Byrne’s speech reveals ‘major gaps’ in understanding of disability

A major speech on social security reform by Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary has revealed “major gaps in his understanding” of the issues affecting disabled people, say campaigners.

Liam Byrne, and his leader, Ed Miliband, have been criticised by disabled campaigners over the last two years for mirroring some of the hostile rhetoric that has come from sections of the media and the coalition.

Some activists saw an improvement in tone and content at last year’s Labour conference, although Miliband again used his main conference speech to suggest that many disabled benefit claimants were choosing a life on social security rather than finding jobs.

This week, Byrne said the government’s social security reforms were in “crisis”, and that a future Labour government would aim to “bring costs down and keep the system affordable for the long term” and reform the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).

He delivered the speech at the headquarters of Chance UK, a charity which provides mentoring programmes for young children with behavioural difficulties.

Byrne repeated his party’s backing for a long-term cap on “structural” social security spending – benefits expenditure that is not caused by short-term fluctuations in the economy – an idea now adopted by the coalition.

He said the “welfare revolution” promised by the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had “collapsed because of a failure in basic delivery”, and he pointed to Duncan Smith’s “failing” Work Programme, the “incompetence and cruelty” of the “bedroom tax”, and the implementation of universal credit, which he said had been a “disaster”.

But Byrne also devoted a large chunk of his speech to incapacity benefit reform.

He criticised the government for rolling out the WCA – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits and was “pioneered” by the last Labour government – before it was “fit for purpose and ready to fly”.

He spoke of the “human misery” caused by the WCA, with the cost of tribunals increasing by two-fifths last year, but he saved most of his criticism for Atos Healthcare, the company chosen by Labour to carry out the assessments.

Byrne said Atos must be forced to improve the accuracy of its assessments, clear the heavy backlog of tests, and “radically” change the culture of its assessment centres.

He added: “They should be given weeks to get back on track. And if they cannot deliver, the process should start to get them sacked and replaced – without disruption to tests.”

But Jane Young, an independent consultant and coordinator of the We Are Spartacus online network of disabled campaigners, said Byrne’s speech showed some “worrying gaps in his understanding”, even though he has “some good ideas to support disabled people”.

She said Byrne appeared to be ignoring the “rampant discrimination” faced by disabled people in the job market.

She said: “The labour market needs proper reform, so that disabled people can get and keep meaningful, long-term employment.”

Young said Byrne did not seem to understand that ESA “should be a sickness benefit, for those who are too sick to work – not for those who are ‘disabled-and-well’.

“The way to reform ESA is not to bash Atos – although they do need to do better – but to reform the basis of the benefit – the descriptors, the statistical norms and the assessment process – so that it correctly identifies and supports those who are too sick to work.”

The Conservative party dismissed Byrne’s speech as a “last ditch attempt” to keep his job in the shadow cabinet.

A party spokesman said: “Same old Labour is in the wrong place on welfare. They want people on benefits to make more money than the average hard-working family earns. They want unlimited amounts of benefits to be a basic human right.

“Labour have even gone as far as to ban the word ‘welfare’ in the hopes we all forget they are The Welfare Party. The taxpayer supports what we’re doing on welfare. Ed Miliband has got it wrong yet again.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Ministers silent after being caught ‘pulling lies out of thin air’

Ministers have refused to apologise after being caught “pulling lies and false information out of thin air” in a bid to justify their cuts to spending on disability benefits and services.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week refused to comment on new information provided by Disability News Service (DNS) that shows ministers have repeatedly used figures that give a misleading impression of the comparative level of spending on disabled people in the UK.

At least two Conservative ministers have said in parliament and elsewhere that the UK spends “almost double the OECD average” on disabled people, spending 2.4 per cent against the OECD average of 1.3 per cent in 2009.

They claim that only two of the other 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries spend more than the UK on disability, with the figures even included in the coalition’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy document, published earlier this year.

But the OECD figures they have been quoting refer to spending on only one element of disability benefits, and ignore expenditure on employment and support allowance (ESA) and incapacity benefit (IB).

A DWP press officer claimed that this was because DWP statisticians had decided that some of those people on ESA and IB “will not necessarily be disabled”.

But DNS pointed to comments made publicly by both Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, and Esther McVey, the minister for disabled people, in which they use the OECD percentages and then link them to the UK’s £50 billion a year spending on disabled people.

According to a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) response to DNS, that £50 billion includes expenditure on disability living allowance, care services… and IB and ESA.

This means ministers are claiming – wrongly – that the £50 billion a year the UK spends on disabled people is almost double the OECD average.

But when it comes to total spending on disability, including “benefits in kind”, such as social care support and rehabilitation services, OECD statisticians have confirmed to DNS that the overall OECD average – including countries such as Mexico, Chile, Greece, South Korea and Turkey, which spend very low amounts on supporting disabled people – is 2.4 per cent, against 2.92 per cent in the UK.

And when a comparison is made between the UK and all of its immediate OECD neighbours – Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Ireland – the UK’s spending is actually lower than average, 2.92 per cent against its neighbours’ 3.29 per cent.

But despite DNS passing this information to DWP press officers, they have refused to put the new numbers to departmental statisticians, stating repeatedly that they “stand by the use of those figures”.

Because of this refusal to comment on the new information – and the apparent willingness to leave misleading statistical information uncorrected – DNS has now filed a complaint with DWP’s director of communications, John Shield.

Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “This government’s continued attacks depend on being able to peddle these myths to the public.

“They are extremely accomplished at pulling lies and false information out of thin air, but this time they’ve been caught out, and their silence is telling.

“The public need to start holding ministers to account. We want action over this, we want answers. And those found to be responsible for initiating this need to go.

“It has gone on too long. Disabled people around the UK need to take action, and stand up to these lies and attacks.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Abused woman’s care nightmare as council slashes package

A disabled woman who needs 24-hour support has been told her care package will be cut to just three hour-long visits a day.

The woman, from east London, is still emotionally scarred and needed lengthy counselling after a previous care worker neglected and abused her.

She is unable to move around safely on her own, and faces the prospect of having to sit in incontinence pads during the day and all night because Newham council wants to slash her care package.

She has significant paralysis, following a brain haemorrhage in 2001 and a subsequent stroke, has epilepsy and is partially-sighted, and has been receiving 24-hour care for more than 10 years.

And because of her medication, she needs to drink a lot of water, which makes it even more uncomfortable for her to have her pads changed only three times a day, as well as risking infection.

Her family have also been told that the agency that has been providing the care workers who have been supporting her for the last 18 months – and which took over after the alleged abuse – is not registered with the Care Quality Commission.

Newham council is now facing questions over why it approved the agency to provide her care when it was not registered to provide that service.

The council has also told her that she cannot start using direct payments to arrange her own care for another three months because of a backlog.

Despite the concerns over the care agency, she has built up an excellent relationship with her two current care workers, but faces losing them if the council’s cuts go ahead.

She said: “I am still reeling from it all. I can’t believe it is going to happen. I have had 24-hour care since I came out of hospital.”

She said the council tried giving her three visits a day – at meal-times – when she first came out of hospital 10 years ago.

But she said: “It was horrendous. I was run-down, I wasn’t eating properly, I lost my communication skills.

“Having 24-hour care has helped me no end. I know I have improved health-wise. The two carers I have now, I respect them and they respect me. I can’t believe they are going to take them away from me.”

Her daughter said: “Mum needs 24 hour care. She can’t do anything for herself, go to the toilet or make her own food.”

A Newham council spokeswoman said: “For reasons of confidentiality, we cannot discuss individual cases.”

But she said all residents receiving adult social care were “regularly assessed”, with account taken of information from GPs, while there were regular reviews “so our level of care meets their changing ongoing needs”.

She said: “In situations where a customer receives a significant reduction in care, this change will not be immediate. Instead the reduction in hours will be decreased gradually to help support individuals manage their new care packages.

“We will closely monitor the impact of any changes made to care packages and review if there is a change in an individual’s needs.

“The adult social care providers we use are regularly monitored and evaluated. If customers have concerns about the service they receive, we will investigate immediately and if necessary change their service providers.

“All allegations of abuse are taken very seriously and investigated.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DPAC praises ‘inclusive’ protest movement after fracking action

Disabled activists were among protesters who took part in this week’s high-profile anti-“fracking” direct action on the edge of a Sussex village.

About a dozen members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) took part in the protest, which saw activists chained together at the entrance to the site, run by the energy firm Cuadrilla in Balcombe.

The company is drilling for oil on the site, but there are fears that it will soon begin the potentially dangerous procedure of fracking, in search of hard-to-reach gas deposits.

The protest happened as DPAC gears up for its Reclaiming Our Futures week of campaigning, beginning on Thursday (29 August), which will include a major direct action protest of its own, a march on parliament, an online campaigning “blitz”, and a debate on the future of the social model of disability.

Monday’s action saw 29 people arrested, including Green MP Caroline Lucas, although none of the DPAC activists are thought to have been detained by police.

Sussex police said later that they had moved in to clear the protesters because they were blocking an emergency access route to the drilling site.

Protesters along the roadside had been joined by hundreds more from the nearby camp that had been set up last week.

Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s steering group and one of those who took part in the direct action, said it was important for disabled people to engage in the fracking protests.

He said disabled people would become more isolated as support and services were “whittled away” as a result of government cuts, and being able to afford to keep warm and clean and cook were “vitally important” in staying healthy.

But he said that rising energy prices meant that “keeping warm and clean and cooking” were “starting to become choices” that not all disabled people could afford.

He called for an energy policy that was not profit-driven and written by the big corporations, but was “in public hands and controlled by the people”.

Fracking is a process by which a mixture of water, chemicals and sand is injected at high pressure into shale to create fractures in the rock which potentially release gas or oil.

But there are significant environmental concerns about the process, including the risk of contamination of local water supplies, and even small earthquakes.

Greene said this week’s protest in Balcombe showed that the grassroots “broad left” movement had been faster than the Labour party, the unions and other campaigns to ensure their protests were accessible to disabled people.

He said access was now so good that “the only thing we have to worry about” is participating in the protest itself.

Greene, a wheelchair-user himself, said: “It is really powerful when you don’t have to keep making the case for access over and over again.”

He said the improvements had come partly because of the respect felt by groups such as Occupy, No Dash for Gas and the Climate Collective for those disabled activists who had taken part in their protests, but also because of DPAC’s increasingly close links with such groups, particularly UK Uncut, who he said had “a real desire” to make their protests inclusive.

Organisers of last week’s protest camp at Balcombe ensured there was an accessible tent where wheelchair-users could sleep, and accessible toilets, while all of the workshops were accessible to disabled people, and there were BSL-interpreters for Deaf protesters.

Greene said: “It has been a gradual process, but it wouldn’t have happened without the UK Uncut links. They have been absolutely fabulous.

“They have opened the door and it has been down to us to make the most of that.”

DPAC’s Reclaiming Our Futures week will build up to the launch of the new Reclaiming Our Futures disabled people’s manifesto, which has been produced by DPAC, Inclusion London, the Alliance for Inclusive Education and Equal Lives (formerly Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People).

Reclaiming Our Futures has the backing of other user-led networks and campaign groups, including the WOW petition, the European Network on Independent Living, Black Triangle, and the Mental Health Resistance Network, as well as the Unite disabled workers’ committee, the TUC, and a number of mainstream anti-cuts groups, including Occupy London and UK Uncut.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

McVey calls on councils to smooth the way to accessible beaches

The minister for disabled people has written to every local authority in England to try to persuade them to do more to make their tourist hotspots more accessible.

Esther McVey said she wanted councils to ensure that disabled people could enjoy tourist areas such as beaches and countryside beauty spots.

McVey is encouraging councils to work with local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) through the government’s new Disability Action Alliance (DAA), which brings together more than 180 DPOs, disability charities and other organisations to try to improve disabled people’s lives.

She said councils could benefit from disabled people’s spending power by considering how to make “beaches and other tourist hotspots” more inclusive.

McVey said: “As well as the importance of equal access, it makes good business sense to ensure – as the tourist season reaches its peak – local areas of beauty and interest can attract as many people as possible.”

She added: “Often a small change can make a big difference to disability access and so we’d encourage councils to continue working in partnership with disabled people and their organisations, as they know what works best in their local areas on the ground.”

McVey pointed to the successful Countryside Mobility South West scheme, in which DAA member Living Options Devon works with councils and organisations such as the RSPB, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission to improve access to the countryside across the south-west.

James Maben, project manager for the scheme, said: “It’s impossible to describe the feeling of suddenly having the ability and freedom to go into the countryside again. And with the unusually warm weather this year we have never been busier.”

Carrie-Ann Lightley, information service manager at the charity Tourism for All, which describes itself as the UK’s voice for accessible tourism, welcomed the minister’s call for improved access in tourist resorts.

She said the market for accessible tourism in the UK was worth £2 billion a year, and added: “We always encourage destinations that come to us and want to improve their accessibility to get in touch with local disabled people’s user groups because they will get a better idea of everybody’s different needs, as opposed to just box-ticking.”

She said: “It may be easier for some disabled people to travel within the UK rather than worrying about planes and ships, because it is less hassle and a more accessible way to transport yourself to your destination.”

Lightley said that not only was improving access important, but so was “letting people know that these places are accessible” through marketing.

She reviewed access in Blackpool a couple of years ago and found a mixed picture, with some of the attractions boasting “wonderful” access – the town’s Sandcastle Waterpark won an accessibility gold award from Visit England this year – but fully accessible accommodation only to be found in hotels that offered institutional-type full care packages.

Lightley said: “Accessibility obviously should be a priority for any destination but for a seaside resort like Blackpool where the majority of income comes from tourism, accessibility should be very high up the agenda.”

You can find our guide to Blackpool, featuring more than 1000 venues at –http://www.disabledgo.com/en/org/blackpool-council

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Sports world mourns Chris Hallam, ‘a pioneer and a legend’

The disability sports world is mourning the death of one of the pioneers of professional wheelchair racing, Chris Hallam.

Hallam won medals in both swimming and wheelchair racing, and competed at four Paralympic games, in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996, winning gold, silver and two bronze medals.

But he is probably best known for his appearances in the early London wheelchair marathons, twice winning the event, in 1985 and 1987, and setting a course record on both occasions.

The prime minister, David Cameron, said via Twitter that Hallam had been “a true pioneer of disabled sport and an inspiration to athletes everywhere”.

Disability Sport Wales said Hallam was “always striving to improve his personal performances” and to promote disability sport at a time when its profile was still low.

In 1986, Hallam raised funds for the first accessible sports centre in Wales by pushing 400 miles around the country in 11 days with his close friend and fellow Welsh wheelchair athlete John Harris.

They reached the fund-raising target in 1997 by pushing a further 600 miles in 37 days, raising enough money for the centre to be built in Cardiff.

Harris said Hallam was his “hero” and “the first of the true professionals in Paralympic sport”.

He said: “He was the consummate athlete who prepared for every event down to the smallest detail. He was a larger-than-life character that you just wanted to be near to.”

After retiring from competitive sport, Hallam coached other wheelchair racers within the Disability Sport Wales academy system.

Jim Munkley, a Disability Sport Wales board member and one of Hallam’s team-mates at the Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta Paralympics, said he would be remembered as “a true legend of Paralympic and Welsh sport”.

He said: “Not only was he a true competitor in every sense of the word, but he was also a great character to be around and to have known.

“Disability sport in Wales owes much to Chris and I have no doubt that we would not be where we are today without the huge contribution that he made to the development of our sport.”

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson described Hallam on Twitter as a “wheelchair sport ‘icon’” and said he was “the reason we are where we are in wheelchair racing”.

Another iconic figure of wheelchair racing, David Weir, said on Twitter that Hallam had been one of his heroes and a “legend”, while fellow London 2012 wheelchair racing gold medallist Mickey Bushell said he had been a “true hero and a legend of the sport”.

The Canadian former wheelchair athlete Jeff Adams said Hallam had been “one of a kind”, “a fierce competitor”, and “one of the building blocks of the sport”.

The British Paralympic Association said Hallam had been “an inspiration to many and contributed to the development of the Paralympic movement” in Britain.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Do you care for someone; a family member, friend or neighbour?

Did you know that 3 in 5 of us will become a carer at some point in our lives?

A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support.

Today, there are around 7 million carers, proving unpaid care to a family member neighbour or friend in need. That’s around 10% of the population. Anyone can become a carer at anytime. Caring for someone takes place in our communities every day and is not age, gender, social class or culturally specific. We are living longer and as a consequence the strain on our health and social care resources is growing. The UKs unpaid carers save the economy in excess of £119bn every year.

Carers are on duty 24/7, 365 days a year and often find that they are disadvantaged financially and that their own health and wellbeing suffers. Young carers often experience bullying at school, can have a high level of absenteeism and are twice as likely as their counterparts to not be in education, employment or training, meaning their long-term life chances are affected.

If you are on this website, it may be because you are already providing care to someone but maybe you don’t see yourself as a carer, in which case you may not be considering your own needs. It is important that you stay fit and healthy if you are to continue to provide support to someone else. There are a range of entitlements that many people can source if they provide care to someone else. You may also need a break from your caring responsibilities.

This is where Carers Trust can help. Carers Trust is the largest charity providing support and breaks to carers. Carers Trust works to improve support, services and recognition for anyone living with the challenges of caring, unpaid, for a family member or friend who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or addiction problems. With a Network of Partners, we aim to ensure that information, advice and practical support such as breaks are available to all carers across the UK.

To find your local service go to http://www.carers.org/carers-services/find-your-local-service and see what help is available. Caring for someone can be physically and emotionally exhausting so knowing what’s available to you is important. Make your yourself count and take a look today. www.carers.org

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