National newspapers ‘add fuel to the hate crime fire’

Disabled people increasingly believe that coverage of welfare reform and other disability issues in national newspapers is helping to fuel hate crime, according to a new report.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which published the report this week, called on the press and the government to change the language they use to describe disabled people.

Many of the 331 people who responded to a survey for the DR UK report – most of whom were disabled people – blamed rising hostility towards them on “government spin and distortion” and “rhetoric from the government about scroungers and benefit cheats”.

And nearly every one of them (97 per cent) thought reporting of disability should have been a key topic in the Leveson inquiry into press standards.

More than nine in ten linked the negative portrayal of disabled people in the press to rising hostility and hate crime towards disabled people, and an even higher percentage believed the national press were unfair in their portrayal of welfare and other disability equality issues.

More than four in ten suggested the government was responsible for rising press negativity and hostility towards disabled people.

One disabled respondent told how – after a headline about “free” Motability cars for disabled people – their car was vandalised. They have not displayed their blue parking badge since, and have been “yelled at, sworn at and insulted” and had their crutches kicked.

Following articles calling disabled benefit claimants “scroungers”, another respondent said: “I was followed by a group of youths in the street and called ‘a scrounging disabled bastard’.”

One said that “daily hounding in the press” had “made me feel suicidal”, another that coverage in the Sun had “made me feel like I was an outcast”, while another said reports in the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Mirror “makes me feel scared to go out”.

Yet another who replied to the survey said coverage in the Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Sun “completely devalued and totally undermine my efforts to live as fully and independently as possible”.

The report, Press Portrayal of Disabled People: A Rise in Hostility Fuelled by Austerity?, calls on the government’s Office for Disability Issues to play a bigger part in shaping how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communicates with the media and the public.

Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “The report shows that disabled people believe the government agenda has driven the hostile press coverage. It is hard to disagree that that is likely to be the case.”

He added: “It is important that the government improves how it communicates on some of the welfare changes, how it talks about disabled people.”

He said the ODI – which is part of the DWP – was the right body to lead that work because of its cross-government role.

A DWP spokeswoman denied the government was responsible for rising press negativity and hostility towards disabled people, and pointed to Challenge it, Report it, Stop it, its new hate crime action plan, which “includes challenging the attitudes that drive hate crime”.

She said: “We are very conscious of the language we in government use, as it’s clear that the benefit system itself has trapped many people in a spiral of welfare dependency.”

She said a key area of the government’s forthcoming disability strategy would be “promoting positive attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people to enable them to participate in community life and wider society, tackling discrimination and harassment wherever they occur”.

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London 2012: Disabled leader left ‘humiliated’ by opening ceremony treatment

A leading disabled activist was left “humiliated” and “incensed” after she was twice interrupted by London 2012 staff while watching the Paralympic Games opening ceremony to be told her guide dog was a health and safety hazard.

Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), had been given tickets to the event in the Olympic Stadium by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), and told them in advance that she was a guide dog-user.

But she was given two seats in the middle of a row where there was not enough space for a guide dog to sit at her feet.

As a result, she asked other spectators to move so she could sit in the aisle seat, with her guide dog Faith beside her on the steps.

Bott was first approached by a member of staff halfway through the opening ceremony, as the Queen was about to declare the games officially open, and was told that Faith was a “health and safety” issue.

She said: “At first I thought it was a bit of a wind-up, but then I realised she was actually serious.

“I really got quite cross and in the end I said to her, ‘I hear what you are saying. I don’t agree and I am not going to take any notice.’ I actually missed the Queen opening the games.”

She was later approached again, this time by a London 2012 manager, who told her that Faith, who was sitting quietly beside her on the steps, was a “health and safety hazard”.

Bott said: “I told her that she was interfering with my enjoyment of the evening. She was saying, ‘suppose we have to evacuate the stadium?’ and I said, ‘I would get out easier with a guide dog.’”

By this time, there were empty seats beside Bott and her daughter, Angela – who had accompanied her and was describing the action to her – so they moved along and Faith sat in front of one of the vacant seats. But there was still so little room that part of the seat in front kept hitting Faith’s paws.

Bott said: “I just felt totally humiliated. It was ridiculous. If Faith is a hazard then so is every disabled person and every wheelchair-user.

“I am still struggling to believe it. It just feels like a bad dream. I would not have expected that kind of treatment in a million years.”

Bott was even more disappointed because earlier in the day she had enjoyed taking part in the Paralympic torch relay as part of a five-strong team of disabled people from DR UK.

She said the treatment she received in the stadium “really took me back to years gone by”, and added: “What it does prove is that we still need our disabled people’s organisations fighting for our rights. We cannot relax for a moment.”

A DCMS spokeswoman said she believed it was her department’s fault that Bott had been given a seat in the wrong section of the stadium, which was not accessible to guide dog-users.

But she has so far failed to comment on the attitude of London 2012 staff in the Olympic Stadium.

A LOCOG spokesman said: “If it was a health and safety issue it is something we have to take extremely seriously.”

He has so far failed to comment further.

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Pioneer warns of ‘disastrous’ consequences of ILF closure

One of the pioneers of the independent living movement has warned the government that its decision to shut the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015 could force thousands of disabled people out of their homes and into residential care.

John Evans said that such a move, announced last week in a long-awaited consultation paper, would be “disastrous” and would “destroy people both mentally and physically”.

Evans was a co-founder of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) and is now an influential disability rights consultant, a board member of the European Disability Forum, and a member of the National Co-production Advisory Group.

But more than 30 years ago, he was one of the five members of Project 81, disabled residents of a Leonard Cheshire home in Hampshire who negotiated a deal with the local authorities funding them that enabled them to move out of the institution and into their own homes in the community.

Now, three decades later, he fears that he and many other ILF-recipients – all of whom have high support needs – could be forced back into residential care.

He said: “My biggest fear ever since that day has been will I ever return to that. Right now it is looking like a reality.”

Evans said he believed that most of the nearly 20,000 recipients of ILF support were now thinking about this “potential threat”.

Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, announced in December 2010 that ILF – a government-funded trust which currently helps 19,700 disabled people to live independently – would remain closed permanently to new applicants, while the packages of current users would be protected until 2015.

But in last week’s consultation paper, the government made it clear that it also wants to close the ILF to existing users from April 2015, with funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Asked what his message would be to Miller, Evans said: “Realise the potential hazardous consequences of your decisions, look at the long-term impact on the health and security of those people’s lives.

“Would you like to have your money taken away if you were disabled and were being threatened by going into residential care and not being able to live in your own home?”

He said he doubted whether cash-strapped local authorities would pass on all of the funding given to them by the government when it closed ILF.

He said: “I have talked to local authorities. They don’t know what to do. They are struggling with their budgets at the moment. They are having to make cutbacks even before this comes in.”

Like many other recipients, he requires 24-hour care, and uses ILF to top up the funding provided by his local authority.

He describes himself as an ILF “success story”. He has used the funding to live in his own home and work as a self-employed consultant.

Evans said: “ILF liberated many disabled people and was instrumental in getting a lot of disabled people into work.”

He added: “The government says things have changed now and the ILF is out-of-date, but what it is providing support for is not. People like myself have not changed.”

Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK, said the government must explain how people with high support needs would be funded in the future, and that she doubted whether cash-strapped councils would pass on all the funding given to them.

She also said there was no guarantee that the ILF money distributed by the government to local authorities would be allocated according to the number of ILF-users in each area.

This could mean that those local authorities that had done most to promote ILF to disabled people would find themselves hardest hit by its closure.

Bott said she believed there would need to be a new, separate source of funding for people with high support needs to replace ILF so that people like John Evans were “not faced with the prospect of being incarcerated in residential care”.

She said: “Ironically these people were the pioneers of the independent living movement and now they are being forgotten about and ignored.”

She added: “It is one thing to fight the cuts, but it is totally devastating when your whole life’s work is getting reversed in a matter of a few months.

“I cannot contemplate the enormity of what it would mean. The only comparison I can think of for myself is if I suddenly found myself back in special school.”

She called for the scope of the ILF consultation to be widened, so the government could consider widening the criteria for continuing healthcare, which – with the increasing use of personal health budgets – might provide new opportunities for health funding to be used in the same way as local authority personal budgets.

DR UK will be consulting its member organisations before responding to the ILF consultation, which ends on 10 October.

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Care and support white paper: Activists’ anger over funding failure

Disabled activists have reacted angrily to the government’s decision to delay reforming the funding of adult care and support.

The Conservative health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said it was an “inescapable conclusion” that final decisions on funding the changes recommended by the government-commissioned Dilnot Commission could only be made as part of the next spending review, expected in 2013 or 2014.

Although the coalition’s decision to delay reforms suggested last July by the commission was no surprise, there was still widespread anger.

Professor Peter Beresford, chair of the user-led Shaping Our Lives network, said social care policy was in an “unbelievably chaotic state”.

He said he was not surprised by the government’s failure to produce a funding solution because it was “ideologically committed to reducing public spending” and was “ruthlessly using the concept of austerity and the public deficit” to justify regressive policies.

He criticised the refusal of politicians from all parties to consider a fully integrated health and social care system that was free at the point of use and funded – in the same way as the NHS – from general taxation.

Members of the WeareSpartacus campaign said further government delay in reforming funding would see more local authorities developing the kind of radical cost-cutting policies that were set to push young disabled people into residential care in Worcestershire.

The disabled-led campaign group published a new report this week into proposals put forward by Worcestershire County Council.

They said the government’s commitments to ensuring disabled people had choice and control over their support – outlined in this week’s white paper – were “well meaning and useless” without a “clear funding source”.

Dr Sarah Campbell, one of the report’s authors, said: “Knowing that the government promotes choice and independence is of little comfort if confronted with compulsory entry into residential care as a young disabled adult with no prospect of returning to the community.

“The government must urgently clarify funding reform so that such proposals do not see the light of day.”

Under Worcestershire’s plans, new service-users – or existing service-users whose needs change – who have a support package where the costs exceed a certain limit will be told to either meet the shortfall themselves, find a cheaper means of support, or “receive their care in a residential or nursing home”.

Many of the social care reforms that were announced by the government did win some support among disabled activists.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell told fellow peers that – “temporarily ignoring the social care funding elephant in the room” – she welcomed much of the content of the white paper.

The disabled crossbench peer said the white paper “concentrates on independent living, empowerment strategies, and supporting people to stay at home and contribute to their communities instead of the current safety-net crisis interventions. That has been my life’s work.”

But she was unable to secure a definitive answer from the Conservative health minister Earl Howe on whether the government’s plans to improve the “portability” of disabled people’s care if they move to another local authority area would guarantee an equivalent level of support from the new council.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said the government’s announcements would “progress some much-needed proposals for reform of the social care framework”.

DR UK welcomed the publication of a draft social care bill to replace the current “complex cat’s cradle” of legislation, and the moves towards a more “portable” system of care.

But it said it was “very disappointed” that the government’s announcements failed to address the crucial issue of care funding.

Sayce said: “It is essential to disabled people, older people and carers that the funding of care and support services is resolved as soon as possible.

“The government must set a timeframe to deliver this aim – or will face an explosion in longer-term costs as disabled people are forced to rely on more expensive NHS services or residential care and more disabled people and carers are forced out of work.”

Lawyers for four young disabled people battling cuts to care in west Berkshire welcomed the government’s proposals to introduce a new national eligibility threshold for care and support.

The four young disabled people, all with high support needs, are taking a legal case against West Berkshire Council, one of only three local authorities in England that restricts council-funded care to those with critical needs – the highest of the four eligibility bands.

Anne-Marie Irwin, a public law specialist at Irwin Mitchell, which is representing the four, said: “West Berkshire’s ‘critical only’ policy is an example of why the proposals put forward by the government are so desperately needed.”

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Tens of thousands lose their ESA as welfare reforms begin to bite

Tens of thousands of disabled people have lost all of their out-of-work disability benefits this week, thanks to new rules brought in by the government through its controversial Welfare Reform Act.

The act introduced a new one-year time limit on claiming the contributory form of employment and support allowance (ESA) for those disabled people expected to move gradually towards work.

The new time limit was introduced retrospectively, which meant that claimants began to have their ESA removed on 30 April, even though the act only became law two months ago.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed that it expects 40,000 people from this work-related activity group (WRAG) to lose all of their ESA this week, with a further 60,000 losing their contributory ESA but becoming eligible for at least some ESA on the grounds of low income.

Those disabled people with higher support needs, who have been placed in the ESA support group, are not affected by the time limit.

The one-year limit was one of the most controversial aspects of the act, with the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low telling the government earlier this year that the measure would be “not only unfair but downright cruel”.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said this week that the time limit would increase the number of disabled people living in poverty, with some losing more than £90 a week.

Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said the new measure would only penalise disabled people who have worked in the past, as only those who have made national insurance contributions qualify for contributory ESA.

He called on the government to monitor the impact of the new time limit closely.

In its own equality impact assessment (EIA) of the measure last October, DWP conceded that the policy would affect about 700,000 people by 2015-16, with about 280,000 of them losing all of their ESA.

DWP estimates suggest that disabled people hitting the one-year time limit will lose an average £32 per week for men, and £43 for women.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The welfare system must support those with the most need.

“ESA for people who could be expected to get back into work was never intended to be a long-term benefit and the time limit of one year strikes the best balance between recognising that some people need extra help to enter the workplace and that the taxpayer cannot afford to support people indefinitely who could return to employment.”

She added: “Although a person’s ESA has ended they may be entitled to other help such as housing benefit, council tax benefit or working tax credits.”

She said DWP would monitor the impact of the time limit through its “frontline operation” and by “making sure people know what other benefits may be available to them”.

She added: “In terms of helping people, even if you are not eligible for benefit you can continue to claim national insurance credits and be eligible for all the support to help you get closer to the labour market, such as the Work Programme.”

She said this was another way for DWP to “stay in touch” with former claimants.

For more information on ESA, visit the government’s benefits adviser online service.

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DWP questioned over DLA analysis failings

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been unable to produce any evidence to show that it has analysed the knock-on effects of its huge cuts to spending on disability living allowance (DLA).

Last week, a Disability Rights UK (DR UK) report, Impact Assessing the Abolition of Working Age DLA, said the government had ignored the effects on disabled people’s lives of cutting working-age DLA spending by 20 per cent, or £1.4 billion a year by 2015-16.

DR UK accused the government of an “irresponsible” failure to carry out a proper analysis of these knock-on effects, particularly on people’s ability to work, and their increased need for support from local councils and the NHS.

Both DR UK and the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg – who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee – raised further concerns this week about the government’s failure to measure the wider impact of its programme of cuts.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted that it did not agree with the findings of the report, or the methodology used by DR UK to produce its figures, which focus on DWP plans to cut spending and replace working-age DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP).

A DWP spokesman argued that it could not yet say how many current DLA recipients would lose or gain from the reforms because this would “depend in part on where the benefit rates are set”, while he said that a higher proportion of claimants would probably receive the highest rates of PIP than under DLA.

But DWP has so far been unable to point to a single piece of evidence that it has assessed the wider impact of its DLA/PIP spending cuts.

Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, questioned Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, about these failings at this week’s meeting of the all-party parliamentary disability group.

Miller said: “If [disabled people] are in fear of losing work then perhaps they should be looking to Access to Work (AtW) to give them support as well.”

And she said that the government would always produce “impact assessments” of its policies but that they had to be “about the impact that you can measure”.

Coyle said later that this was “quite a frank admission” by Miller that her government was not examining disabled people’s “equality of opportunity”.

He said Miller was “ignoring the real risk to disabled people in work”, and that there was no chance that the AtW budget could cope with the thousands of disabled people set to lose their DLA support.

Dame Anne – who is recovering in hospital in Scotland from a serious accident – said the government needed to look at the wider impact of its cuts, not just to DLA but also to spending on social care, employment and support allowance (ESA) and the Independent Living Fund.

She said that those losing DLA might also be losing ESA and council-funded social care, and there was an “urgent” need to investigate the impact of all of the cuts on disabled people.

Dame Anne added: “I think it is quite urgent that the government starts to quantify that because it could be that for some individuals and households all of the money they were depending on to allow them to live an independent life has been taken away because they lose all the different packages of support they were getting.”

Asked whether DWP could point to any evidence that it had assessed the knock-on effects of the DLA cuts, the DWP spokesman said only that PIP was “intended to go to those disabled people who are least able to live independently and need the most support” and that it does not expect an increased need for NHS or local authority support.

He added: “We will continue to work with the Department of Health and local authorities to understand the impacts and ensure that disabled people continue to have access to relevant support.”

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True impact of DLA cuts ‘could wipe out planned savings’

The knock-on effects of the government’s huge cuts to spending on disability living allowance (DLA) could wipe out every penny of the savings it is hoping for, according to a new report.

The Disability Rights UK (DR UK) report, Impact Assessing the Abolition of Working Age DLA, accuses the government of ignoring the effects on disabled people’s lives of cutting working-age DLA spending by 20 per cent, or £1.4 billion a year by 2015/16.

The report analyses the likely impact on disabled people’s ability to work, and their extra need for NHS services and local authority support.

It says that the government’s claim that there will be no such knock-on effects is a “falsehood” and describes its failure to carry out a proper analysis as “irresponsible”.

DR UK estimates that the extra costs could wipe out any planned savings, and even its lowest estimates add up to more than a third of the government’s intended savings. The report’s estimates range from about £600 million a year to as much as £3 billion.

DR UK also points to last month’s report by the joint committee on human rights, which warned of a “significant risk” that the government’s welfare reforms and cuts to disability benefits and services could put disabled people’s right to independent living at risk.

DR UK is among about 20 organisations examining potential legal challenges to parts of the new Welfare Reform Act, which will see working-age DLA replaced by a new personal independence payment (PIP), among many other cuts to benefits and sweeping reforms to the welfare system.

Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “It is a very real prospect that the government will see a challenge to the Welfare Reform Act, or multiple challenges.”

The new report uses figures from a survey carried out last year, which found 56 per cent of disabled people with jobs said they would have to stop or reduce that work if they lost their DLA, while one in six would be forced to make more use of the NHS, and one in seven would need to make greater use of council services.

It uses these figures to estimate the cost to the government of lost tax and national insurance, and extra payments of out-of-work benefits.

It also estimates the cost of obtaining independent medical evidence from GPs and consultants as part of the new PIP assessment process, and of extra spending on GP appointments and hospital stays as a result of reduced support.

Finally, the report adds in the possible costs of extra council support at home or in residential homes, due to disabled people being less able to live independently.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman disputed DR UK’s figures and said the reforms had been “open to an unprecedented level of examination from stakeholders, members of the public to politicians” and that DWP had consulted widely with disabled people and their organisations.

Asked by Disability News Service whether it would now carry out an analysis of the knock-on effects of the cuts, she said DWP had “already committed to publishing more information when it becomes available”.

She added: “The changes to DLA will make sure support goes to those who need it most, with more support going to a higher proportion under PIP.”

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