Signs are positive for sports participation in wake of London 2012

The success of the London 2012 Paralympics appears to be encouraging more disabled people to take part in disability sports, according to new research.

A survey of councils in England and Wales found that a third of them had seen more disabled people taking part in Paralympic sports such as sitting volleyball, boccia and swimming, in the wake of the games.

The Local Government Association (LGA) survey found that five per cent of councils had seen a large increase in disabled users of their sports facilities when comparing October-December of 2012 with the same period of 2011, with 28 per cent seeing a small increase and only two per cent seeing a small decrease.

Nearly a third of councils that provide goalball facilities saw a rise in numbers, while 25 per cent of those that offer cycling, and a third of the small number that provide equestrian facilities for disabled users, saw a post-games increase.

Nearly a quarter of councils that provide boccia saw an increase in numbers, with sitting volleyball (20 per cent), swimming (20 per cent of councils), wheelchair basketball (18 per cent) and wheelchair rugby (17 per cent) also seeing a rise in participation across a significant number of councils.

More than seven in 10 councils provide swimming facilities for disabled people, while the next most commonly-offered Paralympic sports are boccia (59 per cent of councils) and football (55 per cent).

The Paralympic sports least likely to be offered by local authorities are shooting (two per cent) and equestrianism (four per cent), while six per cent of the 29 per cent of councils that responded to the survey provide no Paralympic sports or facilities at all.

Among the measures being taken by councils to boost participation were relocating adult day centres into sports and leisure centres, and offering a discount card aimed at disabled and older people and other disadvantaged groups.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council, who plays and coaches with the London Raiders wheelchair basketball club in east London, said he has seen a number of “green shoots” in the wake of London 2012.

He said he was seeing more younger disabled people at matches, while his club was receiving more enquiries from schools and even some from companies that organise corporate events and want their clients to try wheelchair basketball.

He said: “Either the Paralympics or the governing body’s strategy or the two combined is working in wheelchair basketball.”

But he said clubs had also been motivated by the Paralympics to do more work themselves to attract new members, while funding was easier to access, with Sport England last year launching a new £10.2 million Inclusive Sport fund to encourage more disabled people to take up sport.

The British Paralympic Association (BPA) said there had been a 25 per cent increase in people playing wheelchair basketball, and a 33 per cent increase in wheelchair rugby since London 2012, while 1,000 people had visited its first SportsFest, where they could try out Paralympic summer and winter sports.

There are now more than 3,000 disability sports clubs listed on the BPA’s Parasport website, compared with 2,146 before London 2012.

There has also been an increase in interest in Paralympic winter sports, with the number of sledge hockey clubs increasing from five to eight since London 2012.

A BPA spokeswoman said: “We see a number of different indicators across the board that indicate there is interest out there and we are hearing from our sports that there is a rise in participation. Our membership is reporting interest across the board.”

Councillor Flick Rea, chair of the LGA’s culture, tourism and sport board, said it was essential that councils, sports governing bodies, local sports clubs and community groups kept working together, but warned that investment and innovation in sports and leisure services “could become near-impossible” if councils experienced further government budget cuts.

14 March 2013

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Access to Work extension should be just the beginning, says Sayce

The author of a government report on disability employment has welcomed an extension of the Access to Work (AtW) scheme to some disabled entrepreneurs, but has called for funding to be extended even further.

From Monday (14 January), disabled people moving into self-employment with support from the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) scheme can claim AtW cash for equipment, support workers and travel costs.

The measure was announced last November and trialled in Merseyside, before this month’s national rollout across England, Wales and Scotland.

NEA provides access to a volunteer business mentor, a weekly allowance for the first six months, and possible access to a loan of up to £1,000 to help with business start-up costs.

Esther McVey, the new Conservative  minister for disabled people, admitted last October that spending on AtW had plummeted from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12, while the number of disabled people claiming funding had fallen from 37,000 in 2009-10 to just over 30,000 in 2011-12.

The following month, McVey announced a series of measures – including allowing disabled people on NEA to claim AtW support – to “strengthen and improve” the scheme.

Some of the measures were recommended by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, in her 2011 report for the government on employment support programmes.

Sayce welcomed the decision to extend AtW funding to disabled people on the NEA scheme.

But she called on the government to “systematically” make AtW available for “every type of work experience, traineeship, internship and business set-up”.

She said AtW was available for work experience under the government’s Youth Contract and the Jobcentre Plus Work Trial scheme, but not for the supported internships about to be rolled out nationally for young disabled people.

She said: “It is vital that Access to Work should be available for all the major routes into employment including setting up your own business, work experience, traineeships and internships, otherwise disabled people who need simple things like an interpreter or support worker will have no chance of equality in getting into employment.”

She said this risk was “particularly acute for young disabled people, who risk becoming a new generation lost to employment – being twice as likely as young non-disabled people to be not in education, employment or training.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said the new measure was “not specifically” a recommendation from the Sayce review, but was “in line with her recommendations to focus funding on sustainable work and career choices, including self-employment”.

There are currently 0.5 million self-employed disabled people (15 per cent of those in work), compared with 13 per cent, or 3.2 million, of non-disabled people in self-employment.

McVey said: “We’ve opened up our flagship programme so that disabled people have the same choice to start up their own business as everyone else – in every sector, from hairdressing to engineering and everything in between.”

More than 8,000 businesses have been set up during NEA’s first year.

For details of how to claim AtW, visit the government’s Access to Work pages.

16 January 2013

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Coalition packs equality duty review with friendly faces

The panel set up to review a vital piece of equality legislation has been packed with Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians, adding to fears of a new government assault on disabled people’s protection from discrimination.

The government also appears to have failed to include any disabled equality experts on the 11-strong review panel.

The review of the public sector equality duty (PSED) was announced by the government in May this year when it published the equalities section of its “red tape challenge”, which is looking at the “bureaucratic burdens” of legislation on business.

Leading disability rights figures have been warning that key parts of the country’s equality legislation are under threat from the government, and even fear that the coalition wants to scrap the PSED altogether.

The PSED forces public bodies – such as councils and government departments – to have “due regard” to the need to eliminate discrimination when forming policies.

The new review panel, expected to report in April 2013, is being chaired by the former Tory MP Rob Hayward, a former board member of the gay rights organisation Stonewall, who is joined by three Liberal Democrat and Tory local politicians, and Dr Munira Mirza, deputy mayor for education and culture for the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Another member is Rachel de Souza, the head of a high-performing academy school in Norfolk, who won praise from right-wing commentators by bringing in former members of the armed services to keep her school open in November 2011 when teachers were striking over their pensions.

De Souza was also one of four school leaders invited to Downing Street for a meeting with David Cameron and his education secretary Michael Gove in January.

There are two senior civil servants on the panel, Jonathan Rees, the director general of the Government Equalities Office, and Charlie Pate, a senior Treasury official.

The other three members are Stephen Otter, the former chief constable of Devon and Cornwall police; Paula Vasco-Knight, the chief executive of an NHS trust and national equality lead for the NHS Commissioning Board; and Baroness O’Neill, recently appointed by the government to chair the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Last month, David Cameron, the prime minister, claimed judicial reviews, public consultations and equality impact assessments (EIAs) were slowing the pace of government reforms, and announced that he was “calling time” on EIAs and “all this extra tick-box stuff”.

His comments led Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the former Disability Rights Commission, to warn that the PSED, the Equality Act and the whole equality agenda were “under threat”.

As well as the equality duty review, which has been brought forward from 2015, the government has already slashed the budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), and delayed the implementation of discrimination laws that were due to be introduced as part of the Equality Act.

A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman said the steering group was “not intended to be a politically representative body” but that its members had been appointed “because of their experience across the breadth of the public sector”.

She added: “We will not pre-judge the outcome of the review. We are determined to explore the issues rigorously.”

Asked why there appeared to be no disabled person on the panel, she said: “We have not sought detailed information about individual members’ protected characteristics.

“This is because members were selected because of their experience of the public sector, not because of particular protected characteristics.”

The announcement came as a government report found strong support among businesses for equality laws that prevent discrimination in areas such as recruitment and promotion, although two-thirds of those surveyed admitted knowing nothing about the contents of the Equality Act.

The employers – mostly small and medium-sized businesses – were nearly all supportive of laws that would ban selecting an employee for redundancy on the basis of their sexual orientation (90 per cent), and refusing to promote a woman because her husband practised a particular faith (90 per cent).

But they were less supportive of laws that would prevent an employer refusing promotion to a disabled employee because they had taken a lot of sick leave in the previous year (56 per cent).

The EHRC said the report showed that most businesses “support equality in the workplace as a benefit rather than a bureaucratic burden”.

More than 1,800 businesses across England, Scotland and Wales were surveyed between November 2011 and January 2012.

6 December 2012

Row over DPO role in Capita bid for lucrative assessment contract

The UK’s most influential disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has become embroiled in a row over its involvement in helping the outsourcing giant Capita win a multi-million pound benefits assessment contract.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced in August that Capita had secured one of three regional contracts to assess claimants of the new personal independence payment (PIP).

But a tender document uncovered by disabled researchers this week appears to show that Disability Rights UK (DR UK) played a significant part in helping Capita secure the contract to assess disabled people in Wales and central England.

DR UK has denied doing anything other than advising Capita on how to on how to ensure disabled people secured good advice, and pushing for it to fund a free, impartial guide to PIP.

DR UK stressed that it had lobbied and campaigned against the government’s 20 per cent cuts to spending that will be introduced through the reforms, which will see PIP gradually replacing disability living allowance for working-age people from next April.

But although DR UK has repeatedly insisted this week that its only involvement with Capita was to ensure the provision of “independent rights-based advice and information to disabled people”, Capita’s tender document states otherwise.

A Capita spokeswoman told Disability News Service that “all quotes included from other organisations in the tender document were approved by the relevant parties prior to submission”.

She added: “Capita always abides with procurement rules and acts with the highest levels of integrity. All the information in the document was supplied in good faith, based on communication at the time with various disabled people and their representative groups.”

DR UK is now “seeking information” from Capita about the discrepancy between what it claims its role was and what Capita states in its tender document.

The controversy comes only weeks after DR UK attracted heated criticism from within the disability movement for its decision to lead a new alliance of DPOs, charities, and private and public sector organisations that will produce new disability policies for the government.

The tender and supplier information form, submitted to the DWP in May, states that Capita had worked “particularly closely” with DR UK, one of four organisations that it says helped with “testing our solution” and which were “a committed part of our supply chain”.

There was even an endorsement for the company from Mark Shrimpton, DR UK’s director of services and information, who said: “Disability Rights UK is delighted to endorse Capita’s approach to learning, development and continuous improvement.”

The document claims that DR UK helped Capita develop an accessibility “charter” for its PIP assessment centres, and would help Capita “recruit disabled people into senior positions”.

It also says: “We are paying for DRUK to employ someone whose role it is to identify and analyse feedback from their networks of disabled people to help us improve.”

And it adds: “DRUK has over 1,000 member organisations which should allow for broad capture of ongoing claimant experiences.”

But a DR UK spokesman insisted that all DR UK did was advise Capita “on how to ensure people got good advice on their rights” and that it only received payment for this.

He added: “Disability Rights UK believes it is appropriate to engage with contractors delivering services, whatever they might be, regardless of whether we might disagree with government policy, to ensure that disabled people get the best possible outcome.

“If we were not trying to ensure free, expert, independent information was provided to disabled people it is unlikely that appropriate support will be available.”

18 October 2012

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