Disabled victims of bedroom tax granted urgent judicial review

Disabled people who are set to be hit by the government’s controversial “bedroom tax” have won the right to an urgent judicial review of the new rules.

Lawyers acting for the 10 individuals and families taking the legal action say that the changes – due to come into force on 1 April – will have a far greater impact on disabled people than non-disabled people.

They say the regulations breach the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The judicial review of the decision to cut housing benefit for those judged to be “over-occupying” their social housing will be heard in early May.

Sue McCafferty, a member of the We are Spartacus grassroots network of disabled campaigners, said: “The policy and the legislation underpinning the ‘bedroom tax’ are fundamentally flawed and it was evident from the government’s own equality impact assessment that the regulations would have a disproportionate impact upon sick and disabled people.

“We are Spartacus are delighted that the flaws of this policy will be examined and, we hope, that the profound distress caused to those affected will soon be over.”

Ugo Hayter, from solicitors Leigh Day, who is representing two of the claimants, said: “This is an excellent result and the first step in over-ruling what we believe is an unfair piece of legislation which has disproportionate negative consequences for disabled people and is therefore discriminatory.”

The new regulation will see a working-age single person or a couple with no children in social housing having their housing benefit reduced by 14 per cent if they occupy a two-bedroom home and by 25 per cent if they occupy a home with three or more bedrooms.

The two claimants represented by Hayter, Jacqueline Carmichael and Richard Rourke, came forward as a result of work by We are Spartacus.

Carmichael lives in a two-bedroom housing association flat with her husband, her full-time carer, and has to sleep in a fixed position in a hospital bed with an electronic pressure mattress.

Her husband cannot share her bed for safety reasons, and there is no space in the room for a second bed, so he sleeps in the second bedroom.

The Carmichaels say they cannot afford the 14 per cent benefit reduction in their housing benefit.

Rourke, a wheelchair-user, lives in a three-bedroom bungalow, with substantial adaptations.

He has a disabled daughter, also a wheelchair-user, who is studying at university but returns home for holidays, and often at weekends. The third bedroom is a tiny box-room used to store mobility and care equipment.

Rourke cannot move home because there is no wheelchair-accessible, two-bedroom social housing available. If forced to move, he risks losing access to his support network.

National Housing Federation figures released earlier this month showed that 230,000 disability living allowance (DLA) claimants would lose an average of £728 per year in housing benefit as a result of the new regulation.

Even if all the extra £30 million funding allocated by the government to help foster carers and disabled people in adapted properties was given to DLA claimants hit by the tax, they would each receive just £2.51 per week, compared with an average £14 a week loss.

27 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disabled people ‘will lose more than £28 billion in benefits’

Disabled people are set to lose more than £28 billion in benefits by 2018 as a result of government cuts and reforms to the welfare system, according to new research.

The research – by the disability charity Scope and the thinktank Demos – calculates that 3.7 million disabled people will lose out as a result of the cuts.

By 2018, some disabled people could be affected by at least six different cuts, through reforms to working-age disability living allowance (DLA), housing benefit, and employment and support allowance (ESA). Some could lose more than £23,000 by 2018.

About 150,000 disabled people are set to lose more than £15,000 each by 2018, with the worst-hit likely to be those – in the work-related activity group – who are affected by the new 12-month time limit on the contributory form of ESA.

Those who lose their DLA when it is replaced by the new personal independence payment will also be hit hard.

The research was carried out in a bid to measure the cumulative impact of all of the government’s welfare cuts on disabled people, something the government insists is impossible.

But even the cuts assessed by Scope and Demos under-estimate the total impact of the government’s reforms.

The researchers found that the combined impact of other welfare cuts was too difficult to calculate, including the freezing of child benefit (affecting one million disabled parents), the closure of the Independent Living Fund (affecting 19,000 disabled people), and cuts to council tax credit (1.38 million disabled people) and local housing allowances for private tenants (827,000 disabled people).

There are also continuing restrictions on social care, with local authorities tightening eligibility criteria, increasing charges, and cutting services.

Richard Hawkes, Scope’s chief executive, said: “In 2013, disabled people are already struggling to pay the bills. Living costs are spiralling. Income is flat-lining. We know many are getting in debt, just to pay for essentials.

“What’s the government’s response? The same group of disabled people face not just one or two cuts to their support, but in some cases three, four, five or even six cuts.

“It paints a frightening picture of the financial struggles affecting disabled people in 2013.”

27 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Crow will make the private public in defence of her bed life

A disabled artist will place the government’s welfare cuts under the microscope next month, just as the coalition begins to implement its controversial disability living allowance reforms.

Liz Crow’s highly personal live performance Bedding Out will see her putting her “private bed-oriented life” in the public arena over the course of 48 hours.

The writer-director-activist has to spend much of her life in bed because of her impairment, but says that until now she has always succeeded in keeping that part of herself hidden from view.

During the performance, members of the public will be invited to take part in “bedside conversations” with her as she lies in her bed, so they can discuss the work and its backdrop of welfare reforms and cuts to disability benefits and services.

The event will be streamed live on the internet throughout its 48 hours, allowing those who cannot attend to engage with the project via Twitter.

Crow said: “I wear a public self that is energetic, dynamic and happening, but I am also ill and spend much of life in bed.”

She said that the benefits system forces her and other disabled people to “parade” their private selves in order to justify receiving support.

She added: “For some months, I have lain low for fear of being penalised, but instead of letting fear determine who I am, I’d rather stare it in the face.”

Bedding Out is a way of taking her private self and making it public, she said.

“I want to make a twilight existence visible, but more than that, I want to show that what many people see as contradiction – what they describe as fraud – is only the complexity of real life.”

Bedding Out – which is funded by Arts Council England – is a companion piece to Bedding In, Crow’s performance at last year’s SPILL Festival of Performance in Ipswich.

It is part of a new touring show, People Like You, which also features work by disabled artists Sue Austin and Gini, and which “tackles the subjectivity and perceptions of disability, and the place of disability arts in the wider art sector”.

Bedding Out is at Salisbury Arts Centre and on social media (follow @RGPLizCrow and use #beddingout), from 10-12 April, starting at 2pm. It will be live-streamed on Crow’s website, Roaring Girl Productions. The 40-minute “bedside conversations” will take place both online and at the arts centre on Wednesday 10 April at 2pm and 6pm, on 11 April at 3.15pm, and on Friday 12 April at 10.15am. There will also be a Twitter-only conversation from noon on 11 April. To attend one of the conversations in person, contact Salisbury Arts Centre.

27 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

TUC says no to government’s new disability alliance

Disabled trade unionists have refused to join the government’s new “alliance” of organisations interested in disability, because they say it will restrict their ability to campaign against coalition policies.

The Office for Disability Issues claims that about 90 disability, public, voluntary and private sector organisations have joined its Disability Action Alliance (DAA), which aims to identify actions and activities that can “make a difference to the lives of disabled people” at local and national level.

Disability Rights UK, which is convening DAA, says the alliance will advise on “implementation” of government policy and focus on how existing policies could be improved at a local level.

Disabled people’s organisations signed up so far include Equalities National Council, People First (Self Advocacy) and the National Survivor User Network. The government has yet to publish a full list.

But the TUC’s Disabled Workers’ Committee (DWC) said this week that it had decided not to accept a government invitation to join DAA.

DWC said that joining the alliance would restrict the TUC’s ability to campaign against government policies that were affecting disabled people.

Sean McGovern, DWC’s chair, said unions had been working with disabled people to challenge the government’s “brutal and inhumane cuts”, including the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the replacement of working-age disability living allowance with personal independence payment, and the “bedroom tax”.

He said: “Every single one of these changes is punishing and impoverishing disabled people and their families.

“Joining this government-inspired alliance now would be to pretend that none of this is happening.”

He added: “We want to see all disabled people and the organisations that represent them continuing to oppose government policy and not conned into becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “It’s disappointing that the TUC have chosen not to join around 90 other organisations that make up the alliance so far, and who want to work together to make a real difference to the lives of disabled people.

“The membership agreement that we ask organisations to read before they sign up states very clearly that, although organisations should not campaign or lobby ‘in the name of the alliance’, this would not affect them campaigning or lobbying in their own right.”

27 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Films highlight the human cost of cutting personalised support

People in mental distress are being denied the personalised support they need to stay healthy and out of hospital, according to a mental health arts charity.

CoolTan Arts was screening three new films by its members about the personalisation of care and support, and how such support can help people with mental health conditions by offering them more choice and control over the services they use.

Michelle Baharier, CoolTan’s chief executive, said: “Personalisation was meant to come in to enable people to have choice and control… to choose things that keep them well.”

But she told the audience at the British Film Institute (BFI) on London’s South Bank that CoolTan had lost funding that paid for 46 people in mental distress to use its services.

This had been replaced by funding for just 12 people who have been found eligible for a personal budget from their local authority and could use some of that money to pay the £3,000 it costs to support them for a year at CoolTan.

Since the cuts, 18 of those denied support have had to return to hospital because their health has deteriorated, while four of the people who had to stop using CoolTan’s services have died in less than a year.

Baharier said: “Just pulling the carpet from under people’s feet is absolutely disgusting. In mental health it is like taking the wheelchair away from the wheelchair-user.”

She said there was a “good body of evidence” that providing a small amount of funding to organisations like CoolTan saves public services much larger amounts of money.

The police helicopter that was used after one of CoolTan’s former members committed suicide cost about £5,000, while the money spent on a two-week spell in hospital could pay for two years’ support from CoolTan.

She also criticised local MPs who were “hiding under the bed” rather than “fighting our cause”.

Two of the films made for the Making it Happen project are animations and the third is a short documentary.

Richard Muzira, one of the film-makers, told the audience that he hoped CoolTan could produce more work that illustrated the issues faced by people with mental distress.

He said: “There is room to create more media, not just film, to extend, to do more, to show the effects as we are hearing right now.”

Another of the film-makers, Doug Taylor, said the film he worked on showed “what people are having to go through… when the people supposed to be helping us and support us are not seeing it through”.

He said he was concerned that cuts to day services would lead to “more and more people going back into hospital”, while many people were still waiting to hear whether they would receive a personal budget from the council.

A third film-maker, Adrian Whyatt, told the BFI audience: “We do have to fight this idea that there is no money out there. There is money out there.”

He added: “At the moment, most people suffering from mental distress are not aware of their rights and are not getting the things they need.”

One of the two animations – which has yet to be completed – focuses on the benefits of personalisation to disabled lesbian gay bisexual and transgender people, and features the words and voice of Steve Hampson, a CoolTan member who died last November.

He says in the film: “If I don’t have money, I fear being isolated, being pushed in the corner, where I have to stay indoors and go round to a soup kitchen and a church.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t want to live that life, so it gives me a kind of freedom… If I can live OK, I can help other people… I can help my people around me.”

The second animation looks at the experience of a man with schizophrenia, and how he discovers that he can use a personal budget to pay for guitar lessons.

The third film, A Stitch in Time, is a documentary. Service-users describe what personalisation means to them, such as “a bit of freedom, a bit of confidence”, “the ability to get up and do things”, and “giving individuals the power to carry out personal tasks”.

One service-user tells how she used to attend CoolTan three times a week to paint, but now her council funding has been withdrawn she has to just “stay at home and smoke”.

Another says that without the support she needs, her health will deteriorate and she will end up being sectioned.

She says: “They don’t do nothing until I have got a breakdown and it will cost thousands and thousands… Yesterday I qualified [for funding] and today I don’t.”

The Making it Happen project was funded by the research and consultancy company Ecorys and the Department of Health’s Volunteering Fund Health and Social Care.

26 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government’s ‘secret plan to strip claimants of DLA’

The government appears to have a secret plan to reassess disability living allowance (DLA) claimants who have “indefinite” awards, in a bid to sidestep delays to implementation of its benefit reforms.

Three disabled people, who all work or volunteer as welfare advisers in different parts of the country, have described to Disability News Service (DNS) what they say is a suspicious trend being seen among long-term DLA claimants.

All three say the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) seems to be trying to cut the number of people on indefinite awards by reassessing them for DLA, while at the same time promising that no-one with a lifetime or indefinite award will be reassessed for the new personal independence payment (PIP) – the replacement for working-age DLA – until 2015.

Only last December, Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, announced – following concerted campaigning by disability organisations – that those with lifetime or indefinite DLA awards would not be reassessed for PIP until October 2015 at the earliest, six months after the next general election.

But by reassessing claimants using existing DLA rules instead of PIP, the government can sidestep its own announcement.

A disabled activist, who tweets as Blueannoyed and volunteers on various disability-related internet forums, has spoken to DNS about her concerns, after dealing with at least five disabled people with indefinite DLA awards.

All five – including two from Wales, one from Swindon and one from Northumberland – have been told by DWP that they will need to be reassessed for DLA.

“Blueannoyed” said she had not previously heard of anyone with an indefinite award being reassessed during her three years on the forums.

She said: “I think there has been a dramatic shift. They are saying 2015 to the public but I think they are trying to shift the goalposts.”

Mick Dillon, chief executive of the Disability Resource Centre, in Bedfordshire, was another to raise the same concerns.

He said there had been a “very tangible shift” in the number of disabled people with indefinite or lifetime awards being reassessed. He said he was now expecting to be called in for a reassessment of his own indefinite DLA award.

Dillon said: “Our chair sits on the disability appeals panel, which is held in our building in Dunstable. She has been seeing, for quite a few months, people with lifetime awards being called in.”

Another advice centre, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), has seen a recent surge in disabled people with indefinite DLA awards being called in for reassessments.

Andrew Clark, chair of BuDS, said: “A number of people have said that they are being invited to go for a reassessment of their DLA because of a change of circumstances, but they have not actually reported any change of circumstance. They all had indefinite awards.”

He said he feared DWP was carrying out a “covert rolling programme of reassessments”.

A DWP spokesman said: “Awards of DLA, whether made for life, indefinitely, or for a fixed period, are made on the basis that the entitlement conditions continue to be met.

“An indefinite or life award would not generally be reviewed unless there is a change in circumstances that affects the entitlement.

“This would include a change reported by the claimant, as they are required to do to ensure they receive the correct amount of benefit, or through another source such as fraud referral.

“There are no plans to reassess people for PIP earlier than the timeline already set out by the government.”

14 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Number 10 denies Cameron misled MPs on DLA spending

The prime minister has been caught out for the second time giving MPs misleading information about cuts to disability benefits.

David Cameron had been asked last week about the impact on disabled people of the so-called “bedroom tax” – new regulations which will see housing benefit cut for families in social housing who are judged to have more bedrooms than they need.

But in a bid to defend the government’s overall record on disability benefits, Cameron claimed that government spending on disability living allowance (DLA) was rising, even though it is falling.

He told Labour leader Ed Miliband, who had asked the question: “The last thing he said before sitting down was that we are cutting the money going to disabled people. That is simply not the case.

“In 2009-10, the money spent on disability living allowance was £12.4 billion. By 2015 it will be £13.3 billion. There is no cut in the money going to the disabled.”

But Cameron failed to tell MPs that forecasted spending on DLA this year, 2012-13, is £13.6 billion. This means – according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ own figures – that spending on DLA will fall over the next two years.

A spokesman for Number 10 said the prime minister was pointing out that spending on DLA would rise over the course of this parliament, between 2010 and 2015.

He said: “That is often how we talk about spending, in terms of over a period, rather than year on year.”

Asked whether it was reasonable for the prime minister to use figures from three years ago, rather than the most up-to-date statistics, he said: “Yes, he was referring to the period over this parliament. That’s why he gave the date from 2009-10.”

Cameron had also claimed at last week’s prime minister’s questions that “people who need round-the-clock care” would be exempt from the bedroom tax, which come into force on 1 April.

But although disabled people who need a spare room for an overnight paid care worker will be exempt, those who rely on their partners for their support will not.

14 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

p�Q ry� �ood the serious impact of these changes on some of the most vulnerable people in society, and would urge them to think again.”

Despite the decision to drop the appeal, Duncan Smith claimed there had been “no climb-downs at all” by his department.

He told Channel 4 News: “These are adjustments already because of the court case over the severely disabled children for local housing allowance [housing benefit] so this is nothing to do with it. This is a reality. We simply put the guidance out there to say this reality exists.”

It is still unclear what impact the appeal decision will have on a different court case, an attempt by 10 individuals and families to seek a judicial review of the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people.

Anne McMurdie, who represents three of the claimants – a disabled man with a mental health condition, the father of a disabled child who shares caring duties with the child’s mother, and a disabled woman cared for by a parent in a significantly-adapted property – said the government’s announcement was “not entirely clear in many respects as to how it will work and who is covered”.

McMurdie, from Public Law Solicitors in Birmingham, said the government had until the end of Monday (18 March) to produce its written response to the judicial review claims.

She said: “At that point we hope to have a clear picture about what concessions or exemptions apply in these cases and to whom and whether the regulations themselves will be amended. Once we have this info we can decide how to go forward.”

14 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com