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

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

Councils admit ILF closure could force reliance on families and charities

Local authorities have admitted that government plans to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015 will probably see a cut to the support received by most of its users, with some forced to rely on relatives or charities.

Plans to close the fund, and transfer resources instead to local authorities in England and devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, have led to protests by ILF-users, who believe the plans threaten their right to independent living.

They warn that a government consultation on the plans offers no details on how cash-strapped councils will be able to meet the extra costs of disabled people who previously received support from ILF, a government-funded trust which helps about 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs, most of whom receive both ILF and council funding.

This week, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) warned in a joint response to the consultation that ILF-users usually receive “a significantly higher level of funding” than disabled people who rely solely on a local authority support package.

They said that when ILF-users transfer into the local authority system in 2015, the pot of money they will be awarded by their council to meet their support costs will “generally be at a lower level” than the funding they received previously.

John Nawrockyi, joint chair of the ADASS physical disabilities network, said this was because councils may feel – according to the government’s Fair Access to Care Services guidelines – that they have to ensure ILF-users do not receive more generous support than other service-users with similar levels of need.

Nawrockyi, also director of adult social services for Greenwich council in London, said: “If you take this dispassionately… the ILF-holder should be treated the same as a non-ILF-holder.”

But he said it was “not impossible” that some councils could take a “more sympathetic” approach and “take account of people who have built their lives around a certain amount of ILF”.

The ADASS and LGA response says local authorities could offer “periods of protection” to ease former ILF-users towards a new smaller support package, but they warn that councils will need to balance such offers against the need for “equity in resource allocation”.

Councils are likely to offer former ILF-users “other forms of support, other community resources or more cost-effective ways of providing services”, the consultation response adds.

Nawrockyi said this could mean support from families or charities, but insisted that it should not mean ILF-users being forced into residential care.

Stuart Bracking, a DPAC member and ILF-user, was highly critical of the ADASS and LGA response.

He pointed to the admission in the response that ADASS and LGA had “made a significant contribution to shaping [the government] consultation document”, and he questioned why they had “produced a consultation response to their own document”.

He said ADASS and LGA clearly supported the closure of ILF, a process that would affect thousands of disabled people.

He said: “ADASS have a professional responsibility to protect and safeguard severely disabled people. This consultation response was exactly the opposite.

“One of the reasons why ILF had to be set up in the first place was the abject failure of local authorities to meet the needs of severely disabled people who had been institutionalised.

“It was only with the establishment of ILF that a whole generation have been able to be workers, parents, care-givers, volunteers, students, campaigners…

“If ILF is closed it will crush the lives of thousands and in effect close the door to any meaningful chance of a whole layer of disabled people to live independent lives in the future.”

11 October 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Councils admit ILF closure could force reliance on families and charities

Local authorities have admitted that government plans to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015 will probably see a cut to the support received by most of its users, with some forced to rely on relatives or charities.

Plans to close the fund, and transfer resources instead to local authorities in England and devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, have led to protests by ILF-users, who believe the plans threaten their right to independent living.

They warn that a government consultation on the plans offers no details on how cash-strapped councils will be able to meet the extra costs of disabled people who previously received support from ILF, a government-funded trust which helps about 19,700 disabled people with the highest support needs, most of whom receive both ILF and council funding.

This week, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) warned in a joint response to the consultation that ILF-users usually receive “a significantly higher level of funding” than disabled people who rely solely on a local authority support package.

They said that when ILF-users transfer into the local authority system in 2015, the pot of money they will be awarded by their council to meet their support costs will “generally be at a lower level” than the funding they received previously.

John Nawrockyi, joint chair of the ADASS physical disabilities network, said this was because councils may feel – according to the government’s Fair Access to Care Services guidelines – that they have to ensure ILF-users do not receive more generous support than other service-users with similar levels of need.

Nawrockyi, also director of adult social services for Greenwich council in London, said: “If you take this dispassionately… the ILF-holder should be treated the same as a non-ILF-holder.”

But he said it was “not impossible” that some councils could take a “more sympathetic” approach and “take account of people who have built their lives around a certain amount of ILF”.

The ADASS and LGA response says local authorities could offer “periods of protection” to ease former ILF-users towards a new smaller support package, but they warn that councils will need to balance such offers against the need for “equity in resource allocation”.

Councils are likely to offer former ILF-users “other forms of support, other community resources or more cost-effective ways of providing services”, the consultation response adds.

Nawrockyi said this could mean support from families or charities, but insisted that it should not mean ILF-users being forced into residential care.

Stuart Bracking, a DPAC member and ILF-user, was highly critical of the ADASS and LGA response.

He pointed to the admission in the response that ADASS and LGA had “made a significant contribution to shaping [the government] consultation document”, and he questioned why they had “produced a consultation response to their own document”.

He said ADASS and LGA clearly supported the closure of ILF, a process that would affect thousands of disabled people.

He said: “ADASS have a professional responsibility to protect and safeguard severely disabled people. This consultation response was exactly the opposite.

“One of the reasons why ILF had to be set up in the first place was the abject failure of local authorities to meet the needs of severely disabled people who had been institutionalised.

“It was only with the establishment of ILF that a whole generation have been able to be workers, parents, care-givers, volunteers, students, campaigners…

“If ILF is closed it will crush the lives of thousands and in effect close the door to any meaningful chance of a whole layer of disabled people to live independent lives in the future.”

11 October 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Conference will address ‘unacceptable’ housing conditions

Many disabled people in Scotland are living in “completely unacceptable” housing conditions, according to a new report.

The report’s findings are set to be discussed at a “ground-breaking” conference on the housing problems faced by disabled people, to be held on 28 February in Edinburgh.

The conference will be hosted by Capability Scotland and Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living (GCIL) as part of a partnership with the Scottish government which aims to push for urgent housing improvements for disabled people.

The report, Disabled People’s Experience of Accessing Housing, includes the views of disabled people who attended seven consultation events between August and October 2010.

Their concerns included the shortage of accessible social housing, the high level of homelessness among those with mental health conditions, and the struggle to secure aids and adaptations.

Others raised the difficulty of obtaining mortgages, the lack of clear and easily available information on housing rights, and a shortage of advocacy services, while many had experienced disability hate crime and harassment.

The conference will also discuss the findings of a survey carried out by Capability Scotland.

Three-fifths of those questioned in the poll did not believe disabled people had the same choice of housing as non-disabled people, while a fifth of respondents were unable to access every part of their own home.

Grant Carson, GCIL’s director of housing and employment services, said government surveys and independent research had identified a need for 230,000 properties suitable for disabled people across Scotland.

Research had also shown that 62,000 Scottish households needed adapted baths or showers and another 8,000 homes needed a ramp, he said.

Carson added: “Without a suitable house it can be impossible for disabled people to access employment, education or even social and recreational opportunities.

“The challenge we now face is to deliver more but with less, to find innovative solutions that provide disabled people with equality of housing opportunity.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

MPs attack ‘cruel’ and ‘crude’ DLA plans

MPs have attacked the government’s “crude, cruel” plans to remove a key disability benefit from most disabled people in residential homes.

The Labour MP Tom Clarke said the “outrageous” decision to stop council-funded residents claiming the mobility component of DLA – due to come into force in October 2012 – had caused “uproar” among disabled people in his constituency in north Lanarkshire, Scotland.

Clarke, who secured the debate among MPs about the proposal, said he had visited a number of residential homes, and their residents were “terrified” about the cut.

He said there was “not a shred of evidence” that councils would be able to “pick up the bill” – as the government has claimed – if the money was removed.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said he was concerned that the government could follow this “nasty and horrible” cut with “something much bigger”, by removing the mobility component from all disabled people.

The disabled Conservative MP Robert Halfon said many disabled people in his constituency were “genuinely anxious about the future”, but he claimed that councils would have a “legal obligation” to fill the gap left by the cut.

He added: “That funding will increasingly be distributed in the form of personal budgets, giving disabled people more choice and control over their services, including access to mobility equipment, taxis or scooters, if that suits them.”

But the Labour MP Kate Green said there was a “very real risk” that the cut could mean disabled people losing their Motability cars.

Margaret Curran, the Labour shadow work and pensions minister, said her party could not support the “crude, cruel cut”, which undermined the principle of personalised support.

She asked why, if mobility needs were already funded by councils – as the government claimed – there was “so little mention of it in existing community care plans”.

She said it was “a callous cut” for which the government would be “held to account for many years”.

Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, claimed the cut was “designed not to reduce the mobility of disabled people, but to address the current complexities in the system”.

She said some people in residential care “receive DLA cash directly for their mobility needs, and at the same time they receive varying levels of mobility support at local level from care services, funded by their local authority”, while some care homes “provide excellent mobility support” and others offer “only basic provision”.

She said there were “mismatched systems for assessing the needs of disabled people: one for DLA, which assesses mobility and need in terms of cash; and another that provides, via local authorities, a more generic needs assessment reflected in services contracted with care homes”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com