.”

Outside the village, there has been “so much support” from the public. “You can’t move for people wanting to take pictures with you and have an autograph.

“I was genuinely astounded by the huge amount of people in the Olympic Park: thousands and thousands of people. And they are all supporting us.”

When asked what it was like to be mobbed when she ventured out onto the Olympic Park, she said: “It’s a bit weird to be honest. I suppose I wasn’t expecting it at all. It is so great that the public are behind what we are doing. I really didn’t expect we would get this much recognition.”

After her sporting career finishes, she has decided not to move into the law. Like many Paralympians, she already delivers “motivational speaking” for company events and conferences, but would also like to move into the area of disability awareness training.

And Rio 2016 is “definitely” a target, where she will be hoping for her third consecutive gold medal. But first she is going to take some time off, “just for a chill out and rest”. It will be her first holiday in three years.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

National newspapers ‘add fuel to the hate crime fire’

Disabled people increasingly believe that coverage of welfare reform and other disability issues in national newspapers is helping to fuel hate crime, according to a new report.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which published the report this week, called on the press and the government to change the language they use to describe disabled people.

Many of the 331 people who responded to a survey for the DR UK report – most of whom were disabled people – blamed rising hostility towards them on “government spin and distortion” and “rhetoric from the government about scroungers and benefit cheats”.

And nearly every one of them (97 per cent) thought reporting of disability should have been a key topic in the Leveson inquiry into press standards.

More than nine in ten linked the negative portrayal of disabled people in the press to rising hostility and hate crime towards disabled people, and an even higher percentage believed the national press were unfair in their portrayal of welfare and other disability equality issues.

More than four in ten suggested the government was responsible for rising press negativity and hostility towards disabled people.

One disabled respondent told how – after a headline about “free” Motability cars for disabled people – their car was vandalised. They have not displayed their blue parking badge since, and have been “yelled at, sworn at and insulted” and had their crutches kicked.

Following articles calling disabled benefit claimants “scroungers”, another respondent said: “I was followed by a group of youths in the street and called ‘a scrounging disabled bastard’.”

One said that “daily hounding in the press” had “made me feel suicidal”, another that coverage in the Sun had “made me feel like I was an outcast”, while another said reports in the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Mirror “makes me feel scared to go out”.

Yet another who replied to the survey said coverage in the Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Sun “completely devalued and totally undermine my efforts to live as fully and independently as possible”.

The report, Press Portrayal of Disabled People: A Rise in Hostility Fuelled by Austerity?, calls on the government’s Office for Disability Issues to play a bigger part in shaping how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communicates with the media and the public.

Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “The report shows that disabled people believe the government agenda has driven the hostile press coverage. It is hard to disagree that that is likely to be the case.”

He added: “It is important that the government improves how it communicates on some of the welfare changes, how it talks about disabled people.”

He said the ODI – which is part of the DWP – was the right body to lead that work because of its cross-government role.

A DWP spokeswoman denied the government was responsible for rising press negativity and hostility towards disabled people, and pointed to Challenge it, Report it, Stop it, its new hate crime action plan, which “includes challenging the attitudes that drive hate crime”.

She said: “We are very conscious of the language we in government use, as it’s clear that the benefit system itself has trapped many people in a spiral of welfare dependency.”

She said a key area of the government’s forthcoming disability strategy would be “promoting positive attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people to enable them to participate in community life and wider society, tackling discrimination and harassment wherever they occur”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Atos gets it wrong on one in five ‘fit for work’ recommendations

New government figures show that one in five decisions to find someone “fit for work” made by the company that carries out the controversial disability benefit test is wrong.

The statistics, released this week by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), show that “healthcare professionals” employed by Atos Healthcare are far more likely to make a mistake when finding someone fit for work than when finding someone not fit for work.

Of the claimants Atos found fit for work (for claims starting between October 2008 and November 2011), 20 per cent of those decisions were overturned either by DWP staff or appeal tribunals.

This means that, of the 771,100 people Atos decided were “fit for work”, 150,500 were later found – whether by DWP officials or a tribunal – to be eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit.

Of those 150,500 people, 13,800 disabled people were placed in the support group, for those disabled people with the highest support needs, who are not expected to carry out any work-related activity at all.

But Atos has been much more accurate with its assessments when recommending that claimants should be placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) – for those disabled people eligible for ESA but expected to move gradually towards work – with 97 per cent of its decisions found to be accurate, and when placing people in the support group (99 per cent accurate).

The figures suggest that Atos is straining to find as many disabled people fit for work as possible.

Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, said: “This is evidence that whatever is happening, whether it is the contract [between Atos and DWP] that is at fault or indeed the way the [assessment] is being interpreted by Atos staff, they are getting it wrong in a very high proportion of cases.

“And to find out that almost 14,000 people were found fully fit for work when they should have been in the support group… that is a lot of people.”

An Atos Healthcare spokeswoman said: “All benefit decisions are made by the DWP. We apply their criteria and policy to all of the assessments we provide which is why they are in line with the final decisions made in the majority of cases.”

The DWP has so far not been able to say whether it is concerned by a failure rate of one in five.

But a DWP spokesman said: “As the table shows, 80 per cent of Atos fit for work recommendations are agreed with at the final outcome.

“The final outcome figures include both the decision maker making a different decision and the decision being overturned at a tribunal. Previous appeals figures have shown that, overall, 15 per cent of all fit for work decisions are overturned at a tribunal.

“Very few people would appeal a support group or WRAG decision, so there is bound to be a difference in the numbers.”

Atos has faced repeated complaints and protests by disabled activists over its performance in carrying out the contract to perform work capability assessments, first introduced in October 2008.

Campaigners and some Labour politicians have criticised Atos for finding many people with serious health conditions “fit for work”, and so ineligible for ESA.

Last month, the user-led grassroots campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts held a week-long series of protests to complain at Atos’s sponsorship of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

North Ayrshire and Arran, told the meeting: “It is absolutely appalling that this government has proceeded with these proposals which must be going to have an absolutely devastating effect.

“Local authorities are not going to be able to take up the slack, even if they wish to.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Protesters bring ‘terrifying’ battle to save ILF to new minister’s front door

Disabled people with high support needs who protested outside government offices have described the “terrifying” reality they face if the coalition pushes ahead with plans to abolish the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015.

Protesters from Disabled People Against Cuts – many of them ILF-users – gathered outside the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Caxton House building in Whitehall today (Thursday), and delivered a letter to the new Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey.

The letter asks for a meeting with the minister and stresses the vital role ILF plays in the lives of those who use it, allowing them to “live in the community, to go to university and in many cases work and pay taxes”.

The DWP is consulting on the closure of ILF, which will see non-ring-fenced funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Protesters believe the plans to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs – are a huge threat to their right to independent living.

They say the government’s consultation paper offers no details on how councils – already facing huge financial pressures – will be able to meet the extra support costs of disabled people who previously received ILF money.

Comedian and performer Liz Carr, an ILF-user and one of the protesters, said she will lose half of her care package when ILF closes, the equivalent of three-and-a-half days of assistance a week.

If that happens, she will have to use the remaining support for essentials such as personal care.

She said: “I am absolutely terrified about that magic number 2015 and I am equally absolutely terrified for people who don’t have a voice and don’t realise what is going to happen and don’t have somebody fighting on their behalf.”

She said she had no idea what her life would look like when ILF closed because of the many other areas where disabled people were being “squeezed” financially.

But she said: “I know the freedom and independence I have will not exist when ILF is removed. I think residential care will be the only option for many, many disabled people.

“I am going to make sure myself and my friends go down fighting.”

Sam, another protester, a wheelchair-user who is also a recovering alcoholic, said he believed he would end up back on the streets if he lost his ILF money, because he would lose his personal assistant and the rest of his support network.

He said: “If I felt isolated enough in my house, I would feel what else would I have and would go back to where I have got friends, on the road.”

Earlier, a Commons meeting organised by DPAC – and attended by Labour MPs Dame Anne Begg, John McDonnell, Dame Joan Ruddock and Katy Clark – heard that lawyers had taken the first step in a possible judicial review of the government’s failure to conduct a proper consultation on the ILF closure.

Stuart Bracking, a DPAC member and ILF-user, told the meeting that the government’s decision to set up ILF in 1988 had been a result of 20 years of campaigning by the disability movement, and had “revolutionised the social opportunities of a generation of disabled people… and that is what is at stake”.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said local authorities were already “cutting support to the bone” and were tightening eligibility and “increasing rationing”, so would “not have the resources” to fill the gap left by the ILF closure.

She said the costs of administering ILF were far lower (at two per cent) than for the care and support provided by social services (16 per cent).

Clark, the MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, told the meeting: “It is absolutely appalling that this government has proceeded with these proposals which must be going to have an absolutely devastating effect.

“Local authorities are not going to be able to take up the slack, even if they wish to.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012: Deaf star’s anger over latest LOCOG access failure

A leading Deaf dance and film performer has launched an angry attack on the organisers of the Paralympic Games over their failure to provide any facilities for Deaf spectators at a key London 2012 venue.

David Bower, previously best-known for his role in the hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral but now just as well-known as artistic director of the “signdance” music theatre company Signdance Collective, was attending the equestrian dressage event at Greenwich Park yesterday with the company’s disabled dance director Isolte Avila.

But Bower, who is Deaf, described how he was chased and shouted at aggressively by a London 2012 “games-maker” (volunteer) “because they spoke to me and I didn’t hear them and they took great offence”.

He said: “So then they chased me and that of course made a scene. It looked like I had done something wrong and people around me were wondering what was happening.

“It happened throughout the entire day. In the end I felt it was safer just to remain in one seat, as it was embarrassing.”

He said he was even “worried that they would attack me and I would get hurt”.

Bower said he would not attend any more London 2012 Paralympic events because there were “so many dos and don’ts I just cannot understand what they are saying”.

He said the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG had apparently failed to provide any volunteers who had basic British Sign Language (BSL) knowledge.

Bower was also unhappy that there were no subtitles or BSL interpreting on the films that were shown to spectators during the afternoon on the screens in Greenwich Park.

The lack of captions meant Deaf people were excluded from the information being given about the riders and events, but also instructions about the need to keep quiet while the riders were competing, to avoid startling the horses.

It is the latest in a series of access failures by LOCOG across its London venues, including a failure to plan for wheelchair-using parents at its ExCeL multi-event venue, forcing wheelchair-users to use an expensive telephone helpline to book London 2012 tickets, failing to provide Braille and easy-read information on its Olympic Park information points, and failing to provide basic facilities or vital information for powerchair-users.

Bower said it was clear that games-makers had not been trained in Deaf awareness.

He said: “They were constantly telling people what they cannot do as you are trying to get to your seat to watch the event, and there is someone running up behind you saying, ‘excuse me, excuse me, you can’t go that way,’ and they got upset.”

He added: “I was interested in the background of the athletes, and it was impossible to have any information unless Isolte was interpreting, but we were both [trying to relax] at the Paralympics. We were both exhausted and looking forward to a fun day.”

Avila, who was with Bower, told Disability News Service that the lack of communication support for Deaf people had been “amazing”, while one games-maker had been “really aggressive” with Bower when he failed to hear her instructions.

She said: “I feel that Deaf people have been excluded from the Paralympics. It is a shame to work so hard for the London 2012 festival and come to the only Paralympic event we could come to and there is no access for our artists.

“None of the films they showed had subtitles. There was nothing at all for Deaf people.”

Even more embarrassingly for LOCOG, Signdance Collective has been performing this summer as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Bower and Avila were at the dressage event as guests of Ju Gosling, director of the Together! 2012 festival, which is taking place in the Olympic Stadium borough of Newham, and Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, which is organising Together! 2012.

Newman said she was “embarrassed and angered” by LOCOG’s accessibility failures.

She said: “Signdance Collective have generously given of their time and energy to contribute their work to our festival.

“It has been a very long and full season for them and this would have been the one opportunity to be part of the games experience. Instead, the ignorance and ineptitude of other people intruded on our day in a way which was inexcusable.

“We have been talking to the organisers about full and proper access for years, building on the tremendous consultations that were originally done with the Olympic Delivery Authority [which was responsible for building and developing London 2012 venues] by a full range of individuals and organisations within our sector.

“I am very disappointed that consistently LOCOG fail to implement basic accessibility standards, and refuse to be challenged on this.

“They continue to betray any understanding that disabled people are part of the rich mix of our society, and this is at a time when international attention is focused on us. There is no justification.”

A LOCOG spokeswoman said: “We continue to exceed standard practice, providing for a wide variety of accessibility requirements.

“We have worked with the Royal Association for the Deaf [the Royal Association for Deaf People] and also held an access summit last year for the deaf community – they advised us on what they wanted us to focus on.

“For example, our Ticketcare scheme ensures that spectators who are deaf or have a hearing impairment can bring in their signer for no additional cost.

“Deaf spectators could also request a seat with a direct view of the screens in venues. We have also ensured that we have a lot of visual content on our screens in venues so that all spectators can enjoy the events, and the content for our sports presentation films is predominantly imagery.”

As part of Together! 2012, Signdance Collective is performing at 3.30pm today (Wednesday) at St John’s Churchyard, Stratford Broadway.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com