McVey describes the ‘shape of the future’ for disabled people

The government has announced how it intends to measure progress towards achieving greater opportunities for disabled people.

In new documents published this week, the Office for Disability Issues says its Fulfilling Potential disability strategy will focus on the six “themes” of education, employment, income, health and wellbeing, choice and control, and inclusive communities.

The Fulfilling Potential – Making It Happen documents provide details of how “headline” and “supporting” indicators will be used to show “where progress is being made and where work needs to be done” across each of the six themes.

The key headline indicators include the gaps between disabled and non-disabled people in educational attainment, employment rate and the amount of choice and control over their lives, as well as difficulty using transport.

The 50 supporting indicators that will also be used include hourly wage rates, the proportion of students who do not continue in higher education after their first year, households in fuel poverty, take-up of direct payments, access to the internet, and hate crime.

Every year, the government will publish information showing the progress it is making on the six themes.

The government has also released a new action plan, which describes activity across departments.

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, says in Making It Happen that the government wants to produce “the best possible opportunities” for fulfilling disabled people’s potential.

She says the government has found “a new way of doing things”, which “aims to involve, inspire and support all citizens to share in the shape of our future” through “dynamic and creative partnerships across sectors”, including her new Disability Action Alliance.

McVey revealed the new details of her disability strategy in a written statement in the House of Commons.

She told MPs that disabled people should be “enabled to achieve their aspirations and play a full role in society”, and she said the documents show “how disabled people are seeing improvements in many key outcomes and reduced inequalities with non-disabled people”.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) welcomed the framework of outcomes and indicators, which would provide “the real test of how much progress is being made”, but it said that all government departments should be asked whether their policies “close these gaps of inequality” and provide “greater opportunities and freedoms” for disabled people.

Liz Sayce, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “We have received thousands of calls from disabled people who report that they are finding their lives increasingly difficult as they try to cope with the effects of welfare reform, cuts in personal budgets, and the lack of opportunities to get into work and to get on in work.”

And she pointed to DWP figures that emerged last week following a Freedom of Information Act request by Disability News Service, which showed that the number of disabled people in “absolute” poverty rose during 2011-2012 by 100,000.

Sayce said: “It is good to measure progress and to have aspirations for increasing equality but the government needs to ensure that all its policies are pushing in the same direction – not taking us one step forward and two steps back.”

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Law Commission proposes stronger hate crime laws

The government’s advisers on law reform have proposed changes to legislation that could make it easier for prosecutors to bring disability hate crime charges to court.

The changes to the law – proposed by the Law Commission in a consultation launched this week – could also make it easier to secure stricter sentences for hostility-related offences.

The consultation document was published just days after the Crown Prosecution Service failed to convince a judge – under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 – to increase the prison sentences faced by two day centre care workers, on the grounds that the offences were motivated by disability-related hostility.

The two nursing assistants were found guilty of hitting, slapping and punching disabled people at the Solar Centre in Doncaster, but Judge Rosalind Coe refused to treat the offences as hate crimes.

Campaigners were also appalled that the offences committed by the care workers who admitted similar abuse at the Winterbourne View private hospital were not treated as hate crimes, when the offenders were sentenced last autumn.

Now – following discussions with organisations including Disability Rights UK and the Disability Hate Crime Network – the Law Commission is suggesting the government should widen existing hate crime laws in England and Wales.

Among its proposals, the Law Commission suggests new sentencing guidelines on the use of section 146, and for any hate crime element to be recorded on the offender’s criminal record and the Police National Computer.

It also suggests that crimes such as assault or criminal damage that are currently prosecuted as “aggravated” offences – with higher maximum sentences – on the grounds of race or religious hate could be extended to hostility on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

The Law Commission suggests that this could be done if measures taken to improve the application of section 146 are seen as “inadequate”.

It also proposes extending laws on publication of material intended to stir up hatred against people on the grounds of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

The commission says it believes there is “a case in principle for extending the stirring up offences to include the stirring up of hatred on grounds of disability and transgender identity”, because this would “capture a unique, specific and grave type of wrongdoing not covered by the existing law: the spreading of hatred against a group”.

The Law Commission concludes in the consultation document that “the enhanced sentencing regime under section 146 is not a sufficient solution to the problem”.

The review was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, following a commitment in the government’s cross-departmental hate crime action plan.

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DWP disability report is ‘mine of information’ for campaigners

A major new government report has painted the “most comprehensive overview” since 2005 of the disadvantage and barriers faced by disabled people in the UK.

The 106-page report, Fulfilling Potential: Building a Deeper Understanding of Disability in the UK Today, aims to raise awareness, “inform public understanding”, and prompt debate about the issues facing disabled people.

But it will also feed into the next stage of the government’s disability strategy, Fulfilling Potential, with an action plan due in the spring.

The report, published by the Department for Work and Pensions, lays bare the government’s challenge in addressing the barriers facing disabled people.

Among the report’s findings are that:

  • In 2010-11, there were 11.5 million people in the UK covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act [19 per cent of the population]
  • Only around half of these 11.5 million people receive any disability-related benefits
  • By the age of 26, disabled people are nearly four times more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people
  • Households that include a disabled person who does not receive a disability-related benefit are twice as likely to be in poverty as those with a disabled person who does
  • About 20 per cent of households that include a disabled person live in fuel poverty, compared to 15 per cent of those with no disabled person
  • Disabled people are significantly less likely than non-disabled people to live in households with internet access (61 per cent compared to 86 per cent)

But the report also suggests that disabled people play a larger part in their local civic life, with 36 per cent of disabled people compared with 33 per cent of non-disabled people involved in activities such as contacting a local councillor or MP, taking part in a public demonstration, or signing a petition.

And the DWP’s report also accepts that disability living allowance – which the coalition is about to scrap and replace with a new benefit for working-age adults – has “a major positive impact on recipients’ lives”.

Quoting a report from 2010, the report says DLA helps disabled people to “maintain independence and control”, “meet some of the extra costs of disability”, “improve quality of life”, “access other help and services”, “enhance physical and mental health”, and “maintain warmer, cleaner, more comfortable homes”.

Disability Rights UK said the report was a “mine of information which must inform policy right across government”, and could be used by disabled people to “influence change”, but that it would be “vital” to track the figures over time.

14 February 2013

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DR UK’s role in government’s opening ceremony ticket handout was ‘incredibly wrong'

The government has been criticised for asking Disability Rights UK to play a key role in deciding which organisations received free tickets to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics.

Last week, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published the names of people invited to the Paralympic and Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, and to London 2012 sporting events.

Most of the tickets given to prominent disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and disability charities were for the Paralympic opening ceremony, with pairs of tickets worth up to £3,000.

DCMS was unable to clarify last week exactly how the government chose which disabled people and organisations were given the tickets.

But this week, a DCMS spokeswoman told Disability News Service: “We wanted to have good representation from disability charities and disability sport at the 2012 Paralympic Games.

“We worked with our colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions, Disability Rights UK and with sport’s national governing bodies to help put an invite list together.”

Among those given pairs of £1,500 tickets were representatives of Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Brittle Bone Society, RNIB and Mind.

And among the disabled people’s organisations handed pairs of £1,500 tickets were Disability Wales, Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living, ecdp (formerly Essex Coalition of Disabled People), Southampton Centre for Independent Living, and Disability Rights UK itself.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), said the government’s decision to go to DR UK for advice was “incredibly wrong” and “not on”.

He said the tickets for the opening ceremony had been “gold dust” for many disabled people, and questioned the decision to give pairs of £1,500 tickets to the big non-user-led charities, at the expense of disabled people in grassroots organisations who would not have been able to afford tickets to London 2012.

He said: “Here is another example of how DR UK tends to be the organisation that gets singled out and approached by government in matters relating to disability.

“For me, it does reinforce our view that DR UK is a very privileged organisation when it comes to working with government departments.”

Level Playing Field, the user-led charity which advises sports and government on issues relating to disabled sports fans and accessible stadia and venues, is believed to be one of many organisations that had to sign confidentiality clauses in order to work with LOCOG.

A Level Playing Field spokesperson said in a statement: “We sat on a number of consultation and advisory groups in a voluntary capacity in the years leading up to London 2012 and so gave significant time and resources.

“We did not receive any tickets for either the Olympics or Paralympics last summer.”

Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, who herself spent more than five years on London 2012 consultative groups, questioned why DR UK had been involved in deciding who received the tickets.

She suggested the decision to ask DR UK indicated that it was now considered to be the government’s “preferred supplier”.

Newman said she was “surprised and disappointed” that some of the disabled people within the host boroughs who had spent years on various London 2012 consultations had not been offered tickets.

Newman, like many others, had to buy her own Paralympic tickets, but added: “It would have been difficult to accept the [free government] tickets, given the problems with Atos as sponsors, but it may have been courteous to have been offered.”

Even Margaret Hickish, the disabled consultant who played a key role in ensuring the accessibility of London 2012’s purpose-built venues, was not offered any free tickets by the government.

Hickish said there were too many disabled people who had contributed to the success of the games for them all to be given tickets, but she added: “There are a lot of people out there who are miffed they didn’t get free tickets.”

Both DR UK and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claimed they had only suggested organisations and individuals connected with disability sport.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of DR UK, said: “Everything that Disability Rights UK has done in the area of sport has been led by disabled people and involved disabled people engaged in grassroots sport.

“DCMS asked for suggestions for people to invite and we suggested some local disabled people and local DPOs who have done positive work to enable more disabled people to exercise our right to get involved in everyday sport and fitness.”

She added: “We had no control over government’s decisions on the final list.”

A DWP spokeswoman added: “The 2012 Paralympic Games was all about showcasing the talents and sporting expertise of disabled people performing at their best.

“We worked with our colleagues at DCMS to help give advice on putting an invite list together to ensure the games had a good representation of disability sport.”

31 January 2013

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Redundancies at Disability Rights UK, but boss says survival not at risk

The country’s most influential disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has insisted that its survival is not at risk, despite being forced to make several staff redundant, including one of its most high-profile campaigning voices.

Disability Rights UK was only formed last January from a merger between RADAR, the National Centre for Independent Living and Disability Alliance.

But it admitted this week that one of its six directors, Neil Coyle, has been made redundant – although he will stay in post until April – while another, Mark Shrimpton, will move to a part-time role. Two other members of staff will also lose their jobs, leaving a core of about 30 staff.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said that it was “operating in a very tough economic environment”, in which many DPOs faced “major funding challenges”.

The organisation has had a mixed first year.

It has made a number of significant campaigning contributions, including helping to lead the Hardest Hit alliance and influencing the government in key policy areas, and has provided services such as helplines and online information for disabled people.

But it has also faced criticism for convening the government’s new Disability Action Alliance, and helping the outsourcing giant Capita win a lucrative disability assessment contract.

Liz Sayce, Disability Rights UK’s chief executive, has continued to face attacks from some disabled activists over a report she wrote for the government in 2011 that recommended ending government support for the remaining Remploy sheltered factories, and closing those factories which were “not viable”.

Coyle, who has built an impressive campaigning reputation on disability rights through his work for the Disability Rights Commission, Disability Alliance and DR UK, said there was “huge financial pressure on DR UK”, which had not delivered on its “high expectations for fundraising” in its first year.

He told Disability News Service that he had some concerns about the impact of the cutbacks, and that it was “a massive shame” that some potential projects DR UK had been developing would now have to be dropped, including one he was working on to measure the cumulative impact of the government’s cuts and reforms on disabled people.

He said: “The challenge is to make sure we are as able to campaign, as influential and maintain a high profile and deliver for our members.”

When asked whether there was a threat to the future of Disability Rights UK, he said: “It is a tough environment for everyone. We need to run a very tight ship.”

Sayce insisted that DR UK’s survival was not at risk, and it would continue to have a “high policy and campaigning profile”.

She said: “Everybody in the charitable sector would say it is tough. I would much rather not have to lose posts, but we have tightened up our structure in order to be sustainable.

“One of the things we are doing is building income streams of our own that are not dependent on short-term project grants.”

One of these is providing disability rights expertise to the equality advice helpline formerly run by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but she said such outside work would have to be “absolutely to the benefit of disabled people”.

She pointed to DR UK’s successes in its first year, with more than half a million people using the “unrivalled” information on its website, across benefits, independent living, education and apprenticeships, while more than 7,000 people had used its helplines.

And she said it had recruited a new board of “diverse people with lived experience of mental and physical health conditions and impairments”, set up new projects to provide better opportunities for apprenticeships and support to use personal budgets, published new guides, and influenced policy change in areas such as social care, changes to the personal independence payment (PIP) and improvements to the Access to Work scheme.

She praised Coyle’s “tremendous achievements” in “raising the profile of disability rights and influencing policy, particularly on welfare reform”, and his “significant track record in working to break the link between disability and poverty”.

Coyle added: “In just one year I am pleased to have sustained pressure to improve PIP plans, ensured the negative press portrayal of disabled people is highlighted and tackled, and involved over 5,000 people in our policy and campaigns achievements.”

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Report reveals auditors’ uncertainty over DR UK’s future

New documents published by Disability Rights UK have raised fresh concerns about its financial position, following last week’s announcement of redundancies.

The charity’s annual report for 2011-12, published this week, reveals that its auditors, Sayer Vincent, concluded that there was “some uncertainty about the group’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

Sayer Vincent points to the charity’s net current liabilities of more than £18,000 at 31 March 2012, which compare with net current assets of nearly £400,000 the previous year.

The organisation made a loss of £304,000 in 2011-12, the year in which DR UK was formed from a merger – incurring considerable costs – between RADAR, Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living.

The annual report also reveals a huge pensions liability of nearly £900,000, caused mainly by RADAR’s final salary scheme, which was closed to new members in 2005.

Last week, Disability Rights UK said that many DPOs faced “major funding challenges” because of the “very tough economic environment”, while Liz Sayce, its chief executive, insisted that its survival was not at risk.

Following the report’s publication this week on the DR UK website, Mike Smith, DR UK’s vice-chair, said the redundancies and other restructuring were “as a result of us taking sensible, considered action… in order to ensure the organisation has a medium term future”.

He said government funding was drying up, while there was less money available from trusts.

Smith, who until early last month was DR UK’s treasurer, added: “It is a difficult time out there for disability organisations. That was the main reason why we had to come together and work together.”

Although he accepted that the large pensions liability was not a good thing, he said that it can “look worse than it is”, and was a problem shared by many other organisations.

He said such liabilities move up and down over the years, while the sum was in effect the amount experts have calculated would need to be paid out across future years, and would never have to be paid “all in one go”.

24 January 2013

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Government reveals who it rewarded with £1,500 London 2012 tickets

A minister has revealed which individuals and organisations were given free government tickets to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics.

Maria Miller, the Conservative culture secretary and former minister for disabled people, told MPs that decisions on who to invite to the Paralympics and Olympics opening and closing ceremonies – and to London 2012 sporting events – were based on “encouraging growth, health and sports participation, and community engagement and volunteering”.

In all, the government bought 8,641 tickets for London 2012, at a cost of £1,174,421.

Most of the tickets given to prominent disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and disability charities were for the Paralympics opening ceremony – a critically-praised celebration of human rights, which featured Stephen Hawking, a giant sculpture of Alison Lapper Pregnant, zip wires and flying wheelchairs – rather than the closing ceremony or sporting events.

So far, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been unable to clarify exactly how the government chose which disabled people and organisations were given the tickets.

The bosses of disability charities given pairs of £1,500 tickets for the opening ceremony included Richard Hawkes, from Scope, Mark Goldring, from Mencap, Clare Pelham, from Leonard Cheshire Disability, Patricia Osborne, from the Brittle Bone Society, Kevin Carey, chair of RNIB, and David Henry, a trustee and former chair of Mind.

Among the disabled people’s organisations recognised for their work with pairs of £1,500 tickets were Disability Wales, Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living, ecdp (formerly Essex Coalition of Disabled People), Southampton Centre for Independent Living, and Disability Rights UK.

Four disabled peers – who have all spent years campaigning for disability rights – were also given tickets: the crossbench peer Lord Low (two tickets at £1,500), who was representing RNIB, the Labour peer Baroness Wilkins (a single £20.12 ticket) and the Liberal Democrat Baroness Thomas (£20.12), both representing the all party parliamentary disability group, and the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington (two tickets at £1,500).

There were also six tickets (each at £1,500) for representatives of Lord [Jack] Ashley, one of the great parliamentary campaigners on disability issues, who had died two months earlier.

And there were two tickets for Ian Macrae, editor of Disability Now, previously an influential magazine on disability issues and now a website.

Other disabled people who received tickets included Mike Smith (£20.12), at the time the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability commissioner; hate crime campaigners Stephen Brookes (two tickets at £1,500) and Simon Green (£20.12); twins Judith and Laura Merry (£20.12 each), both prominent in the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners; Vidar Hjardeng (two tickets at £1,500), an RNIB trustee; and 11-time Paralympic gold medal-winning swimmer David Roberts (two tickets at £1,500).

24 January 2013

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