Double yellow plan could cause blue badge trouble

Government plans to ease the laws on parking on yellow lines could make it harder for disabled motorists to find spaces, according to worried campaigners.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) suggested that the government could in future allow all motorists to park for free on double yellow lines for up to 15 minutes.

But disabled motorists with blue parking badges – who either cannot walk or have severe mobility impairments – are already allowed to park on single and double yellow lines to provide easier access to shops and other services.

Many of them cannot enter car parks because their vehicles are too high, or cannot use parking machines, so they have to be able to park on the street.

And they fear that allowing all motorists to use double yellow lines for short periods could make it much harder for them to find spaces, and so further restrict their mobility.

Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK, called on the government to rethink its plans.

She said: “Although we can understand the idea behind the proposal, we believe it would be better for councils to review whether such restrictions are needed and whether it would be better to implement short-term parking spaces instead.

“However, if yellow lines were removed this would reduce the amount of space available for disabled people so at the same time we would like to see more blue badge spaces as well.”

She said the charity had taken calls from worried members concerned that if the rules were relaxed, they would be unable to find on-street parking spaces.

One member told the charity: “Non-disabled people can park anywhere. I can’t!”

A DCLG spokeswoman said: “Ministers are looking at how we can reform rules on parking enforcement and parking wardens in a common sense way, and make it easier for people to pop into a local shop to buy a newspaper or a loaf of bread without negatively affecting access or traffic flow.”

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Court ruling ‘gives green light to bedroom tax discrimination’

Campaigners are coming to terms with an “illogical” and “inconsistent” high court ruling, which appears to have given the government a green light to discriminate against disabled people who need extra bedrooms because of their impairments.

Although the court suggested that the government’s “bedroom tax” policy did discriminate against disabled people, the two judges also decided that that discrimination was justified under the Human Rights Act and was therefore lawful.

Lord Justice Laws said in the judgment that the government’s decision to provide some extra funding for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – which help some people with some of the shortfall in their rent – and advice and guidance “cannot be said to be a disproportionate approach” to disabled people “who would or might face real difficulties” because of the new rules.

The court also ruled that Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had fulfilled his public sector equality duty under the Equality Act because he had “properly considered” the effects of the housing benefit cap on disabled people.

This week’s judgment followed a three-day hearing in May into 10 claims brought by disabled people and their families against the housing benefit regulations, which came into force on 1 April and see tenants in social housing punished financially if they are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes.

But the judges’ ruling means the courts have now said that the regulations should not apply to disabled children who need their own bedrooms for impairment-related reasons, but should apply to disabled adults in similar situations.

All of the claimants are now set to contest this week’s judgment, but any appeal – assuming permission is granted – is unlikely to be heard before October at the earliest.

The judges ruled that it was impossible to identify the “precise” group of disabled people who need extra bedroom space because of their impairment.

But Anne McMurdie, of Public Law Solicitors, who are representing three of the claimants, said: “We disagree. We think it is very clear. We say there is a very specific class of people who need larger accommodation because of their disability, and that is really straightforward.”

And she said it was “very difficult to understand” how the judges could draw a distinction between disabled children who need extra space and disabled adults who need extra space.

She said: “It is definitely inconsistent and difficult to understand the logic as to why you would exempt one class and not the other.”

Although the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced an extra £35 million – mostly for DHPs – for councils to help “vulnerable tenants” affected by the new rules, it was unable to say whether this money would be repeated in future years.

A DWP spokeswoman said the amount of funding given to councils for DHPs every year was “decided annually”, and added: “The amount we will pay for next year has not been decided.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which “intervened” in the case, said it was “very disappointed” with the court’s decision.

A commission spokesman said: “A significant number of disabled people are affected by the proposed changes to housing benefit regulations and a higher proportion of these tenants are likely to be affected by the size criteria than non-disabled tenants.”

McMurdie said that all of the claimants were “in a dreadful situation” and “at risk of falling into debt”, with the extra money given to councils for DHPs “nowhere near enough” for all of the disabled people who need it.

She said: “People are not going to be able to make up that difference on an indefinite basis.”

There was some good news for disabled campaigners from this week’s judgment.

The judges also ruled that the government must publish regulations describing how councils should allocate housing benefit to disabled children who need extra space.

And they were critical of the Conservative work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, as the court had asked him to produce these regulations 14 months ago.

Lord Justice Laws said that Duncan Smith “has no business considering whether to introduce regulations” because he was “obliged to do so”.

A DWP spokeswoman said the delay had been because Duncan Smith had wanted to await the outcome of this week’s case.

She said: “We are pleased to learn that the court has found in our favour and agreed that we have fulfilled our equality duties to disabled people.

“Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential, so the taxpayer does not pay for people’s extra bedrooms.

“But we have ensured extra discretionary housing support is in place to help those who need it and today we have announced a further £35m of funding to councils to aid residents.”

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Johnson’s humiliating climb-down after TV rail access blunder

London’s mayor Boris Johnson has had to perform a humiliating climb-down, after promising on live television that the seven inaccessible stations on London’s £15 billion Crossrail scheme would be made step-free.

Johnson appeared to signal the sudden and major change of policy in an interview with disabled presenter Ade Adepitan, during Channel 4’s coverage of the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games on Sunday (28 July).

When asked by Adepitan, himself a retired Paralympian, when London’s transport system would be fully accessible, Johnson said: “I was really disappointed to discover that not all the Crossrail stations were originally planned with proper accessible lifts. They are going to be, Ade.

“We have decided that London, a city like ours, after the success we have had with the Paralympics and the way people did find it by and large very accessible, we have got to do better, particularly on the new, big projects.”

But since his comments, Johnson’s office has refused to confirm or deny the change of policy.

Today (1 August), it finally released a statement toDisability News Service which merely stated that the mayor “has made it clear that he wants Transport for London and Network Rail to look into additional opportunities to improve this further and to go beyond what is currently committed”.

This statement goes no further than a previous Crossrail statement which stated that it would “continue to support the feasibility work being carried out by other organisations at some of the above [seven] locations for the provision of step-free access”.

When asked whether Johnson’s pledge on Channel 4 was truthful, his spokeswoman said: “I have given you what I can give you.”

Disabled campaigners from Transport for All, the user-led accessible transport organisation, launched a campaign last month to persuade Crossrail, a subsidiary of Transport for London – and therefore under Johnson’s control – to make every one of its 37 stations accessible.

They were particularly angered that Crossrail has been describing itself as “the new high frequency, convenient and accessible railway for London and the South East”, when nearly one in five of the stations are not going to be accessible to those with mobility impairments.

Although all of its new stations will offer step-free access from street to platform, Crossrail has been refusing to provide lifts at seven existing, inaccessible rail stations (Hanwell, Manor Park, Maryland, Seven Kings, Taplow, Iver and Langley).

Of the 37 Crossrail stations, five will have no step-free access and two – Langley and Taplow – will only be step-free on the London-bound platform. Four of the stations will have more than 30 steps to reach the platform.

Transport for All welcomed Johnson’s original comments on Channel 4, and added: “This once in a generation new rail infrastructure will we estimate only cost 0.2 per cent of its £14.5 billion budget to make fully accessible.

“As we continue to lobby and work towards our day of action on Crossrail on 29 August, we will be demanding that the Department of Transport work with the mayor and Transport for London to deliver a fully accessible Crossrail that all Londoners can use. This will be a true Paralympic legacy.”

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DPO warns of possible closure after ‘disgraceful’ loss of funding

A hugely successful user-led organisation could be forced to close its doors for good in October – with the possible loss of 50 jobs – after two public bodies imposed a drastic cut in its funding.

An estimated 150 people protested this week at the offices of Sandwell council about the cuts imposed on Ideal for All by the local authority and the newly-formed Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group (SWBCCG).

They also handed in a petition, signed by more than 6,000 people, calling on the council to “stop, consult, listen”.

For the past 17 years, the council and SWBCCG’s predecessors had split Ideal for All’s core funding between them, with the disabled people’s organisation (DPO) levering in other resources on the back of that money.

But SWBCCG has now decided to withdraw all its funding and provide the services itself, while the council is set to cut its funding for service provision by more than half from 1 October.

Although the council has mentioned several different figures for the new contract, the one Ideal for All (IFA) believes it is most likely to offer is £225,000 a year, which includes a £120,000 ring-fenced sum for the upkeep of its independent living centre.

This would leave just £105,000 to provide services for disabled people.

This compares with previous funding of £568,000 – with about £285,000 from the council – and about £450,000 of that for service provision*.

Last year, IFA received more than 33,000 calls and visits asking for help, information and for small pieces of independent living equipment. It also runs pain management sessions and provides training, employment support, social events, peer support and assessments.

IFA is also tendering to keep its direct payments support contract with the council, but even if it wins that, funding is likely to be cut from about £197,000 to a maximum of £60,000.

Doreen Veale, IFA’s vice-chair, said that “pouncing on vulnerable and disabled people’s funding” was a “disgraceful act” by the council and SWBCCG.

Naeem Arif, executive director of Ideal for All – which has about 15 disabled members of staff – said there was a “significant threat” to the organisation’s future because funding for service provision was being cut by more than 75 per cent.

He said: “This is a nightmare for us. It will have a catastrophic impact on disabled people.”

He suggested the cuts could leave Ideal for All with just four members of staff, and being forced to close its doors for good.

He said: “That probably will be the case. There is no point in carrying on the struggle and not delivering the service. How can we tell 30,000-plus disabled people, ‘sorry, we don’t have the capacity to look after you.’?”

And he said closing IFA would be likely to have a significant negative impact on local NHS services, while SWBCCG had failed to consult over its decision, or to produce an assessment of the impact of the funding cut on disabled people.

Sue Bott, director of policy at Disability Rights UK, which has been supporting Ideal for All – one of its members – in its funding struggle, said: “Ideal for All in Sandwell is one of the country’s finest examples of what can be achieved when disabled people are supported to lead their organisations and empowered to decide how they want to live their lives.”

Bott, who handed the petition to the council this week, called on councillors and SWBCCG to review their funding cuts in case their decisions become “a national case study”.

Darren Cooper, leader of Sandwell council, said: “The money we’re offering for the contract is less than it was in previous years due to cuts to the council’s budget.”

He said the council was “trying to offer the best deal we can, given the multi-million pounds cuts in recent years to the cash we get from the government”.

He added: “We’ve listened to what people have had to say about disability services in Sandwell and we‘ll continue talking to Ideal for All and service-users while we get the terms of a new contract finalised.”

A SWBCCG spokeswoman said in a statement that it had developed “internal services” that would deliver the services previously provided by Ideal for All.

She said: “We want patients, carers and the public to contact us directly. Our newly-appointed customer service officers will capture all concerns and issues, and also help guide people to the most appropriate place.

“We will continue to ensure disabled people who receive NHS-funded care have access to health and wellbeing services, but we want to empower them to make choices that reflect their needs and aspirations.

“We hope this will enable people to decide for themselves how, where and what support they receive.”

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Assisted suicide ruling risks ‘letting genie out of the bottle’

A new court of appeal ruling on assisted suicide has alarmed disabled activists, who fear it could “let the genie out of the bottle” by relaxing laws on euthanasia.

Senior court of appeal judges decided by a majority of two to one that the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer, should publish guidance explaining the circumstances in which a healthcare professional can help a disabled man to die without risking prosecution.

Starmer immediately said he would seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, of the disabled people’s organisation Not Dead Yet UK, which campaigns against legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide, said such guidance risked a “radical shift” towards the kind of pro-euthanasia culture that exists in the Netherlands and Belgium.

He said such a shift would be “catastrophic” for disabled people and vulnerable older people, who could feel pressured to take the euthanasia option “because it is validated by the medical profession”.

Fitzpatrick said new guidance would “open the door to abuse”, and he warned that as soon as you told a professional that it was allowable in law to help to kill someone, “the genie is out of the bottle”.

He pointed to the speed with which the “well-intentioned” Liverpool Care Pathway – which was intended to lay out palliative care options for patients in the final hours or days of their lives – degenerated into “misuse and abuse”.

And he warned that members of the pro-euthanasia lobby – who believe it is ok to view disabled people and vulnerable older people as “candidates for elimination” – were slowly “chipping away” at the law on assisted suicide.

The disabled man who brought the case, known as Martin, is virtually unable to move following a stroke, and would only be able to end his life with the assistance of a third party.

He wants to travel to die at the notorious Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, but his wife does not wish to assist him, so he wants to enlist the help of a care worker, healthcare professional, or a volunteer from a pro-euthanasia group.

Martin’s lawyers said the existing assisted suicide guidelines issued by the DPP – following the successful court action by Debbie Purdy in July 2009 – offered sufficient “clarity” for friends or relatives who helped someone to die, but were not clear enough for those with no emotional ties to the person who wanted to die, such as healthcare professionals.

Lord Dyson, the master of the rolls, and Lord Justice Elias, in their majority judgment, said it would be “constitutionally improper” for the DPP to guarantee immunity from prosecution for any class of “helpers”, but it was not impossible or impractical to improve the guidance as it related to healthcare professionals and other helpers.

But the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, in disagreeing with his two colleagues, said he believed the policy was already “sufficiently clear to enable Martin, or anyone who assists him, to make an informed decision about the likelihood of prosecution”.

The same three judges unanimously dismissed appeals by Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, who had both challenged the legal ban on voluntary euthanasia.

Nicklinson is continuing the legal battle begun by her husband, Tony, who refused nutrition, fluids and medical treatment after the high court dismissed his case last year. He died less than a week later. Nicklinson had wanted the law to be changed so that a doctor could end his life without facing a murder charge.

Paul Lamb, who was almost completely paralysed after a car crash, is seeking the same change in the law as Nicklinson.

Lord Judge said assisted suicide law “cannot be changed” by judges, and that “if the law is to be changed, it must be changed by parliament”.

Lamb and Nicklinson will also take their fight to the Supreme Court.

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Atos PIP contract is ‘area of interest’ for spending watchdog

The public spending watchdog has had “discussions” with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over concerns about a £184 million disability assessment contract awarded to Atos Healthcare.

The much-criticised company won the contract last year to carry out assessments for the new personal independence payment (PIP) – the replacement for disability living allowance – across London and the south of England.

But Disability News Service (DNS), and the crossbench peer Lord [David] Alton, have raised serious concerns about the award of the contract.

Now the National Audit Office (NAO) has confirmed that it is investigating these concerns.

In a letter to the peer, Max Tse, NAO’s value for money director, told Lord Alton that his concern about DWP’s PIP contract with Atos Healthcare was “an area of interest to the NAO”.

He said NAO had had “a number of discussions with the department on its contractual arrangements for the PIP”.

Tse added: “These are ongoing but I hope to be able to respond to you shortly on the issues you have raised.”

Atos won the contract by boasting of its “extensive” network of 16 NHS trusts, two private hospital chains, and four physiotherapy providers, all of which it said would provide sites where the tests would take place.

But in the months after the contract was awarded, all but four of the NHS trusts and both of the private hospital chains dropped out.

Following a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request from DNS, DWP admitted that Atos had far fewer sites in its supply chain than it originally stated.

When it submitted a tender for the contract, Atos stated that it had a network of 740 assessment sites across London and the south of England. But DWP has now admitted that Atos only has “up to” 108 centres available that meet its requirements.

Because there are so many fewer centres, thousands of disabled people will face longer journeys to reach their assessments.

Lord Alton said: “When millions of pounds of the public’s money is being diverted to a private company it is crucial that there is accountability, transparency, and public confidence.

“I welcome the NAO’s decision to scrutinise the Atos contract and to assess whether performance matches promise.”

Atos has insisted that no pledges made to DWP were broken and that it was “absolutely usual for there to be changes between point of tender and delivery”, while DWP was “fully aware” that contracts had not been signed with the 22 organisations at the point the tender was submitted.

An NAO spokeswoman said: “At the moment we cannot really say anything more about what is in the letter as no decision has been made.”

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Liberty ‘could be swallowed’ by Paralympians

Disabled artists fear the remaining identity of the capital’s annual disability arts festival could be lost when it becomes part of the mayor of London’s new National Paralympic Day.

Boris Johnson said the new event – which will “feature” the annual Liberty disability arts festival – would take place on 7 September in the Olympic Park, and would capitalise on last year’s “astonishingly successful” Paralympic Games in London.

The event will take place almost exactly a year after the Paralympic Games closed, but also on the weekend traditionally reserved for Liberty, which will be celebrating its tenth anniversary on 7 September.

Disabled artists and Paralympic athletes will take part in the new event in the north of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and in the park’s Copper Box Arena.

The announcement of a joint celebration of Paralympic sport and disability culture came as a surprise to many disabled artists.

Alex Bulmer, a disabled writer, performer, and co-creator of Breathe, which opened the London 2012 sailing events, said she was concerned about the merger.

She said Liberty had started as a way for disabled people to “come together and celebrate themselves – as artists and valued citizens”.

Even though some people found the Paralympics “inspiring” and believed that it “changed attitudes about disabled people and their physical potential”, she said there was a “fundamental difference” between Liberty and the Paralympics.

“One gives a space and place to experience the cultural voice and human expression of disabled people, including our vulnerabilities, frailties, humour; the other is a bold spectacle of strength and power.”

She said Liberty should be “liberated” from “any notion of being ‘inspiring’ or ‘heroic’”, and added: “Merging the two assumes also that all disabled people support the Paralympics, and the truth is, many do not.

“Let Liberty be itself, stand for itself and remind disabled people that who they are, and how they live their lives, is enough reason to come together and hold a day all to itself.”

Another disabled writer and performer, Penny Pepper, also expressed disappointment at the announcement, and feared the event would just become a vehicle for the “showing off” of Paralympians.

She said: “I feel a bit sorry for them. They have been completely hijacked. They are part of that polarisation between ‘pathetic poor disabled scrounger’ and all these ‘wonderful super-humans’.”

Pepper, who has performed at Liberty several times, said the spirit and edginess of the festival had been “diluted”, as had its value in terms of disabled people’s rights and identity.

She said: “I think it has been swallowed. It sounds like Liberty has been put in there as an after-thought.”

Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said the ethos of Liberty had been “diluted for some years now”.

She said: “With the closures of the disability arts forums and the reduction and cuts of funding to artists and the disability arts sector as a whole, Liberty became the only outlet available in the south of England.

“Effectively our opportunities for a self-determined disability arts festival have now been totally compromised by the organisers and rather than it being a celebration of our art and culture it is now an imposed and closed programme with little reference to disability rights.”

But Jenny Sealey, artistic director of Graeae, which will be performing at the event, said she thought there was “something exciting about a showcase that profiles the excellence of arts and sports and gives a hugely positive message to young disabled people about being ambitious and that even if you don’t want to be an artist or a sportsperson you have the right to follow your dreams”.

But she stressed that the event would also highlight the issues of disability rights and government cuts to support and services for disabled people, and “address the brutal truth of the standing of Deaf and disabled people within the current economic climate”.

She said: “This year, more than ever before, our visibility is crucial to remind people of the ongoing battle we have to hold onto our rights, independence and dignity.”

Graeae’s piece, The Limbless Knight – A Tale of Rights Reignited, which features aerial and sway pole work, will address those themes.

It is described as “an immersive piece of theatre where the audience are invited to play extras on a set where nothing is what it seems”.

Sealey said: “The Limbless Knight is about the sacrifices we have made yet how we are still the sacrificial lambs.

“It makes the declaration that we have a right for equality and to live with dignity.”

National Paralympic Day will also feature a performance by Andrea Begley, who won this year’s series of BBC’s The Voice, as well as street theatre, outdoor dance, mass choreography, visual arts, live music, film and food, and Miracoco Luminarium, an interactive light sculpture.

Sealey, who was joint artistic director of the critically-acclaimed Paralympic opening ceremony, said the decision to hold a joint event had been taken by the mayor’s office “in conversation with disability arts organisations”.

A Greater London Authority (GLA) spokesman said they did not think Liberty would lose its unique identity.

He said: “We hope that disabled and non-disabled people alike will enjoy and be excited by this event, which is the finale to a summer of great events in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.”

Liberty is being produced – as usual – in consultation with an advisory board, which includes Shape Arts, Attitude is Everything, Graeae and Heart n Soul.

Plans for 2014 will be based on the response to next month’s event and consultation with the advisory board, the GLA spokesman said.

National Paralympic Day is being funded by GLA, the London Legacy Development Corporation and the British Paralympic Association, with Liberty funded by GLA and the Arts Council, and contributions from Unison and Transport for London, as well as support from surrounding boroughs and local organisations.

The GLA spokesman said discussions with potential sponsors were ongoing.

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