Confusion and anxiety as PIP advisers give out-of-date answers

The coalition’s programme to replace disability living allowance (DLA) with a new benefit has been thrown into confusion after the government’s own telephone helpline advisers began passing out-of-date information to anxious claimants.

The Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, promised MPs in December that no current claimants of disability living allowance (DLA) with “lifetime” or “indefinite” awards would face reassessments for the new personal independence payment (PIP) before October 2015, unless they reported a change in their condition.

The coalition’s programme to replace working-age DLA with PIP is set to begin in April, with letters already being sent out in pilot areas in the north-east and north-west of England.

But reports were this week passed to members of the WeAreSpartacus online network of campaigners that existing DLA claimants were being told by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) helpline advisers that the government would begin reassessing all current DLA claimants from October this year.

They were told that there would be no exemptions, even if they had lifetime or indefinite DLA awards, a position that directly contradicts the assurances given by McVey.

When Disability News Service rang the helpline, an advisor said the reviews would take place “sometime between October this year and the spring of 2016 for existing customers”, and that some people with indefinite awards would be assessed for PIP before 2015.

When DNS asked her to confirm that some of those being assessed this year would be existing claimants with indefinite awards, she said: “Yes. Someone could have a one-year award or an indefinite. They will all be reviewed.

“That is the instruction I have got. There is nothing to say that indefinite awards will be reviewed last.”

This matched the information that DLA claimants said they had been receiving from the helpline.

Beth Gregson, from WeAreSpartacus, said it was “simply not good enough” if call centre staff had not been briefed correctly about the changes, with just six weeks until PIP was introduced for the first claimants, and would call into question McVey’s “grip on the process”.

Gregson said she was “not at all convinced the DWP are ready to deliver or manage the process” of moving from DLA to PIP.

The number of working-age people claiming DLA and PIP, and spending on working-age DLA and PIP, will be cut by as much as 28 per cent by 2018 as a result of the reforms, with 900,000 fewer people receiving PIP than if DLA had not been replaced.

Gregson said she was “deeply concerned” about the level of fear and anxiety about the move to PIP being shown by DLA claimants on social media, as were many others who were offering support on online forums.

She said: “The government has accused us of scaremongering in the past. However, given the poor information, mixed messages and the confusing language used in letters from the DWP, is it any wonder people are scared?”

Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, said: “If they are sending out how many million letters and then the helpline is then giving out wrong information, then that is really worrying, because people are worried enough as it is.

“The government in delaying the roll-out for existing claimants [until 2015] did at least give some kind of breathing space, but they have undermined their own case if they are giving out the wrong information.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said she believed DWP were also giving out incorrect information about the Work Programme.

She said: “Misinformation is being sent out about virtually everything. Most things DWP are involved with just seem to be totally chaotic. Nobody seems to know what they should be doing or who should be doing it.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Adults claiming DLA now, who receive an indefinite or lifetime award, won’t be affected by the introduction of PIP until 2015 or later, unless they report a change in their existing care or mobility needs.”

He added: “We’ll pass on your feedback about your call to our operational teams.”

22 February 2013

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Disabled people on government work schemes ‘deserve better’

The failure of the coalition’s two programmes to help disabled people into work has highlighted the need for much more intensive employment support, according to one of the government’s own advisers.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, spoke out after the government published the latest figures for Work Choice, its specialist disability employment programme, and as MPs prepared to publish another highly critical report on the mainstream Work Programme.

Sayce, the author of a major report for the government on employment support for disabled people, said the “employment outcomes” for disabled people from the Work Programme were “terrible”.

These figures, first published in November, saw only about 1,000 of 79,000 claimants of disability benefits finding work for at least three months in the scheme’s first year, a success rate of just over one per cent.

Sayce said the results from Work Choice were also “poor”, and added: “Disabled people deserve better than both these programmes.”

The latest Work Choice figures show that between October 2010 and December 2012 only eight per cent of disabled people on the scheme found sustained unsupported employment.

The figures also show that, of more than 8,000 claimants of out-of-work disability benefits who accessed Work Choice over its first nine quarters, only 1,370 people (17 per cent) secured some kind of work, including those placed in segregated settings.

Sayce said: “Given that Work Choice was set up to serve people facing the greatest barriers, it is surprising that this whole programme has only helped 1,370 people from incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance into employment in over two years.”

She compared the figures with the results of other schemes that provide flexible, “genuinely individualised support”, for example for people with serious mental health problems, which consistently support 50 to 60 per cent of disabled people into open employment.

Sayce called on the government to create “genuinely personalised, individual support that enables people to get decent employment, that interests them”, and offers “continuity of support” which is available when needed.

She said: “We need far more choice and control, through evidence-based and personalised support. The Work Programme and Work Choice are not currently delivering what we need and deserve.”

Her comments came as the Commons public accounts committee published its report on the performance of the Work Programme.

The government is set to spend up to £5 billion on the programme over five years, but Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chair, said its performance so far had been “extremely poor”.

The report concludes that the “difference between actual and expected performance is greatest for those claimants considered the hardest to help”, particularly disabled people.

She said the government’s payment-by-results system was aimed at providing incentives to “prevent providers concentrating on the easiest cases and ignoring those who are hardest to help”, but that those incentives were not working.

Hodge said it was “shocking” that of 9,500 former incapacity benefit claimants referred to Work Programme service-providers, only 20 people had so far been placed in a job that had lasted three months.

A DWP spokeswoman said the report – which uses the DWP’s own figures – “paints a skewed picture”, and added: “The Work Programme gives support to claimants for two years and it hasn’t even been running that long yet, so it’s still early days. We know the performance of our providers is improving.

“When some of the hardest to help claimants have not worked for many years we know it will take more time and a lot of support before they can think about working again. That’s why we have given providers two years to work with participants, so it’s still early days.”

22 February 2013

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Star fears for the future after assisted dying road trip

A high-profile opponent of assisted suicide says a radio documentary in which she visited the five countries that allow state-sanctioned killing left her convinced that other governments will soon legalise the practice.

The disabled actor, comedian and activist Liz Carr said she believed it was “almost inevitable” that other countries would follow the examples of Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and the US states of Oregon and Washington, and legalise assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Carr visited all five countries for When Assisted Death is Legal, a two-part documentary for BBC World Service that aired for the first time this week.

Carr took the trip because she wanted to understand why these countries had adopted assisted dying laws.

The conclusion she reached was that they were all countries, or states, that were pushing the boundaries on individual rights, “lashing out” against being told what to do, whether by government or organised religion.

“I think what I learned,” she says, “is that it is almost inevitable that countries are going to see this as a way ahead and as a good thing, and that is what scared me the most.”

The attitude of many of the people she met also alarmed her. “Talking to people who are very pro [assisted suicide], it seems like the most rational and human thing to do. That was quite shocking to me.”

Only last September, Liberal Democrats at their annual conference voted heavily in favour of calling on ministers to bring in assisted dying laws, while the Labour peer Lord Falconer is expected this year to introduce another bill in the Lords in an attempt to legalise assisted suicide.

Carr told Disability News Service (DNS) that she was shocked by several incidents she encountered on her journey.

At a cocktail party, during a conference organised by the Dutch pro-assisted death organisation NVVE, she was talking to a female guest when the woman suddenly asked her: “Are you suffering intolerably?”

“People totally assumed I was interested [in assisted suicide] from the point of view of wanting it, and were surprised at my objections,” says Carr. “It was the most surreal experience.”

As a disabled, English woman in Switzerland, she felt everyone thought she was there to visit the notorious Dignitas suicide clinic. “I felt really conspicuous,” she says. In the documentary, she describes how “as someone opposed to assisted suicide and as a disabled person it was weird being somewhere where it was so normalised”.

Carr was an opponent of legalising assisted suicide before the trip, and saw nothing during her investigation to change her mind. Much of what she witnessed and heard appears to have only strengthened her views.

In Washington State, which introduced its own “death with dignity” laws in 2008, she heard of the woman with terminal cancer who was told by her health insurance provider that it would not pay for the chemotherapy drugs she needed, but would fund the full cost of an assisted death.

Carr says she fears that the drift towards a more privatised health system in the UK could see similar “choices” being offered here, if assisted suicide is legalised.

And she says the evidence she gathered suggests – although it is impossible to prove – that many disabled people across those five countries are being persuaded to die by their financial circumstances and the lack of social care and support available to them.

She says in the documentary: “At a time when we are experiencing cuts in health and social care, how can we be sure that assisted suicide does not become the easy option?”

And she concludes that what is alarming about assisted death legislation is how easily such laws can be widened once they have been introduced.

“Campaigners often talk about the slippery slope,” she says. “Once a law is in, it is unlikely ever to go away, and when it is extended it is without all the debate and discussion you have when it first goes through.”

She accepts that there are cases “where people are in great pain and suffer amazingly and are at the end of their lives”, but she told DNS that her travels had not persuaded her that legalisation could be introduced safely.

“If I believed that we were valued and I believed that people had the proper end-of-life care, whoever they were, and support and medical attention, then absolutely, why not?” she says. “It is just that I don’t [believe all of that], and nothing will change that.”

21 February 2013

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Government silent on need for inquiry into punishment of autistic pupils

The government has failed to say if it believes there is a need for a national inquiry into the use of locked rooms to punish autistic children in special schools.

It faced questions over the issue after schools inspector Ofsted launched an investigation into claims that children at a special school in London had been forced into a so-called “safe room” by teachers as a punishment.

The magazine Autism Eye had spoken to a former teacher at the school who claims he saw a small, “placid” girl being walked into the safe room by a member of staff, who then held onto the handle so she couldn’t leave.

Another girl from his own class was forced into the room because she had been “pulling things off the wall”, while a member of staff reacted to the same girl “jostling” in the playground by telling a colleague to “just throw her in the safe room’”.

A third child was zipped into a tent in the safe room because he had been making high-pitched noises in the classroom, while the whistleblower was told that another child had put his head through the glass door of the safe room after being forced inside.

Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said she was not surprised by the allegations.

She said: “Any environment that is segregated generates that kind of culture. Why should anyone be at all surprised?”

And she suggested that many “multi-sensory areas” were used by special schools as punishment rooms.

The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, (CBF) which supports children and adults with learning difficulties, high support needs and behaviour which challenges, said it was “all too often made aware of situations where inappropriate and restrictive practices are used to contain an individual whose behaviour may present challenges”.

The charity said such children and adults “continue to be at greater risk of abuse and inappropriate treatment”.

A CBF spokeswoman said: “We hope that the on-going investigation will highlight the need for greater understanding of challenging behaviours and the need for training around more effective strategies to support behaviour change.”

Last year, the charity Scope announced it had decided to close one of its residential special schools after a court found it had repeatedly breached the rights of a teenager with autism by confining him to a padded room to control his “challenging behaviour”, without seeking a court order.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said it had been passed details of the latest allegations by Autism Eye before Christmas, and was investigating the claims.

But she said Ofsted was unable to say whether such incidents were occurring in other special schools.

She said: “What is the overall picture? We do not collect information in a way where we can say ‘this is or is not happening across the country’.

“They are illegal practices, to lock up a child in any capacity. Whether they have special needs or not, it is illegal.”

When asked by Disability News Service whether there should be a broader inquiry into the use of “punishment rooms” by special schools, she said: “We cannot take that decision. It would be up to the government to decide, if they felt there were serious concerns of this abuse happening up and down the country.”

Edward Timpson, the Conservative children’s minister, said the allegations at the London school were “deeply concerning”.

He said: “No child should be treated in this shocking way. I have asked officials to ensure that all appropriate investigations are taking place.”

But when asked about a wider investigation, a Department for Education spokeswoman has so far failed to comment.

The council responsible for the special school said it investigated the allegations earlier this year and found there was “no case to answer”, while it claimed Ofsted was “happy” with its investigation.

A council spokeswoman said: “The council has investigated and found there is no case to answer. The council refutes the allegations of any children ever being locked in a room for punishment.”

She said the council was “fully supportive” of the school “and its practices”, and that an Ofsted inspection last May had seen it graded as “outstanding” for the behaviour and safety of pupils.

21 February 2013

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Listed status for gravestone of ‘Peter the Wild Boy’

The government has given listed status to the gravestone of a disabled man who was brought to the court of King George I in 1726 after being discovered as a teenager living wild in a German forest.

The man – known as Peter the Wild Boy – was found naked, walking on all fours and unable to speak, in a forest near Hanover, before being sent to England on the orders of the king.

Peter was treated as a curiosity by the king and members of his royal household, who were amused by the young man’s “strange appearance and erratic behaviour”, according to English Heritage.

Intellectuals debated whether his learning difficulties were due to “nature or learning”, he was studied by scientists, and was the inspiration for satires by Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe.

A wax figure of Peter was exhibited, and he was featured in a painting of the members of the court by William Kent.

But once the novelty of the “freak show” had worn off, Peter was placed in the care of a member of the royal household, before eventually finding work as a farm labourer in Hertfordshire.

He died at the age of about 72, and was buried at St Mary’s church, Northchurch, with a gravestone apparently paid for by local people.

Tony Calladine, designation team leader for English Heritage, said it was “a fascinating story of a significant figure in the country’s history of disability”.

He said: “Listing marks special historic interest, so is very appropriate for the headstone of Peter the Wild Boy, given the intrigue in his story both in Georgian England and today.”

Listing the headstone means that its status will be taken into account before any future planning decisions are taken that could affect its future.

Ed Vaizey, the Conservative heritage minister, said Peter’s story was “both extremely interesting and, at the same time, poignant and unsettling” and “reminds us how far public attitudes to disability have changed”.

Katharine Quarmby, author of Scapegoat, her ground-breaking investigation into the roots of modern-day disability hate crime, welcomed the decision to list the gravestone.

But she said that although it was clear that attitudes to disabled people had changed since the eighteenth century, she was not certain if there had been a “rupture with the past” or a gradual improvement over the centuries, or if the kind of attitudes shown by George I’s court in displaying Peter for their amusement had simply “migrated” to modern-day equivalents such as “freak show” television shows and disablist internet abuse.

She said it could be argued that notorious modern-day cases of disability hate crime were “vestiges of a very unpleasant past”, but they could also show that there was “still a public appetite for public monstering of disabled people”.

She said she saw signs of more positive public attitudes, such as the success of The Last Leg, Channel 4’s Paralympic-themed comedy chat show, presented by the disabled comedian Adam Hills.

But she added: “At the same time, we are seeing this vicious stripping of benefits from disabled people, and the demonising of disabled people on benefits.”

She said she believed that the government’s announcement about Peter’s gravestone was a “distraction” from the brutal cuts and reforms to disabled people’s benefits and services.

She said: “When we think of hundreds of thousands of disabled people losing their benefits, it pales into insignificance. They are trying to distract us. There are really more important things that are wrong with our country.”

21 February 2013

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Signs of hope for job-sharing MPs campaign

Activists who want disabled people to be able to become job-sharing MPs are pushing the deputy prime minister to reopen a parliamentary inquiry, so that it can discuss the idea again.

Campaigners want parliament to introduce new laws that would allow two people from the same political party to stand together for election to represent a parliamentary constituency.

They believe such laws would open parliament up to disabled people who might not be able to work full-time for impairment-related reasons.

The historic Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation reported three years ago on how to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

Many of its recommendations have since been introduced, but the committee steered clear of recommending job-sharing.

Now Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, a group of disabled activists campaigning to change the law to allow job-sharing MPs, is pushing the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, to reopen the Speaker’s Conference.

She has already raised the issue with him on his weekly call-in show on London’s LBC radio station.

He told her then that “any creative ideas about getting more people with disabilities into politics has got to be a good thing”, although he warned that it would be “tricky” to “work out exactly how it would work”.

Clegg promised to examine legal advice from a leading human rights barrister, commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which suggested that the Electoral Commission could be breaching both the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act by refusing to provide guidance permitting job-share MPs.

The Liberal Democrats are set to discuss the idea of job-sharing MPs at their spring conference in Brighton next month, with a vote on it becoming official party policy likely to take place at the party’s annual conference in September.

The Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt, who job-shared when she was working in social services, before she became an MP, said: “My view is why on earth not! You get the value of two heads instead of one. You would have different sets of skills.

“It would be a great opportunity to reflect a wider section of the population.”

King, who has set up a petition to call for a change in the law, helped shape a job-sharing bill introduced by the Labour MP John McDonnell, which should receive its second reading in the Commons on 1 March.

She has also raised the issue on Labour’s Your Britain website, which calls on the public to provide suggestions for new party policies.

King said she believed the Electoral Commission had been in breach of the law. And she said that introducing job-sharing for MPs in the UK could lead to other countries such as the US, Canada and Australia following its lead.

Among those MPs backing McDonnell’s representation of the people (members’ job share) bill are the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference; the Green MP Caroline Lucas; Tim Farron, president of the Liberal Democrats; Conservative MPs Robert Halfon, who is himself disabled, and Dr Sarah Wollaston, who job-shared as a GP; and Jon Cruddas, the influential MP who is heading Labour’s policy review.

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said it had considered the legal advice commissioned by the EHRC and had “concluded that the Cabinet Office should be the body considering the matter in the first instance”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said Clegg had made it clear that changes to the law were “off the table during this parliament, but in the future anything that would help disabled people get into politics should be approached with an open mind”.

When asked if Clegg would ask for the Speaker’s Conference to be reopened, he said: “The government is committed to widening the base of who can be elected to parliament.

“The Cabinet Office is aware of the views provided to the EHRC on job-sharing. The government receives legal opinions regularly on a wide range of issues, all of which are carefully considered in the normal process of formulating policy and legislation.”

He said the EHRC’s legal advice was still being considered.

21 February 2013

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Questions raised over failure to include access in rail station scheme

Campaigners have asked the government why a major scheme to build a new platform at a busy rail station failed to include work to make the station accessible to disabled people.

The £2.5 million project is taking place at Alexandra Palace, which is at the centre of a large area of north London which currently has no step-free access to the rail and tube network.

London TravelWatch, the transport users’ watchdog, believes the scheme could breach the Department for Transport’s (DfT) own code of practice on accessible station design.

It believes there was a “deliberate decision” by the DfT and Network Rail, which owns and runs Britain’s rail infrastructure, not to provide step-free access at Alexandra Palace.

The government’s £370 million Access for All fund, launched in 2006, provides funds for improvements across the rail network, but Alexandra Palace is not currently included in the programme.

Tracey Proudlock, a wheelchair-user and leading access consultant, who lives near Alexandra Palace, said the government needed to rethink its approach to station developments, and ensure that all significant upgrade projects also addressed access issues.

She said: “I think if there is a loophole, they will get out of it.”

Because of the lack of step-free access at the station, Proudlock has to either drive or take a taxi to central London meetings.

She added: “At the moment, Access for All is having a very, very modest impact. There are not many opportunities through that scheme.

“It means their reach and their ability to open up the network is very, very narrow.”

In one letter to Network Rail last year, London TravelWatch said the decision to proceed without introducing step-free access could breach the Equality Act, because of the failure to “take into account the needs of disabled people, and not discriminate against them by constructing public facilities in such a way as to deny them access”.

London TravelWatch has written a series of letters to ministers, Network Rail and the rail regulator, raising serious concerns about the Alexandra Palace scheme and its implications for other stations that need access improvements.

In a letter to the rail regulator, Sharon Grant, at the time the chair of London TravelWatch, said the platform project “appears to have made a mockery of current National and European regulations which require a high standard of access at stations where work is done to improve or enhance them with new facilities”.

But in a letter to Grant, Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Lamb said there was “no question” of anyone in his department “having circumvented the rules in this case”, and there was “no requirement” in the DfT’s code of practice that such projects should make an entire station accessible.

He said that providing a step-free route at Alexandra Palace would probably have more than doubled the cost of the scheme.

But he promised that Alexandra Palace would be “looked at again, along with other current inaccessible stations across the country”, when assessing Access for All bids.

Last July, the government announced another £100 million and an extension of the Access for All programme from 2015 to 2019.

20 February 2013

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Annual day celebrates ‘independence’ for wheelchair-users

A disabled campaigner is hoping disabled people in the UK and around the world will use an annual day to celebrate the independence provided by their wheelchair.

Steve Wilkinson launched International Wheelchair Day five years ago, and although it has yet to take off in the UK, there were events last year in both Nepal and Australia.

He wants wheelchair-users to mark the day – 1 March – in their own way, either through an organised event or a small personal celebration of “the positive impact a wheelchair has had in their lives”.

IWD also aims to raise awareness of the access challenges still facing wheelchair-users, and focus on the estimated 100 million disabled people worldwide who do not have the wheelchairs they need.

Wilkinson said: “The day is for all wheelchair-users around the world to celebrate what wheelchairs can do for them. A wheelchair gives people the freedom they wouldn’t [otherwise] have.”

For the first few years, he used IWD to blog about wheelchair-related issues, but last year, there was a rally on 1 March of more than 90 wheelchair-users calling for better access in Kathmandu, Nepal, while Wilkinson himself attended an event in Adelaide, South Australia.

This year, there will be another event in Adelaide, due to be opened by Tony Piccolo, South Australia’s minister for disabilities.

And in Cape Town, South Africa, fundraisers will be using IWD to hand over bags full of bread tags – plastic tags used to tie bread bags – that have been collected for the charity Bread Tags for Wheelchairs.

For every 10 kg of bread tags, the charity receives enough money from a recycling company for a new wheelchair.

19 February 2013

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Jobcentre ‘harassed’ woman as she received emergency blood transfusion

A disabled woman awaiting a second kidney transplant was “harassed” by her local jobcentre during an emergency blood transfusion, because they wanted to know when she would be well enough to attend a back-to-work interview.

Annemarie Campbell says the jobcentre in central London knew she was in hospital, and that she was seriously ill, but still hounded her while she lay hooked up to life-saving medical equipment in an emergency renal ward of Hammersmith Hospital last Friday (8 February).

Campbell, who has end-stage renal failure, described her treatment by jobcentre staff as “inhumane, discriminatory and degrading”.

She had received a letter from the jobcentre asking her to attend a work-focussed interview on 8 February.

She called a manager at the jobcentre on 7 February, and told him she was seriously ill and had to be in hospital the next day for an emergency transfusion.

She was told they would phone her again in a few weeks. Instead, she received a call the next day from a member of the jobcentre’s staff, who said: “It’s just to ask you when you can attend the interview. Can somebody not tell you when you are going to be released?”

When Campbell said she was hooked up to medical equipment for the transfusion of six pints of blood, the woman asked her to find out from her consultant when she would be well enough to leave hospital.

Campbell, a former civil servant, from west London, is now considering legal action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), while she says her consultant is writing a letter of complaint.

She said the experience left her in tears throughout the following weekend, and that her consultant had now told her she could not continue her studies or take part in a work placement because her life was “on a knife edge” due to the extra stress.

She said: “What happened has made me more ill. They have screwed up my treatment and won’t get off my back.

“I have been stripped of my dignity. It has made me feel as if my disability is being used as a stick to beat me with.

“What if I don’t get a transplant? Are they going to punish me? I don’t need a job, I need a kidney.”

Campbell is also angry because she has told the jobcentre she already has a job to go back to when she is well enough – she does legal agency work – and is desperate to return to employment and her part-time university course.

Her problems began in 2009, after she had to appeal against being found fit for work and ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA).

She eventually won her appeal and was placed in the ESA support group – for those not expected to do any work-related activity – but returned to agency work when her condition improved.

Her health deteriorated again, and she was forced to reapply for ESA last autumn.

When Atos Healthcare – the company that assesses “fitness for work” – heard how ill she was, and saw a letter from her GP, she was told she would not need a face-to-face assessment and would be placed straight into the support group.

But three weeks ago, she was called by her local jobcentre to say the DWP’s own decision-makers had placed her in the work-related activity group, for those with lower support needs, and would need to attend a work-focussed interview.

Campbell says she made it clear to the jobcentre that she was extremely unwell and about to return to hospital.

This week, Jobcentre Plus has phoned to apologise and assure her that she will not now need to attend a work-focussed interview and has finally been placed in the support group.

Linda Burnip, one of the co-founders of Disabled People Against Cuts, which received a request for help from Campbell this week, said: “While we’re inundated on a daily basis with reports about people’s appalling experiences at the hands of Atos and DWP staff, this has to be the most callous and brutal example of how the system is totally failing to meet the needs of disabled people.”

A DWP spokesman denied that Campbell had been “harassed”, and claimed that she had arranged for the jobcentre to call her about the work-focussed interview on the day she was in hospital having the emergency transfusion, but had warned that she might not be available because of the treatment.

Campbell says this claim is “absolute rubbish”, and that she had simply told them on 7 February that she was “really unwell” and that they could call her consultant the next day if they did not believe her.

The DWP spokesman claimed there had been no harassment on the phone while Campbell was lying in her hospital bed, and said: “I don’t know exactly what [the jobcentre employee] said so I cannot comment on that at all.”

He said Jobcentre Plus had phoned Campbell to apologise this week “because she was upset by the call [while she was receiving her transfusion], because obviously she was. It was also to reassure her that she was in the support group.”

He added: “Our version of events is obviously different. It was unfortunate timing that she was in hospital and she was upset and it was completely reasonable that we apologise that she was upset.”

14 February 2013

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Hunt ‘ignores Dilnot’ on funding care for working-age disabled people

The government looks set to force tens of thousands more working-age disabled people to pay towards their long-term care and support than was recommended by an independent commission.

The coalition announced this week its long-awaited reforms to how older people should pay for their long-term care, but provided few details on how many younger disabled people would be expected to contribute towards their support.

The Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the new measures would be based on recommendations made by the Dilnot Commission in 2011, with a cap on lifetime care costs for older people of £75,000 – higher than Dilnot had recommended – to be introduced from 2017, as well as a new means-test threshold of £123,000.

Currently only those with assets of less than £23,250 and a “low income” receive help from the state with their care costs.

Hunt told MPs that, from 2017, people who develop care needs before they turn 18 would continue to receive free care, while there would be a lower cap on lifetime care costs for people of working age who develop support needs after 18 but before retirement age.

A Department of Health (DH) spokesman told Disability News Service (DNS): “For the first time ever, we have introduced a measure to help people who develop a care need after 18, but before state pension age.

“This group will now be protected from the astronomical care costs they currently face with a care cap that is below the £75,000 threshold.”

He added: “We are working closely with stakeholders on the details of the reform, including those for working age adults, and will be consulting on the details of these reforms over the summer.”

But Dilnot had recommended that all people with eligible needs who become disabled before the age of 40 should receive free care and support.

He argued that such people should not have to pay towards their support, because they had not had the same opportunities to build up savings and fund their own care as those who develop care needs after retirement.

Dilnot said that those who become disabled after 40 would be expected to make some contribution towards their lifetime care costs, with the total amount they were expected to pay rising by about £10,000 per decade.

Despite repeated requests by DNS, DH has so far been unable to provide any details of the cap for working-age adults, or why Hunt chose to ignore Dilnot’s clear recommendation.

Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK, said the government needed to explain why it was “rejecting the careful reasoning outlined in Dilnot”.

She said she was concerned that the measures for younger disabled people appeared to be a “disincentive to work”, and at Hunt’s failure to provide a “clear statement” about the support needs of working-age disabled people, which need to be considered “as a matter of urgency”.

She said that charges for care and support were continuing to rise, with reports of disabled people in “real difficulties”.

She added: “The regime of community care charges is out of control and no-one in government is keeping an eye on it and no-one is assessing the impact on disabled people in terms of increasing poverty. This urgently needs addressing.”

Dr Sarah Campbell, who has co-authored reports on social care and welfare reform for the WeAreSpartacus campaign, welcomed the decision on under-18s, which she said would “allow young people to enjoy the same start in life as their peers and an equal opportunity to save for their future”.

But she expressed disappointment that the coalition had ignored Dilnot’s recommendations on working-age people, who would “continue to be severely penalised should they become disabled and require care”.

She said: “Newly disabled people will find themselves facing not only difficult life-changing times but the additional loss of any savings and potential financial hardship as well.”

Under the reforms, disabled and older people will have an assessment carried out by their local authority.

If assessed as having eligible care needs – with a new national eligibility threshold to be introduced in 2015 – they will be told how much it would cost for the council to meet those needs with local services. These costs will then count towards the cap.

Hunt described the reforms as “historic” and a “watershed moment” and said they “prove once again that despite these tough economic times, this government is determined to get behind everyone who has worked hard and done the right thing”.

14 February 2013

News provided by John Pring at