Court claim after ‘fitness for work harassment’ during blood transfusion

A disabled woman who claims she lost the use of her last kidney because of harassment from her local jobcentre during an emergency blood transfusion is taking legal action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Lawyers for Annemarie Campbell will this week issue a claim for damages against DWP under the Equality Act, claiming discrimination, and possibly also harassment and a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Campbell was receiving the blood transfusion in February when her jobcentre called her on her mobile phone to ask when she would be well enough to attend a back-to-work interview.

She had told the jobcentre in central London only the previous day that she would be in hospital for an emergency transfusion, and that she was seriously ill and awaiting a second kidney transplant.

But she says the jobcentre still hounded her while she lay hooked up to life-saving medical equipment in an emergency renal ward of Hammersmith Hospital.

A member of the jobcentre’s staff phoned her and asked when she could attend her work-focussed interview. When Campbell told her she was in the middle of a blood transfusion, the adviser asked her if she could fetch her consultant.

Campbell said: “When I was getting the blood transfusion it was trying to prolong my kidney and make me live a bit longer.

“I was on the phone being upset all the time, constantly trying to explain myself. They were pushing me to go back to work, constantly phoning me and writing to me.”

Five days after the transfusion, she told her consultant that she was going back to work, as a result of the DWP harassment.

But he told her she could not possibly consider working because her life was “on a knife edge”, and he wrote to the jobcentre to explain the seriousness of her medical condition.

She has now lost the use of her last working kidney, which she received in a transplant in 1995, and is convinced that the stress of the jobcentre harassment speeded up that process.

Campbell said: “In the end, because of the harassment and the stress they put me under, I lost my kidney. I was harassed and harassed and harassed and now they have broken me.”

She had been forced to reapply for employment and support allowance (ESA) last autumn after her health deteriorated.

Atos Healthcare – the company that assesses “fitness for work” – told her she would not need a face-to-face assessment and would be placed straight into the support group, for those who do not need to take steps to return to work.

But DWP’s own decision-makers placed her instead in the work-related activity group (WRAG), which meant she would need to attend work-focused interviews, even though she made it clear that she had a job to go back to – she does legal agency work – when she was well enough.

Campbell is currently receiving dialysis for 12 hours a week and is back in the support group, but is now facing yet another reassessment of her fitness for work in September.

She said: “I am taking legal action for my dignity and self-respect and right to treatment, but also for other people who are more vulnerable than I am.

“I want people to see what this jobcentre is doing and how we are being treated and what’s happening to us. I want to see changes to the way people are treated by the DWP.”

Frances Lipman, a public lawyer with Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors, who is representing Campbell, said her client had been treated with “absolutely no regard to her personal circumstances”.

“She was telephoned while undergoing a medical procedure. She had warned the DWP just the day before that she was going into hospital and had received an assurance that no-one would contact her.

“All that seems to matter to the DWP is that their employment and support allowance claimants do this work-focused interview, regardless of their personal circumstances.

“It is an affront to Annemarie’s dignity as a human being that they did not try to make an adjustment to interview her at an alternative time.”

Lipman added: “We don’t know yet whether this is institutionalised practice within the DWP or whether it was just a particular member of staff.

“I know Annemarie would very much like an apology from them. That is more important to her than the damages. She wants her voice to be heard and for them to acknowledge what has happened to her.”

DWP has denied any harassment, and says the phone call “was pre-arranged as it would be for anyone in the WRAG who informs us they can’t make an appointment in person”.

It claims Campbell arranged for the jobcentre to call her about the work-focused interview on the day she was in hospital, but that she had warned that she might not be available because of the treatment.

Campbell says this is “absolute rubbish”, and that she simply told them she was “really unwell” and that they could call her consultant the next day if they did not believe her.

News provided by John Pring at http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Watchdog rolls over for Treasury despite Spending Round equality fears

The equality watchdog has refused to investigate the Treasury’s apparent failure to meet its legal duty to consider in due depth how its spending decisions for 2015-16 will affect disabled people.

Two weeks ago, the Conservative chancellor, George Osborne, laid out how the government plans to allocate £740 billion of public expenditure in 2015-16, and how it will split £11.5 billion in cuts between government departments, including another £4 billion from disability benefits.

Among his Spending Round 2013 announcements, he told MPs there would be a new “welfare cap” – which will include spending on disability living allowance, personal independence payment and employment and support allowance (ESA) – and cuts of 10 per cent to local government spending.

He also announced new rules which will force anyone who loses their job to wait for a week – rather than the current three days – before claiming the income-related forms of jobseeker’s allowance and ESA.

In its equality impact analysis, the Treasury said the government was “aware of the risk that reducing spending may have negative consequences for groups of people with protected characteristics” and that “where possible, it has introduced measures that mitigate these impacts”.

And in the disability section of the analysis, the Treasury mentions increased spending on mental health treatment, the government’s special educational needs reforms, and money spent on improving access to the railway system, the NHS, disability employment programmes, and even supporting Paralympians.

But there is no mention of the welfare cap, the seven-day rule, or cuts of 10 per cent to local government spending, all almost certain to have a negative impact on hundreds of thousands of disabled people.

The Treasury has made it clear to Disability News Service (DNS) that it would be a serious matter if it had claimed it had met its obligations under the Equality Act, without carrying out the necessary background work.

It also made it clear that this underlying work had been completed, and that the section on disability was an accurate representation of the work it had done to assess the impact on disabled people.

A Treasury spokesman said: “Throughout the Spending Round, the government has taken care to consider the impacts of the tough decisions that have been made on groups with particular needs in society.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the body set up to “protect, enforce and promote” equality, has refused to examine the Treasury’s apparent failure to have “due regard” to its public sector equality duty (PSED) responsibilities under the Equality Act.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “Given our limited resources, we can’t analyse every decision in the spending review.

“We feel that improving the way the government takes spending decisions – for example on cumulative impact – is the right strategic priority.”

But when DNS asked her to explain what she meant by this, she said: “That is a matter for us and our staff.”

She refused to comment further, as did her manager.

Last year, the EHRC announced that the Treasury may have failed in its legal duty to consider how some of the cuts announced in its 2010 spending review would impact on disabled people.

Also last year, the government announced a review of the PSED, which forces public bodies – such as councils and government departments – to have “due regard” to the need to eliminate discrimination when forming policies.

The government has already slashed the EHRC’s budget, and delayed the implementation of discrimination laws that were due to be introduced as part of the Equality Act.

Meanwhile, Labour confirmed this week that it backs the idea of a cap on social security spending.

A Labour spokesman said: “The government has followed our call for a cap on structural social security spending, and we will look at the details of what they put forward as we develop our own.

“However, ministers have announced a cap without any plans in the spending review to make sure that social security spending falls under the cap in the long-term.

“They are spending £21 billion more on welfare than they planned. Without a plan to tackle the root causes of welfare spending, they will continue to fail to make the system sustainable in the long-term.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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

Courts to be asked to declare government’s ILF consultation unlawful

Six disabled people have launched a legal action over the government’s decision to scrap the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

They will ask the courts to declare that the coalition’s public consultation on the proposed closure – which ended last week – was unlawful, and that any decision based on the consultation would also be unlawful.

The case follows a series of high-profile judicial reviews of other such decisions by government departments and other public bodies to slash services and spending due to the coalition’s deficit reduction plan.

The proposed closure of the ILF will see funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But last week, councils admitted that when ILF-users transfer into the local authority system in 2015, the pot of money they are awarded by their council to meet their support costs will probably be lower than they currently receive, with some forced to rely on relatives or charities.

Anne Pridmore, a leading disabled activist and one of the six ILF-users taking the legal case, said: “I didn’t expect to be doing this in my 73rd year.

“Sometimes I think to myself ‘why am I doing this?’ because I probably only have two years left in my own home. They will put me in residential care because there is no way the council will pay the other half of my care package [the half currently covered by ILF].

“I just feel if I didn’t do it I would be letting people down and letting myself down. I am getting to the end part of my life but there are a lot of younger disabled people who should be able to apply for the ILF and they have not been able to and will not in the future if something is not done to stop it closing.”

Activists say the plans to close the ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs – are a huge threat to disabled people’s right to independent living.

They say the money will not be ring-fenced when it is passed to local authorities, while the government’s consultation paper offered no details on how councils would be able to meet the extra costs of disabled people with high support needs who previously received ILF money.

Lawyers for the six ILF-users taking the case will argue that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had failed to explain why the only option it offered in its consultation was to close the fund.

And they will say that the consultation document did not provide enough information about the difference between the ILF – which enables people to be independent, work and be full citizens – and local authority assessment and provision, which focuses on basic needs.

They will also argue that the government breached the Equality Act by failing to assess the impact of the closure on disabled people.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We acknowledge the action being taken in relation to the recent consultation on the future of the Independent Living Fund by some of its users. The department will follow the correct procedure and respond in due course.”

18 October 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Motability is ‘treating disabled people like criminals’ by fitting trackers

Motability has been accused of treating disabled people like criminals, after it began fixing tracking devices to their cars.

The organisation says it has introduced the new measure in a bid to detect “misuse” of its disabled people’s car scheme.

All new customers and those renewing their agreements with the Motability car scheme will now be forced to have a location tracker fitted to their car, if they live in a care home or have an open insurance policy.

Open policies allow disabled people to insure all of a flexible pool of personal assistants who may need to drive their car, rather than having to declare a small number of named drivers on their policy.

Ruth Bashall, a prominent disabled activist, and a user of the scheme for more than a decade, has called on Motability to review its new policy.

Because she has an open insurance policy, she has been told she will have to have a tracker fixed on her new Motability vehicle, which has yet to be delivered.

Bashall said the compulsory fitting of location trackers was a potential breach of the right to privacy and to justice under the Human Rights Act, and potential discrimination under the Equality Act.

She said that as a disabled person with high support needs who uses personal assistants she is having an “unreasonable condition” imposed upon her by Motability.

Motability’s decision to fit the tracking devices follows a series of other measures it has introduced to combat what it claims is “misuse and misrepresentation” by a small minority of customers.

But Bashall said it was also the latest example of the government and wider society “questioning the integrity of disabled people” over their benefits and entitlements.

This includes a series of inaccurate and hostile media reports attacking alleged fraud and misuse of the scheme, which enables disabled people claiming the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance to lease a new vehicle from Motability.

Bashall said the fitting of tracking devices was “insulting and offensive”, and added: “I am extremely concerned about the civil liberties aspect.

“We fit people with tags to track them if they have committed an offence. I have committed no offence.

“We have a government that thinks every disabled person is basically a shyster, and a society that is convinced that every disabled person is a cheat. It is saying to me that I or my PAs are potential fraudsters.”

She added: “This is not an effective way to prevent abuse of the scheme.”

A Motability spokeswoman said the “location trackers” were being fitted to new cars where “the risk of potential misuse is highest”, with customers who have an open insurance policy or live in a care home.

She said: “We will only have access to location data, and will only make use of this data where we receive a report, or suspect, that a car may be being misused. It will not be used or looked at unless there is an allegation that raises suspicion.”

She said the tracker could be used to clear disabled people subjected to malicious allegations and would be there to “protect the scheme and the customer”.

She said Motability expected to fit location trackers in fewer than five per cent of the 600,000 cars leased through the scheme.

Bashall has asked Motability how the data will be stored, who will have access to it, how long it will be kept and for what purposes it will be used, and is questioning whether the use of trackers will breach the Data Protection Act.

4 October 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Motability is ‘treating disabled people like criminals’ by fitting trackers

Motability has been accused of treating disabled people like criminals, after it began fixing tracking devices to their cars.

The organisation says it has introduced the new measure in a bid to detect “misuse” of its disabled people’s car scheme.

All new customers and those renewing their agreements with the Motability car scheme will now be forced to have a location tracker fitted to their car, if they live in a care home or have an open insurance policy.

Open policies allow disabled people to insure all of a flexible pool of personal assistants who may need to drive their car, rather than having to declare a small number of named drivers on their policy.

Ruth Bashall, a prominent disabled activist, and a user of the scheme for more than a decade, has called on Motability to review its new policy.

Because she has an open insurance policy, she has been told she will have to have a tracker fixed on her new Motability vehicle, which has yet to be delivered.

Bashall said the compulsory fitting of location trackers was a potential breach of the right to privacy and to justice under the Human Rights Act, and potential discrimination under the Equality Act.

She said that as a disabled person with high support needs who uses personal assistants she is having an “unreasonable condition” imposed upon her by Motability.

Motability’s decision to fit the tracking devices follows a series of other measures it has introduced to combat what it claims is “misuse and misrepresentation” by a small minority of customers.

But Bashall said it was also the latest example of the government and wider society “questioning the integrity of disabled people” over their benefits and entitlements.

This includes a series of inaccurate and hostile media reports attacking alleged fraud and misuse of the scheme, which enables disabled people claiming the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance to lease a new vehicle from Motability.

Bashall said the fitting of tracking devices was “insulting and offensive”, and added: “I am extremely concerned about the civil liberties aspect.

“We fit people with tags to track them if they have committed an offence. I have committed no offence.

“We have a government that thinks every disabled person is basically a shyster, and a society that is convinced that every disabled person is a cheat. It is saying to me that I or my PAs are potential fraudsters.”

She added: “This is not an effective way to prevent abuse of the scheme.”

A Motability spokeswoman said the “location trackers” were being fitted to new cars where “the risk of potential misuse is highest”, with customers who have an open insurance policy or live in a care home.

She said: “We will only have access to location data, and will only make use of this data where we receive a report, or suspect, that a car may be being misused. It will not be used or looked at unless there is an allegation that raises suspicion.”

She said the tracker could be used to clear disabled people subjected to malicious allegations and would be there to “protect the scheme and the customer”.

She said Motability expected to fit location trackers in fewer than five per cent of the 600,000 cars leased through the scheme.

Bashall has asked Motability how the data will be stored, who will have access to it, how long it will be kept and for what purposes it will be used, and is questioning whether the use of trackers will breach the Data Protection Act.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012: Games could face legal action for ‘failing disabled parents’

The organisers of London 2012 could soon be facing an embarrassing legal action, over their failure to help disabled parents sit with their children to watch Paralympic events.

As the first 60 members of the 300-strong ParalympicsGB team arrived in the athletes’ village this week, and with the opening ceremony just six days away, the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG appears to have made no effort to resolve the concerns of disabled parents planning to attend the games.

Disabled actor Melissa Chapin has been trying to work with LOCOG for the last fortnight to resolve concerns that she and other wheelchair-using parents with Paralympic tickets will not be able to sit with their children and friends.

She has been asking LOCOG to take steps to ensure that more wheelchair-users who bring their children with them to venues such as the ExCeL centre – which has mostly unreserved seating – will be able to sit next to them.

She has tickets for two days of competition at Excel – which is hosting sports such as sitting volleyball, powerlifting, table-tennis and boccia – on September 2 and 3.

On the first day, she will be joined by a wheelchair-using British Falklands veteran, her seven-year-old twins, and two personal assistants, but there is no guarantee that they are going to be able to sit together.

She has already been contacted on Twitter by 10 other disabled parents with similar concerns.

She believes LOCOG will not be able to rely on its volunteers – or “games makers” – to resolve problems on the day, because they will be swamped by disabled parents with similar seating needs.

Chapin has also pointed out that LOCOG stopped wheelchair-users from buying tickets through its website last November, forcing them instead to use an 0844 telephone number, as reported by Disability News Service.

She said this had made it impossible for disabled parents to buy tickets for themselves and their children.

LOCOG has so far refused to work with Chapin to find a solution to her concerns, or to comment on the issue to Disability News Service.

Chapin said: “It is becoming a human rights issue. It is almost impossible to make me crack, but the cracks are starting to show. The twins couldn’t believe this was happening to their mum in this day and age.”

She believes LOCOG is breaching the Equality Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Meanwhile, LOCOG has struggled to explain why it chose four of the most inaccessible spots in the United Kingdom to light its four Paralympic flames.

The flames were lit by groups of scouts at the summits of the highest peaks of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The four flames are being transferred to the four capital cities, where they will be the focus of a day of “flame celebrations”, before they are brought together into a single flame at a ceremony in Stoke Mandeville. A 24-hour relay will then take the single flame to the opening ceremony in east London.

A LOCOG spokesman said the idea of scaling the four peaks was about “showing what people can achieve”, and that they had “wanted to do something different and unique rather than replicate the Olympic torch relay”.

He said the idea would have come from the “creatives” in LOCOG’s torch relay team, but he said: “I don’t know specifically who had that idea.”

He added: “Unfortunately it was not going to be accessible to everybody but we tried to ensure that all the groups involved had a mixture [of disabled and non-disabled people].”

He said he believed that three of the mountaineers who took part in the flame-lighting events and “at least two or three” of each of the four groups of scouts were disabled people.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com